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Two clients next to one of our land rovers

Looking my birds through different eyes

By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

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Ingrid and Georg, keen birdwatchers just arrived from Canada, were willing to face our birds, most new for them. That day they reminded me how beautiful our birds are.

That hoopoe we saw just after passing over the Ajolí Bridge, with its impressive crest balanced with its extremely long bill and its great plumage design that give them that tropical bird looking, or the flock of azure-winged magpies that overflew us with their elegant long tail of that beautiful sky-blue colour, or those colourful goldfinches feeding on thistles that we found as we were looking at some reed deer and wild boars under the cork oaks whose red faces are unmatched in our avifauna. They helped me to look again at our birds with different eyes.

Chiffchaffs, robins, blackcaps, sardinian warblers and black redstarts caught Ingrid’s and Georg’s attention as we moved through the pine forest. Serins, crested larks, chaffinches, blue tits and crested tits, wood pigeons and spotless starlings were also impressive birds when looked through the unaccustomed eyes of my Canadians companions, no mention our spectacular red-legged partridges. We saw them all when stopped at Cañada Mayor House cattle through.

Later, from the marshes edge next to the cork oak forest we enjoyed great views of a Spanish imperial eagle sat on a distant large tree and a more discreet common kestrel on a near tree. We stopped, as usually, at Veta Zorrera rabbit colony and succeeded on finding one of the little owls living there. When I stopped the land rover to open La Escupidera Gate I found a large raptor hovering over the dry plains in the distance; I knew very well that short-toed eagles are the only hovering birds in our area that reach that size. Even at that distance we could see the very pale underparts of the two birds we eventually found.

We kept moving through the marshes to find out that due to the still high temperatures there were still some wheatears on migration south on October 30th !! Large flocks of linnets and serins and new groups of goldfinches feeding on the thistles along the roadsides sides offered Ingrid and Georg a new chance to enjoy our small finches and even every stonechat on the way, a common sight now after the breeding season, was a reason to stop. They also had many chances to know well our tiny zitting cisticolas. The cattle through at Chozas del Pastor offered me a good reason to stop and introduce them into the wonderful world of larks with excellent views of our smallest representative, the lesser short-toed lark.

A young red kite and a couple of ravens later we arrived at José A. Valverde Visitor Centre for a restorative cup of coffee. With the marshes around still dry the first just arrived groups of common teals find there an ideal place to settle and rest. We also enjoyed the first flocks of greylag geese coming to winter with us, a couple of male black redstarts deciding who was going to take a particular corner of the building, a purple swamp-hen hiding in the reeds and a pair of Spanish imperial eagles having a chat up in the skies.

Several common buzzards, a dozen common kestrels and a flock of wintering skylarks kept us entertained until we reached Casa del Lobo where I took advantage of the opportunity to teach the Canadian couple about the differences between common and lesser kestrels. Just passed Huerta Tejada abandoned complex I conducted their eyes towards the group of stone curlew that laid half hidden in the bushes. From there we turned north along Entremuros and headed for Casa Bombas where I intended to show them their first black storks but on the way they had a sleepy barn owl perched on a fence post just 3 meters away from the land rover window.

Once at the main pumping station of the area we found a whole collection of herons including night heron, grey heron, little egret and great white egret. My plan then was turning west towards 2 bridges to try the osprey I had seen that way several times the past two weeks fishing along one of the main drain channels and before we found it they had the chance to see one of my favourite species, also new for them, a black-winged kite. Several black storks, many grey herons and great egrets and the first large flocks of greater cormorants sat along the channel edges and then we turn north again to Hato Ratón Rice Fields were I expected to find some cranes. A group of about 25 were feeding at certain distance on a just harvested field with a ploughing tractor in the background surrounding by a huge flock of gulls.

East again and back on the main road along Entremuros looking for a well-deserved lunch in a small restaurant at Isla Mayor where we would have a taste of some traditional dishes. On our way there we found a small flock of Spanish sparrows and stopped to check one of the fields full of lapwings which as I know well by my experience are normally accompanied by other species of waders, apart from the extremely common green sandpiper and several greenshanks we found a very attractive group of about 50 spotted redshanks and the first kingfisher of the day. Our energies restored we had some 35.000 has of rice fields in front of us to be explored. Like every time I had to choose a direction to take and east won this time, towards Guadalquivir River we went. Most of the harvest is done now but ploughing tractor attract huge numbers of birds especially lesser black-backed and black-headed gulls, cattle and little egrets, grey herons and white storks.

We passed next to some fields were the leftovers of the harvest were burning and kept moving northeast to the main river along the Isla Mínima General Collector and there we found a shy purple swamphen and an impressive osprey sat on a pylon along with several more black storks and several flocks of black-winged stilts. Just before we got to Isla Mínima Pumping Station we found the first common waxbills of the day. While driving back to Isla Mayor along the Isla Mínima Main Channel we found several common sandpipers and two of the first snipes back from the north.

We still had time before sunset to explore another chunk of rice fields so I chose now La Viuda Channel that runs northeast from Isla Mayor. Just after we passed the ruins of La Esperanza Farmhouse and before we went over the old gates to the at that time marshes we came across something unexpected, a couple turtle doves sharing table with several collared doves; unexpected because of the time of year, by the end of October all our turtles doves are normally back in Africa but the unusual high temperatures this year are slowing down the natural rhythms.

The thick reed beds that we often find along the ditches in the rice area are perfect habitats in winter for species like Spanish sparrow, zitting cisticola, chiffchaff, stonechat, common waxbill and two other species I was after today. The first one, the bluethroat, which is now back from the north to winter with us, was extremely elusive and eventually I did not get Ingrid and Georg saw it but the second one was much easier because juveniles and females yellow-crowned bishop move around now in large flocks.

I had kept to the end the last spot of the day in order to get to Dehesa de Abajo under the soft and warm light of the sunset. I drove through the old settlement of Alfonso XIII and then east along the Alfonso XIII Main Channel and north along Los Pobres Main Collector to reach the original edge of the old marshes where the small nature reserve is located. Just before we got there stopped to look at a field full of little egrets, black-winged stilts and glossy ibis.

Just a bit later Ingrid and Georg found out why I wanted them to get there just at that time of the day, an enormous flock of greater flamingos was waiting for them in the reservoir next to the white stork colony at Dehesa de Abajo. Many thousands of them concentrated there along with an extremely numerous flock of shoveller. By checking the artificial lagoon we found several red-crested pochards and large flocks of black-winged stilts and avocets at the back of it. A great end for a great day.

About José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

José Antonio Sánchez se licenció en Biología por la Universidad de Sevilla en 1985. Más tarde, durante varios años, se dedicó a organizar y guiar rutas de senderismo y naturaleza ...

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