Saturday, 28 May 2011

Salt Pans and Mountain Views

This morning we are to be accompanied by 4 guests who are holidaying here from North Wales. Paul and Brian are local birders at home and have convinced their partners to spend the day with us, so our aim was to make sure they all enjoyed their time out in the field. They had chosen option 2 of our day tour itineraries (which can be seen at and click the Spanish Day Tours link), so we were heading for the Salt Pans. Birding in Spain was new to this group so we were hopeful we could show them plenty of new species.

Leaving their accommodation in La Marina at 08.30am we decided we would make Santa Pola Salinas our first stop. Early morning here usually fulfills everyones need for Gulls and today was no exception. We were presented with "a gull-fest" as soon as we arrived. Close-up and personnel views of Yellow-legged Gull dive bombing us from the near by tower where they had their chicks, was complimented by other gulls including Audouin's Slender-billed & Mediterranean. Further stops along the length of the Salt Pans produced more lifers for the group including Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Purple Swamphen, Spoonbill and every ladies favourite - the Greater Flamingos.

Next stop was El Pinet where the Tern colony held Common, Sandwich, Little, Gull-billed and Whiskered Tern some of which are busy feeding chicks (ahh factor always wins with the ladies in the group !). From here we travelled the short distance to El Hondo where the group enjoyed great views of White-headed and Marbled Duck. Other lifers here included Purple, Squacco & Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Reed & Subalpine Warblers. Not bad for a morning eh !

Earlier Brian had said that he would love to see Blue Rock Thrush whilst he was here, but obviously he knew that Salt Pans and Lagoons was not the place for that particular species. Whilst wanting to provide the men with our best service, but not wanting to instigate divorce proceedings ! the conversation was steered to suggesting we could drop the ladies off to enjoy the afternoon by the pool and we head off to Monnegre (about 40 minutes away). So with the ladies safely deposited at the villa we headed for the Mountains.

Slender-billed Gulls

Kentish Plover

A short drive North and we were in the Mountains at Monnegre. We had warned Brian and Paul that this was not the best time of day to visit this site, as early morning is better, they were still keen to try and add to their list of lifers. Black-eared Wheatear provided the first of these quickly followed by Black Wheatear and Bee-eater. Biggest surprise of the afternoon were two pair of Western Orphean Warbler and a very showy male Spectacled Warbler.

For Brian the moment of the day came when I put him on a stunning male Blue Rock Thrush (see picture below), which I had heard for a while before locating him on a nearby slope showing very well and providing us with the perfect ending to a great days birding.

Black-eared Wheatear

Blue Rock Thrush

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Internet Gremlins

Apologies for not posting a blog over the last few days we have been at war with Vodafone Spain who supply our internet connection. We have also been busy with day tours to Santa Pola Salinas, El Pinet, El Hondo. We are seeing lots of good birds on a daily basis and a lot of them are now busy tending chicks including the White-headed Ducks. The Black Winged Stilt chicks we saw at the Salt Pans were so cute we couldn't resist taking this picture.

Black Winged Stilt Chicks

The pictures to follow have all been taken over the weekend or yesterday whilst out with holidaying birders. The Rufous Bush Chat was a good addition to this mornings roll call although not too keen on the camera. We saw 3 different birds during the short time we were on site. Rollers are present in good numbers but difficult to photograph and there seems to be an abundance of Little Owl in this area at present - they are definitely not camera shy ! as you can see from the picture below.

Rufous Bush Chat


Little Owl

Great Reed Warbler

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Scottish Highlands Tour 5th - 9th May

Photo by tour Guest Doffy Packer. From left- right - Ian Packer, Ashley Powell, Jose Ramon Martin, Alvaro Rodriguez Pomares, Malc Curtin

This years tour to the highlands was a multi-national event with 2 guests joining us from Spain. The tour was extremley enjoyable and in total we recorded 110 species with highlights being - Great Northern, Black-throated, Red-throated and White-billed Diver, White-tailed Eagle, Crested Tit, Black and Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Capercaillie, Parrot and Scottish Crossbill. Below are some images from the tour, followed by a tour summery/testimonial by guest and British Birds director, Ian Packer. For a full detailed trip report and details of 2012 tour dates please visit the "trip report" tab on our website -

Wood Warbler - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Dipper - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

White-billed Diver - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Black Grouse - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Rock Pipit - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Mountain Hare

Wheatear - Photo by Jose Ramon Martin

Ptarmigan - Digiscoped record shot

Slavonian Grebe - Digiscoped record shot

Tour Summery and Testimonial by British Birds Director Ian Packer


Jean-Luc Godard, the film director, said that “a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end.........but not necessarily in that order”. This tour (de force) obeyed that dictum to the letter. It had great sets (of species – four grouse, four divers), great costumes (of black-and-white – Great Northern Diver, Black Grouse, Dipper, Black Throated Diver, Capercaillie – all in cracking summer plumage), great dialogue (of inventive innuendo - jamming on the bimbos, meet the phocas) and superb production (of birds – mostly on cue, e.g. Slavonian Grebe, sometimes on another take, Parrot Crossbill, some by sheer chance, Grasshopper Warbler).

Of course, the script inevitably had its odd difficult moments, principally from that diva, the Scottish weather, given to being moody, changeable and fitful but giving great performances when it mattered, coaxed into showing good birds well as Ashley adeptly juggled the screenplay around to fit the scenery. Some of our cast saw Crested Tit and some didn’t, and nobody clocked Golden Eagle, the site for which was obviously having a bad hare (sic!) day, having previously produced the predator with no problem. And having had tree trunk sandwiched views of Caper one day, to have it crash out of a pine from twenty feet up at no more than thirty yards for four seconds for a full and gloriously unfettered fly past will always be a personal treasure after two solid hours of tramping around with damp feet and nothing on the radar.But hey, that’s birding for you and it wouldn’t be what it is to all of us without these ups and downs. The key to good tours is that the ups beat the downs which they did here handsomely – so let me share a couple of perfect clips that really stand out.

But just before I do, those dialogue points need some explaining. Our crew were Ashley as leader and best boy, Malc as driver and key grip, me and my wife and two Spaniards as producers. In the lasts’ land, Bimbo is a type of bread made for special occasions, good and sweet to the taste, and has thus entered the jargon of Spanish birders to mean a lifer. Jamming in will already be well known to readers, so now a handy new Anglo-Hispanic sound bite is ready for release over the airwaves to the Great British birding public – jamming on the bimbos.

The Spanish matadors had respectively 7 and 8 bimbos, nailing all the Scottish specialities, much to their satisfaction – especially for one of them who named Red Grouse as his bird of the trip. These guys were very interested in photographing the birds with the hefty lenses at their disposal, thus requiring additional skill from our key grip to manoeuvre the car as hide into just the right position for a take. During our day on the west coast loop (White-tailed Eagle is now OML!) my good lady found some Common Seals basking out on rocks as they like to do in sunshine and kindly pointed them out to the assembled cast. Never one to miss a photo opp, one of our matadors beamed broadly and said “Hola – Phocas!”. I can tell you it took some time for the Brits to regain their composure after dissolving into fits of laughter. Meet the Phocas now splendidly takes on a whole new meaning – I shall never be able to look one in the eye without a smile on my face. [Hint – try Googling for the scientific name].

And now to those two moments of perfection. Great birding is about assessing what’s available and then going for it – so, our gen was good as was the light (right behind us), and so was the location.Connecting with that spanking sum plum male Gavia adamsii at Burghead was a seminal moment of joy in the film of the book of the trip ( me – so, where is it, Ash? Ashley – don’t worry, it’s there, just scan, mate – you’ll know it when you see it! And then, smack Kerpow WOW! BIMBO!) This bird was truly EXQUISITE and, even better, a world lifer for our best boy as well. By the way, I really think Ivory-billed Diver would be just SO much better than the current English and American vernaculars. That bill like ivory is priceless.

And now, quiet on set please ..... lights, camera and ..... action!

At the top of the Cairngorms, blustery wet cloud is sweeping in and out as the mountain makes its own weather, before briefly drawing back the misty veil to show the scree and rocks below bathed in bright sunlight and then hiding them all again in a flash. Finally, a longer period, all eyes are glued to the ‘scopes, grilling the ground. A wait, two raised clenched fists and ..... at last, triumph – magically our Red Grouse Spaniard has found his very own lifer in splitting the secretive cryptic camouflage of a male Ptarmigan from the rocks around, as it quietly moves only when needing to, on guard for his unfound mate nestled tight to the terrain.

Cut! That’s a wrap! Marvellous!!


The views expressed in the above narative of that of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation the author is associated with or connected to.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

La Mata last Night and this morning

Last night we were entertained by a reeling Savi's Warbler for 15 minutes. Sorry I didn't have time to post last night but I was running late for my weekly Snooker Match. I also left the house without the camera as it was just a quick walk with the dog really. We returned to the site this morning with the camera and wouldn't you know it no sign (nor sound) of the bird ! Anyway we still had a very good mornings birding with Woodchat and Iberian Grey Shrike, Crossbills, lots of Spotted Flycatcher, Red-rumped and Barn Swallow We also found a superb Sand Martin breeding colony in a pile of sand no more than four feet high. Many holes could be seen with adult birds entering the nest holes with beaks full of insects. Warblers included Sardinian, Dartford, Subalpine and Western Bonelli's. Terns and gulls are never far away when enjoying this massively under-watched reserve; Sandwich, Little, Gull-billed and Common Terns were all present. Gulls included Audouin's, Slender-billed and Yellow-legged, other goodies included Bee Eater and Roufous Bush Robin.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Gulls Gulls Gulls

Above - Mediterranean Gull - Click image to enlarge

This mornings task was quite simple, try and photograph Western Olivaceous Warbler which we have heard but only seen briefly, skulking around in reed/scrub habitat near El Hondo. On the drive there we passed a field that was just being flooded so decided to pull over for five minutes as it already held numerous species of Gulls, Collared Pratincole and a couple of Glossy Ibis. Five minutes turned into over an hour as there was such a high turnover of Gulls and at one point we had five species of gull in the lens at once - Black-headed, Mediterranean, Yellow-legged, Audouin's and Slender-billed. By the time we reached the Olivaceous Warbler site the rain had started to fall so no pictures of the Oli's today sorry, there's always tomorrow!?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

El Hondo Vista Bella

Just a few images from a super morning at the hides along the Vista Bella road lots of good birds including Black-crowned Night Heron 6, Purple Heron 3, Little Bittern 10+ Squacco Heron numerous, Whiskered and Black Terns, plenty of White-headed Duck and Red-crested Pochards with chicks

Monday, 9 May 2011

Garden Birds

lots of good birds in and around the garden today including the above Black Wheatear and Crossbills also Sardinian Warbler Crested Lark, Slender-billed Gulls and male Montague Harrier

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Birding from the car El Hondo

Todays day tour guests John and Pat from Essex had two requests when they contacted us last night. The first was, could we take them somewhere that they could bird close to the car, as Pat has walking difficulties, and the second was to see some birds that they wouldn't see in Essex. With their requests in mind we headed for the perimeter of El Hondo where there are plenty of Camino's where we could view the birds from the car and lot's of safe places to stop and walk close by to view the more open areas of the reserve. The first camino track produced superb views of Black crowned Night Heron, which flew across the track in front of the car. We also recorded a super cast of Warblers including Great Reed, Moustached, Cetti's and Fan tailed along this track. The next stop produced Squacco and Purple Heron along with a further two Black crowned Night Heron and a male Little Bittern. Three Black Tern were flying amongst the many Whiskered Tern on a pool further around the reserve. We were also able to point out 7 stunning White-headed Duck a single male Furruginous Duck and plenty of Red-crested Pochard. The weather was perfect for birding with no heat haze and during the day good views were had of Collared Pratincole, Nightingale, Cuckoo, Roller, Monatgau's Harrier, Hoopoe and Johns' favourite the Bee-eaters. Pats' bird of the day was the Red-rumped Swallows which we saw in ambundance from the car.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Thursday 6 May Santa Pola

We had planned to visit El Hondo Nature Reserve this morning but sadly that had to go by the wayside when we discovered our little dog "Scruffy" had ticks. So instead of birding we took her to the vets and were lucky enough to get her in straightaway. Once the vet had treated her and we were all feeling happier we headed out towards a very windy Santa Pola. My little four legged birding companion was much brighter by the time we got there, which allowed me to concentrate of the new arrivals here. There were Yellow wagtails all over the area and 600+ Flamingo on the back salt pans. Slender-billed Gulls were active in the early afternoon sun and the above Little Tern performed well for the camera. Garden bird of the day was the above Black Wheatear

Thursday, 5 May 2011

EL Pinet Migrants

First day attempting to do this blog on my own as Ashley is back in Britain at the moment leading our tour in the Scottish Highlands. We visited El Pinet this afternoon where it was soon evident that the birds had arrived overnight. Spotted flycatchers and Northern Wheatears seemed to be everywhere and the further along the dunes system we walked the more flycatchers we saw; adding three Pied to the many spotted seen nearer to the car park. Three common Redstart and two Black-eared Wheatears rounded the walk off. Not bad when I originally stopped here to try and count the increase in the Little Terns. As many as forty birds were present today and I will have to apologise for not getting a picture of any of the above species but I am just not as quick as Ashley (yet !). The above Crested Lark will have to keep the photographers amongst you happy and I will try to do better tomorrow.

Monday, 2 May 2011

El Pinet and surrounds

We began the day at El Pinet with our day tour guest Alex Brookes, on holiday in the area from Staffordshire. As well as all the usual suspects there were still plenty of Curlew Sandpiper knocking around, see the images below. Another interesting observation was that nearly all of the c100 Med Gulls present last week have left, being replaced by a minimum of 100 pairs of Slender-billed Gull. Water Pipit in summer plumage and a very showy Water Rail were also added bonuses. Nearly all of the Avocet pairs at El Pinet now have chicks, ranging up to approximately 1 week old, some of the Common Terns also now appear to be feeding young.

Above 2 images - Curlew Sandpiper

The rest of the day was spent birding the various tracks between La Marina and El Hondo. We record all of the breeding species you would expect to find in this area with the cream of the crop being - Roller (5, see below), Bee-eater (15+), Montagu's Harrier (5 males displaying to a single female), Garganey (4), Grasshopper Warbler (1) and 3 very showy Tree Sparrow (fairly uncommon in this area). In total we recorded 88 species and Alex settled on Roller as his bird of the day. Click on any of the images in this post to see an enlarged version. For details of our day trip options please click here.


Adult winter/immature Squacco Heron

Above 2 images - Adult summer plumage Squacco Heron

Cattle Egret