catching up: reports from Almería

As those who do cast an occasional eye at this stuff, I have been away in North Carolina (of which more in coming days/weeks) since 15 May and am now in the process of going through 450 plus e-mails and face a similar number of photos to edit and eliminate from two weeks sea and other birding. However, as Dave E-B has sent a ton of stuff so I think that it might be best to get this out in order of receipt, so herewith a mammoth bog of the Almería birding scene.

18 May : Los Filabres
It was Helen who requested our trip up the Los Filabres today, so we all knew who to blame if the threatened rain appeared. Mary and I had attended the birding day at Sierra de Maria last Saturday. After an hours lecture on Bird of Prey identification in Spanish we, together with 30 other Spanish, were taken to the Bird/Animal rescue and recuperation centre. We saw a couple of Eagle Owls and Barn Owl and numerous local Tortoises. Then we were taken to the vulture feeding station near Velez Blanco. A few Griffons and a Short-toed Eagle flew over, disappointed that we weren't going to leave a carcase!
Something was obviously lost in translation during the above lecture as one of the first birds I misidentified as a bird of prey high up on the mountain ridge at the bridged valley above Tijola turned out to be a Red-legged Partridge! Unbelievably my fellow birders spuriously suggested I wouldn't mention this uncharacteristic faux pas in my report!! The weather was a bit grey, which didn't seem to deter the singing Nightingale or the calling Cetti's Warbler. A pair of Grey Wagtails were nervous by our presence. Also seen were Blue Rock Thrush, Long-tailed Tit and Cirl Bunting.
We headed up to the layby on the road above us. Here we saw a Green Woodpecker, the first of many Black-eared Wheatears on the power lines and Mary found a pair of Dartford Warblers. On the way to the next stop we saw a very agitated group of Feral Pigeons. We think a large female Sparrowhawk on a nearby telegraph pole could possibly have been the reason! A pair of Subalpine Warblers were seen before we made our way to the old copper mine.

We heard Rock Sparrow, but didn't see any there. A pair of Black Redstarts was seen as were passing Red-billed Choughs. A Scops Owl called. I tried to get it make an appearance with the help of my MP3 player. It replied but didn't show itself. There was then a sound of excited chicks coming from the cliff face. A Red-billed Chough exited from one of the numerous holes having obviously just fed its family. Gilly spotted a Blue Rock Thrush.
We made our way up to the Observatory, seeing Northern Wheatear on the way. On the top we were enveloped with low cloud, so didn't hang around. Gilly and Helen in my truck spotted a pair of Rock Thrushes through the gloom. We ended up with 38 species. A very good day considering the poorish weather.

25 May : Cabo de Gata / Rambla Morales
Today was a day of pleasant surprises. It began as Gilly, Helen and I drove through Retamar on our way to Cabo de Gata. I know the birders in the west of Andalucia must be fed up with Monk Parakeets, but I spotted our first one. We met up with Brian, Mary, Dave and Myrtle and made for the first hide. The most numerous birds were the Avocets. There were smaller numbers of Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Egret and Shelduck. The second surprise was a single breeding plumaged Black-tailed Godwit. Brian then spotted surprise number three.... a pair of adult Gannets flying south along the beach. A Corn Bunting obligingly posed on the fence in front of us.
In the large shrubs off the track to the second hide a pair of Spotted Flycatchers was seen. At the hide Gilly counted 373 Greater Flamingos, but there was nothing else of interest there. We had the same result at the public hide. An adult and young Thekla Larks perched beautifully on fence posts by the carpark. From here the others headed for Morales as Gilly, Helen and I went round the rear of the reserve. Gilly spotted a large bird of prey high above us. A sub adult Golden Eagle being mobbed by a pair of Ravens. Next spotted was a high flying Peregrine Falcon being harassed by at least 8 Alpine Swifts.....another surprise.

We disturbed a pair of Stone Curlews close to the track. I was just saying we never usually see them till they fly off when I noticed something under a dead tree next to the salinas edge. Not one, but two Stone Curlews sheltering in the shade. On the odd insect front Gilly spotted a Lacewing species on a bush by the truck.
Meanwhile the others were sweating in the midday sun on their trudge to Morales. They manged to add 6 to the day list. The most notable birds being a Stonechat and a White-headed Duck.

1 June : Sierra de María
There was only Dave, Myrtle and myself on this weeks outing to the Sierra de Maria. It's got to be my favourite birding spot at this time of year. Very good birds and the fields were full of poppies. As we arrived at the chapel car park the sun was shining and above us a Booted Eagle. The Nightingale could still be heard near to the public water supply and Myrtle and I both managed to spot the Golden Oriole in the poplar tree.

As we began to walk up to the information centre at the Botanical Gardens two grey clouds arrived on the scene. One was up in the sky which thankfully didn't deposit its contents upon us. The second took the form of a coach full of 7 year old noisy school kids. We spotted a flying Woodlark before they overtook us. We whizzed passed them as they had a welcoming speech from one of the rangers. We had good views of a Short-toed Treecreeper. Myrtle spotted a Long-tailed Tit. Birds were singing all around us, bus now being covered in leaves, spotting them was difficult. We eventually did see Iberian Chiffchaff, Melodious, Bonelli's, Subalpine and Orphean Warblers. There were at least two Common Cuckoos within hearing. They graced us with a high fly past. A Robin made an appearance as did a Mistle Thrush and a Cirl Bunting. A Coal Tit posed very nicely, thank you.

We then headed to the La Piza recreational area. Crossbills were in all the trees around the water deposit. Dave thought he spotted the Hawfinch as Myrtle and I tried to trace the sound of an unusual bird....and failed! We did spot a Griffon Vulture. Rejoining Dave at the deposit we all had good views of a Crested Tit. As we drove off a Rock Bunting was taking a bath in one of the puddles. At the old farm buildings we heard a Green Woodpecker. As I wandered round the back of the buildings, seeing a Rock Sparrow, Dave and Myrtle did see the woodpecker. We saw about 8 Griffon Vultures in the far distance.

Proceeding on to the plain, we picked up both Black-eared and Northern Wheatear, both Calandra and Lesser Short-toed Lark and the Lesser Kestrels. As we returned to Maria for lunch, the heavens opened. 48 species for the day.

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