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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Winter Birding Espania

☀️22C ~ Wind ⇐ WNW@3mph  Thursday 26th December 2019

Today Dazza and I took a drive out to Sierra de Loja, a limestone massif with its highest point at Sierra Gords, some 1,671 metres.

The rocky terrain of the Sierra de Loja
This is an open and beautiful but remote and sparse place. The landscape consists of a few trees, low lying scrub and bushes but is mainly short dry grass and rocky terrain, the scenery is simply stunning and the birding can at times be very rewarding. You can access the dirt road that leads up to the top at the Los Abades Services area exit off the A92 road to Granada.

Black Wheatear ~ Quite confiding birds and one of three seen today.
The lower section of the drive up is a good place to find Azure-winged Magpies, which are annoyingly elusive and when located are almost impossible to photograph. Rock Bunting and Black Wheatears are also a feature and the latter, once located can be quite confiding. Patience can also reveal the odd Red Squirrel in the lower pine woods.

Male Black Redstart
Stonechats, along with Black Redstarts seem abundant during the winter months and by the time we reached our halfway point we were in double-figure numbers for both.

Thekla Lark ~ Rather short bill with convex lower mandible than that of the Crested Lark but the contact call/alarm-call may be the best characteristic to separate it when both species occur
A distant Iberian Grey Shrike was the closest we got on this visit but Thekla Larks are a feature of the rocky slopes and were at close quarters during several stops. There's also a good population of Red-legged Partridge and we flushed several while driving along.

Griffon Vulture over the Sierra de Loja
In one particular area, a decent-sized population of Ring Ouzels can be found in what can only be described as an oasis of Hawthorn bushes. However, with the berry stock depleted at this time of year, the birds were a little harder to find. Overhead a Griffon Vulture and scoping the high peaks a Red-billed Chough was giving a Raven a hard time.

A small group of over forty Stone Curlews take flight when disturbed by a passing tractor
Once down from the mountains and after coffee in the Los Abades services we headed on the short distance to Huétor-Tájar, a municipality and town located in the province of Granada. Here a large population of Stone Curlews winter and can be found on the ploughed fields which surround the town. One field, in particular, has a footpath through the centre which runs adjacent to a narrow irrigation channel and leads down to the railway line. This can be very productive and can offer reasonably close views of over forty Stone Curlews.

Linnet at Huétor-Tájar
Along the irrigation ditch, a 1st-year Bluethroat made a brief appearance, which unfortunately Dazza missed and as with the mountain pass, there was an abundance of Stonechat and Black Redstarts, which were being almost outnumbered by Chiffchaff. Serin, Corning Bunting, Linnet, Tree Sparrow, Crested Lark and a large group of Common Waxbill were also noted.

Our final stop was to search for Little Bustard, which we located quite easily in the same field we'd found them in 2017. Unfortunately with little access, we had to content ourselves once more with scoped views while enjoying a turkey sandwich, what's not to like!