Thursday, 22 August 2013

Clayheads on Tour - Portugal/Spain August 2013

This year's family holiday (28th July to 4th August) was centred on Isla Canela, in SW Spain just over the border from Portugal. The location meant I was close enough to visit Coto Donana, and close enough to pop to Castro Marim in Portugal, a site I didn't have time to visit in 2010 on my previous visit to the Algarve. 

I found very little information on birding around Isla Canela, but there was a mention of it in "Where to watch birds in Southern and Western Spain (Garcia and Paterson). Its a relatively new resort which has yet to be finished due to the economical problems out there. There are quite a few empty plots of land and the apartments built are still yet to be sold. It was very pleasant though, nice and quiet, not many British and quite Spanish. 

We birded most days around Isla Canela. Its in the marshes and there are quite a few creeks to check, as well as the harbour at Punta del Moral, the next town along. Highlights were four Greater Flamingos feeding in one of the channels, Spoonbills over, plus a nice selection of waders with Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstones, Greenshank all seen in varying numbers. It was all easy simple birding. Around the hotel we also saw Pallid Swifts, Mediterranean Gulls on the beach, Hoopoe, a male Montagu's Harrier. It kept us occupied when we couldn't travel far.

We only visited two other places during our trip. Both were excellent venues and resulted in some fantastic birding. First, was Castro Marim. It was only a 25 mins drive from Isla Canela; up over the bridge and across the border. The first visit was late in the afternoon to the salt works (as described in Gosney's guide - site 5). At first, the pans looked empty, but once you started scanning it was packed with birds. There were over 200 Audouin's Gulls, loads of Flamingos and White Storks, Cattle Egrets, a Gull-billed Tern was flying around, two male Monties, 20+ Black Terns, was a breathless ten minutes. We decided to return in the morning.

Castro Marim by the Salt works

We read the Gosney guide again and the following morning we visited the eastern side of the salt pans (Gosney site 3). We drove along a rutted track that was almost impassable in parts. We drove as far as we could until we reached a large dip, and we didn't dare attempt to drive on. We visited this area three times in all, it was that good. The pans attracted waders, and each visit there would be something different. We had flocks of summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers, summer plumaged Knot, Sanderling, a few Little Stints. One visit we found three Caspian Terns, a few Audouin's Gulls, a Woodchat plus loads of Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, White Storks, Flamingos, Stone-curlew, Kentish Plovers....the list goes on. The main reason for coming here was for my first tick of the trip - Slender-billed Gull. Our first visit saw one, then two on the next and on the last visit we found a flock of twenty!

Caspian Tern at Castro Marim

Our big trip out for this holiday was a day trip to Coto Donana, about 1hr 45mins drive away. I had attempted to get a guide for the day to show us around but I had failed. All guides contacted said they were either too busy, too far to travel or it was too hot and not many birds around. So we guided ourselves. I'd read a suggestion that the northern part with the paddyfields would be still wet even in mid summer, and so that's where we headed for.

Our first stop was the first paddyfield we came across on the road to Dehesa de Abajo. It was certainly an eye opening start to our day. The wet area was full of birds, with 100+ Glossy Ibis, 20+ Wood Sandpipers, 70+ Little Egret, 40+ Ruff, 20+ LRP, 40+ Black-winged Stilts plus numerous White Stork and Cattle Egret.

the paddyfields

We carried on to the visitor centre at Dehesa de Abajo. The warden was extremely helpful although he didn't speak a word of English. Fortunately, there were quite a few pictures of birds around the centre. We pointed to them; he pointed on a map or shook his head and smiled.

We drove down to the large lake just below the visitor centre. This is the Canada de Rianzuela and had been recommended by the Algarve Birders as a site for RED-KNOBBED COOT. We walked the whole length of the road across the bottom of the lagoon, flushing c100 Night Heron and one Squacco Heron as we did. Again, it was a magnet for birds. It read like a good visit to Westport, with 400+ White Stork, flocks of Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts and Spoonbills, 15+ Black Kite overhead, Great Reed Warbler, two Gull-billed Terns, two Great White Egrets, three Curlew Sands, three Whiskered Terns, ten Red-crested Pochard, a Ruddy Shelduck and six Marbled Ducks - one of our reasons for visiting the area was to get Marbled Duck definitely on my West Pal list, although quite a few of my British ones are probably quite genuine.

We drove a short distance up the road to Canada de los Pajaros, a site the friendly warden had pointed on a map to. When we arrived, there were 30+ Red-knobbed Coots, all with neck bands on. With careful studying, we found two without. And they were feeding a chick as well. Second tick of the day in the bag.

We returned to the visitor centre for some refreshment as it was now 36C and rather warm. We walked down to the two hides this time, thinking we could sit out of the heat and look for more Coots. We gently plodded down and sat in the hide.

The path down to the lagoon in 36C. Such lush green vegetation

Almost immediately GAS realised his legs were being bitten. We looked down and there was a swarm of flies all low down in the hide, exactly where your legs go. We soon left and walked over to the other hide. We saw a family party of warblers near to the reed bed. On first glance I assumed they were Reed Warblers, then I though they were a bit big, but they didn't look like Great Reed Warblers. They were also grey. I had a thought, played Olivaceous Warbler song on my phone and over the whole family party of Western Olivaceous Warblers came to investigate - my third tick of the day and my fourth overall. We knew there was no chance of seeing WHITE-HEADED DUCK or SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE, but we can save them for another day.

Then again, what's wrong with this White-headed Duck seen at Blithfield in September 2002!