Wednesday 3 July 2019

Iberia: Day 1: 16th June 2019

We caught an early flight out of Gatwick on a dull Sunday morning and arrived under three hours later in a sunny Seville.  Birding was under way before Shaun, David and I had even reached the hire car with Pallid Swifts flying around us at head height and squeezing into tiny gaps in the conduit under the concrete roof of the car park. House Martins and House Sparrows were similarly occupied with nesting here. A glance up and a lone Glossy Ibis randomly flew over and Spotless Starlings were moving about.

Crossing the Spanish coast - Picos De Europa I believe

And low into Seville

Palm Sparrow

And so, out of town and on the road with White Storks, Raven, Iberian Grey shrikes, Black Kites and Magpies quickly added to the list before our first stop at Laguna la Mejorada where Western Olivaceous Warbler was our quarry.

After finding the right track we soon picked up Fan-tailed and Sardinian Warblers from the car while Whiskered Terns hawked over the small cultivated plots with Black Kites for company. Crested Larks scurried along the road in front and there were four hirundines and two Swifts to keep an eye on.

Black Kite

A song to the left enforced a stop and our first bonus was found singing from a fence line – a male Bushchat.  This was a target species for the trip but there are by no means easy and so to stumble on one was great news. He let us get out and watch before darting off across a field into an olive grove. So much richer that the grey brown backed Lesvos birds that I had seen in May and to my ear the song sounded different with notes not as separated and lacking the whistle that I am familiar with.. This one had a few tail feathers missing but we did not mind.



It was only a few yards to the spot we had been given for the Olis around an old  quarry and one was immediately audible before we pulled over and soon superb views were beign had of this heavier, chunkier set version of their Eastern counterparts. The bird actually felt more like a subdued Icterine Warbler to me and behaved in a more typically clumsy ‘fall of the branch’ kind of way. The bill felt bigger and broader and the bird more deeply coloured. They were calling continuously and even this sounded louder and harsher than EOW while the song was not as cyclical and had more grating notes within it.

WOW habitat

WOW - the best I could get - just too far and the light was actually quite poor

However, unbeknown to us, Russ Sherriff was just a few miles away in Seville itself and got these superb images that I think are worth sharing just to illustrate how strikingly different to Eastern OW these birds appear

Feeling very pleased with our efforts we ambled on and ended up with 11 WOWs including dependent youngsters. Greenfinches wheezed and two Common Waxbills popped up before zipping away. 

The pit itself was full of resting and probably nesting herons with Cattle Egrets in a big heap and Littles and Great Whites dotted amongst them while several Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis and Black-winged Stilts fed along the margins. With them was a single Sacred Ibis which although presumably from the remnants of the French population was still a good find and resulted in a description having to be done for the Spanish committee as there are not many records. 
Cattle Egrets

Moorhen, Spoonbill, Great White Egret and Sacred Ibis


Whiskered Tern

Glossy Ibis
More Whiskered Terns were perched up on a submerged tree and both Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls were present.  Little Ringed Plovers were calling and every now and then a Collared Pratincole would gracefully fly through. 

Collared Pratincole

A sandy Short-toed Lark chirped behind us and amazingly a second Bushchat appeared and showed incredibly well but like all encounters, they seldom stay still and it was soon on the move again.  Once again the colour of the upperparts was quite striking.

A couple of Lesser Emperors zoomed around and four male Banded Groundlings with their striking wings quartered mere inches from the dusty path. We left with the sound of many Turtle Doves purring all around us and Bee-eaters up above.

It did not take too long to get out into open farmland and eventually the rice paddies, sunflower fields and rows of young cotton plants of Brazo del Este and we spent the next few hours working our way up and down the dusty, public service roads that provide access for farmers and birders alike.

It was superb with the avifauna dependent on the development of the rice in each paddy.  Some were covered in Glossy Ibis and Stilts with a smattering of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits while other had groups of tuber loving Purple Gallinules looking like the mega moorhens they are.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibises

Black-winged Stilt

Purple Gallinules

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule and Mallard

Purple Gallinule

Whiskered Terns were breeding in the reeded areas of the oxbow lakes that the road we were on bisected and Collared Pratincoles hawked with the terns and hirundines over the more mature fields. Lapwings, Ruff and Avocet were added to the wader list and Purple Herons were liberally scattered about with plenty of Grey Herons, Cattle and Little Egrets and the odd Spoonbill, a single Squacco and about 100 Greater Flamingos.

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern and two Mega Goldfinches

Whiskered Tern


Purple Heron

Greater Flamingos

Night Herons popped up every now and then and were even seen perching on the telegraph wires with Whiskered Terns!  The main flood management gates we passed had seven Night Herons standing around on the walls and railing although how they were seeing anything in the rushing waters I am not sure but it did allow us to get very close without disturbing their concentration.

Black Kites and Marsh Harriers cruised about along with Kestrels and a dashing Hobby that had a go at a Black-winged Stilt.  The reed and willow fringed channels not only hid Gallinules but Fan-tailed, Reed and Western Olis while one of the oxbows had five reeling Savi’s and three Great Reeds while male Iberian Yellow Wagtails with their rasping accents displayed from the a variety of vantage points.  

These reeds also held colonies of nesting Black-headed Weavers; our second naturalised passerine of the day.  We mostly encountered olive-yellow females who seemed to like foraging in the thistles alongside the tracks but a few gaudy oriole-yellow and black males were seen and heard but rarely perched up long for a shot.  Their nests were a tight ball of woven reed quite low down in their chosen patch and there were several fresh green ones amongst those that had already turned a golden brown.

Interestingly we also found some House Sparrow nests jammed into the forks of some of the Eucalyptus trees – a sight I have so very rarely seen back home.

Black-headed Weaver

Short-toed Larks scurried ahead and at one of our first stops we were lucky enough to see three Lesser Short-toeds on the track as well which was a bonus.

With time pushing on and a good two hours to our Air B&B in Portugal we hit the road. Lunch had still not occurred and being a Sunday, everything in Spain was shut so a diversion was needed and after we at least managed to pick up some crisps and cold water from a tiny petrol station along with our first Iberian Magpies, we veered west along the coast and into Portugal were we aimed for Lidls in Castro Marim where we stocked up on provisions that included the joyousness of a Portuguese Tart actually in Portugal...   

Castro Marim

Portuguese Tart
Little and Sandwich Terns were added as we queued to get back to the bridge into Spain before driving north and re-crossing the Rio Guadiana at Pomarao to our cottage in the tiny narrow streeted village of Bens just a few miles over the border.

Heading back into Spain

Rio Guadiana at Pomarao

Rio Guadiana at Pomarao from Portugal

We decamped and cracked open a beer or two and put the dinner on with sound of Iberian Magpies wheezing in the gardens and flying around in chattering groups on shining blue wings.  This was my new bird for the trip and undoubtedly the easiest to see.  I have just never been to the right part of Spain before and never to Portugal at all.

Our abode in Bens

Iberian Magpies

Not bad views from the kitchen window...

Short-toed and Crested Larks sung up above and Iberian Shrikes in pairs looked for a late evening snack and as the light slowly turned to gold flocks of Spotless Starlings drifted over to roost along with our first Carrion Crows and Stone Curlews could be heard above the sound of crickets mournfully calling from the fields.

Spotless Starlings

Red-rumped Swallow

Sleep came easy...


  1. You have managed to post far more photos than I do, well done! Good to see a horse make the shortlist too. I am inspired to do this trip, it sounds great and extremely easy, and I've not seen Bushchat.

  2. and sorry for the tardy response... thank you Jono. It was magic... and yes, you may have noticed the odd horse or two makes it into my posts.