17 March, Sierra María with the Arboleas Group

Dave E-B never sleeps, methinks, and when he des I'll bet he's dreaming about Slender-billed Curlews and the like! The Nikon lens cap he found at Cabo de Gata was lost by Bob Wright on Monday. Herewith the report of the excursion up the Sierra María today.

Firstly I'd like to welcome Helen Commandeur to our group. Gilly and I picked her up and took her for her first outing to the Sierra de Maria. We met up with Brian and Mary at the cafe before heading up to the chapel. A slow drive up to the car park produced Goldfinch, Greenfinch and the first of many Chaffinches. There was low cloud cover and a bit of a breeze. Not good for birding up here, but we persevered. We spotted a pair of Rock Sparrows. Above us was a very vocal Raven. We soon had notched up Rock and Cirl Bunting, Robin, Stonechat and a Northern Starling amongst some Spotless ones.
Round the Botanical Gardens, birds were few and far between but I did manage to lure a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers near us for Helen to get a lifer. As we got back to the car I spotted some very distant Griffon Vultures. Next a Short-toed Eagle appeared. We commenced the drive through the forest and saw a low flying Griffon to our left. We headed straight for the farm buildings to cut him off at the pass. Getting out of our cars, we looked back to discover at least 30-40 Griffons and a Booted Eagle trying to gain height on a thermal.

We drove down onto the plain where the sun was finally making an appearence. Our target bird was a Calandra Lark, another lifer for Helen. We didn't have to wait long to see some by the roadside, one posing beautifully for Helen and her large lensed camera. Then I spotted two birds flying in front of us, left to right. Quickly got the binoculars on them...Black-bellied Sandgrouse. A first for us up here.

On the way down to the hamlet (just over the border into Granada Province) we encountered large flocks of Linnets. At the hamlet we counted 10 Kestrels in the vicinity. Some flying around, some sitting on the rooftops, but lots of mating going on, unusual to see so many Kestrels in one place, so checked for signs of Lesser Kestrel with a negative result. On the way back we saw a glimpse of a passing Lesser Short-toed Lark.

At the La Piza Recreational area a lot of the tall poplars had been lopped, making the Crossbills perch lower, making photography better. From there we headed back to María, disturbing a Common Buzzard in the forest. Nesting? Thus ended a really good days birding with 35 species in total. Helen said she really enjoyed the day so hopefully she'll become a permanent feature. Looking forward to seeing her photos. The competition will be hot!
Dave & Gilly

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