18 May : Sierra de María

Before starting, I would simply like to say that finding and subsequent identification of Dupont's Lark is a needle in haystack job, even where there is a small, almost relict, population as in the huge area of Las Almoladeras (Almería). Away from there, I know of no certain records off-hand.The best time is around dawn when they are singing, although I have heard of occasional birds being seen/heard around dusk. Further, at this time of year birds are letting rip with their hormones and finding one away from the known area would be extremely unlikely, although nothing is impossible in the birding world - they don't read the guides! Add to that the difficulty of the effects of fading of plumage and the notorious difficulty presented by some pipits and larks showing individual variations, and one is presented with real headaches.
That said, on to Dave's report.
After a successful trip to Extremadura, I have now dried out and am now keen to visit the Sierra de Maria with other group members. I made my own way there, seeing some birds in the "zone" before reaching Maria town, the best being a Woodchat Shrike. I met up with Alan, Colin, Sandra, Barrie, Beryl, Les and Mary. After a catch-up chat and coffee we made our way to the chapel. Amazingly the first bird I spotted was a Melodious Warbler, closely followed by a Jay. Barrie and Alan identified the song of a Woodlark which was eventually found. Alan then spotted a Subalpine Warbler. We also saw Chaffinch and a female Black Redstart. Another Melodious Warbler showed very well before we headed to the water trough. Here Serin and more Subalpine Warblers were seen before we added a Bonelli's Warbler as well. Just beyond the trough a Western Orphean Warbler gave us good, but distant views. Moving further towards the Botanical Gardens, Mary spotted a Raven near the mountain ridge. Also seen were a Magpie and the occasional Griffon Vulture gliding along the ridge. 
As we got closer to the information Centre we saw both Coal and Blue Tit. Les decided to stay in the gardens whilst the rest of us hot-footed it onto the lower path as a coach load of school kids arrived. We heard European Cuckoo and Colin was first to hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker which later showed itself. We saw further Subalpine, Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers. Mary thought she'd heard Long-tailed Tits, but Les, as we discovered upon our return to the gardens, had seen some as well as Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Crossbill. The walk down to the chapel added Wood Pigeon and a Cirl Bunting found by Alan.
We made our way to the farm buildings where we added Crested Lark and Rock Bunting. It was next to the farm trough and water deposit. The trough was empty but we still saw a pair of Hoopoes. Alan saw a pair of Turtle Doves as we arrived. There was a Black-eared Wheatear on the farm building and I spotted a distant Northern Wheatear on another building. Some Linnets, Goldfinches and a Red-rumped Swallow were also seen.
We then convoyed along the plains straight, me leading with Les at the rear. I spotted a Northern Wheatear by the ruined building and the Little Owl on its usual pile of rocks. There were also Crested Lark and Les saw a Red Billed Chough.
At the hamlet we checked out the Lesser Kestrel situation for Helen Commandeur's survey. There were a pair of adults and what appeared to be an immature female. We headed back to the La Piza forest cafe, Les bringing up the rear. We didn't add anything new on the journey, but Les saw Short-toed Larks and what he thought was a Calandra Lark
At La Piza, after asking the staff to fill their little pool with water, we were given a show by Chaffinches and numerous Crossbills. Great Tit was also seen.
A lovely days birding in good weather and company! 47 species in total.

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