Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Birding Jaen and the Osuna Triangle

The diversity of Andalucia, a province almost as large as England, makes birding here such a pleasure, not least because the ever changing landscape is so captivating during my travels in the region. The number of protected natural areas ensures you are never far away from wild places and so it was we travelled to Jaen, more specifically to Sierra de Andújar the home of the Iberian Lynx. Of course the Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar also plays host to many of the larger birds to be found in the peninsula including Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Vulture and Eagle Owl. My group on this particular tour were interested to witness firsthand the diversity of the province in terms of landscape and wildlife, so they had chosen Jaen and then, based in Carmona, to explore the Steppe of the Osuna triangle.

Our first port of call was Jaen and the Sierra de Andújar; we stayed a couple of nights and this allowed one complete day plus an afternoon to explore the area, not long enough for such a large and magnificent area! We needed more time here and our visit was further complicated by cold and wet weather, who would have believed that during the second half of May? The cold prevented us from hanging around too long in our quest to find Lynx, but we did observe close Black and Griffon Vultures plus good views of Golden Eagle. The usual local specialities gave good viewing and Azure-winged Magpie was as popular and showy as I could have hoped for! Typically I was without my camera when Golden Oriole came so close and perched for a full minute as we stood close to a river watch point. This species is fast becoming my bogey bird as far as photography is concerned.

Meet Sandra - female Iberian Lynx captured by Jose Luis's camera traps
Before setting off towards the Osuna Triangle, I managed to spend time with my friend and colleague in Andalucia Wildlife Guides Jose Luis Sanchez Balsera. Jose Luis showed me his new bird observation hide and some of his camera traps, which he has successfully used to capture photos of Lynx. The hide is a superb construction and part of the planning includes a purpose built pond, this provides water all year round and of course is an attraction to many local birds as well as mammals. I intend to revisit the area and hopefully spend time using the hide for photographing a few target bird species I have i.e. Spanish Imperial Eagle! To find out more about this facility see this LINK.

Good views of Black Vulture compensated a little for the cold & wet weather
As we left the higher sierra and made our way south, the weather brightened and the temperature rose to a respectable level for the time of year. We birded our way from Ejica to Osuna in balmy sunshine and wallowed as much in the temperatures as we did the birds. A thrill for all the group was close views of a hunting and hovering Black-winged Kite, whilst various waterbirds, seen on the local lagoons surrounding the main town of Osuna, also captivated us, especially the large flocks of Greater Flamingo. Our route was well planned to take a coffee break near to the back lanes leading to Marchena, where we were later to see breeding Stone Curlew, so much better named than the more recent rendition from anal academics i.e. Eurasian Thicknee!! Opportunities for other great birds ended our day in splendid contrast to the early morning.

Stone Curlew - a common breeding bird within the area of the Osuna Triangle

Our day spent in and around Osuna was highly rewarding, although distant ink black clouds kept us on the move whilst we had decent weather! First bird up for the day was a stunning Little Bustard as it flew across the road fluttering its display flight before landing near to us and proceeded to strut the strut and crack away for a female’s attention. Soon we had superb views of Montagu’s Harrier, Greater Short-toed and Calandra Lark, Roller and Lesser Kestrel, whilst a target bird, Spanish Sparrow, was seen in their hundreds! Visits to various lagoons produced both Gull-billed and Whiskered Tern, with swimming Avocets providing a strange sight along with a flyby of a Purple Heron. Black-winged Stilt amused everyone with their constant chatter and mobbing of any large bird passing by, including the innocent hawking of the local Lesser Kestrels. We ended by sitting and enjoying a large number of Collared Pratincole, a bird with attitude as one of our party remarked.

Turtle Dove were common in the Osuna area and great to know they survived hunting to arrive here!

We finished our day more or less in time to miss an absolute deluge, thunder and rained-on parade as Osuna celebrated its annual Feria, the poor locals all dressed in their traditional costumes and I guess that’s what was inviting the bad weather! Another tour ended and great fun it was too. It is always exciting to let folk put together an itinerary with our help and for me it is a pleasure to guide these tailor-made tours. I look forward to the next one.

Collared Pratincole - a wader with attitude!

To put together your own guided tour see examples on our website HERE

To accompany Peter on one of his local day tours see his page HERE

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Birding La Mancha!

Moustached Warbler - Paul French
I have reached the conclusion I have become staid, happy to spend my non touring days in my own area. Most people would sympathise given the local area for me is the Serranía de Ronda, a veritable heaven for wildlife. Who needs to travel further afield when your local patch is so rich in fauna and flora? These facts have very much contrived to make yours truly somewhat a couch potato, comfortable, unadventurous and hence denying myself the pleasures of new discoveries. An obligation to help with organising an excursion for the Andalucia Bird Society led me to recently visit Castile La Mancha, an otherwise unheard of destination and certainly an area whose natural heritage is so understated. What gems the areas around or close to Almagro are! With open steppe, small mountain ranges, wetland and rich Dehesa, the question remains, why did it take me so long to visit this area?

Estefania and Vincente
My introduction to the La Mancha fauna and flora came via the able and expert guidance of Vicente Malagón Sanroma and his lovely wife Estefania. Their passion and local knowledge conspired to make my visit a huge success and left me wanting a whole lot more. If ever you get to this area, and believe me you should, then take a look at the guide’s own website for an idea of the excursions on offer by these two most impressionable guides. Our day started with a visit to the lagoon Navaseca and gave great views of terns, wildfowl, waders and small passerines frequenting the extensive reedbeds surrounding the large open body of the lagoon. Greater Flamingo gave colour, whilst Little Bittern provided excitement. With so many birds, it was nice to see Red-crested Pochard, Black-necked Grebe and also Coots feeding their busy youngsters.

Greater Flamingo
It was such a nuisance only to have one day in the area, it became obvious in a short time that I would have to return to appreciate all that was on offer. So many sites and no time to visit them all, but I was determined to take a look at and walk around the wetland natural park of the Tablas de Daimiel. There are boardwalk routes here taking you through reedbeds, linking various islets and walks through some of the most ancient Tamarisk trees in Spain. The area is home to many aquatic plants and birds, the most notable bird for me was Moustached Warbler, but that would be cherry picking as so many birds attracted my attention. Rather than write more on this occasion, I leave you with a few photos taken on the day!

Coot with young
Great-crested Grebe
Poppies create an island of colour
Red-crested Pochard
Why not join Peter on one of the many day tours he makes throughout the region, please see our website for more detailed information.

You can arrange your own guided holidays or long weekend breaks that include airport collection and transport, to find out more visit our tailored holiday webpage.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Orchids of La Serranía de Ronda – 1

Limodorum abortivum Violet Limodore

I guess orchids have as wide appeal as any plant family and certainly they attract special attention from visitors to the Serranía de Ronda. Of course the local area supports some spectacular plant families, with over 2,000 species and sub species the area has lots to offer the botanist and lover of wild flowers. Here I give you just a tiny glimpse of our orchids and I hope to feature other plant families in the near future. I hope you enjoy this small sample? For groups or individuals who require a guided tour to the plant hot spots of this area, please look here at the link for ‘walking in flowers’.

Ophrys tenthredinifera Sawfly Orchid

Ophrys picta  Small Woodcock orchid

Ophrys bombiflora Bumblebee orchid

Orchis italica Naked man orchid

Ophrys lutea Yellow Bee Orchid

Ophrys speculum ssp speculum  Mirror Orchid

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Morocco – Bird Photography Tour

I have just returned from visiting Morocco again, leading a group, this time on a bird photography tour. I have now led over 30 tours to this wonderful destination, I must be considered some kind of veteran tour leader as far as Morocco is concerned? Our itinerary started with meeting-up in Casablanca, the most populated city in Morocco, then making our way to the small fishing town of Larache. The area around Larache is an interesting mixture of marshes, beaches and saltpans, not far away and within easy reach is Merja Zerga, famous for being the last recorded wintering area for Slender-billed Curlew. From the Atlantic coast we then visited the area of Ilfrane, a mixture of cedar forests and rock strewn plains with lakes. Contrasting landscapes, mixed and fringe habitats made for a rich diversity of birdlife.

Our first day involved driving along the coast road from Casablanca to Rabat. The beach areas were surprisingly void of gull species, but the headlands were full of migrant wheatears with Oenanthe.o.leucorhoa the dominant bird and in the middle of its extraordinary migration which will end in Greenland and the Labrador Peninsula! Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail were also migrating in large numbers. Shortly after Rabat we visited Lac de Sidi Bourhaba, an attractive lake surrounded by woodland and always worth making time to view for such species as White-headed Duck and Marbled Teal (Duck). The area was not to disappoint with good numbers of Marsh Harrier and Black Kite hawking the woodlands and the reedbeds, but the star of the day were 6 Ferruginous Duck. Red-crested Pochard was present with their ducklings, so we were pleased we made the time to visit.

Day two involved a visit and also a boat trip around the lagoon at Merja Zerga. The tidal marsh area holds good numbers of gull, tern and shorebird species, so it was good to witness waders showing the beginnings of summer plumage and Slender-billed Gull in breeding plumage, such an elegant gull. Apart from Booted Eagle, Marsh Harrier and Lesser Kestrel raptors were in short supply, although later we saw a Sparrowhawk take a lark from a field nearby! On a disappointing note we went in search of Marsh Owl with a local guide and on arriving at a ‘known’ site, we were joined by a marauding bunch of children who proceeded to charge around the marsh fringes to flush the poor owl. It was a harrowing experience, one which I will never repeat at any price, much better to visit this area in the winter for this species, where they can be observed at a roost site without causing disturbance to them. We then searched my own specific site at Larache for Moustached Warbler and had extremely good views of a singing male, so we ended on a high note.

Day three involved a fairly lengthy journey to Ilfrane. On our approach we searched the extensive mixed oak forest and were soon seeing Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Roller, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Moroccan Magpie and of course typical forest birds such as Mistle Thrush. Overhead and just before entering the town we saw a couple of Honey Buzzard, then we proceeded to our hotel on the main road to Azrou, situated on a forest trail near to Ougmes. An excursion through the pinsapo forest, which more or less bordered the hotel, produced Moussier’s Redstart, Cirl Bunting, Woodlark, ST Treecreeper, both Great-spotted and Levaillant’s Woodpecker, 00’s Chaffinch and several tit and finch species. Joining the Boulemane to Ilfrane road we also managed great views of Seebohm’s and Black-eared Wheatear. Winding our way down to Ilfrane the river that accompanied the roadside held various species including Red-knobbed (Crested) Coot. Arriving at our hotel for the next two nights, we were greeted by a flock of Alpine Chough, ending our birding day in style.

Day four and the weather closed in. Mist, cold and then later snow curtailed activities, but we did explore the lake route north of Ilfrane, which looked very promising. After a lunch in the town we turned-in for a siesta and rest, we were beaten by worsening conditions.

Day five and determined to make up for the previous day’s disappointment, we set-off into the forest area near to the hotel. We wanted a few target birds for our photographic journal; top of the list was Atlas Flycatcher. We started with good showings by Woodlark, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Moussier’s Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher. It took us a couple of hours and suffering a cold start to the morning, before we eventually found our Atlas Flycatcher, great photos were taken, but none by me as I was kept busy locating and relocating the male. Hoopoe and male Common Redstart came close and also allowed for great photo opportunities. Satiated we headed back to the route for the lakes, but principally Dayet Aoua. We were able to capture some great shots of Red-knobbed Coot, Hawfinch and some amazing scenes of Black-necked Grebe, on one islet there was a colony of nesting birds that numbered in excess of 300 pairs, yes more than 300! Certainly I have never witnessed such a scene for Black-necked Grebe, incredible. Our day ended with a spectacle that denied us an opportunity as it happened so quickly, we spotted a couple of Common Cuckoo on a rock pile and got ourselves close enough to photograph them, when and without warning a Booted Eagle swooped in an attempt to catch one of our birds. It missed, but of course our two cuckoos were spooked and didn’t return, a nearby male Cirl Bunting gave some consolation by allowing a very close approach and completed our photos for the day and our tour.

To join me on various tours in Morocco or to tailor your own guided tour, please see the link below:

Why not tailor your own tour with no minimum or maximum number of people and we will provide the guide and help with such things as transport and accommodation, to find out more please see the link below: