A Big Owl and 2 species of Eagle.
Today I was meeting a group of five people for a day on the Sierra de Loja looking for any kind of wildlife which is my sort of day. I meet Winkle, Phillip, Marcia, Angus and Ynis at the Abades service station before we made our way along the track up the sierra, we made our first stop just out of the car park where we had a good look at some spikes of Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea) growing on a roadside back along with Rosy Garlic (Allium roseum), Spring Rockcress (Arabis verna), Southern Daisy (Bellis cordifolia), Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides), Common Stork's-bill (Erodium cicutarium), Warty Spurge (Euphorbia squamigera), both Common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum) and Tassel Hyacinth (Muscari comosum). We then moved on a short distance to the small disused quarry where we had nice views of a male Blue Rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius) which was feeding on the cliffs, Greenfinch (Verderón Común / Carduelis chloris), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica) and then brief views of an immature Golden Eagle (Águila Real / Aquila chrysaetos) which just bobbed up above the trees twice both time for just a couple of seconds. We stopped briefly in the pines on the way up to thee upper quarry and while we were having a look at the plants we could hear a Woodlark (Totovia / Lullula arborea) which was singling from quite high above the trees, we also saw Blackbird (Mirlo Común / Turdus merula), Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), Collared Dove (Tórtola Turca / Streptopelia decaocto), Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus) and an almost black Red Squirrel (Sclurus vulgaris) which disappeared up one of the trees. On the way up to the quarry we also saw Azure-winged Magpie (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus), a dark phase Booted Eagle (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus) and Jackdaw (Grajilla / Corvus monedula). From the track up to the quarry I had a quick look at the platform where the Eagle Owl (Buho Real / Bubo bubo) had been seen a few days earlier but there was no sign of the bird but we got better views of the bird that even I had expected when I saw a large shape sat in the pine trees right next to the road. It was sat in the back tree of the plantation but stayed there while we had fantastic views; unfortunately there was a branch in front of its head so the photos were not great. We then moved on up into the Quarry and added Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata), Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala) and Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes) heard only to the list. Also seen from here were four Spanish Ibex (Capra pyreaica hispanica) which were sitting in the open right on top of the highest rock face. On the way back down the track we picked up the Booted Eagle again and added Woodchat Shrike (Alcaudón Común / Lanius senator) with a nice male showing well in a nearby hawthorn and Bonelli’s Warbler (Mosquitero Papialbo / Phylloscopus bonelli) which was calling from below us in the pines. We then started to look at the plants again when Winkle found several nice blooms of Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), and then nearby we saw the uncommon Viola dementria and the endemic Torcal Toadflax (Linaria anticaria). A little further up the track towards the crags we stopped again to get better views of Azure-winged Magpies which were moving through the trees, I then heard the chipping call of Common Crossbills (Piquituerto Común / Loxia curvirostra) we could hear the crunching of cones long before we discovered a female in one of the lower branches, this was followed by nice views of a male which sat nicely for us all to have good views in the scope which was a good job as it took some finding. Next we stopped along the crags where we heard the distinctive call from the breeding Red-billed Choughs (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) as they swooped acrobatically along the tops of the crags with there common relatives the Jackdaw. In the air with them were at least one pair of Common Kestrels (Cernicalo Vulga / Falco tinnunculus) and several Pallid Swifts (Vencejo Pálido / Apus pallidus). Below us in the scrub Angus, Phillip and I managed to see a male Dartford Warbler (Curruca Rabilarga / Sylvia undata) which played hard to see in the low herbage, from here we could also hear a singing Subalpine Warbler (Curruca Carrasquena / Sylvia cantillans) and the first of the days very elusive Thekla Larks (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae) which are normally seen easily along side the main track but proved difficult today. Once we had climbed up passed the crags and out on to the tops we saw the first Black Wheatear (Collalba Negra / Oenanthe leucura) of the day which promptly flew all the way down the near slope and perched miles away on the end of one of the quarry building where it was joined briefly by the female bird, we also saw the first of many Black-eared Wheatears (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica) a male with just the bandit mask not the full throated version. Several Red-legged Partridges (Perdiz Roja / Alectoris rufa) were seen along with a sizable flock of Red-billed Choughs and Jackdaws. We then called at Charca del Negra where we had our lunch and had a look for the elusive Sharp-ribbed Salamander’s which remained hidden yet again. Whilst we were eating we picked up Rock Sparrow (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia) several of which came down to the pool to drink along with Linnets (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina) and Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor). A male Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros) was seen and heard singing from the top of a nearby crag where we went to have a look at the plants, we saw Saxifraga camposii which had buds but no flowers yet, Yellow Stonecrop (Sedum tenuifolium) and Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) which were growing between the rocks. At some point during lunch Phillip had a fall and had bumped his head, slit his lip and grazed his leg but even though we all though he need to get the lip seen to he insisted that we carried on so we went further on passed the goat cave and around to the crags where a week or so earlier I had seen the secretive Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Roquero Rojo / Monticola saxatilis). The male was at first only seen display flying then dropping back behind rocks out of view, so we relocated and had nice views from around the next corned. In the same area we had more Rock Sparrows, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush and a second male Black Wheatear at a higher point up the Sierra than I usually see them. We then started to drop back down calling in just passed the Charca to see the rare Narcissus Bugei which was going over but there were still a couple of nice blooms, here we also got the first decent views of a Thekla Lark of the day. Also on the way down we found a few plants of Paeonia coriacea in flower, along with White Mignonette (Reseda Alba), Sticky Catchfly (Silene nicaeensis), Thapsia (Hapsia villosa) and Buckler Mustard (Biscutella frutescens). We then decided that Phillip needed to get seen to so we headed down a little earlier than planned but after a cracking day.
Photographs from the top: Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea), Eagle Owl (Buho Real / Bubo bubo), Red Squirrel (Sclurus vulgaris), Viola dementria, Torcal Toadflax (Linaria anticaria), The group looking at the Peony's and a male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Roquero Rojo / Monticola saxatilis).