Over 20 members, some old, some new, met at the usual place, Lidl’s car park, on a breezy Saturday morning. The leader for the day, Frank Hair, arranged car pooling and led the convoy off to Cazalla watchpoint to stake our position before the hoards descended!. By the time we arrived, always more complicated when approaching from the Tarifa side, half of the car parking spaces were already taken. The weather was fine but with a fairly strong westerly wind requiring an extra layer of clothing to be donned – autumn is here.
Birds were spotted almost immediately, firstly in the distance and then a resting Short-toed Eagle was found on top of a pylon. A group of 4 Alpine Swifts were close enough for positive ID and pretty soon the skies seemed full of more and more Short-toed Eagles. Some flew so close and low above the assembled watchers and it may well have been a question of who is watching who? Now Booted Eagles appeared and often flew close by their larger cousin giving a very good indication of size difference, always useful for the less experienced among us. A Sparrowhawk circled the building and the general area for quite some time before flying off to look for something smaller to catch.
Griffon Vultures were lazily floating around, but excitement was generated when a dozen or so Egyptian Vultures were discovered low in the valley right in front of the group providing super viewings for everyone. Then White Storks appeared attempting to gain height and find the correct thermal for their departure; it’s always good to see them act in this way as normally we just see them in the rice fields in La Janda!
Both Lesser and Common Kestrel were added to the list along with Black Kite before a distant group of 5 Storks was viewed. However, the contra jour lighting made it difficult to correctly ID them as Black or White. Suspicions were leaning toward Black Storks, but after 5 or 10 minutes they slowly made their way in front and above us to prove that they were indeed Black Storks. They stayed around for another period of time gradually climbing to find the all important thermal.
Barn and Red-rumped Swallows flashed past and higher in the skies Pallid and Common Swifts passed over. By now it was gone midday so Frank called the group together to arrange the next destination. What immaculate timing that was, just as we gathered some of us looked up to see an incredibly low Ruppel’s Vulture (my bogey bird!) pass almost head (well it seemed like it) height over the group. Trust me when I say everyone without exception had the most wonderful view of this rare vulture and I can confidently say it was the star of the show.
Now, a couple of Elegant Terns had been seen during the past week on the coastal stretch between Tarifa and Guadalmesi, however, a 4×4 vehicle was required to safely travel the track. So most of those with the aforementioned mode of transport (me included) set off in that direction whilst the rest of the party followed Frank to La Janda, stopping of course, at Apolo X1 for coffee first.
Our little group went in search of the terns carefully traversing the track along the spectacular coast with clear views of Morocco across the Straits. Plenty of Booted and Short-toed Eagles were low down along with more Black Kites. A little group of Skylarks was on the cliff edge along with their Crested cousins. We stopped at various points to scan the bays when they came into view in the hope of finding the Elegant terns – no luck sadly, but we did sight Whimbrel, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Audoin’s Gull, Sandwich Tern, Little and Cattle Egrets in among the rocks. A group of 6 Ravens were showing well on the hillside and, stopping a little further on, a Little Owl watched us from its convenient roost position in an old ruined building.
Both Northern and Black-eared Wheatear were viewed and a Peregrine Falcon swooped low right in front of our car, no doubt in the hunt for lunch. Talking of which, we decided to eat ours at the watchpoint at Guadalmesi, contending with the strong wind and still hoping to see ‘that’ tern! Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler and numerous Goldfinch kept us company whilst we ate before deciding to move off to Barbate marshes (we had covered La Janda yesterday).
Barbate provided us with sightings of countless Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, thousands of Flamingo’s, 3 Spoonbill, Sanderling, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Redshank and Grey Heron. The army fields to the side provided quantities of Calandra Lark acting in their usual flighty manner, but there was a surprising lack of shrikes on the wire fence. However, Corn Buntings took their place as we drove up the track.
Stopping for another scan of the marshes we eventually found Stone Curlew, some in the open giving excellent views for us. The distant small waders were very difficult to view as by now the heat haze was excessive and positive ID’s more awkward. But, we continued to the top of the track and in the Tamarisk I found this year’s missing passerine for me – a Whinchat! I missed it in the spring migration, but with the birds more leisurely approach to migration in the autumn I just knew or hoped I could find it.
Did I mention the usual suspects? No, so here they are; House Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Collared Dove, Common Buzzard.
Meanwhile the rest of the group drove to La Janda, and if they saw what we did yesterday the list will probably look like this; Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting, Spanish & House Sparrow, White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Little & Cattle Egret, Montagu’s & Marsh Harrier, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Crested Lark, Barn & Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Common Snipe, Collared Pratincole, Green & Common Sandpiper, Lapwing, Wood Pigeon, Spotless Starling, Jackdaw, Common Buzzard, Linnet, Woodchat Shrike, Stonechat, Coot, Moorhen and several Yellow and White Wagtail. I have no doubt I will be notified if I have left anything special from this list, and I apologise to the party if I did.
All in all a super meeting which I hope our new members in particular enjoyed. Thank you Frank for leading and I hope to see lots of ABS members at our next meeting.
Report; Derek Etherton
Photos; Ricky Owen