By George McKinney:
The south east corner of Spain is the only place in Europe to find this sparrow-sized bird so we started our search near the village of San Miguel del Cabo de Gata. Shingle beaches stretch several miles west from the pueblo towards the old fishing village of El Retamar, in the direction of the Almeria Airport and the newer tourist centre of El Toyo. A short distance in that direction we happily spent time scanning the Ramblia Morales and enjoyed seeing White-headed ducks, flamingos, egrets, crag martins and, although it is ‘impossible’ according to the bird-books, we spotted the white rump and square tail of a Little Swift which visited the ramblia just as we did, then flew off east along the coast.
In that direction beyond the pueblo lies a 400-meter wide sand-bar which separates the Mediterranean sea from the still-operational Salinas of Almadraba de Montelva. This large area of wetland habitat is designated as a Special Protection Area for birds [SPA (1989)] and as a Wetland of International Importance [Ramsar (1989] so we spent happy hours overlooking these Salinas in good hides and watching a fine variety of ducks and waders in the shallow water, and warblers and larks in the scrub along the edges of the pools.
If asked what might be the simplest way to identify the Trumpeter Finch, you would be excused if you guessed the bird-call. However, although the call does resemble the sound made by a child’s plastic trumpet, none of my kids ever played it that softly! Last year I was lucky enough to be amongst a feeding flock of these finches in a quiet area just a little further along the coast, and it was such a wonderful experience to hear the birds gently call to each other.
One look at the picture above will show you that the beak is really rather a give-away. That strong, orange/red beak identifies the bird immediately and lets you settle to enjoy the rest of the plumage which, on the male, has a greyness above and a rosy pink tinge below and behind. The female has the same strong beak but the colours are less pronounced.
Two of us located the birds on the wooden fence that protects parts of the sand bar between sea and salinas. They seemed to pop up onto the wooden rails and posts to check around them for danger and then drop back down to feed on the seeds amongst the plants. Quickly we went back for the others and walked carefully to where we had seen them; no sign. We walked further along sand bar than we had before and, reluctantly, started back towards our starting point. There they were. This finch is quite a bold bird so all of us enjoyed those moments when they came close and allowed us to have a detailed look. Now all four of us know, first-hand, what a fine bird the Trumpeter Finch is.
It is hard to put into words that feeling of sighting something quite rare or the extra pleasure you feel when you have a chance to share such moments with others. It is probably why I enjoy digi-scoping (attaching a digital camera to a normal telescope) as I can come home and share what I have seen.
Words & Pictures: George McKinney
(We saw the above-mentioned Trumpeter Finches on 20th February 2012. Pictures are of birds seen and photographed ‘just a little further along the coast’ on 14th January 2011)