A winter walk- the reserve in December


We had some welcome respite from the recent rain and wintry weather today, enjoying a beautiful day that was sunny and warm and reached a temperature of around 24C degrees in the early afternoon. It would have been a real shame to waste such a day, so as I haven’t visited the local reserve recently, that’s where I headed for. I arrived later than I would have liked, at around noon, so wasn’t anticipating seeing much of any birds, but it was so good just to be out in the sun that I decided any wildlife I saw would be a bonus to a pleasant walk.

The view across the lagoon & reedbeds to Monte Real

The hide was locked as usual, which is a shame as it is difficult to get a good view of the lagoon other than from there. There were small birds in the tall reeds to the side of the hide, definitely a Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff, but there was nothing out on the water. A couple of resident Purple Gallinules were out stalking around in the cover of reeds on the far bank of the lagoon and visible through a stand of tall reeds in front of me there was a ‘stack’ of terrapins up against a reed ‘island’, but otherwise it was very quiet.

There seem to be a good number of Terrapins living in the lagoon that drag themselves out of the water to bask on warm sunny days. Any wild ones found here are most likely to be Stripe-necked Terrapins, but it’s quite common practise here for people to release their pet ones into the nearest body of water, so you need to get a good view to identify them for sure. The cold-blooded Terrapins relish a sunbathe and very often appear like the ones I saw today – stacked on top of one another. I have no idea why, other than perhaps it’s the best way for the smaller ones to get out of the water. I couldn’t quite make out what was happening here, but I think the big one on the bottom is facing the camera and may be eating the grassy part of a reed.

Following the heavy rain we have had over the past few days, the sea is stained brown with mud that has been brought down by the rivers and the beach is littered with debris, including as I’ve come to expect, oranges. There were a huge amount of gulls rafting out on the sea, the majority Yellow-legged, but a number of Black-headed Gulls were also out there in a separate group. There was a lot of Cormorant activity too, with individuals out swimming and flying in and out from the estuary.

The reed beds comprise a mix of mainly Giant Reeds with clumps of Sharp rushes and Tamarisk shrubs

As there were a few people on the beach I walked  on up to the Estuary, sticking close to the edge of the reedbed in case there was anything to see. I heard Sardinian Warblers several times, had glimpses of Stonechats flitting about and disturbed a small flock of feeding Goldfinches. There were several Dragonflies flying around, but none settled. I also saw a number of Painted Lady butterflies that were flying in from low over the sea, so perhaps they are migrating here, although it seems a strange time of year to be arriving.

Two young cormorants

CORMORANT – Phalocrocorax carbo SPANISH: Cormorán Grande

I expected to see gulls on the estuary water as there were a lot flying around, so was not surprised to see even more of them, all Yellow-legged and in various stages of plumage. However, I was more pleased to see that several large branches and miscellaneous tree parts were providing perfect perching for about 25 Cormorants, all juveniles as far as I could tell in various stages of plumage, some with very white underparts. More were flying in and out from the sea, so there were probably a total of 40 or so in the general area.

A young Cormorant, presenting a very clean & wholly white front and strong black webbed feet

I turned my attention from the Cormorants to look along the edges of the estuary and downriver for any signs of wading birds. I was particularly looking for Grey Plover, one or two of which have overwintered here for the past few years, but there were none to be seen today, nor were there any Sanderling, also frequently here in the winter. I  heard very loud splashing noises and turned back to see what was happening; a Cormorant was taking a very noisy and exuberant bath. It was amusing to watch as he immersed himself completely and flapped his wings energetically, plunging in and out of the water, turning himself around and creating a long wake either side of himself, resembling some kind of sea monster.

A Cormorant enjoying an exuberant bath

A last look downriver

As I left I  realised that my earlier attempts to approach the birds quietly had been unnecessary, as despite being quite close, pointing the camera and then walking away they paid not the slightest heed and remained exactly as I had found them.

I walked towards the sea and as I approached its edge I was surprised to startle 3 small birds that took off over the water. I thought they were Sanderlings, but when they returned to a spot a little further along the beach I saw that although one of them was a Sanderling, the other two were Plovers. I only had a back view of them and they were in bright sunlight, but they showed white wingbars as they flew and I noted orange legs, so I believe they were Ringed Plovers.

I had the whole beach to myself now and it was very warm. I sat on the sand for a while gazing out to sea, watching the comings and goings of gulls and cormorants, enjoying the moment, which was lovely until a strong breeze sprang up and my face was stung by sharp grains of blown sand. Time to move on I walked along looking for any seashells the stormy sea may have thrown up. This is not a great place to find a variety of shells, most that turn up are those of the Spiny Cockle which range in size and are coloured in various shades of brown and orange.

Looking up from my shell collecting I saw movement on the sea-edge and was delighted to see 2 Turnstones probing the small piles of debris. These are some of my very favourite birds, they are so attractive to look at and full of character. I stopped to watch them and sat down again nearby while they carried on foraging just a couple of metres away.

TURNSTONEArenaria interpres SPANISH: Vuelvepiedras

TURNSTONE – Arenaria interpres

A Turnstone, turning stones

The birds continued to travel along the water’s edge at a much faster pace than I was walking at and I finally caught up with them at the end of this section of the beach, opposite the end of the lagoon, where they were investigating the larger piles of debris.

A Turnstone investigating a pile of debris

A quick look at the lagoon on my way past revealed four Purple Gallinules spread out amongst the vegetation and a Coot swimming about on the water. A single Meadow Pipit was pecking about at the edge of the path some way ahead of me, and a Sardinian Warbler flew across. Driving home with the window down I saw and heard Spotless Starlings in the palms in front of the beach club and saw a couple of White Wagtails on the roadside.

Back at home I took a cup of tea outside to sit and recuperate from my exertions and lo and behold, there was a Meadow Pipit on the lawn beside the swimming pool. It wasn’t moving much, just sitting and moving its head around, occasionally opening its beak, so must have been watching insects and trying to catch them.

Meadow Pipits often visit the garden during the winter months

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