Saturday, 13 December 2014

Ring Ouzels, Alpine Acentors and Redwings!

Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua
Friday 12 December

Jenny off early for a day trip to Gibraltar with her friend plenty of time to get ready (comes as a result of having to set the alarm for 5.45) for an early start for a trip over to the Sierra Loja, meet up with Steve and Elena Powell, and set off up the mountain to find some photographable Ring Ouzels and, with luck, a flock or more of Alpine Accentors.  Leaving my mountain top in the early light with the sun already out in a clear sky and a temperature of 9C, I was soon passing through the pass at Venta de Zafarraya where the thermometer had fallen to zero.  Round the corner to Zafarraya itself and it was now -4 and then down to -5C as I crossed over to the Loja side of the mountains.  Good to realise that when I finally arrived at the service station meeting point the temperature had risen to all of -2C!  Meanwhile, Steve and Elena were running a little late having taken the more direct route on the motorway via Granada but got caught u in the early morning traffic.  Reminds me of the story about a certain hare and a tortoise!

All safely gathered in, equipment transferred to Steve's 4 x 4 and off we went up to the top, missing out quarry stops so that we could concentrate on the Ring Ouzels.  Local House Sparrows saw us of from the service station and we soon had a Robin, Chaffinches and our first of very many Black Redstarts during the morning.  A large flock of Wood Pigeons moved over as we travelled beyond the bottom farm and then a stop to take a long look at a resting Little Owl that just refused to fly away, very un-owl like.  Having already recorded Sardinian Warbler and seen a small flock of Azure-winged Magpies as I approached Loja they were not missed as we passed through the trees but soon we above the tree-line and noticing both Crested Larks and Rock Buntings.  A couple of very fat male Blackbirds put in an appearance and then we were passing the power station where we found in excess of 150 Choughs and a few Jackdaws, the later apparently feeding on ticks as they sat on the backs of the wandering sheep.
Southern Grey Shrike Alcaudon Real Lanius meridionalis
The amazing thing was that as went higher the temperature rose rather than dipped.  From -2 we had reached 12C and, once at the top, even allowing for the sun rising higher into the clear blue sky, we were actually basking in at least 15C!  So much for putting on all the extra layers.

First the track up and past the Charca del Negra where we found plenty of water in both pools and Rock Sparrows on the fence.  A couple of Goldfinches flew over and we were to see more but always in very small groups rather than the usual large charms.  Below , on the right, a small number of Corn Buntings rested in a small bush until most were moved on by the arrival of a Southern Grey Shrike seeking out the highest point to observe the local vegetation in search of a bite or two.

Approaching the first outcrop of Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna trees we saw our first Ring Ouzels of the morning. Unlike my previous visit they seemed to me more dispersed and feeding in very small groups, usually less than a handful of birds, and taking berries from the smaller, more isolated bushes.  Then a huge flurry as a large number of Alpine Accentors were disturbed and moved around looking for better shelter.  Thank goodness they uttered there mixture of lark-like and Crested-Tit-like calls to help conform their identification.  Much time was spent in this area, especially at the two main Hawthorn areas and, whilst we did see many Ring Ouzels, they never seemed to either stay still long enough, let alone in an exposed position, to enable us to get any good photographs.  However, closer inspection revealed that we also a few Redwings present.

Distant record shot of Ring Ouzel Mirlo Capiblanco Turdus torquatus
Time to move on, passing a male Black Wheatear below us, and check out the, usually, favoured area by returning to the main track and up and over the top and down into the valley of the upturned bath tubs.  Before reaching the site, again, it was apparent that the birds were not in large flocks and also seemed to be concentrating on the smaller, isolated bushes.  Imagine our surprise when wondering why the female Ring Ouzel looked so pale and using our bins discovered that we also had Fieldfares resent as well as Redwings!  Too excited for my own good, as on enlarging the photograph back home it proved to be a Mistle Thrush.  No sooner had we seen one than we were seeing more.  Still plenty of Stonechats, Black Redstarts, Rock Buntings and Crested Larks but, on closer inspection, we found that we actually also had a very small number of Skylarks feeding in the area.  Both Greenfinch and a rather lovely male Blue Rock Thrush were added to the list whilst near the summit of our drive but, even tough we saw the Ring Ouzels, it was disappointing not to get get better, clear views from a photography point of view.

Mistle Thrush Zorzal Charlo Turdus viscivorus and size comparison with Ring Ouzel below
Back down the mountain and just like the Little Owl on the way up we now found a very obliging Rock Bunting that nicely posed on the adjacent fence wire whilst we snapped away.  Even the feeding Jackdaws on the slope below were in no hurry to move on.  Strange to say, I think we only saw three Red-legged Partridges all morning.

Rock Bunting Escribano Montesino Emberiza cia
Following a quick menu del dia at the service station we went our separate ways with me driving on to Huetor Tajar in the hope of catching up with the wintering Jack Snipe.  Approaching the Rio Cacin from the small lane frequently used by the local residents when taking their constitution, I stopped at the end of the trees just as the track commenced and, looking into the river, had soon found both White and Grey Wagtail along with a single Water Pipit.  No shortage of Chiffchaffs to add to the couple seen on the lower slopes of the Sierra Loja and then a large flock of Collared Doves plus hundreds of Jackdaws, some Rock Doves and even a few Cattle Egrets.  The occasional lapwing took to the sky and, as might be expected, no shortage of Spotless Starlings.

Distant Grey Wagtail Lavandera Cascadena Motacilla cinerea

A drive alongside the river before returning to cross by the ford enable ed me to find both Great Tit and Blackcap to add to the Serins at the start.  The local farmers were busy raking in the old asparagus growth for burning and this seemed to be the main occupation. the result was that there were neither Little Bustards nor Stone Curlews to be found, just more Lapwings and Cattle Egrets taking advantage of the tractors working the fields.  No doubt the birds would be somewhere local and well-known to Mick.

What to do next?  Fill up with diesel at just over 1.10 a litre and then head back to Lake Vinuela with a very strong sun in my eyes but only just make it before dark seventy-five minutes later.  It just shows how little dusk we have out here in the far south of Spain.

Birds seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Cattle Egret, Lapwing, Snipe, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Crested Lark, Sky Lark, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Alpine Accentor, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Balckcap, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Southern Grey Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Rock Bunting, Corm Bunting.

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

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