08/05 : Sierra de María

Now safely returned and de-jetlagged from a flying visit to the Big Apple and with a bundle of photos to edit and the blog to write, I was too easily distracted yesterday by an early morning call to say that there was a Broad-billed Sandpiper down at the Guadalhorce ponds. Therefore, everything was dropped as I last saw one about 50 years ago and at that rate of sightings, I don't really anticipate seeing another! Yes, I did see it and very well too. So, with an awful lot to do today, I'm going to dive striight in to what will be Dave's last blog for a while as Gilly and himself are heading to Morocco  - have a good, safe and well birded trip about which I hope we may read more in the fullness of time. By the by, note the Arboleas Group badge shown here.
  I went with a friend to the Sierra de Maria last Sunday and had a great day with some good photographs so some have been used to illustrate today's group visit there. We met up as usual at the Maria Repsol garage cafe. There were 17 of us in total. I'd like to welcome Barrie's wife Ann on her first outing. As I've mentioned in the past she's been very ill, but I'm glad to report things are looking better. We'd already logged a lone Griffon Vulture on our approach to the town so we were hoping for a good day. It was cloudy but as the day progressed the sun came out.
male Cirl Bunting
     We made our way up to the chapel area. Immediatly we could hear a Nightingale over near the trough. We could also hear an Eurasian Cuckoo calling from the forest above us. We added the first of many Crossbills for the day. Blue and Coal Tit were also seen as was a Corn Bunting and a Serin. There was a team of chattering Spanish workers near the fuente, but they didn't put off the Nightingale giving it all from a very large bush nearby. Everybody managed to get a glimpse of it at least. We sauntered up towards the information centre seeing a Woodchat Shrike on the bush top perch. A group of Crossbills were adjacent to and on a small stone pillar. Curiously the adults appeared to be picking from the mortar. Were they after grit or insects? Right behind them a male Cirl Bunting was on sentry duty.
male Subalpine Warbler- a possible eastern race bird?
     We headed into the Botanical Gardens (open at 10am). A Rock Sparrow was on top of a pine. A Crested Tit was seen. The majority of the group carried on, completing the medium walk. We saw a pretty constant stream of Griffons heading along the ridge in the direction of Velez Blanco. We also saw Subalpine, Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers. No sign of any Western Orphean Warblers yet. Also seen were Jay, Rock Bunting and Short-toed Treecreeper. The walking wounded did a bit of the lower walk then headed back to sit near the Information centre. They added Firecrest and distant but good views of male Golden Orioles in the poplar tree near the chapel. Most of the group managed to see them as well when we got back. We headed back to the vehicles as a coachload of school children arrived.
     After a coffee at the La Piza forest cafe where we saw Crossbills but failed to see a first for Barrie, the almost regular now, Hawfinch, this not helped by strimming forest workers, we convoyed down on to the plain. At the farm buildings we had more Rock Sparrows and a soaring Common Buzzard. On the plain itself we managed to spot Short-toed, Crested and Calandra Lark. We also noted Black-eared and Northern Wheatear. At the hamlet there were about 6 Lesser Kestrels. A small flock of Short-toed Larks gave us all good views.
     Back at La Piza for lunch, the strimmers had gone, thank god, which brought in more Crossbills and to Barrie's joy, a Hawfinch feeding within 15 metres of us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard and was seen by a few of us. Gilly and I, together with Val, Rob, Barrie and Jan were off to the Vulture Feeding Station as the others headed home. As we left the massed ranks of hungry, screaming kids descended from their coach....what timing!
Bonelli's Warbler
    We added Red-legged Partridge on the journey. Not a lot at the station, only a few distant Griffons and a small acrobatic flock of Red-billed Choughs. Also heard Bee-eaters.  But at the end of the day we'd seen 47 species and had a great days birding with friends old and new.
      The photo of the Subalpine Warbler has provoked a discussion as to whether it could be an eastern race subspecies. Have a look at the Collins and see what you think.
     Lastly, our best wishes go to new member, Charlie, who had a triple bypass op today. Hope to see him back out with us again soon.
P.S. No reports till June as Gilly and I are off to Morocco again with hopefully no speeding tickets this time!

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