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Madrid extended half-day birding tour, 19 Jan 2013

John Muddeman
23/01/2013 11:20:53

A summary of a 6h afternoon trip to look principally for raptors and steppic birds in Madrid.

Posted in: Birds, Mammals | Madrid | Mainland Spain, Central Spain


About a week before the trip, Barb, from the USA, contacted me regarding a short trip out. Coming over on business she was due to land early afternoon and wanted to get out to see anything going. Naturally, the weather is a factor in winter, and while normally good, was forecast to be poor. In fact, due to several changes in plans, shortly before the trip it looked like she wasn't going to arrive at all and so we cancelled... The following day though plans changed again and she was to have the whole day. Great! Then the day before, I got a message saying that due to a strike in Hamburg, her stop-over airport, she was stuck and had to cancel again.

I woke the following morning to find no messages on the phone, so assumed that that was it. Late morning though, my phone decided to play up and after rebooting it, suddenly two messages came in saying that she was coming, and by this stage due to land in 10 minutes time!!!

I packed the gear (except the camera, unfortunately) and ran for the car, checking 15 minutes into the nearly hour-long journey I have to get to the airport for an update, and yes we were on! After some confusion and delays between messages we finally met just before 1 p.m. and were off from the airport. Sunny spells between broken cloud and a temperature around 10ºC, despite a stiff breeze seemed ideal. Indeed close to where I live on the journey in I noticed a young Spanish Imperial Eagle circling off to one side of the road!

No sooner had we left the airport than we could see a thick mass of black cloud and rain coming in from the west. Oh no! However, going straight to one of my favourite spots, we ended up right on the edge of the incoming cloud and rain, and despite cold and windy conditions and intermittent light rain, we immediately starting seeing birds. A procession of Cinereous (Black) and Griffon Vultures were gliding into the wind, and we got repeat good looks at both species. Although only seen from the moving car, some Western Jackdaws were clinging to a tree where the huge stick nests of the well-established Monk Parakeets were obvious, and a couple of parakeets were perched in a leafless tree just before we turned off towards the Manzanares River.

Once out of the car we started looking at a fine mix of common and more special birds, and after more vultures of both species, a single Eurasian Kestrel, passing Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Little Egret and Great Cormorant and lots of Common Woodpigeons all provided interest. A fine mixed flock of Spotless and Common Starlings feeding in the grassy dehesa caught my eye, but better still was a fine flock of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies feeding just behind them. One of the key species Barb had hoped to see. But better still was when a large raptor rose up low behind us and turned out to be an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle! Excellent views were given, in the scope too, before it finally wheeled away. One of other key species!

A female Black Redstart gave fine views, and then down by the river, despite it being rather quiet, European Robin, Eurasian Blue and Great Tits, Common Chaffinch, a couple of male Cirl Buntings and calling Short-toed Treecreeper and Common Kingfisher were noted. The final new birds were two Little Grebes which popped up in right in front of us in the river.

We returned to the car just before driving rain hit, and decided to head off to the agri-steppe area to the NE. However, a large female Sparrowhawk flashed across in front of us, and the rain suddenly stopped while we were trying to sort out a flock of flighty small birds. Climbing a small bank we appeared at eye-level to a superb flock of around 70 Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

We headed definitively to the plains. The temperature was now down to just 6ºC, and with intermittent driving rain we spent plenty of time just searching while driving along tracks, plus getting out occasionally to scan with binoculars and scopes. Good numbers of Red Kites were drifting over the areas we visited, and a fine male Hen Harrier drifted past a couple of times. A couple of Common buzzards were also noted. A pair of Common Stonechats on a fence were virtually the only small birds visible. I had the impression that there had been relatively little reward from the first large area, and by this time we were somewhat cold and hungry.

Adjourning to a local bar we revived with a fresh coffee and hot sandwich mixto, and went to a second site. Bingo! On a post along the track in front was a fine Iberian Grey Shrike, while in the same view behind was a small group of Great Bustards! We approached in stages in the car, and once the shrike had gone, we suddenly realised we couldn't see the bustards either! Advancing along some muddy and wet tracks was getting interesting, but suddenly a large flock of Great Bustards rose up from just beyond a ridge before quickly dropping down again 2 fields beyond. With over a hundred birds in this one flock it was a superb sight!

Continuing took us past a couple of fine White Wagtails in a field, two fine Roe Deer close in an adjacent field, and then a superb Little Owl sheltering in the lee of a chimney stack on a rooftop. Our (provisionally) final stop was at a rather rocky field one one side and weedy field on the other. The weedy field was remarakably devoid of birds, but amazingly, despite their scarcity here, the first 3 of a final total of 27 Black-bellied Sandgrouse rose up before pitching down again some 50m further away in the rocky one. We started looking with the scope, but a jogger with two unleashed dogs created a far greater reaction and in two or three groups, all of the sandgrouse rose up and sped off towards quieter fields to the S. Shortly afterwards, once the dogs had gone, two returned, and while we looked at these in the scope we realised that there was an important group of large male Great Bustards behind them, and a another 55 (minimum) were counted in the 'scope.

We decided to stay out until dusk, and returned to the first area, 'just in case'. This time, now with very little wind, we enjoyed much closer views of several large flocks of Northern Lapwings passing, including one headed by about a dozen European Golden Plover. A male Sparrowhawk, perched out in an open field, was clearly hunting the abundant Eurasian Skylarks and scarce Crested Larks, as well as presumably drying-off out of the still damp vegetation. 2-3 adult male and 2-3 female Hen Harriers were also noted, most at a pre-roost site where 4 Western Marsh Harriers were also sat on the ground.

We returned towards Barb's hotel, and to our surprise, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew low across the road in the near dark, their white wing patches flashing in the gloom. These have just finally been added to the Spanish list as category C5, though until they can be refound and checked (e.g. for leg rings), they remain slightly suspect in origin. That said, another pair were seen the following day on the other side of Madrid and several other recent records have been made around the country, simply reflecting interest in a basically feral species which has been formally accepted onto the Spanish list!

Our finally tally was 53 species recorded, which was good for around 6 hours on a rather cold, windy and intermittently wet winter's afternoon!

[s]Final list[/s]

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca), 2: a pair flying over M-12, PK 7.3
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), 2. in flight
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea).
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta).
Eurasian Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis/hanedae).
Red Kite (Milvus milvus).
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), lots.
Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), 4-5.
Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), 4.
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), c.6: scattered individuals, but 2-3 adult males & 2-3 females
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), 2.
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo).
Western Buzzard (Buteo buteo buteo).
Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), 1 (1 Adult Summer female).
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus).
Great Bustard (Otis tarda), 155: two flocks of 100+ & 55+
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) Heard.
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), 500.
European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria), c.70.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus).
Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis), 27.
Rock Dove (Columba livia).
Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus).
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto).
Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus).
Little Owl (Athene noctua), 1.
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) Heard.
Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis).
Iberian Magpie (Cyanopica cooki).
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica).
Western Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula).
Great Tit (Parus major).
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus).
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata).
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis).
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).
Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), 1 Heard.
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor).
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula).
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos).
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula).
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros).
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola).
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus).
Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia), c.70.
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba).
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs).
European Serin (Serinus serinus).
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis).
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra).
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus), 2 (1 1st winter male, 1 Adult male).

Mammals
European Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), 2.



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