Sunday, 27 December 2009

Andalucia - Day 2 La Campina - Sierra Sur

Taking in the impressive views from my room’s small balcony as dawn cast its thin light over the muted winter creams and buffs of the rounded hills surrounding Montellano the tinkling song of a nearby Serin encouraged me to hurry down and start the day’s birding.
With seven pairs of eyes in our bus, the journey through the La Campina area produced a number of additional species to those seen on the first day. A single White Stork standing sentinel-like atop a huge nest topped pylon and brief views of a flying Black-winged Kite were the highlights.
After collecting a local guide we moved off the main roads onto dirt tracks that wound between huge empty fields and areas of regimented Olive trees to look for our first major targets Great Bustard and Little Bustard. As we approached our first stop we could see at least two Red Kite moving across fields ahead of us, they and another were in attendance throughout our stop at this location as were up to nine Raven.
A car-sized puddle held a single Green Sandpiper that flew as we approached and later a small group of Linnet arrived to drink. Within five minutes our guide located a small group of Great Bustard huddled in tall grass at the edge of a line of Olive trees. Views of this party were distant, as we moved on three Eurasian Curlew lifted from between lines of Olives and the first of what was to be many Black Redstart put in an appearance as we passed by some farm buildings.

A few kilometres further and a almost identical field of low Olive trees produced an incredible flock of over 100 Stone Curlew at first lifting off in twos and threes before moving off into an adjacent ploughed field and back again, the occasional ‘kurr-llie’ calls resonating around the otherwise silent land. Crested Lark lifted from field edge to furrow as our minibus moved further and the razor sharp eyes of one of the group picked out the one and only Hen Harrier, a ringtail, of the trip. Only minutes later and we also had Marsh Harrier on our trip list as a female/immature drifted over.
As we moved slowly along the lines of Olive Trees one of the guides suddenly picked out a Great Bustard perhaps 200m away.

Great Bustard

We swung the van around 90° and stopped perhaps 20metres from the edge of the field. Here we were able to watch a group of 10-15 Great Bustard for some time engaged in the early stages of display, posturing as they strolled regally back and forth.

Great Bustard

Red-legged Partridge added to the scene before we had a superb flypast by two groups of three Black-bellied Sandgrouse. A short while later most of the group connected with a further 10-12 of this species again in flight whilst others tried in vain to stalk the Stone Curlew for close up pictures.

Stone Curlew, (record shots)

Our next stop in contrast to the steppe was the Lantejuela Natural Reserve. Blackcap and a confiding Little Owl were quickly noted as were large numbers of Mallard, Northern Shoveler and a single Little Grebe. Two to three Cetti’s Warbler fired off their explosive song from the surrounding vegetation; Spanish Sparrow, Greenfinch and Song Thrush were amongst the other passerines noted as walked around the reserve. Three Black-winged Stilt, adults and a 1st-winter produced perfect photographic opportunities as they picked from the surface of the mirror calm main lagoon.

Black-winged Stilt (juvenile)

Black-winged Stilt (adult)

A Zitting Cisticola offered excellent open views in a dry area as did several ground-feeding Common Chiffchaff.
We headed back to take our picnic lunch at the entrance to the reserve pausing to take pictures of the Little Owl enjoying the afternoon sun. Lunch was disturbed by two soaring kite, one Red Kite and one Black Kite allowing a great comparison of these two species as they circled together nearby.

Black Kite

We settled back down to eat when another raptor came in from the opposite direction, this time a magnificent pale phase Booted Eagle that nonchalantly circled almost over our heads before catching sight of something interesting and dropping into a hard stoop into nearby woodland and away north.

Booted Eagle
Other wildlife was available to those not purely interested in birds. Including this Spanish Terrapin which was joined by a second as we re-traced our steps.

Spanish Terrapin
Our afternoon destination in complete contrast was a 6km walk along Via Verde de la Sierra ending at Penón de Zaframagón.

Via Verde is an old railway line, complete with several cool tunnels, that curves around thick green hilly forest scrub of Holm and Cork Oak. Sardinian Warbler called and darted across the path every 20metres, an Iberian race Green Woodpecker yaffled nearby. Suddenly low over the treetops a Bonelli’s Eagle carrying a dismembered Rabbit glided toward us, 20metres above our head, passing above us it circled briefly before being lost over the trees. A few kilometres further we were further graced by this increasingly rare species as two adult and a juvenile jostled above the forested crags on the approach to Penón de Zaframagon.

We had expected Bonelli's to be much more difficult to connect with as numbers in Spain, as in many other countries across the WP have reduced dramatically. Our guides suggested that from 700-800 pairs 15 years ago there were perhaps as few as 55 pairs left. The reasons for the decline appear to be poorly understood.
Griffon Vulture soared in the afternoon thermals in increasing numbers as we approached the impressive rock formation that provides ideal vulture nesting habitat. By the time we reached the visitor centre perhaps 60-70 soared in a huge kettle.

Bonelli's Eagle
Rock Sparrow and Black-bellied Dipper were the pick of the passerines, whilst Blackcap was the commonest species here, the constant ‘tack’ calls never far from earshot. Several Spanish Wild Ibex on the lower scree slopes added a different dimension to the trip which ended with some short video presentations in the visitor centre of nesting Bonelli’s Eagle and Griffon Vulture as well as a hair raising Fox and Ibis chase sequence well worth seeing if you have the opportunity. Part of the group even managed a calling Eagle Owl as they waited for the minibus to ferry them back to the hotel. Others in the group saw Ring Ouzel and Blue Rock Thrush at this site which I failed to connect with.
10 species of raptor during the day was a good haul ( we also saw Common Kestrel and Sparrowhawk) but the superb views of both the Booted and Bonelli's Eagles was the obvious highlight of a busy day in some interesting habitat.

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