Sunday, 30 April 2017

Birdwatching in the Parque Nacional Doñana in Spain and then it rained!

Leaving Veja de Frontera and the Bald-Headed Ibises, we started out in the direction of Cadiz, stopping for lunch at the small port of Sancti Petri. The view and weather were fabulous.
We by-passed Cadiz and made a night stop in the town of Rota, which is further up the coast and before travelling on to Sanlúcar de Barrameda. 
It is there in Sanlúcar that we started our exploration of the Parque Nacional de Doñanas Eastern sector. The  Doñana is a massive area with borders on both banks of the Rio Guadalquivir. It is probably Europes best birdwatching location.

Isla Sancti Petri and its Castello.

Beyond Sanlúcar There are coastal salt pans at Bonanza, these are a thriving business with great lorries and lots of dust. Further along the coast however, the tarmacadam road disintegrates into a  dirt track and it is here that we found disused saltpans falling into disrepair. This is where ships enter the river, headed for Sevilla with their cargos and this is the remote corner of the Parque where we started our exploration.

It is very flat out there, just a few old fishing boats rotting away on this tidal marshland.

Dead scrawny trees line the river, perfect resting places for Ospreys and Short-toed Eagles on their migration.
Across the river are the huge sand dunes, stretching along the coast of the Playa de Castilla from Matalascañas.

Another Short-Toed Eagle perches, whilst scanning the surrounding marshland.

After some time it takes to the air.

Circling over the Marsh in search of a meal. 

With a huge wingspan, the Snake Eagle, as it is also known, soars overhead.

A Eurasian Hoopoe takes flight.

We found many warblers skulking in the dense scrub along the river bank.
 This one is a Subalpine warbler.

 Countless waterways and fish farms line the road as we moved on towards the town of Trebujena.
There were many wading species, here a Snipe, the river bank baked and fractured from the immense heat.

It was late afternoon and we needed to be on the opposite side of the river. Usually, this would entail circumnavigating Sevilla but on this occasion, we had decided to try crossing the Rio Guadalquivir on the small car ferry that takes you across the river to Coria del Rio. We were not even sure if we could get on to it, as the slipway was very steep and not helped by the ebbing tide. But all went well, a payment of €4.30 and we were across the river.

The following morning we caught site of a Short-Eared Owl flying along the roadside as we continued to the Dehesa de Abajo.

"I messed up with the focus"

Early morning at the Dehesa de Abajo, with its huge White Stork colony, the largest in Europe.
Ancient Olive trees line the route up to the visitor centre,
every Olive tree has a nest similar to the one shown above.
The Storks seemed as miserable as us in the damp mist and gloom.

Below the visitor centre lies the La Rianzuela, a large lagoon, water flows in from the
Arroyo de Majalberraque. It offers two hides to watch the birds.
Here a Marsh Harrier hunts in the early morning mist.

A Grey Heron catches what little light there is.

From the Dehesa, we move towards the José Antonio Valverde, or better known as the JAV, visitor centre it is situated some 26 kilometres out on the Doñana, the access is by way of rough clay roads.
Slow progress on the truly potholed and uncomfortable road takes you alongside the Brazo de la Torre, a superb birdwatching area. You need good weather for a visit here and ours was getting worse by the minute!

We chance on a sleeping Barn Owl, in the Tamarisk.

We stopped at the vast concrete pumping station, from its appearance, it looks totally derelict.
At the rear of this neglected building, we found a colony of Black-Crowned Night Herons roosting, just as if they were in the trees or scrub.
Kestrels were nesting inside the building, their access through the broken windows.

Before our departure from our home in France, we had witnessed thousands of Common Cranes migrating North, so it was a surprise to see large numbers still here on the Doñana.

We never reached the JAV on that occasion, this being the last photograph before violent rain and gale force winds hit us.
We had to do as the birds were doing and get out, the clay roads deteriorate fast in the heavy rain and we did not wish to be stranded.

Later with the storm having passed through, Black Kites were in search of food, having just arrived from Africa.

There is a Black Kite roost near to the Dehesa de Abajo we watched as they started to congregate for the evening's roost.
Sadly the weather once again started to change.

As the next storm arrives we photographed a White Stork, with its nesting material.

It rained for the entire night and by the morning it was obvious we would not be finishing this present trip to the Doñana.
As we made our way towards El Rocio we came upon a convoy of Pilgrim's. They were looking very wet but they all managed a smile and wave as we passed by.

I think this photograph shows why we did not wish to be out on the clay roads.

They were all travelling to the Ermita Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Rocio.

We watched from the dry as they went on their way, the water getting deeper!

El Rocío, we were interested to see what birds were on the Madre de Las Marimas.
(Mother of the marshes).

For the Pilgrim's it is Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Rocio. 

The Black-Tailed Godwits were enjoying the raised water levels.

Searching for food in the freshly flooded grassland.

Many of them, starting to show their rusty red breeding plumage.

With it still raining we moved on to towards the industrial port of Huelva and the Odiel marshes.
This is the Western extreme of the Doñana.

Beyond the port a strip of land extends some 20 kilometres out into the sea, it is known as
El Espigón, here you find salt pans, brackish lagoons and intertidal salt marshes, it is very flat and the whole area is covered with deep tidal channels, they are known as "Esteros".
The breeding Spoonbills and other waders are to be found feeding in them, at the low tide.

When the wind is blowing the inner harbour side can be excellent for seabirds and waders.

Here, Audouins Gull's shelter from the wind.

Out on the open sea, the wind is still gusting and squally showers pass over.
Perhaps the weather would be better in Portugal. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Bald-Headed Ibis in Spain

Back in, 2014 we made an excursion to try and find Bald-Headed Ibis at Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz province in Spain, with the focus on first trying to find some and then photograph these rare birds.

To reiterate what we said then, they are critically endangered, they are still found in Morocco and now Spain, following the Spanish re-introduction program They had also existed in Syria in small numbers, but the last years, have obviously been bad for the Syrian birds and as of now we still do not know their fate! 
This February we arrived once again at Vejer de la Frontera, it is here that the re-introduced birds have made their own roost and nest site. First released onto the cliffs near Barbate, after gull predation at the release site, they found this roost for themselves.
It appeared the Ibis were doing well, once again the weather was not great for us, these are the pictures we managed to take of them up on the cliff face.

All the birds carry multiple Identification rings.

In 2014 some of the birds had radio telemetry devices fitted on their backs, none were seen this year.

A bald-Headed Ibis returns to the roost, looking like a flying witch!

When a bird arrives back at the site, there seems to be an act of welcome or courtship!

At times quite a few birds arrived together, as they queued to enter the hollows in the cliff face, there seemed a familiar resemblance to the opening of the British Parliment, Black rod, cloaks, drivel and all that pageantry!

From the cliff face, they launch directly over the Cattle Egret colony below, it may be a coincidence but their original release site had been alongside an Egret colony also.

Press on the link http://roadrunnersmikelinda. to see the Cattle Egret colony.

Others find higher vantage points to watch over the proceedings below.

They appear to be doing well, there are now other areas across Cadiz province where they can be seen, along with a few in Portugal and a tagged bird from Vejar de la Frontera has turned up in Morocco. With other programs underway in Austria and Switzerland let us hope the bird that was once nicknamed the
'forest Raven'
will continue making good progress.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Tarifa beach, on the Costa de la Luz, Andalucia.

Playa de Los Lances or better known as Tarifa beach, this huge width of beach stretching some three kilometres along the Southernmost coast on the Costa de la Luz. Mainland Africa just across the strait of Gibraltar. Two rivers flow onto the beach, the Rio Jara and de la Vega, they both form shallow lagoons, a mecca for the hundreds of kiteboarders, for us they are of importance as a haven for the Wintering and migrating birds.

Sadly the weather was very hazy, Africa hardly visible.

Some areas of sand are deeply sculptured by the winds.

Water, birds, sand, kiteboarders and Tarifa town.

Tarifa beach has a wonderful light, making it a great place to search for overwintering and migrating birds.

Caspian Terns are one of the species to be found here.

A mighty Caspian Tern joins a resting group of the smaller Sandwich Terns. 

Although it is late Winter, a juvenile Caspian Tern seems to be asking the adult for food.

Small groups of Sandwich Terns come and go along the water's edge.

This is the shallow water of the Rio Jara.

A small flock of Grey Plovers join a resting Dunlin.

One of the Caspian Terns takes off to hunt fish in the lagoon.

Terns dive to catch their prey, it seems a near impossible task among all the kites and riggings!

Our bird is successful and we can see the fish, held in its beak.

Twisting and turning through the kites.

Now the Sandwich Terns are leaving to hunt.

They hunt over the sea, the kites are not such problem.

On the lagoon fringe, elegant Audouin's Gulls, some with their continuity rings showing.

A juvenile Audouins, showing a plumage of a second winter bird, it will soon be in its full adult plumage.

A third winter Yellow-legged gull.

Sanderlings were busy feeding and resting.

A huge flock of Sanderling pass in front of the Duna De Valdevaqueros, at the far end of the beach.

The memorable sight of Tarifa beach!
Birds and kites