After spending most of the summer up in Poland and Germany, like a migratory bird, for various reasons (not nesting though), I finally came back to Spain in September. After a sticky, humid summer, September brings pleasant temperatures while still allowing to indulge oneself on the beach and plunge easily to the sea. There are other reasons why I love this season in Andalucia so much: I can still do snorkelling and wave ‘hi’ to fish, while there is still a lot of birds up on the skies and in the remains of humid, salty marshes.
These birds are either on its way to Africa, or preparing for a wintering season here in Spain. The only sad note to self I made is that the swifts are long gone, after a very hot and unpredictable summer, and they no longer wake me up with their energetic hunt for the insects. And as a matter of fact, I then notice the painful presence of mosquitos. Even more important to prepare the nest box and save the swifts the next season!
Since I missed the summer get-togethers of the Andalucian Bird Society, I was very excited to see everyone again for the Autumn Migration meetup in La Janda and Barbate Marches. As I arrived almost late by bus to the village of Tahivilla, and quickly ordered a proper breakfast in Hotel/Restaurante Apolo IX, it was so nice to see familiar and new faces excited for the day ahead of us. We had about 11 cars altogether and decided to divide into two smaller groups to ensure optimal birdwatching conditions. I joined the group led by Frank O’Hair and we started off by the route ‘up to the stinky farm’ (aren’t all farms a bit smelly, by the way?).
We stopped several times by La Janda canals to notice the absolute birding wonders. As the mornings tend to be cloudy due to the Atlantic Ocean’s presence, we first spotted colourful red legs of a red partridge, followed by a bunch of stonechats, corn buntings, wood warblers, zitting cisticola, and redstarts. In the misty air, we noticed crested larks, hoping to see Calandra larks too. Instead, we saw a cheerful group of Spanish sparrows, residing in the bushes. As the sky became clearer, we spotted birds of prey: black-winged kites, common and lesser kestrels as well as griffon vultures, at their cruising altitude, not too bothered about anyone else, not even crashing into a flock of glossy ibis.
A more dramatic scenario happened to a honey buzzard, notoriously mocked by the group of lesser kestrels. How come you can tell a lesser from a common kestrel? Lesser kestrels vary by the size, colours but also by its behaviour. They live and breed in larger groups than the common kestrels, and they seem to use a group strategy to scare off larger predators. On that day we also saw a number of Montagu’s and marsh harriers, often hard to tell especially when they’re juvenile. And on top of that, there was an impressive Spanish imperial eagle, relatively well to spot in La Janda.
Our next stop was next to the pump, which offered a great observing spot for cattle and little egrets. Dozens if not hundreds of them inhabited the neighbouring trees where we had an opportunity to observe their cohabitant behaviour and plenty of juvenile examples. Other wading and impressive species noted around this location included storks, cranes, and spoonbills gathering before crossing the Gibraltar Strait. We also noticed the ongoing presence of jackdaws, raven, collared dove and a wood pigeon, varying slightly in their mourning calls (by one syllable).
Before we paused for a packed lunch picnic next to the shaded area of the canal with two kingfishers and plenty of swallows, we saw a lovely greylag goose couple surrounded by the egrets taking off. At the lunch spot we did hear a penduline tit (Twitter notification sound!), gallinule (aka swamphen) and a hoopoe. After our lunch we briefly met with the other group, which reported fantastic sightings in the Barbate Marshes area and we exchanged some birding tips for La Janda.
They were soooo right: Barbate Marshes were such a treat to our eyes, starting off with a plethora of common ring and Kentish plovers by the shore and soon, spotting a pair of Eurasian curlews resting at one of the isles. Further up we had a lovely view over the greater and lesser flamingos, and an isle full of gulls, including Audouin gull, black-headed gull (with a white head around this season), slender-billed and a yellow legged gull, all of them in one place. I still envy anyone capable of telling a juvenile gull species from each other, definitely a note to self and a 2023 challenge to work on!
The sounds of black-winged stilts got us to look into a part where they cohabited with gracious pied avocets and lively sanderlings, little and Temmick’s stints, dunlins, turnstones, ruffs and common redshanks, sandpipers and snipes. At the end of our day we also counted a lesser and common tern and a common buzzard hovering above us.
The day ended up looking at the spoonbill showing off her beak from various perspectives, which itself is fascinating. We were also very perseverant looking for a little owl, allegedly residing in the local tamarind trees. Instead, we managed to see a female black redstart and a pied flycatcher before we called it a day. We said our goodbyes and left passing through a cattle herd coming back to their farm.
I dreamed of birds that night, and the day after my eye sharpened so much for them, or I was just nicely hallucinating. Staying in my beloved Conil de la Frontera I took the opportunity to run my usual 5K at the beach shore, alongside the juvenile, gregarious ringed plovers. They were faster, and I let them score. It was a great weekend, location and both human and natural company to recommend to anyone at this time of the year visiting Andalucia.