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Birding Day Serrania de Ronda

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black-eared-wheatear1The Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema are situated amidst limestone peaks, which lie south and west of the Sierra Nevada. The area’s highest peak is Torrecilla at 1,919 metres. To the southwest of the Serranía the mountains are sandstone. The habitats of the area are varied and include sheer limestone cliffs, pine woods, Spanish Fir, grasslands, scrub and oak woods. Amongst the flora there are several species endemic to the area. The Serranía and its surroundings include three major natural parks, Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere Reserve, Sierra de Grazalema Biosphere Reserve and Los Alcornocales a richly wooded park. This is my study area; I’ve died and gone to heaven!

Tour Leader/Guide: Peter Jones
Author : Peter Jones

A great plus to living and working around the Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema is to know where the birds are at any given time and where to go according to local weather conditions.

The area and its surrounds have to be one of the best birding hot spots in southern Spain. The choice of sitesmelodious-warbler1 and species, at all times of the year, make it one of the most popular sites visited by nature tour operators and individuals (with an eye for bird) in Spain. My knowledge of the area, and in particular the variable weather conditions, helped several people get the best out of their time here during the beginning of May 2009. As with April the month has, so far, not really settled and we are still getting the odd day of low cloud and rain (much to the joy of the locals). A feature of the spring migration this year has been the on and off arrival of many of our summer residents. It has been strange to watch Bee Eaters Merops apiaster going through for almost 6 weeks, but only see the occupation of breeding sites take place over the last fortnight. Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus has been very late to arrive at traditional sites and at least one star turn for the summer, Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica, has failed to occupy many known and favoured areas. After six years officially declared drought years, we had substantial rainfall this winter and the consequence has been luxuriant growth to our vegetation, great for the wildflower enthusiast, but not so good if you are a Black-eared Wheatear requiring low field layers and bare areas.

white-winged-black-ternDuring days when conditions have made birding difficult in the high Sierras I have tended to go to a couple of lowland sites. It is so good to report here how good Fuente de Piedra has been this spring after such a disaster last year. The spring of this year has seen the lagoon and surrounding scrapes with plenty of water producing great relief for the breeding Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus (some 20/25,000 are currently there) and migrating waders. Some notable birds seen there this year are White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus, Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotus, several Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii and up to 7 Lesser Flamingos Phoenicopterus minor (reported to be breeding this year).

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It has been great to watch several wader species pass through in their full breeding plumage none more colourful than the many (brick red) Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea and watching displaying Ruff Philomachus pugnax has been both amusing and a privilege. Even the gull enthusiast could find solace so far from the coast with both Mediterraneancurlew-sandpiper1 Larus melanocephalus and Slender-billed Gull Larus genei putting in appearances. A solitary drake White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala has remained at one of the lagoons for a few months now and seems to like the company of the Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina, often in the company of the males perhaps it prefers blonds! I have also managed a few excursions off the Sierras to the Jimena area and this month has been extremely good for the elusive Rufous Bush Chat Cercotrichas galactotes, always difficult I now have the perfect spot for them. In the same area I had high numbers of Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, Melodious Warbler Hippolias polyglotta and some tremendous views of Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus wheeling their way northwards.

By now most of the summer residents are back on their familiar territories, whilst late northern migrants such as Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, Honey Buzzard and straggling Black Kites Milvus migrans continue to make their long journey to higher latitudes. A surprise sighting for me on the Rio Guadiaro was 3 Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides and all this whilst watching Wryneck Jynx torquilla, Melodious and Olivaceous Warbler Hippolias opaca! Little-ringed Plover Charadrius dubius are sat tight on their eggs and our Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila pennata are all very busy feeding young, although they continue to be easily distracted by Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus and any other raptor that has the bare cheek to wander too close to their nest. It was amusing for me to watch a rufous-bush-robinmale Bonelli’s Eagle getting some of his own medicine near to Cueavas by receiving the unwanted and persistent attention of 2 Raven Corvus corax. Higher in the uppermost reaches of the Llanus de Libar Woodlark Lullula arborea are now being accompanied by fledged young as too are Stonechats Saxicola rubicola. Around the villages young Swallow Hirundo rustica can be seen flying around the rooftops with both Pallid Apus pallidus and Common Swift Apus apus as company. Cuevo de Gato is always an attraction at this time of year with its large colony of Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba and large numbers of Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris, strangely absent but present further down river is Golden Oriole. Apart from the ever present Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, it has also been a feature of this site to see Dipper Cinclus cinclus and I guess this is due to the recent cleaning of the river (the sewerage plant in Ronda is at last functioning). The high area of the Alta Genal has produced great days out this month with the discovery of a pair of sub-adult Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos attempting to breed. Whether these two youngsters will be successful remains to be seen, but they certainly add to the many reasons for visiting this wonderful route. Along the rocky areas of this route is good for Blue Rock Monticola solitarius and Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis, Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura, Black-eared Wheatear, Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax and many raptors.

It will soon be time for me to get to grip once more with ringing adult Subalpine Sylvia cantillans and Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli and before I know it (age has this affect) I will be concentrating on autumn migration!
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