15 January : Sierra María

Wow, Dave and Gilly out twice in a week, not that I can complain as I too was out with Bob Wright's Axarquía Group down at the Guadalhorce, but for that you'll have to check his page (http://birdingaxarquia2.blogspot.com.es/), although there wasn't much except 4 of my favourite wader, Greenshank. The company was good and it almost makes a change for me to speak English so much once in a while!
By the by, those who read and saw the photo of the Black Redstart at Fuente de Piedra from my Tuesday visit with Ron Appleby should be advised that it is one of the eastern forms. So, on to Dave and Gilly's day at Sierra María.

Having heard from Brian and Mary that Maria was open and there was little to no snow, I contacted them and arranged for Gilly and I to meet them for a days birding. We met at 10.30am at the garage cafe, hopefully avoiding any early morning frost. The weather couldn't have been better for the time of the year. Hardly a cloud in the sky, full sun, no wind, but still fleece wearing needed. As we left for the chapel our first bird was a Blue Tit. As we approached the car park some thrush-like birds flew off towards the pine trees. 4 Ring Ouzels....what a start! A Robin was seen. Disappointment then followed as major tree pruning was taking place near the water trough so very little in the bird department. Another Blue Tit and another couple of Ring Ouzels. We walked up the concrete road towards the Information Centre seeing a small mixed flock of Chaffinches and Rock Buntings on the way. We met the female ranger of the Botanical Gardens who, bless her, apologised profusely, saying there were very few birds around as she was working near all the small drinking pools. She was unfortunately correct. We did manage Great and Crested Tit. I spotted our only two Griffon Vultures of the day down the far end of the mountain ridge, which I must say had a sprinkling of snow on it in the shaded areas. Mary pointed out a Jay. At the far end of the lower walk we managed to coax out a Coal Tit and three Firecrests. We then headed back down to the cars, not adding any further species.
We made our way to the farm buildings seeing a couple of Carrion Crows overflying us. Another one was perched on one of the trees beyond the water deposit making some extraordinary calls! Once it had moved off some Crossbills appeared for a drink.
We then drove down to the  water trough area, seeing a female Black Redstart on the way. Mary and Brian spotted a large flock of small birds awaiting our departure so they could partake in the waters. They were mostly Linnets, but at least one Greenfinch was amongst them. A Mistle Thrush was also seen.
We carried on to the plain. As we drove slowly down there was nothing to see. As we approached the small ruin on the left hand side of the road, Gilly spotted a small bird to the right. As I slowed to a stop I saw 4 larger birds, scared by some nearby ploughing, take to the air for a short flight then land - Black-bellied Sandgrouse. We managed, with the help of Brian's telescope to pinpoint where they were. We drove further down to be at right angles to them. As I got out of the car Brian shouted, " Forget them, there's many more behind you by the rocky outcrop!" Sure enough a passing tractor obligingly put 14 more birds to flight. They gave us a magnificent display for about 3-4 minutes until they found a safe landing zone. Duly chuffed we headed for the hamlet where we added Crested Lark. Mary suggested that for a change we carry on a bit towards Orce. We drove about 5km further on. The terrain was more undulating with scattered copses of sparse pines. I don't think we saw one bird, but it was worth the look.
Feeling peckish now we headed back towards the La Piza forest cafe. As we drove back along the plain, Gilly spotted a fast low flying small falcon. A Merlin! At the cafe we only saw a few Crossbills as yet again tree pruning was taking place.
We ended up with 25 species. Great day out with some quality birds.

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