The Stars of Winter

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Short-eared OwlThe all star cast of our winter bird show lights-up our scene and warms body and soul. Wherever you go birding in Andalucía you can marvel at the spectacle of new discoveries and the wonders of the familiar. Who doesn’t love the changing seasons and the appearance of returning birding gems such as Short-eared Owl, Brambling, Siskin and elusive Woodcock? Who can fail to be impressed by returning families of Common Crane as parents take their offspring on a winter holiday to our region? Even common species can impress with the huge number that come together to form winter flocks Rock Sparrow, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch and other finches grace our winter.

Exploring winter’s abandoned beaches and rocky outcrops can be bracing with accompanying onshore winds and high seas. Scurrying flocks of Sanderling retreat from white waters as levels rise onto the beach and just as quickly they chase the waters back into the sea. Rocky nooks and crannies can be the hiding places for Purple Sandpiper as they probe among the scree and plantlife for tasty morsels, normally watched over by the more familiar Turnstone. Gatherings of gull species provide added interest to walks along the shoreline as flocks of Audouin’s Gull huddle together facing into the wind, sometimes Slender-billed Gull join these gatherings and provide a touch of elegance to the landscape.

Grey Plover
Wintering Grey Plover

River outlets, Salt marshes and wetlands hold a wonderful array of wintering waders and are a must visit mixture of habitats, at least once during our winter. Whimbrel are common and comical, while Grey Plover (always grey, but not always with black bellies) entertain with their dash and stop feeding on the water’s edge. Ringed Plover and Kentish Plover are miniature versions of their larger cousin as they dash and stop while probing the wet muds exposes by retreating tides. The bouncing flight of Sandwich Tern encourages the eye to rise from the shoreline and overhead a wintering Osprey cruises high and in search of a fish worthy of an effort to catch.

Great Bustard
An ever present species in the Osuna Triangle – Great Bustard

An inland winter visit to the Osuna Triangle is always fruitful and rewarding. The open spaces, interspersed by olive plantations, provide opportunities to more easily find steppe species such as Great and Little Bustard, fallow ground affording less cover for these difficult birds. The low level winter cereal crops are favourite feeding and roosting areas for large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing, with the tantalising prospect of finding a small covey of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Beneath the canopy of the olive groves Red-legged Partridge are common and with fortune on your side, the discovery of large numbers of Stone Curlew is a distinct possibility.

I guess our message is enjoy our winter birds and certainly to visit the vast diversity of habitats we have on offer in Andalucía.

Photo credit: Short-eared Owl and Great Bustard – Antonio Pestana.

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