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Very unusually the meeting started at 20.00 on 22nd August at Cabra, a town bordering the National Park of Sierras Subbeticas, in the southern part of Cordoba province between the towns of Lucena and Priego de Cordoba. There are 4 significant ranges and we explored 2 of them. To the north were Sierra de Zuheros rising to 1217mtrs, where we had Sunday lunch at the Virgen de la Sierra, after visiting La Tinosa, which at 1570mtrs is the highest point in the province. The sierras are limestone with sharp escarpments and narrow steep canyons. Oak and wild Olive trees adorn the upper parts and the views between the sierras was stunning.

The main reason we started in the evening was to see the Barn Owls, which should have been flying to and from their hacking boxes, but unfortunately our guide and mainstay of the Barn Owl fledgling project had been unable to get a licence this year due to infighting and internal bureaucracy within the relevant departments in Cordoba and Seville. They eventually got the licence in August, far too late for this year. However this is an extremely important project and one which your Society fully support, as Barn Owl numbers are falling rapidly due to loss of nesting places. This year we have enabled them to purchase 2 of the uniquely designed boxes which have been installed in abandoned barns.

Barn Owl Nest Box
One our grand Barn Owl nest boxes provided by the Society.

The Explora Natura group of volunteers have fledged 45 owls over the last 9 years, collecting chicks from rescue centres around Andalucia. They have been gradually building up numbers of birds they are releasing into the countryside to around 8 per year as well as providing food for known owl nesting sites.

Our guide, Antonio Pestana, started by explaining we would not be seeing Barn Owls so he took our group of 21 members about 3 kms north of Cabra where we saw Little Owl, Raven, Bee Eaters, Northern Wheatears, Red-Rumped Swallows, Spotted Flycatchers and others before we walked to a spot where Antonio hoped we would either see or hear an Eagle Owl. We stayed as the sun went down but unfortunately we were not lucky. Antonio explained that they have 9 favourite haunts around this huge park, but we were not lucky.

“We had a fabulous time in the capable hands of Antonio, who took us in search of Eagle owls on Sat night. Sadly they have 9 different haunts and we were unlucky but we did see a Little Owl posing on a dead tree.
Sunday at the crack of dawn we headed to Zuheros, on the edge of the Parque Natural de las Sierras Subbéticas and high on a hillside saw Choughs, Thekla Larks and a Woodchat Shrike. We also went to the start of the Cañón del Río Bailón and saw Black Wheatear and Swallows but not the elusive Peregrine Falcon. I walked up the Cañón later and also saw Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Red rumped Swallows and a Sparrowhawk.
Antonio then took us above La Nava, an ancient Volcanic crater that was once below sea level. Here he had Stonechats and Black Wheatears that he fed regularly and gave us a lovely display. I had walked across La Nava the day before and had also seen flocks of Bee-eaters, Griffin Vultures and a Wheatear.
We finished at the Ermita Virgen de la Sierra with a Chaffinch and Antonio’s superb tortilla. A lovely weekend.
More birds were seen but I’ll leave the more experienced members to fill in the gaps. I still have a problem with the ‘little brown birds’!
Thank you to everyone who helped me on my identification journey. Its lovely to be around so much knowledge and enthusiasm”.  Katrina Jones

The next morning 15 of us met at 7.00 and set off for the Canon del Bailon and then on up to 900mtrs, and had splendid views of Red-billed Chough, Thekla Lark, Iberian Shrike and others.

One of Antonio’s Black Wheatears he cares for. The male here was photographed by ABS Member Kevin Pyott.

Then onto La Tinosa for Blue Rock Thrush, and onto La Nava, a high plateau where we had fantastic views of Stonechat and Black Wheatear. Antonio is a photographer and has trained the Stonechat to come to a feeding rock when he calls. The Wheatears see the Stonechat feeding and immediately take over from them, giving photographers a great opportunity.

Then we drove to the top and in the grounds of the Ermita where Antonio spoilt us with an excellent lunch which we had overlooking a water trough. Here can be seen Crossbills and Hawfinch but we were not lucky as there were many people around as it was Sunday.
As the temperature had now reached over 35dgs it was time to say our ‘Goodbyes’ and head home.

Article: John Brooks
Photos: Antonio Pestana and Kevin Pyott

NoteThe views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

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