Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Sierra de Cazorla

8th - 15th May 2010

8th May :- I met Sue, David & Daphne, Doug & Penny, Dave & Lyn at Gatwick’s North Terminal with plenty of time spare before our flight. However the spectre of the Volcanic Ash Cloud reared its ugly head and caused us a delay of nearly 3 hours, which wasn’t easy. However we eventually landed in Malaga and successfully met up with my very good friend (and respected warden on the National Park ) Fernando before setting off north and inland to the Sierra de Cazorla. The journey takes some time and the last part was done in darkness, which produced a Little Owl for those sat at the front of the minibus. The journey up until then had brought the usual common species of Western Yellow legged Gull (near Malaga), Spotless Starling, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Common Swift, Kestrel and a roadside Red legged Partridge to Fernando & Doug who were in the front. However Dave also had a very good sighting with a Red Fox in one of the agricultural fields on our way into the mountains. We arrived at our lovely accommodation late evening and we quickly got ourselves sorted out with rooms before heading straight down for the evening meal. The staff at the hotel were brilliant as they a veritable feast even at this hour. We were all very tired so very soon after our meal and having had Fernando kindly explain what the plan for the next morning was we all returned to our rooms for a good sleep.

9th May :- Breakfast had been booked for 07:30 and we all gathered outside before heading for the restaurant. A few Griffon Vultures and Ravens were already on the wing, although Penny did very well finding an Egyptian Vulture but sadly it didn’t remain in the area. This morning we could appreciate the situation of this hotel as it overlooked a large part of the sierra with the town of La Iruela in the distance. During breakfast a female Blackcap was seen by a few of us and then as we gathered in the parking area we found our first (of several) pale phase Booted Eagles of the day. The weather was fine as we set off up the mountain towards Rambla Seca one of the highest points of the sierra. The journey up was slow as we mainly travelled along tracks through extensive pine woodland and limestone rock faces. At one such corner Fernando pointed out the endemic Cazorla Violet, of which there were plenty situated in the crevices. As we passed through the Val de Trillo I saw a Red Squirrel amongst the pines and a bit of careful positioning produced eye-ball contact with two of these dark looking sub-species, much to everyone’s enjoyment. We continued along the winding and pot-holed track and as we rounded one sharp bend at Vadillo Castril we found two female Spanish Ibex at the side of the road. We were also finding a few birds with Chaffinches, Robin, Woodpigeon, Blackbird, Magpie and Carrion Crow being seen from the vehicle, David in the front had also been hearing the trill of Western Bonelli’s Warbler as we passed through the forest. Fernando pulled into one particularly stunning vista at Fuente Acero and explained this was the nest site of the last pair of Lammergeyers to breed in the Sierra de Cazorla (back in 1986), and duly showed us the old nest. There were a few Griffon Vultures to be seen but we also got a decent view of a Crested Tit was had as moved through the sparse pine trees. Further we climbed seeing many plant species such as Stinking Hellibore, Grape Hyacinth and Hedgehog Broom as the forest gave way to the grassed mountain areas of the Rambla Seca. Here we climbed out of the minibus into near arctic conditions with a biting wind and the clouds were starting to darken. However we set off on a walk over this gorgeous area and immediately found species such as Melodious Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Serin, Linnet, Goldfinch, Stonechat, Common Buzzard and a brief view of a Peregrine Falcon. We visited a water trough that held the tadpoles of Natterjack Toad and Fernando took great pride in explaining the much-varied avifauna of his home environment. Doug heard a Cuckoo in the distance, Sue then found a handsome male Northern Wheatear, which was quickly followed by Fernando pointing out an adult Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Raven. What a place. Penny then saw something different in a tree and was quickly identified as a Black eared Wheatear but by now the cloud had dropped and we were getting shrouded in mist. Thankfully it was lunchtime and Fernando thought we would do well to drop down the mountain to a suitable sitting area. So we stopped for lunch at Nava de Paulo but the weather was getting worse, however Lyn discovered a Jay before we left. As the weather deteriorated we returned to the hotel seeing an Iberian Green Woodpecker en-route. Here we had a much-welcome siesta and hoped that the weather would improve before going back out that evening: thankfully it did. At 5pm we drove the short distance to the start of the ‘Bramble Path’ and set off towards the Griffon Vulture feeding station. On the way David found a Woodlark sat in a pine and we also added a pair of Rock Buntings, Coal, Great & Blue Tits. We were starting to get fantastic views of Griffon Vultures both flying and sat, with some even drying their wings like the ‘Angel of the North’. Eventually we reached the watchpoint for the feeding station but most vultures and Ravens had left, and were leaving but we did get good views of a few sat in nearby Pine Trees. We then stayed at this point for the next hour and a half having a wonderful time as the weather and the birds improved. We must have logged over 100 Griffon Vultures, there were at least 2 pairs of Booted Eagles with one displaying male and another calling from high above. Fernando found our first Short toed Eagle and I picked up a Peregrine Falcon flying through the much larger vultures. Dave & Lyn did extremely well to find a Black Kite in the distance and over the far crags a few Alpine Swifts hawked insects. All in all it had been a fantastic end to the day. Reluctantly we slowly walked back to the minibus with Doug finding a Short toed Treecreeper, which was seen by a lucky few, and Daphne showed us a beautiful Peony at the side of the track. We got back to the hotel with enough time for a shower and a quick relax before convening for the evening meal, which was then followed by the daily log. Despite the inclement weather it had been a terrific day and many thanks to Fernando for keeping us all very interested in the local wildlife. After the evening meal Dave & Lyn went back to their room and in the courtyard found a Giant Peacock Moth flying round the lights.

10th May :- With breakfast a little later this morning it gave a few of us a chance to look for some birds before eating. This produced a Song Thrush for Dave & Lyn and just watching from the restaurant balcony I saw and heard Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Blackcap, Blackbird, Wren, Blue & Great Tits. After breakfast we quickly gathered at the minibus and Fernando drove us out towards another excellent cliff-top watchpoint – El Chorro. En-route we got brief views of a pair of Red rumped Swallows that were nesting in one of the culverts along the road. Then as we passed through the pine forest Doug & I saw a raptor in active flight passing overhead and immediately recognised it as a Honey Buzzard. We stopped and I jumped out but sadly I couldn’t relocate this migrating raptor. An Iberian Green Woodpecker was spotted by Sue & Penny, which was followed by a Mistle Thrush plus a few Rock Buntings and Chaffinches. We arrived at the El Chorro watchpoint around 09:30 and we were greeted by spectacular views out over the deep gorge. Griffon Vultures were already starting to fly and just after getting out of the vehicle I found another Honey Buzzard overhead and this time we all got good views. Fernando led us down to the hide were we set our telescopes and stayed for a couple of hours seeing many species. A Spotted Flycatcher flew back and forth from a small tree and a male Blue Rock Thrush added a splash of colour as it sat on a rock close to where we stood. David found a pair of Crossbills feeding on the Cypress Tree seeds and later Sue saw them as she took a short walk. Over the gorge we were distracted by good views of a male Peregrine Falcon calling as we stood high above its nest. We got excellent views of Booted Eagles; Red billed Choughs, Jackdaws, Crag & House Martins as they patrolled El Chorro. Rock Sparrows screamed from below us and Doug and I got brief views of a couple of Alpine Swifts. Birds were not the only interest as we found a small group of 3 females and 3 young Spanish Ibex carefully negotiating the opposite rock face. Gorgeous Peony’s were in full bloom and Fernando pointed out a couple of spikes of Early Purple Orchid, with Daphne showing us the beautiful red Pheasant’s Eye. As we spread out we started to find a few more woodland species with good views of Short toed Treecreeper being had, along with Goldfinches, Chaffinches and a Raven flew over cronking its distinctive call. Around midday Fernando & I decided we should have a short walk through the forest before having our picnic lunch. So Fernando drove the minibus to a pre-arranged point and I walked with the rest through the pines. This was very successful as we got good views of Firecrest, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit, Jay, Robin and finally Western Bonelli’s Warbler. Eventually we met up with Fernando who had found an ideal spot for lunch overlooking the side of the gorge we had been stood on previously. During lunch we were watching the ubiquitous Griffon Vultures and red billed Choughs, with the odd Booted Eagle passing by. However I really enjoyed finding a soaring Goshawk high overhead and being able to pick out the salient identification features. After lunch we hung around this area for a while and got superb views of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Crested Tit (one of Sue’s highlights). However the ‘finding plaudits’ must go to David who searched the opposite rock face and found the Peregrine’s nest with 2 young ones sat on the edge. During this time we were also fortunate enough to see both adults come and go with the female being mostly sat next to the hole on a dead branch – simply fantastic. It was now time to return to the accommodation for a break before our evening session and en-route Penny saw a White Wagtail in La Iruela. During lunch the rains started but the time we were ready to leave it had abated somewhat so we headed off towards the Guadalquivir River Valley. On the way we stop at some limestone rocks to look at the very pretty endemic Cazorla Violet and while we are here I find a Sparrowhawk over the woodland. A little further Daphne spots a young male Red Deer at the side of the road and David sees his first Carrion Crow of the trip. Then a Red Fox crosses the road in front of us and sits at the side just looking at us not 3m away. So Fernando gets out and slowly edges towards it giving it a scrap of food, which apparently was what it was waiting for. Eventually we reach the Guadalquivir River Bridge and make ourselves ready for a walk along Utrero’s Cerrada (Fighting Bull Gorge). The weather still looks threatening but we are in good spirits and soon find a few female Red Deer followed by a Red Squirrel. Griffon Vultures pass overhead as does a Booted Eagle, but the rain is now falling again. Fernando leads us smartly to a large overhang where we can shelter and on the way see another pair of Peregrines that are obviously nesting on the rock face. While undercover Dave & Lyn find a female Black Redstart and a couple of Crag Martins fly in and out of their nest holes. Soon enough the rain stops and we continue on our walk through this very impressive gorge, and near a stunning waterfall I find a Grey Wagtail at the water’s edge. This was then quickly followed by Fernando locating our main target species – Dipper, which showed very well but all too briefly before it headed up (reputedly) Spain’s longest river. We then continued on our circular walk and the terrain got a little more difficult with some steep steps, and slippery stones, but we all managed admirably helping each other along. We got back to the river bridge as the rains again started to fall so we quickly got back into the minibus and headed back to our hotel. Again an excellent evening meal was had by all although the starter of eels wasn’t too well received until we actually found out it was probably Octopus or Squid that had been shredded. All thanks to Fernando’s expert detective skills!!!

11th May :- We woke to fog surrounding the hotel after several deluges during the night that kept some of awake for a while. However in these difficult viewing conditions we collectively managed to see a male Blackcap, Goldfinches, Blue & Great Tits before breakfast, with David hearing a Nightingale near our accommodation. We had planned an earlier breakfast and by 08:30 we were driving down the mountain to La Iruela where we stopped at the petrol station and while we were there Lyn saw a Sparrowhawk fly over. Today we were heading out of the mountains to a lagoon just south of the Sierra de Cazorla. The journey took about an hour and once we were driving through the miles and miles of Olive Grove we started seeing a few different birds sat on wires such as Woodchat Shrike, Turtle Dove, and Daphne saw a Black winged Stilt stood in a roadside pool. Eventually we arrived at the Laguna Grande, which was also surrounded by Olive Trees and as we approached the lake Sue saw an adult Night Heron sat in a tamarisk. New birds started to be seen immediately we got out of the minibus, and a quick check of the water produced Great Crested Grebe (+ Little Grebe heard), Little Egret (found by David), Common Coot, Mallard, a female Marsh Harrier and 2 Common Sandpipers. Common Swifts, Red rumped & Barn Swallows, Sand & House Martins hawked insects and a Nightingale showed well on the track. An Azure winged Magpie flew across the track and we just kept getting tantalisingly brief views as the group flew around calling in the grove. A pair of Stone Curlews was found down one track and nearby Dave & Lyn saw our first Hoopoe of the day. We continued walking round the lagoon stopping every other minute for something new, as Eurasian Reed Warblers sang from deep in the phragmites, Garden Warblers were found feeding in the Acacias and fruiting Strawberry Tree. One the other side of the lake where there were more reeds we found several Cattle Egrets, more Night Herons, 2 or 3 male Marsh Harriers and a Black Kite drifted over. We then again checked some of the groves finding another Hoopoe sat on a pylon (well done David), Woodchat Shrike and our first Bee-eaters seen by Sue & Doug. Then our first raptor-tastic event of the day occurred as first a Short toed Eagle was seen, closely followed by a superb Booted Eagle, I saw 2 circling Common Buzzards and then Penny said “what’s these” as 9 migrating Honey Buzzards flew north!. Off to the north the storm clouds were gathering so we pressed on around the lagoon but didn’t get far as Daphne discovered the first of two adult Purple Herons to be seen, which sent Fernando into raptures. Apparently this is a very good record for this site? Another attempt to press on was thwarted by the discovery of a male Sardinian Warbler, a few Pallid & single Alpine Swift amongst the many Common Swifts and hirundines, and then a Black winged Stilt flew over. However it was now starting to spit and it didn’t look good despites David’s assurances that the storm was missing us – while it was thundering! The last kilometre was done rather rapidly with Fernando pressing ahead to get the minibus and drive to fetch us. This was done with the usual Speyside Wildlife precision as we got into the vehicle as the heavens opened. The drive out was really interesting as the tracks were quickly turning to mud in the deluge, but Fernando as ever did a sterling job. It was lunchtime so cheekily we visited a nearby café in Puente del Obispo where we bought drinks and the owner allowed us to eat our sandwiches inside from the heavy rain. By the time we had finished an hour later the storm had passed by, but news to Fernando from a colleague was not good – the road to Cazorla had been shut due to heavy rain. A little concerned by this we started back for the mountains and en-rout we got the news it had been re-opened so the pressure was off and we detoured to another good area nearby. At the Salinas de Peal and its surrounding area we had another fantastic time as Penny found 3 Montagu’s Harriers interacting over some agricultural fields. Also here we added Crested Lark, Zitting Cisticola and lovely views of Common Spotted Orchid amongst the extensive Poppy fields. At the small Salinas we found 2 Black winged Stilts sat on their nests and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers along the waters edge. A Moorhen hugged the vegetation, a Melodious Warbler sang from a bush and another Woodchat Shrike was seen nearby. Again raptors featured heavily as we got very good views of a few Griffon Vultures, Common Kestrel, Booted & Short toed Eagles. A Quail called from the field and a short walk along the road produced superb views of another Short toed Eagle sat in a tree, a few European Bee-eaters, Stonechat and Hoopoe, with Stars of Bethlehem lining the roadside verge. However the clouds were again gathering so we decided to leave and on the way back Dave saw a Black shouldered Kite at the side of the road but unfortunately when we returned it couldn’t be re-located. So we returned to the hotel now in warm sunshine and saw that raptors were soaring over the ridges. This made sure we continued searching the skies and saw several Griffon Vultures drifting over. A Booted Eagle then appeared as did a Peregrine Falcon, which flew over us and joined the Griffon Vultures. A commotion then occurred as a couple of Ravens were mobbing a large bird of prey near the hotel and it turned out to be a sub-adult Bonelli’s Eagle – absolutely brilliant. We watched it as it flew around right above our heads showing all its salient features before departing over the far hillside. This mad a fantastic end to a marvellous day’s birdwatching, which was very much reflected in the daily log that evening.

12th May :- Again we woke to awful weather with rain and fog outside, but Sue did manage to see her male Blackcap before coming to breakfast. By the time we met to leave the rain had eased but our decision to head south still looked a very good one. We travelled down out of the mountains and the weather looked to be improving all the time and en-route David & Daphne (at the front) did manage to spot a Hoopoe with later David seeing a male Northern Wheatear at the side of the road. Dave saw an Iberian Hare in one of the agricultural fields and other birds included Serin, Linnet, Swift, Swallow and House Martin. Before long we were entering the ‘Badlands of Chillar’ and our destination for a walk, but sadly the weather was a little inclement. As we got out the vehicle I found a gorgeous male Black eared Wheatear singing from the nearby dead Almond Trees, with Thekla Larks being all around us. We set off up the hill on the track with Corn Buntings singing and then at the first break I found a Short toed Lark song-flighting with its distinctive short phrases. A little further we got superb views of these small smart larks as they fed amongst the short vegetation. Fernando continued to lead through the ‘badlands’ with Griffon Vultures drifting overhead despite the rainy weather but it was improving. A small pack of shepherd’s dogs looked ominous but we were proved very wrong as they turned out to be quite friendly and added to the spice of the walk. As Daphne rightly said “there’s never a dull moment!” Fernando took us then to an area where he had found nesting Black Wheatears the year before but initial searching proved fruitless, so Fernando went further afield to try and find them. I wandered off to look at the Spanish Gatekeepers that were now on the wing as the sun had decided to come out. It was here that ‘eagle-eyed’ Dave Maslin entered his ‘purple patch’ of finding, first by discovering a pair of perched adult Bonelli’s Eagles in the distance, quickly followed by a male Black Wheatear, much to everyone’s delight – what a man. Whilst watching the wheatear Doug and I found a soaring sub-adult Golden Eagle, which gave amazing views as it eventually flew below our position on the hillside showing just how patterned this species can be on the upper-wing. During our observation of the Golden Eagle it was joined briefly by a Peregrine Falcon. However Dave wasn’t finished as he then located the male Spectacled Warbler that had been singing for some time near to where we were standing. It was approaching lunchtime but before we left the shepherd with his flock and dogs passed by invoking David to give the essential i.d. guide of “the Goats have their tails up and the Sheep have their tails down” It was actually a superb way to tell them apart. After they had passed by we walked slowly back to the minibus and unfortunately the weather had again worsened but not too badly. Once back at the minibus we handed out the picnics and sat around enjoying our bocadillos, pastry and fruit, which was most welcome after the walk. During this time the scent of Thyme was in the air and visible migration involved lots of Common Swifts and a few Pallid Swifts. After lunch we dispersed to look for wildlife with Fernando & Dave seeing a pair of Black Wheatears. Sue identified the impressive large thistle with the help of Doug, and Fernando found a False Baton Blue that was very much enjoyed by the photographers in the party. I went for a short walk and found a Bee-eater, Sardinian Warbler and Red legged Partridge, but the highlight was a very showy male Spectacled Warbler that was enjoyed by Dave, Lyn, Penny & Doug. It was now time to leave and head for an area of dehesa Fernando knew about fairly close to where we were. The journey went fairy quickly with the only notable bird being a Short toed Eagle hovering at the side of the road. Soon we entered the ‘Dehesa del Rincon’ and drove along the track for a few kilometres before parking for a short walk through the Holm Oaks. The walk was punctuated with stops for certain species the most interesting being a singing Western Orphean Warbler that showed only briefly, very good views of Western Bonelli’s Warbler, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, Short toed Treecreepers, 2 Long tailed Tits, Jay and Mistle Thrushes. Raptors were represented by a pale phase Booted Eagle (our fourth eagle species of the day!), Common Buzzard and Griffon Vultures. It had been a very pleasant walk in the now sunny conditions and after here Fernando drove us round to the dam wall of the nearby Embalse de la Bolera. Here went spent about half an hour finding a couple of Western Yellow legged Gulls, Crag & House Martins, male Black Redstart, White Wagtail and another Short toed Eagle. As we left this area Fernando did extremely well finding a Nuthatch that was trying to crack open a nut on the bark of a tree. The journey back to the hotel was pretty good with a Black Kite and Kestrel seen en-route but Daphne shouting “Hoopoe” to a sleeping minibus was quite a comical moment. We got back to La Calerilla early evening where obviously rainfall had been a feature of the day so going south to the badlands had been a good decision. Before the evening meal Dave & Lyn had a chance to step out around the grounds of the hotel and were lucky enough to find a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Long tailed Tit amongst it’s commoner residents.

13th May :- We had booked a 7am breakfast and we woke to yet more cold and wet weather, with a bleak outlook for the rest of the day, but we were heading west to the excellent Sierra de Andujar, home of the world’s rarest cat – Iberian Lynx. The journey to Andujar was fairly slow but punctuated for a few birds such as a few Iberian Magpies near the motorway and a female Marsh Harrier. We arrived on to the Sierra de Andujar by 09:30 and immediately stopped at the excellent Hotel Los Pinos for a welcome coffee and comfort break. It was busy there with a couple of coach loads of people going to the monastery at the heart of this superb reserve. So I dispatched the group with Fernando to look around the grounds while I sorted out our refreshments. Fifteen minutes later they were back having seen more Azure winged Magpies, Nuthatch, Red rumped Swallows and House Martins. After this we quickly set off again towards the Rio Jandula where we parked at the far end next too the dam wall. The weather had improved a lot but there was still a threat of rain with dark clouds appearing over the mountains. As we got out of the minibus for a walk along the river we could hear a Golden Oriole singing in the distance as well as Bee-eaters flying around where we were parked. So we got our things together and set off along the track the way we had come seeing a few Rabbits along the river and a Small Heath butterfly clearly not enjoying the cold weather. The oriole was now closer and across the river and while Fernando kept it busy by whistling at it I scanned the trees and there it was, a male Golden Oriole sat on top of a Eucalyptus Tree. I quickly got it in the telescope and fabulous views were obtained of this special migrant. We had smiles were all round with this viewing and then a couple of Red rumped Swallows flew around our heads. Then the unthinkable happened, I was just writing some notes and instinctively looked up and saw 200m away an Iberian Lynx crossing the road. I blurted out “Lynx” but it disappeared before anyone else saw it! Fernando and I quickly formulated a plan as the chances of refinding it were good, so I headed off along the river bank and the others walked along the road. Just beyond where I had seen it originally Fernando found it but it again disappeared before anyone else got a view. So continued in the same direction and there it was, an Iberian Lynx for all to see, we had not been on the reserve an hour! Just how lucky had we been? The young male Lynx was tracked into some dense undergrowth where we lost it but everyone had had a good view and where more than satisfied as it was ‘High 5’s’ all round. While I had been following the river I had found Spanish Terrapins and a Cuckoo flew over, with Dave seeing a Great Spotted Woodpecker. We then continued to the unofficial Rio Jandula watchpoint that has become famous for Lynx sightings and stayed there for an hour and a half. During this time we had good sightings of 3 Fallow Deer on the far hillside, a European Pond Terrapin, Sue & Penny saw a Red Admiral and there were Gatekeepers around. The birds were the main interest here as we got good views of a couple of Black Vultures with several Griffon Vultures, 15 Black Kites were migrating north (very late in the season), we heard a Cetti’s Warbler, and an Iberian Green Woodpecker showed well on a dead tree, plus Sardinian Warbler, Long tailed Tits, Nightingale and more Azure winged Magpies. It was now time for lunch and I had arranged with Fernando that I would go back for the minibus and he would escort everyone else towards the iron bridge. About half back to the vehicle I had a close encounter with a female Red Deer before the rain started to fall quite heavily. I got to the bus and immediately set off along road the way I had come finding everyone sheltering under the trees. However as I got there the rains stopped so we decided to stick to the original plan and everyone carried on wandering along the road. Half an hour later we met up again near some picnic tables and the picnics were handed out. At this time I found out what had been seen during the walk, which included a Sub-alpine Warbler to Dave & Lyn, male Woodchat Shrike, Nuthatch, another male Golden Oriole singing from a tree and a few Mallards. While we were having lunch David found a male Cirl Bunting singing from a bare tree, and we encouraged a few Iberian Magpies to some pieces of apple making for some good photography options. After lunch we headed off to the El Peregrino watchpoint with Fernando finding a Little Owl at the side of the road. While I left Fernando and that everyone else at El Peregrino I went to fill the minibus with diesel, and upon my return I discovered they had seen an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle – brilliant. Also here they had got very good views of Alpine Swift, the first time on this holiday. It was now mid-afternoon and we had a little time to go to Las Escoriales to see the ‘fighting Bulls’. The drive up produced a couple of Red legged Partridges, Mistle Thrush and Red Deer but the highlight was the masses of Bee-eaters lining the overhead wires along the road. At the farm we saw the magnificent Bulls and also added Southern Grey Shrike, several Hoopoes and Crested Larks. It was now time to leave but first we had to call in to the town of Villanueva de la Reina as Fernando knew this to be a good place for a couple of our target species. As we drove into the town centre a quick look at the church (Nuestra Senora de la Navidad) produced a White Stork on its nest with a chick inside. So we parked up and walked the short distance to the square to get a better view and on doing so found our second target species – Lesser Kestrel, which also breed in the church tower, absolutely fantastic. We stayed here for about half an hour getting fabulous views and taking photos of these birds with the additional bonus of several Bee-eaters hawking insects and another Black Kite migrating north. Very satisfied we left the town and headed for Cazorla but just outside we encountered 2 male Golden Orioles flying alongside the minibus and much further along we also saw a male Montagu’s Harrier. We got back to our hotel a little after 7pm having had a brilliant day in this superb corner of Andalucia.

14th May :- After the previous long day breakfast was at a much more civilised hour before heading off into the mountains for our final full day in the Sierra de Cazorla. Sadly the weather was going to be a major feature of the day as it was again thick with mist outside, raining and very cold. However Lyn reported a female Black Redstart around the pool and the usual Chaffinches, Wren and Blackbirds were singing despite the weather. After breakfast and when Fernando had returned from Cazorla we headed up the mountain to a site for Fire Salamander as we thought we had to make the best of a bad situation. We parked at the side of the road and walked up a track for a few hundred metres seeing a Mistle Thrush and Woodpigeons (I found a Fox skull!) and hearing a Firecrest and Bonelli’s Warbler. Fernando led us to a animal drinking trough where he had seen adult salamanders the previous year and sure enough we soon found several young ones showing their distinctive black and yellow coloration. We spent a little more time looking around the area finding a Red rumped Swallow nest in a derelict building. We slowly made our way back to the minibus and the weather was getting worse with the onset of a hail storm as we made our way over to the village of Arroyofrio and beyond to the Interpretation Centre at Rio Boroso. We spent around an hour here while the rain continued to pour looking inside at the centre’s aquatic attractions and outside at their man-made pool full of fish such as a couple of fantastic Sturgeon, lots of Carp, Rainbow Trout and Barbel. From the veranda a few people watched for birds with Sue seeing a Nightingale along with Chaffinches, Blue & Great Tits. However the highlight of the morning was a Wild Boar on the opposite hillside being seen by just Fernando and Dave, which was a shame for everyone else. It was now lunchtime and we decided to head back to the hotel to eat our picnic lunch along with a hot drink as it was now very cold and wet. As we climbed out of Arroyofrio the rain turned to snow and as we got higher the roads started to get covered! Being a bank holiday there were a lot of vehicles around and the worse thing happened the traffic stopped halfway up the mountain, we couldn’t go forward and we couldn’t go back! So decided to investigate and ran up the road to find the problem, which was a cattle truck sliding on the icy slush. I contacted Fernando to tell him of the problem and he handed out the picnics to the guests. However the Guardia Civil got the situation sorted out fairly quickly and the traffic started to move so I informed Fernando of this and arranged to meet him further up the mountain where it was hopefully quieter. We met up and continued up and over the top just avoiding another difficult situation with a coach trying to get down the mountain. Eventually we reached the hotel in one piece thanks to Fernando’s excellent driving, which we all complimented him for. So we headed into the warm of the hotel’s dining room where we enjoyed our picnic with a hot drink and arranged to review the weather situation later that afternoon. So fingers crossed. At 5pm the weather had improved slightly but it was still very cold and overcast, but we decided to go to the Bramble Path again to look over the ‘Vulture Feeding Station’. This time we drove all the way and getting out of the minibus we saw there were several Griffon Vultures around some new carcasses, with even more in the air. There was also a Short toed Eagle hovering over the pine wood and a few Ravens flying around. Over the next hour and half we did extremely well as we found an adult Bonelli’s Eagle that was being mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon, a couple of pale phase Booted Eagles, a pair of very distant Golden Eagles but best of all was a Black Vulture amongst the Griffons at the carcass. Fernando explained this was a very rare occurrence at this time of year, possibly something to do with the unseasonal weather. However we were not complaining as we all got extremely good telescope views of on the ground and in comparison with the Griffon Vultures. Since we were leaving early the next morning and we needed to be packed we left the site just after 6:30pm but the drive back down the hill was punctuated with stops for a Red Squirrel, a couple of Mistle Thrushes and a few Fallow Deer. We soon got back to the hotel with enough time before the evening meal and log to freshen up and get ourselves ready for the early morning departure.

15th May :- We had our bags loaded and ready to go by 06:30 in the now commonplace misty conditions that had been a feature for the mornings in the Sierra de Cazorla. It was still dark but as we headed south it brightened slightly and we were seeing the usual mix of roadside species such as Kestrel, Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, House Sparrow, Common Swift and House Martin. Just outside Granada we stopped for some breakfast at one of the motorway services, which surprisingly produced a flyby Wryneck to Fernando, Doug & Penny, plus a Sardinian Warbler singing deep from a bush. We quickly continued to Malaga and after a slight detour to the coast I was dispatched at the airport in good time for my flight to Glasgow, leaving the rest in Fernando’s capable hands. For the next couple of hours Fernando et al enjoyed their time at the coast adding some very good species to our extensive list such as Sandwich & Common Terns, Sanderling, Ringed Plovers and a couple of Monk Parakeets. However the real highlight was Penny finding a group of 10 or so Greater Flamingos flying along the coast in excellent light and showing their magnificent colours. We have had a wonderful week and very much because of Fernando’s incredible knowledge of this special area in the Andalucian mountains where he works as a conservation officer. However many thanks must got to the group for also making this such a special week and one I will remember for a long time.

 

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