04/03 : Sierra de María

Before going to Dave's account of their trip to Sierra María, news from Málaga includes the first Pallid Swifts seen over the weekend at various sites, 3 Lesser Flamingos and the first Garganeys at Fuente de Piedra and as many as 4 Ferruginous Ducks reported at the laguna Dulce (Campillos). You really must stop giving Gilly and the rest of us nasty shocks, Dave, but we're very glad you're better.

After last Sundays health scare, when my blood pressure shot up to 170/110 & my pulse rate peaked at 170bpm, we (I) decided a walk in the fresh air would help with my recuperation. We headed our way up to the Sierra de Maria in sunny weather, but with a slight breeze. Rod, Linda and Val of the group had been in the area the previous weekend. I'll mention what they observed during this report.
We drove slowly up the approach road to the chapel, birding as we went. Managed to see Serin, Black Redstart, Blackbird, Great Tit, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Rock Sparrow. A wander round the chapel and water trough failed to add anything so we walked up to the Botanical Garden. Birds were few and far between on the way along the lower walk, but on the way back we came across a "titmouse" flock. Mostly Coal Tits, but some Blue and Long-tailed also. Also seen were Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreepers. Jays were being very vocal. Also heard a distant Raven. The first crocuses of the spring were poking their heads out of the frosty ground.
We then travelled along the valley, seeing a few Griffon Vultures gliding along the ridges. ( The previous week 300+ were seen at the feeding station near Velez Blanco + a Black Vulture) We stopped for a thermos coffee and were serenaded by a singing Woodlark. Seeing nothing else of importance we headed down onto the plain. We saw a plume of 50+ Griffons, but for a change the Calandra Larks were highly visible, posing on roadside rocks. A large flock of Linnets was noted.

(It was at this point the previous week, our three group members, together with others on a guided tour, saw a small aircraft take off near to the hamlet. After a short distance it plummeted to the ground, bursting into flames. They, together with their guide, who was a First Responder, rushed to the scene, getting there first. It was too late for the two occupants.)

At the hamlet we were pleased to see that six Lesser Kestrels had returned from their winter jaunt. The way back along the plain also produced a Hoopoe and a Little Owl.
We ate a sandwich lunch at the La Piza cafe (opens after Easter) with Crossbills above our heads, waiting to take drink from the fuente (water supply). That was an end to a good days birding. The lack of a Stonechat and Chiffchaff was noted. 35 species in all.

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