Thursday 17 October 2013

Axarquia Bird Group visit to Zafarraya

Northern Wheatear Collalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe
Thursday 17 October

What a way to spend your birthday; get all the bad news out of the way first then enjoy the company of friends walking the old railway track at Ventas de Zafarraya and exploring the hinterland before most of us enjoyed a very good Menu del Dia.  We awoke to strange noises outside to discover that it was the skimmer sucking air as a result of yet another catastrophe with the swimming pool.  I left with the water level set at the bottom of the skimmer inlet suggesting that I knew what had to be done but, appears, there was to be more bad news as upon my return the level had dropped another tile (approximately 1000 litres) below the skimmer.  What a so-and-so as today was to have been our last day in the pool before shutting it down for the winter.  Looks like more work and expenses ahead.

Meanwhile, up at the pass, there were a round dozen of us gathered for the monthly meeting of the Axarquia Buird Group and good to see the "Triana Trio" of Jim Moore, Dan Wilkinson and Brian Green again along with Eric and Pat Lyon from Sayalonga, Patrick Raines from Canillas de Albaida, Marcus and Liz Rootes form Competa, John and Jenny Wainwright from Salar, my friend Barrie Avis form all the way up in Murcia and yours truly.  In somewhat cooler weather and a rather overcast sky, at least three of us were pleased to see the sun break through and bring some warmth to our exposed legs.  On the other hand, by late morning we had the proverbial last laugh as the weather got warmer and warmer.

Meeting at the mirador before 9.30 we were greeted by the resident Rock Doves and a few Spotless Starlings along with two separate groups of Ibex, one on each side of the pass, and totalling at least a dozen in number.  There were certainly more Blue Rock Thrushes about than we have seen for a number of months, they were everywhere, and we even managed to find a female to go along with the delicate blue males.  A couple of Goldfinches flashed past, the first of many to be seen, and then we were into the Crag Martins.  Dozens of these hirundines feeding over the grassy slopes and all the evidence seemed to suggest that many were still bring off the latest clutch of chicks, probably a third brood, with nests in both the tunnel and "Alpine Swift Cave."

Having found our first Black Redstart, a beautiful male, we quickly found another handful along with the first Greenfinch of the morning.  Thekla Larks were recorded and then the first raptors, a pair of adult Golden Eagles moving slowly inland in a north-easterly direction.  No sooner had we passed through the tunnel and reached the ruined track-side cottage to start the return walk then we had another individual, this time a sub-adult showing a little white below the wings and tail.  Meanwhile, amongst the soaring Crag Martins a stranger was spotted, too large for such a bird.  Quickly identified as a Sparrowhawk, I did wonder what its purpose was as it moved with the Crag Martins but then, on the return walk, Barrie was lucky enough to see the bird dive into a tree and when the scope was lined up on the concealed bird it was very bust tackling its morning feed.  No cereal or toast for this mighty hunter but what looked like a possible Blue Rock Thrush form its outline.  During this walk we also recorded a couple of Great Tits, Sardinian Warbler and a good number of Stonechats along with more Goldfinches and the first Serins of the morning.  And all the while we were aware of those white flashes as the Black Wheatears moved around the slopes and rocks above us.  The first of the group back through the tunnel were just in time to see a rapidly disappearing Peregrine Falcon (we wondered where our local bird had been hiding) and then back to more Black Redstarts, Spotless Starlings and House Sparrows as we reached the cars.

Northern Wheatear Collalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe
Next it was on tot the former "Muck Heap" where we duly found both Thekla and Crested Larks along with the first Blackbird and more Goldfinches and Serins.  Next it was on to the "Brambling Field lay-bye" to look for Azure-winged Magpies.  Just the one high-flying bird found but then a more concentrated effort with bins and scopes produced all sorts of species.  A number of Mistle Thrushes was not unexpected nor was the Chaffinch but it was a tremendous thrill to find as many as a handful of Common Redstarts feeding on the ground in front of the old tress.  A Robin was also present and regularly hoping up and down from low branch to ground and it, too, was joined by a Blue Tit.  To add to the show, a Jay exposed itself a couple of time as it moved through the trees and, of course, we could not forget the first Corn Bunting which was on the wires as we approached the site.

Record shot of Bonelli's Eagle Aguila-azor Perdicera Hieraaetus fasciatus
Driving on beyond the Magpie Woods to the arable fields beyond taking the left turn at the bottom of the hill towards the old Loja road duly provided at least a score of Calandra Larks.  However, Eric managed to also see about the same number of departing Short-toed Larks on the opposite side of the road.  No more of the latter were seen until the return journey when at least another pair was seen in about the same area.  Also in the area where numerous Northern Wheatears and then, looking at the slopes of the distant hill, we eventually picked out a flock of fifty plus Chough along with a single (common) Magpie.  Another couple of Corn Buntings were seen on the wires along this road and then, just before we turned round at the bottom of the broken road, at least ten Magpies were seen.  Almost the end of the morning and as we made our way back to the previous stop we had first a Common Kestrel and then the Choughs once more.  But above them, and remaining for quite some time to provide good but distant views, a rather handsome Bonelli's Eagle to round off the tip along with a handful of Azure-winged Magpies as we reached the magpie Woods.

A most enjoyable morning in good company with a final tally (until I am corrected) of 35 species.  Forgot to add the five meadow Pipits seen by John and a few others whilst looking at the larks so total species increased to 36.

Birds seen:
Golden Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting.

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