Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Spain,Extremadura, 2017. Part 7. Heaven sent, birding at 5800 ft!

After arriving back at Colera Y Chozas on the Thursday night we had another chance to meet up with the our bird hide contact. We'd had a provisional plan sent to us some months previously and we accepted it was subject to change dependant on what was happening when we arrived in Spain. We were not due to start for another three days but he told us he'd had a cancellation for his Black-winged Kite hide for the coming Sunday and Monday. It was ours if we wanted it. Great stuff, what else would we be doing? 
Mike would be first in on the B-W Kite which was an all day session , I would be doing Bee-eaters and Lesser Kestrels, two half day sessions . Following day I'd be doing the Kite.
Something to look forward to but in the meantime we had two days to fill.
The first one we'd head to the Sierra de Gredos, an 85 km drive away.
On the plane on the way over to Spain Mike and I had discussed out target species and one bird stood out.
Don't ask me why but you get these birds in your head that you must see and this was one of them.
To be honest I wasn't over confident of our luck. We'd been told you get them at Arrocampo Reservoir but I had my doubts. I had read you only find them at altitudes of 1800m and Arrocampo didn't fit that profile.
Once again friends Rich and Steve provided us with the information that confirmed they were indeed to be found at altitude and they had been successful.
That's were we were heading! Armed with directions off we went at the crack of dawn again.
I'm not sure exactly how high above sea level Colera  Y Chozas is but it's a long way below the top of the mountains that lie due north.
Once again, a great road took us directly to were we wanted to go but the further we went, the higher we got, the colder it became.
We were watching the in-car thermometer with some concern.
4º frost and ice warning
0º a real possibility of ice. Mike warned me to be careful,  I was driving.
-1º, -2º,-3º
How low could it go?
It was -5º when we got to the local town where you take the final turn off to the mountains.
Mike, who feels the cold even more than I do, was reluctant to get out of the car in those temperatures. I was only too happy to go along and suggested we look for somewhere that was open for coffee at 7.00am.
Luckily we found one open and took our time before deciding to brave the mountains.
Off we went again, passing a camp site along the way. There were people in tents would you believe!
No wonder the odd vulture flies over!
Anyway, we were first car on to the car park. We gathered our gear and set off up the path.It was hard work. We were already at a fairly high altitude so air was a bit thinner here.
20 minutes or so later we found the spot that Rich had described. We were still in the shade of a mountain, it was bitterly cold but the place was alive with bird song!
At first I assumed Rock Bunting but in actual fact they were Ortolan Bunting.

Ortolan Bunting   Emberiza hortulan
This one was taken at point blank range, I guess it was too cold for the bird to fly!
My hands were freezing from carrying cold steel in the form of my lens foot. They stung like they do when you played snowballs with bare hands as a kid.
However, the sun was coming up and it looked as if it would be a glorious day.
And it was!
Whilst Mike went one way, I went another.
I was immediately attracted by the bird song from this little fella.

Dunnock     Prunella modularis
With the sun shine directly on his silvery breast I wasn't 100% sure of what I was looking at.
Alpine Accentor?
Sadly not.
Dunnock , just like I get in the garden at home!
No mistaking the next one though, again one I get in the garden but rarely the opportunity to photograph.
Wren    Troglodytes troglodytes
This one was a pure exhibitionist.
Wren    Troglodytes troglodytes
but these two, despite showing so well, were not going to hold my attention too long.
The target was Bluethroat  and some 50m away Mike had found one.
I wasted no time getting over there and this was my first ever sighting, my first ever photograph.
Bluethroat   Luscinia Svecica
What a relief, I had actually got a shot.
As it turned out I had no need to worry. This particular bird was so confiding it was unbelievable.
Bluethroat   Luscinia Svecica
Sitting on the Broom plants wasn't exactly ideal but he landed on the odd dead branch too.
Bluethroat   Luscinia Svecica
I decided to put a few perches in place and he duly obliged.
Bluethroat   Luscinia Svecica
What a fabulous bird!
Bluethroat   Luscinia Svecica
He was so confiding he wandered around at my feet and even went in to display mode for me.
Bluethroat   Luscinia Svecica
What an absolute joy and it went a long way to putting the trials and tribulations of the previous week behind me.
I couldn't spend all day with the one bird, well I probably could but there were other targets about.
Mike had already wandered off back down to the car park so I headed down that way too.
Along the way I found RocK Bunting, my second "lifer" of the day.
This was a juvenile I think.
Rock Bunting   Emberiza cia
Nearby were the adults.
Rock Bunting   Emberiza cia
The only time one came near the pose wasn't quite right.
Rock Bunting   Emberiza cia
Gave a nice head on view of the moustache though!
A few metres further down I had a brief encounter with a pair of Water Pipit. "Lifer" No 3!
The shots were grabbed and I failed to nail the focus. This was definitely down to me though.... I think!
Water Pipit   Anthus spinoletta
Add to the birds a mammal "lifer" and this was turning in to quite a day.
Spanish Ibex
Spanish Ibex are reasonably confiding but always a bit wary. Their ability to walk on bare rock faces without slipping is amazing.
Spanish Ibex
A lovely addition to our birding photography.
Spanish Ibex
By now it was getting pretty warm, possibly as high as 13º! Photography was getting harder with the harsh light and yes, heat haze too.
We decided to head down to the village for some lunch and found an amazing deal of a three course set menu for 8 euro. That would at least mean we didn't have to worry about an evening meal as our dinner at our hotel the night before had been less than impressive.
Back up the mountain in the afternoon I decided to travel light and left my camera bag and tripod behind in the car. I even substituted my heavy 1DX for the lightweight 7D2 and off I went fairly scampering up the mountain now I'd shed about 15kgs in weight.
My target was to reconnect with the Water Pipit if possible but that proved more difficult than I had hoped. The only sighting I had was distant.
Water Pipit   Anthus spinoletta
but I did fair much better with a pair of Yellow Wagtail.
Yellow Wagtail  Motacilla Flava Iberiae
This one is the blue headed "iberiae" race.
It has been an absolute dream of a day. My troubles melted away with the last of the winter snow up at that level. What a fabulous experience it had all been.
Still, time to head home for now but we decided we needed to come back for some unfinished business. Ortolan and Rock Bunting, Water Pipit and a briefly seen Common Rock Thrush  justified another drive up here that's for sure.
We wouldn't make it two days on the trot though. Mike was generous enough to agree to return to Monfrague instead to give me an opportunity to make up for my losses the previous day.

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