With a longish drive over to Grazalema in prospect, we made an early get away from Alcalá. A couple of brief stops (El Picacho & GR7) en route added Mistle Thrush, Woodlark, Spotted Flycatcher, Firecrest and Bonelli’s Warbler to the list.
We reached the fabulous Llanos de Libar in good time and, despite misgivings, the track proved not to be too badly damaged by the heavy winter rains. Raptors, however, were surprisingly low key for this site and we struggled to get decent views of the target species. At the narrow limestone ‘saddle’ a few km into the valley, Rock Sparrows were typically vocal yet hard to see whilst Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Black and Black-eared Wheatear were all atypically distant and/or elusive (and we missed Dartford Warbler entirely). However, Orphean Warbler were out in force and singing strongly as were Bonelli’s & Melodious Warbler. Alpine Swift too were around in good numbers and so we had the satisfaction of logging the 5th species of swift on the trip. Disappointingly, at the far end of the valley (in the woodlands & scrub around the Refugio) neither Cirl Bunting nor Subalpine Warbler could be found although we did have a single Redstart and a Southern Grey Shrike. The latter was a good find as they can be quite scarce in this area and not always easy to locate so late in the season. A pair of loudly ‘twanging’ Red-billed Chough were another welcome addition to the list as we drove back down valley to look once more for raptors. A single fly-over Bonelli’s Eagle at the far end of the valley had hardly given a satisfactory view, but, after a longer than usual wait, a more co-operative bird was seen at the mouth of the valley (by the white pump house). Here too we at last found an obliging Rock Bunting).
Having driven over the tortuous mountain roads to get to Grazalema, we opted for a longer, but simpler return journey via the coast. This also gave us a chance to look for Rufous Bush Chat in the Jimena area (unfortunately this was something of a long shot as JC had omitted to bring directions to a couple of sites in the area with him). Notwithstanding the lack of precise directions, we explored minor roads south-east of San Pablo de Buceite hoping to find a likely looking area. Hence we took a speculative punt at a small track running along a scrubby valley opposite the Venta de la Fuente (a little over 6km SW of San Pablo). After 0.6 km this track became impassable to all but a 4x4, but the presence of four or more Tawny Pipit encouraged us to explore further on foot (this despite the excessive heat – Seville recorded temperatures of 38C today). After an hour or more all seemed lost when a Rufous Bush Chat suddenly appeared on the wires and proceeded to sing – unfortunately the party member who found it was too hot and tired for it to register immediately and by the time the penny had dropped it had gone. (OK it was me! I was hot & knackered and Mr Brain was having a nap! - JC). Fortunately, after constant searching for an hour or so MW found second bird in a ditch several hundred metres down the slope. After another extended wait this bird finally obliged us with excellent views – persistence pays. When back in the UK I checked with Jon Turner (who’d told me about the site) and discovered that I had miraculously stumbled on the right site albeit by an entirely different route!