dinsdag 31 januari 2012

One of the best birding days in my life?

- An interruption from the Spain trip report for some variety:) -

Our province Zeeland in winter: definitively thé place to be for watching birds! With my dad and our friend Henri we decided to do a day of birdwatching yesterday - Sunday January 30th -. We had made a planning of what itwere going to do first etc. The alarmclock was set on 5.30, very early during winter time! We picked up Henri at his home around 6.45 and off we went in the complete darkness.

We  headed to the Reeuwijkse Plassen at Reeuwijk in the province of Zuid-Holland first where we would try to see the long-staying White-headed Duck. We arrived at the exact place around 8.00 when it was still a little bit dark but we could already scan the ducks. The first surprise were two Slavonian Grebes that were present among a group of Pochards and Tufted Ducks. This was the group of ducks that often held the White-headed Duck as well so I scanned the group thorougly. No White-headed Duck however. We did find his overseas related brother, a male Ruddy Duck, which is considered to be an escape here. We walked closer to the group as the light was getting better and after scanning the group again I discovered a Ferruginous Duck, a welcome surprise too! It was already 8.45 but still no sign of the White-headed Duck. We slowly walked back to the car, realising we would be dipping this duck that is ALWAYS present in the group of ducks, but not today! Then, as we had arrived at the car, I decided to check the lake once more time, to make sure we had checked it thorougly, and while scanning the water I suddenly found the White-headed Duck, actively foraging and therefore difficult to find! After seeing many tens of these wonderful ducks in Spain less than a month ago it was a pleasure to see one more closeby as well!

Our plan was to wait for the Gyr Falcon to be seen again and then we would drive to the bird, full speed! After we'd seen the White-headed Duck I checked www.dutchbirdalerts.nl on my phone and I saw an alert of the Gyr! We installed the TomTom and the TomTom told us we were 1 hour and 46 minutes (165 km) away from our destination. We drove partially through Belgium to get to the village Zandstraat, just above Sas Van Gent. We arrived at the Van Remoorterepolderstraat at 10.30. There were +15 other birders present as well. Already from the driving car we could distinguish a large raptor sitting on a pylon in the field. As expected this was the falcon. What a fantastic bird! The Gyr Falcon was in the pocket! It was sat in a pylon at 200 metres distance. From the road we had great views of the bird.
In the top of of the pylon: the Gyr Falcon.
The Gyr, digiscoped by Tammo. Too bad of the terrible light conditions..

We could calmly observe the Gyr and all details were visible. We saw the bird tidying its feathers and massive claws, spreading its wings and eventually flying off to another pylon further away. Very satisfied we continued our way towards Axel where a Catlle Egret had been observed for over three months already. When we arrived at the place where it should be - a meadow with horses - it was nowhere to be found. Luckily I knew another place closeby where it had been observed regularly too. Arriving there we soon noticed the Cattle Egret resting in the grass next to a small canal. Soon it started foraging and flew off to some cattle.
Adult winter Cattle Egret

Our next target species was the Greater Yellowlegs, which has been present for over 1,5 years now in the same creek, at Colijnsplaat. Last November we dipped it due to heavy fog so we hoped that we would see it now! We drove through the Westerscheldetunnel via Goes to Colijnsplaat. We stopped on the brigde at the creek and started scanning. Quite soon I found the Greater Yellowlegs foraging on the side of the creek. It was a bit distant but we could distinguish all the features very well. I made a terrible recordshot with my camera that I won't post, haha. Furthermore we saw Snipes, Little Grebes and a Redshank and Henri found a Great-spotted Woodpecker, good for the daily list;) Around 13.45 we left to the Veerse Meer for Great Northern Diver. We scanned the lake from the northern side but didn't find the diver, it turned out it was present more to the south, not visible from where we were standing. Because of a bit of time pressure we decided not to head there but to continue our way north. On the Veerse Meer we did see 40+ Black-necked Grebes.
One of the many Black-necked Grebes present on the lake.

We drove north to Neeltje Jans/Oosterscheldekering, a large complex of floodgates. After a bit of searching we found three Shags, 2 adults and 1 first winter. One of the adults was foraging close to the land which meant we were able to take some good pics. We didn't find the Glaucous Gull that should've been present here. 
The adult Shag. Note the yellow skin near the bill.

Around 15.00 we left Neeltje Jans and proceeded further north. At Schouwen-Duivenland our goal was to see the long-staying Crane. We found it foraging on a cropfield. After a few minutes the bird took off and landed in its favourite cornfield patch. In the same field we saw a hunting Hen Harrier
The Crane.

From the Crane we drove to Burghsluis where our mission was to find the two rare species of Brant in between the common Brants. Soon we came upon a small group of 200+ Brants. From the car we scanned the group with our binoculars. After just a few minutes: bingo! 3 Pale-bellied Brants were foraging amongst the other Brants. And then, only a few mintues later, we discovered the 1st winter Black Brant. This was a quick succes!
2 of the 3 Pale-bellied Brants present in this group.
And the 1st winter Black Brant.

A bit further down the road we discovered another Pale-bellied Brant from the driving car! Number 4 of the day. We continued towards the Koudekerksche Inlaag. It was 16.00 already and the light started to decrease.Our chances of seeing a Short-eared Owl increased. And as we hoped, we were rewarded with a great hunting Short-eared Owl! The pictures speak for themselves..
With succes!

After this show we drove to the Brouwersdam. On our way we saw a hunting Rough-legged Buzzard from te car. At the Brouwersdam the light was getting bad which meant that our view on the sea wasn't what we hoped for. We hoped to find a Great northern Diver here, but we didn't. We did see 25 Red-throated Divers, hundreds of Black Scoters, hundreds of Red-breasted Mergansers, some Ruddy Turnstones, a Purple Sandpiper and a Bar-tailed Godwit.
Henri and me at the Brouwersdam.

We ended the day with a great Mc Donalds meal!

To recap: our score of rare birds after a full day of birding: Gyr Falcon, Greater Yellowlegs, White-headed Duck, Crane, Cattle Egret, Ferruginous Duck, Shags, Black Brant, Pale-bellied Brants, Rough-legged Buzzards and also Short-eared Owls! So I suppose I can consider this one of my best birding days in Holland?!

dinsdag 24 januari 2012

2nd of January: Alhambra and Sierra de Andujar

2nd of January:

We had to get out of our beds very early because we had to be at the gate of the Alhambra at 8.00. It was already quite crowded in the dark and while waiting to enter the beautiful gardens of the palace I had some nice new species for the list already. I guess we can consider Redwings to be a good species for me in Spain since they only occur in low numbers here in winter. Several small groups flew by and landed in the trees on the palace ground. Furthermore, while walking towards the Palace I had Short-toed Treecreepers, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and arriving at the Alcazaba a male Blue Rock Thrush was perched on the fort, watching the crowd getting bigger and bigger. We had tickets for a tour through the Palacio Nazares, the one and only palace in Spain where the creations of the Moors remained untouched by the Christians. It was impressive, seeing walls filled with Arabic symbols and words, that must have costs hundreds of slaves. What's also interesting about Granada is that the Moors stayed here until 1492, the same year in which Columbus discovered the Americas.
Yeah, they didn't build things entirely horizontal in that time.
Clear texting on the walls.
In many rooms the ceiling looked like this!
The sun slowly rising, ready to put glory on Granada! This photo was taken from the Alhambra itself.

After the visit to the Palacio Nazares we went to the Alhambra Generalife. During this walk I could add Crossbill, Grey Wagtails, both species of Crests, many (50+) Blackcaps, 2 Hawfinches to our list.
A view from the Generalife.

We were finished with the visit around 11.30 and soon we left Granada for our next destination: Sierra de Andujar. The main thing we saw during this drive were endless kilomtres of vineyards.... these vineyards however, were filled with Song Thrushes, Blackcaps and finches profiting from all the food (olives obviously) there.
Dreary weather + vineyards = :(

After Andujar things finally started to change and we began to see the beautiful typical Spanish scenery: Sierras with Holm Oaks, the land of the Imperial Eagle! We had an appartment at a complex called Los Pinos in Las Vinas in the middle of the Sierra de Andujar. It didn't take long before we heard the familiar sounds of the Azure-winged Magpies, always a pleasure! Long-tailed Tits and Great-spotted Woodpeckers  
could be added to our list as well. Our main goal here, in the Sierra de Andujar, was to see the Iberian Lynx, one of the rarest mammals of Europe!

So in the evening we left to the Rio Jandula to see if we could be lucky to see a Lynx! While we were waiting - with approximately 10 other (Spanish) Lynx-watchers - to see what there was to come, we had a Green Sandpiper and three Iberian Green Woodpeckers. When it was almost dark we heard something in the distance. After a few seconds we heard it again: this was cleary a calling Iberian Lynx! It seemed that two Lynxes were responding to each other, getting a bit rut probably. It was not a visual sighting as we hoped for, but it was at least something! Around 18.15 I said to my dad: Hey Dad, this seems like a perfect timing for an Eagle Owl to start calling! And as if the Eagle Owl heard me say this, it started calling! We even got views of the bird perched on a tree on a hill! Eventuelly two were calling, together with a Tawny Owl. These Eagle Owls were a fantastic ending of the day. 
Simply incredible.

maandag 23 januari 2012

1st of January: New Year's Day in Granada

1st of January

In the morning we headed off to Granada where we would stay for one night. On our way to Granada we made a short stop near La Calahorra, just below Guadix. We stopped in some young Almond treeyards. During this stop we saw a nice Stone Curlew that flushed just next to our car. Furthermore three Black Wheatears were present. We had a great view on the Sierra Nevada with an old castle in front of it.
The place where we stopped.
The Sierra Nevada with the famous La Cahorra castle.

We arrived in Granada around 2 and checked in in our hotel. In the afternoon we took a walk to some of the miradors overlooking the Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada on the background. 
Mirador de San Miguel
The family =)
One of many narrows streets in Granada.
And just a random church.

The next morning a cultural visit to the Alhambra was planned. To be continued.

zondag 22 januari 2012

31st of December: The last day of 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates recently but I have been quite busy with work the last week (yes work!). I will proceed with updating the trip report now =).

31st of December

We started the morning at the playa of Torre Garcia. The day before I had seen on the website of Rare Birds Spain that a Desert Wheatear had been present there for a while. Since it was closeby we decided to check it out and maybe we could even add a rare bird to our Spain list!

During our visit at the Torre Garcia we didn't find the Desert Wheatear. We didn't know the exact place but we checked the area around the parking lot thorougly. We did have a cooperative Southern Grey Shrike next to the car:
Southern Grey Shrike

Next stop was the Lagune of the Rambla for the White-headed Ducks. Just before the Laguna we came across a very handsome male Sardinian Warbler:
Male Sardinian Warbler

Arriving at the Laguna my dad suddenly shouted: hey look at that swift hunting in front of the car!! I immediatly saw the bird he meant: it was a fine Little Swift! We quickly got out of the car and got amazing views of the bird. Later it even turned out that there were at least 3 birds hunting amongst the Crag Martins! It is a very unusual sighting since these Little Swifts normally only occur in really low numbers around Tarifa or Cadiz, but these birds were more than +400 km off to the east! It seems this is the first time that Little Swifts have been sighted here near Almería. 
Little Swifts!

We had even better views on the White-headed Ducks this time too:
Adult winter, male
Adult summer, male

On the sea we saw two floating Razorbills and next to the beach we had a flock of mixed birds: Corn Buntings, Skylarks and Lesser Short-toed Larks. Impressive was the group of 23 Stone Curlews that flew past, we had good views eventhough the group was pretty distant.
The 23 Stone Curlews.

Just seconds after we had this group we also had one flying by really close:
The single Stone Curlew

Near the campsite of Cabo de Gata we had 19 Golden Plovers again. On our way back to San José we did a quick check at the Saltpans resulting in a Ruff and 44 Black-tailed Godwits as new species for the list. In the afternoon we did a tour on the nothern side of the Cabo de Gata. We went to Los Esculios and Las Negras. At a cafe along the shore of Las Negras we saw three Gannets and three Razorbills. At the northern edge of the village we found a pretty male Blue Rock Thrush.
 Blue Rock Thrush, by Tammo Meijer

Here are two pics made by my dad of some Lesser Short-toed Larks we saw near Roquetas de Mar. I wasn't able to get pics and since these birds are skulkers, he did well!
That's what you get when you've got a Canon 7D!

We arrived at San José when it was already dark. We made ourselves a delicious New year's Eve meal and during the evening we did some fun games together. Unlike any other New Year's Eves this evening was ended calmly, without the tremendous noise of fireworks. After a good night of sleep we packed our bags and on New Year's Day we headed off to Granada.

dinsdag 17 januari 2012

30th of December: Birds, surrounded by endless greenhouses.

Thousands of greenhouses aligned along the Spanish coast just west of Almeria, make this area not a pleasant place to enjoy nature, or even watch birds. Many squared metres of ground are filled by greenhouses, that grow vegetables, destined to be transported to us. Eventhough this area is a completely polluted place, one can find an impressive richness of birdspecies amongst these awful looking plastic things. Still, I wouldn't go back that soon to a place full of greenhouses. There are better places to watch birds;)
One of these places is situated just west of Roquetas de Mar. Where urbanization there ends, nature starts. A big lake situated on the edge of the greenhouses holds hundreds or even thousands of birds, mainly ducks. 

We left to Roquetas de Mar around 9 in the morning, first dropping off the girls in Almeria, who wanted to do some shopping. Getting through the chaotic city of Almeria took us longer than expected so it was not until 11 before we reached our destination:
The lake

A quick scan over the lake delivered us 111 White-headed Ducks, some 50 Black-necked Grebes, 45 Red-crested Pochards and high numbers of coots on the more common ducks. A Peregrine was hunting above the lake, sometimes flying just above the water level, eager to grab a duck. A bit later we decided to walk to the old Salinas, situated west of the lake, In the reedbeds we heard Penduline Tits and Purple Gallinules. The old saltlakes held 14 Red-crested Pochard, 15 Snipes, 8 Spotted Redshanks, 3 Grey Plovers, 1 Ruddy Turnstone, some Black-necked Grebes and a flock of 25 Lesser short-toed Larks showing well, foraging on the steppe. 

Black-necked Grebe on a small pool in the saltmarsh.
Spotted Redhanks with a Little Egret.
Salinas-Greenhouses-Sierra Nevada

Around 13.30 our birding time was over and we headed back to Almeria, ready to get good Spanish food in the centre of Almeria. We at a good restaurant. On our way back to Cabo de Gata we had a cup of coffee along the boulevard. Near Cabo de Gata we stopped at Las Almoderas, a steppe area just north of Cabo de Gata. A good places for Stone Curlews and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. We didn't see any of these but we did see a spectacular sleep migration of Cattle Egrets and Greenfinches.
Thekla Lark in flight.
At least 500 of these cute little Egrets were seen heading to the saltlakes of Cabo de Gata. Smaller and bigger groups were passing us everywhere.
Las Almoderas with the Cabo on the background. Taken just after sunset.