Had the chance to once again spend some time staying with my cousin John and his wife Belinda in Los Nietos, Mar Menor, Murcia, Spain the other week. So obviously, my camera gear and bins went along too. I also arranged a day out with a local Spanish guide José for a full days birding in the area, more on this later in the blog.
Upon our arrival we had a chat, unpacked our bags and then went straight out along the coast of the Mar Menor from Los Nietos towards Los Alcázares stopping in a couple of pull offs to see what was about, soon I was onto a pair of Kentish Plover after seeing a Sandpiper (possibly a Common) fly away.
The next bird seen was predictable I guess when a Little Egret dropped in a little further away.
A look across the road into a large expanse of wasteland, in fact an old disused military base there was loads of Stonechat posing as they do on top of the vegetation.
A small group of Swallows began hunting near where our car was parked as we walked back to it and I noticed a Swallow that was flying a little slower than usual, a look through my camera had me excited as I confirmed to myself that it was indeed a Red Rumped Swallow, my first lifer of the trip and only a couple of hours in to it too - brilliant! A couple of Sandwich Tern checked out the same bit of coastline too for a few minutes before heading off in the direction we had come from.
Once in Los Alcázaresa brief walk along the beach soon gave up lovely views both in the air and on the sand of the lovely Audouin’s Gull. I think this Gull can only be seen along the Mediterranean, the western coast of Saharan Africa plus the Iberian peninsula. Yellow Legged Gulls were also around.
A few hours later once back in Los Nietos with the queues for showers growing I sneaked out to local scrubland 5 minutes from my cousin’s holiday home.
Here easily seen were, Crested Lark, Goldfinch, Serin, House Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, Linnet, Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Swallow, Magpie, White Wagtail, Monks Parakeet and another lifer Spotless Starling but unusually no Hoopoe like my visits on previous occasions.
In the air walking while back to the house I saw what I believe to be was a lone Common Buzzard and good number of the usual suspect, Wood Pigeon’s in the air as the sun started setting.
The following day I had limited time to do a little impromptu birding but went to the same bit of scrub to see what was about and saw the same species as before getting these images of Linnet and Serin. Feral Pigeon appeared around the house with House Martin and Swift being seen too.
Day 3 allowed me to have a little walk on the Los Nietos / Mar Menor coastline and soon was onto a Greenshank.
A Common Sandpiper along with a pair of Ringed Plover flew away from me (can’t blame them!) as I worked a little closer to the Greenshank and flew to a spit of sand with a Gull resting on it, this Gull didn’t look right for both Yellow Legged and Audouin’s so I walked along the beach to see what I think was a 2nd year Mediterranean Gull? – please correct me if I am wrong here.
The Mediterranean Gull? was on the small spit of sand in the centre of the image below, this also illustrates some of the habitat for the birds on the Los Nietos / Mar Menor coastline.
3 to 4 each of Sandwich Tern, Audouin’s and Yellow Legged Gull were the only other birds seen during this walk.
Also seen while driving about were Mallard, Mistle Thrush, Kestrel, the species count climbing nicely I thought.
Day 4 was the birding day with José Escarabajal from Birding Murcia and this started at 7.30am by dropping into a couple of places along the Mar menor coast on the way to nearby Los Urrutias.
Here in the early morning light 2 Curlew, 1 Whimbrel, several Greenshank, a few Ringed Plover, Shelduck were seen at distance.
A move to scrubland close to where I had been a couple of days before where the Stonechat and Kentish Plover were seen we saw if only fleetingly a nice male Redstart, he would not keep still and when I could get onto him there was vegetation in view obstructing a clear effort with the camera!
We walked around looking for Stone Curlew and saw 3, all flying away from us sadly so no shots, a pair of what looked like Great Grey Shrike posed together in a distant tree, Red Legged Partridge hurried away from our presence as did the very common Crested Larks in the area.
Before we got back to the car to move on another life tick Gull Billed Tern drifted past us. José then drove us to the site I was most keen on seeing the potential breeding grounds of another lifer for me; Collared Pratincole.
Some definite local knowledge eventually got us deep into farm land where we soon were onto up to 15 birds, some in the air and others looking like they were choosing their nest sites, nest sites in an area José said had been used for the last 3 to 4 years.
Pretty uninspiring terrain for a potential nesting sites I thought to myself but the Pratincole’s appeared to like it so that’s all that matters eh?
After another lifer in the bag we went onto the Torre Pacheco area calling into one of the many reservoirs to see what was kicking about. Here we saw Black Winged Stilt, Coot, Moorhen, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Shoveller, Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron and also a Purple Heron flypast. I managed to catch a Wood Sandpiper too, images were poor but my Twitter friends confirmed this species for me. Good numbers of Hirundines were airbourne at this location as were a couple of Collared Pratincoles, what flyers they are.
We then moved onto an area called Corvera where along with Buzzard and Bee-eater I got 2 more lifers in the bag that being Black Eared Wheatear and Eagle Owl, yes you read it correct Eagle Owl!
José said that this area has the biggest concentration of Eagle Owl than anywhere in Europe, around 100 pairs! He got us to the spot he had seen the birds before and began to scour the scenery for evidence of recent activity, birds perched etc.
The large tree was a known location for roosting, José could not see anything and moved to the right of this shot to get a different angle of view and then an Owl appeared and flew left heading to the dry river bed in the image above this one. I managed a handful of pics as it looped away from the tree.
With the bird now gone José went to the base of the tree and picked up a couple of recent pellets and feathers.
The pellets were about 60mm to 70mm in length.
Pen in image for guide to size.
A break for lunch was next on the agenda in a traditional Spanish establishment called Restaurante Venta del Cojo on the RM-601 north of Corvera town.
José ordered some great fare, dry cured ham with 2 types of cheeses, olive oil dressed tomato salad with olives and dry cured tuna, another lifer for me that last item! All with freshly made bread and a cold Estrella beer.
Right all re-stocked with energy we then moved onto the Steppe area around Saladares del Guadalentín with its many likned trasks / roads criss crossing the farmed areas at the bottom of the Sierra Espuna mountain range looking for Little Bustard, raptors and Black Bellied Sandgrouse.
Lots of driving around gave up lots of distant views of Marsh Harrier battling the decent strength winds.
Kestrels, some being possible Lesser Kestrels were seen all over but not one came close enough to confirm. A chough dropped into a reservoir and upon inspection of the image it had a crossed bill.
Corn buntings were seen all over the flatlands.
It was hard to see Stone Curlew, Black Bellied Sandgrouse or Little Bustard, with the latter not being seen at all but the previous two species? Well we had glimpses again from afar.
Final time was spent looking for Shrike and we came across a Southern Grey and then as we were just about to hit the main road again a Woodchat Shrike, another lifer!
The day ended watching a small group of Monks Parakeets on the telephone wires and feeding in open fields just outside of Los Nietos, great day well over 50 species seen and 5 lifers so not to shabby that thanks a lot José.
If you ever fancy a bit of Birding Murcia then please do go to the website shown below and contact excellent guide Jose direct, you will not be disappointed.
Day 5 was my last full day out and about with my cousin John and our two wives but a bit of late afternoon walking found a few more hirundines feeding with a good number being Red Rumped Swallow.
I counted a total of 68 species seen with a Roller being spotted on the way to the airport for the flight home, out of this number 6 lifers so not too bad eh?
When are we going again?