Thursday, 7 December 2017

Sierra de Maria with the Arboleas Birding Group

Thursday 7 December

It seems to be all action at the moment.  Having just completed my blogs re last week's visits to both Frampton Marsh, Boston and Attenborough Reserve, Nottingham I am now underway with catching up on my two days in Almeria.  Day 1 based on Las Norias and Roquetas de Mar already published, photographs downloaded so that I can add along with Day 2 (yesterday) at Cabo de Gata. Meanwhile, David and Gilly Elliott-Binns are back from their UK visit and, also, yesterday were off to the Sierra de Maria where, like me, they had the rare privilege of recording a Merlin in "supersonic" flight.  As Dave says in his report below, they may have been down on numbers but certainly had some quality birds.


Sierra de Maria   -   Wednesday 6th December

I take full responsibility for today! It was my decision for the group to return here, two weeks after their last visit whilst I was on my way back from the UK.  Gilly, who had the day off work, and I picked up Richard and headed for Maria.  My truck doesn't give the outside temperatures, but John's car displayed -2c passing Velez Rubio.  It was about 0c at Maria.
We met up with him, Alan, Val, Les and Adrian at the Repsol garage cafe for a warming cuppa before making our way to the chapel area.  We'd already logged some of the usual suspects, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling, Magpie and White Wagtail and added a Goldfinch en route.  There was very little round the chapel.  Les spotted a Robin and I was first to see some Great Tits.  Nothing at the water trough which I assume was iced up, so we began the walk up to the Information Centre. Incredibly Gilly spotted a bird in a distant tree.  A Hawfinch. 

Well-hidden Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Presumably one of the hard to see resident ones, even though the has been lots of reported sightings recently in the UK.  Amazingly I got a photo from one of my friendly guides in Morocco of one ​resting in the Northern Sahara!  We also saw Blackbird and Mistle Thrush.  In the Botanical Gardens we only added some Crossbill. We all quickly returned to the Information Centre to have a warm by their blazing log fire!   Maybe my decision was not a good one!
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes seen in the Sahara (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
I led the convoy of cars towards the disused farm buildings.  As we approached some half dozen Jays followed a Green Woodpecker from the small deposito towards the pine trees.  Richard spotted the first Rock Sparrow.  Some Mistle Thrush and Crossbill were perched in the tree next to the water.  Les and the others went round the back of the buildings where the sun was on the short grassed meadow and found Crested and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Black Redstarts and many Chaffinch. A Raven and Carrion Crows were also seen. 
Moving on to the farm water trough area we saw more Crested Lark and Rock Sparrows, when Gilly spotted a Iberian Grey Shrike low down below an almond tree.  It eventually posed nicely on the fence surrounding the deposito.
Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Heading onto the plain we passed some corvids feeding to our right.  One Raven and some Carrion Crows.  Again I was leading the convoy when I saw a fast low flying bird  parallel to my left.  It landed.  It was a male Merlin.  It rapidly took off as a small lorry drove from the opposite direction and flew between us and the lorry, flying a wide circle and disappearing.  Kevin driving behind us saw it but the others, further behind missed it despite a search.  Kevin did manage to spot the crown of a skulking Little Owl amongst some rocks!  It was joined by a Black Redstart. Down at the hamlet we saw more Crested Larks and Alan identified some Linnet.
On the way back along the plain, two Little Owls were now on top of the rocks, warming themselves in the sun.  We came across a huge flock of corvids.  I stopped to check them when all of a sudden numerous Black Bellied Sandgrouse took off.  I followed a group of 14 but Alan said there were many more.  I think this is the third time in about 14 years I've seen them here.  The corvids included Raven, Carrion Crow and Red Billed Chough.
Once we'd got to the La Piza forest cafe it was warm enough in the sun to sit out for our snack lunch. We were entertained by a small flock of Long-tailed Tit.  Les also spotted a Blue Tit.  Leaving there we saw a stream of Griffon Vultures flying towards Maria town and further on at least 8 birds soaring near Velez Blanco.
A few of the group trying to restore their circulation (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Although we only ended up with 31 species, I think we got quality not quantity!
A great day out despite the cold weather!  A good decision, David!
I've also attached a photo of a very obliging Hoopoe which visited the threshing circle in front of our house the other day! Regards, Dave
 
Hoopoe Upua epops ouside our house (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

  
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