Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Ventas de Zafarraya & Sierra Tejeda

Serin Verdecillo Serinus serinus (PHOTO: Gilbert Houtekamer)
Monday 24 March

A beautiful start to the day and, whilst we prepared for a cold breeze up at the old railway track above Ventas de Zafarraya, in the event it was pleasantly warm and with very little wind.  So the three of us, Gilbert and Elly Houtekamer, visiting holiday makers from Holland, made a start to a very long day and, whilst we did not see all the birds I expected, Gilbert did manage to record 16 new species for himself.  And we finished up coming down the mountain track to Alcaucin via the picnic areas only to discover that the track was closed whilst the loggers played lumberjacks (think "Monty Python").  But, as I so often find when the Spanish close a road for road-works, they only put the sign at one end and we had started our journey at the top, finding the closed sign on a barrier at the very bottom (8kms away); no wonder we got some very strange looks from the men, including the Junta's representative, when we casually drove past.  And another thing, what are the chances when you book a holiday in a foreign land, on a mountain top miles from anywhere, and then arrange a day's birding to discover that our host lives right opposite you?  But, I have to say, Gilbert and Elly were marvellous company and Gilbert managed to produce some wonderful photographs using his Nikon with a 300mm f2.8 lens.

Black Redstart Colirrojo Tizon Phoenicurus ochruros  (PHOTO: Gilbert Houtekamer)
Now to the birds.  Thekla Lark as left the mountain and both Collared and Rock Doves along with Barn Swallow as we drove (Rather, Gilbert drove) up to the pass.  No sooner had we arrived than we also discovered Hilary MacBean and her friend Lesley, fellow ABS members who had been with me in Cabo de Gata at the week-end, were also in the car park awaiting to undertake the same programme as ourselves.  We did not see the early Rock Bunting but there were Spotless Starlings about along with calling Choughs as they glided pass the face of the nearby cliffs.  Crag Martins seemed particularly active as we made our way up to the old tunnel.

Displaying Crag Martins Avion Roquero Ptyonoprogne rupestris
On the rocks and cliffs to the right we had our first Black Wheatears and a quartet of Rock Sparrows high above us.  The first Blue Rock Thrush of the day was spotted quickly followed by another couple of male birds.  Whilst we also saw many Stonechats and Serins, it took a long time to record Goldfinch but there certainly seemed to be Linnets about.  Before we returned to the car we had also seen a number of Black Redstarts and then a lovely Peregrine Falcon roving around the cliff, only to be set upon by a couple of Choughs willing to take the risk!

This Chough Chova Piquirroja Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax made no advance on the passing Peregrine  Halcon Peregrino Falco peregrinus (PHOTO: Gilbert Houtekamer)
Passing the House Sparrows and Collared Doves, next it was off through the "Magpie Woods" where we recorded a rapidly disappearing Jay as we climbed the first slope.  The first of many Mistle Thrushes put in an appearance but, at this point, we had seen the sought-after Azure-winged Magpies.  They would come a little later on when we saw dozens.

A very alert Mistle Thrush Zorzal Charlo Turdus viscivorus
At the back of the woods we turned left to seek out the many larks to be found near the arable fields.   At first there seemed to be a Corn Bunting sitting on the top of every coil of water pipes not to mention the Common Kestrel that looked down at us from atop the second electricity pylon.  Blackbird and Chaffinch were duly noted then a whole series of Crested Larks; every where we looked.  More Corn Buntings and Linnets but surprise, surprise, a single Lesser Short-toed Lark amongst the rocks.  Disappointingly, only the one good view of a Calandra Lark before heading off towards the old, ruined Loja road to take the anti-clockwise circle round the back of area.

One of very many Crested Larks Cogujada Comun Galerida cristata  (PHOTO: Gilbert Houtekamer)
This short drive produced a number of (Common) Magpies and Wood Pigeons whilst the actual circuit produced another Kestrel then the first of very many Azure-winged Magpies.  A close view of a Hoopoe whilst a couple of Meadow Pipits and more Crested Larks fed to the rear of this particular spot.  Towards the end of the circuit we eventually found a single Northern Wheatear and, upon returning to thee main road, a pair of Red-legged Partridges.

Off to the long grass for this Red-legged Partridge perdiz Roja Alectoris rufa
Following a stop for lunch where we took a very welcome menu del dia, we headed off for the mountain track down through the Sierra Tejeda to Alcaucin calling in at both picnic areas.  The top area proved very quiet but we did find a handful of Goldfinches (Putters), a single Nuthatch and just two Crossbills.

A rapidly departing Black Wheatear Collalba Negra Oenanthe leucura  (PHOTO: Gilbert Houtekamer)
So off we went and managed to find a pair of passing Short-toed Eagles before reaching the lower picnic area.  What a noise as the lumberjacks went about their business felling trees immediately below the site.  No wonder we saw very little but we did manage another Nuthatch, a few Crossbills, Chaffinch and a rather lovely Grey Wagtail feeding in the narrow stream above the main seating area.  We even had a single Robin followed by both Great and Blue Tits.

Attentive female Crossbill Piquituerto Comun Loxia curvirostra
Finally, if you include both the Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming and the yaffling Green Woodpecker we managed to record a total of 41 species.

Grey Wagtail Lavandera Cascadena Motacilla cinerea at the picnic site stream

Birds seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Short-toed eagle, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird,  Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Crossbill, Corn Bunting.

And not forgetting the Meadow Pipit Bisbita Pratense Anthus pratensis

Check out the accompanying website at http://www.birdingaxarquia.weebly.com for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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