A day of two halves with the Leslie family from the UK.
The seven of us set out at 08:30 heading for Sierra de Loja where we were all going to spend the morning birding and looking for Amphibians for the lads. We started on the grassy slopes near the A92 where we checked out the roadside rocks and found our first Orchids of the morning which included lots of Yellow Bee (Orquídea Abejera / Ophrys lutea), several Mirror (Ophrys speculum subsp speculum), a single just going over Sawfly (Flor de avispa / Ophrys tenthredinifera) and several well over with Fan-lipped Orchid (Orchis conica). Wild flowers included Blue Hounds-tongue (Cynoglossum creticum), Common Stork's-bill (Erodium cicutarium), Dove's Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle), Common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum), Field marigold (Calendula arvensis), Rusty-back Fern (Ceterach officinarum), Southern Daisy (Bellis cordifolia) and Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis). We also started the bird list off with Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Collared Dove (Tórtola Turca / Streptopelia decaocto), House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer domesticus), Great Tit (Carbonera Común / Parus major), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), Blackbird (Mirlo Común / Turdus merula) and Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica).
We continued up towards the first quarry just stopping briefly on the way to have a look at a Red Squirrel (Sclurus vulgaris) which was running around on the ground amongst the pine trees. Just before we arrived at the quarry we watched a pair of Rock Buntings (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia) which were feeding on the track ahead of us. At the same spot we saw our first Sardinian Warblers (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala) of the day which were quickly followed by both Spectacled (Curruca Tomillera / Sylvia conspicillata) and Dartford (Curruca Rabilarga / Sylvia undata), as well as Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata), Red-legged Partridge (Perdiz Roja / Alectoris rufa), Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Common Crossbill (Piquituerto Común / Loxia curvirostra) but they were only heard and Coal Tit (Carbonero Garrapinos / Parus ater). We continued on to the quarry and parked before walking in amongst the rocks, it was fairly quiet and in the shade we only added Jackdaw (Grajilla / Corvus monedula), Linnet (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina), Common Kestrel (Cernicalo Vulgar / Falco tinnunculus) and two female type Spanish Ibex (Cabra pyreaica hispanica). As we left the quarry a nice male Black Wheatear (Collalba Negra / Oenanthe leucura) sat out on a small bush which gave Richard his first lifer of the day, we had nice views of this bird and then caught up with a fine male Blue-rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius) on the old quarry buildling below us. I the area we also recorded Red-rumped Swallow (Golondrina Dáurica / Hirudo daurica), Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes), Bath White (Blanqiverdosa / Pontia daplidice), Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), Torcal Toadflax (Linaria anticaria), Mediterranean Catchfly (Silene colorata), Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), Shepherds Needles (Scandix pecten-veneris), Rusty-back Fern (Ceterach officinarum) and Western ramping-fumitory (Fumaria occidentalis). We got back into the cars and started to make our way back down the narrow track but we were soon out again and watching two female Subalpine Warblers (Curruca Carrasquena / Sylvia cantillans) and a very nice Woodchat Shrike (Alcaudón Común / Lanius senator).
We continued on stopping briefly on the crags where we saw several Jackdaws (Grajilla / Corvus monedula) and a male Black-eared Wheatear (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica) before going out on to the flatter upland areas. Here we were soon watching Southern Grey Shrike (Alcaudón Real Meridional / Lanius meridionalis), Thekla Lark (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae) and the first of a few Little Owls (Mochuelo Europeo / Athene noctua). We stopped by the marble quarry to photograph some flowering spikes of the uncommon Iris Subbiflora, whilst here we also recorded a few more butterflies including Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera), Small White (Artogeia rapae), Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and Panoptes (Pseudophilotes panoptes) and Common Blues (Icaro (Dos Puntos) / Polyommatus icarus). On again and this time we pushed on to Charca de Negra with only brief pauses for another fine male Black-eared Wheatear, Northern Wheatear (Collalba Gris / Oenanthe oenanthe) and a couple of Red-billed Chough (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Once at the pools we checked them for Amphibians but to start with we could only see several strings of Natterjack Toad (Sapo Corredor / Bufo calamita) spawn so Richard and myself wandered off and checked the crags as the second species were where here to find was Rock Sparrow (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia). After a short walk we had several birds fly in and a nice confiding bird which gave us good views, we continued on infront of the rocks seeing Narcissus bugei on our way to the top pool where we soon started to see some Sharp-ribbed Salamanders (Pleurodeles waltl) coming up for air. When the rest of the group joined us they said that they had been seeing lots of Natterjacks doing the same thing down in the lower pool so we went and had a look. As we walked down we saw a male and several female Black Redstarts (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros), 2 Short-toed Eagles (Culebrera Europeo / Circaetus gallicus) and a Griffon Vulture (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus) which popped up above the ridge for just a second. We continued on around towards the goat cave where we had better views of the Griffon plus another pair of Black Wheatears and a Blue-rock Thrush.
We later dropped back down the mountain to just below the old quarry building picking up a large flock of Pallid Swifts (Vencejo Pálido /Apus pallidus) on the way, when we reached this point Fiona, Judith and the boys headed off for some lunch leaving Richard, Jim amd myself to an afternoons birding in the Cacín Valley. Before that we checked the woods out and found another Blue-rock Thrush, heard several Wrens and added Clouded Yellow (Colias Común / Colias corcea), Large White (Pieris brassicae), Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) and Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) to the butterfly list.
After grabbing some food we headed out on to the agricultural areas near to Moraleda and quickly found a nice male Little Bustard (Sisón Común / Tetrax tetrax) whilst we ate our rolls, also seen this side of the almonds were Short-toed (Terrera Común / Calandrella brachydactyla), Crested (Cogujada / Galerida cristata) and Calandra Larks (Calandria / Melanocorypha calandra) and Corn Bunting (Triguero / Emberiza calandra). On the far side of the almonds we quickly located two groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga Ortega / Pterocles orientalis), the nearest contained just 2 birds but the second held 11 birds and gave us cracking flight views as they dropped down on a nearby field. We drove out onto the field and had some decent on the ground views before heading down to look for the Great Spotted Cuckoo (Crialo Europeo / Clamator gladarius) around the solar panels but this was to be our only dip of the day. We did however see Common Magpie (Urraca / Pica pica) and Hoopoe (Abubilla / Upupa epops) which were new for the day list. In this area we also had Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) and Scarce Swallowtail (Chupaleches / Iphiclides podalirius feisthameli).
We dropped down into the valley and headed straight to the Embalse and boosted the day list with a couple of waders and a few water species, these included Little Ringed Plover (Chorlitejo Chico / Charadrius dubius), Green Sandpiper (Andarrios Grande / Tringa ochropus), Grey Heron (Garza Real / Ardea cinerea), Mallard (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos), Northern Shoveler (Pato Cuchara / Anas clypeata), Common Pochard (Porrón Común / Aythya ferina), Little Grebe (Zampullín Común / Tachybaptus ruficollis), Common Moorhen (Gallineta Común / Gallinulas chloropus), Eurasian Coot (Focha Común / Fulica atra) and a very obliging Water Rail (Rascón Europeo / Rallus aquaticus). Other species seen and heard in the area included White (Lavandera Blanca / Montacilla alba) and Yellow Wagtails (Lavandera Boyera / Motacilla flava flava), Cetti's Warbler (Ruisenor Bastardo / Cettia cetti), Reed Warbler (Carricero Común / Acrocephalus scrpaceus), Green Woodpecker (Pito Real / Picus viridis), Common Cuckoo (Cuco Común / Cuculus canorus) and Nightingale (Ruisenor Común / Luscinia megarhynchos). There were also several Stripe-necked Terrapins (Mauremys leprosa) grovelling around in the mud along the margins and amongst the dead trees in the water.
We continued on down the valley, on the way we stopped a couple of times and added Blackcap (Curruca Capirotada / Sylvia atricailla), European Bee-eater (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster) and several Moroccan Orange-tips (Anthocharis belia). In the gorge we had distant views of a female Bonelli's Eagle (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus) which was being mobbed by a couple of Jackdaws and a single Alpine Swift (Vencejo Real / Apus melba).
We headed back up the valley and stopped at the bridge over the Cacín and had a walk along the river, here we had a pair of Common Crossbills on the wires, heard Bonelli's Warbler (Mosquitero Papialbo / Phylloscopus bonelli) and watched a pair of Long-tailed Tit (Mito / Aegithalos caudatus) which were the 70th species seen by Richard during the day, by now it was 17:30 so we headed back towards Realenga and home on the way we picked up Cattle Egret (Garcilla Bueyera / Bubulcus ibis) and Common Buzzard (Busardo Ratonero / Buteo buteo).
Thanks to the Leslie family for their booking and for an interesting days birding and botanising.
Photographs from the top: The Leslie family on Sierra de Loja, Northern Wheatear (Collalba Gris / Oenanthe oenanthe), Rock Sparrow (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia), Iris Subbiflora, Jim watching the Little Bustard, Calandra Lark (Calandria / Melanocorypha calandra), female Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga Ortega / Pterocles orientalis), male Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Water Rail (Rascón Europeo / Rallus aquaticus).