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Anser Birding Andalucia/Coto Donana 14-19 April 2009 trip report

This tour was designed to give some time to exploring parts of the Huelva, Cadiz, Malaga and Seville provinces and look for some their special birds. The weather was milder for the time of year and we had some windy days with showers at times. The marshes were very full of water so this allowed the birds to spread out over huge areas rather than be concentrated. The windy days made it difficult to locate reedbed birds as they were skulking, as a result some easy to see birds were not logged. Overall temperatures were well below the average but on the plus side we had no heat haze and it was a sheer joy to take in grand views across the wetlands in particular with such a variety of skies.

A full list of the birds and wildlife seen follows with images from the trip too. I will add a gallery of views and scenery plus the best of the bird images on another link as soon as I get a chance.

I met six friends at Malaga airort on the morning of 14th and after negotiating the madness of the airport we were soon on the road heading North before stopping off for lunchtime tapas en-route. A selection of great dishes was taken with good coffee and all were ready for some birding. A short way up the road and we arrived at magnificnet Laguna de Fuente de Piedra which has the largest breeding colony of Greater Flamingo in Europe. Thousands could be seen feeding and nesting but we were distracted by the four Lesser Flamingo with them which were lifers for most! We also visited the Donana area staying in Hinojos for four nights as our base. We visited all the main birding sites on 15-16th with a lovely part of the day spent watching the activity at the Jose Valverde Centre where coffee,  toastie and fine birding can all be enjoyed together. We took in El Rocio (memorable for Dave and Martin digging the bogged down bus out of sand), La Rocina, El Acebuche (where we picknicked), Torre de La Higuera before returning for a bit and heading out again to the Dehesa de Abajo. A day out was spent on the East bank of the Guadalquivir (Brazo del Este/Pinzon marshes), La Algaida salinas and pinewoods, Laguna de Tarelo, Bonanza salinas travelling as far as Sanlucar de Barrameda on 17th. We took in the Espera lagoons on 18th, the mountains from Zahara-Grazalema-Montajaque/Benojoan and Ronda. The last day was spent driving back to Malaga.

I have prepared a list of the species I noted with a comment for some.  There is a chance I may have missed some out though.

Black-necked Grebe- seen around Donana’s pools and deeper wetlands, the largest number was of 60+ at Dehesa de Abajo reservoir.
Little Grebe- also noted at many sites.
Great Crested Grebe- seen at Dehesa de Abajo reservoir and a couple of other sites
Gannet- a few off Torre de la Higuera on 15th.
Night Heron-seen on our journeys with many present and nesting in the heronry at Jose Valverde centre on 16th.
Cattle Egret- a very common bird,  in prime breeding condition and atop the sheep make for such memorable sightings.


Squacco Heron-c6 seen at the Jose Valverde Centre on 16th with a few noted along the Brazo del Este/La Algaida road on 17th.
spain-6-19-april-2009-lumix-mjmcgill-275Little Little Egret-very common but still great birds in breeding plumage, especially at the heronries.
Great White Egret- a few noted in the wetlands of the Corredor Verde and East of the Jose Valverde Centre.
Grey Heron-noted
Purple Heron- seen around Donana but large numbers nesting the Jose Valverde Heronry reedbeds.

A pair of Purps


White Stork- very common, we took a look at the large tree borne colony at Dehesa de Abajo on 16th.
Black Stork-one was seen at the La Algaida saltpans on 17th.
Glossy Ibis- huge numbers nesting at Jose Valverde Centre with squadrons coming and going all the time. Seen in flocks at La Rocina on 15th and around Donana generally.spain-6-19-april-2009-coolpix-lumix-mjmcgill-063
Spoonbill-seen virtually everywhere in Donana including in the ditches but a pair on an island tamarisk nest at Laguna de Tarelo were notable for the views and study of behaviour on 17th.
Greater Flamingo- no counting but 10,000+ at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra on 14th, 100 El Rocio on 15th and 400 at La Algaida on 17th. The former mentioned site had many active nests.
Lesser Flamingo-four among the larger relatives at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra on 14th. I have since heard there are six and a pair are nesting.
Greylag Goose- two on rice fields near Dehesa de Abajo on 16th.
Shelduck- two at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra on 14th.
Gadwall- noted.
Shoveler- noted.
Teal- a pair noted.
Pochard-very common everywhere in Donana.
Red-Crested Pochard- seen at Dehesa de Abajo reservoir, El Rocio, Brazo del Este and many other sites in good numbers.
White-headed Duck- a male at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra on 14th and 7 males and one female at Espera Lagunas on 18th.
Griffon Vulture- seen over Donana and in the mountains around Ronda but not in great numbers.
Short-toed Eagle-seen well in a number of locations with prolonged views at Dehesa de Abajo on 16th.
Booted Eagle-both colour phases noted at a large variety of sites.
Bonelli’s Eagle-one flew past the bus near Zahara near Ronda on 18th but did not stay to be enjoyed.
Black Kite- very common in most places.
Marsh Harrier-seen hunting around Donana and Brazo del Este.
Black-winged Kite-one seen mobbing a Buzzard near Hinojos on 17th.
Montagu’s Harrier-best views were of hunting birds around Espera Lagunas on 18th. A first summer male was watched well here.
Common Buzzard- seen at a variety of sites.
Sparrowhawk- seen at a variety of sites.
Kestrel-seen commonly.
Lesser Kestrel-distant birds seen whilst travelling, the poor weather in Ronda put paid to good views.
Peregrine-one recorded.
Red-legged Partridge-seen commonly in the Espera area and at other sites.

Quail-heard around Donana.
Red-knobbed Coot- one seen well in thick emergent vegetation at the Brazo del Este. See below.


Purple Swamphen-seen well at a number of sites around Donana.
Great Bustard-2 seen flying N over the Antequera-Seville road near J43.
Avocet-seen in numbers at a number of sites.
Black-winged Stilt-very common at all wetland sites.

Black-winged Stilt at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra


Stone Curlew-6 seen around the Espera Lagunas.
Collared Pratincole-very common in a variety of areas.


Little-ringed Plover-seen at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra.
Ringed Plover-noted.
Kentish Plover-seen at a variety of sites.
Grey Plover-seen at Bonanza.
Sanderling-seen at Bonanza.
Dunlin-seen in numbers at many sites.
Curlew Sandpiper- lots at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra and Bonanza.
Little Stint-as above.

Wood Sandpiper-singles at Fuente de Piedra, Jose Valverde centre and in large numbers at Lagunas de Tollos.
Green Sandpiper-noted.
Common Sandpiper-noted.
Spotted Redshank- small numbers at a variety of sites but 10+ at Lagunas de Tollos.
Black-tailed Godwit-noted.
Bar-tailed Godwit-noted.
Ruff- breeding garb birds were seen in flocks.

Male Ruff in breeding dress, Fuente de Piedra


Black-headed Gull-noted.
Slender-billed Gull- 2 at the Laguna de Tarelo and 200+ at Bonanza, mating birds and calls all noted and feeding flocks watched at close range. See below.


Mediterranean Gull-a first winter at Brazo del Este.
Yellow-legged Gull-common.
Lesser-black backed Gull-noted past Torre de la Higuera.
Little Tern-seen at Bonanza especially.
Sandwich Tern- seen on the coast.
Gull-billed Tern-seen feeding in flocks over marshes and fields and even following the plough. Resting bird below.


Whiskered Tern-common over all marshes.
Woodpigeon-seen at Espera lagunas.
Collared Dove.
Turtle Dove-seen in the Northern woods of Donana.
Little Owl-singles spotted from the car on two ocasions with a showy bird along the Brazo del Este to La Algaida road.
Pallid Swift-seen at a variety of sites but studied in detail over Dehesa de Abajo.
Hoopoe-seen everywhere in small numbers.
Bee Eater-seen at many sites.
Crested Lark-very common.
Woodlark-seen at El Acebuche.
Short-toed Lark-seen around the dry marshes and fields. One individual was at home in wheel ruts, see below.

Lesser Short-toed Lark-seen well at La Algaida and other salt scrub areas.
Sand Martin-recorded at many sites.
Crag Martin-seen at Ronda and in the mountains.
Barn Swallow-common.
Red-rumped Swallow- seen at many sites and on our travels.
House Martin-common.
White Wagtail-seen a few sites.
Spanish Wagtail-common around Donana and in crops around Espera lagunas as seen below.

Wren-heard at Puerto de las Palomas near Grazalema.
Redstart-one in the bushes outside the Jose Valverde Centre on 16th.
Black Redstart-seen and heard in the mountains around Grazalema.
Black-eared Wheatear- seen at Espera Lagunas on 18th.
Black Wheatear-a pair at Grazalema, a male nearby and a further pair near Montajaque all on 18th. One of the formers birds atop a boulder below.

Stonechat-seen commonly.
Blue-rock Thrush- recorded in the mountains.
Mistle Thrush-recorded.
Sardinian Warbler-common.
Common Whitethroat-seen around Espera.
Spectacled Warbler-seen at Espera.
Subalpine Warbler-heard at a variety of sites but seen very well near Grazalema.
Sedge Warbler-recorded.
Zitting Cisitcola-common.
Savi’s Warbler-seen and heard well around Donana but La Rocina gave the best views.

Savi’s Warbler, La Rocina MJM


Cetti’s Warbler- heard at many sites.
Reed Warbler-heard and seen well at La Rocina.
Great Reed Warbler-common around Donana.

Great Reed Warbler in full song, El Rocio MJM


Melodius Warbler-three at the Jose Antonio Valverde Centre on 16th and 30+ around Espera Lagunas on 18th. See image below.

Bonelli’s Warbler- one at Grazalema on 18th.
Iberian Chiffchaff-watched and heard well at La Rocina on 15th and one or two other sites subsequently.
Great Tit-noted.
Blue Tit-noted.
Crested Tit-seen nesting at El Acebuche and seen in woodland at some other sites.
Penduline Tit-males at La Rocina on 15th and Brazo del Este on 17th.
Short-toed Treecreeper-noted.
Woodchat Shrike-common.
Southern Grey Shrike-seen mostly from the bus.
Azure winged Magpie-common.
Red-billed Chough-seen at Grazalema and great views at Ronda gorge.
Carrion Crow-noted.
Raven-noted at Grazalema.
Spotless Starling-common.
House Sparrow-noted.
Tree Sparrow-noted.
Cirl Bunting-seen near Montejaque.
Rock Bunting-noted.

Singing Black-Masked Weaver ?, Brazo del Este


We also noted a few dragonfly species around Jose Valverde Centre especially with Scarlet and Red Veined Darters, Lesser Emperor and a few damselfly species. A variety of butterflies were noted but hard to track on the windy days.

Pick of the mammals would be Iberian Hare Lepus Granatensis but deer sp and Red Fox were noted.

Filed under: Trip Reports


at 7:21 pm

1-30 May 2009 sightings and personal blog

30 May 2009 You cannot beat England on a day like today. An early start out and about checking out a few local sites to home, I was rather surprised to still find Nightingale in full song at Frampton on Severn. An interesting aythya hybrid was also present with the Tufted Duck (30) on Townfield Lake. It was reminiscent of Lesser Scaup but had a look of Ring-necked Duck about it. Closer views would help.

Aythya hybrid



Later in the day I headed for the Forest of Dean with NRS, we had a great morning to 1330 with 50 Four spotted Chaser, 5 Broad-bodied Chaser, male Emperor, Downy Emerald, 500 Large Red, 150 Azure, 10 Common Blue and 5 Blue-tailed Damselfies. Garden Warbler, Tree Pipit, 5 Willow Warbler, Siskin with young and singing Pied Flycatcher were also noted.

‘It’s art innit’  Pied Flycatcher, Cobweb and Ancient Oak 
Forest of Dean
30 May 2009 M.J.McGill


Downy Emerald, Forest of Dean, 30 May 2009  MJM


Painted Lady in my garden M.J.McGill


26-29 May 2009  My first Azure Damselfly for the garden plus an unidentified drag sp. The undoubted highlight has been the Painted Lady invasion. Today (28th) I noted over 2000 at WWT. In 15 minutes I watched 0ver 300 pass me in the Big Pen with over 200 seen crossing the A38 on the way home to Whitminster, only a 12 minute journey, spectacular insect migration. I even had one in Tesco this afternoon.

House Martin collecting mud, 25 May 2009 MJMcGill


26 May 2009 Very little in the way of migration but the breeding birds at WWT are as ever very entertaining. Large numbers of Painted Lady butterflies (c300) noted about the reserve today.

25 May 2009 Some migrants around WWT Slimbridge with 3 Ringed Plover, 2 Whimbrel, c18 Black-tailed Godwit, 27 Dunlin and 3 Sanderling. A second summer Yellow-legged Gull (not pictured)and a first-summer Herring Gull with white wingtips were interesting. I noted c70 Painted Lady butterflies with seven sightings in my garden at dusk.



22-24 May 2009 Back in Glos tonight after a weekend away on Anser tour to Norfolk, the best Norfolk trip I have ever known with amazing birding. More details and trip report with some amazing observations will follow this week. One interesting migration observation which was apparent yesterday and even more so today was the arrival of thousands of Painted Lady butterflies. I mentioned it to NRS who had also noted it. I reckon that I saw over 600 over the last 24hrs with most today, all seen on my travels around East Anglia. They were all worn and simply flypasts but impressive all the same. On checking tonight reports of 100 an hour in off the sea at Beccles gives some idea how many are involved, Severn Beach had 5 today and more reports are due to follow for sure. Sadly, at least two ended up on my windscreen. Good to see 3 bat sp hawking feet from my home this evening.

18-21 May 2009 Best at WWT fore me was the 53 Black-tailed Godwits, most are 1st summers but at least 7 adults.

17 May 2009 At WWT only the, 1 Barwit, 6 Curlew, 18 Dunlin and 2 Ringed Plover noted off Middle Point with 6 Sanderling and a single Dunlin just to the N of here. The two first summer Mediterranean Gulls on South Lake are displaying with one of them goung through a change in bill colour, now deeper red.

16 May 2009 Only an hour out and not a lot to report. 200 Swift over the small copse at Saul Warth the highlight. Only 15 small waders seen in flight over the estuary, DBP reports that they have all departed.

15 May 2009 A couple of hours at Middle Point saw more excellent wader watching, 280 Dunlin, 190 Ringed Plover, 6 Barwit, 5 Knot, 15 Sanderling, 2 Grey Plover and 2 Turnstone. A male Whinchat was also nice as was an adult Kittiwake looking somewhat lost.

14 May 2009 What a spectacular day!

Breeding and non-breeding plumage Grey Plover MJM


At WWT I headed for the 100 Acre first. Lots of birds were singing due to the still, calm start to the day. It was shrouded in a heavy mist but not that cold. One of the first birds of the day was a Great White Egret (undoubtedly the bird John Phillips saw the day before at Lydney) which was fishing in a pool. After a while it flew to another pool nearby which is adjacent to Splatt N reedbed and fished for 20 minutes before returning to the 100 Acre. It was seen a little later heading for Saul Warth.

Great White Egret, WWT 100 Acre /Splatt area 14 May 2009 MJM


A Cuckoo was singing and the still weather allowed me to start a count of the singing warblers on site. My second surprise of the day was a pair of Pochard, very late or lost migrants, unusual for mid-May. By 1330,  I had logged 117 singing Reed Warbler, 23 Sedge Warbler, 10 Chiffchaff, 8 Blackcap, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 4 Common Whitethroat, or first Willow Warbler for two weeks, and best of all a Garden Warbler (rare here in Spring and I cannot recall hearing a singing bird at WWT before) and a selection of commoner species. It was clear that a large gull (Herring/LBB) passage was still in force, I estimated 25 birds a minute until 2.00pm at least but was not watching continously through the day. At least 250 Swift went through early with 1500 Swallow estimated during the day. Some Sand and House Martin were also involved. A first summer Mediterranean Gull was among the Black-headed Gulls on the Top New Piece and 2 Greenshank and a Reeve added to the interest. As did a Greenshank and 12 Black-tailed Godwit on South Lake as I drove by.

At high tide I headed out to check the estuary as a large number of waders were about, it was not dissapointing. 9 Grey Plover , 9 Bar-tailed Godwit, 15 Sanderling, 4 Knot, 2 Turnstone were among the stock waders of 160 Ringed Plover and 200 Dunlin. Seeing breeding plumaged birds is always one of the highlights of  each Spring. A pair of Whinchat had also arrived at Middle Point. At lunchtime (1345)  I headed out to the estuary where the gull passage was still on, what had gone through whilst I was not watching? A short wait and I soon had a dark phase Arctic Skua making it’s way across the mud and sand. I followed it all the way up the estuary, it stalled over a crow with it’s food but doubled it’s speed when over the water. To my surprise it settled on a sand bar and was joined and dwarfed by a pale phase skua next to it. Could it be, ten years of intense searching for the magic Pom in the Upper Severn in Spring, too far to confirm, I had to get closer so I headed up river to gain a better view, not believing. Checking again, no sign but after 5 minutes I found the pale bird, it was sitting in the water, it showed the right head pattern and I could see what appeared to be tail spoons when zooming up with the Swarovski. It soon took flight, made a few circles before it floated back downriver past me giving glorious views of it’s, as the Severnbeachboys put it,  ’full set of cutlery’. It was a fully adult Pomarine Skua. I radiode’d and started to ring people but lost the bird whilst doing this, my phone died and along with NRS and DBP who had arrived could not relocate it, the weather had closed in again. I went back to the digger with a big smile and finished the project I was working on. At the end of the day at 1700 I went back to the office, after updating the WWT website I headed out with DBP and NRS to search for the birds again but visibility, weather and low tide had beaten us. We sifted through and counted the marvellous waders on show. I had seen a male and female Wheatear to add to the day tally. I left for home at 1840.

Adult pale phase Pomarine Skua WWT Slimbridge M.J.McGill
14 May 2009




Sedgies in the Sunny and during overcast conditions MJM
Great birds whatever the weather. See following two images



13 May 2009 I will update with images later in the week but some migration was in evidence today at WWT/The Severn. I noted a Reeve, 4 Greenshank, 4 Red Knot, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, 28 Black-tailed Godwit, 70 Dunlin, 45 Ringed Plover and large numbers of hirundines.

10-12 May 2009 A busy period at work with safari’s, dawnchorus and a photo safari but some nice results.

Smirking Brown Hare MJM


Male Hairy Dragonfly MJM 10 May 2009


Little Egret MJM


Dandelion eating Pheasant MJM


Sibling or road kill eating Fox cub MJM
Still cannabilism…


9 May 2009 No birding today.

8 May 2009 Out at 0530-0800 and 1115-1210 where a pair of Whinchat, 70 Dunlin, 5 Ringed Plover, 11 Sanderling, a Whimbrel and 2 Little Terns were the best birds today on the Severn. Two Common Sandpipers at Splatt Bridge were nervous but gavegood scope views as they were flushed by walkers every few minutes but were succesfully harvesting insects on the towpath. A Common Tern on Townfield Lake was eclipsed by a group of 9 Dunlin (scarce here). My hoped for skua/tern passage did not happen in the Upper Severn but Severn beach birder Paul Bowerman yet again watched an Arctic and Pomarine Skua head over the Second crossing into Gloucestershire this morning. An evening watch for three hours produced 3 and 13 Whimbrel N.

7 May 2009 My first Azure Damselfly of the year, 50 Blue-tailed Damslefly, 20 Common Blue, 30 Large Red and 3 Red-eyed Damselflies too. The latter was seen on the 4th. 61 Dunlin and 4 Ringed Plover in the WWT Top New Piece was encouraging.

6 May 2009 A breeding plumaged Golden Plover in the WWT 100 Acre was the highlight.

5 May 2009 Another dead day on the River Severn (except for 300 lovely Shelduck) and very few migrant passerines, a new Wheatear, another pair of Yellow Wagtails and a male showing territorial behaviour at a new site. I watched two or possibly three males fighting in mid-air yesterday with at least 3 possibly 4 birds present.  It would be nice to see this species doing well locally after the declines of recent times. They go so well with Cattle and marshes. Sedge and Reed Warbler and Common and Lesser Whitethroat seem to be taking territories in all sutiable habitat. A Cuckoo was singing at the South Finger. I also noted a Fox with a Shelduck in it’s mouth this afternoon.

Male Northern Wheatear at WWT MJMcGill
A poor Spring for this species for me, much less than I normally see with less than 20 individuals noted locally so far.


4 May 2009 Some new birds and passage around the Severn. I logged 3 Whimbrel, a Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Greenshank joining the Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing on the Top New Piece, WWT. A total of 70 small waders were about the estuary but all were Dunlin or Ringed Plover.

3 May 2009 Some new insects for the year today with Common Blue Damselfly, lots of Blue-tailed and Large Red Damseflies and good views of female Hairy Dragonfly at WWT.  New birds included another Curlew Sandpiper on the Top New Piece at WWT and the Garganey was still present.

Female Hairy Dragonfly seen on WWT safari M.J.McGill.


Sedge Warbler WWT. Larger numbers on territory this year in response to habitat tweaking M.J.McGill


2 May 2009 Only gardening so far today, wish I was scoping a Collared Fly! Lots of Glos birders have been to see it so far but not me.

1 May 2009 A look at Frampton Pools and a single Common Sandpiper and 2 Common Terns were notable, an obvious emergence of Large Red (30) and Blue-tailed Damselflies (10) was in evidence.

Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 1:56 pm