Thursday 18 June 2020

Sierra Loja

Wednesday 17 June

Off just after 7.30 to meet up at Riofrio by 9am with Derek and Barbara Etherton along with friends Jerry and Barbara Laycock who also had Micky Smith for company, so that could explore the Sierra Loja and hopefully pick up our target birds of the day, Rock Thrush and Black-eared Wheatear with, perhaps, Spectacled Warbler as an added bonus.  Going to be a long, hot day hence the early start and I was also committed to an evening visit to Charca de Suarez in Motril, so lots of driving.

As I left home there was an early White Wagtail in the service road and driving through Algarrobo Costa hundreds of Pallid Swifts above the local apartment blocks plus a few wandering Monk Parakeets.  Deciding to take the mountain road via Ventas de Zafarraya I had rather a shock as passing along the valley towards La Vinuela a Sparrowhawk crossed immediately in front of the car's windscreen before moving away to the left.  Once away from the village of Zafarraya itself, where I recorded a number of both House Sparrows and Spotless Starlings, I soon encountered Collared Doves and Blackbirds plus a couple of Jays in the adjacent woodlands.  No surprise to come across both Crested Larks and Goldfinches and then I stopped, just before Loja, at the well-know breeding site to check out the Montagu's Harriers.  Driving down the narrow track I watched a pair quartering over the field, the nesting site remaining unharvested, and then, looking in the mirror, saw that a car was following me down the track.  Quickly reversing about five metres I drove through the open gate into the olive grove so that the car could pass.  However, looking through my window over the low hedge I noticed three Montagu's Harriers on the ground less than ten metres away.  Photographed them from the car then gently eased my self out.  Whist the pair together took off I noted a fourth individual even nearer to the car so took advantage before they, too, took to the sky.  Obviously recently fledged youngsters.

Montagu's Harrier Aguilucho Cenizo Circus pyrargus

Meanwhile, watching all the action from the wires above the track both a Turtle Dove and Greenfinch.  Slightly further along along I also found both Collared Dove and Serin.  Continuing on to the end of the road so that I could reach Riofrio I also added a Woodchat Shrike and a couple of Azure-winged Magpies before coming across both Wood Pigeons and Barn Swallows.

Turtle Dove Tortola Europea Steptopelia turtur

And so we set off for the mountain track behind the large service station to bird the area including the  top above the tree-line.  Barbara E. caught a glimpse of a Mistle Thrush and an early Woodchat Shrike then plenty of House Martins and the occasional Barn Swallow at the bottom picnic area plus a first Great Tit.  Deciding to head to the top first and visit the large quarry on the way down, we soon had the occasional Azure-winged Magpie and then a number of Jackdaws.  A Little Owl posed quietly close by to our left and then, approaching the tree-line, we were stopped and spoke to by a visiting Seprano officer (nature police) who informed us that the track was closed until mid-October to cars because of the fire risk.    We needed to turn round and head back down the mountain.  We all looked at each other with raised eyebrows as we clearly understood that the restriction did not come into force until 1 July and, typical of Spain, no notice at the start of the track to inform you of the closure dates.

Only good news was we needed to drive at least a mile and well above the tree-line before the track leveled and widened so that we could make the actual turn.  During this time we managed to add Black Wheatear and Crested Larks to the list and at the actual turning point also found Thekla Lark and a distant Red-legged Partridge.  A Kestrel flew over the distant ridge and, once turned and headed back round the corner out of sight the waiting policeman continued his journey upwards.  Needless to say, we did not hurry down the mountain,   Lots of stops to check out fences, slopes and rock faces and we had soon added both Stonechat and Blue Rock Thrush.  Having Derek the rocking man with us, he was soon picking out the call of the local Rock Sparrows which we then all found with complete ease.

We may have missed out on both the Rock Thrush and Black-eared Wheatear plus not even reaching the the resident Spectacled Warnblers site but we were, nevertheless, not to be disappointed.  Watching a group of feeding Goldfinches on the bank just the other side of the fence on the lower side we also found a few Linnets.  But then something else down in the base of a broom bush.  Yes, scope on target and we had ourselves a Subalpine Warbler.  The bird moved away, somebody found it and then Derek and I stated that it was not the Subalpine but a Spectacled Warbler.  As we concentrated on the area we found at least three other individuals and it would appear that we had a family feeding area.  Great news.  Even a male Sardinian Warbler flew away from a nearby bush.

The Iberian Grey Shrike was still in the same area that we had seen on the way up and looking high we managed to find a couple of Griffon Vultures before a male Montagu's Harrier glided past on the horizon.  So down to the main quarry where we found not one but two more Spectacled Warblers.  Both adults and then, almost at the same time, we found the youngsters they were feeding along with a family of Linnets.  A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were bust in an open spinney of very tall pines and Barbara Etherton and I visited the quarry itself where we found both very close Black Wheatears and a Black Redstart.  However, whilst we were away the others had followed a Dartford Warbler that moved between gorse and trees, so just about completing our hand of local Sylvia warblers save Blackcap and Whitethroat.

One last sighting in the area.  Derek and I managed to get our eyes on a small "grey" warbler in the canopy at the top of the nearby pines and were pretty sure we had an Orphean Warbler.  But the bird was gone within split seconds and not to be found so, alas, perhaps another day.  So down to the service station and on the way finding mother Red-legged Partridges with new newly-hatched brood of eleven chicks.

Red-legged Partridge Perdiz Roja Alectoris rufa with 11 chicks
Not having reached the top of the Sierra Loja and it being about 1pm we decided to drive over to the Cacin Valley arable fields and see if we could find any of the local Black-bellied Sandgrouse.  A quick stop at the large circular cages holding the young Gyr Falcons, aviary bred and presumably awaiting sales in the Far East (probably no more than about thirty individuals remaining), then into the almond orchard and a stop for lunch.  A couple of Crested Larks a Wood Lark and, on leaving having seen no sandgrouse, both Hoopoe and and a juvenile Woodchat Shrike.  Derek also managed to find a Northern Wheatear.

Captive-reared Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus

All very quiet on site and even a long drive through the trees only produced a couple of Magpies until almost at the end when, again, Derek managed to spot a single Black-bellied Sandgrouse resting in the shade below an almond tree.  Unusually, rather than remain still the bird took off before others could get a better look.  At the far end before reaching the main road we also managed to find a number of Barn Swallows and a single Bee-eater, plus many House Sparrows.  For me, a lovely day in wonderful company and some very good birds.  Even on my way home I managed to add Common Swift as I passed through Alhama de Granada.

Birds seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Griffon Vulture, Montagu's Harrier, Kestrel, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Wood Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler,Great Tit, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Azure-wiged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Caffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information

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