Saturday, 7 November 2015

From sea level to mountain top

Wryneck Jynx torquilla (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Friday 6 November

I was all excited last week-end as Derek and Barbara Etherton along with Linda Roberts and Mick Smith planed a super day to take in Zapata followed by the upper reaches of the Rio Grande and then a drive over to El Torcal for the wonders of that fabulous and iconic mountain top.  All seemed a great idea until I remembered that Friday morning was our monthly dance club and 'er indoors would not be best pleased if I disappeared birding yet again!  Whilst the dancing was fine I must admit I was a bit peeved to receive the following report from Derek on what seems to have been a fabulous day.  Ah well, next time I suppose.

Well as advised, shame you were dancing, we met up with Linda Roberts and Mick Smith for a day out birding, poignant in that Linda returns to the UK next week and will no doubt miss the wonderful Spanish scenery that holds our birds.  However we like to think we did her proud.

Starting as the sun burnt through the early morning mist in the Guadalhorce valley at Zapata we made straight for the ford.  Feeding on the edge was a Common Sandpiper soon to be joined by a couple of Grey Wagtails. Looking low in the tamarisk bushes for the usual Bluethroats seen here, we both noticed an unusually marked small bird facing us.  It flew and luckily we tracked it to the top of nearby bamboo and, lo and behold, a Wryneck!  A first for us here and fabulous views it afforded all of us,  posing long enough for a 'scope to be set up and for all four to enjoy a prolonged view - not bad for 08:30hrs in the morning!  Then Barbara noticed a Bluethroat close to where the Wryneck had been, what a start to the day it was proving to be.  Chiffchaff, White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Cetti's Warbler and Linnets were everywhere.  
A lovely view of the back striping on the Wryneck Jynx torquilla (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
A couple of Cormorants and Jackdaws flew over along with a Cattle Egret and a couple of Barn Swallows. Crested Larks scampered around and Serins were singing and a Kingfisher posed obligingly. With plenty of water now covering the summer dry areas, plenty of birds are enjoying the habitat, we all agreed that we could spend a couple of hours just staying here.  But this was not what the timetable allowed, so it was back up the track and round to the reed bed and 'Short-toed Lark corner' to park.  Stonechats, House Sparrows, noisy Monk Parakeets and Zitting Cisticolas were to the fore and as we tracked a solo Snipe flying we all became aware of an Osprey that had started fishing where we had just left. 
Watching the bird we then became aware of a Common Kestrel and Marsh Harrier flying close by. Several Red-legged Partridge crossed the track and a lone Cattle Egret seemed reluctant to fly from the track very close to us.  Linda wanted Common Waxbill and a few minutes later she had her wish, first a solo bird sitting out asking to be viewed and a little later a 'gang' of 10+ going about their business.  Grey Heron And Little Egret flew in and there were many Gold and Greenfinches feeding busily, joined by House Sparrows and countless Black Redstarts.

We had been here only 90 minutes and recorded a list of 39 species, not bad as a starter.  So off for breakfast at our usual venta and then on to the upper reaches of the Rio Grande - en route we clocked up Common Buzzard.  Plenty of birds to be found here, but the only additions were Great Egret, Green Sandpiper, Crag Martin, Greenshank and Chaffinch.
Great White Egret Egretta alba (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Linda had privately expressed a wish to visit El Torcal, a favourite for us and never experienced by Mick, so on we travelled.  Glorious weather, bright sun, 22c, dropping to 17c at the top,  the only trouble was that it appealed to many others and not birders, but noisy tourists and school children.  We, therefore, took a different route around and first of all found a Great Tit at the picnic tables.  So many Black Redstarts sat up on the low rocks and it took a while to find the first Blue Rock Thrush.  Whilst admiring the Griffon Vultures floating by we became aware of a pair of Bonelli's Eagles treating us to a magnificent display before disappearing down the valley.  Robins were 'ticking' and several Ibex were seen on the rocks. Crossing the road and taking the 'red route' we soon picked up an Iberian Grey Shrike, but parties of loud school children rather spoilt the scene.  One has to ask what do they get out of the day and experience? Certainly not studying flora or fauna!  However, after they passed by we waited a few minutes and then tracked back to the car to be rewarded with superb views, albeit in the shade, of a Cirl Bunting feeding in the grass.
Always Ibex Capra pyrenaica  to be found on the rocks of El Torcal (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
A quick bite to eat and then round to the other small road that leads to the satellite/telegraph towers.  It's here in the past that  we have found Dartford Warblers and Alpine Accentors.  Whilst waiting and hoping, we viewed a large flock of Choughs on the opposite hillside.  Moving on a little we found a Dartford Warbler, another Iberian Grey Shrike and eventually listened to an Alpine Accentor singing [we checked our phone Apps!] but could we see it?  No!
This Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus may be hiding but we can still see you! (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
So back down and a plan to return via Laguna Dulce.   OK we know there's no water here but the Common Cranes are back and pleasingly some 60+ birds obliged.  A couple of Corn Buntings were in the nearby field and a single Yellow-legged Gull flew over.

On the return back to Alhaurin de la Torre we had Jay and Raven pass over us so that our final tally for the day amounted to 59 I dislike odd numbers!

A long, nearly 10 hours of driving and birding, but super birds, weather & company made it all worthwhile.
Not sure which to mention first, the late Barn Swallow, feeding Osprey, pair of Bonelli's Eagles, the Wryneck, etc.  Whichever, it certainly seems as if the quartet had a fabulous day's birding.

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