Late season Orchid hunting.
I meet Ian Phillips on a busy roundabout in the centre of Malaga and we headed south west toward San Roque down near Gibraltar. We were hunting for the rare (in the south) Autumn Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis); our first site was in pine woodlands to the north of San Roque. Ian had seen these delicate little plants at this site some five years earlier so we already had a location in what is a huge area of woodland. After just a few minutes searching we started to find a few plants, one of which was a fine specimen and well worthy of a few photos. We initially found about 12 plants in the first location, but on the way back to the car Ian spotted two of the best spikes we could ever hope to have seen. These plants were over 40 cms tall and all the flowers were perfect. In the area we noted Long-tailed Tit (Mito / Aegithalos caudatus), Great (Carbonero Común / Parus major) and Coal Tits (Carbonero Garrapinos / Parus ater) plus a couple of Firecrest (Reyezuelo Listado / Regulus ignicapillus).
Our second port of call was in another pine woodland but this time near Tarifa, a bit further along the coast. Here we found many more plants, well over a hundred but none came close to the two seen earlier. A nice Red-veined Darter (sympetrum fonscolombii) perched for a while in the damper area of the woods and a single Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) passed by along the beach. A few birds were seen including Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala), Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata) and Robin (Petirrrojo / Erithacus rubecula).
We parked up a little further along the road and walked out onto the board walk which continues all the way into Tarifa. From the first hide we picked up Yellow-legged (Gaviota Patiamarilla / Larus Michahellis), Lesser Black-backed (Gaviota Somria / Larus fuscus), Black-headed (Gaviota Riedora / Larus ridibundus) and Audouin's Gulls (Gaviota de Audouin / Larus audouinii) all sat out on the sand and several Sandwich Tern (Charrán Patinegro / Sterna sandvicensis) sitting on log posts. There were a few waders feeding in the channel between the dunes and the beach including 3 Bar-tailed Godwits (Aguja Colipinta / Limosa lapponica), several Sanderling (Correlimos Tridáctilo / Calidris alba), Ringed Plover (Chorlitejo Grande / Charadrius hiaticula) and a single Dunlin (Correlimos Común / Calidris alpina). Grey Heron (Garza Real / Ardea cinerea) and Little Egret (Garceta Común / Egretta garzetta) stalked fish out in the channels while a couple of hundred Cattle Egrets (Garcilla Bueyera / Bubulcus ibis) followed tractors out in the nearby fields. On the walk back to the car we picked up Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata), Crested (Cogujada Común / Galerida cristata) and Skylarks (Alondra Común / Alauda arvensis), Linnet (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Corn Bunting (Triguero / Emberiza calandra), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor) all in the dunes. On the fields we added House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer Domesticus), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica), Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris), White Wagtail (Lavandera Blanca / Montacilla alba), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros) and Meadow Pipit (Bistita Común / Anthus pratensis).
All of a sudden we noticed that the sky had filled with several hundred Griffon Vultures (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus) wheeling around trying to gain height on the building thermals. Mixed in were good numbers of Short-toed Eagles (Culebrera Europeo / Circaetus gallicus) and a few White (Ciguena Blanca / Ciconia ciconia) and Black Storks (Ciguena Negra / Ciconia nigra), Black Kites (Milano Negro / Milvus migrans), Booted Eagles (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus) and a single immature Egyptian Vulture (Alimoche Común / Neophron percnopterus).
Things were looking good for a bit of late migration so we headed down towards the Mirador and Café to see what was passing there and to get some rather pricy food. The sight was amazing, in the air in three very large groups we estimated there to be at least 3 / 4000 Griffon Vultures all trying to gain height for the crossing of the straights and on into Africa. We added singles of Sparrowhawk (Gavilán Común / Accipiter nisus), Peregrine Falcon (Halcón Peregrino / Falco peregrinus) and Montagu's Harrier (Aguilucho Cenizo / Circus pygargus) while we watched this spectacle.
Ian had to be back for a meeting during the evening so we made our way steadily back towards Malaga but to save me the stress of driving into the busy city Ian suggested that I drop him at the nearest train station and he would get back from there.
I then had a quick look at the Guadalhorce nature reserve on my way past. From the beach I quickly picked up several Mediterranean Gulls (Gaviota Cabecinegra / Larus melanocephalus) and a single winter plumaged Razorbill (Alca Común / Alca torda) which were both new for the day. On the river there was a sickly looking Black Tern (Fumarel Común / Chlidonias niger), perched on the sand, several Grey Herons and a Little Egret. I then walked along the beach and in via the track to the main hide, which was fairly quiet and the only new species were Common Sandpiper (Andarrios Chico / Actitis hypoleucos), Great Cormorant (Cormorán Grande / Phalacrocorax carbo), Common Moorhen (Gallineta Común / Gallinula Chloropus), Common Pochard (Porrón Europeo / Aythya ferina) and a female Marsh Harrier (Aguilucho Lagunero Occidental / Circus aeruginosus). The second hide was a little livelier with a couple of White-headed Ducks (Malvasia Cabeciblanca / Oxyura leucocephala), Little (Zampullín Común / Tachybaptus ruficollis) and Great Crested Grebes (Somormujo Lavanco / Podiceps cristatus), Mallard (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos), Northern Shoveler (Cuchara Común / Anas clypeata), Eurasian Teal (Cerceta Común / Anas crecca), Reed Warbler (Carricero Común / Acrocephalus scirpaceus) and Monk Parakeet (Cotorra Argentina / Myiopsitta monachus). The third hide was deadly but the wader hide was very good with three fine Spoonbills (Espátula Común / Platalea leucorodia) showing very well along with Black-winged Stilt (Ciguenuela Común / Himantopus himantopus), 4x Greenshank (Archibebe Claro / Tringa nebularia), Snipe (Agachadiza Común / Gallinago gallinago), 2x Curlew Sandpipers (Correlimos Zarapitin / Calidris ferruginea) and a Kingfisher (Martin Pescador / Alcedo atthis). From the sea watching point a small group of 3 male and 2 female Common Scoter (Negrón Común / Melanitta nigra) were seen before they were flushed by a passing boat. One of the Malaga fishing fleet was returning to port and was being followed by masses of gulls and a few Balearic Shearwaters (Pardela Balear / Puffinus mauretanicus), Northern Gannets (Alcatraz Atlántico / Morus bassanus) and a single Great Skua (Págalo Grande / Catharacta skua) giving them all a bit of stick. Other species seen included Zitting Cisticola (Buitrón / Cisticola juncidis), Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala), Common Chiffchaff (Mosquitero Común / Phylloscopus collybita) and Common Kestrel (Cernicalo Vulga / Falco tinnunculus). Only three species of Dragonfly were seen, Blue / Common Emperor (Anax imperator), Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) and Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii).
Photographs from the top: Autumn Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) x2, Ian at Orchid site, Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii), Razorbill (Alca Común / Alca torda),
Black Tern (Fumarel Común / Chlidonias niger), White-headed Ducks (Malvasia Cabeciblanca / Oxyura leucocephala) and Spoonbills (Espátula Común / Platalea leucorodia).