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Tuesday 31 January 2017, Gaucin, partly cloudy, light SE wind, 15C

A walk through the mixed woods of La Umbria in lovely afternoon sunshine was a great way to spend a couple of hours; the distant, rhythmic thud of a campesino's hoe cleaving the soil, occasionally punctuated by a metallic 'chink' as iron struck stone, was the only sound other than birdsong (well, there was a particularly noisy podenco dog giving it large at one point but poetic licence and all that.....). The walk produced a good range of typical species for the area including Griffon Vulture, Common Buzzard (heard), Peregrine, Eurasian Jay, Wood Pigeon, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker (heard), Crag Martin, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Blackbird, European Robin, Eurasian Wren, Black Redstart, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Firecrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Crested Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff sp., Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Cirl Bunting. After seeing just one Dunnock around the village in more than 10 years today I saw my fourth in a couple of weeks with one below the bridge on the Gaucin-Ronda road!

In the village at about 18:00hrs I was surprised by the sight of 2 House Martin circling around over the ferreteria shop - amazing to think that they are back already having only left towards the end of October.

What do you do after a back-breaking algorrobo (carob) harvest? Make a bed of it and have a lie down, of course!

female Black Redstart


Sunday 29 January 2017, Gaucin, sunny, calm air-light SE wind, 14C

Once again, a chilly start but feeling quite warm in the afternoon sunshine.
This morning Janys and I had an easy walk down by the Rio Genal - birds were curiously few and far between with a Common Kestrel and a distant view of one of the over-wintering Booted Eagle the highlights!
Janys having a well-earned rest beside the river



This afternoon I made another attempt to see Ring Ouzel on the west slope of El Hacho and, guess what....another no show! There were some interesting species, though, including 20+ Griffon Vulture, Peregrine, Common Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Southern Grey Shrike, Blue Rock Thrush, 10+ Song Thrush, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Crag Martin, Dunnock (possibly one of those I saw a few days ago, but it was two to three hundred metres away from the first site), Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, 25+ Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Cirl Bunting and Rock Bunting. Back in the village there was a first winter Blue Rock Thrush in Callejon del Pino or, as it's now known,

Stonechat

Griffon Vulture

Griffon Vulture

Griffon Vulture
Sierra Bermeja and Sierra Crestellina from El Hacho

Thursday 26 January 2017, Gaucin, partly cloudy, light SE wind, 12C

This afternoon I paid my first visit to the Rio Genal since mid-November. Despite the relatively dry winter so far there was a reasonable amount of water present, helped by last week's snowfall.

Raptors were the highlight with not one but 2 Booted Eagle (one pale morph and one intermediate) over-wintering. As I was walking back up the hill to the car a scan of the electricity pylons spooked a superb Northern Goshawk that eased its way powerfully across the wooded valley towards the river. Other raptors seen were 50+ Griffon Vulture, Peregrine and Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Aside from the big birds it was rather quiet though with group of 10+ Crag Martin was a single House Martin, presumably also over-wintering, 7 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Goldfinch and Chaffinch making up the numbers.
Rio Genal

Paper White Narcissi

Booted Eagle


Booted Eagle


Tuesday 24 January 2017, Gaucin, sunny, light NW wind, 12C

Slightly cooler today, but still pleasant in the gentle winter sun. Yesterday mid-afternoon I had another quick look for Ring Ouzel on El Hacho - none showed, but I did see another Dunnock, presumably a different bird to Sunday's two as this one was in a wild olive tree just 10m off the main Gaucin-Algeciras road.

A walk down the Camino de Gibraltar this afternoon was largely uneventful, with just a Firecrest of note. Other species seen were Griffon Vulture, Common Kestrel, Great-spotted Woodpecker, 6 Song Thrush, 2 Meadow Pipit, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, 2 Common Chiffchaff and Serin.

As I came back into the village along Calle del Pino a first winter Blue Rock Thrush posed on a rooftop:

Sunday 22 January 2017, Gaucin, sunny, light NW wind, 13C

The snow has cleared and now it's back to bright, cold mornings and warm, sunny afternoons.
Today I went for a mid-afternoon check of the west slope of El Hacho, hoping that the cold snap may have driven down some Ring Ouzel as it did a couple of years ago. Alas, all I saw was a 'possible' as a dark, thrush-sized bird with light upper wings (could have been the sun shining on it!) dashed between two large shrubs; you can usually hear them if they're around but it was all quiet. I did, however, see 2 Dunnock which is quite a scarce winter visitor to these parts.
Other species seen were Griffon Vulture, Common Kestrel, Southern Grey Shrike, Blue Rock Thrush, 10+ Song Thrush, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Cirl Bunting and Corn Bunting.

Just the one male Spanish Ibex hanging around today.

Thursday 19 January 2017, Gaucin, mostly cloudy, light N-NW wind, 0.4C!

Gaucin woke today to a blanket of deep snow, after more than 20cm fell overnight; anecdotally, the most for at least 35 years. Whilst no more snow fell during the day, the temperature only just struggled into positive territory. Most birds have kept a low profile, though there were at least 12 Blackcap feeding energetically on berries on a garden shrub behind Calle Convento.
 
 
 

Monday 16 January 2017, Gaucin, sunny, calm air-light N-NE wind, 15C

Another cold start, 3C, that turned into a beautiful, warm winter's day, despite the light northerly wind. Mid-afternoon I managed a short visit to the west slope of El Hacho, the birding highlight of which was the sight of a wintering Booted Eagle being chased, and made to look quite ungainly, by a territorial Peregrine!
Also seen were Griffon Vulture, Common Kestrel, Southern Grey Shrike, Black Redstart, 15+ Song Thrush, Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Serin, Corn Bunting and Cirl Bunting.

On the non-bird front, there were at least 10, possibly as many as 15, Spanish Ibex including adult males, females and a range of youngsters - what a wonderful sight!
male Spanish Ibex
Sierra Bermeja and Sierra Crestellina


Sunday 15 January 2017, Gaucin, sunny, calm air-light S-SE wind, 14C

Back in Gaucin after Janys was finally discharged from hospital; there will be more treatment and monitoring to come but at least she's at home.

Today was clear, bright and warm in the sunshine, despite a cool start, just 2C at 09:00hrs. Early afternoon on Thursday I saw a pale morph Booted Eagle just south of the village, presumably the same one that's been seen by others over the past couple of weeks (and the same one I saw last winter?).

Hopefully I'll have more to report as life regains some semblance of normality!

Wednesday 11th January 2017 - Gaucin tracks

AFTERNOON,  CIRCULAR WALK BELOW THE VILLAGE

WEATHER:  another fantastic sunny day, cloudless, warm, with no wind.

We left the village around 2pm on a track from Calle Tinajones which takes you down into the Genal Valley passing below the Castle. We returned on a narrow footpath arriving at the bottom of Calle Casares, this circular walk can be done in about 30 minutes, it took us 2 hours because we stopped so many times to admire the wonderful views and the very active bird/insect life.

looking down the main track

It was great to see the 'wintering' Booted Eagle again, we had 3 different sightings and yet  I still failed to photograph it. The little blighter crept up from behind us on two occasions and flew across the bright sunlight, the third view was too distant.
Sierra Crestellina with Almond blossom in the foreground
A 'kettle' of 49 Griffon Vultures clustered in the valley between Sierra Crestellina and Gaucin and both Common Kestrel and Common Buzzard showed up too.

The bushes, trees and open fields produced many bird sightings with the usual fare of Blackcap, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Robin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird and Blue Tit.
Gibraltar and Morocco in the distance - taken from the track

A Short-toed Treecreeper was nice to see, as was a single Firecrest and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed in the distance. The pink almond blossom was starting to break out all over the place and was buzzing with bees, it really felt like a sunny June day in the UK!

This really warm winter spell enticed several butterflies out on the wing, we saw Cleopatra, Large White, Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow, also, and to our great delight, we saw a Hummingbird Hawk Moth.

a young Iberian Wall Lizard sunning itself
We said goodbye to the beautiful surroundings as we re-entered the village, we'll be back on April 4th.

If you want to see what birding trips we do during the next two months then follow the wingspanner blog go to: www.wingspanbirdtours.com/blog

Monday 9th January - birding away from Gaucin

Andalucia - Los Lances beach - La Janda - Barbate river and marshes

We had a brilliant day out with the most beautiful weather - not a cloud all day, not a whiff of wind and the light was just exquisite.

Dawn and I collect John & Mary on the edge of Gaucin and we all drove down to Casares where we picked up Penny. From there we drove straight to Tarifa to visit Los Lances Beach. What a great start to our birding, the still air produced perfectly calm water giving wonderful reflections of the surrounding mountains in perfect light.

the view from the hide at Los Lances beach
From the approach track and boardwalk we logged several species such as Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Spotless Starling and Cattle Egret.

On the beach feeding around the pools we saw a good selection of waders and several species of gull loafed around in the pools. Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone made up the wader numbers whilst Audouin's, Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were joined by a single Sandwich Tern. Dozens of Crag Martins dashed above the beach and other species such as Little Egret, Grey Heron, Goldfinch, Linnet and Robin made up the numbers.
the calm waters at Los Lances
At La Janda we were surprised to be enshrouded in a thick mist but this soon burnt off to reveal a flat landscape of rice fields, reed-filled ditches, flat pastures and distant hills, the whole area was brimming with birds.

Along the first section we noted Great White Egret, Lapwing, Stonechat, Corn Bunting and Common Buzzard, as we reached the central track we stopped for coffee and cake, how nice! From this raised track we had splendid views of our surroundings, the water level in the central 'drain' (canal) was very low  creating a reed-fringed muddy environment which was excellent habitat for wintering Bluethroats, which was exactly was we saw next. What a stunner, a perfectly marked male white-spotted Bluethroat, marvellous!

The Bluethroat


Green Sandpiper, Common Crane, White Stork, Calandra Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Purple Swamphen were seen in the ditches and fields whilst a lovely male Hen Harrier sat preening in a pasture giving lovely scope-views. A flock of some 300 Common Cranes landed in a distant field just as we began our trek along the track.

rice fields at La Janda

As we worked our way along the central track we added more species to the list with Marsh Harriers turning up quite often and good numbers of Little Egrets, Spoonbills, Grey Herons and White Storks lining most of the ditches and rice fields.
panorama of La Janda 
A few more waders appeared, with Greenshank, Common Snipe and a very surprising Wood Sandpiper (not a bird I would expect to find wintering in Spain). A number of raptors circled on thermals we found a couple of real goodies, first a Bonelli's Eagle and then a Spanish Imperial Eagle joined three Marsh Harriers, wow could it get any better?
these specs are White Storks up on the thermals
Well, yes it could. Our next sighting was of a Kingfisher and then we found another unexpected migrant when a Wryneck landed in the top of a nearby bush.

A second Bonelli's Eagle appeared as we stopped for lunch and during lunchtime we saw Cetti's and Sardinian Warblers, Great Tit, Red-legged Partridge, Common Kestrel, Griffon Vulture and a second Kingfisher.

the central drain - Bluethroat habitat

We drove off La Janda about 3pm stooping several times to watch even more birds, but we missed sightings of Short-eared Owl, Black Stork and Black Winged Kite which has all been seen recently, never mind you can't see them all.

A quick stop along the road to Vejer de la Frontera was made to look for an Eagle Owl, which often sits out in the day time, proved fruitless, however we did see Black- Redstart, Raven, Common Buzzard and lots of Jackdaws.

At Barbate we stopped at the main bridge near the mouth of the river Barbate, the tide was turning and began to ebb as we watched the marshes from a grassy verge. More waders appeared, we saw both Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank standing side by side, also Black-winged Stilt, Grey Plover, Greenshank and a dozen more Sandwich Terns. A Caspian Tern in flight was nice and a closer view of Spoonbill was enjoyed by all.
Eurasian Spoonbill

On Barbate Marsh Reserve we hoped to finish in flurry but we were disappointed by the lack birds on the lagoons, we discovered why when we saw a powered-paraglider preparing to take off. Nevertheless sightings of more waders, Spoonbills, a couple of Ospreys, 5 Stone Curlews and a bunch of Calandra Larks was very nice to finish off the day.

poor record shot of Stone Curlew

It was now 5pm the sun was dropping, we were losing the good light and temperature was falling so we called it a day and set off home. It had been a wonderful day, we logged 75 species with some real beauties on the list.


Sunday 08 January 2017, Benalmadena, mostly sunny, light SE wind, 17C

An afternoon stroll to see if Friday's Hoopoe was still around drew a blank, but in its area there were some very smart male Linnet and the usual selection of Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and Serin. Just as I was about to arrive back at the hospital I had a quick look at a 'sparrow' that was sunning itself on a small rock in the manicured gardens of a small apartment complex only to be thrilled to see that it was a Wryneck - what a stunning little bird and a great find, and where was my camera?!

Sunday 8th January 2017 - Punta Umbria walk

weather: mostly sunny with some clouds, light westerly wind, max temp 15C

Punta Umbria circular walk.

Dawn and I set off from the village for the walk around the hillside of La Umbria found along the Ronda road. The walk is about 7km in all and takes you through some superb 'ancient' cork oak woodlands with open glades, stands of pine, carob and sweet chestnut. It is because of this diverse woodland habitat that such a good range of woodland bird species can be found there especially in the spring and summer.
view of mature oaks

looking back to Gaucin and El Hacho

We bumped into two Firecrests after just 50 meters into the wood, then a series of sightings included; Robin, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Blue Tit.

On the south side of the hill a section of much older mature cork oak trees straddle the slopes this where we saw Eurasian Nuthatch, Crested Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and we heard Great Spotted Woodpecker 'drumming'.
view across to Cortes de la Frontera
As we rounded the last section of the woodland the tree species changed, large areas of sweet chestnut trees stood in silence, bereft of leaves and birds. Another woodpecker drummed as we started the descent back to the village.
fellow walkers!
A Short-toed Treecreeper was a good find, another species for my year list, Griffon Vultures drifted over all morning heading in all directions with no particular place to go.
plants and lichen growing on the rock - we counted 8 different species in this picture
more growth on a cork oak tree-trunk
A stunning male Black Redstart seen just outside the village gave us a few minutes enjoyment, it really was a corker. Other species seen as we finished were Sardinian Warbler, Crag Martin and Raven.

Saturday 7th January 2017 - Gaucin village walks

Weather: a cloudy, much cooler morning with a stronger, colder south-westerly breeze.

Castillo del Aguila - (eagle castle) is just a stone's throw from our house and a fairly good spot for birding. During the winter the shrubs and trees provide shelter and food for a number of species, the community park on the west side is often sheltered from cold winds by the castle itself.
yet another picture of a Black Redstart

That was the case this morning as I walked up to the castle entrance, a good number of Chiffchaffs fed in the bushes with dozens of Blackcaps. A Blue Rock Thrush (a nice blue male) flew up the rock face but disappeared too quickly. Other common garden species seen included: Chaffinch, several Robins and Blackbirds.

the path up to the castle


Sierra Crestellina as seen from Gaucin Castle
Rio Genal snaking its way down the valley to meet the Rio Guadiaro before flowing into the sea at Soto Grande
We took an afternoon walk below the village leaving from the bottom of Calle Casares and returned via a track up to Calle Arrabalete.

It was much warmer this afternoon and the cloud had dispersed somewhat so more sunshine warmed us up. Nineteen Griffon Vultures circled high above the Castle, it must be so nice for them to roam freely like that and not have to share their winter air-space with the summer migrants such as Booted and Short-toed Eagles and Black Kites, the latter incidentally, will begin to arrive at the end of this month.
El Hacho looking from the bottom of Calle Casares

Our walk took us to the hugh rock face, where an Eagle Owl was seen by Paul last year, I scanned the nooks and crannies not expecting to see one at this time of the day but you never know, 'stranger things have happened at sea'.

Paper-white Narcissi

We saw our first butterflies of the year when a female Brimstone flew by and we had sightings of two Red Admirals. Bird-wise it was much the same as this morning except that we found larger numbers of Chaffinches and a small flock of Serins that fed in the grasses of an orchard.
Dawn likes taking pictures of clouds

On the way back up a Common Buzzard drifted over and one or two Crag Martins dashed about the rock face.