Thursday, 30 May 2013

A weekend in Nerpio

Last weekend (24th  – 26th May 2013) I went just over the Murcian border to the region of Albacete, to participate in the ‘Walnut Tree’ bird census at Nerpio. (For further details of this, see

This is the second year that the census has taken place, the idea being to get an estimation of the bird population in this area, and to note any changes that there may be.

The actual survey took just a couple of hours on the Saturday morning, but there were various excursions arranged for the whole weekend, from the Friday evening through to Sunday lunchtime.

We didn’t have to register at the hostel we were staying in until the Friday evening, but as it meant passing through one on my favourite birding areas, I took the day off work and started my weekend on the Friday morning.  This is my account of the weekend (sorry if it’s a bit long).

Friday, 24th May

I drove from Los Belones to Caravaca de la Cruz and on to Inazares on the Granada road, arriving at the Inazares turn-off at 11:45.  I stopped here for about ¾ of an hour, checking out a small Lesser Kestrel colony, and photographing Rock and Tree Sparrows.  Here there were also Magpies and I had a single Raven fly over.

 Rock Sparrow...

... and another
 One of a couple of pairs of Lesser Kestrel

 A pair (I presume) of Tree Sparrows

I continued on and took the turn-off for Cañadas de la Cruz.  Passing through Cañadas, I followed the road up towards Revolcadores (the highest part of the province of Murcia, at just over 2,000 metres).  Parking up just before the highest part of the road, I had a look around the woodland area here, which is mainly pines but with a fair amount of other mixed woodland.  This is an area I normally go to in the winter for wintering thrushes (such as Redwing, Fieldfare and Ring Ouzel), but I’ve never stopped off here at this time of year, and I’ll certainly do it again!

Possibly because of the large amount of rain and snow over the winter, everything looked very green, and all the birds were singing ‘atope’.  Nightingale, Melodious Warblers, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Serins, Corn Buntings, Woodlarks, Woodchat Shrikes, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Nuthatches – all competing to catch the attention of a mate – until a Sparrowhawk shot through - but they weren’t quiet for long.  I spent a couple of hours here, having a picnic lunch and birding throughout.  Overhead I had a Raven and three Griffon Vultures float over, and one of the Nuthatches landed on a tree next to my car.  After a quick scramble to set up the camera, I rattled off about 20 shots, but had to ‘bin’ the majority of them – the bird was so close that only part of it was in focus!

 A very smart male Rock Bunting...

 ... singing from one of the pine trees

 This Nuthatch...

 ... checking all the crevices for insects...

 ... crossed over to my side of the road...

 ... landing in a tree three feet from my car window...
 ... meanwhile a Griffon Vulture floated overhead...

 ... and the Nuthatch continued in its search for insects

 Slightly further up the track, a Melodious Warbler was keeping lookout

Leaving reluctantly at about 3pm, I made my way back towards Caravaca de la Cruz, where the turn off for Nerpio is.  I had a couple of more stops I wanted to make before crossing the Murcia/Albacete border.  One was open farmland, another Lesser Kestrel site where I had at least 13 Lesser Kestrels, plus 11 Chough, more Rock Sparrows, half a dozen Bee-eaters, a very nice male Black-eared Wheatear, a couple of Hoopoes and a Booted Eagle drift over.

 Here there was a larger group of Lesser Kestrels - here a male...

 ... and a female

 There was quite a number of Chough as well

 Another of the male Lesser Kestrels

 A general view of the area

The other site was just north of Archivel where I wanted to check out some woodland, but having not been here for a couple of years now, I missed the entrance into the woods that I wanted to use, and didn’t realise that I’d done so until 7 km later, so rather than turn round, I decided to continue on towards Nerpio. I stopped off at the Taibilla reservoir which is just outside Nerpio.  This was pretty poor in the way of waterbirds, with just single Little and Great Crested Grebes, a group of 7 Mallard and a few Coots dotted around, but there were again Nightingales in the bushes alongside, and I had a superb views of another male Cirl Bunting singing from the edge of the pine wood.

 The Taibilla reservoir was very quiet - one of the few birds was this Great Crested Grebe

I finally continued on to the hostel arriving at about 5-30.  As there was no-one there yet to let me in, I explored around the garden, seeing a couple of Spotted Flycatcher, at least two (after a lot of chasing) Firecrest, a pair of Black Redstart which had a juvenile obviously just out of the nest, lots of Chaffinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and Mistle Thrush.  Overhead I could hear Bee-eaters, and a couple of Griffon Vultures floated by and came to rest in some mountains opposite. By now more people had arrived, and while ‘scoping the Griffon Vultures, we came across a large, obviously old, nest, which some thought could have been a Lammergeier's from when they were found around here many years ago.  They intend to climb it later in the year, so if I hear anything I’ll keep you posted.

 In the garden of the hostel, this female Black Redstart was keeping an eye out for insects...

 ... and under the pine trees, plenty of Chaffinches

On the pine trees themselves, a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers

After supper and a quick talk on the methodology of the census for tomorrow, it was bedtime, but not before a quick walk outside to hear at least 2 Tawny Owls calling.

Bird of the day:  Although by no means a rarity, without doubt it was the Nuthatch that came down close to me.  I had always thought of these as being rarities in the region of Murcia, but I heard at least 4 singing in a fairly small area.  Just goes to show, you need to know where to go!
Saturday 25th May

Census day! After a 7-30 breakfast, we were out in the field at 8 to start our census.  Luckily I was censusing with Pedro, who although pretty much a novice at birding, has amazing sight for anything moving, so he pointed out the birds and I i.d.’d them.  We were censusing the same sites as I did last year, so everything was fairly straight forward.  The method is to stop at a pre-determined place for 5 minutes, and note every bird (seen and heard) that was within 25 metres, outside 25 metres and passing over.  We had 5 stops to make, all alongside a river, which apart from the walnut trees in small fields, had a lot of Poplars and bushes of all sorts both along the river and up in the rocky sides of the valley.  My impression was that there were fewer birds than last year (but then again, last year we were a team of 3).  For such a restricted area, we didn’t do too bad, having at least 18 different species including Ravens, Golden Orioles, Booted Eagle, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Wryneck, Spotted Flycatchers, Nuthatches and Blue Rock Thrushes, and I heard my first two Common Cuckoos of the year!

During our census, we had a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers
Finishing the census at around 9-30, we went to our rendezvous point – a house of friends where we could continue birding in the ‘campo’ (with Golden Orioles, Hoopoes, Black Redstarts, Rock Sparrows and Northern Wheatears in their garden!).

 A few views from the garden of Alfonso and Conchi in 'Los Poyos'

 In the garden, a pair of Northern Wheatears were breeding...

... and Choughs were flying to and fro
Since they have been promoting themselves as an ornithological area, the Termino Municipal of Nerpio have set up numerous interesting trails that can be walked, and we were to take one of these this afternoon, up to the top of a mountain (Majadillo, in the Sierra de Huebras), in the hope of seeing one of the Lammerguyers that a nearby captive breeding program has released.  With spectacular views, it would be a nice place for a picnic lunch as well.  Arriving there at about 2pm, we spent the next couple of hours eating and drinking, plus searching the skies for the Lammergeier.  We had no luck with the Lammergeier, but did have with several Griffon Vultures that flew by very closely, and a Booted Eagle, and had several passerines on the walk back to the cars including a couple of Subalpine Warblers, Coal Tits and Cirl Buntings.

 One of a few non-avian animals seen - Occelated Lizard

 Some of the Griffon Vultures...

 ... like this one...

 ... flew by quite close

 Not so confiding was this male Subalpine Warbler

 Picnic time, methinks - but still keep looking!

The rest of the afternoon we were free to do as we pleased, and I spent my time trying to photograph the very pale Northern Wheatears in the garden (and also falling asleep in the sunshine!).

Bird of the day:  Not so clearcut today, but I suppose the Griffon Vultures that came so close.

Sunday, 26th May

This morning we were to visit a ringing station that had been set up on another of the Nerpio trails, the Ruta de Artuñio near Pedro Andres (further details in spanish at  We had the option of starting early when they first opened the nets (which meant a 5 am start), but both Javier Palacios and I opted for a later start, arriving there at 9-30.  We thought we had made a wise choice, as when we first got up at the hostel, there was thick low cloud and fog, but apparently at the ringing site the day had started with clear skies – very localised the weather around these mountains.

If any reader ever goes to this area of Spain, I would thoroughly recommend this valley as a place to visit.  With high walled mountains on both sides, and a real variety of plants, shrubs and trees and a small river running through it, the place is beautiful.  And the birdlife – well, in the 4 hours we were there, I personally counted 38 species including Western Orphean Warblers (6 seen in the hand!), Melodious Warblers, Bonelli’s Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, Short-toed Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Firecrests, Cirl Buntings, Golden Orioles, Nightingales, Rock Sparrows, Blue Rock Thrush, Booted Eagles, Griffon Vultures and Ravens, to name but a few.

 Some of the birds captured for ringing - here a pair of Western Orphean Warblers...

 ... and another grey headed female...

 ...Bonelli's Warbler...

 ... Short-toed Treecreeper - note the long bill...

 ... Antonio and Sergio admiring a Robin...

 ... one of a couple of Woodchat Shrikes captured...

 ... and another of the Western Orphean Warblers...

... and finally, a Melodious Warbler

 Some general view photos of this beautiful valley

 Flying over the netting area, this Booted Eagle kept an eye on things...

 ... while in the ringing area there were Coal Tits

On my way out of the valley, a pair of Woodchats were in one of the small trees

Time passed all too quickly, and it was soon time to pack up.  It had been arranged for those who wanted to, to have lunch at a nearby restaurant in Yerbas, but I decided that on the way home I would call in to a place near Moratalla back in Murcia province, in the hope of seeing a Dipper.

 On my way back from Nerpio, I did an emergency stop on the road
to photograph this Short-toed Eagle flying over...

... and another stop to get a photo of the Taibilla Reservoir

It took a little longer than I expected to get here, and arriving at 4pm I started up the river.  The only problem was that being a sunny Sunday afternoon and arriving just after lunchtime, everybody and (literally) their dogs were on the same track, swimming and shouting, so my chances were slim to nill!  In the event, I didn’t see the Dippers, but was entertained for a while by Grey Wagtails feeding their young which were obviously just out of the nest, and on my walk along the river I did see more Spotted Flycatchers, Rock Buntings and Melodious Warblers amongst other birds, and at 6pm,started back for Los Belones.

 Some of the spectacular views of the River Benamor above Moratalla


  And some of the birds - here a Melodious Warbler...

 ... and a couple of Grey Wagtail


Bird of the day:  Although there were several contenders, it had to be the Western Orphean Warbler, as although I’d seen several before, never had I seen them in the hand or for such a long time in the field (singing atop a small pine tree).

Birds seen/heard over the weekend:

Little Grebe – Zampullín Común (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

Great Crested Grebe – Somormujo Lavanco (Podiceps cristatus)

Cattle Egret – Garcilla Bueyera (Bubulcus ibis)

Mallard – Ánade Azulón (Anas platyrhynchos)

Griffon Vulture – Buitre Leonado (Gyps fulvus)

Sparrowhawk – Gavilán Común (Accipiter nisus)

Common Buzzard – Busardo Ratonero (Buteo buteo)

Short-toed Eagle – Culebrera Europea (Circaetus gallicus)

Booted Eagle – Aguililla Calzada (Hieraaetus pennatus)

Kestrel – Cernícalo Vulgar (Falco tinnunculus)

Lesser Kestrel – Cernícalo Primilla (Falco naumanni)

Peregrine – Halcón Peregrino (Falco peregrinus)

Red-legged Partridge – Perdiz Roja (Alectoris rufa)

Coot – Focha Común (Fulica atra)

Rock Dove – Paloma Bravía (Columba livia)

Woodpigeon – Paloma Torcaz (Columba palumbus)

Collared Dove – Tórtula Turca (Streptopelia decaocto)

Cuckoo (heard) – Cuco Común (Cuculus canorus)

Tawny Owl (heard) – Cárabo Común (Strix aluco)

Swift – Vencejo Común (Apus apus)

Bee-eater – Abejaruco (Merops apiaster)

Hoopoe – Abubilla (Upupa epops)

Wryneck – Torcecuello (Jynx torquilla)

Green Woodpecker – Pito Real (Picus viridis)

Great Spotted Woodpecker – Pico Picapinos (Dendrocopos major)

Crested Lark – Cogujada Común (Galerida cristata)

Woodlark (heard) – Alondra Totovía (Lullula arborea)

Swallow – Golondrina Comun (Hirundo rustica)

House Martin – Avión Común (Delichon urbicum)

Crag Martin – Avión Requero (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)

Grey Wagtail – Lavandera Cascadeña (Motacilla cinerea)

Robin – Petirrojo Europeo (Erithacus rubecula)

Nightingale – Ruiseñor Común (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Black Redstart – Colirrojo Tizón (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Stonechat – Tarabilla Común (Saxicola torquatus)

Northern Wheatear – Collalba Gris (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Black-eared Wheatear – Collalba Rubia (Oenanthe hispanica)

Blue Rock Thrush – Roquero Solitario (Monticola solitarius)

Blackbird – Mirlo Común (Turdus merula)

Mistle Thrush – Zorzal Charlo (Turdus viscivorus)

Melodious Warbler – Zarcero Común (Hippolais polyglotta)

Dartford Warbler (heard) – Curruca Rabilarga (Sylvia undata)

Subalpine Warbler – Curruca Carrasqueña (Sylvia cantillans)

Western Orphean Warbler – Curruca Mirlona (Sylvia hortensis)

Blackcap – Curruca Capirotada (Sylvia atricapilla)

Willow Warbler – Mosquitero Musical (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Bonelli’s Warbler – Mosquitero Papialbo (Phylloscopus bonelli)

Firecrest – Reyezuelo Listado (Regulus ignicapilla)

Spotted Flycatcher – Papamoscas Gris (Muscicapa striata)

Blue Tit – Herrerillo Común (Parus caeruleus)

Great Tit – Carbonero Común (Parus major)

Crested Tit – Herrerillo Capuchino (Parus cristatus)

Coal Tit – Carbonero Garrapinos (Parus ater)

Nuthatch – Trepador Azul (Sitta europaea)

Short-toed Treecreeper – Agateador Común (Certhia brachydactyla)

Woodchat Shrike – Alcaudón Común (Lanius senator)

Southern Grey Shrike – Alcaudón Real (Lanius meridionalis)

Golden Oriole – Oropéndola (Oriolus oriolus)

Jay – Arrendajo Común (Garrulus glandarius)

Magpie – Urraca (Pica pica)

Carrion Crow – Corneja Común (Corvus corone)

Raven – Cuervo (Corvus corax)

Jackdaw – Grajilla (Corvus monedula)

Chough – Chova Piquirroja (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

Spotless Starling – Estornino Negro (Sturnus unicolor)

House Sparrow – Gorrión Común (Passer domesticus)

Tree Sparrow – Gorrión Molinero (Passer montanus)

Rock Sparrow – Gorrión Chillón (Petronia petronia)

Chaffinch – Pinzón Vulgar (Fringilla coelebs)

Serin – Verdecillo (Serinus serinus)

Greenfinch – Verderón Común (Carduelis chloris)

Goldfinch – Jilguero (Carduelis carduelis)

Linnet – Pardillo Común (Carduelis cannabina)

Corn Bunting – Triguero (Miliaria calandra)

Cirl Bunting – Escribano Soteño (Emberiza cirrus)

Rock Bunting – Escribano Montesino (Emberiza cia)


  1. As usual Richard your blog has inspired me to get off my backside and go and find this place. We are so lucky to have such variety of habitats so close. Thanks for the blog, Geoff. Stokes.

  2. Thanks for the comment Geoff. Yes, this area is certainly different to my home coastal area, and it's good to get out into 'different air' from time to time.
    Regards, Richard.

  3. Have been following your blog During the lást 9 months and really enjoy It. It's very informative and interesting and I have tried to visit several of the sites you describe. As I Live in the north west of Murcia I decided to try and find the lesser kestrels today, near the INazares turning. Fantastic views of them, Many thanks. Keep up the good work. Un saludo, Martín

  4. Thanks for the feedback Martin.
    Regards, Richard.

  5. Hi Richard
    I came across your blog whilst looking for birding organisations in the Murcia region where I have a property about 35 minutes from Cartagena. I'm out there in September. If you fancy getting together let me know at

    1. Hi Kalmond,
      I've not got September planned out yet so am not sure whether I'll be in the area or not, but drop me a line nearer the time with dates & maybe we can sort something out.

  6. Hi,I am visiting next week (my wife's parents have a house near Rojales). We have been a couple of times before so I have visited La Mata and the salt pans at Santa Pola and Torravieca pier. Can you suggest anywhere else nearby, where I may get some more unusual stuff?
    many thanks
    Del on Fair Isle

    1. Hi Del,
      I've given you a couple of suggestions in a private e-mail.