10 July : Sierra María

To tell the truth, having seen the spectacular footage of the dry storms last night when something over 3.000 lightning strikes were recorded and also 3 fires in Almería as result, I didn't really expect anything from Dave & Co. today but it takes more than a few lightning hits to dissuade the Arboleas Group. On the other hand, Linda has my full and unmitigated sympthathy (for what it's worth) and I do hope that she'll soon get over the shingles, which is very nasty complaint to suffer and more so in the present heat.
Our area had major thunderstorms during the night and as a result Ros and her husband Roger(?) were awake all night as a lightening fire raged near their house. Hence they were absent as were Rod and Linda who has come down, if that's the right phrase, with shingles. As Gilly and I headed north passed Huercal Overa, water dumping helicopters were still at work dousing the last of the flames. We managed to spot a Crag Martin and a Black Wheatear before we arrived at the cafe by the Maria garage. After the bad weather of the previous night it was good to see blue skies and sunshine. Eleven of us made our way to the Chapel car park. We could hear the screeching call of a Golden Oriole, not the usual pleasant harmony. Eventually we had good views of a male flying before it disappeared into the foliage of the poplar tree. On top of this tall tree was a Woodchat Shrike for a short time. A sunbathing cat thwarted any birdlife at the water trough, so we sauntered up towards the information centre. There was a steady stream of Griffon Vultures flying along the ridge from the plain towards the direction of the feeding station. Also seen up there were a pair of probable Ravens. On the way we saw a Rock Bunting, a Melodious Warbler and a soaring pale morph Booted Eagle.
     It was good to get into the shade of the pine trees in the Botanical Garden. The small man-made pools were being used by Crossbills, Serins and a Subalpine Warbler. "Stragglers" also saw Long-tailed and Blue Tits. We heard more than saw numerous Bonelli's Warblers. As could be expected most birds were keeping silent and out of sight. We did find three probable Tawny Owl pellets beneath one pine tree. Insects seemed to be its main diet. Did get some photos of Fritillary and Grayling butterflies as well as a sunbathing lizard.     Before heading down onto the sweltering plain we stopped for drinks at the La Piza cafe in the forest. Here, many Crossbills were taking water from the top of a picnic table. Received info from the owner that a Scops Owl was regularly calling at the nearby campsite. We headed down to the plain. A plume of Griffons was above the farm buildings with a Booted Eagle above them. We managed to see Rock Sparrow and Goldfinch by the watering trough. Only saw Crested Larks by the roadside. At the hamlet our spirits were lifted with the sight of at least four Lesser Kestrels.
     Back at La Piza for lunch. A very large "Capricorn"(?) beetle was spotted 7ft up a tree. We ended the day with 30 species. Not too impressive but being out with birding friends made it all worth it.

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