03 September : Sierra de María

As Dave so rightly says, feels like school is back. However, I am posting this at 04.30 on Thursday morning as I'm flying up to Bilbao at 7 and then having 3 days at sea, so forgive any faults as my brain isn't supposed to be awake at this time of day at my age (or at any other, but those days are long gone!) and the coffee hasn't yet penetrated the neaarly impenetrable depths. So, herewith the new season from Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group.
 It felt like the first day back at school as Gilly and I headed up to meet the gang at the Sierra de Maria after a planned break for summer. Arboleas, where we live, has not, apart from some insignificant showers, had any real rain since Christmas Day! Yes, it's still oppressively hot here, hence our cooler destination today. We all met up at the Maria garage cafe for a pre-birding coffee. A good turn out. 19 of us as House Martins flew above and below the garage canopy. We drove up towards the chapel, stopping briefly to observe our first Spotted Flycatcher of the day. 
After parking, a scan of the mountain ridge revealed at least six sitting Griffon Vultures. Between them and us was a constant swirl of hirundines, mostly Red-rumped Swallows, but a few Barn Swallows and a Sand Martin. We wandered round to the water trough. It was alive with birds. Both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Subalpine Warbler, Chiffchaff, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Serin and Great Tit. The star though was an obliging Western Orphean Warbler which stayed visible for everyone to see. A Goldfinch and Hawfinch were also seen. We trudged up to the Botanical Gardens. It was still 25ºC so a chilled water in the Information Centre was very welcome. Numerous birds were attracted to the small pools. Great and Coal Tits, Rock Bunting, Chaffinch and Crossbill. Overhead Bee-eaters could be more heard than seen. Up to 25 Griffon Vultures could be seen flying over the mountain ridge. Some of the group stayed round the garden as we others did the lower walk. I think we only added a Jay to the list whilst the garden stayers were treated to a continual feed of thirsty birds.
We then convoyed down towards the plain apart from Brian and Mary who lived the closest and knew what a bird free area it was. We saw a Carrion Crow near the farm buildings, some Rock Sparrows by the water deposit, a passing Hoopoe and on the plain itself two Northern Wheatears and a Crested Lark! So it was back to the La Piza forest cafe to join Brian and Mary for lunch. Here a small man-made shallow pool near the picnic tables had Crossbill, Chaffinch, Great Tit , Coal Tit, Crested Tit and Long-tailed Tit all visiting. Also seen were Green Woodpecker, Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Short-toed Treecreeper. And to top it off we saw a Short-toed Eagle on our way back to Maria. It was a great days birding in great company. 39 species in total.

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