Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mola mola

Just back from 10 days on the Costa de la Luz on my sixth field course to Zahara de los Atunes. The first four or five days were cooler than back home but by the end of last week temperatures were peaking at 27°C and there was even a day without any wind! On our day off a few of us set sail into the Straits of Gibraltar with Whale Watch/FIRMM to observe Common, Striped, and Bottlenose Dolphins and good numbers of Pilot Whales. Bird-wise it was very quiet with Arctic Skua and Gannet the only notable species but the real highlight for me was the Sunfish that cruised past the boat all too quickly!

Aside from the usual study organisms (beetles, snails, pond skaters and plants) there was of course time to get away and look for birds and take a few photographs. The fields and scrub around Zahara are populated by many Corn Buntings, Zitting Cisticolas and Nightingales and the town itself has Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler and passing Audouin’s Gulls and Kentish Plover on the beach. Many species can also be observed on migration overhead.

Highlights this year included a male Blue Rock Thrush which sang from the Castello de la Almadrabas in Zahara every morning. This ruined castle in the former stronghold of tuna fishing lies just beyond the sandy beach in a flat coastal strip some distance from the nearby Sierra del Retín and this the first time I have observed this species in atypical habitat. Woodland on the sierra provided Orphean Warbler and Hawfinch among the many Woodchat Shrikes, Hoopoes, Serins and Blackcaps and in the Valle do Ojén birdsong from abundant Nightingales mixed with Iberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Subalpine Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler and Short-toed Treecreeper. La Janda was poor this time but Purple Swamphen and Great Reed Warbler kept up the interest on two drives through this former wetland. Another wetland also worth a regular check is the Marismas de Barbate and Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gull, Tawny Pipit and Short-toed Lark were some of the highlights there.

Colonial Lesser Kestrel and Red-rumped Swallow were observed at Vejer de la Frontera and Tarifa. One evening after sunset, a stream of Painted Lady butterflies was still arriving over the Strait from North Africa. Other migrants were common on the coast on some days with Redstart, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear. Griffon Vultures were a daily feature but other raptors included Egyptian Vulture on the Sierra de la Plata, Montagu’s Harrier near Zahara. Black Kites at La Janda, Short-toed Eagle in several areas and a few migrant Booted Eagles and Honey Buzzards on the coast. Other birds of note included Collared Pratincoles near Conil, a Purple Heron in the estuary at Zahara, Wood Sandpiper at La Janda and Bee-eaters at several sites.

On the final day as I was driving out of Zahara a flock of 83 Spoonbills migrating northeast against a deep blue sky backdrop was a fantastic sight!

All of the images below are available as prints.
Larger web versions with labels/names available here:


Warren Baker said...

Blimey fraser, some great species of birds/animals/insects you've seen! Smashing photo's. This must be the longest post ever!

Unknown said...

Amazing! I just cant help loving your pictures!

Fraser Simpson said...

Thanks Warren/Ningning. These are mostly from the second half as, believe it or not, the first few days were cool, cloudy and showery!

British Bird Lovers said...

Wow - what a set of stunning pictures.