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Alicante, Murcia and E. Andalucia (Almeria province) 17-20 December 2018

17 December 2018

This wasn’t an Anser trip although the notes and images may be of interest to readers who may plan to visit the area or would like to see some of what we recorded.

I had planned and arranged a budget trip to this part of Spain for our small party of four (myself, Joe, Neil and Bob) and had planned to visit some sites that I was familiar with from birding visits in the early 1990s and to call in on a few new ones. We flew from Bristol to Alicante (easyjet) with no issues and picked up the hire car (Sixt), we were well on the road by mid afternoon. We headed straight to El Hondo (or El Fondo) wetland reserve and visited some of the hides, it was warm, the winter sun was very welcome.

Booted Eagle (pale phase)

Booted Eagle, El Hondo, Elche, MJMcGill (5)_edited-1

Birds/wildlife noted included a pale phase Booted Eagle, Southern Grey Shrikes, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s Warbler, Bluethroats, Cattle Egrets, Marsh Harriers, Greater Flamingo, Coot, plenty of Black-necked Grebes, Crag Martins, Sardinian Warbler,Chiffchaffs, Penduline Tit (heard) and representing odonata were Red-veined Darters (pictured) and a larger species of Hawker dragonfly.

Red-veined Darter, El Hondo, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1

Our next stop was at a service area before heading into the Sierra Aracena mountains in Murcia and then on to our ‘base’ for the next two nights in Eastern Andalucia (Cabo de Gata) in Almeria province.

The Aracena scenery was impressive but it was largely silent and still with few birds about, the high peak looked to have a very distant flock of Red-billed Chough wheeling around but they were largely out of view. One species of interest must now be locally extinct, the habitat that was once suitable for Dupont’s Larks is no more, either developed or fragmented by plastic greenhouses. A sunset drive saw us arrive hungry and ready for a drink and meal at the Hotel Blanc Brisa. Ice cold glasses of Turia on draught was our preferred beer if you ever call in, the vegetable paella dish was also agreeable.

18 December 2018

Our first stop of the day was right on the doorstep of Cabo de Gata, only minutes away was the beach track that led to Rambla Morales, a brackish lagoon where the virtually dried up river mouth is cut off by a sandbar. It was dawn, as it warmed in the bright sun, the birds began to wake. Southern Grey Shrikes, bright Stonechats, a flock of Lesser Short-toed Larks and Trumpeter Finches, Crested Larks and a flock of c60 Golden Plover were feeding in the dunes.

White-headed Duck, Rambla Morales, MJM (1)_edited-1

At the pool a Water Pipit showed well, 4+ Black-necked Grebes, lots of Chiffchaff, Crag Martins, Cetti’s Warbler, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal,  Pochard and one of my favourites-5+ White-headed Ducks (see above) were on the pool. Other notables were Bluethroat and Penduline Tits, the latter species calling regularly.

Bluethroat

Bluethroat, Rambla Morales, MJM (2)_edited-1

Later that morning we visited the nearby Las Almonaderas ‘desert’ reserve. Crested Larks, Black Redstarts, Stonechat, Southern Grey Shrike, a brief eagle species and a few Chiffchaff were present. Nearby a Little Owl watched and sunbathed from some boulders, it’s home now surrounded by new plastic greenhouses, they are continually developing a sea of plastic to grow fruit and vegetables for our consumption.

Little Owl

Little Owl, Las Amolederas (2)_edited-1

We stopped for a coffee and very sweet cake and made a plan to visit the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains hoping the roads were clear of snow. On the way we took in the spectacular ‘badland’ scenery as well as a stupendous castle (La Calahorra) with snow capped mountain backdrop. We drove the winding roads to the Puerto de la Ragua with no snow to worry about. Stopping on the roadside to scan the hawthorns we logged c50 very nervous Ring Ouzels and a few Song Thrushes. Up at the ski station we searched the ski runs with dog rose bushes and forest, c25 Red Crossbill, 10+ Siskin and a flock of Goldfinches were vocal, a couple of Citril Finch were seen. Rock Buntings and Crested Tits showed very well, another Ring Ouzel with Blackbirds kept a low profile. The biggest surprise at 2000m in December was a Queen of Spain Fritillary butterfly, it was 14c and sunny. It was a great place to be but we decided to head back down with just enough time to visit a quiet and remote mountain village in the Tabernas area at dusk.

Queen of Spain Fritillary, Crested Tit and Red Crossbill- Puerto de la Ragua, Sierra Nevada

Crested Tit, Puerto de la Ragua, Sierra Nevada (1)_edited-1 Fritillary, Puerto de la Ragua, MJM (4)_edited-1 Red Crossbill, Puerto de la Ragua (4)_edited-1

19 December 2018

First port of call were the adjacent salt pans at Cabo de Gata where more Spotless Starling, Greater Flamingo, Slender-billed Gulls, Spoonbills, Shelduck, Greenshank and Redshank, Audouin’s Gulls, Ringed Plover, Little Stint and Dunlin were noted. A Dartford Warbler and Southern Grey Shrike was near the western public hide.

At the Cabo de Gata lighthouse we noted a Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Thekla Larks, Red-legged Partridge and Black Redstarts were all seen. Heading inland we tried our luck at more mountain villages with little to report other than plastic greenhouses. The area had changed considerably since the early 1990s, back then it was the first time I had seen them on such a scale around Almeria, the expansion since then is rather hard to take in, the birds and ‘Euro desert’ habitat has largely disappeared.

We got back the road and decided it was best to go coastal, it had been productive for us so far, plans were made at a service area to try our luck at Mar Menor and more salinas. A fine end to the day and smashing sunset at La Charcas mud baths with Slender-billed Gulls, Black-necked Grebes, Flamingos, Yellow-legged Gulls and a few waders including Turnstone, Sanderling and Common Sandpiper. At dusk we made our way to the hotel in Santa Pola, after a wash an brush up we met in the bar for a couple of drinks and then enjoyed another good meal.

Slender-billed Gull, Sanderling and Little Egret-Las Charcas mudbaths, Mar Menor

Slender-billed Gull, Las Charcas mudbaths, salinas, Mar Menor, MJMcGill (19)_edited-1 Sanderling, Playa de la Mata, Mar Menor, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1 Little Egret, Mar Menor, MJMcGill (2)_edited-1

 

Black-necked Grebe-Las Charcas

Black-necked Grebe, Las Charcas, Salinas, Mar Menor, MJMcGill (8)_edited-1 Black-necked Grebe, Las Charcas, Salinas, Mar Menor, MJMcGill (2)_edited-1

20 December 2018

After a very good pre-dawn breakfast we discovered the hotel offered a decent vantage point over the north end of the Santa Pola salinas so I scanned through the wildfowl. Outside and only minutes down the road we made a few stops in the lay-bys and from an observation tower seeing more Slender-billed Gulls, Spoonbills, Flamingo, Dunlin, Little Stints, Kentish Plover (included a breeding plumaged male), Osprey, Audouin’s and Yellow-legged Gulls, Shelduck, Marsh Harriers, singing Southern Grey Shrike and the usual Cormorants and Little and Great White Egrets.

We had to leave to catch out flight home and be at the airport for 10:00am so this concluded our opportunistic birding break, the loss of habitats in key areas of Almeria and Murcia was worrying, on positive note the birds we did see were welcome, with continued protection the wetlands and salinas offer extremely important habitat for 1000s of birds. The Santa Pola/El Hondo complex was of particular interest but for me the time spent at Rambla Morales and Sierra Nevada offered us some very memorable birding time.

M.J.McGill

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Martin

at 4:20 pm

Norfolk 27-28 November 2018

27 November 2018

A one night visit was hastily arranged to make the most of the late autumn birding in North Norfolk. We left Whitminster at 0530 to get a reasonable day’s birding in. The foggy conditions didn’t help at our first stop in Cambridgeshire, it did clear enough to allow us to look for Rough-legged Buzzards, at least two were wintering at Holme Fen NNR, a site that we’ve seen them on previous Anser trips. A few Buzzards and Red Kites were noted in the murk, the latter species giving great views in the trees around one farm. A Peregrine whizzed through buzzing a Lapwing on the way. Sparrowhawk and numerous Kestrels proved that despite the poor weather, raptors had to get on with it.

We travelled onward to Norfolk stopping near Guyhirn to enjoy a flock of over 300 Whooper Swans, we arrived at Wells Woods for our next birding walk. Heading to the Dell we searched through mobile tit flocks which revealed many Goldcrests and a couple of Treecreepers, we eventually located the Pallas’s Warbler that had been in the area on previous days. As had been noted by other observers this ‘sprite’ didn’t stay in one place for long, we all had great views of the little stunner. We also notes three Redpoll but they flew off without giving us better views. A couple of Little Grebe were on the pond.

Pallas’s Warbler at Wells Woods

Palaas's Warbler, Wells Woods, 001, MJMcGill Pallas's Warbler, Wells Woods, MJM

 

A Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock was near the football pitch at Wells next the Sea. We headed for a couple of viewpoints over Holkham Freshmarsh where a small flock of Barnacle Geese, a large party of Egyptian Geese, 4+ Marsh Harrier, 2 Buzzards and 2 Great White Egrets were noted. Moving to Land Anne’s Drive we scanned the marshes seeing many more Marsh Harriers and a pale Buzzard, from the hide we had closer views of Wigeon flocks and Great White Egret. With the light failing we tried our luck looking out from Wells next the Sea, a few waders were in the harbour but it became dark and the drizzle began to fall, the signal to end our birding for the day. Arrived in good time to settle in to our hotel at Hunstanton with time to relax with a drink and have a decent meal.

28 November 2018

A good breakfast was enjoyed by all followed by our first stop, a scan from Hunstanton Cliffs. Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, Guillemots, Red-breasted Mergansers and Fulmars were all scoped from the shelter. Our second stop was at Thornham Harbour, we immediately located a flock of finches that contained at least 17 Twite. Goldfinch and Linnets shared the same saltmarsh grass seeds.

Plenty of birds were to be seen, Brent Geese, a variety of waders, wildfowl and gulls were on the beach and saltmarsh with a number of Marsh Harriers soaring over. Scanning the distant dunes I could see a perched buzzard sp that took flight and began hovering, it showed all the features of a Rough-legged but was lazily making it’s way east, we relocated to Titchwell RSPB. Without lingering we walked out toward the beach when the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard rose up in front of us and floated across Volunteer Marsh it was great to see it so well.

Rough-legged Buzzard, Titchwell.

Rough-legged Buzzard, Titchwell, MJMcGill

 

On to the beach where we set up in a sheltered spot behind the dunes and began scanning the sea and beach. Waders included flocks of Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover and Turnstone. A smart drake Eider was on the beach before it wandered back into the sea. A very productive hour followed, one of those magic birding moments, a range of species that would attract a lot of interest in Gloucestershire. Totals included 12 Long-tailed Duck (many cracking males were in display), 3 Great Northern Diver, 3 Black-throated Diver, 20+ Red-throated Diver, 3+ Slavonian Grebe, 2 Red-necked Grebe, 25+ Red-breasted Merganser, 24+ Great Crested Grebe, 6+ Guillemot, 1 Razorbill, 3 Goldeneye, a flock of distant Common Scoter and a few Gannets. The scope viewing was really good.

As a parting shot I picked up a dot on the horizon that was worth tracking, it came into id range and proved to be a Woodcock arriving low over the waves from the continent/Scandinavia. The tired bird made it to the dunes, an awesome migration feat.

On the return walk we had good perched views of the Rough-legged Buzzard again, this time being mobbed by Carrion Crows. It was busy with birds on the freshwater scrape and a large of Pink-footed Geese did the decent thing and flew over calling, more were to be seen on the fields with Dark-bellied Brents.

We headed back to the Holkham Freshmarsh again and made a brief scan over the marshes. East of the road single ‘winged’ Pink-footed and Brent Geese suggested that poor shooting and illegal hunting is still a threat. In the same vein, confiding released Red-legged Partridges couldn’t qualify as any form of ‘sport’ unless shooting fish in a barrel is your idea of a fun day out, the latter didn’t make it onto bird of the day nominations. The usual walk out to Holkham Gap and the bay ensued. A flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese grazed in the saltmarsh, one stood out, showing characteristics of a Black Brant (or Pacific Brent Goose).

We continued to the roped off area of  saltmarsh, I have to say that this is a great move, it gives these birds an undisturbed feeding area. A flock of 32 Snow Buntings greeted us as they skipped across the sandy beach/saltmarsh area. A feeding party of 13 Shore Lark also showed well. On the beach we enjoyed more sea-duck and divers,  about 30 mostly immature Eiders were present and a very distant flock of 300 Common Scoter.

A short stop at Morston Quay and then onto Cley Marshes NNT visitor centre for hot food and drink and a look over the marshes. We also visited the beach car park where more Common Scoters, Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Gannet were scoped. Out last stop of the day was at Sheringham, plenty of roosting gulls on show but no King Eider, it hadn’t been seen for a week but it was worth a try. This concluded the trip so we made the 4.5 hour drive back home. Although it was a short sweet visit, it was brilliant for birds

Martin

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Martin

at 5:04 pm

December 2018 news

Thank you for checking back with Anser Birding.

Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2019

Shore Larks at Holkham

Shore Lark, Holkham, MJMcGill

Residential trips

I’m sorry but we’ve nothing planned to the end of 2018.

Contact via email- Martin@Anserbirding.com or text/call 07733 363905.

Please note that a reply to email or text may not be until the evening or following day or so. I am in full time employment for WWT so will endeavour to reply to  you after getting home. May I  politely remind you that during my working hours at WWT  I’m obliged to keep the two roles professionally separate as I’m very busy at Slimbridge, it won’t be possible to discuss Anser related matters. I do hope you understand as I wouldn’t wish to offend anyone while I’m rushing about. In anticipation, I thank you for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you after the ‘working day’ or weekends (Friday/Saturday for me). Whilst on the trips I can of course give you my full attention, help to spot plenty of birds and plan bird filled daily itineraries.

Martin

Next day/half day trip date

No trips planned for the forthcoming week, sorry.

Typical Birding day/half days include some of the following Gloucestershire birding venues

These meetings usually fall on Fridays or Saturdays. Price guide and a selection of destinations follow

Forest of Dean-A variety of birds occur with Great spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Lesser Spotted (extremely elusive), Crossbill, Hawfinch (can be shy), Goshawk, Mandarin, Willow Tit (scarce), Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Redpoll, Siskin, Jay, Goosander and Dipper are all possible. In summer Nightjar and Woodcock can be seen and heard on nocturnal forays in good weather.

WWT Slimbridge where I work has plenty of events on offer year round. I usually cover the Sunday events. See website for latest sightings here http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/wildlife/latest-sightings/

Upper Severn Estuary Includes migration of waders, wildfowl and passerines. Habitat, seasonal wetlands, intertidal estuary and freshwater pools and lakes.

Sharpness A good spot for ‘seawatching’ should we have gales or for watching visible migration. Black Redstarts (in winter), Peregrine and often Common Sandpiper or commoner waders.

Cotswolds Downland birds- Buzzard, Red Kite, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Grey Partridge (scarce) and Red legged Partridge (most, if not all are released birds) Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Marsh Tit, Linnet, Golden Plover (in winter), Lapwing and more. Habitat-upland hills, heath and some areas farmed with wildlife in mind.

Rarity reaction
If anything special arrives nearby (or futher afield) a half or full day of quality birding can be built around the target bird or birds. This type of trip can be organised at late notice with a very early start. If this is of interest then keep a close eye on what birds are around, twitter feed and here on the news page.

Pricing and how to book a place

Prices based on a minimum of four participants- £20-25.00  for a half day (5 hours) and £40-50.00 for a full day (10 hours).

It is best to text or call 07733 363 905 to confirm a place or if you have any queries, alternatively send an email to Martin@anserbirding.com . See below (near bottom of page) for the typical meeting point details if not meeting at the destination.

Do you use Twitter?
Anser Birding events are now on @AnserNews

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General news

Watching Waterbirds with Kate Humble and me

The book I had been working on with Kate Humble, Think Publishing and A and C Black (now Bloomsbury) over the last couple of years is available in WWT shops, online, Amazon and all good book stores. It is intended as a bridge guide to introduce common wetland birds to those new to the hobby and also features the Great Waterbird Challenge for you to try out.

If you have bought it already, thank you very much, we do hope you enjoy using it. Link to bookshop.

https://www.wwt.org.uk/shop/shop/books/natural-history-books/watching-waterbirds-with-kate-humble-and-martin-mcgill/

Martin J McGill

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Whitminster Meeting Point

Directions for events if you meet at Whitminster…. leave Junction 13 of M5 and head to A38 Roundabout. On the A38 take exit for GLOUCESTER, WHITMINSTER heading North. Second exit if coming from A38 South or 3rd exit from A419. Head up the hill and take first left (after the Garden Centre) turning left at the village hall  (opposite is the Old Forge Pub which is on the east side of the A38, School Lane is on the West side).

There is a layby (4+ cars) just past Whitminster School on the right. To reach here continue down school lane and straight over the mini roundabout, the layby is immediately after the school where the village ends. Alternative parking can be found nearby, we can direct you.

Link to map to search for Holbury Crescent http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

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BBC Tide Timetable for the West (note you can search anywhere in Britain from this link)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/coast/tides/west.shtml

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Martin

at 11:40 pm

Garden lifer and further winter arrivals

Back in Whitminster I had the rest of the week off to catch up with multiple jobs at home, the weather was still great. Local walks with bouts of work in the garden being the daily routine. A Coal Tit signalled the winter as it called at dusk.

On the 25th October I was clearing out the shed when I heard a Crossbill calling, stepping out I saw three large finches flying off SSW over the house with another settled in the tall Christmas tree in the garden, it also flew off over the gardens calling. Fabulous to record this species at home.

Red Admiral in the garden

Red Admiral on the pegs, Whitminster, MJMcGill

 

On 26th  October a Jay was on the feeders when it, 5 Magpies, c30 Jackdaw and a Raven began mobbing something in the trees, a Cat was high up in the branches.

My last day off saw the weather turn for the worst but I was out and about before the rain arrived, c30 Fieldfare passed through Whitminster. Down on the Severn shore I spent itme with some other wintering arrivals…

Stonechat

Stonechat, Hock Ditch, MJMcGill 3

Water Pipit

 

Water Pipit, Severn Estuary, MJMcGill

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Martin

at 3:00 pm

Cornwall visit 22-23 October 2018

I had taken annual leave to look after my daughter during half term whilst my wife was away. A month or so before I was asked if we could go on a road trip somewhere so I suggested a few coastal localities. Cornwall was picked as the favoured destination so off we went.

The forecast was good and the weather glorious as we made our way to the SW peninsula, first bird of note was a sleeping Spoonbill on Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary, we never stopped, it was seen from the A30 as we passed!

Seeing as we were in the area I stopped at Treeve Common, Trevescan for a quick search for the Grey Catbird that had been about, it hadn’t been showing so we headed off to the picturesque valley of Porthgwarra for a walk with the dogs. This sheltered spot was ideal as it was warm and sunny so we pottered about stopping to look at birds and insects. After a stop for food supplies we popped back to see if the Catbird was showing and it was, the bird was very obliging giving prolonged scope views atop the brambles before flying towards us and diving back into cover, having seen this skulking species in the USA, I thought it best to accept the great views we just had. It looked very healthy and bright eyed and is still present at the time of writing on 27 October.

Grey Catbird, Land's End, MJM Grey Catbird, Land's End, MJMcGill

We had a nose from Land’s End before visiting Cape Cornwall where Chough’s and Gannet were the highlights and then on to another of my favourite valleys at Nanjizal to watch the sunset. We decided to head for Lanyon Quoit (remnants of a burial chamber, the remaining stone skeleton) to see the moonrise but not before spotting a roadside Barn Owl flying ‘through the moon’ along the way, this bird was near Pendeen. A good end to the day, we had run out of time so we left for our main destination on the Lizard, we were staying in Mullion. A top notch dinner and comfy room rounded off a delightful autumn day.

Next day was again sunny so we explored the nearby Poldhu Cove (Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff ), Lizard Point (six White Wagtails among the Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits and we saw Rock Pipits galore). We had a great walk looking through common birds for migrants and checking the pond at Housel Bay and then headed for the Croft Pascoe Pool near Goonhilly. Sadly the wind was blowing and very strong so our intended target- the rare Vagrant Emperor dragonfly never showed, plenty of Common Darters but not quite warm enough for the larger species. We had been checking the sheltered spots wherever we went for this species hoping to find our own as a mini invasion was on.

An afternoon at Gweek Seal Sanctuary was interesting as well as the seals we saw Little Egrets, Kingfisher, 4 Greenshank and 12 Redshank on the adjacent estuary creek. Another quick stop at Stithian’s Reservoir offered a number of wetlands species, I’d never seen the water levels so low here. This was our last stop of the day before heading home.

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at 2:44 pm
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