Friday, June 10, 2016

Birding Spain - El Chorro

Dave decided he wanted to take me to an area I hadn't visited before called El Chorro, which is in fact one of the most popular rock climbing areas in Spain. It's located next to Desfiladero de los Gaitanes ("Gorge of the Gaitanes"). The gorge was famous for a dangerous bridge called Caminito del Rey (King's little pathway). The path provided access to a hydro-electric plant and took its name after an official visit by Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1921.

Woodchat Shrike at Ardales
On route to El Chorro and about an hour inland from Malaga is the small, picturesque town of Ardales, and the national park that shares its name. One of the main draws here is the stunningly beautiful turquoise lakes that calmly sit amongst the rugged Andalusian landscape.

Crested Lark at Ardales
Although the area is mostly used for recreation its well worth a stop and birds of note during our short stay included: Woodchat Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Crested Lark, Serin and various numbers of Grey Heron, Little Egret, Black-headed Gull and Great-crested Grebe. However, the highlight had to be three Gull-billed Terns, which offered excellent flight views before settling on the distant bank.

El Chorro
El Chorro as you would imagine is quite touristy but thankfully today reasonably quiet, save for the many who were returning after venturing up the Caminito del Rey. Dave and I took a leisurely stroll, very leisurely in 40C up to the start point of where the 7.7km walk begins! Not today thank you!!

Several Griffon Vulture nesting on the gorge.
Almost on arrival it was obvious that Griffon Vultures were nesting on the gorge, with several enjoying the thermals before settling on the rock face. As we moved further up the path a couple of Blue Rock Thrush offered some brief views, perching on a fence but not long enough for a photo. When we reached the top a dozen or so Alpine Swift came into view and then a call I recognised alerted us to a couple of Red-billed Chough. In a small cave a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were nesting, both parents busily coming in and out with food.

Rock Bunting - Almost within touching distance.
The surprise of the day for me was when Dave and I paused for a while in the shade and right in front, almost within touching distance, a Rock Bunting carrying what appeared to be a grasshopper! I would image we were literally right on top of the nest as the bird seemed reluctant to move, so after realising this we quickly moved on.

Busy Rock Bunting!
As if this wasn't enough excitement another bird sitting on the rocks above our position turned out to be a Black Wheatear, in fact there were two. We watched for while, me desperate for a photo, as the birds teased, until finally both flew across the gorge, the white tail against the black body and blue sky looking almost surreal in the bright sunshine! After pausing at the top for a while to enjoy the Alpine Swifts and Griffon Vultures we made or way down recording of note: Serin, Spotless Starling, Chiffchaff and a family of Coal Tits.

View of the African coastline from the villa this evening!
This evening back at the villa a strong breeze cleared the heat haze producing some excellent views of the rugged African coastline across the Mediterranean. Several Crossbills passed through, Booted Eagle over and endless Common Swift. A Golden Oriole, first heard calling below was finally located but didn't hang around.