Another days birding in the heat.
I headed out to meet Sam Woods at a point between Loja and and on the way I saw Iberian Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus / capensis), Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and Crested Lark (Cogujada / Galerida cristata) in the dull first light of the morning. Once I had met Sam we made our way out to the fields near Moraleda de Zafayona, on the way we started the day list off with rapidly moving group of Iberian / Azure-winged Magpies (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus) as they flashed between the Olive trees and away and several House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer domesticus) as they flew up from the roadside.
We made a quick stop beside the large aviaries containing the 50 or so Gyr type falcons before going out on to the stubble fields where the dust cloud that followed in our wake showed how parched and baked this site was. Even so we soon started to find birds in better than expected numbers including flocks of Short-toed (Terrera Común / Calandrella brachydactyla) and Calandra Lark (Calandria / Melanocorypha calandra), as well as smaller numbers of Crested and Thekla (Cogujada Montesina / Galerida theklae). In amongst the taller weeds that had come through the stubble we found several Hoopoes (Abubilla / Upupa epops) one of which flashed it's crest long enough for Sam to crack off a few shots and in the same area we came across a few migrating Northern Wheatears (Collalba Gris / Oenanthe oenanthe) and a Whinchat (Tarabilla Nortena / Saxicola rubetra).
We crossed the felds to pay the rock pile Little Owls (Mochuelo Europeo / Athene noctua) a visit but only found the one well grown youngster in residence but he gave Sam the time to get a few photographs before diving in to cover. On the surrounding field we watched several Tawny Pipits (Bisbita campestre / Anthus campestris) picking their way through the dry vegetation trying to find some food to suport them during the next stage of the trip south and an adult Iberian / Southern Grey Shrike (Alcaudón Real Meridional / Lanius meridionalis) but this chap was rather more camera shy than most.
We moved on around the site looking for the elusive Sandgrouse but dipped during this visit, we did however see several immature Woodchat Shrikes (Alcaudón Común / Lanius senator), 3 Turtle Doves (Tórtola Europea / Streptopelia turtur), hear at least 2 Green Woodpeckers (Pito Real / Picus viridis), Greenfinch (Verderón Común / Carduelis chloris), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Common Magpie (Urraca / Pica pica), Willow Warbler (Mosquitero Musical / Phylloscopus trochillus), an immature male Common Redstart (Colirroja Real / Phoenicurus phoenicurus), Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus), Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) and lots of Crimson Speckled Moths (Utetheisa pulchella).
Cutting our looses we dropped down into the pine woodland along the Irrigation canal in the Cacín Valley where we parked and had a walk down to the Rio Cacín lookng for migrants but it was fairly quiet and we only found Pied (Papamoscas Cerrojillo / Ficedula hypoleuca) and Spotted Flycatchers (Papamoscas Gris / Muscicapa striata) in the way of migrants but we did also find Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), Short-toed Treecreeper (Agateador Común / Certhia brachydactyla), Great (Carbonera Común / Parus major), Coal (Carbonero Garrapinos / Parus ater) and Blue Tits (Herrerillo Común / Parus caeruleus), a very vocal male Common Crossbill (Piquituerto Común / Loxia curvirostra), a Hawfinch (Picogordo / Coccotraustes coccotrauetes) which stopped all to briefly in a nearby tree, Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala), Cetti's (Ruisenor Bastardo / Cettia cetti) and Reed Warbler (Carricero Común / Acrocephalus scrpaceus) both of which skulked out of sight low down in the reeds with the calling Water Rail (Rascón Europeo / Rallus aquaticus).
We missed the bridge site out and went straight to the Contra-embalse where we made a stop at the northern end after Sam picked out a few Pallid Swifts (Vencejo Pálido /Apus pallidus) x6 in amongst the good numbers of Barn (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica) and Red-rumped Swallows (Golondrina Dáurica / Hirudo daurica), House (Avión Común / Delichon urbica) and Sand Martins (Avión Zapador / Riparia riparia) and European Bee-eaters (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster).
We walked out on to the hill over looking the water, on the way seeing several Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii). As we scanned what was left of the lake we notice a large dark bird flying towards the far end reed beds and soon realised it was a Black Stork (Ciguena Negra / Ciconia nigra) which was probably feeding up before continuing on south. There were also at least 9 Grey Herons (Garza Real / Ardea cinerea), 60+ Common Pochard (Porrón Común / Aythya ferina), 10+ Northern Shoveler (Pato Cuchara / Anas clypeata), Mallard (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos), Eurasian Coot (Focha Común / Fulica atra) and Common Moorhen (Gallineta Común / Gallinulas chloropus).
Just down the road we stopped again and had another look at the Stork but on the sand bars that were exposed due to the low level of the water we also had a few more species including Common (Andarrios Chico / Actitis hypoleucos) and Green Sandpipers (Andarrios Grande / Tringa ochropus), White (Lavandera Blanca / Montacilla alba) and Yellow Wagtails (Lavandera Boyera / Motacilla flava iberiae) and up on the margins there was a male Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata) surveying its patch from a tall dead thistle spike.
We again continued south along the valley to the gorge area adding Lesser Kestrel (Cernicola Primilla / Falco naumanni), Mistle Thrush (Zorzal Charlo / Turdus viscivorus) and Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor) to the day list.
Once in the gorge Sam found a fine Bonelli's Eagle (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus) sat a little way further down on the cliffs, we set the scope up and had a better view before it took off and headed south along with a second bird which came up closer to us giving good views.
We also had a distant but nice male Blue-rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius), hundreds of House Martins on the far cliff along with a few Crag Martins (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris) and Rock Sparrows (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia).
We went back north and as we slowed down to avoid a couple of potholes I looked down at vegetation at the side of the car and was amazed to see a Desert Orange-tip (Colotis evagore), I stopped as quickly as I could but we could not find it again. After spending hours searching for this species down on the Granada Coast a week or so earlier I have been looking at every white butterfly that has crossed my path but did not expect to find one in the Cacín Valley, well pleased as I think Sam could tell !! We called at a bar in Cacín to have a drink and collect a sandwich which we ate whist checking the ridges above the village for Raptors but with out success. We moved on again and as I was determined to find Sam a Sandgrouse we went back to the fields where we had started the day but this time I was more confident we would see them as in the heat of the afternoon the regularly use a certain patch of Almond trees for shade and are reluctant to fly out into the sun. We arrived at the spot and right along side the track we quickly found a female Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga Ortega / Pterocles orientalis) sat in the shade and she was very unwilling to move. We rolled in close and she just appeared to totally ignore us and she was still sat in the same spot when we drove off ten minutes later. On our way off the site we finished the list off with a pale phase Booted Eagle (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus) which was soaring over the town of Moraleda. We headed back towards Sams mothers where he was staying having a look on a couple of the fields near Huétor but added nothing to the list.
Thanks to Sam for his company and a good days birding. I enjoyed reminiscing about some of the rarities we had seen back in the UK years ago.