Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sunday 17th - Sierra de Andujar

Azure-winged Magpie
Sunday was the big day in Andujar. There were 2 main targets today, Black Vulture and Spanish Imperial Eagle, as well as secondary hoped for birds in Great Spotted Cuckoo and Eagle Owl. I also wished to tie up Rock Bunting, which I’d surprisingly missed the day before. The Eagle was perhaps the most mystical pre-trip, but the rain that greeted us last night persisted at dawn, with a heavy fog making me feel very unsure about seeing any birds of prey. The plan was to walk the Encinarejo trail along the river Andujar, which was touted as very good for both the main targets, as well as Iberian Lynx, which we would spend any spare time we had in the day looking for.

Despite the poor weather Hoopoes and Cuckoos were singing in our cabin grounds. We drove to the start of the trail and plenty of Azure-winged Magpies were around, with the dawn chorus simply phenomenal. Huge numbers of Hoopoes (20+), Nightingales (10+), Corn Buntings (15+), Cetti’s Warblers (10+) joined the smaller numbers of Serins, Golden Orioles, and Sardinian, Subalpine and Garden Warblers in near constant song from the lush hedgerows and trees that flanked the river.
The view over the dehesa
We were only about 10 minutes into the walk when the raucous call of a Great Spotted Cuckoo caught my attention, as one flashed past. Further up, a Turtle Dove purred and flew on, repeating this almost the entire stretch of the river. The density of birds was fantastic, but the weather was still not looking good for raptors as we climbed a bank to a renowned vantage point over the dehesa. As lucky as it was, the sun decided to beam out, and the fog cleared by 09:45.

Sat on the bank for only a few minutes, I was amazed to see a colossal Black Vulture flying fairly low over the orchard behind me. I managed some photos, but was still shocked as to why it was so close to the ground. However, it soon became apparent that about 12 Vultures were feeding on something over the brow of the hill, as several Griffons and a couple more Blacks appeared. I got back to scanning from the view, and a surprise tick was bagged in the shape of a recently split, yaffling Iberian Green Woodpecker.

A Black Vulture
At around 10:00 I spotted my first eagle, very high and distant, and after a minute or so another appeared. The birds were so far away, and even with the scope on them it was difficult to decipher any salient features, leaving me unable to ID either as Golden or Spanish Imperial. One bird seemed to have a slightly longer tail than the other, and was seemingly a fraction larger. It was also missing a primary. I concentrated my efforts on this individual, and after a long wait managed to get a decent view of it bank, revealing pale patches running across the centre of the upper wing and a largely white tail, confirming it as a young Golden Eagle. I was slightly leaning towards this before, but was happy to be sure, and the bird then dropped at speed into the valley.

A sub-adult Golden Eagle
The 2 eagles were riding the same thermal, so I presumed it was a pair, and as the second bird got smaller and smaller we decided to continue our walk. A pair of Black-winged Stilts on the river was a surprise, and we eventually reached the end of the trail at the Encinarejo dam. A couple of pairs of Rock Sparrows were nesting here, and we watched them taking food back and forth as we ate our lunch. Refuelled, we retraced our steps, but after only 5 minutes, at roughly 13:25, my attention was brought to the Golden Eagle with the missing primary, which was back in the sky.

It was cruising slowly south, and as I looked up a couple more raptors the other side of me, to the west, caught my eye. I spun round to see a distant Black Kite and Short-toed Eagle drifting north at a similar pace, but almost directly above my head was the second (presumed Golden) eagle from the viewpoint. This time the light was perfect, and it was a hell of a lot closer, and I was quickly able to note a black trailing band to the tail, and a very pale head. Fumbling quickly through Collins it became apparent that this was quite possible the big guy! We set up the scope in record time, and once I peered through the lens I was onto cracking views of the bird, circling slowly above us.
The view from the Mirador del Embalse del Jandula
And then, finally, it banked in the perfect light, and I saw those shimmering white shoulders! Spanish Imperial Eagle! Unbelievable, and what sensational views, which allowed me to nail the lack of white on the upper-wing and the short tail. We both enjoyed wonderful scope views before the bird gained height, travelling back east and above the dehesa we spent so long viewing. This glorious beast then proceeded to display, stooping sharply, 4 or 5 times before dropping into the valley and out of view at 13:45.

Completely made up (this was the bird of the trip, edging ahead of Crested Coot based on sheer raptor factor), we headed back to the car and decided to check out the Mirador del Embalse del Jándula/La Lancha for some Lynx/Owl/Bunting searching. The track down to the viewpoint (Mirador) was horribly rocky, but we got nice views of a sub-adult Golden Eagle (probably second or third year). From the view we tried in vain for nesting Black Storks, instead getting another Short-toed Eagle, a couple more Black Vultures and a Thekla Lark.

A showy Hoopoe
We continued down to the Embalse de Jándula, where numerous Crag Martins quickly became apparent. Thanks to Sam Jones, I had pretty good gen for an Eagle Owl nest but, despite much searching/comparing his photos to what I was looking at, we just couldn’t find it or, at least, any movement. However, this was made up for by finally finding Rock Bunting, with a singing individual requiring much neck ache in order to view it high up on the cliff. We drove back up, past an increased number of Lynx hopefuls, and the last bird we saw was a Hoopoe outside our cabin. What a day. All the main targets had been seen, and we could have a much more relaxing, final, day, tomorrow.