17/04 : Sierra de María

Before going on to Dave's report on the Arboleas group visit to Siearra de María, Richard Howard has written from Murcia with two bits of information as follows:
(1) Richard has a blogspot also www.murciabirder.blogspot.com which covers the Cartagena area and will be very useful for those of you who live that way on, and (2) with regard to the reservoirbirds page which was given by Dave in the last Almería report, Richard has pointed out that it can be read in English by clicking on the little Union Jack. Many thanks for the info., Richard.
probable female Spectacled Warbler
All sorts of first annual records are being reported, I had my first European Turtle Dove last week at Fuente de Piedra and several more were seen the same day at various sites in Andalusia; the first Red-necked Nightjar has been seen in Granada, the first Spotted Flycatcher along the río Fuengirola (more of that in my next report), a possible Greenland race Northern Wheatear has been seen and yesterday (17/04) Bob Buckler and a Wildwings tour group he was leading saw a Broad-billed Sandpiper - a very rare species here in Spain - at Odiel (Huelva), close to the information centre; there is video of it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0BEWx-PD9c&feature=share&list=UU_CxaGd90ySvfqYpoXIyRZA . There seem to be plenty of Wood Sandpipers around this spring, almost more than Green Sandpipers at plenty of sites. Now on to Dave's report. By the way, Dave, I go more for Spectacled rather than Whitethroat, pity we can't see the wings better and the image is slightly blurred.
  The weather forecast looked good, so, having picked up Tony and Kas, Gilly and I drove to María where we met up with Rod, Linda, Brian, Mary, Alan and John. After a coffee at the Garage Cafe we made our way up to the Chapel seeing a Woodchat Shrike and a pair of Cirl Buntings on the way. We had a wander and added Blackcap, Corn Bunting, Jay and Mistle Thrush to the list before ascending towards the Botanical Gardens. A small number of Griffon Vultures glided effortlessly along the mountain ridge. Linnet and Chaffinch were among the bushes. A very vocal Coal Tit eventually flew to a low wall where its nest was. As we reached the information centre a Woodlark serenaded to us from the top of a pine tree.
A pair of Long-tailed Tits were interested in the small man-made pool. We also saw Serin, Subalpine Warbler and Great Tit. We had good views of another summer visitor, Bonelli's Warblers. All of us, apart from Gilly, who had back pains, did the medium walk. Not much around but a Firecrest and a Melodious Warbler were excellent. Gilly meanwhile had been pleased to see nest building Short-toed Treecreepers in the pine tree next to her resting place. On the way back we saw a a warbler skulking some distance away at the bottom of a bush. You can see the photo. Is it a Spectacled Warbler or a Whitethroat? I'm sure the font of all avian knowledge will confirm its identity. After much scrutiny in Collins at the car we thought it was a Spectacled Warbler. The only sound it made was a short grating call. Looking at the photo and its chunky shape I'm more inclined towards a female Whitethroat.
Short-toed Lark
We then headed towards the plain, stopping off at the farm buildings on the way. As we were about to leave Tony spotted a high soaring Booted Eagle. Carrying on down we spotted Rock Sparrow and Northern Wheatear near to the water trough. John glimpsed a Roller, but it disappeared. Not seen one yet this year!  By the plain roadside we saw Calandra Lark. I spotted a Short-toed Lark. I was very pleased that all the others saw a small flock of them feeding on the ground near the hamlet. There, we also saw at least three Lesser Kestrels.
On the way back got photos of obliging Short-toed Lark and Corn Bunting. We stopped for lunch at the La Piza restaurant with Crossbills calling above us as they waited to drink from the depostito.  Tony then spotted a Hawfinch feeding on fresh leaves in a tree only metres away from us. It stayed for a good five minutes. We also saw a Common Buzzard.
Rod, Linda, Mary and later Brian went off to look at orchids as the rest of us, guided in the right direction by Brian, headed to the Vulture Feeding Station. A few Griffon Vultures could be seen. Kas spotted acrobatic Red-billed Choughs beside the "Grandmothers Molar" Mountain. We also saw Black-eared Wheatear.

46 species for the day. Weather great. What more could you ask for? Oh yes, saw a Roller on the way home!

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