Our target today was White-rumped Swift so we rose earlier than usual and drove directly to Atlanterra (Zahara de los Atunes). Spretty much as soon as we arrived swifts appeared amongst which White-rumped Swift were quickly detected. The birds were found amongst a mixed flock of Pallid & Common Swift, Crag & House Martins and Red-rumped Swallows. From below, with comparative sizes hard to judge and the upperparts not being visible, the White-rumps were none too obvious. However, once we got our ‘eye in’ their more attenuated rear end (and, when fanned, more deeply forked tail), more obvious white chin and marginally thinner wing shape allowed them to be picked out relatively easily. Climbing uphill to a better vantage point, we then enjoyed superb views of six individuals from above allowing careful observation of the species’ narrow white rump. (This was JC’s fourth or fifth visit to this precise location at about the same date and time of day – yet previously the birds had shown but once and then briefly!). This urban area also had our first Blue Rock Thrush.
With three of the group dropped off near Punta Camarinal to check the lighthouse area and walk up to the Bolonia road, JC made the 45 minute trip round the area by car. Little was seen on the walk up from the lighthouse, but the Sierra de la Plata came up trumps with Peregrine, Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, more Blue Rock Thrush and more swifts including, albeit briefly, a distant and elusive Little Swift.
After a brief and fruitless look for Rufuous Bush Chat at a site on the Sierra de Higuerra, we drive a few miles further south to look at Playa de los Lances. In so doing we ignored an earlier resolution not to visit Playa de los Lances at the weekend or other than first thing in the morning – JC’s misgivings proved correct since a couple of kite surfers had established themselves in the middle of the reserve despite the numerous signs banning this activity. (Much to the amusement of the rest of the party, and nearby sunbathers, and despite his near total lack of Spanish JC charged out and ‘had a go’ at the kite surfers. They did move off, but had returned by the time we got back to the car. With the restrictive signs routinely ignored by dog walkers, horse riders, kite surfers, etc. it’s hard to see why anyone bothered to make it a reserve). Despite this, we did pick up Sanderling and 15 Sandwich Tern here plus, as we left, a small ‘kettle’ of 7 stunning Honey Buzzards (the only ones of the trip).
The return across the Ojen Valley was much more pleasurable. En route we found our first convincing Thekla Lark before pausing at the rustic venta – a remote bar with a beaten earth floor and an open hearth for cooking (sadly there was nothing to eat at this hour). An investigation of the woodland here produced familiar UK species such as Great-spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, Blackcap, Blue & Great Tits plus more exotic fare in the form of Short-toed Treecreeper and Iberian Chiffchaff. In the skies above the raptors continued this theme of the prosaic and exotic with a Sparrowhawk, a couple of Short-toed Eagle, eight or more Booted Eagle and a few Griffon Vulture. (Note - the track across the Ojen valley was in surprisingly good condition, but on the Los Barrios end of the route a small bridge has been partly washed away leaving only a single, and somewhat narrow and perilous, lane behind – not for the faint hearted!)
After one short stop en route (at Valdeinfierno) we retired to the La Palmosa service station for our evening meal. Afterwards, with the light rapidly fading, we made a speculative stop to listen for Red-necked Nightjar before driving up to the village itself. This was done more on a whim than with any realistic expectation of avoiding a specific evening jaunt later in the week for this species (lifer for GB). As expected we failed to find nightjars, but the bizarre antics of a small falcon attracted out attention to a nearby pylon. Then the penny dropped – it was mobbing a silhouetted Eagle Owl perched on one of the struts! Hardly the best view of this iconic species, but at least it was one we’d found it ourselves rather than at some hackneyed ‘stake-out’.