Thursday, 19 March 2015

Sierra Espuña and the Saladares del Guadalentín

Hi all,
Last Thursday (12th March), with superb weather for photography, I decided to call into the ‘Pozos de la Nieve de Murcia’ (Murcia Snow Pits) in Sierra Espuña (for further details see my post of the 13th February 2014).  My last visit there back in January wasn’t too successful, with it being very cold, and there being a strong northerly wind blowing, and the pools there had run dry so there was no water for the birds to drink.  So although there has been some snow since then, it was with bated breath that I approached the ‘pozos’.  On my way up to them, there was plenty of birdsong around, mainly of Coal Tits singing, but I also picked out the high pitched song of a Firecrest.  The song, quite similar to that of a Goldcrest although slightly stronger, is still a fairly quiet one, and so it defies the imagination as to how the male manages to pull in a female.

 Coal Tit - one of many heard singing
 Firecrest - quietly singing away ...
 ... and waiting for a mate

On reaching the ‘pozos’ I found my fears about possible lack of water to be unfounded – there wasn’t a lot but enough water below the hawthorn bush so that the birds perch in it before dropping down to the ground for a drink and bath.  So positioning myself with the sun directly behind me, I just had to wait to see the birds.  I sat there for a couple of hours and built up quite a list of birds that came down to drink.  It was impossible to photograph all of them as once they get into the bush, they are almost lost to view.   The species that came down were Blackbird, Redwing, Ring Ouzel (at least 25 of these still around), Black Redstart (it must have been a day of passage for these as I saw at least 15 of these), a couple of Blackcaps, Crested Tit, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Chaffinch, Cirl Bunting and Rock Bunting. 

 One of the commonest birds seen during the morning - Black Redstart ...

 ... and the other common bird, Ring Ouzel
 Another Ring Ouzel
 Female Black Redstart
 One of the alpine 'alpestris' sub-species
 Watching me watching the birds, a Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia) or Arrui
 Regularly flying over, (Red-billed) Chough
 Male Ring Ouzel in lookout mode
 Female Ring Ouzel ...
 ... and another

Flying over on several occasions were Chough (of the ‘Red-billed’ variety), a couple of Ravens and Carrion Crows and a single Peregrine shot through with some avian prey. Beginning to get a bit stiff, I left the ‘pozos’ at about 1-30pm and headed back to my car for a sandwich lunch.  A perfect time made all the better by the lack of people on a bright sunny and warm morning.

And on my way back it was quiet and windless enough that I heard a Crossbill calling and then could hear another one as it was munching its way through a pine cone, and found a third in another nearby tree – the full family, male, female and juvenile.

The Crossbill family - ma ...

... pa ...

 and baby

It was as I was having my lunch in the car that I realised that I hadn’t seen any Short-toed Treecreepers yet this year, and so instead of taking my usual route out of the Espuña reserve (via Aledo), I took the other route out, passing the ‘Centro de Visitantes Ricardo Codorniu’.  It is close to this visitors centre that I know of some sites for the Treecreepers, so I stopped here for a while, and heard and saw a minimum of three of these little delights singing and running up the tree trunks.

 Short-toed Treecreeper

As it was still quite early when I left Espuña, I decided to make a short call into the ‘saladares del Guadalentín’ on my way home.  I wasn’t expecting to see much, as I’ve realised from previous visits that the afternoon can be pretty quiet here, but I did have a couple of Kestrels (one of which could easily have been a Lesser Kestrel, but I couldn’t get close enough to confirm i.d.),  three Marsh Harriers, a Raven, my first Great Spotted Cuckoo of the year, and on the ground various Stone Curlews, Red-legged Partridges and my first Lesser Short-toed Larks of the year (surprising this considering they are all year round residents).

 Marsh Harrier

 Great Spotted Cuckoo

 Great Spotted Cuckoo

 Displaying (and fighting) Stone Curlews

And that was it for the day – a relaxing day out inland from the coast.