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Segovia, Madrid, Extremadura, the Strait & Doñana

John Muddeman
01/04/2009 22:02:49

Comments and highlights from the second half of the tour

Posted in: Flora, Butterflies and Moths, Birds | Andalusia, Castile-Leon, Extremadura, Madrid | Spanish Mainland, Southern Spain, Western Spain, Central Spain

Day 7

A day of gripes and relative disappointment!

A trip around the W side of the Strait, including the Playa de los Lances, which is still in an awful state for birds. The tremendous board walk now present along half the length of the beach from the S and running the length of the outer part of the dunes, may have notably reduced the number of people walking on the latter, making them better for breeding Kite-surfing rules on the Los Lances beach... © John MuddemanKite-surfing rules on Los Lances beach...© John Muddemanbirds, but there are now different, and in my opinion, worse problems. Far more people (by orders of magnitude) now venture to walk (& jog) there than before (summer beach season excepted), so disturbing birds on both the flooded beach and outer dune area, while the number of dog walkers is high, and the majority of these pets we saw were, of course, off leads (one was even allowed to chase the few birds trying to feed on the flooded beach!). The beach is a catastrophe too, since after the advent of kite-surfing, virtually the entire length of the beach is now used, including the large area flooded by the Río Jara, and formerly so loved by migrant gulls, terns and waders for feeding and resting. If brightly coloured sails zooming along the sea were a potential problem before, they pale into insignificance compared to the towering kites, which go 30-40+ meters into the air, and with no keel necessary, they often practice on the shallowly flooded beach too. A huge thumbs down to the management and (non-)wardening of the site in my opinion, and also to those (relatively few) kite-surfers not keeping to their areas. The picture says it all :-( (The sign says "Sensitive area. Breeding threatened avifauna").

My next big disappointment was to discover that the Tarifa harbour has now been definitively been cut off from public use. Since Tarifa Island is military (despite restricted access to fishermen), now, in effect, between Punta Carnero in the E (near Punta Europa on Gibraltar) and Cape Trafalgar, way to the NW, there is not one decent headland with easy access for seabirding... If only Tarifa Island would allow access to the lighthouse for interested parties... The Cape Trafalgar dunes and flora are now recovering well after its access road has largely been cut off too, in response to the numerous camper vans that used to tbe parked there overnight, but this also now requires a moderate walk, and would be all but impossible for wheelchair access -the boardwalks on the point are designed for this- now when sand blows over the first part of the road...

Day 8

Quick checks both before and after breakfast revealed a complete absence of shearwaters off Zahara. Again.

teneral Broad Scarlet  - Crococthemis erythraea © John Muddemanteneral Broad Scarlet
Crocothemis erythraea
© John Muddeman
We headed N to the area around Sanlucar de Barrameda. A quick check of the coast revealed a few waders and gulls, with a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull and an adult Caspian Tern of most note until our principal ‘target’ species appeared – a Little Swift! Part of a small colony which has established here.

Some pools not far away held a small number of very close and aggressively displaying White-headed Ducks, while the Laguna de Tarelo held none, despite a large colony of Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons there providing interest.

Nearby salinas were terrific – a Spotted Redshank, Pied Avocets, a few Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints, 100s of Greater Flamingos, a flock of Glossy Ibis and a small number of gorgeous Slender-billed Gulls were all new.

Marbled Duck  - Marmaronetta angustirostris & Common Pochard @Aythya ferina © John MuddemanMarbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris
& male Common Pochard Aythya ferina
© John Muddeman

We finished off on a long drive to down near the Guadalquivir River, where various Eurasian Spoonbills gave good views, some flighty Lesser Short-toed Larks refused to do the same, but after considerable persistence, a superb pair of Marbled Duck gave terrific views and were the undoubted highlight.

Despite getting to El Rocío quite late, there was still time for a good look over the ‘pool’ in front, where lots of Greater Flamingos and a mixture of ducks and a few waders were present, including a couple of hundred roosting Collared Pratincoles.

Day 9

It was chilly and still from 8 a.m., but birdsong was terrific near the Palacio del Acebrón: the number of Common Nightingales had to be heard to be believed, while a perched Montagu’s Harrier, 3 calling Wrynecks and many Iberian Chiffchaffs were the highlights.

After a late breakfast we picked up Cissie from Seville airport Greater Flamingos  - Phoenicopterus ruber © John MuddemanGreater Flamingos
Phoenicopterus ruber
© John Muddeman
and returned for a long late lunch overlooking the El Rocío marsh. 3 Gull-billed and a flock of 30 Whiskered Terns, several hundred Black-tailed Godwit, 30+ Ruff and 8 Common Teal were all new.

There was actually not too much time for anything else, but a walk and look from various hides at the El Acebrón Visitor’s Centre was a good move. The only new bird for the trip was a fine hybrid male Ferruginous X Common Pochard, but plenty of other birds gave good views, from Purple Heron and a very dark morph Booted Eagle to Iberian Azure-winged Magpies, Eurasian hoopoes and Red-rumped Swallows (including a nest of the latter).

Bizarrely, on our return, almost all the birds had completely gone from the El Rocío lagoon...

Day 10

Dawn on the Raya Real, El Rocío © John MuddemanDawn on the Raya Real, El Rocío© John MuddemanOur local Doñana Nature guide picked us up at 8 a.m. With a sighting of Iberian Lynx just 2 days before, we were hopeful, but since this was the critical period for females giving birth, and various access restrictions imposed by the park authorities, it wasn’t going to be easy.

The drive out revealed a gorgeous Little Owl in the early morning mist and the first of numerous Black Kites. Working our way out towards the Jose Antonio Valverde centre and back was the most productive though, including a pair of Black-shouldered Kites, a fine Iberian Hare  - Lepus granatensis © John Muddemana fine Iberian Hare
Lepus granatensis
© John Muddeman
a pair of Egyptian Vultures, various Griffon Vultures and Booted Eagles, perched male Hen Harrier and Lesser Kestrel, a sadly distant Short-eared Owl, three Stone-curlews, perched Great Spotted Cuckoo and numerous Red and Fallow Deer, 4 Iberian Hares, 5 Wild Boar and Red Fox amongst plenty of others! No lynx, but we did try :-) A few spikes of Narcissus papyraceus were great to see.
 © John MuddemanCistanche phelypaea© John Muddeman
Breakfast at 11:15 was followed by a late exit to the Odiel marshes, where Montagu’s Harrier, a pair of Red-knobbed Coots, 2 Purple Herons and numerous Black-winged Stilts and a few Red-crested Pochards started us off with a bang! New additions included Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot and Little and Common Terns. Numerous Mediterranean and a few Audouin’s Gulls further enlivened the show, as did 2 or 3 Great Skuas from the lighthouse. The Cistanche flowering in the salt-marsh was at its very best and a delight to see.

Not far away, another lake produced nothing new, Common Chamaeleon  - Cameleo cameleon © John MuddemanMediterranean Chameleon
Chamaeleo chamaeleon
© John Muddeman
though three superb baby Mediterranean Chameleons were a great find in the scrub, pulled out by the sun in a particularly warm corner.

Our final stop was for coffee and a very quick visit to the monument overlooking the juntions of the Odiel and Tinto Rivers, where a statue to Columbus stands proud.

The total list, including a few passerines in a few spots was some 110, bringing us to over 200 for the trip.

Day 11

A leisurely exit took us towards Villamanrique and through the N pastures, fields and marshes to the José Antonio Valverde Centre.

A singing Melodious Warbler (SO early!), two Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in flight, a pair of Stone-curlews, a fence-full of European Bee-eaters and a terrific White Stork + Spanish Sparrow colony just for starters!

The drive out produced a Red Kite and adult Black Stork, plus singing Common Quail, and displaying Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks. Also a Common Swift among lots of incoming Pallid Swifts, which were a feature of the day along with lots of iberiae Yellow Wagtails.

The wetlands were alive with Purple Herons, Glossy Ibis and a few Purple Swamphens, while the colony at the JAV centre of Glossy Ibis, Purple Herons and Cattle and a few Little Egrets was simply spectacular. Very few other birds included a pair of Avocets, a brief Squacco Heron, singing Great Reed Warblers, migrant Sedge, Subalpine and Willow Warblers, a pair of Short-toed Eagles, Collared Pratincoles and on the Lucio del Lobo, 100+ Whiskered Terns, 2 Wood Sandpipers and a male Northern Pintail, pair of Eurasian Wigeon and a male and two female Garganey (albeit very distantly).

Over 100 species for the day and a grand total of 213 species.

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