The outings

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society organise monthly outings for it's members within Gibraltar and further afield into Andalucía, visiting a variety of locations covering diverse habitats and offering the opportunity to see the wildlife of this beautiful area. The venues for the outings are chosen and timed to coincide with the season's happenings: see Cranes in their wintering grounds, Orchids in the spring, wading birds in the Doñana wetlands, butterflies and Ibex in the Sierras, come Autumn mushrooming in the Alcornocales and enjoy the spectacular sights of thousands of migrating raptors right on your doorstep.

For dates, contacts and how to join us, see the gonhs website

Monday, May 23, 2011

Outing to Brazo del Este - 14th May 2011

Report by Dr John Cortes -  photos & post script by Theresa Leverton

The impending early start meant that a few people pulled out the night
before, but still nine people in two vehicles made it to the border for
6am.  Among the group were visitors to Gibraltar from St Andrew’s,
Scotland, Robin and Marnie Clark.  Robin had been General Surgeon in St
Bernard’s Hospital in Gibraltar up to 1992, while Marnie was the Society’s
Membership Secretary until they both left Gibraltar that year.

Following the usual stop for breakfast at Los Corzos in La Palmosa Service
area near Alcala de Los Gazules, the party moved on, taking the Seville
Motorway at Jerez.  The Los Palacios exit was easy enough, and the small
Sevillano town was negotiated successfully and we were soon on our way
towards Brazo del Este.

The whole route up until now had been through lush, colourful countryside,
with this year’s late rains ensuring all was still green and much was in
flower.   Fields pink with convolvulus, deep blue with Echium and white
with daisies, alternated with meadows flooded still with the highest
reservoir levels I can remember.
The first bird we stopped to look at just outside the site was a posing Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
Great Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus arundinaceus
At first, turning in to the track along the Brazo del Este was disappointing, as some areas that had been reedbeds in previous years were ploughed ready for sowing.   But we were encouraged that every clump of reeds had a very visible and loud Great Reed Warbler singing from a high perch.  

As we drove along, we found there were still enough areas of reeds and open water to make the trip worthwhile.

There were a good number of Purple Herons here, briefly visible as they crossed back and forth between reed -bed areas, but once landed they remained well camouflaged amongst the tall dense vegetation 

Early on we saw Little Bitterns flying between the stands of reeds, and surprisingly caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a Common Bittern too.

Throughout the morning the herons were well represented, with Purple Heron being the most common.  We also saw Grey Heron, including two very young birds, obviously recently fledged. There were also Night Heron, Little and Cattle Egret, and a Great White Egret, at the same spot we had seen one during last year’s outing!
Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea

White Storks were present throughout in numbers, feeding in fields and water, but we only saw two Glossy Ibises.
White Stork - Ciconia ciconia & Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
Large numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin were foraging in reeded areas where the water was shallow or reduced to damp mud. The blurry white specks in the photo are Ringed Plover; easily 'spooked' they would take off in a cloud, flashing their pale undersides, circle the area in tight formation then return to feed once more. 
Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia : Spoonbills were present in some numbers, but were not sticking together as a flock as we saw them in this location last year

In some of the flooded areas large numbers of birds of several different species were gathered together to feed. Here there were White Storks, Grey Herons, Little Egret, Grey Plovers, Dunlins, Ringed Plovers & Gulls
Little Egret, standing tall, showing off his long head plumes
There was clearly considerable passage of Ringed Plovers, with several flocks in evidence.  Other waders we saw were Little Ringed Plovers,Kentish Plovers, Grey Plovers – in their beautiful silver and black summer plumage – Dunlin, Redshank, Purple Gallinule, Avocets, and of course Black-winged Stilts, including one sitting on a nest, once again, in the exact location we had seen a nest last year. Near here there was evidence of nesting Pratincoles, which were feeding in the air in some numbers. 
Collared Pratincoles are elegant and graceful in flight 
One or two patches of deeper water had Mallard and Pochard, and there were a few Little Terns and Whiskered Terns flying around also. Smaller birds were less in evidence, although they included Yellow Wagtail, Goldfinch, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Reed Warbler, Bee-eater, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows.
We had quite frequent sights of lovely Yellow Wagtails

Red-rumped Swallows were collecting mud from the bottom of an almost-dry dyke, then flying up to a nearby bridge, beneath which they were clearly building nests

The most common bird of Prey was the Black Kite, with several out hunting, but we saw only one (male) Marsh Harrier. Also present were one or two Kestrels, a Buzzard, and a Short-toed Eagle.

Butterflies we saw included Clouded Yellow, Small White, Painted Lady & Green-striped White.
Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
The morning passed quickly, and before long we were heading back to El Pinzon for the now traditional Venta meal!

Post-script from Theresa: 

There were a few species of birds that we saw and which John has mentioned in his report, that were too far away for me to photograph adequately, so I'm including a few pictures here that I took on a GONHS outing to Trebujena in May 2007 where we had closer views of Dunlin, Grey Plover & a Little Tern.
Grey Plovers & Dunlins 
Grey Plover (m) - Pluvialis squatarola in summer plumage
Dunlin - Calidris alpina in summer plumage
Little Tern - Sterna albifrons

I also wanted to tag a couple of interesting bits onto the end of the report: 

At the point of leaving the site Jill pointed out an almost surreal sight. In the by now shimmering heat, she had spotted 4 very large birds variously perched on a steel tower-like construction and thought at first that what she took to be Peacocks may have been a mirage. But no, they really were Peacocks!

We were following John to the venta, so unfortunately he and his passengers missed the amazing sighting we had of a Marsh Harrier. Driving down the straight length of road that leads back in the direction of el Palacio, we spotted the raptor as it flew out from behind the tall eucalyptus trees, then it raced low and fast almost alongside us for several hundred metres. It's just as well it was a straight road as Jill was trying to keep the car alongside the bird, which was on her side of the road and give me a clear view of it to try to photograph it while also trying to look at it herself. 
The Marsh Harrier raced alongside us for quite some distance 
Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus

Our final bird tally for the day: (50 species)

Little Grebe, Bittern, Little Bittern, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Gt. White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Mallard, Pochard, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Kestrel, Coot, Purple Gallinule (Swamp Hen), Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Collared Pratincole, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Wood Pigeon, Collared  Dove, Swift, Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail, Blackbird, Fan-tailed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting (& Peacock!) 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Next Outing - BRAZO del ESTE - Saturday 14th May


I'll be leading the next Outing next Saturday 14th May to the Brazo del
Este, on the very shores of the Guadalquivir. This is an area of wetland
and cultivation, which, in good years, holds a rich variety of birds,
including herons and egrets, glossy ibises, purple gallinules, and many

The Brazo del Este in Sevilla, part of the Guadalquivir complex of wetlands

It is a rather long drive, so in order to arrive early enough for decent

birdwatching, we will set off from the Spanish side of the border at 6am.
We will, of course, be stopping for the obligatory coffee on the way, and
the intention is to stop for lunch at the usual Venta, 'El Pinzon"  in the
heart of rice and cotton-growing country!

Look forward to seeing you there.

John Cortes


Although the journey to the 'venue' for this outing is indeed quite a long one, it has to date always been an enjoyable drive, very scenic and with the opportunity to begin birdwatching as the first light breaks and birds are leaving their night-time roosts. There is very little walking involved as the route through the site we visit is flat and linear - it's pretty much a repeated drive a short way-stop-get out for a closer look kind of event with plenty to see at each stop. It's a good venue for photographers too with plenty of time to set up tripods etc., if so desired. It's a very open site with no shade outside of a vehicle, so be prepared for standing around in the hot sun, or if the present weather conditions prevail, maybe rain!  

The following of some of my (Theresa's) photographs from last year's outing:

15/5/10 - Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus ruber

15/5/10 - Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia
15/5/10 - Spoonbills with a Sacred Ibis

15/5/10 -Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus

15/5/10 -Collared Pratincole- Glareola pratincola
15/5/10 -Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea
15/5/10- Great White Egret - Egretta alba 

The most remarkable and probably never to be seen again sight of last year's outing was the gathering of  Herons shown in the photographs below that included Purple Herons, Grey Herons, Night Heron, Little Egret and White Storks........

15/5/10 - White Stork, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Night Heron, Little Egret

..........then within a few metres of them, wonderful views of two Squacco Herons -

15/5/10 -Squacco Heron - Ardeola ralloides

Our recorded bird species for this outing were:  

Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Gt. White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Moorhen, Coot, Purple Gallinule (Swamp Hen), Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Redshank, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, Swift, Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Savi’s Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler, Common Waxbill, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting, Cirl Bunting and the exotic Sacred Ibis.