|Juvenile Ring Ouzel Mirlo Capiblanco Turdus torquatus|
How often do you get a chance to say that today's birding was all about quality rather than quantity? A great day out at the Sierra Loja with Derek and Barabara Etherton along with Micky Smith after meeting up the Abades service station on the A92 above Loja for a pre-visit coffee before driving up the mountain. And a special day, too, as if she had survived just six more months it would have been my mother's 100th birthday and then discovered that Mick's birthday was yesterday. There must be something about we lovable Librans!
When was the last time that a birding trip ended up with buntings recording the highest number of species? We had four (Cirl, Rock, Ortolan and Corn Bunting) and they were only equalled by the thrushes with Blackbird, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock and Mistle Thrushes. And not, if you will pardon the choice of words, a single tit seen all day.
|First-winter Otolan Bunting Escribano Hotelano Emberiza hortulana|
The main quarry was not as productive as one would expect with the main surprise that there was not a single Crag Martin about and we had to wait well over an hour until we had almost reached the Charca de Negra before seeing our first, single, specimen overhead. However, this area can always be relied upon to produce the first Jackdaws along with a calling Red-legged partridge and Blackbird. We thought we had a Sardinian Warbler suddenly "pop up" but as soon as it landed on the nearby bush it was easily recognised as a Dartford Warbler and we were to seen another three of four before moving on. Again, the first of very many Stonechats was recorded. Working our way up the track no Azure-winged Magpies but we did have another Blackbird followed by Blue Rock Thrushes and a number of Black Wheatears. Yet more Stonechats all over the place and then a couple of parties of Thekla Lark and a pair of Crested Larks before a small flock of Spotless Starlings flew away to our left in front of the cliff holding the Eagle Owl's traditional nest site.
Now that we were well above the tree line the Thekla Larks became more common and as soon as saw our first Black Redstart these most handsome birds began to appear at regular intervals. Then it was the turn of a rather lovely Iberian Grey Shrike to put in an appearance and, again, more individuals were seen on these higher slopes. A stop at the usual place duly produced the first Spectlacled Warnler and very soon after a quintet of Red-legged Partridge - followed by many more at fairly regular intervals, usually in small family parties.
|Distant Iberian Grey Shrike Alaudon Real Lanius meridonalis|
As we approached the turn at Charca de Negra we had, as previously mentioned, our first Crag Martin of the day and were very much in amongst the now exposed Rock Buntings; lovey, delightful little birds and looking so pretty with their striped heads. All that the pond area produced were distant Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Wheatears, more Iberian Grey Shrikes and a number of Golfinches. But things got a little better as we made our way round to the fossil cave where we found a handful of Rock Sparrows on the cliff top above. Our first close views of Chough also occurred and then a single Corn Bunting as, after partaking of our picnic lunch, we searched the nearby Hawthorne bushes for possible early-arriving Ring Ouzels.
|(Young?) Male Sparrowhawk Gavilan Comun Accipiter nisus|
|Red-billed Chough Chova Piquirroja Pyrrhocorax pyrrocorax|
It was here that we picked out a small raptor in the skies above and then watched in awe as the male Sparrowhawk aggressively attacked the lone Chough that simply refused to move away from, presumably, the former's teritory. A remarkable spectacle that will certainly leave something in the memory bank for months to come.
|Sparrowhawk v Chough; the territorial battle|
Here, in addition to now regular sightings of Northern Wheatear, we found a rather bland-looking bunting which gave cause for extra diligence. Eventually, comparing the fairly-distant photograph with a Collins Guide we were able to all agree on the bird being a first winter Ortolan Bunting; for me a first for the year.
|Northern Wheatear Colalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe|
|Rock Bunting Escribano Montesino Emberiza cia|
What an oasis! Possibly the only water for a very large area there were both Rock Buntings and Black Redstarts taking advantage of the facility. Many Stonechats around and then we noticed that a number of Crested Larks were making use of the water to both bathe and drink. The odd Goldfinch moved about and then a number of Crag Martins accompanied by a few Barn Swallows put in an appearance, both drinking the water and feeding over the muddy-emptiness of the adjacent, dry water deposit. But better was to come. A strange-looking bunting had us taking a closer look and we found, again, we were looking at a pair of juvenile Ortolan Buntings. Micky was more than pleased when we then found a single Common Redstart coming down to drink but it was not the Blue -headed Wagtail (Iberian Yellow wagtail) that came down to thoroughly enjoy itself as it set about its ablutions but Derek had seen a stranger drop in which was out of site to the rest of use.
|That's better! Iberian Yellow Wagtail Lavendera Boyera Iberica Motacilla flava iberiae fresh from bathing|
But patience had its reward as found we looking at, what appeared, to be a very exhausted and newly-arrived, Ring Ouzel. (First of the year.) The bird eventually made its way across the pool to a bare tree in front of us where, much to our surprise and pleasure, we realised it was not the only Ring Ouzel present. I think we all pretty sure that this small number, probably about 8 as a maximum, had literally just arrived, completely exhausted, in the past hours or so and were now trying to regain their strength before feeding, etc. After that, having spent well over an hour at this particular site, we had wonderful views of the birds, were able to identify both juvenile and females and, at last, the birds resting in sunshine. Not only did we see Ring Ouzels in the dead tree we also had both Cirl Bunting and Ortolan Bunting along with Linnet resting on the same branch so giving excellent opportunities to compare plumage and size. And above them, and a couple of Ring Ouzels, another Iberian Grey Shrike at the very top. What a site! Now if only we could move the tree yet keep all the birds.
|Our juvenile Ring Ouzels Mirlo Capiblanco Turdus torquatus|
And yet, despite this being a visit where quality outshone quantity, it would appear that I recorded 38 species, forty if you include both the Little Owl and Nuthatch. And I wonder what other species Derek, Barbara and Micky encountered on their return drive to Alhaurin de la Torre?
NB: And the big question is: Do juvenile Ring Ouzels migrate in their own complany as no pure adults were seen?
Red-legged Partridge, Sparrowhawk, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Roller, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Blue-headed Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Iberian Grey Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie. Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Ortolan Bunting, Corn Bunting.
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