04 March : Sierra de María

Dave and Gilly note the presence of Great Spotted Cuckoos in their garden and there have been multiple reports of these and Golden Orioles over the length of Andalucía this last week and there are reports of Barn Swallows and House Martins getting up into Jaén. A juvenile Crane has been seen at the Guadalhorce also. The first photo, all taken by Gilly, is a replica of the socked in and not very pleasant conditions here yesterday (I am putting this in early Thursday morning). Nice to see that Dave still uses the old family name of titmice for the tit family, I haven't seen them called that for years! No Chiffchaffs yet again!

As Gilly and I got ready to head off to the Sierra de Maria, we could, for the third morning in a row, hear a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos screeching from our rear garden. The weather was bright and sunny as we approached Velez Rubio. We could see the Sierra Maria mountain range from the south. It was almost devoid of snow. The shaded northern side still had pockets of snow in the gullies. We met up with nine other members of the Arboleas Birding Group in Maria's Repsol garage cafe. After a cup of coffee we made our way to the chapel. 
As we approached we could see a few Griffon Vultures flying close to the mountain ridge. A closer inspection revealed at least 22 individuals perched up there. Almost immediately I spotted a bird flying onto the side of a tree in front of the chapel. A Short-toed Treecreeper. In fact there were a pair. We walked round to the water trough. The arrival of the local sheep didn't help the birding but thankfully they didn't stop for liquid refreshment. Eventually a female Cirl Bunting flew down for a drink, closely followed by a Rock Bunting. Up at the Botanical Garden the sun was beginning to force the stripping off of fleeces. Birds were few and far between but we saw some more Short-toed Treecreepers and a variety of titmice: Crested, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tit. Some of the group did the medium walk, adding Jay to the list. We in the lower group saw a posing male Cirl Bunting giving it some from his exposed perch. Both groups also saw Coal Tit.
We convoyed down to the ruined farm buildings. Predictably there were Crossbills waiting at the tops of trees near the water deposit, but not a lot else apart from a Carrion Crow strutting across a distant field. At the water trough further along towards the plain we added some Linnets.
Driving along the straight plain road we saw Crested Larks and 2-3 Calandra Larks. I spotted a Little Owl on one of the man-made rocky ridges, but after ducking down and only showing its eyes and the top of the head the others had difficulty in seeing it. At the hamlet we saw two female kestrels on the roof where the Lesser Kestrels nest. I'm pretty certain these were early arrivals. Also seen was a White Wagtail. John spotted a Rock Sparrow. On the way back there were better views of a Little Owl on the other side of the road. At the Piza recreation area we added Mistle Thrush as well as Chaffinch feeding by the cafe.
Only 29 species seen, but happiness that summer is round the corner. As well as no Chiffchaffs, we added Stonechat,  Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart to the list of absentees!
Dave Green said he saw a male Golden Oriole fly across in front of his car near Zurgena. On the way home Gilly and I saw a flock of Red-billed Choughs in a field right next to the E15 motorway by the Gonar plastic pipe factory.

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