Thursday, 20 November 2014

Axarquia Bird Group visit to Ventas de Zafarraya

Thursday 20 November

A magnificent male Ibex  Capra pyrenaica
Normally at this time in November you would need to put many layers on to keep out the cold (well, certain lady member did!) but today it was calm and mainly clear with the sun shining brightly over the cliffs up at Ventas de Zafarraya.  Thirteen members of the Axarquia Bird Group present and, just to show confidence in the weather, one member found that shorts and T-shirt were ample coverage.  What was it they said about "mad dogs and Englishmen?"  Lovely to see Christine and Paul Stockton with us as part of their holiday and also  a long-awaited participation from my special friend Andy Paterson from Torremolinos.  David and Ann Jefferson along with Liz and Marcus Routes had driven over from Competa whilst Gerry Collins had made the long trip from Salobrena. Not to be missed after our recent exploits up in Aragaon, Steve and Elena Powell joined in the fun and then we had our local residents from Triana, discounting myself from Lake Vinuela, Jim Moore and Dan Wilkinson.  Very good birding company for the morning.

A little chilly as we gathered at the mirador near the old railway bridge and much of the early time was taken up watching the large family of Ibex including a magnificent male.  Elena finally counted a minimum of seventeen individuals as they scramble ever nearer down the cliff face to take up a close rest on the nearby rocks.  Then the first bird seen was a Song Thrush so, all being well, a good morning's birding would seem to be at hand.  This was backed up when we had continuous sighting of a rather handsome male Peregrine Falcon plus the first Black Redstarts and Rock Buntings.

Distant Peregrine Falcon Halcon Peregrino Falco perigrinus (What is he carrying?)
There followed a couple of Rock Sparrows on the wires and the first of ant Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Wheatears.  It would appear that many of the local Crag Martins had yet to descend to lower heights as they flew all around us whilst, more sensibly, a rather lovely male Stonechat simply perched on a stick and watched over all the excitement.  But the real reward came when Andy Spotted a Citril Finch was later watched at great length by Elena as the rest of the party walked the track via the old tunnel for a kilometre or more.

One of a few Rock Buntings Escribano Montesino Emberiza cia seen along the track
Thekla Larks and Rock Buntings on the track in front and then both a Greenfinch and Blackcap just below us on the left.  First the call and then we all looked up as the resident Chough flock, probably about an hundred on this occasion, rose from behind the cliff to our right before momentarily disappearing.  A couple of Serins flew back behind us whilst the small charm of Goldfinches flew ahead and who would not want to miss the occasional Rock Sparrow that put in n appearance.  Before starting our return walk tot he cars we had a single Kestrel on the wires and a very obliging Southern Grey Shrike that remained long enough for everybody to get a good sighting.

Here come the hundred Choughs Chova Piquirroja Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Then the piece de resistance as an immature Golden Eagle drifted over through the clouds above the cliff face.  It may appear on the Facebook page but certainly David managed to get a cracking photo of the raptor.

More of the same as we made our way back with many Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes and Crag Martins - but the Ibex herd had moved on save for the odd individual.  On the other hand, a male Great Tit was a welcome addition.

The well-concealed male Blackcap Curruca Capirotada Sylvia atricapilla

At this point eight of us drove through the village to the hinterland and the recently ploughed and harrowed fields in search of the local lark population.  A first stop just inside the "Magpie Woods" produced both Blackbird and Mistle Thrush along with a small flock of Meadow Pipits, Chaffinch and a Robin.  A few Azure-winged Magpies were noted as we drove on having spent more time at the stop looking for the magic "monkey toy" than the corvids themselves!

Once near the arable fields both Crested Larks and Corn Buntings were seen followed by a good-sized flock of Calandra Larks.  Indeed, as we pulled up a single Sky Lark took to the skies and away from us whilst, apart from both House Sparrows and Spotless Starlings, a small number of Lesser Short-toed Larks were identified along with their larger cousins, the Calandar Lark.

Record shot of the distant Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua

Another Kestrel and more White Wagtails seemed to sum up the morning until Steve spotted the lone Little Owl on small rocks near the road.  Whilst the owl flew off before we could all get our cameras and bins out, it did return and we all managed to see this small chap.  So ended a rather pleasant morning just as the cloud arrived but not before we had managed to record 35 species if you include the numerous Collared Doves seen both at the bottom and lower slopes of the climb up to the pass.

Birds seen:
Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sky Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Great Tit, Southern Grey Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Chough, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Citril Finch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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