Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter in Spain - Day 8

On Thursday morning, we headed to Huelva on the border with Portugal and to our first stop on the beach at Punta Umbria. The town of Punta Umbria has been significantly developed since the guidebook we were using was initially published (Where to Watch Birds in Southern & Western Spain). So much so that the roads you often seek have been replaced and some of the locations described have been encroached upon or built upon. This is the case with Punta Umbria.

We did enjoy encountering a new species on the walk to the beach though, a screaming party of Pallid Swifts, that seemed to be feeding on insects about some vegetation growing from a gutter of a house:



















A few Sandwich Terns flew by and there were also a few Yellow-legged Gulls on the water around the boats but birds were generally few and far between except of course the House Sparrows, which are almost everywhere you go in Spain. On the dunes we also spotted a few Crested Larks but nothing like what we’d hoped to encounter, that’ll be progress then…

Next we decided to head to the Marismas del Odiel on the other side of the river. En route a male Hen Harrier flew over us as we drove along the main road, a second new species for the day, though tricky to record at 100kmh with both hands on the wheel! The lady at the visitor centre on the Marismas was very helpful; she gave us a guide in both English and Spanish, explained which walks were closed due to breeding Ospreys and which were open and therefore accessible.

We started with the walk around the centre itself. A good choice. On the river a small group of Sandwich Terns:














were joined by a much larger group of Little Terns, plunge diving for fish:
















On the shoreline a group of waders foraged including Dunlin:


















Further round, by the old jetty a bigger group of waders moved up and down the shore, including Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Kentish Plover. A Common Sandpiper was looking for a meal in the woodland, of course:




















From the hides overlooking the lagoons at the rear of the visitor centre we were treated to an adult Spoonbill, preening:














Extending its wings:














Stretching:














With the wind blowing strongly the head plumage looked quite ‘punk’:














We headed out on the road and further down the island towards the next open area, stopping to photograph what looked like a wild rose on the roadside:














From the car park at walk number five we watched a Grey Plover:

















and Whimbrel:
















Again we were quite taken with the flowering fields all around:





























After a short walk we jumped back in the car and headed further down the road, stopping to observe groups of waders on the sands. Here you can see a Sanderling and a Dunlin side-by-side:



















Having thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Marismas del Odiel we headed on the Paraje Natural Lagunas de Palos y Las Madres. As we reached the roundabout at the head of the Island a pair of Hen Harriers were quartering the field. I did a u-turn to get back to a pull-out in the hope of getting a record shot before they disappeared from view, alas all I managed was a single blurry snap of the female before they both settled in the field undetectable. They are a real thrill to watch in flight and in no way might one confuse them with a pheasant and therefore shoot them if they happened across your path, unless of course you meant to shoot them in the first place…

The Paraje itself was a major disappointment with strawberry fields planted right up to the edge and with human excrement and litter everywhere:














This was a theme throughout our holiday, the majority of locals treat these preserved natural places as dumps and toilets, which is a huge shame. We headed quickly on to another local nature reserve, the Paraje Natural Estero de Domingo Rubio. This one we found overgrown and hard to access. The only path was to a fishing net cast across the flowing river under cover…

The day however was not yet done and we were enjoying the only really sunny day of our holiday so we decided to head back to Sevilla and to try and find the other place pointed out by Alfonso and referenced in the guide book, Isla Minima, the one we’d failed to find on Tuesday afternoon. Having re-read the instructions we worked out we’d misread them the first time around and needed to travel on quite a bit further than our first venture.

Pretty immediately we were in open country. We approached something called Dehesa de Abajo, which we hadn’t known about before we set out but which turned out to be a major reserve for breeding storks. We weren’t surprised to find that just like in England on one side of the road a nature reserve and on the other a sign for ‘Coto Deportivo de Caza’ – open hunting ground. Dehesa de Abajo however is a wonderful place. The gates were open though the centre itself was closed, however helpful maps and even pictures of potential birds were posted around the site, with names in Latin such that we could translate and reference our own field guides.

The White Storks abound on the site, nesting very close to the visitor centre; this one took off every time we used the nearby path:















Flew around and then landed again:














More beautiful fields of flowers:














Helen suggested the angle on that one and she was of course right. A lone Booted Eagle flew silently over the reserve:




















Last but not least a Black Kite, this time with sufficient light to make out some of the plumage of the bird as it soared overhead:




















We tried to locate the specific spot in the guidebook but the road leading to it was very rough and 4x4 country only so time to turn around and head back to the hotel for dinner. We really enjoyed the heavy rain today, which turned out to be only a very light shower for less than a minute :)

New Species for the day:

Pallid Swift
Hen Harrier
Booted Eagle

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