18 December : Sierra de María

On the subject of the Red Squirrels (see Dave's comment below), some 20 years ago there was quite a decent population of Reds in the El Retiro Park in the centre of Madrid (well worth a walk around of you happen to be in that metropolis). These Reds, were very tame and would come and take crushed walnut pieces from your fingers by the simple expedient of walking up you and along an outstretched arm. My son, then aged about 7, was particularly good at attracting them. Also, there were some melanic ones and very attractive they were too. I don't know if they are still there or not.
And while on the subject of the Retiro, a friend who lives about two blocks away rang about 10 pm. one evening a couple of Novembers since and asked me to guess what he was looking at. I said the television and he told me not to be stupid (normal) and that in fact he was watching an Eagle Owl on a roof top opposite! There are several pairs actually in the city. I bet they cleaned out the stray cats population! Some years ago there was one which took up winter residence in the centre of Coín (Málaga province) and totally cleaned out stray cat population. Old biddies were locking up their pet moggies at night lest they fall as dinner to the owl. We could use one around where I live as the law says that I can't shoot the cats or their owners!
 Well, Dave and Gilly at least have their wheels back, which is something, and made the most of them as he recounts below. 
I too add my best wishes to you all for a good Christmas and New Year, and my particular thanks to Dave for his enlightening reports from the other end of Andalusia and, especially, good birding again in 2014.

Firstly I apologise for the delay in submitting this report. When Gilly and I got home we had an e-mail from the Madrid garage to say our wounded truck was ready for collection. So it was early to bed and out of the house at 4am to catch the train at 6am. Truck now safely back home without any problems on the 500km return journey. 
     Kevin kindly taxied Gilly and I up to Maria where we met 6 other hardy members of the group at the garage cafe. We'd spotted a Raven as we approached the town to start our list. As it was chilly...could've been a lot colder...Brian suggested we headed to the plain before doing the shaded Botanical gardens. We stopped first at the farm buildings. On the trees beyond the small water deposit we saw numerous Crossbills and a pair of Mistle Thrushes. They were later joined by some Goldfinches. On some distant trees Chaffinches were seen again and Barrie, who was using his scope, spotted Long-tailed Tits as well. Unfortunately Les had a call from home and& had to leave us.
     The rest of us made for the water trough area. The trees beyond it were covered in Rock Sparrows. Also seen were Corn Bunting and Linnets and Serins also appeared. On the field the other side of the road a small flock of White Wagtails were feeding. As we left for the plain we spotted a group of Crested Larks.
The only bird of note, spotted by some, was a Southern Grey Shrike, so we headed back to the La Piza cafe for a coffee. Here, the owners had put up home made fatballs which attracted Crested, Great and Blue Tits. Chaffinches and a Jay searched below for scraps. Crossbills came to take the waters from a man-made pool. An Iberian Squirrel (if that's what they're called) visited. They are the size of a Grey but as you can see from the photo they have a mottled burgundy/grey coat.
We then made our way to the chapel. Very few birds around. A Cirl Bunting was seen. There was no sign of any bird life at the gardens, not even any calls. As we were on a tight time schedule we headed for lunch,but not before Kevin spotted a Black Redstart.
We saw 26 species, collected some fine honey from the farmhouse (Sure Barrie and Jan are on commission!) and had a very refreshing walk with great company! On the way home I spotted at least 6 Griffon Vultures over the Velez Rubio side of the mountain ridge where it gets all the sun!
Lastly Gilly and I would like to wish you all a Happy Christmas and good birding in 2014.

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