April 2013 – Sierra de Loja

What a way to end a wonderful day
We left the coast at about 08:20 in dense mist and followed the A7 and then the AP46 from Málaga up to the A92 towards Granada.  Although the weather forecast had been good we were concerned as all previous meetings of this trip had encountered rain.  Our fears disappeared as we journeyed along the AP46 and climbed out of the low cloud that had been causing the mist and into brilliant sunshine.

Arriving at the Abades Service Station, our meeting point at 09:20 allowed us to have a coffee before our departure on the Field Meeting at 09:45.  Eventually everyone converged on the lower car park and we were pleasantly surprised to count twenty-seven people, twenty-four of which were members.  Mick Richardson, our guide for the day, soon had us organised and we left in convoy, in nine cars, and headed away from the Service Station to our first stop, which was the Lower Quarry.  This quarry is along a track that leaves at the side of the Service Station on its journey to the high ground of the Sierra de Loja.

img 1125-1This first Lower Quarry stop  provided a habitat of an old rock quarry cut into the side of the mountain with coniferous woodland above it.  We saw two Wood Pigeons flying above the coniferous trees and several Serin flying and singing among them.  Some of the group spotted a Jay flying swiftly through the trees and an even swifter Mistle Thrush.  Several Goldfinch and Greenfinch flew overhead calling and a male Blackbird flew up from concealment uttering an alarm call.  A group of three Chough flew along the mountainside, calling and a flock of Spotless Starling flew down towards the town of Loja, below us.
We then moved on to the Higher Quarry, which is situated above the coniferous trees.  The cars were left at the “turning point” and we proceeded to the quarry on foot.  Mick was concerned that such a fleet of cars trundling along the mountain track would create such a noise that if the Eagle Owls, that have a nest site above the Higher Quarry, were out they would quickly retreat out of sight.  As it turned out we were even more unfortunate because there were climbers climbing on the cliff-face above the quarry and therefore there was little chance of seeing the Eagle Owls while they remained.  On our walk up to the Higher Quarry  img 1126-1we saw several Iberian Azure-winged Magpies flying among the coniferous trees and a large, female Eurasian Sparrowhawk gliding on open wings above us.  Also in the sky above us were House Martin, Swallow, Crag Martin and Pallid Swift flying to and fro across the mountainside, feeding on the numerous flying insects.  Among the coniferous trees we also heard and then spotted a Coal Tit, Short-toed Tree Creeper and several Chaffinch.  We also heard the trill of a Wren but failed to get a sight of it.  Along the track to the Higher Quarry we also stopped to look a number of plants including several orchids.  On reaching the quarry we were at about 800 metres above sea-level and found a male Woodchat Shrike perched on the hillside, occasional Dartford Warblers emerging briefly from the scrub they were feeding amongst, Stonechats and Goldfinch.  We also saw a few Spotless Starling flying below us.  On the mountainside we also saw Red-legged Partridge, Jackdaw and heard numerous Rock Bunting calling but only spotted a few.  Red-rumped Swallows had joined the other hirundines and a few Common Swift had joined the Pallid Swifts flying above us and occasional Chough flew across the mountainside calling.  We also heard and then saw a female Common Kestrel fly across the the face of the cliff that housed the Eagle Owl nesting site.  In the Higher Quarry, which was much more rugged than the Lower Quarry we found a pair of Black Wheatear and even spotted the location of a nest as we watched the female taking food to her nestlings.  There were also a couple of Rock Dove.  On our walk back down to the cars we added Collared Dove and another male Blackbird to our growing list.
img 7363-thekla-larkThe cars then set off up the crag track towards the plateau of Sierra de Loja climbing to about 1,000 metres.  Here we stopped on the side of the track, allowing enough space for passing vehicles, and walked upwards, along the edge of the track for about three hundred metres.  The views looking down in the valley below us were stunning and the views of the craggy mountainside above us were equally impressive.  On this walk we saw two Little Owls perched on the rocks and Sardinian Warblers feeding among the scrub.  There were also Black Wheatears flying among the rocks and we saw one beautifully coloured, male Black-eared Wheatear.  Running across the ground were Red-legged Partridge and flying above us were Eurasian Crag Martin and Pallid Swift.  On the top of a crag we briefly saw a handsome Blue Rock-thrush and we heard a flock of European Bee-eaters flying high overhead.  Among the scrub we saw another male Blackbird and we were surrounded by Thekla Larks .  We also again heard the trill of a Wren and failed to see it.  We were hoping to see a few species of warbler feeding among the scrub growing on the mountain slopes below us but on this day there were none to see.
We therefore continued upwards, climbing to about 1,200 metres to a place called Los Aljibes where there is a water trough that is used by mountain goats and sheep and of course birds .  img 1130-1The terrain here was not as craggy but the ground was covered by scattered rocks and between the rocks there was short green grass and occasional scrub.  Here we saw more Red-legged Partridges, Stonechats, Thekla Larks and Rock Buntings.  In the distance we spotted two Common Ravens circling together in the very blue sky.  We also caught sight of another Black-eared Wheatear and found our first Northern Wheatear.  This is the lowest location where Mick has seen Rock-thrush (known by many as the Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush) but on this day they were not about.
Our journey continued upwards to a height of around 1,400 metres above sea-level to a small laguna called Charco del Negra.  This laguna is home to the Iberian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl) and was surrounded by lush short green grass.  img 1135-1As the year progresses the green grass will disappear as it is shrivelled by the the relentless sun.  But today we took advantage and used it as the location of our picnic lunch.  The laguna is also used by birds and we soon spotted Linnet and Rock Sparrow around its edges.  We could hear more Rock Bunting and spotted a few among the rocks.  Above us we had Pallid Swift, Common Swift and Eurasian Crag Martins feeding and perched on a crag above us was a male Blue Rock-thrush keeping an eye on us while we enjoyed our lunch.  Before we departed on our journey upwards we posed for a “Team Photograph” .  Yes I know there are six missing.  Three had decide that their car could go no further and there were three taking the photograph.
img 7352-rufous-tailed-rock-thrush-male-editWe climbed to just over 1,500 metres to a beautiful plateau and here we found, to everyone’s delight, two pair of Rock-thrush .  There were also still Eurasian Crag Martins feeding in the sky above us and Red-legged Partridges running across the ground.  A male Black Redstart was also recorded, and more Rock Sparrows and ChoughBlue Rock-thrush were also looking down on us and we found another male Black-eared Wheatear.
On our way back down we encountered more of the species that we had seen on our ascent Including Little Owl and Blue Rock-thrush.  We also had magnificent views of the distant snow-covered Sierra Nevada .  img 1138-1However, Mick had planned a finale to the day and showed the group a site where Spectacled Warblers breed and sure enough a male bird decided to pose for us.  Mick explained that the Spanish name for this bird is Curraca Tomillera because it nests in wild Thyme bushes.  The Spanish name for Thyme is Tomillo and not surprisingly we were surrounded by wild Thyme bushes.  We also recorded a male Subalpine Warbler at this site.
As we had descended to about 900 metres we decided that it was a good place for everyone to say their goodbyes and go their separate ways.  On the way down Blue Tit, Great Tit and Crossbill were also recorded as  our track passed through coniferous woodland.
img 7369-eurasian-eagle-owl-editOn our descent, Juliet, Mick Smith and I decided to call in at the Higher Quarry to see if the Eagle Owls were on display.  It was not a surprise to find that Bob and Jenny Wright and Eric Lyon had decided to do the same thing.  We were all rewarded because the climbers had gone and there sat in the entrance to the cave, which is the nest site was an Eagle Owl bathed in sunlight, surveying its kingdom below.  What a way to end a wonderful day.
Birds seen on the day 49 species. (Shown in systematic order)
Red-legged Partridge, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Eagle Owl, Little Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, European Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Iberian Azure-winged Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Common Raven, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Thekla Lark, Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Wren, Short-toed Treecreeper, Spotless Starling, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Rock-thrush, Blue Rock-thrush, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Crossbill, Rock Bunting.
David Hird
Chairman of Andalucia Bird Society

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