12 March : Sierra de María

Hot on the heels of Dave's excursion to El Fondo/Hondo, another today to the Sierra de María -boy, is the mouse having a good time! It is nice to see a local guide in Spanish and German.
     Gilly is due back tomorrow morning. Was I staying in to clean the house & do the washing? No, I was heading to the Sierra de María where I met up with 15 other members of the Arboleas Birding Group for some, as it turned out, non-fairweather birding! The sky was full of cloud, which was spewing over the mountain ridge. Someone with a smart car said the temperature was a cool 4ºC.

     We first headed down towards the plain, stopping at the farm buildings. As we arrived a low flying Griffon Vulture departed westward. Above the water deposit we could see up to half a dozen Crossbills waiting to drink at a puddle. They were joined by a Blue Tit and a pair of Goldfinches. We all could hear a Corn Bunting nearby, but saw no sign of it. We did see Chaffinch and White Wagtail. Also seen were Mistle Thrush, Rock Sparrow and Woodlark.

     We then descended upon the water trough area where there were many more Rock Sparrows and Corn Buntings. Les spotted a Linnet. A Crested Lark was seen as well as a distant Griffon Vulture just under clouds above the mountain ridge. We then convoyed across the plain. I didn't see a single bird, but Adrian saw a Barn Swallow and Rod a Carrion Crow. We had much better luck at the hamlet. I spotted a pair of disappearing Red-billed Choughs. At least 4 Lesser Kestrels were present as was a solitary Black Redstart. A flight of about 20 Calandra Larks flew over.

     Brian was badly affected by the cold so he and Mary headed home while we made for the La Piza cafe for a brew. From inside we observed Great, Coal and Blue Tits visiting the cone bird feeder. A Short-toed Treecreeper showed up as well. A Robin and Chaffinches were ground feeding. Some Jays were also seen.

It was next up to the chapel, seeing a Common Kestrel on the way. Colin also spotted a Southern Grey Shrike. It began to drizzle as we walked up to the Botanical Gardens. We all entered the Information Centre as drizzle turned to light rain. 5 minutes later it was frozen sleet! We retreated back to the cars, some heading home, the rest heading back to La Piza for an early lunch.
We depleted the cafe's supply of the very good Sierra de Maria Bird Guide, in fact the owner sold his personal copy as well. As we were driving off, Alan, John and Adrian in the car in front of me suddenly stopped. Had seen a large bird of prey flying off. Pretty certain it was a Goshawk!

     30 species for the day, not bad considering the weather! Hopefully the Rambla de Almanzora next week will be a lot warmer!

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