Driving along the banks of the Guadalquivir (and nearby) between Bonanza and Trebujena is one of those things I feel compelled to do every time I visit Cadiz province. The reason is simple – it offers some of the best and most varied birding in the area. This April I visited the area twice, first on 5th April and again just over three weeks later on 27th April (NB – I apologise for being a bit vague about exact numbers as I’ve mislaid my notebook but will add details if and when I find it).
As often as not I start off at “Lagunas de Martin Miguel” (see https://ebird.org/hotspot/L4788573) which is a somewhat misleading name for what are no more than a couple of unpromising looking plastic lined agricultural reservoirs. Yet such is their position near the river that they are often worth a stop (a). Despite their visual unattractiveness (Photo 1) they may hold birds like Little Gull, Whiskered Tern and frequently White-headed Duck, a much sought after species. They also attract Collared Pratincole which sometimes nest nearby. This spring a bonus bird here on my second visit was a male Ring-necked Duck (Photo 2) more of which anon.
From “Martin Miguel” I cut through on a farm track (b) to what I refer to as ‘Bonanza Pools’ but are more formally known as the Lagunas de Camino Colorado (see https://ebird.org/hotspot/L6472187). This year the track seemed a bit bumpier than usual and in need of some repair so this may not be a convenient shortcut for too much longer. As always, Bonanza Pools (c) came up trumps for good close range views of White-headed Duck. Red-crested Pochard and Purple Swamphen were also present although I was disappointed not to see Little Bittern on either visit as this has often been a good site to catch up with what can be an elusive species.
Bonanza salinas (d) was the next stop. As expected the site held good numbers of Curlew Sandpiper (far more frequent here than in the UK in spring) plus all the usual waders (Kentish Plover, Redshank, etc.), Flamingo and Slender-billed Gull. On the second visit on the 27th found twice as many Curlew Sandpipers (300+) reminding me of how quickly numbers can change during migration periods. However, the star of the show on the later visit was a small flock of eight Red-necked Phalarope (e). My poor digiscoped photo of one of the males (Photo 4) doesn't do the species justice This site is arguably the best in Spain for this attractive species. I confess that before this visit I’d forgotten just how good the track running parallel to the river (f) here was for two of the area’s most sought after species – Lesser Short-toed Lark and Spectacled Warbler both of which showed well on my two visits. I have driven this track in the past but it is best to walk unless in a 4x4. Take the track towards the distant tamarisks (c1 km) and search the low saline scrub en route for the target species. On my first visit here I missed the best bird – an Azure-winged Magpie – which was in very atypical habitat, the open tamarisk scrub by the river (Photo 3). It’s hard to resist the idea that it had just flown over from the pine woods across the river where it’s far more frequent.
As always, the next stop on both visits was Laguna de Tarelo (g) which is set amongst the pines of Algaida which had the expected Spoonbill and other herons (particularly Night Heron) plus White-headed Duck and all the usual web-footed suspects. On 5th April my companion Ray O’Reilly, picked up a Ring-necked Duck here which caused great excitement until we discovered that it’d been around for a week or more. It was this bird that I later refound at “Lagunas de Martin Miguel” . It’s worth noting that our best views of this bird were not from the screen but the side track along the edge of the laguna. Birding from here, it seems, presented no problem as far as the locals – avian or agricultural - were concerned. The drive through the pines was uneventful although the track (h) is gradually becoming more degraded so needs to be tackled carefully.
Once beyond the pines, I usually drive back along the river (i) towards Bonanza for a couple of km but, having already seen the two target birds for this route (i.e. the lark & warbler) I omitted this route on my first visit and only had a cursory look on my second. As always it proved a good area for Spanish Yellow Wagtail. I neglected this area on my first visit as I was also keen to head to Codo de la Esparraguera as the sedgy shallow pools (j) here have always been a very reliable site for Marbled Duck (see Photos 5 & 6 from 2011). To my huge disappointment I found that this area had been grubbed out and the habitat completely ruined (see Photo 6 dated 2019). An equally horrified Spanish birder (who I met just along the road) told me that the area had previously been home to the largest single breeding population of this very scarce duck in Spain. Yet it has been entirely wrecked. The only chink of light is that in 2014 it was also damaged (see Photo 6) although not so severely and nature managed to re-asserted itself surprisingly quickly.
The large pool (k) further along the road was also dry and a shadow of its former self (see Photo 7) as, in the past, it has been full of Flamingos, Spoonbills, Red-crested Pochard, waders, etc (see photo 8), not to mention a family of Marbled Duck. Only the final large pool held any birds (a few Black-winged Stilt, half-a-dozen Flamingos and a few Red-crested Pochard) - well down in numbers over previous visits. Viewing here was made difficult by raised earthen banks (see Photo 9). This was the single most disturbing discovery of my spring visit in 2019. Hopefully, this is a temporary setback and the area will again be flooded in the near future.
It remains to be seen how far the work to restore the marismas just beyond (k) will improve the area for birds but it’s gratifying to hear of two records this spring of flocks of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse – the first I’ve heard of for several years – nearby. I’ve detailed the developments at (l) in my previous blog (Three Cheers for Trebujena) and commented on how slippery the paths there are after heavy rain. It should also be noted that the track (m) is similarly treacherous after rain and should then not be attempted in anything other than a 4x4 (and then only very carefully). Using your car asa hide the ditch here is usually good for getting photographs of Gull-billed Tern and various herons. As noted in my guide the end of this track can sometimes (but not often!) be very good for herons and waders when flooded but probably isn’t worth the drive otherwise. For details of (n) I once again refer the reader to my previous blog (Three Cheers for Trebujena)
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.