Monday, 16 May 2016

Spain road trip week 2 - Tarifa to Villafavilla

Spain Road Trip week 2

Here we are again then back in Southern Spain, the destination of many a birding trip between the pair of us. Its great, its invigorating, and its absorbing but we've had a bit of bad luck with the weather .. you'd think anywhere in Spain in the middle of May would bring nothing but sun, sun 'scorchio' sun; instead we've had storms from the SW and lots of rain. Still we've made the very best of the good weather and with 195 bird species recorded to date the race is very much on to crack 200 and beyond!

So, having beat our way all the way down here, this posting includes our return trip back up towards Northern Spain - from Tarifa on the southern coast, westwards towards Sanlucar, back up through Extramadura again, the Sierra de Gata and the Rio Duero gorges and then on to Villafavila.

I've spoken of Tarifa many times before so wont dwell except to say that I'll probably end up there one day in one way or another. Surf town, windy town this time round but it provided the goods once again in the shape of 4 Lesser Crested Terns in amongst 30 or so Sandwich Terns.

Lesser Crested Tern (top right) with Sandwich Terns, 09/05/16
Seen them in Morocco a few years back but a new Spanish bird for me, these are essentially African terns that occasionally stray in to Europe on southerly winds. Similar in size and shape to our familiar Sandwich Tern except for that gloriously dagger like orange bill.

Lesser Crested Tern (left) with Sandwich Terns, 09/05/16
Pallid Swift, Tarifa, 09/05/16
Lots of Swifts down here and a fair few of them are Pallid Swifts, paler and in my opinion easier to photograph!

Along with the terns on the beach there were maybe 30 or Audouins Gulls, this neck of the woods is one of the few places left where you can see these rarest of  gulls.

Audouins Gull,Tarifa, 09/05/16
Backtracking just a tad, back in El Rocio whilst I was writing up the last blogpost in a hotel room, I was let out for a few hours and snapped this nice Spotted Flycatcher along with a Bea Eater at nearby Rocina

Spotted Flycatcher, Rocina, 08/05/16
Bee Eater, Rocina, El Rocio, 08/05/16
 A brief sunny interlude on the straits around Gibralter at Punta Secetra provided an opportunity for some wild flower and seascapes ... 
Wild flowers, Punta Secreta, 09/05/16

Wild flowers, Punta Secreta, 09/05/16

Rock of Gibralter

Punta Secreta, looking out on Morocco

Storm clouds rising over Africa
Egyptian Vulure, nr Facinas, 09/05/16

Just a bit further around the coast near Facinas we were on the hunt for a mega bird species known to breed around these parts - White Rumped Swift. We failed, but got a great 2nd prize of the best views and pics ever of the increasingly rare Egyptian Vulture ... a pair that appeared to be nesting in the cliffs and just drifted in as we were about to depart.

Egyptian Vulure, nr Facinas, 09/05/16
Fantastic to see the scarcest of the 3 vulture species on show in Spain and in such good light. The most common, although still an endangered species, is the Griffon Vulture of course and although I rarely make much of an effort to photograph these beasts, a chanced upon gathering of maybe 50 or so at the road side was an exception ...

Griffon Vulture, nr Facinas, 09/05/16

Griffon Vulture, nr Facinas, 09/05/16
Wet Black Kite, Bonanza, 10/05/16
Next stop - Sanlucar de Barrameda and the marismas at Bonanza is where the weather really set in and we had pretty much solid rain for a couple of days as we travelled north through Extramadura and the Sierra de Gata.

Not much in the way of pictures for this bit of the journey but some interesting bird species recorded including Golden Orioles flying out of Bonanza and heading north in between the rain bursts, with large numbers of Spotted Flycatchers at the same location. Big numbers of Cuckoo, presumably making their way north and more Golden Oriole doing the same in the Sierra de Gata which also yielded a distant Goshawk.

We added Thekla Lark, Red Necked Nightjar, Spectacled Warbler and a long awaited Cirl Bunting (so unobtrusive at this time of the year!) to the list and headed north again for Villafavila.

If I were to recommend an area of Spain where you were guaranteed to see all the best Spanish birds in a very small area I'd say go to Villafavilla. Equidistant between Leon to the north and Salamancar to the south, this curious little township, associated ruins and wetlands is set in prime steppe land, brimming with birds and has real oldy worldy Spanish feel. Twice I've been here, winter and spring and trust me it wont disappoint.

We were camped out on the outskirts, in the ruins and decrepit dovecotes amongst a colony of 20+ pairs of Lesser Kestrels .. how's that for a start?!

This is the last destination for this part of the trip, week 3 will be the Picos de Europas and the Northern coast, so here's the rest of the Villafavilla pics starting with those splendid little falcons ... Lesser Kestrels.

We had 'em hovering, perched, mating, carrying termites and all at close range.

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Old dovecote, Villafavila

Villafavila, deserted church, ruins, wetlands.
Gull Billed Tern, Villafavila, 13/05/16

No pics, they were just too far off, but along with maybe 150 or so Gull Billed Terns, a handful of Whiskered Terns we also had 27 Black Terns drop in to feed over the lagoons ... yet another species for the list!

Great Bustards, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Great Bustards, Villafavila, 13/05/16

More BeaEaters, Villafavilla, 13/05/16
Rounding off, here's the latest wild flower pic quiz ... for me probably when I get around to digging out a field guide but once again please feel free to offer the odd suggestion. Some or all are probably common as muck around here, but not to me!

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