A day in the hills and along the valleys nearby.
I met John and the others at the Cortijo de Tajar up near the motorway and we headed out to the Sierra de Loja entering the site via the town track. Our first stop was just below the building site which I am informed is going to be a new visitors centre for the Sierrs, if it ever actually opens. At this point we found lots of spikes of the beautiful Yellow Bee Orchids (Orquídea Abejera / Ophrys lutea), a few Mirror (Ophrys speculum subsp speculum), Fan-lipped (Anacamptis collina) as well as Andalusian Storksbill (Erodium recorderi), Cliffhanger (Chaenorhinum villosum), Dove's Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle), Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis), Field marigold (Calendula arvensis), Fleshy-leaved Thymelaea (Thymelaea hirsuta), Mediterranean Catchfly (Silene colorata), Rusty-back Fern (Ceterach officinarum), Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), Star Clover (Trifolium stellatum) and Common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum). We also started to pick up a few bird species including Bonelli's Warbler (Mosquitero Papialbo / Phylloscopus bonelli), Blackbird (Mirlo Común / Turdus merula), Blue Tit (Herrerillo Común / Parus caeruleus), Collared Dove (Tórtola Turca / Streptopelia decaocto), Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer domesticus), House Martin (Avión Común / Delichon urbica), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica), Mistle Thrush (Zorzal Charlo / Turdus viscivorus), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor), Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus) and Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes). We move further up seeing several spikes of Giant Orchid (Himantoglossum robertiana) but they were just going passed their best. Again we moved on and parked on the roadside before walking up to the small disused quarry above the motorway, on the way the plant list grew as we added Viola dementria, White Mignonette (Reseda Alba), Wild Clary (Salvia verbenaca), Tassel Hyacinth (Muscari comosum), Spring Rockcress (Arabis verna), Southern Wild Tulip (Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis), Southern Red Bartsia (Parentucellia latifolia), Shepherds Needles (Scandix pecten-veneris), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Purple Bugloss (Echium plantagineum), Mediterranean Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Torcal Toadflax (Linaria anticaria), Grey-leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus), Common Snapdragon (Antirrhinum major), Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis), Common Asphodel (Asphodelus albus) and Man (Orchis anthropophora) and Sawfly Orchids (Flor de avispa / Ophrys tenthredinifera subsp tenthredinifera).
Birds were more difficult but we did see or hear Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata), Black Wheatear (Collalba Negra / Oenanthe leucura), Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros), Common Kestrel (Cernicalo Vulgar / Falco tinnunculus), Great Tit (Carbonera Común / Parus major), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Greenfinch (Verderón Común / Carduelis chloris), Jackdaw (Grajilla / Corvus monedula), Red-legged Partridge (Perdiz Roja / Alectoris rufa) and Sardinian (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala) and Spectacled Warblers (Curruca Tomillera / Sylvia conspicillata). We also started the butterfly list with Clouded Yellow (Colias Común / Colias corcea), Large (Pieris brassicae), Small (Artogeia rapae) and Bath Whites (Blanqiverdosa / Pontia daplidice), Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Moroccan Orange-tip (Anthocharis belia) and Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus F lyllus). Up on top of the highest crags we had a couple of Spanish Ibex (Cabra pyreaica hispanica) right on the skyline.
We moved on up the track along the crags but made a quick stop to have a look at a new orchid for my site list in the shape of a single Naked / Italian Man Orchid (Orquídea italiana / Orchis italica) and whilst we were stopped we had Iberian / Azure-winged Magpie (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus), Common Swift (Vencejo Común / Apus apus) and a very distant calling Common Cuckoo (Cuco Común / Cuculus canorus).
We again continued on heading for Charca del Negro, on the way we had good views of a soaring Bonelli's Eagle (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus), Linnet (Pardillo Común / Carduelis cannabina), Thekla Lark (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae), Black-eared Wheatear (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica), Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Iberian / Southern Grey Shrike (Alcaudón Real Meridional / Lanius meridionalis), Little Owl (Mochuelo Europeo / Athene noctua) and Pallid Swift (Vencejo Pálido /Apus pallidus).
Once we were at Charca we picked up the Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Roquero Roja / Monticola saxatilis) and had good views of it several times along with the commoner Blue-rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius) and Rock Sparrow (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia) and on the rocks there were the remains of Narcissus bugei and in the pool we saw several Sharp-ribbed Salamander (Pleurodeles waltl) as they came up for breath.
We continued on to the furthest crags and picked up Woodchat Shrike (Alcaudón Común / Lanius senator), Orphean Warbler (Curruca Mirlano / Sylvia hortensis), Robin (Petirrojo Europeo / Erithacus rubecula), Red-billed Chough (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and just as we started to drive back down the hill we picked up two very nice Griffon Vultures (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus) which past right over head.
We dropped down the hill and then went for something to eat in Venta del Raya and the moved down the road to see the Montagu's Harrier (Aguilucho Cenizo / Circus pygargus) but they were inactive so we moved on down the road to a spot in the Oak woods where we again looked for plants and notched up a nice list again including Conical (Neotinea conica) and Southern Early Purple Orchids (Chupaeros / Androrchis Olbiensis), Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanatera longifolia), Blue Hounds-tongue (Cynoglossum creticum), Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris), Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Eruca (Eruca sativa), Yellow Gromwell (Neatostema apulum), Southern Daisy (Bellis cordifolia), White Rockrose (Helianthemum apenninum) and the only new bird species was Firecrest (Reyezuelo Listado / Regulus ignicapillus).
Our last stop of the day was just down the road and we only added a single butterfly, Southern Blue (Polyommatus celina) and a couple of Orchids to the list but the show of Pink Butterfly Orchids (Anacamptis papilionacea) was a really nice way to end this first day along with a single spike of Small Woodcock Orchid (Orquídea abejera becada / Ophrys picta).
Photographs from the top: Griffon Vulture (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus), Yellow Bee Orchids (Orquídea Abejera / Ophrys lutea), Cliffhanger (Chaenorhinum villosum), Bonelli's Eagle (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus), Looking for a flowering Tulip, Naked / Italian Man Orchid (Orquídea italiana / Orchis italica), Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Black-eared Wheatear (Collalba Rubia / Oenanthe hispanica), a distant Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Roquero Roja / Monticola saxatilis), a Storksbill meadow, Conical Orchid (Neotinea conica), Pink Butterfly Orchids (Anacamptis papilionacea), Common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum), Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanatera longifolia) and Southern Blue (Polyommatus celina).