01 April : Sierra de María

Apologies for delay and only 2 photos, Dave, but this b****y machine is not being cooperative at all and refuses to download two of your shots. Any way, Dave and the Arboleas Group went to the Sierra de María, but I can't find anything that may make me think about having been All Fools' Day, such as a record of an Archaeopteryx gliding with the vultures. Incidentally, at least one Griffon was seen to ditch off Tarifa this last week, not having the strength to make it back from Afric's shores. Meanwhile, there have been many records of first arrivals, many of them of warblers, including Bonelli's, Subalpine and Whitethroat. Needless to say, thanks to my knees and sacro-iliac area which are in total meltdown, I ain't been nowhere and my watching has been confined to seeing masses of Common Swifts (remakably few Pallids) coming in, plus the occasional Barn Swallow doing its imitation of a Tornado on afterburn at low level and all small passerines have been either Goldfinches or Serins. Enough blethering, on to Dave's report.

Well, summer has arrived in South East Spain. Blue sky and hot sun all the way to the Sierra de Maria, although as per usual the temperature dropped by about 5 degrees the closer we got to it. Gilly and I spotted a Blue Rock Thrush as we passed Velez Blanco to start our days list. As we waited outside the Repsol Garage cafe in María, drinking coffee, House Martins were beginning to nest above the fuel pumps in the canopy. We met up with 11 other members. We added Goldfinch and Great Tit before heading to the chapel. The Griffon Vultures were already up and about. Gilly spotted at least 14 individuals. There was very little in the chapel area so we wandered over to the trough. I heard and identified (correctly) the Short-toed Treecreeper calling from the poplar tree. If you were able to crane your neck sufficiently you were able to see it! Gilly spotted a small bird, feeding, up there as well. After much searching...I never did see it in the flesh....it turned out to be a female Serin. As we walked up to the Botanical Garden, a pair of Ravens were flying over the wooded hillock to our right.
As we had a chat with the Gardens' ranger, we heard a woodpecker drumming. Once in the garden, I replied with my phone. It, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, flew past at great speed. Gilly ad Les decided to stay in the gardens whilst the rest of us did the lower walk. We only added a Jay, a Robin, a Blackcap and a heard Red-legged Partridge. Gilly and Les did much better being stationed near the small water features. They had Crossbill, Crested, Coal and Blue Tit , as well as Cirl Bunting. As Les and I passed the Information Centre, I said to him that I'd hoped to see more warblers. Typically I missed the Subalpine Warblers Gilly spotted and Les' Dartford!
We convoyed our way to the ruined farm buildings. Here we saw a female Black Redstart, some Mistle Thrush and Rock Buntings under the pine trees and Wood Pigeon and Carrion Crow. It was then on to the goat's water trough and deposito.
The small birds were now difficult to spot in the leaved almond trees, but we did see Linnet and Rock Sparrow. A Hoopoe displayed well. A Northern Wheatear was also spotted. Colin saw Black-eared Wheatear as well.
Lesser Kestrels
Down on the plain birds were also difficult to spot with the wheat crop growing. A pair of Calandra Larks were display flying. I managed to spot a Little Owl which was only showing its forehead and eyes above the rocks. As we arrived at the hamlet, I'm pleased to say that there were at least 4 pairs of Lesser Kestrels in nesting mode. Les was the first to spot a pair of Red-billed Choughs with nesting material, flying in and out of one of the barns.
We then retraced our tracks back to the La Piza forest café for lunch. Then only new bird using their feeding/watering area was a Long-tailed Tit. Also seen were a female Subalpine Warbler, a Chaffinch and Crossbill. Alan and Richard who I think left for home last, were lucky enough to see a pair of Booted Eagles.

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