This report has been sent in by Kiersten Rowland of Birdwatch Alpujarras who spent a few days here at the refuge enjoying the wonderful birdlife in the vicinity.
I've been looking forward to this for some time. Birdwatchalpujarras are heading west to explore Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, a hilly, forested region in the Sierra de Morena range north of Seville. A wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at the Cork Oak habitat on the Extremeduran border…and a terrific chance to check out the birdwatching in a beautiful new location!
Kiersten and Richard have travelled the route before, but for me the journey was a new one and we were soon seeing species I'd yet to encounter in Spain. Tall buildings and pylons along the way were crowned with the immense nests of White Storks, and with their striking black and white plumage and two metre wingspan the birds were an unforgettable sight.
Soaring raptors proved difficult to identify from the car, but the Griffon Vultures were unmistakable as the motorway took us across the arid, flat southern plains: the stifling heat providing the updrafts that these magnificent use so masterfully. Later, as we left the urban sprawl of Seville behind we passed ordered, manicured hillsides of oak and fig trees – providing acorns and rich fruit for the famous local black pigs – and Red Kites scavenged along the roadside, skilfully snatching roadkill in the traffic with twisting, swoops and dives. Superb!
Soon we left the main road and a winding track took us to our accommodation, a mountain refuge restored and run by our friend Javier. The gentle, rolling hillsides were a welcome change from the harsher peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the mixed oak woodland and patches of bracken were a surprising reminder of home.
Our first walk too brought many species that would be familiar to birdwatchers in the UK. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinch and skittish Blackbirds all showed well, and the usual hirundines and swifts swirled overhead. We quickly screeching, noisy Jays to the evening's list…and we had good views of Nuthatch in no time at all. It was there the similarities with a British woodland ended however. Short-toed Treecreepers flitted up the treetrunks, and small flocks of Spotless Starlings foraged in the fields.
Families of Woodchat Shrikes eyed us suspiciously as we passed – note the juvenile shown here begging for food from a decidedly disinterested parent – and good numbers of Golden Oriole flashed between the trees. We soon heard the unmistakable calls of Bee Eaters on the slopes above the house – hopefully they were nesting nearby! – and huge Griffon Vultures patrolled the hilltops on the skyline. Nice to catch a glimpse of a Woodlark, breaking cover from the ground with distinctive rounded wings and noticeably short tail.
Not bad for a couple of hours…and with me staying on for a few days, it was a promising start. I'm certainly looking forward to exploring the area further and seeing what else this picturesque place has to offer!