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....

Friday, 3 July 2015

Southern Spain Trip Report - Day 5

Day 5 - Saturday 16th August 2015

The next day dawned as scorching as ever, and we started off on our quest for Red-knobbed Coots – our main target for the day. Laguna de Medina, once a stronghold for this species, unfortunately turned up nothing despite the abundance of Common Coots, with several hundred birds present on the large lake. A close Little Bittern was great to see, offering much less obscured views than our first bird at Bonanza Pools, whilst a Purple Swamphen in the reeds to the left of the hide was another bonus. Several newly fledged Penduline Tits danced their way across the bulrushes in front of the hide, but with the heat now reaching even greater heights, we moved on to our next site of Lagunas de Espera hoping for some better luck.
Little Bittern - Photo by Alex Jones
Penduline Tit - Photo by Alex Jones
The sun was now absolutely stifling and vast becoming unbearable, so I was extremely grateful for the small amount of shade offered by the welcome building (which unfortunately was closed). The first pool was disappointingly nearly bone dry with no sign of any Red-knobbed Coots inhabiting it, although a low flying Griffon Vulture flying at eye level just a metre or so in front of us was absolutely breath-taking, the sheer size of these magnificent birds never more apparent as it landed on the swaying branch of a nearby tree with a crash.

Ever the observant, Chris then announced he had an odd looking raptor in the scope, and aligning Alex’s to get the bird in view I was met by a large Buzzard species. With Chris having experience of African and European birding he was strongly reminded of Long-legged Buzzard, although checking my Collins guide I wasn’t convinced – something just wasn’t right plumage wise. As the bird circled closer and with scopes still trained, we watched as incredibly it came lower before landing in a bush on the opposite hill. Alex had managed to reel of some distant record shots, and we piled back in to the car and drove up to where the bird had landed in the middle of one of the barren fields. The heat haze made viewing exceptionally difficult, and with me staying in the car and taking more photos, Alex and Chris approached closer to get more details on the plumage through the scopes.
Gibraltar Buzzard - Spain
Gibraltar Buzzard - Spain
With Alex and Chris approaching the small shrub, I watched as the bird arose and managed a number of snaps, which along with Alex’s from earlier gave us a great range of plumage details from the bird in a variety of positions.
Gibraltar Buzzard - Spain
Gibraltar Buzzard - Spain
My field notes from the time: Prominent white patch on the back of the head, dark black tail, black tips to the wings, long, yellow legs, white underneath wings, buzzard like in pattern, black carpal patches on wings.
Gibraltar Buzzard - Spain
Gibraltar Buzzard - Spain
Carefully analysing what we had obtained, we were still very much in the dark. Chris was still certain we had a Long-legged Buzzard, while the white markings on the back had me thinking there may have been some Bonelli’s Eagle influence. The face however was distinctly buzzard like, as were the underwings, and we were still none the wiser as to the identity of our mystery bird.

Getting back to the UK I did some research to try and solve the mystery, and came across an interesting paper detailing the emergence of Gibraltar Buzzards – a hybrid between Common Buzzards and Atlas Long-legged Buzzards (the paper in question). First originating near Gibraltar where naturally the two species have the highest chance of meeting, these hybrids have now spread over Southern Spain, even as far north as Seville. With Long-legged Buzzards only very rarely recorded in Spain, it was highly unlikely that we would encounter two on our journey (we spotted a second individual near Osuna a day later). This coupled with the highly irregular plumage details we encountered meant that the birds were most probably “Gibraltar Buzzards” – unfortunately hybrids and not a true species in their own right.

With the afternoon pressing on, we continued down the track to a small parking area, before heading out on foot to the second and third pools at Laguna de Espera, hoping Red-knobbed Coots could be found on at least one! The heat was now completely unbearable, and having drank all my juice supplies I was without a source of hydration – not a good mix! Having made it to the first hide and despite it being well covered, for some reason the birds all inexplicably flushed! An otter seen later running across the track may have been the culprit, but we now had an even trickier task as the birds were much further away.
Sage Skipper - Photo by Alex Jones
Alex had a pair of Ferruginous Ducks in flight, whilst Red-crested Pochard, Mallards, Shovelers and Gadwall were all present. With the huge distance between us and the birds it was going to prove exceptionally hard to pick out any Red-knobbed Coots, so we headed on to the third lagoon. This proved to be some distance away, and when we reached a fork in the path the heat just proved too much. Telling Alex and Chris to go on ahead and that I’d stay under the shade of a tree, they weren’t having any of it, and we thankfully headed back to the car as a team, stopping at regular intervals in the shade to stop any dehydration setting in. Thanks to both of them for looking after me and making sure I was ok!

With the heat still scorching hot and not abating in the slightest, we headed to our penultimate night’s stay in the beautiful city of Seville, (where our hotel had keys replaced with James Bond style fingerprint scanners!) and we enjoyed a delicious dinner of tapas after taking in the sights. 
Fingerprint door opener!


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