A second colony has also been established at Bonanza Pools (aka Lagunas de Camino Colorado) although, to be honest, I can't be 100% certain that this colony hasn't been present for rather longer.
On my short visit to the province in March I was a little concerned that there was no sign of egrets, herons or Glossy Ibis at the usual nesting site on La Janda. Although Cattle Egrets, the dominant species here, only start to lay eggs in late April/early May, there's usually some activity here by March. My concern turned to alarm when I returned in late April to find that the huge heronry was still bereft of birds. This colony has been the highlight of any spring/early summer jaunt to La Janda for years. I'm sure that better informed people than me will know why it has been deserted but I suspect that its failure is likely to be connected with the exceptionally dry winter.
However, I doubt that the absence of the egrets here means they're not breeding at all. Although egret colonies seem to persist in the same place over many years, like gulls and terns, birds may shift elsewhere if things aren't quite right. This appears to have happened to the egret colony that once nested in the reedbed near the Bald Ibis colony below Vejer de la Frontera and the unique cliff-nesting egret colony which the ibis were expected to join near Barbate.
There do seem to be some new, albeit much smaller, colonies of Cattle Egret in the province. For example, there now seems to be one in the trees along the Rio Barbate below my house in Alcala de los Gazules. Unfortunately, its on private land so I was unable to approach closely enough to prove it but from my terrace I could see that, unusually, birds were present in the trees pretty much all day.
A second colony has also been established at Bonanza Pools (aka Lagunas de Camino Colorado) although, to be honest, I can't be 100% certain that this colony hasn't been present for rather longer.
A combination of my enforced absence from Spain and plain idleness means that I've not actually looked at the third laguna here (iii on the map) for several years. The fact is that my main target here, White-headed Duck, is very easy to see on lagunas (i) and (ii) as are other attractions like Purple Swamphen and, more infrequently, birds like Little Bittern and Marbled Duck. Hence I've rarely bothered to check the third laguna and only did so in April because my keen young correspondent, Bruno Asencio Sevillano, had tipped me off about it. The Camino Truncosa allows good views of the colony which, as expected, consists largely of Cattle Egret but also a sprinkling of Squacco and Night Herons, Little Egret and Glossy Ibis. My total of 31 White-headed Duck which was far better than my combined tally at better known sites such as Laguna de Tarelo and Laguna de Medina which confirms the importance of this once neglected site. I failed to find the Red-knobbed Coot here but having seen one elsewhere didn't try too hard. It was good to see the water level so high here too after the low levels I found in March (see photos)
In the past the Valdeinfierno sendero (just off the A381 via the service road) has been one of the most convenient sites in the area to look for Iberian Chiffchaff. Here you had two options; park at the start of the track or drive c2km along a generally good track took you to a second small car park from which there was a boardwalk into a small canuto (a narrow, wooded and steep sided valley-within-a-valley). The boardwalk was designed to be wheelchair friendly and the signage even had descriptions in braille. Although you could hear Iberian Chiffchaff (and Bonelli's Warbler) en route, they particularly like the copse-like vegetation along the stream so were pretty much unmissable here in spring and early summer. Unfortunately, the track is now gated (see photo) so driving further into the valley is no longer an option. Pedestrian access seems to be permitted, however, but it's now a 2 km walk along the track to reach the prime area for Iberian Chiffchaffs. However, unless access has changed, you should still be able to drop down into the valley bottom after c800m by using a gated footpath on your right and follow the stream up to the boardwalk.
This is another good walk off the service road into the woodland. In the past, there was room for only a couple of cars to park off the road here and many people illicitly parked beyond the gate. However large stones now prevent this and, besides, there's now a good sized car park across the road. The sign on the gate warning you to be beware of fighting bulls has now gone being replaced by injunctions not to collect pine cones (GoogleTranslate insisted on "pineapples"!) or drive along the road. This site also has Bonelli's Warbler but rather fewer Iberian Chiffchaff.
Area Recreativa Montera del Torero
On the rare occasions in the past when I've stopped here (I prefer the Valdeinfierno nearby), this site has been awash with noisy picnickers so I've avoided it. However, it's not always so and probably pays further investigation.
Click here to edit.
Molinos Valley, Alcala de los Gazules
I need little excuse to post a few photos from one of my favourite walks. This spring the walk was a particularly pleasant one and the 'hidden' pool above the last mill hadn't dried out. The downside, though, was that the stream across the footpath was in full spate and required great care (and a walking pole) to cross safely. I also belatedly discovered that it was possible to follow the path beyond the pool back to the main path near the stream. This turning isn't at all obvious from the main path. Whether it is a public footpath I'm unsure but it certainly looks well used. This route has Bonelli's Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff and often channels raptor passage. I've also recorded resident raptor species such as Bonelli's and Spanish Imperial Eagles here.
I decided to fly into and out of Aeropuerto de Seville largely because I wanted to see Azure-winged Magpies at Parque Oromana in Alcala de Guadaira but also to revisit Humedal El Pantano and check Laguna de la Mejorada which I hadn't visited at all for several years. Accordingly, I booked into Hotel Oromana the night before my flight home so that I could explore the latter two sites en route and the parque on arrival and the following morning.
Humedal El Pantano
On my previous visit in March the 'swamp' (the literal translation of 'pantano') was, like most wetlands in Andalucia, very dry with most 'pools' were little more than mud-pans. As the photos below indicate, this time the situation was very different with scarcely any exposed mud and all the pools full to the brim. The other obvious difference was the sheer number of birds particularly Glossy Ibis. The latter were breeding in the swamp but with so much action with birds flying to and fro the exact number present was difficult to judge - I got to about 200 birds before realising an accurate count was impossible. Similarly, it was difficult to judge the number of Purple Heron and Little Bittern present as it was difficult to avoid double counting flying birds but I settled for a modest total of seven for the former and three for the latter making it one of the easiest sites for seeing these skulking species. Also present were 13 Spoonbill and a sprinkling of Little and Cattle Egrets and Night Herons. Ducks too were well represented with Mallard, a dozen Pochard, a couple of Red-crested Pochard and a few Shoveler. Waders included Black-winged Stilt, a pair of Little Ringed Plover, Pratincole, Common Sandpiper and Snipe. Amongst the noisy sixty odd Black-headed Gull were 18+ Whiskered Tern (both breeding here). In short, when wet It's an even better site for a quick detour from a journey along the AP4/E5 Seville-Cadiz motorway.
Laguna la Mejorada
Despite being the better known site, I found Laguna la Mejorada much less productive for birds than the nearby Humedal El Pantano although it did have more Whiskered Terns (38). The nearby NIV and its junctions have changed since my last visit and the tracks around this site have been improved and upgraded. There are several routes to the Laguna de Mejorada. If arriving from the NIV you can turn north at the roundabout onto the service road and then first right (a) along a narrow track shrouded by tamarisks. If you miss this turning you can continue along the road and take the track (b) next to the canal. Alternatively, if coming from Los Palacios on the NIVa take the track opposite the Puegot dealership (c) which is c1km from the final roundabout in Los Palacios (or c1 km south of the junction with the NIV). If you want to avoid the drive through Los Palacios from the AP4/E5 then take the road (d) along the agricultural canal (see Google maps or my guide for details).
Most of the laguna is completely shrouded by dense undergrowth on two sides but views can be obtained from the south-west corner of the laguna (e). If looking for Olivaceous Warbler try walking along the track (f) linking the canal and checking the tamarisk as you go. Views can also be gained from the rough track (g) running along the western edge of the laguna.
Parque Oromana, Alcala de Guadaira
As already noted the main purpose of this detour on the route home was to see Azure-winged Magpie (or 'Iberian Magpie') which I'd not seen for several years despite looking in Algaida pines many times. Hence, I'm very grateful to Gordon Shaw for bringing this site to my attention. Finding them proved even easier than I'd anticipated as I saw several birds as I drove up through the pines to Hotel Oromana(a). That afternoon I walked through the park to the Dragon Bridge (b) but only found Azure-winged Magpie in the open pinewoods near the hotel. Fortunately, they were very easy to find in that area and down to the children's playground below the hotel. Also present in these open pine woods were Golden Oriole and Hoopoe. That evening and again the next morning, I had a look at the riverside woodland (c). Here I found, amongst others, Olivaceous Warbler and Iberian Green Woodpecker. I studiously tried to ignore the parakeets squawking in the trees assuming that they were Monk Parakeets (ubiquitous in many parks in Spain) but when I bothered to look I found that they were actually Rose-ringed Parakeets.
The lower part of the park drops down to the Rio Guadaira whose course is punctuated by a series of weirs attended by old mills reflecting the town's heritage as the main supplier of bread to nearby Seville.
Although the park was very attractive, the rest of Alcala de Guadaira was an acute disappointment as most of the buildings are relatively new and characterless as befits a growing dormitory town for Seville. If there was an historic centre I never found it and it also proved difficult to find a walking route up to the fine Moorish castle. This was just as well as it transpired that the castle was closed. Worse still, when I sought directions I was warned not to walk up towards it as "bad people" live there and I'd be mugged - something I've never been warned about previously in Spain! So, after a pottering around the park in the morning, I opted to take the 25 minute drive to Carmona for lunch before flying back to the UK in the late afternoon. In contrast, Carmona is a magical small town with a fine architectural heritage and a long history. Only the determined ornitho-philistine could fail to be impressed by the town's heritage!
Laguna de Medina
For most birders visiting Cadiz province, "lagunas" means checking Laguna de Medina to see White-headed Duck and, with luck, Red-knobbed Coot plus the hope of seeing Ferruginous or Marbled Duck or, more recently, Olivaceous Warbler. To be fair, as its sited just off the fast A 381 near Jerez (into which many will fly), is relatively easy to scan and rarely dries out (unlike other lagunas) this makes a lot of sense. In March this year, after a long dry winter, I thought 2022 would be one of those rare 'dry' years when the 'laguna' becomes a shallow depression of sun-baked mud. The water level was even lower than I've seen it in August when one might expect the water level to be very low following the driest months of summer. However, by May, thanks to some heavy rain in late March/April, it was pretty much full. Visits in late April this year produced 700+ Flamingo, a single Red-knobbed Coot, 2 Marbled Duck, 2 White-headed Duck, 112 Red-crested Pochard (a good count according to e-Bird) and a good assortment of waders including 50+ Ringed Plover, 5+ Little Ringed Plover, 2 Lapwing, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Ruff, and a 70+ small waders (mostly to far away to identify with absolute confidence but those that were nearby below the hide consisted of 9 Curlew Sandpiper, 3 Dunlin and 2 Little Stint). Luckier observers had a Pectoral Sandpiper drop in. Unfortunately, most small waders here tuck themselves into the corner of the laguna 500-600m from (and at a difficult angle to) the hide so only birds that drop onto the thin strip of mud in front of the hide can be easily identified. It's a pity there's not a second better placed hide to view this corner. It was disappointing to find only a couple of White-headed Ducks confirming that 'Bonanza Pools' are by far the best place to look for this target species. Perhaps the recent drought conditions are responsible for this poor showing although the occasional drought helps in the long term by excluding colonisation by carp.
It was also interesting to take a closer look at the series of small lagunas in a small quarry just north of the reserve. These have presumably been developed as some sort of "mitigation" by the nearby cement factory. They can be viewed from the service road but hopefully some sort of formal access may be arranged and a path (circled in red in the GoogleEarth image below) looks like it's meant to connect with the main reserve. They held no more than large numbers of Yellow-legged Gull, a few Red-crested Pochard and Little Ringed Plover but may be worth keeping an eye on. .
Lagunas de Puerto Real
In addition to their relative obscurity and poor access, some of the other lagunas in the area suffer from what, frankly, seems to be neglect. Some, for example, like the Lagunas de Espera have ill-sited hides now entirely (or almost entirely) obscured by vegetation but most have no provision for the public to see and enjoy the birdlife at all. One example of both problems are the three lagunas that make up the Lagunas de Puerto Real. Laguna de Comisario is the largest and potentially the best but, although I didn't stop there this May, checking on GoogleEarth it still seems inaccessible (or legitimately so). Laguna de San Antonio has always been completely overgrown but when I first looked at Laguna de Taraje I called it a 'hidden gem'. You could still get a decent view across much of the laguna from the track and there was a reasonably large stretch of open water that attracted wildfowl. However, when I looked at the site this May I found it almost entirely choked with vegetation with only a small area of open water suggesting its heading the same way as the Laguna de San Antonio. Admittedly, such a long dry winter it's probably drier than usual but without restorative work the laguna will surely join others in the area and disappear. With the track to the laguna now in a very poor condition, the only reason to visit the site is to slake your curiosity.
Laguna de Jeli
Yet my growing pessimism ebbed considerably after a visit to the Laguna de Jeli. This is another site too long ignored by birders because it's less well-known than Laguna de Medina and less convenient to visit (although a good deal easier than most imagine). Over a decade ago when I first tried to visit the laguna I couldn't find the path from the A 390 (Chiclana - Medina Sidonia road) by which it was supposed to be accessed. This was a forgivable oversight as the path was then narrow, badly overgrown and un-signposted with nowhere to pull-off on the main road. How things change! As one of the slides below shows, the footpath (Cordel de los Merchantes) is now very well-signposted on the A 390 (although you have to stop to find out where it goes) with a convenient car park.
However, long before the path to Laguna de Jeli was upgraded I searched for an alternative easier route to the reserve and, thanks to GoogleEarth, discovered an excellent wide gravel track, the Cañada de Marchantes, which takes you to the other end of the path. Not only does this route reduce the walk to the laguna from almost 3 km to half that distance, it's also worth checking in its own right. The cañada follows a ridge with good views towards Medina to the east and the Bahai de Cadiz in the west. I've had both Montagu's Harrier and Black-winged Kite here and during migration periods small groups of Honey Buzzards and other raptors drift over. Other birds such as hirundines, Roller and Short-toed Lark also seem to follow the ridge. Better still, the surrounding low intensity agricultural plots hold Rufous Bushchat. So, although it means a 10 km detour to the footpath (if arriving via the car park on the A390), it's one that's well worth it even before you get there.
Walking along the footpath you quickly reach an information board and viewpoint which gave scenic views of the laguna c1 km away. Unfortunately, in the past as you continued along the view became entirely obscured by thick bushes and, just to complicate things, the path could be very muddy after rain. However, on my recent visit I was pleased to discover that much work had been done to improve matters. The first improvement was a 350m long boardwalk through the bushes which raised up high enough to see over the bushes. This was followed by another viewpoint that finally gave you a useful view of the laguna and then a slatted hide that overlooks the nearest edge of the laguna. (I suspect that the boardwalk, hide and viewpoints may have been financed as a mitigation measure for the large windfarm nearby. It's a shame that nearby Laguna de Montellano hasn't been given a 'facelift' too since viewing it remains very difficult). The hide might be further away than ideal (c150-200m depending on water levels) but, if you have a 'scope, you should be able to identify most of the wildfowl here which, with White-headed, Ferruginous and Marbled Ducks potentially on the 'menu', could be worth the walk.
So, unlike Laguna de Taraje, Laguna de Jeli remains a 'hidden gem' well worth seeking out and exploring. Even if the laguna is quiet and relatively birdless, this is a great area with much potential for a visiting birder to find something for themselves.
May 2022 Update I - Marisma de Cetina - the best birding site you've never heard of!
The vast intertidal mudflats, marshes and salinas of the Bahía de Cádiz may be good habitat for numerous waders, gulls, terns, etc but for the birdwatcher getting into the habitat to obtaining satisfactory views of the birds (even with a 'scope) can be problematical. Large obvious birds like Flamingo aren't a challenge and even Slender-billed Gulls can be picked out at long range with experience but most of the smaller waders are often be too distant for confident identification and some small birds found in the saltmarsh simply impossible to see.
However, as the Laguna de Medina - a popular stop for birders - is relatively close-by, a decade or so I go I investigated the area along the CA 3113 with a view to finding a location for gulls, shorebirds and particularly Lesser Short-toed Lark and Spectacled Warbler rather closer than the Bonanza area (c50 minutes from the laguna). A bonus, in some ways a dubious one, was finding that the large rubbish tip (a) was a magnet for Black Kites and even on one occasion, attracted an Eagle Owl. I quickly found all of my targets could be seen along the track into Salinas Santa Maria (b). However, this site wasn't 100% reliable for these species, had few(distant) waders and regular passing heavy lorries (which pick up a veritable dust storm when the track is dry) could make viewing less than ideal. Having checked for tracks into the marismas via GoogleEarth, my next stop was the Pinar de la Dhesa de las Yeguas (c) about 25 minutes drive from the Laguna de Medina. Whilst the woods looked attractive and had plenty of places to park, the track into the marsh was in an appalling state. So I earmarked as somewhere to visit at a later date when it wasn't so hot (it was mid-afternoon in August on that first visit) or when the track was in a better state. Unfortunately, a change in my personal circumstances delayed my next visit until spring 2019 when I found the track in a good condition and that the area was now a reserve but gated and access limited to those with a permit. This was hugely frustrating as I could see that this was a site with great potential.
Nonetheless I was keen to revisit this site when Covid restrictions were lifted and somehow, despite my poor Spanish, obtain a permit. I even tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the authorities to provide an email address by which a permit could be obtained rather than by phone (which required excellent command of Spanish). So when a local correspondent, keen young birder Bruno Asencio Sevilano, informed me that access was now free to pedestrians without a permit, visiting this site in April/May 2022 became my priority. I wasn't disappointed!
I've looked at the Pinar de la Dhesa de las Yeguas (c), an attractive open pine woodland with picnic tables and plenty of parking, several times in the past and had already concluded that it was likely that this area of relatively isolated woodland might hold good numbers of migrants in spring. This seems to have been confirmed by the large numbers of Spotted Flycatchers (plus a sprinkling of Pied) I found here. It also has the added attraction of holding both Great-spotted and Iberian Green Woodpecker (a species that has greatly increased in the province). It also has numerous Serin and, given their current scarcity in SE England, I was delighted to find Greenfinch particularly numerous here. Despite the disturbance the site suffers at at weekends, an evening visit in summer should produce Red-necked Nightjar (5+ seen in one evening visit recently).
An additional bonus here for those with sharp eyes and, more particularly good hearing, is Savi's Warbler. This species is very sparsely distributed in Spain although the lower Guadalquivir (i.e. Brazo del Este and the Coto Donana) seems to be a hotspot for them. According to the most recent Spanish atlas, they're now absent in this the only regular site I know for them in Cadiz Province. However, up to three reeling birds were found in 2019 and at least one bird was present (although hard to see) in 2022. The best approach is to get there as early as possible, take the track to the right which runs parallel to the CA 3113 and walk along the path (d) following margins of the dry reedbed (optimistically called Laguna de Cetina on some maps). The edge of the wood is also good for migrants whilst Black Kites and Marsh Harriers are usually obvious above the marsh. Multiple paths here take you into the woods and back to the main track but don't neglect the small agricultural aqueduct and feeder tank just beyond the car park by the road as this attracts birds coming down to drink.
If you've not got a permit then there's space for several cars to pull off near the gate (e) although in hot weather you might prefer to return to a cooler car and pull off in the shade of the nearest trees. The trade off is that you then have to walk the last c750m. In this context, note that this site is very exposed to the sun with no shade (other than the two hides) so take some water and wear appropriate clothing if you intend to explore the site.
On reaching the gates take care as you enter the reserve since the corner of the large evaporation pool on your left often has a muddy margin attractive to waders (in early May I had Dunlin, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint all in a single field of view here). Hopefully, with a little fieldcraft you should be able to enter and obtain good views of any birds. Raising your binoculars a tad and scanning further over the area Flamingos should be immediately apparent with smaller dots quickly resolving themselves to be Black-winged Stilt and Avocets. Taking a closer look at the gulls (preferably with a 'scope) should quickly reveal some Slender-billed Gulls. On my visits this spring I also had a Little Gull here so it's worth spending some time checking through the 'larids'. To your right (f) there's an extensive area of mud supporting a light growth of low halophytic plants. Both here and across the site this habitat is home to Lesser Short-toed Lark; in my experience this is by far the easiest site to catch up with this species in the province. (Greater) Short-toed Lark can also be found here albeit in much lower numbers (and only in summer). Also present in this habitat are Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Kentish Plover and Collared Pratincole (although the latter are more likely to be seen, or heard, long before you spot their mud-coloured forms half-concealed in the vegetation.
About 550m from the gate there’s an open-backed hide (g) that provides useful respite from the sun and shelter from the rain. It’s functionality as a hide is somewhat compromised as it faces back towards the way you’ve come so you’re liable to flush birds as you approach but it’s a handy place to stop to scan the salinas for anything you may have missed. There's a good chance of spotting an Osprey (or two) here whilst careful scrutiny of the birds across the vast open water could well throw up Spoonbill (and perhaps Great-white Egret which is increasingly frequent in the province). A further c750m along the track takes you to a second hide (h) which also faces back down the track from which you can again scan over the salinas. On my visit this spring, the small pools along the right-hand side of the track between (g) and (h) seemed particularly productive for small waders so scan these before you head towards the second hide.
If, instead of heading towards the next hide, you take the track to the right after c170m you pass a small pool to the right (i) which can hold more waders plus Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamphen and Purple Heron (although you've got a good chance of seeing all three before you reach this spot). Continuing along this path there are various small pools to the left and right (j) which can harbour still more waders. The latter may include breeding Lapwing which is a relatively scarce bird in the province . As always, as you proceed check for passing raptors (Marsh & Montagu’s Harriers, Booted Eagle, Black Kite, etc) and distant Griffon Vultures but be prepared for surprises, an imm. Bonelli's Eagle was seen here on the day I visited in late April.
About 1.5 km along this track from the hide you reach an area of thicker, taller vegetation bordered by a small ditch. The map on the sign at the start of the reserve suggest this is the end of the footpath but another sign here suggests you can walk further (although this is doubtfully worthwhile as ornithologically dull commercial salinas start here). Don't ignore the taller vegetation beyond and to the right of the sign as this is the haunt of Spectacled Warbler, the last of the special passerines to be found here. This diminutive version of Common Whitethroat is an attractive species well-worth the 3 km round trip from the hide. You may need some patience to spot one since unless they're singing and/or song flighting they can be hard to spot in the dense vegetation.
The excellence of this site is reflected in the growing number of e-Bird reports (528 at the time of writing, sixty more than in March) and the number of species recorded here (currently 198) - see https://ebird.org/hotspot/L6443288 - which compares favourably with the well-established Salinas de Bonanza which has fewer than twenty more species recorded despite not far short of twice as many trip reports over a much longer time span. Including the nearby woodland, it probably also has a better variety of species close at hand. With access to the better parts of the Salinas de Bonanza now restricted, the Marisma de Cetina is now, arguably, the better site to pick up waders and other specialities of salinas. In the brief period that access has been permitted it's racked up a good list of rarities which in spring 2022 alone included Western Reef Heron & White-winged Black Tern. As suggested earlier, a visit combining a look at this site with one to Laguna de Medina would make for some very productive birding.
No visit to this part of Spain, particularly in late spring, is complete without a look around the Trebujena area for Rufous Bushchat. It's a species in serious decline with a 95% reduction in numbers across the country, extinction in Granada and nearly so in Alicante and Murcia (98% reduction). Fortunately, as I've noted before a good population persists in the vineyards around this small town. I wasn't absolutely confident that I'd see one on my fist visit here this spring on 03/05 as birds sometimes arrive as late as June. Happily, I found a singing bird at the first place I checked (which was about 400m from where I'd had a pair with young last autumn). A check at the latter site was unproductive but a look at a third location produced a second bird.
My second visit to Trebujena was on 07/05 for another iconic and even trickier species to see in this area - Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. So tricky, in fact, that I'd only seen them once myself (although that's partly because Liz was always reluctant to get up early enough or stay late enough to give a good chance of seeing this species which tends to be most active at dawn and dusk). That said, I've known keen birders who've tried to find them multiple times without any luck. A few days before my visit, I'd tipped off a young Dutch birder, Danny Bregman, where to look and was somewhat miffed to hear that he then saw a couple on his first attempt! Hence I was up before first light to drive up to the area north of the A471 and c4km west of Trebujena where he'd seen them. It's a good area so I wasn't surprised to find Short-toed Lark, Montagu's Harrier, Spoonbill, etc with relative ease but what was a surprise was an adult Great-spotted Cuckoo happily feeding along the track! As this is largely a migrant in Cadiz province (and at a time I'm often back in the UK), I don't often see them and this bird treated me to my best views of the species. A 'result' but not the one that I expected. (NB - This saved me a trip to the area north of Puerto Real (Las Aletas) where the species now seem to be regular visitors, perhaps related to the increase in the Magpie, which they parasitise, in that area.
Excellent although it was to catch up with the cuckoo, I still hadn't seen any sandgrouse. I searched for another hour or so without any luck and as the habitat didn't look quite so good as that at Cortijo de Alventus (NW of Trebujena and c1km from the Guadalquivir). I knew that they were present in that area as I'd missed them by minutes in March. So 15 minutes later, I was just getting out of my car on the track by the cortijo when I espied a distant flock of twenty-plus sharp-winged fast flying birds. I quickly got my binoculars on them and, despite the distance, the two birds I concentrated on were clearly Pin-tailed Sandgrouse! In fact, to my great surprise, I could even hear their distinctive gaaa-gaaa call (hence the Spanish name Ganga). I didn't really take in what all the birds were but twenty seemed an awful lot for this scarce species, so I kept scanning for a more conclusive view. However, all I could find were flighty flocks of Grey Plovers (at least 60 and probably more), some in summer plumage, some in winter plumage and many moulting between the two. Sandgrouse resemble Golden/Grey Plovers in flight and the birds I saw were very distant so after fifteen minutes the doubts started to creep in - had I really seen them or was I just desperate to see them? Could I really have heard their gaaa-gaaa call at that range or was it me who was going gaga? I was on the brink of discarding the record as the result of delusional overenthusiasm when I heard a much louder gaaa-gaaa, looked up and had two Pin-tailed Sandgrouse fly right above my head before zooming off towards the site I'd first tried. Phew! With hindsight I think that, although I'm confident that I did see two birds earlier, I probably heard closer birds which I failed to see.
I've since discovered via e-Bird that the following day two other observers, Faustino Chamizo Ragel & Chúss Fernández Vélez, had 35 sandgrouse (plus 125 Grey Plovers) on the Marismas de Trebujena (which seems to be the generic name for the whole area). Hopefully, this, the highest count here for some years, may reflect the work in restoring the marismas in recent years. So, despite my pessimism perhaps that original flock were all sandgrouse after all!
Buoyed up by my success and as it was still relatively early, I decided have another look for bushchats and then visit Marisma de Cetina on my way back to Alcala. This time, as I was arriving from the opposite direction, I tried my third RBC site first. When I got there I pulled off next to a minibus and just as I got out of the car a group of four birders appeared from the other side of the road. Speaking to their guide, Stefan Schlick, I discovered that they were from Oregon and had been looking, unsuccessfully, for Rufous Bushchat. What could I do other than show them where I'd seen the birds in the past? After a couple of false starts, we pulled off where I'd first seen one on 03/05. We got out of the vehicles and, as I pointed out where to look, the bird flew past us singing! Only having previously seen them sing from a perch, I hadn't realised that they also do so in flight! We all subsequently had fantastic 'scope views! Brilliant stuff!
It transpired that Stefan had used an old version of my site guide in planning his trip so he asked me where his group might see Red-knobbed Coot and some waders. I suggested Laguna de Medina for the first and Marisma de Cetina - which he'd never heard of - for the second. My offer to show them both sites was quickly taken up but first the group kindly insisted on buying me lunch. Medina proved to be a disappointment but Cetina delivered the waders some of which (Dunlin, Grey Plover, etc) are commonly found in America but others like Little Stint and particularly Lapwing were most appreciated. The Little Gull I'd seen here previously was also present amongst the Slender-billed Gull. More expected were Lesser Short-toed Lark which they hadn't seen previously. Showing people the delights of the area and a clutch of new birds was a bonus and a delightful way to spend my day ... without actually changing any of my plans!
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks (all of us are still birding!) at Taunton's School in Southampton. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired I now spend as much time as possible in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.