A fantastic day skiing in Sierra Nevada with friends Ancy, Bob and Gill, was made all the more perfect by the Alpine Accentors that provided very good photo opportunities. Most people don´t notice these sparrow-like little birds that flit around the restaurants up there, but a closer look shows how much more interesting they are.
The russet red/brown streaked flanks, spotted under-tail and wing coverts, and the black & white spotted "Bib" are much more attractive than any house sparrow, or indeed hedge sparrow, to which they are closely related. However as this species is normally only found at altitudes of 1800 to 3000 metres they are all the more special for that reason.
There are very few creatures that choose to live in such a harsh environment, so it is nice to see wild birds that have adapted well to the cold. They are not afraid to take advantage of human activity to supplement their diet, table scraps provide rich pickings for them during the ski season.
Walking Group near the Cortijo de Rafaelita
Out in the hills with Joan´s Wednesday walking group again. This time we took a different route from Canilas de Albaida, and it was one of the nicest routes I have walked in the Axarquia. It involved frequent crossings of the Rio Cajula up to the Cortijo de la Parilla then heading East above the Arroyo de Ciquilias before descending into the Arroyo del Conejo and back up to Canilas.
The sheltered sections of the river valleys were full of wild flowers and the superb sunny weather had brought out lots of butterflies.
Spanish Festoon - zerinthia rumina
I was delighted and surprised to see so many Spanish Festoons, aptly named with their intricately patterned black and yellow wings with red spots and tiny bright blue speckles along the trailing edges. It seems very early in the season for this species.
Bob leading the way on a river crossing
As we progressed along the river valley more and more butterflies were sighted. The brightest and most obvious were the superb Cleopatras, their large bright yellow and orange wings are unmistakeable. Unfortunately none ever settled for its picture to be taken which is a shame. I am going to work on capturing this species in flight because even when they do take a rest their wings are always closed.
Similar to the Cleopatra but smaller and lacking the orange wing patches, the Brimstone was also flying today. In fact this is the perfect habitat for this species which loves open, sunny slopes, either grassy or rocky, and the presence of water is perfect.
Another yellow species, the Clouded Yellow is smaller and not so bright as the other two, but still a nice insect and fortunately quite common in this part of Spain.
There are so many species of "Blues" which can be difficult to distinguish. There are not so many varieties in this part of Spain however and so I believe this one to be an ordinary Common Blue. A beautiful colour nonetheless and always nice to see.
Martin also was a study in blue and he made a good picture sitting in the doorway of an abandoned cortigo enjoying a ciggie.
Martin having a fag
Small Copper butterflies were out in numbers and although small in size they provide a fiery glow of coppery orange in the bright sunshine. I believe they fly all year round in these sheltered valleys as I have recorded them in November and now again in February.
The Iberian Marbled White does not look so interesting at first glance, but closer scrutiny reveals a lovely geometric design in black, white and grey which is not gaudy but is almost an abstract artistic masterpiece.
A thoroughly enjoyable walk on which I picked up at least twelve species of butterfly including:-
Spanish Festoon, Spanish Gatekeeper, Small White, Iberian Marbled White, Common Blue, Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Small Copper, Painted lady and Red Admiral.
Back in Spain again & after Florida my appetite is whetted for colourful birds, so after dropping Elena at the airport to visit her daughter in London I decided to look for the Superb Starling that was living around the Parador Golf Course near the Airport. Sure enough there it was, exactly where my friend Bob Wright had spotted it a few days ago, enjoying a breakfast of worms (the bird, not Bob) from the freshly watered 18th green.
Splendid Starling - lamprotornis superbus
This very colourful and handsome bird is of course an escapee from a collection somewhere, but it has been around for at least two years now and seems to survive quite successfully on the golf course. It´s natural home is in East Africa so there is no real chance of it finding a mate & breeding.
Sighting of the day was a very unexpected Hen Harrier that flew low across the golf course and out of sight behind some buildings before I had a chance to line the camera up on it. Nice to see though and it gave me the incentive to drive over to the Guadalhorce Reserve to see what else might be about.
Booted Eagle - hieraaetus pennatus
The first birds I saw as I left the car & walked towards the river were a number of Booted Eagles wheeling and quartering the Reserve. There were of course all the usual waders on the lagoons including a solitary young Flamingo, a pair of Black-tailed Godwits, Red and Green-shanks, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Black-Winged Stilts. Wildfowl included a party of Teal, some Gadwall, Shoveler, White Headed Duck but no Wigeon, which had been present a couple of days previously at the Charca de Suarez. Cormorants were prolific and a Marsh harrier sat still in the bushes, probably digesting its breakfast.
I was more interested however in the appearance of a Bonellis Eagle which I was not expecting. Neither by the looks of things, were its Booted cousins, who took a dim view of a larger raptor appearing on their patch, and so a bit of an aerial dogfight ensued. The smaller Booted guys were somewhat nimbler in flight, and given that he was outnumbered four to one, it is perhaps not surprising that Bonelli beat a hasty retreat. And after a couple of pleasant hours birding, so did I.
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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