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NEWS OF THE BIRDS OF THE SERRANÍA DE RONDA & SIERRA DE GRAZALEMA

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« on: January 29, 2007, 10:07 AM »
NEWS OF THE BIRDS OF THE SERRANÍA DE RONDA & SIERRA DE GRAZALEMA

2006 provided a few local highlights in the Serranía. Spanish Sparrow was discovered for the first time as a nesting bird (3 nests found 2km from Cortijo de las Piletas). Our normal pair of Egyptian Vulture moved their nest site after using the same site for the previous 3 years. Although the new site was only 500m away, we could not understand why they had bothered to move, that was until we discovered an Eagle Owl using the old site as a roost! Despite local hunting interests, Bonelli’s Eagle had a good breeding year, several of our known pairs returning to their old nest sites and successfully rearing their young. We now know that the Serranía holds the greatest breeding density of this species in the world. Quite a claim to fame! Ruppell Vulture was present around a feeding station for Griffons during September until the present day, though not every day!

The Greater Flamingos at Fuente de la Piedra had a good breeding year, after not attempting to breed in 2005. Over 11,000 young were raised this year and we ringed 600 of the juveniles as a sample. At the same time as ringing we took blood samples for testing, not only for the infamous avian flu, but also parasites known to sometimes infest this species. Happy to report, that no adverse results were discovered.

Osprey was observed throughout the summer at the Zahara reservoir, the first time they have spent the summer here. This species has been re-introduced in the province of Cadiz during the past few years and clearly they are now spreading to other areas. Purple Heron was observed at this site, but no evidence of breeding was discovered in 2006. In common with many aquatic species, Purple Heron has probably suffered due to low water levels of the last 2 years. Incidentally, we have had over 20 inches of rain this year and the situation, especially since September, is rapidly improving.

Rock Thrush had a good summer and seems to be increasing again after a dip in 2005. Whilst on this species, we had 3 males at different locations, which had white crescents on their breasts (like Ring Ouzels). Try as we might, we cannot find this characteristic illustrated or mentioned in any reference we have available. Can you help? Also recovered, but only slightly on a bad season in 2005, was Black-eared Wheatear. Black-eared Wheatear can be adversely affected by late spring rains, which produce luxuriant late growth in ground covering plants, making feeding difficult for this species. With a high growth to plants in otherwise open areas, these wheatears resulted to hawking for food and mortality rates were high for their nestlings.

Stone Curlews were found in 2 new locations. This difficult species is most easily found when the male is calling and performing aerial displays at dawn and dusk. Montague’s Harrier was also discovered at 2 new sites, or more probably, 2 previously undiscovered sites.

The current year appears to have been a good one for many breeding birds. Among those who seemed to have had a successful breeding season are Olivaceous, Orphean, Spectacled and Melodious Warblers. Golden Oriole, Alpine Swift, Little Ringed Plover and Chough are other species which seemed to have had a particularly good breeding season. On the downside, two known nest sites for Golden Eagle were deserted this year, why? Also Black Wheatear continues to decline and has become absent in some known sites. It remains a mystery why this bird seems to be disappearing from known haunts. Like it’s cousin the Northern Wheatear, this bird requires open and even over-grazed areas to thrive in good numbers. If anything, Black Wheatears need large areas in their territory where there is no field layer at all. Brood sizes seem to have been maintained and successfully raised, so why is this bird declining? Two possible explanations could be the reduction in grazing due to uneconomical farming of goats and sheep; the other is with the expansion of cultivation around various villages, which in-turn creates a suitable habitat for Blackbirds. These thrushes are dominant birds and could be responsible for driving Black Wheatears away from their traditional sites.

White-rumped Swift was found nesting at 3 locations. Tawny Pipit was found at one new site, but still remains elusive and highly local. Southern Grey Shrike and Woodchat Shrike had good seasons, plus the spring was extremely good for migrant Roller. Apart from the common Red-necked Nightjar, Nightjar was heard singing for the second year running at Sierra de las Nieves. Whilst fewer Booted Eagles were seen this year than in previous years. Richard’s Pipit was seen in spring along with very good numbers of Water Pipits. Our typical mountain birds Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow and Thekla Lark enjoyed a good year.

Autumn migration became a highly visual affair at the end of August with thousands of Honey Buzzard, joined by Black Kite and Egyptian Vulture made a spectacular entrée. As normal, Bee Eater and Woodchat Shrike appeared in numbers and vanished almost completely by the middle of September. The large numbers of Pallid and Common Swift around Ronda in early September were normal, but the absence of any significant movements during the month for Swallows reflected the good summer enjoyed in Northern Europe. Late September produced thousands of Redstart and Pied Flycatcher, joined by high numbers of Spotted Flycatcher. After some declines during the past 10 years in the numbers of Whinchat observed in the area during migration, this species seems to be increasing, one individual along with a Short-toed Eagle, being seen during late November! Our Ring Ouzels and Alpine Accentors arrived in November proceeded by huge numbers of Black Redstart.
House Martin has been seen again in December, also a Swallow near Cueva del Gato. Bonelli’s Eagle are back at their breeding sites and I intend to watch known sites of Golden Eagle very closely during the winter months! Exotics for the year included a couple of new species for the area Borrowing Parrot and Red Avadavat.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2007, 11:00 AM by nick »