White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) female, 'Vera Marshes'.
Winter birding on the coast of Almeria
Location of area covered (coast only)
Eastern Almeria, Spain, 28/12/2013 – 3/1/2014 gallery
Taking a break from our usual winter sojourn in Murcia, we travelled a short way down the coast into Almeria for a week. The idea was a total change of scenery, and to take a look at the rugged eastern Almerian coast. Here there were a couple of sites mentioned in Garcia/Paterson
(see reference sources) I'd not visited in the past, and the chance to visit the Cabo de Gata, which we'd not visited for many years. We purposely didn't dwell on Cabo specialities there, which from previous experience take some time and effort – Trumpeter Finch, for example. I wanted to check out the wetland areas, which in the past we'd rather neglected.
The coastal habitat here is very different from that of the Mar Menor, with rocky headlands, secluded sandy bays and striking volcanic rock formations. Mining for iron ore and precious metals since Roman times has left a coastal landscape reminiscent of Cornwall.
Almeria is the driest place in Europe, although by their standards I suspect this had already been a wetter than normal winter, as it had been in Murcia.
In the event, the two sites mentioned above were well worth visiting, and we discovered two others on our travels – 'Vera Marshes' (made-up name!) and the Rio de Aguas, both equally as good as the two in the book if not better. We made a couple of visits to Cabo de Gata salinas, also to another Garcia/Paterson
wetland site we'd not been to before, Rambla Morales.
Bearing in mind our stay was during a holiday period, there was disturbance on most sites, but it wasn't too bad – Easter is probably a different story.
Highlight of the week was definitely the gull-watching, with six species at one site and five on most of the others – gull heaven if you live in central France. Great views of the fairly numerous White-headed Ducks was an added bonus.
We visited the first four sites again 18/12/17.
Spain; Eastern Almeria 18/12/17 gallery
Page numbers refer to Garcia/Paterson
where covered - see reference sources.
The first four sites are within 15kms of each other, and all are on the local coast road ALP 118, travelling from north to south. This makes for a nice variety of sites, easy of access and not much driving to do. On this route, the little port of Garrucha offers authentic Spanish atmosphere and some splendid fish restaurants.
– Page 283.
The coverage in Garcia/Paterson
is excellent, with no update needed – access is exactly the same. Particularly good for waders, this is one of those spots that looks odds-on to turn up a rarity in migration periods. The tamarisks were teaming with Chiffchaffs, and the river bed on the landward side looks worthy of exploration further inland from the desalination plant, again in spring and autumn.
18/12/17 - The river bed was completely dry.
Situated between the Rio Almanzora and the Rio Antas, on the main route between the two, the ALP 118 coast road, so dead easy to find. Actual location is opposite Consum supermarket and the Parque Aquatico Vera – resort name is Playas de Vera.
Access is also easy; simply park in the supermarket carpark and cross the road. It's possible to walk all round the edge of the marsh as on three sides it's bordered by roads, although on the south side the phragmites are too high to make viewing possible, and the west side is dry, although may still be of interest in spring/autumn for passerines. The north side is bordered by the Avenue del Salar (not busy) providing good viewing over the wettest areas in the morning.
This is a cracking little site that I suspect was part of a larger wetland area towards the beach, all of which is now built on. It looks rather like an abandoned quarry or pit, with spoil heaps on the western side. Water permitting, this place could be good in spring, whilst in summer it may well be dry or almost dry. It was also the only site we visited that suffered no human disturbance when we were there (but see below!).
One word of warning if visiting here in winter/spring – DON'T be tempted to drive around the edge of any part of the site using the car as a photographic hide – as we did! The consistency of the soil, or spoil, is such that whilst the surface looks like dried mud, underneath lurks a thick slurry that's impossible to drive out of. It's a bit like china clay spoil in Cornwall. Anyway, this lost us at least half a day, we eventually got pulled out by tow truck.
Good for wildfowl, especially White-headed Duck (although this could be due to a wet-ish winter), also the only site with a half-decent spread of raptors.
Still there 18/12/17! Work underway opposite Consum looked suspiciously drainage related... this hopefully is to do solely with the main road ALP 118, rather than the marsh.
2nd-winter Audouin's Gull (Larus audouinii), Rio Antas
– Page 282.
Again, well covered by Garcia/Paterson
, although we accessed the mouth of the river from the south side. Driving south over the bridge, on the coast road ALP 118, the first road off to the left leads straight into the resort of Las Marinas and the river mouth. From here it's possible to walk across the sandbar to the northern side.
Primarily a gull site, producing six species, and our only Jack Snipe; probably fairly common but normally requiring wellies to find them.
Rio de Aguas.
Continuing south on the ALP 118 past Garrucha, we checked out another river, the Rio de Aguas, as it reaches the sea. Similar to the other two, this river is blocked off by a sandbar. Simply park off-road beside the beach. The road bridge over the river presents a good view of activities, with the beach itself excellent for gulls and terns.
Our only Red-crested Pochards, and, bizarrely, a male Wood Duck, presumably escaped from a collection somewhere further north with more fresh water! Gulls, terns, and wildfowl, with gulls dominating.
The following two sites are further south, around Cabo de Gata. Continuing south along the coast road ALP 118 from Rio de Aguas, it all goes pear-shaped for a good eight kms or so. Endless pubs and English breakfast establishments line the landward side of the road near Mojacar and south towards the cape. The road eventually climbs into the hills, returning to the coast at Carboneras. This large town looks interesting, with a small fishing port and larger commercial/industrial one, nice beach and authentic atmosphere – this may well be one of Spain's 'hidden secrets'.
From here the ALP 118 joins the main road N341 which continues west to join the coastal motorway A 7. This gives access south to the Cabo de Gata area.
Salinas de Cabo de Gata
– Page 264.
Not much change since Garcia/Paterson
2008. We visited four hides, the three on the west (beach) side and the one at the north end, on route ALP 822. All are a fair distance from the lagoons, a scope is essential. Although the dunes are of interest, the salinas were quite disappointing on our visit.
Doubtless this site is better in spring and autumn. For winter watching these salinas aren't in the same league as San Pedro in Murcia, a site far less well-known.
Waders, gulls and wildfowl, with passerines on the dunes.
We paid a very brief visit to the cape – unfortunately forever a tourist trap and really not worth the effort unless embarking on the long trek to San Jose to the north-west.
Rambla Morales, Cabo de Gata
– Page 265.
has this covered well; we drove through the village of Cabo de Gata to access the north-eastern corner and the sandy track towards the mouth of the rambla. The sand here drifts so care needs to be taken driving along this track. This site was every bit as interesting as described, with Golden Plovers, Lesser Short-toed Larks and 15+ White-headed Ducks... and the look of a place that could well turn up anything.
Apartment 6, Cuevas del Mar Apartments, Playa El Calon 04610.
Available through Owners Direct
Excellent apartment in a coastal hamlet with, in winter, no facilities – and hence no noise, at least not while we were there. Nice beach and convenient situation, great if you've a dog – the apartment is 'pet-friendly'.
Where to Watch Birds in Southern and Western Spain, Earnest Garcia and Andrew Paterson, Christopher Helm, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7136-8315-8.
Good as it ever was... not only reprinted in 2008 but enlarged with more sites covered.
Gull heaven - most sites held at least five species.
BIRDS - 102 species.
'Common', scarce', etc, refers to our observations at the time, and may or may not reflect the true status/abundance throughout the year – see reference sources
RAL = Rio Almanzora, VM = Vera Marshes, RA = Rio Antas, RAG = Rio de Aguas.
CG salinas = Cabo de Gata salinas, CGRM = Cabo de Gata Rambla Morales
Tadorna tadorna - 3 VM throughout. 3 CG salinas 31/12/13, 3/1/14. 3 VM 18/12/17.
Anas strepera - 2 (pair) VM throughout. 2 m. CG salinas 31/12/13, 3/1/14, 2 m. RAG 1/1/14.
Anas crecca - Several RAL, 50+ VM throughout. 60+ VM 18/12/17.
Anas platyrhynchos - Reasonable numbers on all suitable sites.
Anas acuta - 1 m. VM 29/12/13 and 1/1/14, 2 f. CG salinas 31/12/13, 2 (pair) VM 2/1/14.
Anas clypeata - Small numbers RAL, 100+ VM throughout.
Netta rufina - 2 (pair) RAG 1/1/14.
Aythya ferina - 40+ VM throughout.
Aythya nyroca - 1 VM, 4 (3 males 1 female) RAG 18/12/17.
Aythya fuligula - 1 male RAG 18/12/17.
Mergus serrator - 1 male eclipse RAL 18/12/17.
Oxyura leucocephala - >10 VM throughout. C15 CGRM 31/12/13. c25 VM 18/12/17.
Aix sponsa - 1 m. RAG throughout. Doubtless an escape from somewhere, maybe further north where there's more water!
Alectoris rufa - 3 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Tachybaptus ruficollis - 20+ VM throughout.
Great Crested Grebe
Podiceps cristatus - 1 offshore RAL 29/12/13.
Podiceps nigricollis - 20+ offshore RAL 29/12/13.
Morus bassanus - Common offshore all sites.
Phalacrocorax carbo - Common offshore all sites.
Phalacrocorax aristotelis - 1 1st-winter RAL 18/12/17.
Ixobrychus minutus - 1 m. VM 29/12/13.
Bubulcus ibis - Several seen RAL, RAG.
Egretta garzetta - Small numbers/scattered individuals throughout.
Ardea cinerea - 10+ VM throughout, seen most sites.
Phoenicopterus roseus - 6+ throughout VM, c150 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Western Marsh Harrier
Circus aeruginosus - >2 VM throughout. 1 VM 18/12/17.
Buteo buteo - 1 VM 30/12/13.
Hieraaetus pennatus - 1 VM 30/12/13, 1/1/14. 1VM 18/12/17.
Falco tinnunculus - Scattered individuals seen throughout.
Falco peregrinus - 1 imm. VM 29/12/13 at 18h.
Rallus aquaticus - 1 heard VM 29/12/13.
Gallinula chloropus - Common all suitable areas.
Porphyrio martinicus - 1 VM, 1 RAG 18/12/17.
Fulica atra - Common all suitable areas.
Grus grus - c30 over apartment El Calon 28/12/13.
Himantopus himantopus - Common all wetland areas.
Recurvirostra avosetta - 10+ CG salinas 31/12/13.
Burhinus oedicnemus - 1 El Calon 28/12/13, c15 RAL 29/12/13, 20+ CG salinas 31/12/13.
Common Ringed Plover
Charadrius hiaticula - Small numbers at all suitable sites.
Charadrius alexandrinus - 1-2 RAL throughout.
European Golden Plover
Pluvialis apricaria - c150 CGRM 31/12/13, 3/1/14. Unfortunately no Dotterel !
Pluvialis squatarola - 2 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Calidris alba - Common anywhere on the coast.
Calidris minuta - Fairly common RAL, CG salinas throughout.
Calidris alpina - 26 RAL 30/12/13, 3 CG salinas 31/12/13. 4 RAL 18/12/17.
Lymnocryptes minimus - 2 RA 30/12/13 flew from reedbed.
Gallinago gallinago - 3+ RAL throughout.
Limosa limosa - 5 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Numenius arquata - 8 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Tringa totanus - 3+ RAL throughout, 3+ CG salinas 31/12/13.
Tringa nebularia - 2 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Tringa ochropus - Small numbers VM, RAL throughout.
Actitis hypoleucos - 4+ RAL throughout.
Arenaria interpres - Small numbers seen on beaches throughout.
Larus melanocephalus - 4 CGRM 31/12/13, C30 RAG 1/1/14, 3-4 RA throughout.
Larus ridibundus - Common throughout.
Larus genei - 20+ CG salinas 31/12/13, 1 RA 2/1/14.
Larus audouinii - Small numbers seen throughout.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Larus fuscus - Small numbers seen throughout, 30+ CG salinas 31/12/13.
Larus michahellis - Very common throughout.
Sterna sandvicensis - Common throughout.
Alca torda - 2 offshore RAL 29/12/13.
Rock Dove (feral pigeon)
Columba livia - Common throughout.
Columba palumbus - Fairly common throughout.
Eurasian Collared Dove
Streptopelia decaocto - Common throughout.
Alcedo atthis - 1 RAL 1/1/14. 2 VM 18/12/17.
Upupa epops - 2 RAL throughout.
(Iberian) Green Woodpecker
Picus viridis sharpei - 1 CG salinas 31/12/13.
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Calandrella rufescens - 50+ CGRM 31/12/13.
Galerida cristata - Fairly common throughout; Cabo de Gata area outnumbered by Theklas.
Galerida theklae - Common Cabo de Gata area.
Alauda arvensis - 1+ CG salinas 31/12/13.
Eurasian Crag Martin
Ptyonoprogne rupestris - Common throughout.
Hirundo rustica - 2+ VM 18/12/17.
Anthus pratensis - Fairly common in suitable habitat.
Motacilla cinerea - 3+ RAL, VM throughout. 1 RAG 18/12/17.
Motacilla alba - Common throughout.
Erithacus rubecula - 1 VM 1/1/14.
Luscinia svecica - 1 VM 18/12/17.
Phoenicurus ochruros - Common throughout.
Saxicola torquatus - Common throughout.
Oenanthe leucura - Common on coast, in villages, etc, including El Calon.
Turdus merula - Fairly common in suitable habitat, villages, etc.
Cettia cetti - Often heard in suitable habitat.
Cisticola juncidis - 1 VM 18/12/17.
Sylvia undata - 2+ CG salinas 31/12/13.
Sylvia melanocephala - Common throughout.
Sylvia atricapilla - 1 female VM 18/12/17.
Phylloscopus collybita - Large wintering population throughout the area.
Southern Grey Shrike
Lanius meridionalis - Commonly seen at the sites visited.
Pica pica - Common throughout.
Corvus monedula - Common throughout.
Sturnus unicolor - Very common throughout.
Sturnus vulgaris - Huge roost at VM 29/12/13, 18h.
Passer domesticus - Very common throughout.
Serinus serinus - Common throughout.
Carduelis chloris - Common CG salinas 31/12/13.
Carduelis carduelis - Common throughout.
Carduelis cannabina - Common CG salinas 31/12/13.
Emberiza calandra - 20+ CG salinas 31/12/13.