30 March : Sierra de María

Gawd, where does the time go? 'When you're retired you'll have lots of free time,' someone said. Wrong! There seems to be less and less and being domesticated, shopping and walking my canine monster and other distractions into which I shall not enter take their toll of time. I haven't even got the photos and report of Dave and Gilly's trip to Morocco done as I had vainly hoped. And now another from Dave!
Before putting that in, here in Torremolinos we had a big entry of Common Swifts on 26 March and on 27, in my own garden here, 2 Redstarts, one a smashing male, plus a female Black Redstart but she's been around all winter, and also a Spotted Flycatcher. On 28 March, at the third attempt, I managed to see the 1W Franklin's Gull that has been hanging around La Caleta de Vélez (in the east of the province,one earlier fruitless trip giving a Great White Egret flying along the shore line! I'm not sure if it was a twitch or not as it's only ten minutes from my girlfriend's, more or less on the doorstep. On 29 March, going in towards Málaga, a Honey Buzzard flew in front of the car between Plaza Mayor and Decathlon. Tomorrow, I am down at Tarifa and beyond to La Janda with Ron, as although he has been studying the North Yorkshire Honey Buzzards for over 30 years, he's never seen one in Spain, so we live in hope, especially as a Rüppell's Vulture was seen to fly in today.
And a last bit before I forget. There were 'plenty' of Citril Finches at the Puerto de la Ragua (Almería/Granada border) earlier this week, an elusive Dupont's Lark was heard at Las Almoladeras (Almería). Which is why I am now on with Dave's report if the visit.
Spring has sprung. The sun was shining and there was a slight breeze as Gilly and I headed to the Sierra de Maria. As we approached the town we saw a male Blue Rock Thrush atop a telegraph pole and a Woodchat Shrike on a power line. Gilly thought she might have seen a Spotted Flycatcher as well. We met up with 11 other members at the Repsol Garage cafe, including Ann, Trevor, Jen and Phil who'd spotted a Booted Eagle on their way in. House Martins were making nests under the garage canopy.  After a coffee we made our way to the chapel where Kevin had spent the night in his camper van being "serenaded" by a nearby Scops Owl. Les immediately saw a Corn Bunting
Over by the trough in the tall poplar tree there were some feeding Serins and a male Blackcap. Blue Tits were also observed. Heading up to the Botanical Gardens, nothing was seen until we arrived there. There we had Coal Tit, Great Tit and a Jay. Gilly, Adrian and Les hung around there hearing Great Spotted Woodpecker and Carrion Crow. They also had a Crested Tit. The rest of us carried onto the low walk. We added Long-tailed Tit, Cirl and Rock Buntings before we split from the intrepid John, Charlie Roger and his grandson, Theo who did the medium walk. They added Robin and Short-toed Treecreeper to the list. We all met up at the information centre before returning to the vehicles. John spotted a Red-rumped Swallow as we left.
We made our way to the farm buildings where Les first spotted a Rock Sparrow and then some Mistle Thrushes. I happened to look up and saw our first Griffon Vulture of the day. Another 5 arrived soon after. Kev had a Hoopoe and Trevor spotted a Raven.
Moving to the farm yard trough further down the road, I found a male Black-eared Wheatear, first of the year, on a distant chimney stack. Another male and a female were seen. Another Raven started to circle above us and I also spotted a pair of distant Red-billed Choughs identified by their wide wings.
We then convoyed slowly along the plain straight. We added Short-toed Lark and a pair of Little Owls. At the hamlet there were at least 4 Lesser Kestrels. John was first to spot the Northern Wheatear atop a barn's roof. John and Les combined to track down a Linnet. On the way back to the La Piza forest cafe I had a probable Calandra Lark perched on a speed limit sign. We ate our lunch observing Crossbill, Chaffinch and various titmice drinking from the small pool.
We had hoped to have seen a few migrant warblers but alas no. We ended up with 45 species. Lovely location, birding and company.

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