Sunday, 3 January 2010

Andalucia Day 3

Drizzle met us face on as we left our hotel on day three as we packed our luggage into the minibuses and headed for Bajo Guadalquivir and Donana. The weather conditions resulted in today probably being the worst photographically speaking of the trip, so what follows are record shots at best. Huge open rice fields in winter, sodden wet and at first sight lifeless, burst into life when you look a little closer. Small birds zip from the field edge to the remaining dead rice stalks and onto the furrowed land. In complete contrast to their Spring arrival further north in three months the thousands of Common Chiffchaff feed on the ground along road edges and muddy puddles. As we approached our first stop at Brazo del Este we had already added Lapwing and Golden Plover to our growing trip list.

Common Chiffchaff

A Black Stork was picked out further across the rain soaked field, then two White Stork, quickly followed by a Marsh Harrier drifting along a line between field and marsh. We rounded the road and drove alongside the river to the edge of a small marsh and the birds began to come thick and fast. More Black-winged Stilt easily over a hundred back in the main field, 5-10 Avocet adding to the melee. A 20 strong flock of Glossy Ibis took off and landed 100metres into the pool oblivious to our presence then a shout ‘Purple Gallinule’ as a single bird charged across the shallow water 20metres from us.

Glossy Ibis at Brazo del Este

Two more were discovered on the opposite bank of the river a little later. A small party of Common Snipe circled in formation. Most of the group headed along the track into the field, I broke off into the opposite direction toward a small flock of birds feeding on the road. House Sparrow, Corn Bunting and several Crested Lark were flighty but offered good scope views. The occasional Yellow-legged Gull and Marsh Harrier made their way along the opposite bank of the river and the heaviest showers of the day hit.

Corn Bunting

Moving back to the minibus and with the others still some distance up the track I stopped to watch a procession of Chiffchaff and Black Redstart move into a tiny roadside copse. in a distinctly 'autumn fall' kind of way.
Looking closer a male Spanish Sparrow perched midway up before a movement on the ground caught my eye and I discovered the only Wryneck of the trip feeding in the lea of the copse. Wryneck have always eluded me when I've been out actively searching in Autumn, I've always wanted to find one as opposed to look at someone else's, so I was particularly pleased with this one.


We headed off in the easing rain, picking up sightings of all three egret species, Cattle Egret, Little Egret and a single Great White Egret, as we wound our way between ditches and fields from one group of fields to another. A large flock of eight-ten Purple Gallinule in a stubble field scattered as we juddered to a halt to try for photographs.

Purple Gallinule

Even stopping for the toilet provided no rest as those of us with stronger bladders picked off a dark phase Booted Eagle drifting past as we waited.
Our next destination at Los Olvillos showed immediate promise with at least three Marsh Harrier flying as we arrived.

Marsh Harrier

The first pipits of our trip mixed it with the Chiffchaff in the field, most were Meadow Pipit but one of our party saw a single Water Pipit. The walk along the road toward the main lagoon here added another Zitting Cisticola as well as more Common Stonechat. The main lagoon was carpeted with wildfowl with probably 1000 birds made up of Mallard, Shoveler, Common Pochard and Red-crested Pochard. A small number of sinensis Cormorant warmed themselves on overhanging branches and several hirundines, House Martin and Swallow hawked over the back of the pool for all the world like it was a Spring day. Another shout this time an Osprey that obligingly re-appeared moments later sans fish from one of the other lagoons. Back at the minibus one of our sharp eyed number scoping the field edge first located a Grey Wagtail, then more surprisingly a Bluethroat which was joined minutes later by another feeding on the sodden mud amongst the hordes of Chiffchaff.
Re-tracing our steps to cross the river and head for our picnic stop we added three Hoopoe as well as meridionalis Great Grey Shrike. A few Black-headed Gull perched on a small boat in the Guadalquivir river probably went unnoticed by most as thoughts turned to lunch.
Our group took the opportunity at lunch to wander into the pine forest at Aznalcázar, Sardinian Warbler called invisibly from the lower growth and several Crested Tit were located in the taller pines. Some of the party walked further in to this accessible forest and stumbled upon a small family group of Azure-winged Magpie rushing away and landing Treecreeper-like on pine trunks as they went.

Crested Tit

Post-lunch and back out into the open areas of Doñana the flooded rice fields yielded more waders with a large flock of wintering Dunlin that also produced a single Little Stint for the diligent few that worked through the flock. Here Waxbills flitted in the roadside vegetation and Corn Bunting perched on bush tops and roadside wires. The latter gave us uninhibited views and photographic opportunities of two superb species, first Great Grey Shrike of the beautiful meriodionalis race that first the Dutch and then BOU (Edit: as has been pointed out in the comments)have separated into a new species ‘Southern Grey Shrike’.

Great Grey Shrike meriodionalis

This race has a diffuse pink wash on the breast and narrow white supercilia above the mask that join on the forehead. Perhaps 100metres further with the photographers riding side door open as if on safari one of the much hoped for species Black-winged Kite flew as we approached, turned, before completing a flyby of both minibus, one of the highlights of the trip.

Black-winged Kite

A single distant Common Crane was to be my only sighting of this species on the trip due to flight times although others within the group connected with many hundreds on the last day.
A slow drive along the river checking Tamarisk trees for roosting Night Heron initially seemed destined to produce only post-perched Common Buzzard, but our guides again did not let us down as we found first a juvenile and then perhaps 30 of these small heron roosting in a 100metre stretch. A visit to a private farm pool to look for Ferruginous Duck was unsuccessful for that species but we did see more Serin, another Zitting Cisticola, more hirundines and a single Tufted Duck.

Night Heron, adult

Dusk found us searching in vain for calling Eagle Owl but it was only the smaller and commoner Tawny Owl that was vocal. The area through which we passed was a key site for Lynx but despite spending a good hour looking we were not to catch a glimpse of this enigmatic and beautiful cat.
Our hotel ‘Olongtigi’ was a splendid establishment with a small courtyard and ‘houses’ containing three rooms in each arranged around it. Much list comparison was done that night over Whisky and a log fire.


Stewart said...

Nice birds there Alan. You know you've had a good trip when you get a Wryneck. My favourite bird. I have been lucky enough to find half a dozen in the past. Even at Boulmer and Druridge Pools as well as a few on Holy Island and Newbiggin...the weather is the key. East / SE with rain between mid August and first week of Sept and Bobs your uncle! Anything else won't do...

The Drunkbirder said...

I'm pretty damned sure the BOU accepted the Southern Grey Shrike split years ago as well and lumped Steppe Shrike in there...

alan tilmouth said...

You're right John but only recently (1996)!
To be honest, I had forgotten that meriodonalis was included I had it at the back of mind that it was that Desert race garypallisterostruss that was split. I suppose I'll have to buy you a drink now you have got me a tick.

The Drunkbirder said...

Ah, nice one Alan... a pint of Mordue Workie Ticket would go down a treat!