Monday, 21 December 2020

El Temple, Granada Province

 Sunday 20 December

El Temple countryside with snowy Sierra background

Off reasonably early to join my dear friend, Mick Richardson for a day's birding in rural Granada province.  Following heavy overnight rain, more with Mick than with us on the coast, it was cloudy and calm with much low cloud as we met up in Huetor Tajar for an excellent day's birding covering many of Mick's favourite sites in the El Temple (The Temple) area of Granada province.  El Temple is basically the countryside between Granada city and Loja and consists of a mixture of arable fields and woods, represented by olive groves and almond plantations.  The area is also well known for growing both asparagus and garlic but especially the former.  It also includes small rivers, more like streams, and a few decent-sized lagunas and reservoirs.

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

I had already recorded Little Owl, Rock DoveMagpie, Goldfinch and Chaffinch on the drive past Ventas de Zafarraya and up the old road to Salar and no sooner had we set off in Mick's car than we stopped in the upper Cacin river area where we recorded a couple of Cattle Egrets and Herons along with very many Spotless Starlings and Corn Buntings.  In addition, we also noted House Sparrow, Meadow Pipit, Blackbird and Stonechat before finding and counting the flock of 29 Little Bustards.

Distant Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax

Further along the narrow track we could see a large flock of Azure-winged (Iberian) Magpies plus individual Magpies along with both Wood pigeons and Jackdaws.  Ere long we stopped at a distant field and were delighted to see a handful of Stone Curlew take to the air.  Kestrels and Buzzards made regular appearances and it was very rewarding to note the numbers seen during the day.

Now well out in the countryside and noting many Crested and Sky Larks as we stop in search of Back-bellied Sandgrouse - and here they come with a trio flying past us and away from the distant hunters.  A little further on we were astounded by the huge flocks of Calandra Larks and yet more Corn Buntings and Meadow Pipits.  A distant female Marsh Harrier was recorded and scoping the area not just more Kestrels and Buzzards but a single Black-winged Kite and a few trees along the row an Iberian Grey Shrike.  Soon after a Hoopoe crossed the track and then we had a mixture of Black Redstarts and Serins which were soon replaced by Sardinian Warblers and Linnets.  Checking carefully, we were also able to identify a number of Spanish in with the large House Sparrow flock.  And moving away form the site we encountered eight Red-legged Partridge.

Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra

Time for a change of scenery and parked at a lovely viewpoint overlooking valley and hills no eagles on this occasion but a large, high flock of Choughs moving eastwards along with Greenfinch and Great Tit.  A Mistle Thrush flew away as we then made our way to the large reservoir in the Cacin valley.

No sooner had we arrived than we were greeted by a trio of Marsh Harriers including a pair of most handsome males.  On the water, the arrival of the harriers certainly lifted many of the Mallards and as we checked further along the water we were able to identify many Pochard and Shoveler plus more Mallards, Teal and Pintail.  A few Coots, a Little Grebe and eventually a solitary Moorhen were also seen.  However, you could not take away the Water Rail that ventured far out of the reeds to give a wonderful sighting, even if it did require our scopes.  In the meantime, we had both a calling Jay and Iberian Green Woodpecker, the latter of which actually flew past the reeds on the opposite bank before disappearing inland between a gap in the trees.  Mick even saw the rapidly disappearing Green Sandpiper down below the bank.  As might be expected, there were basking Cormorants and the bushes held many foraging Chiffchaff whilst behind us we had calling Thekla Larks.

Distant record shot of Water Rail Rallus aquaticus

Leaving the reservoir we made our way up the road and into the pine forest where we made a prolonged stop to find many of the smaller passerines.  Long-tailed Tits were quickly seen as was a small number of Crossbill.  But ere long we had also added Crested, Coal and Blue Tit to the day's list (I think that's all the available Tit family in this part of the world) along with both Short-toed Treecreeper and a couple of lovely Firecrest. 

Crossbill Loxia curvirostra

A stop a few kilometres on opposite the steep rock face produced both Crag Martin and Black Wheatear, Mick having already noted a Blue Rock Thrush as we descended into the village of Cacin.  No Red-knobbed Coot at the next small laguna but we did eventually find a Blackcap and, on leaving, had a mad Song Thrush dash across the road as if the local hunters were hot on his trail.  And so back to the upper Cacin river to where we had set out about five hours previously.  The Cattle Egrets were still on site as were the Little Bustards.  Both Grey and White Wagtails were noted and a short walk alongside a steep, water filled ditch duly produced both Bluethroat and Water Pipit.  No Golden Plover today but plenty of Lapwing on the grassy fields.  No sooner had we found a party of Common Waxbill and mentioned the fact that we had not seen a Collared Dove all day than around the corner we came across a field of same!

A few of the many Lapwing Vanellus vanellus

Finally, having seen the Snipe dash up and away in its usual flight pattern than Mick found the distant Sparrowhawk which, at least, had the decency to move closer for a better view. And my last bird of the day was the Tree Sparrow immediately below my car window as we made our way back along the sandy track.  What a fabulous day in Mick's company and a final total of 75 species recorded.

Very distant record shot of some of the 29 Little Busstards Tetrax tetrax

Birds seen:

Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Pintail, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Black-winged Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sky lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Long-tailed Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Iberian Grey Shrike, Jay, Iberian Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Waxbill, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Crossbill, Corn Bunting.

Sierras from Huetor Tajar

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