‘Never go back’, or so you are warned. Well we went back to the same hotel [the Melia Atlantico] during more or less the same week as last year, and had no regrets. In fact,the bird watching even excelled the previous year, maybe because the weather was more settled and there were more migrants around. We were there from 20th to 27th September 2015.
For those who don’t know the area, it lies just across the Portuguese border and those staying there generally fly into Faro.
The Isla Canela Marshes.
These marshes are vast and stretch from Ayamonte to the eastern edge of the island. There is a track at Punta Del Moral which circumnavigates a large area but they can be observed from many different locations. If you take the track to the west of the roundabout at Punta Del Moral there is a short dirt track which overlooks some of the marshland.
One of the best viewpoints is from the road to Ayamonte just west of the Iberostar Hotel. Walk west,beyond the roundabout and find a dirt track on your right.Follow your nose till the dirt track briefly turns into a tarmac road. A big attraction to this area is Greater Flamingo.Last year they were not always easy to locate due to the vastness of the marshland. They were there in big numbers this year however, till we left on the 27th. The maximum number seen was 56, on the 26th. A male Marsh Harrier flew past when I first located the Flamingos.Either a male or female/immature were seen on every visit to the marshes. Black-winged Stilt were seen on three days; the most seen was 9 on the 23rd. Spoonbill peaked at 12, on 22nd and the following day. There were several Black-tailed Godwit around and the most seen on one visit was 26, on the 23rd. Anyone who knows the area will know just how many Kentish Plover can be seen here.They were well into double figures on every visit.
There are two sounds you will hear over and above all: the calls of Whimbrel and Common Redshank. Both species are numerous and Common Redshank totalled over a hundred most days. There were good numbers of Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Also, at least 3 Greenshank were around on each visit. Black Stork, in small numbers, were often flying around or feeding in the ditches and saltpans. Only 2 Knot were seen and a just few Curlew too. Common Sandpiper were not as evident as last year with just a handful observed. Common Kingfishers were noted every time we went. A Caspian Tern flew down the river at the northern edge on the 23rd.This was like deja-vu.I saw a Caspian Tern in the exact same spot last year! Common Terns were present every day and a Little Tern was fishing then feeding a juvenile which was waiting on the riverbank.The Terns roost at Punta Del Moral on high tide perched on wooden poles. There were some Sandwich Tern as well.
I have often seen Yellow Wagtail on the edges of the banks and three appeared near the hide on the 22nd. There are good numbers of Sardinian Warblers all over the marshes as well as a few Fan-tailed Warbler. A couple of Willow Warblers were recorded. Other birds recorded were Cormorant, Yellow-legged Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Mediterranean Gull, Stonechat, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Serin, House Sparrow, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow and Magpie.
The Promenade to the Ayamonte Road.
Despite the presence of hotels and appartments credit must be given to the planners for maintaining a long stretch of dunes with a dense coverage of trees and shrubs.They achieved this by creating a border of lawns and palm trees next to the promenade bordered by a long fence on the edge of the dunes. They then built long board walkways to the beach. The result: a huge area attractive to resident birds and migrants. The dunes are still in great shape and generally large areas are left undisturbed by human interference.
The most noticeable species throughout the week was Pied Flycatcher. They used the dune fence as a launching pad and I recorded 28 sightings, including 9 individuals on the 26th. They were vying with Spotted Flycatchers which peaked at 6 on the 24th. Stonechats were seen in good numbers with a maximum of 9 on the 24th. A Common Nightingale was seen peeking out of the dune trees one evening. Crested Lark and Hoopoe were always around and the latter reached a maximum of 6 on the 25th of September. Sardinian Warbler were here, there and everywhere. Other warblers noted were: Spectacled Warbler, Garden Warbler [maximum 4 on the 26th] Willow Warbler [common] Chiffchaff [2 seen], Blackcap, Melodious Warbler and Fan-tailed Warbler. There were big flocks of House Sparrow, Serin and Common Waxbill. Every day migrating Red-rumped Swallow and Barn Swallow were passing through in vast numbers. Other birds recorded were Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird, Spotless Starling and Collared Dove.
You can extend this walk to the Ayamonte Road.I used to cut through the well - kept park area just past the Iberostar Hotel. Just past the Iberostar there is a roundabout on the road to Ayamonte.Keep on heading west till you see an open flat field on your right[about 250 yards west of the roundabout]. I recorded Great Grey Shrike, Northern Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher, Hoopoe, Stonechat, Crested Lark and Serin here. Serin are clearly thriving hereabouts with large flocks common and widespread.
I mention in the above marsh section how you can also see the Greater Flamingo from this area - so it is well worth the extra walk!
The River Estuary and Stone Jetty.
Yet another wonderful habitat! The area east of the estuary is a massive roosting location for Yellow-legged Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull.
There were several Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls around. It is also the resting place for Common Tern and one or two Little Tern. Two Audouin's Gull were spotted on the 21st. It comes into it’s own around an hour after peak high tide. Suddenly waders appear from nowhere. There was one Little Stint on the 26th preceded by 3 on the 24th. A flock of up to 8 Bar-tailed Godwit were there all week. An impressive flock of 21 Grey Heron turned up on the 21st.The Little Egrets were out in force too. Inevitably there were several Kentish Plover - you see them all over the place here!There also many Ringed Plover scurrying around.
There were many other waders including: Oystercatcher, Redshank, Greenshank, Sanderling, Turnstone, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Curlew. Grey Plover are particularly attracted to the estuary and the Isla Canela marshes. Always numerous and some still in breeding plumage. If you wander out to the end of the Stone Jetty you will inevitably spot Gannets,not too far out. If there is a strong onshore wind you should also spot some Cory’s Shearwater.
A great place to see Sanderling, Turnstone, Little Tern, Common Tern, Crested Lark and……..you’ve guessed it! more Kentish Plover. Amongst a mixed flock of Gulls I also found three more Audouin’s Gull on the 21st of September. Massive numbers of passing Red-rumped Swallow and Barn Swallow were seen here most days.
It was a wonderful week. The bird watching was brilliant - all within a couple of miles of easy walking from the hotel. It was that good we might go back again next year!