A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Southern Spain Trip Report - Day 4

Day 4 - Friday 15th August 2015


Our fourth day in Spain dawned fantastically sunny and hot yet again, and we soon hit the road to continue west with our trip towards Jerez, in the Cadiz province of Spain. Driving through the sun-baked land, we headed through the mountains and dehesa – the cork and oak plantations famous in Southern Spain – keeping watch all the while for any Bonelli’s Eagles or Black-winged Kites that may be soaring on the breeze. With no sign of either, we continued on to the plains of La Janda and Benalup, these once bird-rich flooded paddy fields sadly not as productive as in their former heyday years. A large group of Cattle Egrets converged at the side of the road, while a flock of White Storks took to the air, their huge wingspans tremendous as they circled around before landing in the next field – now completely hidden by the tall vegetation!
Cattle Egrets - Spain
Cattle Egret - Spain
White Storks - Spain
Several stops to check the sparrow flocks for any Spanish Sparrows sadly proved fruitless, as did a visit to a supposed favoured field for Little Bustard at one of the crossroads in La Janda. Deciding to press on to our next site of Bonanza Pools, we made the journey across to this excellent set of pools near the town of Bonanza, close to Jerez. The three medium sized pools here are usually a reliable site for White-headed Ducks, and pulling up at the side of the road we weren’t disappointed.
White-headed Ducks - Spain
Several birds were present on Pool 2, with a number of males and females drifting over the calm water while another few individuals dozed in the warm afternoon sun, resting their white heads under their winds as they were carried along on the slow breeze.
Bonanza Pools - Spain
Pool 2 - Bonanza Pools - Photo by Alex Jones
Calling me over, Alex excitedly told me to look through the scope as he had found a lifer for me – and sure enough a Purple Swamphen was slowly creeping along the reeds at the back of the pool! Having never seen one before, this was a bird that I had most definitely wanted to catch up with during the trip, and we watched as this bright purple individual carefully made its way in and out of the reed stems, the colourful red bill shining out like a small beacon.
Purple Swamphen - Spain
A well concealed Little Bittern was a great spot, impressively camouflaged amongst the reeds as it perched close to the water, stock still and watching for any small fish to devour for lunch. I was struck by just how tiny these birds are compared to the Bitterns in the reedbeds back in the UK, its miniscule size a strong factor as to why it took us around quarter of an hour to even realise it was there!
Little Bittern - Spain
A very well hidden Little Bittern
Turning our attention to Pool 3 on the opposite side of the road, another Purple Swamphen dashed for cover, whilst a Squacco Heron stood perfectly still on an exposed branch in the middle of the water, again evidently hunting patiently and waiting for signs of movement in the murkiness below.
Squacco Heron - Spain
Bonanza Pools - Spain
Pool 3 - Bonanza Pools - Photo by Alex Jones
With no Red-knobbed Coots present, we headed to the nearby Bonanza Salt Pans where we were greeted by an absolutely incredible selection of birds in this fantastically rich habitat. Countless waders scurried amongst the mud, with Dunlin, Little Stints and Sanderlings all feeding in the shallow poolside edges, while Black-winged Stilts waded through the water, their long, bright red legs enabling them to go slightly deeper than the other birds.
Black-winged Stilt - Spain
Hundreds of Greater Flamingos were sifting through the water filtering out any food, their gorgeous pink feathers providing a fantastic burst of colour in the sun. Having only seen two extremely distant individuals in northern Spain earlier in the year, it was fantastic to see them so close up this time and really admire the bright colours.
Greater Flamingos - Spain
Large numbers of Slender-billed Gulls foraged on the water’s surface (a lifer for me) and we watched as they span around feeding, their bright red bills standing out from a distance.
Slender-billed Gull - Spain
The sheer volume of birds present at this site was evident as we drove slowly down the mud track – Fan-tailed Warblers sprung up from the grass verges singing their hearts out while Booted Eagles and Griffon Vultures soared majestically overhead. A nice juvenile Blue-headed Wagtail perched obligingly on some nearby vegetation, while various species of larks sang beautifully from either side of the car.
Fan-tailed Warbler - Spain
Fan-tailed Warbler - photo by Alex Jones
Photo by Alex Jones
Heading towards a large lake at one end of the site, we joined several local fishermen and were greeted by fantastically close up views of a Greater Flamingo feeding in the shallows right in front of us, seemingly oblivious to our presence. A nice adult Caspian Tern patrolled the water’s surface from high above, it’s large bright red beak clear to see.
Greater Flamingo - Spain
Greater Flamingo - Spain
Greater Flamingo - Spain
Bonanza Salt Pans - Spain
With no Marbled Ducks present at this site, we headed to our final location of the day, Laguna de Tarelo, just a few miles from Bonanza. Walking slowly due to the heat and with Chris and Alex having gone ahead, I stopped to check a small bird in one of the bushes lining the path. Looking through my bins I was surprised to see a vermillion red bill and a red feather mask surrounding a beady eye looking back at me – a Common Waxbill

Only perched for a matter of seconds before darting in to cover, I was pleased that I had caught up with this introduced species after missing two that morning that Alex and Chris had seen fly over the pond by our apartment before leaving Alcaidesa. Catching up with the other two, I led Alex back to where I’d seen the bird to hopefully catch up with it again (Alex apparently wasn’t ‘ticking’ his flight views of the Waxbills earlier and was now slightly gripped!) and thankfully hearing their calls in some nearby conifers I got him on to 4 or 5 individuals that were happily perched amongst the pine needles.
Common Waxbill - SpainIntroduced and spreading across the Iberian Peninsula having originated from North Africa, Common Waxbills are included under Category C, and although not native I enjoyed seeing these bright additions to our trip list.

Suddenly Chris called out that he had got them (we assumed he meant our target Marbled Teals) and sure enough after running back to the small hide, Chris had two or more individuals in the scope. It wasn’t the closest views in the world as the birds were right on the opposite side of the large lake (Chris had outdone himself once again with his superb bird-spotting eyesight) and I had been hoping for them to be a lot closer like the White-headed Ducks were that morning. However there was no mistaking their small size, spotty plumage and dark eye patches even at a distance.
Marbled Duck - Spain
A very distant record shot of the Marbled Duck! - Photo by Alex Jones
Scanning the lake, several more White-headed Ducks were present including a number of males, along with a variety of other ducks including Gadwall and Mallards. Several Night and Squacco Herons also lined the reeds and branches around the edge of the pool, keeping a watchful eye out for any prey.

Scanning every single coot present for any with ‘red knobs’ on their heads, we unfortunately drew a blank once again. Several Little Terns flying over the water’s surface brought up a nice Whiskered Tern amongst them – a cracking spot by Alex and a first for me.
Laguna de Tarelo - Spain
Laguna de Tarelo - Photo by Alex Jones
Laguna de Tarelo - Spain
With the day drawing to a close we headed to our hotel for the night in Jerez, (Alex navigating the very narrow one way streets and distinct lack of parking spaces like a hero) where Chris most definitely bit off more than he could chew when ordering the biggest pizza on the menu at a local restaurant! The waiter was unfortunately proved right with his disbelief in Chris’s ability to devour the monster dish, and this time in the battle between man vs food, food most definitely came out victorious! 
Giant pizza
Giant pizza

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