Sunday, 24 May 2015

Four days in the Odiel & Donana with the ABS:3

Day 3:  Wednesday 20 May

A very different day with all morning spent in a small coach taking us well north of Huelva to the Sierra Pelada mountains through most beautiful scenery and extensive woodland.  Also a very hot day, and even hotter in the coach, as we made our way to Aroche to collect our bird guide and accompanying birders and Junta escort to venture into the home of the resident Black Vultures.  Not knowing what to expect, the day became what can only be described as a "magical mystery tour" made all the more different when we realised that even the driver knew not where he was intended to take us!  I very much suspect that we left the garage to collect us form the apartments at 9 o'clock he has no inclination whatever that he would on and off-road experience all afternoon - including wrecking his door on the return journey to the main road which resulted in us travelling back to Huelva with the door held shut by a length of string!  Hey, ho.
Whilst we had regular sightings of birds along the route, by midday it became very evident that this was not going to be a birding trip so we all sat back and accepted what was to be and a marvellous day it turned out in the end, even if was 11.15 and very dark when we finally returned home.
The first part of the journey - all four and a half hours of it - produced Corn Buntings, House Martin, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows and Common Swifts . On the power lines we saw Woodchat Shrike, Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and Collared Doves and in the air we noted Common Kestrels, White Storks, Black Kites, Azure-winged and Common Magpies plus acouple of Ravens. After the driver finding out whether we were to head for Portugal or Seville, we located a small number of Griffon Vultures and one Black Vulture. Next up what we suspect was a Booted Eagle sailing over us followed by a definite Short-toed Eagle and a Black Kite. We finally arrived at Aroche at 13.30, where we were met by our "birding guides" Antonio and Itor, plus the head of the Huelva Tourist Board ( I never got his name) and a couple of Park Rangers.
Black Kite Milano Negro Milvus migrans
Following a toilet stop here and a few dozen ice creams put away, we headed up a very dusty and not too well maintained track, to see the Black Vultures nesting site. I must admit that the trip up was uneventful, and very little was seen or even heard through the dust cloud that at times enveloped the mini-coach, especially when the log lorries passed up to collect the eucalyptus trees that had been felled. We stopped a kilometre away from the site, where we had a small breather, and here we saw a Sparrowhawk, Griffon and Black Vultures, Chaffinches, Short-toed Eagle, Blue Tit, Great Tit and heard Wood Lark
At the "vulture viewing site" area we were given a small packed snack - which most of us thought    was our total lunch for the day.  From here we were driven up to the viewing area in groups of four.  Personally, we were so disappointed see the "speck on a stone pine", at a distance of a kilometre or  maybe more and was told it was the Black Vulture shielding its 45-day old chicks - it could have been a cardboard cut-out for all we knew!While we were here John wandered around and located twoChaffinches and more Griffon Vultures - the location was sterile apart from that.
Black (or Monk) Vulture Buitre Negro Aegyplus monachus
We then headed across the mountains in the mini-bus - the driver being none too happy about this part (if not all) of the journey - it really was only fit for 4x4 vehicles or tractors.     At about 16.30 we arrived at the finca in a beautifully situated area of the dehesas. Here we had an amazingly sumptuousmixed lunch of cheese, biscuits, crisps, pork in various guises, jamon, spicy sausages, black sausage  and pastas - all local produce, also three different gespachos, interspersed with lots of wine and beer.  The pool was available to those whose wished to use it, or maybe just to paddle their feet in it and four of us, along with our apartment management team of Marta and Sanda, ventured forth into the "cool" water.   The few birds were noted through this period being House Sparrows, Serins, a Bonelli's Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Raven and a Jay.
After this very late lunch we took a walk down through the dehesas, led by the owner/farmer Pepe, locating Raven, Short-toed Eagle, Red-rumped Swallow, Nuthatch, Chaffinches, Barn Swallows, House Martins, Bee-eaters and Hoopoe, whilst along by the river, were Nightingales, Blackcaps, another Raven, more Chaffinches, a White Wagtail, Serins, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, two Crested Larks, a dashing Kingfisher and a Cetti's Warbler.
Walking back up through the dehesas to the finca, Pepe showed us his tomorrow's lunch in the shape of his Iberico pigs.  Here he called them and they came running to him like puppies, even some of thegirls managed to touch them. Common and a Pallid Swift were seen along another Short-toed Tree-creeper, Great and Blue Tits and a Wood Lark.  We then headed for Pepe's farmhouse where he    gave us coffee.
After leaving Pepe's place we started down the track where the driver passed over a cattle grid and almost ripped his side sliding door off leaving us to drive back to Aroche, a distance of twelve km before we could obtain some rope to tie the door partially shut.      But before we reached Aroche we did see a Red Deer and Little Owl.  And on the journey back to Punta Umbria in the twilight we had five Red Fox cubs cross the road in front of us, after a short game of "chicken" whilst they decided  who would be last to leave the road!
As stated above, we finally arrived home at about 23.15, totally cream-crackered but I think well satisfied.  A big thank you to Marta for working with the Huelva Tourist Board to organise the trip even if we on board were more expert birders than those guiding us!   It was a very enjoyable day enjoyed by all but, I think we would all agree, a little on the long side and scope for much improvement with experience.

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