May in Spain I: Sierra de Gredos

On the 1st of May 2018 I flew down to meet up with my dad at Málaga Airport. From there we drove back north towards Madrid and Sierra de Gredos, which is located about 90 mins west of Madrid in Castilla y León. I knew we had about 10 days to spend, as we wanted to have a day in Marbella before flying home on the 12th, but we had only planned where to spend the first six nights. While heading north towards Madrid we stopped by Laguna de Navaseca outside Daimiel. This turned out to be birding paradise, with extreme concentrations of both numbers and species in a relatively small area.

Our rental car during our first coffee break.

Heavy hailstorms met us heading north from Malaga. A major accident occured only a couple of minutes ahead of us.

Moving on towards El Parador de Gredos, an old but very nice hotel in the mountains, the temperatures dropped to only a few degrees above zero. I talked to my friend Ingo who was already in the area who said the whole area was snow-covered the day before.

Laguna de Navaseca, in Daimiel.

Being as Swedish as it gets, we always bring our Coffee thermos with us everywhere. Here we’re at one of the hides in Laguna de Navaseca, in Daimiel.

After starting from home at 03:30 I was absolutely hammered so I decided to sleep in the morning while Dad was out birding. We met back at breakfast and discussed his sightings. Having already seen 3 Citril Finches in 15 meters distance he was already happy and I was quite optimistic too listening to all the passerines he had spotted.

I decided to start shooting in area around the hotel as the large pine trees and buildings created a lot of shade so I could avoid the harsh daylight. It took me about 2 hours to nail both Bonelli’s Warbler and Black Redstart as I found some cooperative individuals feeding and singing in the area.

The Valley below Parador de Gredos, looking south towards the peaks of the Gredos mountains.

Río Tormes passing through at El Camping de Gredos.

Black Redstart | svart rödstjärt | Phoenicurus ochruros

Western Bonelli’s Warbler | bergsångare | Phylloscopus bonelli

In the afternoon we headed up to La Plataforma, where the parking lot for trekking the hills is located. We went up the stony ravine slowly as I was carrying a lot of equipment as always. We instantly found one Rock Thrush, my target species in the mountains. However it had a huge territory singing from various high cliffs and wasn’t photographable. We kept going until we reached the higher altitudes where snow was melting heavily making the meadows very wet. The extensive evaporation caused a lot of heat waves making it very hard to get any sharp shots at all. Skylarks, Dunnocks and Northern Wheatears were singing everywhere, mixed with occasional Water Pipits and a very brief look at a Bluethroat of the non-spotted Cyanecula subspecies. I didn’t manage to find any more Rock Thrushes and since the heat waves were so bad we headed home a little bit discouraged, wondering if the Rock Thrush was going to be too hard to get good photos of. On the way down I started photographing the tame and abundant Rock Sparrows, a species I’ve spent a lot of time with in Andalucía, where they are a lot harder to get that here.

The view heading up the road to La Plataforma.

The high meadows above La Plataforma.

My dad at the high meadows above La Plataforma.

Rock Bunting | klippsparv | Emberiza cia

May 3rd, started as a calm, overcast Monday morning with a light drizzle. We had an early breakfast and headed back up the same trail we visited yesterday. Conditions were a lot different as the Sunday hikers were long gone. It didn’t take long until Ingo pointed out a male Rock Thrush sitting on a rock 50 meters away from me. I secured some distant portraits before it disappeared and Ingo headed down to the Hotel without any really good shots. This was my chance to roam the area all by myself in peace and quiet. Only 20 minutes later the bird came back and I was able to track it feeding for an hour down to 20 meters distance, which is unusual for this shy species. Very happy with my shots, I headed down with Dad to have some lunch at the hotel. On the way back, we checked a site for Citril Finches and found a bunch of them feeding in pine trees accompanied by the abundant Coal Tits, Firecrests and a male Cirl Bunting.

Dunnock | järnsparv | Prunella modularis

Rock Bunting | klippsparv | Emberiza cia

Common Rock Thrush | stentrast | Monticola saxatilis

Common Rock Thrush | stentrast | Monticola saxatilis

Common Rock Thrush | stentrast | Monticola saxatilis

Coal Tit | svartmes | Periparus ater

After another stellar meal (the food on the Spanish countryside is simple, but soooo good!) we headed an hour west to visit a skiing area in Sierra de Bejar. After a bit of a walk, we found the first and only singing Bluethroat of the trip, as well as a cooperative pair of Water Pipits. The views from the road down the hill was nothing but amazing.

Prime Bluethroat habitat in La Covatilla, Sierra de Bejar.

Prime Bluethroat habitat in La Covatilla, Sierra de Bejar.

Bluethroat | blåhake | Luscinia svecica

Bluethroat | blåhake | Luscinia svecica

Water Pipit | vattenpiplärka | Anthus spinoletta

Sierra de Bejar.

Tuesday morning started with another go at the Citril Finches, this time in the first light as it was a clear morning. We found them again and I was able to get them at 15 meters, the angle was a bit top-down but still decent enough to get a portrait. We continued up the road to La Plataforma where dozen of newly arrived Ortolan Buntings were singing.

Citril Finch | citronsiska | Carduelis citrinella

Ortolan Bunting | ortolansparv | Emberiza hortulana

This got harsh very fast, so I went back to the hotel area and went for a nice lunch walk in the surroundings. In the afternoon I went back on top of the hill to capture a Rock Thrush in the sweetest evening light possible. The snow had now melted away in most areas and birds were plentiful. I think I found about 10 Rock Thrushes feeding in the area, one of them posed pretty close for me and Ingo. Very happy with the evening, we walked down and celebrated with another feast at the hotel, what a day!

Common Rock Thrush | stentrast | Monticola saxatilis

Common Rock Thrush | stentrast | Monticola saxatilis

Common Rock Thrush | stentrast | Monticola saxatilis

The final morning I tried to improve a bit on my Ortolan Bunting shots, but they turned out to be a little more difficult than the previous day. A group of 5 Dutch photographers running around in my surroundings didn’t help either.

All in all, it was a great first leg of the trip with many great views, birds, meals, great company and very friendly locals that I got to work on my Spanish with.

To be continued..

Ortolan Bunting | ortolansparv | Emberiza hortulana

Rock Bunting | klippsparv | Emberiza cia

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