Amazing Migrants Tour - Andalucia, Spain - read the full TRIP REPORT HERE & IMAGES FROM TOUR HERE
5th September Day One - Amazing Migrants Tour
I collected the group from Gibraltar airport, their plane arriving slightly early & we soon had everyone and their luggage in the minibus heading for the accommodation at Pelayo just West of Algeciras. Having arrived 3 days previously and witnessed two days of full on raptor migration, I was a little concerned that maybe the group might have missed "the full throttle" experience, how wrong I as proven to be!
On arrival at the accommodation we just started to unload, but soon aborted this task as a nice line of birds passed straight over our heads! Around c100 Honey Buzzard, 10 Short-toed Eagle, 20 Booted Eagle, Peregrine, also a small flock of Bee-eater alarm called as a Peregrine rushed past them! Welcome to birding in the Straits of Gibraltar!!
We got everyone unloaded and into their rooms, had a nice lunch and then had a nice leisurely afternoon raptor watching. We first headed to the westerly migration watchpoint of Cazalla. The passage was steady, with a few lower birds and an ideal introduction for the group to the less familiar raptors, c50
Egyptian Vulture, 2 Griffon Vulture, 4 Black Stork, 50+ Booted Eagle, 10+ Short-toed Eagle, 50+ Honey Buzzard, c150 Black Kite.
Later in the afternoon we headed down on to one of the coastal roads, where we had some nice closer views of the raptors, particularly Booted & Short-toed Eagles, along with a superb juvenile Montagu's Harrier. We finished with another hour and half at the easterly migration watchpoint of Algarobbo, where we had great views of low flying Bee-eaters and Pallid Swift also another c100 Honey Buzzard passed south. A great start to the trip, we headed back to the accommodation and enjoyed a lovely three course evening meal with a glass of wine.
6th September Day Two
After breakfast we headed for the dunes and beach area of Playa de Los Lances. Immediately obvious were several Zitting Cisticola & Crested Lark. We were heading for a hide, but were diverted after being told by birders of a Dotterel that was present nearby in the dunes. A short walk and we were soon watching a superbly, confiding juvenile Dotterel showing down to a few metres, a scarce migrant in Andalucia. As we admired the Dotterel, it was soon accompanied close by several Short-toed Larks and 2 Tawny Pipit, plus several more Crested Lark. Also small groups of our first proper views of Spotless Starling.
We headed back to the screen overlooking the coastal lagoon and added a nice selection of waders. It has to be said, the disturbance by dog walkers and the lack of any enforcement of this protected area is disappointing. However, our early visit ensured this wasn't too bad and we managed a good selection of birds, our first views of the attractive Auduoin's Gulls, plus many Yellow-legged Gulls, c100 Sanderling, c100 Great Ringed Plover, c30 Dunlin & Bar-tailed Godwit. By late morning it was getting quite hot and we retired into a local bar for soft drinks & coffees. We were halfway through our refreshments, when from the bar window,I noticed a whole load of WhiteStorks flying south. We rushed outside and marvelled as a fantastic and huge migrating flock of c2000 White Storks moved low, flapping and moving south.
We decided that lunch and the next couple of hours might be best form Cazalla watchpoint, this proved an inspired decision! In fact the afternoon proved to be one of the best sessions I have ever witnessed overthe last 8 years. Over three hours 10,000+ Honey Buzzard, c5000 Black Kite, two more flocks of several hundred White Stork, 4 Black Stork, Booted & Short-toed Eagle passed over our heads, along with some beautiful low trilling flocks of Bee-eaters. The atmosphere was electrifying stood with 60+ other birders marvelling at the masses overhead.
We finished off a fantastic first full day with a late afternoon, early evening to the wetland and rice fields of La Janda. The wetter areas of one rice field had formed a nice pool, proving very attractive to many migrants. Scanning through masses of c500 Glossy Ibis, c1000 White Stork and Little Egrets
also produced 40+ Spoonbill, 20 Black-winged Stilt, a Squacco Heron, 2 Ruff, 10 Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and 2 Wood Sandpiper. Further on the bushes and fields held huge flocks of Sparrows and Goldfinches, certainly thousands of Sparrows. We soon picked out some smart male Spanish Sparrows. Also around c25 Turtle Doves alighted on the wires and bushes, whilst several Marsh & Montagu's Harriers danced
over the fields behind and a Purple Heron flew low over the fields. After a little searching we've eventually located a Black-winged Kite, albeit a little distant! We arrived slightly late back, though we had had a great days birding and we tucked into a lovely three course meal and wine, before heading off for a well
known earned rest!
7th September Day Three
Today was forecast as an exceptionally hot day, so we headed off early into the mountain region of Sierra de la Nieves. It did prove very hot and even high up the temperature was touching 29c by late morning! However, we still did very well! An Iberian Grey Shrike was the first bird to greet us we arrived in the valley. Further up in my favoured area, we eventually had really nice views of 4 Black Wheatear, 2 Black Redstart and very good views of Dartford Warbler & 2 Short-toed Treecreeper. In the shadier areas we had a group of c10 Rock Bunting, plus several commoner woodland tits and finches. A high adult Spanish Imperial Eagle was scoped and watched doing a couple of displaying dives and a Crossbill was heard briefly flying over.
We lunched near a water trough area, which in the arid conditions and heat proved very attractive, several Iberian Chiff-chaff, Whitethroat, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a very obliging Western Bonelli's Warbler and
numerous tits coming to drink. We then headed down the mountain and the temperature increased, so we
stopped off for cold drinks in a bar, amazingly another Black Wheatear appeared just outside the bar on the rocks! We stopped off at viewpoint in Caceres and enjoyed the Griffon Vultures overhead, though Blue Rock Thrush proved elective in the heat! We then headed down into Rio Genal valley, a couple of stops proved productive. The first by some small pools that were still present, 4 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Green Sandpiper, Little Egret, White Wagtail, Crested Lark and a flock of Corn Bunting. Another stop in some greener fields with livestock also proved attractive, with reasonable numbers of migrants here - c40 Blueheaded "flava" type wagtails, 2 Whinchat, 2,Tawny Pipit and 4 Hoopoe. Also c100 Corn Bunting, plus Booted and Short-toed Eagle and a juvenile Montagu's Harrier overhead.
We arrived back at the accommodation late afternoon and several of the group enjoyed a cold beer, whilst others took to the pool either were a remedy for a very hot days birding!
8th September Day Four
We were thankful to awake to brisk ‘poniente’ west wind, that had freshened the air and temperatures more moderate today. Just after breakfast as we were preparing to leave we were treated to the fantastic sight of c1000 Alpine Swifts, they were high overhead but could be picked out as their white bellies glinted in the sunlight.
We then headed to the nearby easterly migration watchpoint of Algarrobo. It was a much steadier experience than the intense masses of Day two, but it was ideal for studying the raptors as many slowly moved overhead, some quite low in good light. Over the period of the morning, we were treated to c500 Honey Buzzard, c25 Short-toed Eagle, c50 Booted Eagle, 2 Black Stork, plus smaller numbers of more Alpine Swift, several nice and close. These were accompanied by mixed parties of both Pallid and Common Swift. Our first
Red-rumped Swallows passed south alongside both Swallows, Sand and House Martins. A beautiful male Golden Oriole splashed black and yellow across the scene as it briefly banked and disappeared into the trees.
After lunch we headed towards Tarifa, to take our afternoon boat trip out on to the seas of The Straits. We dropped Maurice and Tony off, as both were much happier on "terra-firma". The boat trip produced excellent views of several Cory’s Shearwater and we saw at least twenty of these, we had distant views of Black Tern and very nice views of many Striped Dolphin, but unusually we missed out on the resident pods of Pilot Whales. The sea was a little quiet bird wise, and on collection, Maurice and Tony were very pleased to tell us they had fine views of 2 Ruppell's Vultures, plus a Bonelli's Eagle and Montagu's Harrier! Slightly gripped we headed for an afternoon meal in Tarifa.
We had a nice meal in Tarifa and then headed for an evening's birding at La Janda, the rice fields and pools held similar waders, although a flock of 10 Wood Sandpiper was significantly more, also more White Storks with around c2000 roosting in the fields. Just prior to dusk we explored the areas to the north east which we had not reached on our previous visit. We soon noted Woodchat Shrikes, and had nine in the dry fields. As the light faded, we headed to our final vigil of the day - a brilliant half an hour rounded the day off
as 2 Little Owls appeared, several Stone Curlew were heard with one flying
past us and finally point blank views of 2 Red-necked Nightjars! There was just time for a quick cold beer before heading off to bed.
Day Five - 9th September
Today was an early start as we headed north to Bonanza salinas and the edge of the Coto Donana park. We had an early breakfast and left 630am. We arrived at the salinas after quick coffee stop at 830am. Thankfully it was still cool and the low level that was excellent for birding the get saltpans. The birds were soon coming thick and fast - 1000+ Greater Flamingo, c20 Black-necked Grebe, great views of an Osprey flying to its perch complete with prey, Common Shelduck, Spoonbill, lots of Great Ringed Plover, but also good numbers of Kentish Plover, single Grey Plover, 2 Knot, 2 Turnstone, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, flocks of c100 Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Dunlin and also small numbers of Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint. Many Yellow-legged and Lesser black-backed Gulls, but alongside them also c50+ Slender-billed Gulls a few sporting no a beautiful pinkish hue. The bigger pools hosted 3 Caspian Tern, plus a few Little Tern. One of the more sought after species was also found, c10 Lesser short-toed Lark with 2 showing well and providing good scope views.
We then headed to several freshwater pools, providing good views of several nmore target species! Great views of White-headed Duck, 2 Purple Swamphens, Shoveler, c20 Black-crowned Night Heron, several Kingfisher and c20 Marbled Duck and a vagrant Ruddy Shelduck. The nearby bushes also provided a few Pied Flycatchers, Sardinian Warbler, Common Chiff-chaff and a Western Bonelli's warbler.
We found a shaded spot and enjoyed a slightly late picnic lunch. We then headed to Chipiona. We didn't have to wait long at all at this location, we were treated to real close views of several Little Swift as they flew in and out of the colony. The final stop of the day was around an hours drive back towards our
accommodation. We stopped near Barbate and were soon enjoying good views of 38 Bald Ibis, nearby the lagoons also gave us hundreds of Yellow-legged Gulls, plus c220 Auduoin's Gulls and a Stone Curlew. We arrived back at the accommodation at around 6pm, a wonderful days birding with 90 species
recorded in the day and several specialities.
Day Six - 10th September
We had a slightly later start after a couple of busy days and after breakfast we explored two tracks and nearby farmland areas close to the accommodation. The first produced excellent views of 5+ Cirl Bunting, several migrant Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Firecrest and small numbers of Serin and Linnet. The second area was good for migrants, the bushes and fences along the field edge produced 6 Common Redstart, 3 Pied Flycatcher, 2 Whinchat, 3+ Wheatear, Blackcap, Whitethroat, 6 Yellow wagtail and good close views of Spotless Starling and Sardinian warbler.
We had lunch and then headed for Algarrobo watchpoint we were treated to a similar mix of raptors as e had seen earlier in the week, but very good views of Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle and best views of Egyptian Vulture, plus a Peregrine and a good passage of Red-rumped Swallows.
We finished the afternoon searching a known location for White-rumped Swift, but for the first time in 3 years we were unable to locate this species. There was plenty of other swifts in the area with good numbers of Pallid, Common and Alpine Swifts. Also overhead an amazing concentration of c500 Griffon
Vulture. Another good day rounded off with another excellent evening meal.
Day Seven - 11th September
We started the final day of the trip with a visit to the Palmones river estuary area. We headed there straight after breakfast and the area was quiet from disturbance and the birding was good. From the west shore, we noted 12 Grey Heron, good views of a perched Osprey, 2 Spoonbill flew over, c60 Great Ringed Plover were on the high tide roost alongside 2 Kentish Plover, a Grey Plover, 12 Dunlin, 2 Snipe, 6 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Greenshank, 25 Redshank, a Common Sandpiper plus wonderful views of a point blank Whimbrel asking past at 5m! The sandbank also held 12 Mediterranean Gulls, 10 Sandwich and a Caspian Tern.
We made a quick coffee stop and then headed up the Rio Jenal to check the area again for migrants. A similar mix of species but many more Yellow "flava" Wagtails, the majority being ‘flavissma’, but also a candidate for ‘thunbergi’. Nice perched views of a really smart male Lesser Kestrel, a Peregrine sent all the Yellow wagtails dashing for safety. Other different migrants to our previous visit were 3 Woodchat Shrike and a Greater short-toed Lark. There was also 10+ Pied Flycatcher, 3+ Common Redstart, 5 Wheatear, Whinchat, 2 Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher.
We then headed higher up and in much cooler conditions than 3 days ago. We soon located 4 Blue Rock Thrush, with lovely close views. Looking down the mountain we marveled at soaring Griffin Vultures, awesome, let alone the amazing view ten miles towards the Straits. It was a great end to the birding
on a brilliant trip.
We had a lovely final meal back at the accommodation, rounded off with a nice sweet sherry.
Day Eight - September 12th
After breakfast we loaded up the minibus and dropped everyone to Gibraltar airport at 930am
ready for their late morning flight back to the UK.
This was another fantastic trip to Andalucia, our 7th year. We recorded a total of 157 species. Though species numbers are a minor part of the experience, the truly fantastic migration that passes through this region is nothing less than a truly spiritual experience for keen birdwatchers!
Friday 23rd September - Day One of Three Norfolk Tour
Although today wasn't a huge tide we headed to Snettisham and were rewarded with a fantastic number of birds and two spectacles. The first was the masses of c60,000 Knot, c2500 Bar-tailed Godwit, c1500 Golden Plover, Curlew & Dunlin. The second was the amazing aerobatics of no less than 4 Peregrines, that cooperatively worked together to try and catch a Red Knot. Despite isolating the Knot, then dive bombing down trying to get the submerged Knot to fly, incredibly, they failed. The Knot eventually taking flight and in the nick of time escaping to the main group of 10,000 others roosting on the mud! We also then saw them isolate a Redshank, but they were foiled at the last minute as a Marsh Harrier nipped in claimed the prize! It was amazing to watch. Out amongst the masses of waders we did locate some of the other wading birds as well - Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Turnstone were all present in good numbers. More sought after were 2 Little Stint, 10 Spotted Redshank and 6 Greenshank. Also noted were several Swallow moving south and a light passage of Meadow Pipit also moving south. There was a good mix of Wigeon and Teal, amongst these we also found c50 Pintail albeit they were mostly in their cryptic eclipse plumage! On the pits we also located a single Black-necked Grebe.
We then headed to Titchwell where we had a late lunch and then wandered down to the hides and scrapes. Before reaching the scrapes, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling, it eventually showed albeit briefly! The waders and wildfowl were much easier, and there was a great mixture of birds from the hides, Wigeon, Teal, 1-2 more Pintail. Waders were also in good numbers, 30 Dunlin, 40 Ruff, 6 Greenshank, 2 Spotted Redshank and a Curlew Sandpiper.
Saturday 24th September Day two of three Norfolk tour
We started the day at Holme with a successful seawatch. We located the large c2000 Common Scoter flock, and as they flew picked out an obvious Velvet Scoter at the rear of the flock. Offshore we also had 3+ Red-throated Diver, 2 Great crested Grebe, an Arctic Skua, 30 Brent Geese past and an arrival of 17 Pink-feet flying in off the sea. A few minutes later a Peregrine flew along the shoreline, quickly followed by a Marsh Harrier. Overhead there was a nice southerly passage of 100 House Martin and 20 Swallow. We then walked up the Observatory and walked long Thornham bank, where there was a nice group of 5 Whinchat sitting along the fenceline, along with 2 Stonechat. Also a loud Cettis and Bullfinch along the track.
As there was news that the Pectoral Sandpiper was back at Titchwell - we headed back there, as we had missed out the previous day. This time after quite a bit of searching we eventually located the Pectoral Sandpiper - it was moving very slowly around deep inside the docks, not easy to see, but eventually we had good views! We also scored with 8 Spoonbill, but probably the highlight was watching a migrant Osprey flyover.
Sunday 25th September Day three of three Norfolk tour
We had a good days birding at Burnham Overy today - more waders and shorebirds, good numbers of Bar & Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, 30+ Curlew, 100 Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Turnstone. We had stunning views of 12 Bearded Tit, they were sat atop the reeds at 5m, then exploding into the air, giving their distinctive "pinging"call. Out on the grazing marsh c20 Brent Geese, c1000 Pink-footed Geese. A Water Rail was heard calling and a Red Kite, a Marsh Harrier were quartering the saltmarsh.
Out in the dunes, we had nice views of Stonechat, and there was again a nice light, late passage of Swallows, House Martin more surprising was a late Swift. The western edge of the pines, produced Chiff-chaff, Goldcrest, Treecreeper & Nuthatch.
We had a late afternoon cake and tea at North Creake where we were treated to 3 Red Kites!
A total of 108 species recorded.
September 2016 Tour reports