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foresttwitcher Sunday 23rd June 2019 15:47

Southern Spain - Pt 3 - June 2019
My previous two visits to southern Spain had been at different times in the year (October & April) so I had missed out on a couple of late arriving breeding migrants. Therefore this trip was planned to try for three such targets and in the hope getting a sighting of a previously heard only species - so the habitats visited were perhaps a bit more limited than usual.

Flights were booked direct with Eazyjet, accommodation through Trivago and hire car with Goldcar through Rentalcars.

Site guides used were "Where to Watch Birds in Southern & Western Spain" (Garcia & Paterson) and a slightly out of date copy of John Cantelo's excellent notes "Birding Cadiz Province".

Saturday 15th June:

A nice early drive to Gatwick saw car parking, bus transfer, bag drop / check-in, security and flight to Jerez all go smoothly, where I landed to the anticipated hot temperatures early afternoon. The usual airport birds of House Sparrow and House Martin were the first birds on the trip list. Car collected, I was soon on the road seeing Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling, Carrion Crow and hovering Kestrel on the road to my weeks lodgings near Puerto Serrano.

The last part of the approach to the accommodation, converted from a station on an old abandoned railway line, was down a gravel track from the village which first crossed a bridge over a promising looking river valley - the Guadalete - so I stopped for a look.

This proved to be a good move: upstream, beyond a weir, a Grey Heron and Great Egret were standing close together with a White Stork just beyond; a Little Egret below the weir and a number of Cattle Egret on the grassy valley floor; a Purple Heron then flew low overhead down the valley; a Coot was in the weedy edges of the river; a Little Ringed Plover on a small gravel spit; a single Bee-eater hawked above along with numerous Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin plus higher up some swifts, the only one of which I got a good enough view of was a Common Swift; Crested Larks flitted around the scrub; finally a Booted Eagle soared over. This all looked to be very promising, especially as just as I had pulled up I had heard the last few notes of an unfamiliar warbler song from a dense patch of vines growing over a fig tree, but the bird then became silent for the rest of my time around the bridge.

After this very productive spell I carried on to the hotel and settled in. Once the heat had subsided a bit I took an evening walk along the Via Verde de la Sierra - a cycle / riding / walking route along the bed of the old railway. As well as a few of the above species being seen again, common species added were: Great Tit, Jackdaw, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Serin.

Scridifer Sunday 23rd June 2019 16:51

Great stuff Pete, I look forward to the rest of your trip! Do we get to learn what the targets are or are you going to keep us on tenterhooks?


foresttwitcher Sunday 23rd June 2019 22:12

Cheers Chris ... I think I'll keep up the suspense!

Scridifer Monday 24th June 2019 04:41


Originally Posted by foresttwitcher (Post 3863288)
Cheers Chris ... I think I'll keep up the suspense!

THought you might LOL! Keeping my fingers crossed anyway!


foresttwitcher Monday 24th June 2019 09:28

Sunday 16th June:

A site for one of my targets was just down the road so, as the House Sparrows in the roof of the building had woken me at first light, I made an early start at Embalse de Bornos. Parking at the northern end at a small track on the road from Villamartin I opened the car door to the sound of a Nightingale singing from the understorey below some Eucalyptus and a Turtle Dove purring from the canopy. A little further on the vegetation turned to Tamarisk and shortly I heard the song of my target, that I had checked out on xenocanto last night - after a bit of hunting in the dense undergrowth I got good views of a singing Western Olivaceous Warbler; target one down early on the first full day. The path over the old bridge as far as the new road over-bridge went through more of the same habitat and had plenty more of the species singing and easily visible near the track. Near the waters edge there was also a calling Cetti's Warbler and a pair of Reed Warbler (presumably African judging by the discussion on Reed Warbler in Iberia in the breeding season on a couple of recent threads but I won't pretend to be able enough to tell the difference!) and a Melodious Warbler in the woodier scrub.

I returned along the path and followed the track between farmland and a wooded strip; the latter containing Blackbird, singing Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher. As the habitat became more open and scrubby the common finches (Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Serin and Linnet) became evident plus Spanish Sparrow, Sardinan Warbler and Zitting Cisticola. Reaching a small bluff overlooking the reservoir I set up the scope and soon found a roost containing Cattle and Little Egret and Grey Heron plus a few Glossy Ibis and a couple of Black-crowned Night Heron. The previously seen swift and Hirundine species were overhead along with at least one Pallid Swift seen well enough for an ID. Eventually the biting insects got too much so I set off back to the car, picking up Northern Wheatear, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie and Stonechat on the way back.

As the heat was now building I decided to do a bit of birding from the car so set off to Los Naveros to slowly drive the rough track through mixed farmland to near Conil. It was a bit quiet but did pick up Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, the usual Hoopoe, Bee-eater and Crested Lark and an intense looking Little Owl perched up on a fence post close to the track.

I then headed for the Bonanza Pools, a site I missed out on during my last brief visit to this area, seeing Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Sand Martin, Mallard and White-headed Duck. As it was still hot I decided to stay in the car and cruise around the Bonanza Salt Pans - the first area approached was a bit quiet but as I went further in the activity increased and species seen included: Cormorant, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, Yellow-legged Gull, Little Tern and Thekla's Lark.

I then parked up at the beginning of the Pinar de Algaida and had a look from the screen at the Laguna de Tarelo which had a few of the expected species already seen but was much quieter then when I last visited earlier in the year a few years back (not unexpectedly, I suppose). Having had enough of being in the car I set off for a walk under the shade of the pines which was also a bit quiet but I did see a number of both Booted Eagle and Black Kite overhead plus a couple of Short-toed Treecreeper.

Back in air-conditioned comfort I drove along the tracks over the Los Portugueses Salt Pans adding Osprey and Spanish Yellow Wagtail to the list but overall it was also quiet, apart from the numerous Galerida larks. On the other hand the Guadalquiver Marshes, which were almost bird-less last time, seem to have had some extensive works done and were heaving with birds; in addition to large numbers of the species already seen yesterday or on the other salt pans earlier I saw: a small group of Curlew Sandpiper in various plumage stages, a couple of Little Stint, two Green Sandpiper and a few flocks of Black-tailed Godwit.

Another productive day but I was about to make the first of a few bad decisions on this trip. The original plan had been to be back at the Pinar de Algaida for dusk for another target species but I thought there was plenty of light left so drove the minor road over the Trebujena area and then headed towards a site for the species in question in the Brazo del Este area. But I had totally underestimated the distance involved and the time taken and overestimated the amount of daylight left so ended up arriving well after dark and not finding the precise area. I did though see another Little Owl trying unsuccessfully to fly off from the carriageway with a well 'stuck down' flattened small mammal of some type and a close Barn Owl - in fact I nearly hit it as it took off from the road in front of me. So late back to base after a long day out.

Scridifer Monday 24th June 2019 09:39

One down Pete! :t: Here's hoping your 'error' won't prove to be irretrievable!


foresttwitcher Monday 24th June 2019 19:51

Monday 17th June:

Despite the late finish last evening I had intended an early start this morning to be at a site for another target early but my sparrow alarm failed to wake me so I had a more leisurely start than planned and headed to Laguna de la Mejorada, seeing both Buzzard and Black-winged Kite perched on top of roadside telephone poles during the journey.

Once on site I first checked out the suggested olive groves but no sign so set off on a circumnavigation of the reservoir. Plenty of the more common and expected scrub species present, including a number of Nightingale and more Western Olivaceous Warblers, plus what appeared to be a small colony of Common Waxbill in one corner and plenty of Turtle Doves in the taller trees. Once alongside the canal a couple of Little Tern were fishing and two Collared Pratincole hawked overhead with the swifts and Hirundines (I forgot to mention that I saw a flock of Pratincoles hawking over a roadside canal / ditch at dusk yesterday). Apart from a tame Hoopoe feeding on a track not much else of note was seen on the rest of the way round. Back near the car a view opened up over the water to show the usual egrets / herons / ibis and Little Grebe plus Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover and a number of active Whiskered Terns. On returning to my starting point the farmer had begun working the olive groves so no sign of the target.

I decided to use the car for a while so drove the minor roads around the Moron - Marchena - La Puebla de Cazalla area seeing the more common species plus Red-legged Partridge, Black Kite, Booted Eagle, a feeding flock of Bee-eater, a close-by perched Woodchat Shrilke and a flyover Raven.

Next stop was the Laguna de Medina - it was still hot so the scrub around the reservoir was pretty quiet but there was plenty of life on the water; alongside what seemed to be about half the world's population of Coot were a few Moorhen, some Little Grebe, larger numbers of Black-necked Grebe, a couple of Great Crested Grebe, Spoonbill, Avocet, Flamingo, White-headed Duck, Mallard and a few scattered Pochard. To the rear a lot of birds suddenly went up, including a Lapwing, and then a pair of Foxes appeared patrolling the edge of the reeds. The sandy path from the boardwalk to the hide was swarming with enormous numbers of a large parasitic-type burrowing wasp.

It was now time to return to Pinar de Algaida where I stopped in the car park for a bite to eat and to let dusk approach. Just as I was leaving I heard and then saw an Iberian Green Woodpecker fly over the road and perch up on a pine trunk, even giving me time to get it in the scope; good views of target number two down - it had been a frustrating heard only species before.

I then continued up the track to a promising looking area of more open 'heathy' land in the pines and waited and listened. Once fully dark, but very moonlight courtesy of a full moon, I heard a European Nightjar churring. Then a distant Red-necked Nightjar began its unusual call. There were loads of bats around and an unidentified owl flew very close by but no nightjars were seen and both soon went quiet. Once it became too dark I set off for base. Target three partially got but I still wanted to see one.

Jon Turner Monday 24th June 2019 20:57

I have regularly seen Iberian Green Woodpecker in trees on the golf course at Montenmedio near Vejer. It's where the Bald Ibis play dodge-ball on the golf driving range.

I think Western Olivaceous Warbler is more common than may have been thought. Larry did a thread recently asking for info about likely sites, and several were suggested. To get all three of your targets in one area reeks of good planning to me! Well done.

John Cantelo Monday 24th June 2019 20:57

Good to hear that the Embalse de Bornos site came up trumps for Western Olivaceous Warbler - as it should given the amount of tamarisk found there. It's not a site that I often manage to visit so news that the species is still present although not surprising is nonetheless good to know. Good too to hear you had Iberian Green Woodpecker at Algaida where I've not seen it myself but the species does seem to be getting more widespread in the region. I've yet to have European Nightjar in Cadiz province so that's a good one to get too.

For those interested in my guide to birding in Cadiz province I plan to start a thread shortly giving details about various sites in the area. Hopefully, it should encourage more feedback such as Pete's account particularly for sites I'm not so familiar with as I should be.

foresttwitcher Monday 24th June 2019 21:46

Yes, Jon, I too was surprised how common Western Olivaceous Warbler appeared to be in the right habitat. I was hoping Larry may read this as I couldn't find his thread in a quick look in order to get back to him with any information.

John, Embalse de Bornos was definitely worth the visit. I had also heard Green Woodpecker at Algaida in 2016. I wasn't expecting European Nightjar either. I would happily recommend your notes to anyone planning a visit to the area.

Scridifer Tuesday 25th June 2019 04:39

Three out of three! Top marks Pete! B (:

I look forward to hearing about the rest of your trip now 'the pressure is off'!


foresttwitcher Tuesday 25th June 2019 08:45

Still plenty of pressure, Chris, as the last target was probably my most wanted!

Larry Sweetland Tuesday 25th June 2019 10:08

Nice one. I too still have to make an appointment with Western Olly one day, my recent Iberian trips haven't been at the right time for them. Glad you saw them :)

foresttwitcher Tuesday 25th June 2019 15:53

Cheers, Larry. In the right place at the right time (sorry for stating the bleeding obvious) you should find them easily enough.

John Cantelo Tuesday 25th June 2019 17:16

1 Attachment(s)
As it's not a very well known site I've posted an adapted version of the map from my notes showing the location of the Embalse de Bornos. Unless I've misunderstood the relevant post here, (f) shows the location of where Pete had Western Olivaceous

foresttwitcher Tuesday 25th June 2019 18:25

Thanks for that John, yes, 'f' is indeed the location.

foresttwitcher Tuesday 25th June 2019 18:45

Tuesday 18th June:

After the late finish last night my sparrows let me down again so a bit of a lie-in and a somewhat late start today. John Cantelo's notes indicate the cactus hedges south of Jimena are potentially good for my remaining target so I set off and very slowly drove the gravel track east from Marchenilla. It was a little quiet on the bird front as heavy trucks were using the track to get to and from roadworks at the eastern end so there was some disturbance and a lot of dust. Never-the-less, there were the expected dry farmland species, the most numerous being Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Stonechat, Hirundines / Swifts and Lark species and I also saw another Woodchat Shrike and added a Greater Short-toed Lark and a couple of Tawny Pipit - but no target.

This was probably the hottest afternoon of the week so far so I took the opportunity to enjoy the air-con and the scenery with a drive around the fun roads of the scenic Grazalema National Park - adding the first, rather surprisingly, Eurasian Griffon Vulture of the week so far from one of the Miradors.

Later I walked along the southern shore of the Embalse de Zahara with plenty of what were proving to be the most common birds around but nothing new added.

foresttwitcher Tuesday 25th June 2019 19:44

Wednesday 19th June:

Up early this morning for a sunrise return to Laguna de Mejorada in an attempt for my remaining target. I was looking over the olive groves before the farm works started and there was plenty of bird-song all around, including a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin singing not too far off. The line of sight was directly up the rows of trees so unless the bird went down onto the ground it was going to be difficult to see him - and so it proved as he sang for a while from the canopy a number of trees back and refused to show and after a while he went silent.

Another circuit of the reservoir provided much the same mix of birds as previously but additionally I had a flyover adult Mediterranean Gull, there were a couple of Black-headed Gulls on the small rocky islands in the water and a Common Sandpiper working along the back edge. The highlight was a fairly close fly-by from a male Montagu's Harrier. Once back at the olive groves there was no more song and nothing showing.

With the heat building again I set off back to the Grazalema N.P. to look for some shaded woodland walks. Finding a car park / pic-nic area I pulled up and did a short waymarked route that slowly rose up through mixed woodland and was soon among familiar species such as the first Robin of the trip, Jay, Chaffinch, Willow Warbler, Firecrest, Blue Tit, Crested Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and Nuthatch plus a number of slightly more exotic and frequently calling Western Bonelli's Warbler.

The next walk from the same parking area was through more open woodland and scrub along a valley which gave views of crags on either side between which a number of Griffon Vultures flew accompanied by a single Black Vulture and over the time of the walk to the end and back I also had a Short-toed Eagle, a couple of different Booted Eagles plus a nice sighting of a Bonelli's Eagle. At one point an enormous flock of what could only have been Choughs rose up above a distant col and I guess given the altitude and number / behavior they are most likely to have been Alpine but they were too far away to tell.

Once back to the car I drove further up into the range and did a walk that went above the tree line over some limestone Karst scenery. In the stunted pines there was a small flock of Coal Tit, in the scrub just above a number of Black Redstart and in the rocks higher up one each of Black Wheatear and Ortolan Bunting. A final higher altitude walk at the other end of this sendero did not add any species but the scenery was impressive, as it had been all the time in this area.

Jon Turner Tuesday 25th June 2019 19:58

Not sure about the Alpine Choughs. Only seen Red-billed in that area.

The track North from Marchenilla is where I first saw Rufous Bush thingum. And indeed on prickly pear, not far along the track. If you then carry on past the rock / stone stuff compound on the right, which was moved here a few years ago as it was un unsightly mess near the main road, you go up a hill and about half way down on the left in the little dry valley is the best place for RBC. The track also used to be good for Black-eared Wheatear, but they seem to have moved away in recent years.

John Cantelo Tuesday 25th June 2019 21:28


Originally Posted by Jon Turner (Post 3864119)
Not sure about the Alpine Choughs. Only seen Red-billed in that area.

Agreed - Alpine Chough are very unusual in Andalucia - the nearest breeding birds are in Morocco - and a flock would be even more so. In contrast, Red-billed are not uncommon.

foresttwitcher Tuesday 25th June 2019 22:04

Thanks Jon & John, Red-billed they most likely were then.

Yes, Jon, spent a while looking down into that dry valley but there was a heard of cattle moving about much of the time!

rollingthunder Wednesday 26th June 2019 08:10

I had large flocks of Alpine Choughs in the High Atlas at Imlil just below Mount Toubkal the highet point in Morocco - these are probaly the nearest point for a species that is sedentary only moving lower outside the breeding season:t:

Laurie -

Acrocephalus Wednesday 26th June 2019 16:16

Alpine Chough in northernmost Morocco

Originally Posted by rollingthunder (Post 3864245)
I had large flocks of Alpine Choughs in the High Atlas at Imlil just below Mount Toubkal the highet point in Morocco - these are probaly the nearest point for a species that is sedentary only moving lower outside the breeding season:t:

Laurie -

In northern Morocco, the Alpine Chough breeds at el-Haouz massif in the eastern part of Tangier Peninsula at an altitude of about 650-700 m. The site is just 20 Km south from the Strait of Gibraltar (and only 40 Km – as the crow flies – from Tarifa!). The species is also regularly observed at Jbel Moussa during the breeding season (very likely breeding there as well: there are plenty of habitats at around the same altitude as above, plus their behavior in spring when large raptors use “their cliffs” for roosting and/or resting).

rollingthunder Thursday 27th June 2019 06:46

Thanks for that i would not have thought they would have bred as low as that so there is a chance of non-breeders / juveniles wandering over the Straits:t:

After all if Common Bulbuls can make it to breed.....

Laurie -

Ernest Garcia Thursday 27th June 2019 09:24

In Spain the Yellow-billed (Alpine) Chough is only known to nest in the Pyrenees and Cantabrian mountains and is seldom seen elsewhere. The Andalucian choughs are all Red-billed and there is a good population of these in the Betic range, including at Grazalema. Nevertheless, there has been a series of confirmed records of Yellow-billed Choughs from southern Spain and especially at Gibraltar. There were eight Gib records between 1983 and 2002 (none since), nearly all of them of birds arriving from the Strait in spring and continuing northwards. They included two flocks of seven and one of 18 individuals. The significance of these records remains unknown. Any Yellow-billed Chough records from Iberia other than in the northern mountains are of interest and should be reported, once the pitfall of misidentified juvenile Red-billed Choughs has been discounted.

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