Birding on the Sierra's and down in the Valleys.
Niels and I set off at quite a decent time of the morning to visit some of the local birding sites; the first was Sierra de Loja. We started the climb up through the Pine Woodlands picking up the first of the Azure-winged Magpies (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus), Mistle Thrush (Zorzal Charlo / Turdus viscivorus), Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs) and Common Cuckoo (Cuco Común / Cuculus canorus). The first stop was at the quarry just above the town where we quickly located one of the adult Eagle Owl (Buho Real / Bubo bubo) sat out on the front of the nest platform. Here we also had some great views of a male Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia) and a pair of Dartford Warblers (Curruca Rabilarga / Sylvia undata) which were carrying food into one of the not to distant gorse bushes, both species on Niels’s most wanted list. Also added to the trip list here were Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros), Black Wheatear (Collalba Negra / Oenanthe leucura), Blue Rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius), Common Crossbill (Piquituerto Común / Loxia curvirostra), Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata) and Rock Sparrow (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia).
We then drove up higher missing out most of the crags area but stopping in the area of bushes just before the top. Here the saga of the Subalpine Warbler (Curruca Carrasquena / Sylvia cantillans) began, as straight away we picked up a pair of the skulking Sylvia warblers in the bush just in front of us but by the time I had given Niels the directions the bird had dropped from view and this how it continued for the next few days with this species. From here we did see Woodchat Shrike (Alcaudón Común / Lanius senator), Thekla Lark (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor), Red-billed Chough (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Jackdaw (Grajilla / Corvus monedula) and Red-legged Partridge (Perdiz Roja / Alectoris rufa). Some way further on along the track over the tops we picked up the first of several Black-eared Wheatears (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica), a male with a full face mask (as were all the birds today). We continued with out stopping as far as the Goat Cave and parked there before going on further on foot searching for the elusive Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Roquero Rojo / Monticola saxatilis) which we eventually had good views of. A nice male bird perched out on the top of one of the lower rocks and stayed there for some time. Also along here saw many more Rock Sparrows, Black Restart, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Northern Wheatear (Collalba Gris / Oenanthe oenanthe) and Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes). On the way down we stopped at an area of broom scrub where we search for and found another target bird, Spectacled Warbler (Curruca Tomillera / Sylvia conspicillata), we had a adult male bird along with either a female or immature. Just as we were starting the drop down the crags I saw a small bit of road kill lying in the dust which turned out to be a Garden Dormouse (Eliomys quercinus). We stopped at the Subalpine spot for a second try, but this time we could only heard the bird. Other species seen at the site included Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Linnet (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala), Southern Grey Shrike (Alcaudón Real Meridional / Lanius meridionalis), House Martin (Avión Común / Delichon urbica), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica), both Common (Vencejo Común / Apus apus) and Pallid Swifts (Vencejo Pálido / Apus pallidus), Green Woodpecker (Pito Real / Picus viridis), Greenfinch (Verderón Común / Carduelis chloris), Common Kestrel (Cernicalo Vulga / Falco tinnunculus) and Collared Dove (Tórtola Turca / Streptopelia decaocto).
Our second area to be covered was in the Cacín Valley where we were hoping for some of the open plain species and as soon as we arrived we got off to a good start with a nice male Little Bustard (Sisón Común / Tetrax tetrax) giving away its location on the edge of a crop field with its distinctive raspberry call. Later we saw another two male birds in flight as we made our way on foot down to an area of almond trees where I had seen some immature Great Spotted Cuckoos (Crialo Europeo / Clamator gladarius) whilst with Ian Standring the week before. As soon as we were in the trees we heard birds calling and quite quickly we had some really good views of both immature birds but more surprisingly an adult bird which appeared to be with at least 4 youngsters but more surprising was the total lack of any Common Magpies (Urraca / Pica pica) near by.
Whilst we were at this site the air was filled with Lark song, including Calandra (Calandria / Melanocorypha calandra), Short-toed (Terrera Común / Calandrella brachydactyla), Thekla and Crested (Cogujada Común / Galerida cristata). We dipped on the resident Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga Ortega / Pterocles orientalis) but we did see Lesser Kestrel (Cernicola Primilla / Falco naumanni), Marsh (Aguilucho Lagunero Occidental / Circus aeruginosus) and Montagu's Harriers (Aguilucho Cenizo / Circus pygargus), European Bee-eater (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster), Tawny Pipit (Bisbita campestre / Anthus campestris) and heard several Common Quail (Codorniz Común / Coturnix coturnix).
On the way to a site a little nearer to Granada we added a surprise Roller (Carraca / Coracias garrulus) to the day list along with Corn Bunting (Triguero / Emberiza calandra) and Red-rumped Swallow (Golondrina Dáurica / Hirundo daurica).
At a site a little further on we eventually added one of the Black-winged Kites (Elanio Común / Elanus caeruleus) which broke cover to see off a male Montagu’s which flew close by.
We then returned to the Cacín Valley, on the drop down to the village we had cracking views of a sub adult Golden Eagle (Águila Real / Aquila chrysaetos) which passed low over head a couple of times and a more distant dark phase Booted Eagle (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus). At Embalse de Cacín birds were again few, with just a few Common Pochard (Porrón Europeo / Aythya ferina), Mallard (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos), Eurasian Coot (Focha Común / Fulica atra), Common Moorhen (Gallineta Común / Gallinula Chloropus) and Little Grebe (Zampullín Común / Tachybaptus ruficollis) new for the day.
From the bridge a little further down stream we knocked off another of the list birds with some good views of a singing Melodious Warbler (Zarcero Común / Hippolais polyglotta) and then Niel’s had brief views of a male Golden Oriole (Oropéndola / Oriolus oriolus) as it flew off. In the area we also saw or heard Cetti’s Warbler (Ruisenor Bastardo / Cettia cetti), Nightingale (Ruisenor Común / Luscinia megarhynchos), Reed Warbler (Carricero Común / Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Long-tailed (Mito / Aegithalos caudatus), Great (Carbonero Común / Parus major) and Coal Tit (Carbonero Garrapinos / Parus ater), House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer Domesticus) and Turtle Dove (Tórtola Europea / Streptopelia turtur).
Other species seen during the day included a few spikes of Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), a female Copper Demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis) and a small herd of Spanish Ibex (Capra pyreaica hispanica).
Photographs from the top: Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Dartford Warblers (Curruca Rabilarga / Sylvia undata), Garden Dormouse (Eliomys quercinus), Great Spotted Cuckoos (Crialo Europeo / Clamator gladarius), Niels watching Cuckoo's, Golden Eagle (Águila Real / Aquila chrysaetos) and Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera).