A day with a good birding friend from the UK.
Angus Dickie and I have been birding together off and on for many more years than I can now remember, so it was good to meet up again down near the disused railway line at Ventas de Zafarraya. After the dismal day we had last August when he was again with the family down at Nejar on the coast I was pleased that to be able to give him a second and much more successful day around the southern end of my patch. On the way down I again dropped lucky with a Red-necked Nightjar (Chotacabras Cuellirrojo / Caprimulgus ruficollis) which was sitting on the same part of the road as one last week and picked up a couple of Little Owls (Mochuelo Europeo / Athene noctua), Mistle Thrush (Zorzal Charlo / Turdus viscivorus) and a Jay (Arrendajo / Garrulus glandarius) during the rest of the drive.
I arrived slightly earlier than arranged and picked up a small passing flock of five Red-billed Choughs (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) which disappeared over the far crags calling nosily as they went. We started of with a steady stroll along the railway line until we reached the tunnel, in between catching up and finding out about other birding friends back in the Midlands we saw some very nice birds including a family party of Black Wheatears (Collalba Negra / Oenanthe leucura) which number 5 in total, both adult and juvenile Blue Rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius), a flock of Rock Sparrows (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia) which were a new species for Angus perched on the overhead wires and a good number of Alpine Swifts (Vencejo Real / Apus melba) which were seen leaving the large cave in the main cliff. On the return walk a splendid Short-toed Eagle (Culebrera Europeo / Circaetus gallicus) put on a nice soaring display along with an adult Peregrine Falcon (Halcón Peregrino / Falco peregrinus) which flew around the top of the crag along with good numbers of Crag Martins (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris). Lower down a Bonelli’s Warbler (Mosquitero Papialbo / Phylloscopus bonelli) was fly-catching from one of the many small trees growing out of the rock face, a couple of Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes) were calling from amongst the boulders and at least three Spanish Ibex (Capra pyreaica hispanica) clambered around on what looked like almost vertical rock faces. We had almost got back to the car when a couple of Spectacled Warblers (Curruca Tomillera / Sylvia conspicillata) flew into a small nearly dead bush and sat there while Angus and I had some stunning views through the scope, after sitting nicely for some time they were joined by two juvenile birds which also showed well, which was nice as they were Angus’s second lifer of the morning. Other species seen whilst we were along the railway line included Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Linnet (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Blackbird (Mirlo Común / Turdus merula), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor) and Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala). We next headed off in Angus’s Mini Copper hire car (thanks for driving Angus but that has got to be the worst car I have ever been in) through Zafarraya and on the to Loja road where after a couple of KM we stopped and started to check the Oak woodlands out for Angus’s third lifer of the day. We checked the area and turned up Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), Turtle Dove (Tórtola Europea / Streptopelia turtur), at least three more Little Owls, Blue Tit (Herrerillo Común / Parus caeruleus) and just as we were getting clear of the woods a Black Kite (Milano Negro / Milvus migrans) which was pushing on rapidly West. We stood out in the open and started to scan the surrounding ridges for other raptors and very quickly added another couple of Short-toed Eagles to the list and then over the next hour or so at least 7 Booted (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus) and 3 Bonelli's Eagles (Aguila-azor Perdicera / Hieraaetus faciatus) were seen along with 5+ Griffon (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus) and a probable very very high flying adult Egyptian Vulture (Alimoche Común / Neophron percnopterus). While we were at this spot we heard a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers (Agateador Común / Certhia brachydactyla), more Bonelli’s Warblers and had nice views of a Spotted Flycatcher (Papamoscas Gris / Muscicapa striata). We walked back along the road towards the car and gave the sewage works a quick once over adding singles of both Common Sandpiper (Andarrios Chico / Actitis hypoleucos) and White Wagtail (Lavandera Blanca / Montacilla alba) before getting views of the bird we had originally stopped for a male Orphean Warbler (Curruca Mirlona / Sylvia hortensis). At this spot we also had Red-rumped Swallow (Golondrina Dáurica / Hirundo daurica), House Martin (Avión Común / Delichon urbica), House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer Domesticus), Hoopoe (Abubilla / Upupa epops), Greenfinch (Verderón Común / Carduelis chloris) and Common Swift (Vencejo Común / Apus apus). In the area we recorded a few butterflies as well including Bath White (Blanqiverdosa / Pontia daplidice), Brown Argus (Aricia agestis cramera), Common Blue (Icaro (Dos Puntos) / Polyommatus icarus), Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina ssp hispulla). We then set off across the fields making our way back to the road out to Alhama, on the drive we had a single Calandra Lark (Calandria / Melanocorypha calandra), several Thekla’s (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae) and on the shore of an irrigation deposito a rather scraggy looking Crested (Cogujada Común / Galerida cristata) which was in heavy moult. Also on the small pool we saw singles of Green Sandpiper (Andarrios Grande / Tringa ochropus) and Little Ringed Plover (Chorlitejo Chico / Charadrius dubius), a group of Mallards (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos) and quite a few wildfowl of dubious origins. Our next stop was amongst some very well chewed Oak trees in a goat enclosure where we were hoping to get some views of Azure-winged Magpies (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus) and as soon as we were out of the car and had managed to straighten our selves out we picked up a small flock of around a dozen birds moving low through the trees. We walked along the main track for a while but apart from a very nice Little Owl which showed very well in a small quarry we saw very little else bird wise. We did whoever added a few butterflies to the list with Clouded Yellow (Colias Común / Colias crocea), False Ilex Hairstreak (Querquera / Satyrium esculi), Sage Skipper (Muschampia proto), Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) and Southern Gatekeeper (Pyronia cecilia) all being seen. Again we continued on across another area of agricultural fields where we made a stop and had some nice views of several very obliging Lesser Kestrels (Cernicola Primilla / Falco naumanni), a few European Bee-eaters (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster) and then the bird of the day for me put in an appearance, a fine female Goshawk (Azor Común / Accipitor gentillis) came over the fields straight towards us, flew almost straight over our heads and spent the next few minutes circling the nearby piles of rocks before disappearing off to the south. We eventually reached the Salar road and headed North for a short drive but only picked up a single Southern Grey Shrike (Alcaudón Real Meridional / Lanius meridionalis) for the list before turning around and heading into Alhama for a baguette and a drink. After the stop we headed down to the small lake near by called the Pantaneta de Alhama where we hoped to add a few water birds to the list which we did including Little Grebe (Zampullín Común / Tachybaptus ruficollis), Eurasian Coot (Focha Común / Fulica atra) and Common Pochard (Porrón Europeo / Aythya ferina). We also saw a single Green Woodpecker (Pito Real / Picus viridis), Great Tit (Carbonero Común / Parus major), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica), Pallid Swift (Vencejo Pálido / Apus pallidus) and Collared Dove (Tórtola Turca / Streptopelia decaocto). Here we also saw the day’s first dragonflies, a Blue / Common Emperor (Anax imperator) was cruising over the reed beds and several Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii) flashed around amongst the brambles. We then walked a short way down the bank and into some pine trees which boarded the pool and along here we had several White Featherlegs (Platycnemis latipes) and a surprise new species for my Granada list with at least two Western Willow Spreadwings (Lestres viridis) having a territorial dispute over a patch of brambles. I managed to get some shots of the one male before we went back to the car and drove back to Zafarraya where we had another drink and made up the list before saying our goodbyes and heading home.
By the end of the day I had recorded 64 species of bird which for August I was very pleased with and I think that Angus left with 6 additions to his European list.
Photographs from the top: View over Zafarraya Plains, Southern Gatekeeper (Pyronia cecilia), Sage Skipper (Muschampia proto), Pantaneta de Alhama and 2x Western Willow Spreadwings (Lestres viridis) with the second shot showing the spear shaped make which is useful for identifying this species.