A photography day with Dutch birders Gilbert and Elly.
I met Gilbert and Elly at the motorway services just above Loja on the A92 from there we headed off up Sierra de Loja and quickly saw a nice spike of Giant Orchid (Himantoglossum robertiana), on the drive up to the small quarry we started the list off with a small flock of Azure-winged Magpie (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Blackbird (Mirlo Común / Turdus merula), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Greenfinch (Verderón Común / Carduelis chloris), House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer domesticus), Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus), Mistle Thrush (Zorzal Charlo / Turdus viscivorus) and Great Tit (Carbonera Común / Parus major). We parked by the quarry and walked in and soon located a pair of calling Rock Buntings (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica) and Jackdaw (Grajilla / Corvus monedula). It was early and the sun had not got up over the crags but hell it was cold so we decided to head up higher and get our selves in to some sun, once we were on the flatter higher ground and in the sun we started to see some more species including Thekla Lark (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae), Black-eared Wheatear (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica), Meadow Pipit (Bisbita Pratense / Anthus pratensis), Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata), Linnet (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina), Red-legged Partridge (Perdiz Roja / Alectoris rufa) and Spectacled Warbler (Curruca Tomillera / Sylvia conspicillata). We made it to Charca Negra in quick time as we were only looking for a few target species, here we had a walk up on to the crag to look at the beautiful and rare Narcissus Bugei which were in full flower. We also saw a couple of Rock Sparrows (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia) in flight but we did not get good views as they did not land, in the same area we had a nice male Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros) singing from a nearby rock and a flash by view of a male Blue-rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius). It was still cold so we started to drive back down the hill, on the way we added a male Northern Wheatear (Collalba Gris / Oenanthe oenanthe) to the list along with a good number of Red-billed Choughs (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) down on the crags.
Once we were down at the bottom again we headed along the A92 to Moraleda area where went out on to the fields, on the way we had good views of a Little Owl (Mochuelo Europeo / Athene noctua) at the entrance to it nest hole, Corn Bunting (Triguero / Emberiza calandra) and Common Magpie (Urraca / Pica pica). Once out on the fields we very quickly picked up a couple of singing but distant Calandra Larks (Calandria / Melanocorypha calandra) and the first two Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga Ortega / Pterocles orientalis) of the day, a little later Gilbert managed some very nice photo's of a flock of six birds that passed by silently. A very high Short-toed Eagle (Culebrera Europeo / Circaetus gallicus) passed over the site just as we moved on towards the far fields where we had good views of a flock of Lesser Kestrels (Cernicola Primilla / Falco naumanni). We retraced out way back to the area around the Solar panels where we had a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes (Alcaudón Real Meridional / Lanius meridionalis) on the security fences, Crested Lark (Cogujada / Galerida cristata), Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), Common Kestrel (Cernicalo Vulgar / Falco tinnunculus) and a male Blackcap (Curruca Capirotada / Sylvia atricailla) in the Almond trees.
We went back to the point where we had entred the site where we heard a male Little Bustard (Sisón Común / Tetrax tetrax) rhaspberry calling at us, we scanned the field and located a female and then from on top of the ridge some way off two males flew up and passed Gilbert and Elly as they walked back to the car.
We then headed off the site and through Castillo de Tajarja and headed for Ventas de Huelma, on the way we had views of more Lesser Kestrels. Just out side Ventas we picked up a dark phase Booted Eagle (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus) and a little further on a Common Buzzard (Busardo Ratonero / Buteo buteo). We did not see much else on the drive down into the Cacín Valley, once down by the river we headed south and were soon having stunning views of a pair of Bonelli's Eagles (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus) and in the fields behind us I could hear a Zitting Cisticola (Buitrón / Cisticola juncidis) calling. We moved back up the valley slightly to the bridge where we heard a singing Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes) and saw a male Moroccan Orange-tip (Anthocharis belia) butterfly but nothing else so we again headed further north to the Embalse. We parked on the side of the road and walked down the bank and scanned the water where we found several Northern Shovelers (Pato Cuchara / Anas clypeata), a single male Red-crested Pochard (Pato Colorado / Netta rufina), Common Pochard (Porrón Común / Aythya ferina), Mallard (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos), Eurasian Teal (Cerceta Común / Anas crecca), Little Grebe (Zampullín Común / Tachybaptus ruficollis), Eurasian Coot (Focha Común / Fulica atra) and Common Moorhen (Gallineta Común / Gallinulas chloropus). The water level was quite low and on the muddy spit there were 20 odd Green Sandpipers (Andarrios Grande / Tringa ochropus), 15 Black-winged Stilts (Ciguenela Común / Himantopus himantopus) and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers (Chorlitejo Chico / Charadrius dubius). Gilbert and Elly stayed by the waters edge trying to get some shots of the Sandpipers whilst I had a short walk back along the bank where I was pleased to find at least three Water Rail (Rascón Europeo / Rallus aquaticus) feeding on the mud, one of which showed well and continued to do so when Gilbert and Elly got to me. In the same area we saw or heard Green Woodpecker (Pito Real / Picus viridis), White Wagtail (Lavandera Blanca / Montacilla alba), Cetti's Warbler (Ruisenor Bastardo / Cettia cetti), 3x Common Buzzards, a single Whiskered Tern (Fumarel Cariblanca / Chilidonias hybridus) which had been at the site for a few days and House Martin (Avión Común / Delichon urbica). The bridge site was our next stop but it was very quiet and the only bird species added was a calling but unseen Coal Tit (Carbonero Garrapinos / Parus ater), we did however also see Large (Pieris brassicae), Small (Artogeia rapae) and Bath Whites (Blanqiverdosa / Pontia daplidice), Cleopatra (Cleopatra / Gonepteryx cleopatra) and Clouded Yellow (Colias Común / Colias corcea). We headed back towards the Sierra where we had started just to see if the Eagle Owl (Buho Real / Bubo bubo) was going to show but we did not see it. We then dropped back down to the service area, Gilbert and Ellie then made there way back down to there accommodation and I went home.
A very good days birding which I was pleased to share with Gilbert and Elly, thanks for your company.
Photographs from the top: Thekla Lark (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae), Black-eared Wheatear (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica), Red-billed Chough (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga Ortega / Pterocles orientalis), Little Bustard (Sisón Común / Tetrax tetrax), Bonelli's Eagles (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus) and Short-toed Eagle (Culebrera Europeo / Circaetus gallicus) with a mostly eaten snake.