9 February: Sierra María

Dave's following report is about the Arboleas Group's cold trip to the Sierra María, the photo tells all! Better them than me!

We all know the saying about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun, but what about when the Englishmen(and women) go to a freezing mountain? Brian said the mountain was virtually clear of snow on their (the southern) side. As El Fondo's North Gate was still closed we took the risk. I should've realised what was ahead as I scraped the ice off the windscreen prior to our departure!! After a warming cuppa in María we made our way up to the chapel carpark. We managed to spot Woodlark, Linnet, Rock and Cirl Bunting on the approach. A Rock Sparrow was chirping away on top of the chapel's spire. A good start.

There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels, but we did see a Mistle Thrush and also a pair of Crossbills. As the sun hadn't reached the snowy northern slopes yet we (Mary) decided it would be a good idea to do the plains first and work our way back to the Botanical Gardens. Once we'd cleared the pine forest and hit the plain we drove into low lying mist with visbility about 100yds.

At the watering hole by the farm buildings we spotted Black Redstart, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. In a tree nearby was a flock of 33 Corn Buntings. The trip down to the hamlet produced only a couple of Crows, but on the way back I spotted something large flying that wasn't a Crow. A male Hen Harrier was seen briefly before it disappeared into the grey gloom. It's presence also put up some Calandra Larks. A Little Owl was also spotted. At the La Piza recreation area the usual crowds of Crossbills were absent and the only birds seen were Coal and Crested Tit. We heard a Green Woodpecker. The Spanish Army had set up camp a short distance away which may explain the lack of birds.

We returned to the Botanical Gardens, seeing more Cirl Buntings. A Mistle Thrush sang beautifully from the top of a pine tree. On a whim I used my phone to transmit Short-toed Treecreeper calls and sure enough we were given good views of an investigating bird. Mary thought she might've heard Nuthatch and Gold/Firecrest as well. The pathways were ice covered so we retreated back to Maria for lunch and on the way back to Velez Blanco we spotted a solitary Griffon Vulture. That completed our birding for the day. 33 species in all.

Dave & Gilly

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