Elena and I enjoyed our visit to the Sierra de Loja so much we decided to go back for another look. The landscape up here is rocky and some might say bleak but we like the wildness, the light and the birds. It is relatively untouched by humankind except for a few grazing sheep and the placement of a number of wind turbines on the highest reaches. The views can be spectacular and I particularly enjoy spending a day without seeing another soul, except for a solitary shepherd and a couple of extremely capable mountain bikers at the very top, I take my hat off to them.
One of the birds we enjoyed seeing so much is the "Common" Rock Thrush. Formerly known as Rufous-tailed it is now officially "Common". I guess it distinguishes it from others such as the Blue Rock Thrush, but it is by no means common. For a start it is only normally found at altitudes above 1500 m. and in warmer climates. So relatively few people ever get to see one.
Common or not Rock Thrushes are a delight to watch. On our previous trip we strangely only saw males, not that I am complaining because they are by far the most striking to look at, but where were the females? perhaps they are incubating eggs or tending chicks in the nest, who knows? but it was reassuring to finally see a female or two. It was fascinating to watch the couple's behaviour. The male would take up a watchfull higher vantage point as the female foraged on the ground nearby, mainly for nesting material that we observed. Occasionally the pair would be harassed by other males who would chase the female and squabble with the attendant male. This led me to believe there may be a shortage of female birds, sad for all those young and frisky males without partners. Here's a shot of a female gathering nest material.
Rock Thrush males likes to make vertical flights. They shoot straight up in the air, usually singing loudly, then drop straight down again. It is amusing to watch them appear over a ridge in this manner as if shot up from a gun. I imagine it is some kind of display for the benefit of admiring females.
It was a very pleasant place to spend a few hours in the sun. Five Griffon Vultures were wheeling in a thermal over the ridge, Red-billed Choughs, Linnets, Black redstarts, Rock Buntings, Rock Sparrows, Black and Black-eared Wheatears were moving all around us. Red-legged partridges roamed the rocky terrain and liked to perch on conspicuously high rocks, Groups of Ibex roamed the slopes and I spotted a bright green Ocellated Lizard scurry across the track in front of the car.
We did see a few Blue Rock Thrushes up here too. I did not manage to get any decent shots unfortunately but here's a couple of archived shots for illustrative purposes.
On the way down from the Sierra I snapped a couple of quick photos of a Stonechat. Now I am not in the habit of photographing such a common bird but something about this one caught my eye. For a start it was perched quite high up in a tree in woodland, not on a low shrub or rock in open ground as usual. Second it did not look quite right, the orange on the breast was more of a central patch than an overall colour, and third the hint of pale feathers behind the eye. This bird did not have quite the same "Jizz" as a normal Stonechat. Looking in Collins Field Guide I see there is an Eastern species, saxicola torquatus maurus that fits this description, and it states that "Stragglers to W. Europe show hints of pale buff eyebrows". Could this be one of those "Eastern Stonechat Straggers"? I like to think so.