Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Embalse de Iznajar: Orchids and Birds

Sunday 6 April

What a day, almost like a new marriage with something new, something blue, something borrowed and then something lost (more about the last later).  Beautiful clear blue sky and the promise of a gorgeous warm day as we set off relatively early to meet up with Mick Richardson east of Cuevas de San Marcos to look for orchids near the Embalse de Iznajar.  We were certainly not to be disappointed in the number of species located and most in their full glory.  Then add on the occasional butterfly, lots of good birds, certainly good company, and i can thoroughly recommend any readers out here in the next month to get onto Mick's website, check out the dates and sign up quick whilst there may still be a place or tow left; ridiculously cheap to have this expert experience for a paltry eight euros.  Go on, sign up, you know it makes sense!

The next few hours were spent with our eyes mainly on the ground as we were shown examples of the many orchids in the area.  Strange names like Italian Man Orchid, Yellow-bee Orchid (I think I know that one), Bumble-bee Orchid, Lesser Woodcock Orchid, Spider Orchid, Sawfly Orchid, Giant Orchid,  plus a variety of other small flowers, including members of the cabbage family, and all, it seemed known to Mick not only by their English name but Latin names as well!  Then, of course, we had such flowers as both the Scarlet and Blue Pimpernel, Southern Daisies, Hawksbeard and Warty Spurge.


There were hundreds of House Martins on and over the dam as we arrived at the meeting point with Greenfinches, Serins and Goldfinches calling from the neighbouring trees.  As we moved away from the area to start our walk we also recorded a noisy Wren and a couple of Choughs flew overhead.  Wood Pigeons by the handful along with the occasional Rock and Collared Dove so a passing Mistle Thrush made a change form the ever-present Blackbirds.  Thick vegetation and dense trees proved difficult for locating all the smaller birds but singing Firecrests, Great and Coal Tits were duly recorded.  The sound of a pair of Bonelli's Eagles calling to each other in the distance was very appetising but, try as we might, we did not manage to catch sight of the birds.  On the other hand, when Mick had arrived about an hour earlier than us he had seen both Bonelli's and Short-toed Eagles in the vicinity.  We were joined n the walk by Eric and Pat Lyon along with their visiting friends and they had recorded a handsome male Marsh Harrier on the approach road whereas we had scores of Azure-winged Magpies and the occasional Common Magpie.

Back to the flowers and jenny still recording yet more species, large and small.  It amazes me how small some of these orchids can be; the conception is that the flowers are large as so often seen on flower displays but, in reality, some of them seem so small you can spend much time on the ground just trying to see their dainty shapes and flowers.  Always a challenge, Mick had us successfully looking for rarities, some of which were endemic just to this one site or possible one other in Malaga Province and not seen in other parts of Spain.  Wonderful.  Then he took us in search of the hybrids, yet another wonderful experience.

My main problem is that I now have a selection of photographs and can only guess at what their names might be!  So it is competition time readers.  I show you the flowers, you try and name them.  Thank goodness Mick will do the same so that in a few days time I can, hopefully, add the correct names.

And is this a Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria I see hiding in the grasses?

Butterflies included both Large and Small Whites, Moroccan Orange-tip, Swallowtail, Speckled Wood and Spanish Festoon.

Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina

We finally returned to the reservoir to walk across the dam for a closer look at the cliff face on the far side.  Not so much the pair of Kestrels, two pairs of Ravens and a number of local Jackdaws but the single Booted Eagle and a couple of Buzzards certainly drew our attention.  Smaller birds included Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martins, a single red-rumped Swallow and calling Rock Sparrows.  On the water a single, sickly-looking, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a lone Grey Heron flew low over the distant water's edge whilst above, yet more Choughs.

Time to move on for all of us and jenny and I travelled along the dirt track around the embalse and then by road to the motorway and finally the Cacin Valley area in search of all these Black-bellied Sandgrouse that I have been reading about.  Was I to be the only one in the Axarquia Bird Group not to see this bird?  On today's showing it would seem "Yes" so I shall have to make a special visit next week in the morning rather than late afternoon.  No sooner had we started on our journey than we were recording the resident Great Crested Grebes along with both Sardinian Warbler, more Blackbirds and the first of a number of Hoopoes.  A lazy Red-legged Partridge stood on the track in front deciding whether or not it should move out of the way and then more Common magpies before, seeing the movement overhead, a female Goshawk glided away in front of us.

Arriving a the designated area we found no sandgrouse but we did get a good view of a male Little Bustard standing guard over his territory.  After watching a pair of Common Kestrels going about their late afternoon hunting spree, we than had a quintet of Lesser Kestrels feeding ion the same area.  The far edge of the field produced a sizable flock of Calandra Larks and there were, it seemed, Corn Buntings everywhere.  A single Northern Wheatear was foraging away in another field and a couple of Stonechats were also recorded.  The final bird of the day as we left the area was my first Woodchat Shrike of the year but too distant and in poorer light to make a photograph worthwhile.

Distant shot of Little Bustard Sison Comun Tetrax tetrax
And so we headed home and before long OI had removed both Binoculars and support from my shoulder to make for more comfortable driving.  A good while later as we approached the turn-off to the Embalse Bermejades about five kilometres north of Alhama de Granada we came upon a strange looking bird on the wires a couple of metres away from a pair of Common Magpies.  Fortunately, almost opposite, there was a good-sized pull off on my side of the road so we were able to check out this "weirdo" with our binoculars.  However, unable to get a decent view by bending down to look across jenny and out through her window, I got out of the car to look over the roof.  Our strange bird turned out to be a rather dishevelled Hoopoe that looked as if it had just gone ten rounds with a local moggy and finished off by taking a hot, steamed bath; crest and feathers all over the place but happy to sit on the wire and let us take in the details.

Enough of this, we had been out since 8.30 and needed to get home.  But we did pull in and then straight out at Ventas de Zafarraya to simply add a Black Wheatear to the day's sightings. Upon arriving just after 6.30 we quickly unpacked the car and put bins and cameras away.  But why was my binocular case empty?  jenny must have taken the bins in off the back seat - but no.  We searched everywhere without success and then, after much deliberation, remembered that our only stop on the way home was to take a look at the strange Hoopoe.  Never done it before but I must have put the bins done on the car roof, spoken to jenny, forget about the equipment and drove home.  Next morning at first light I was up and gone, driving straight to the stopping point in the hope that my Swarovski's had fallen when we set off again.  No joy there so a very slow drive back onto Alhama de Granada checking the roadside for any evidence of bins, strap or ruined remains.  Again, no luck so called on at the local police station to leave details and get a report for sending on to my insurers.  Just when you think nothing else can go wrong!  I know that there is a moral to this story but I am too upset to even contemplate what it might be; I'll just wait until my replacements arrive form back in the UK.

Birds recorded during the day:
Red-legged Partridge, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Bonelli's Eagle, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Goshawk, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Little Bustard, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Hoopoe,  Calandra Lark, Cested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Wren, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Firecrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting.

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

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