The outings

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society organise monthly outings for it's members within Gibraltar and further afield into Andalucía, visiting a variety of locations covering diverse habitats and offering the opportunity to see the wildlife of this beautiful area. The venues for the outings are chosen and timed to coincide with the season's happenings: see Cranes in their wintering grounds, Orchids in the spring, wading birds in the Doñana wetlands, butterflies and Ibex in the Sierras, come Autumn mushrooming in the Alcornocales and enjoy the spectacular sights of thousands of migrating raptors right on your doorstep.

For dates, contacts and how to join us, see the gonhs website

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring outing to the woodland of La Sauceda

19th March 2011                                                                      led by Paul Acolina

There was a good turnout for this outing and 16 of us, 17 counting Sophie the dog, stopped for coffee and toast en route at a venta just before the town of Jimena.The morning was already bright, sunny and warm as we set off for la Sauceda: the road up there is a long, climbing and winding  one, but very scenic and with some breathtaking views of the river Hozgarganta flowing through the rocky Jimena valley.

La Sauceda is located within the Alcornocales Natural Park, in the Sierra de Aljilbe and is right on the boundary between the provinces of Malaga and Cadíz. The highest peak of the range, el pico de Aljilbe reaches to 1091metres and it is possible to walk up to it, but special permission must be sought. Our route would be around the slopes of the mountain, an uphill walk but quite a gentle one. Historically much of this area was truly wild, untamed and barely accessible; reputedly the domain of bandits.There had been a settlement at la Sauceda since the 14th century, which by the 20th century had become a small village community with its own water mill, church and school.Its history came to a violent and tragic end, when during the civil war it became the refuge of rebels that brought about the destruction of the village and the execution of all its inhabitants.The village was not rebuilt and its ruins remains being slowly reclaimed by nature and gradually reabsorbed into the landscape.The area now has stone-built cabins that are available to rent for overnight stays.

A view from the road bridge in the car parking area 
Leaving our parked cars we were greeted with fresh but warm air, the sounds of water rushing over rocks and over that, birdsong. Within minutes we had seen and or heard Blackcap, Serin, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and heard what was to become a familiar sound throughout the day, singing Iberian Chiffchaffs which Paul informed us breed here.
Following a well-trodden path through the woodland

Star of Bethlehem- Ornithogalum 
Inside the perimeter of the park we once again found Sawfly Orchids (see previous post) and kneeling to the photograph them I quickly realised the ground was very wet. Setting off along the path it became increasingly so, and we found ourselves splashing through standing water and squelching through mud; quite a novelty as we don't get to do that too often in this part of Spain. Paul steered us up onto a higher path and we soon found ourselves on drier ground on a meandering path through the beautiful woodland.
There were the sights and sounds of spring all around us, the almost-bare leaved Holm Oaks are laden with new leaf buds whilst the remaining old dry ones are still in the process of being shed, showering down onto the ground at each breath of wind. Teline shrubs are in full golden blossom and at ground level there were pretty little flowers, golden lesser celandines, periwinkles,daisies and the more showy blooms of Star of Bethlehem, Three-cornered Leek and crocus-like Romulea. I also came across a couple of Bluebells, one very tightly in bud, the other beginning to open. There are signs of more flowers to come - the leaves of  Spotted Orchids and Foxgloves are there and later on in April there will be Rhododendrons in bloom here.

Spanish Bluebell- Scilla hispanica 
Flowers were easier to spot than birds and definitely much easier to photograph. We managed to see a few Robins in the shady woodland and heard Wrens. There were a lot of Blue Tits about and we stood for a while watching Nuthatches high up in the top branches of a tree. There were glimpses of a Short-toed Treecreeper and of Firecrest too, always a challenge to see as they are so tiny and move around very quickly; they often give their presence away by the soft, light whistling calls they use as contact call to others close by.

Blue tit - Cyanistes caerulius

Our path was an uphill one, but the surroundings were more breathtaking than the climb 
Spanish Festoon - Zerynthia polyxena

The bright sunshine brought out some beautiful butterflies, a pristine Spanish Festoon and a rather faded Large Tortoishell. I also saw a Small Copper, several Large Whites and in the open area around the ruins of the church, a Moroccan Orange Tip.
Trees, rocks and the sound of running splashing water are a magical combination

Iberian Chiffchaff ?
Reaching the site of the old church and the cabins that are now rented out to people wishing to stay in the park, some of the group went down to the river while others wanted to explore the ruins.

Large Tortoishell-Nymphalis polyochros
From the riverside, some of us watched a number of Black Kites above the mountain ridge, wheeling to catch thermals that would take them even higher. Griffon Vultures were also seen and others had had sightings of a Short-toed Eagle and a Booted Eagle. Others had discovered that a nearby marshy area had puddles of water holding wriggling tadpoles of varying sizes. After a few minutes of us being scattered around the site the majority regrouped and decided to walk a bit further along the track through the higher woodland while others opted either to wait for us there or to return to their cars.

This part of the woods has a quite different atmosphere. It is more open, the trees are mostly cork oaks that are quite evenly spaced and the undergrowth is largely bracken that is beginning to show green again. The trees will probably have been cultivated for their cork 'crop', but as much of  the ground slopes steeply and the trees lean and bend, the task of cutting the cork must be challenging.

We continued to walk until the woodland gave way to a clear area giving spectacular views over the mountains - the perfect spot for the group photo.

The majority of the group that carried on walking through the woods against the stunning background of the Serrania de Ronda, with what we believe to be the town of Cortes de la Frontera in the far distance.
Similar view without the people
There were more Bluetits here and we heard Great Tits calling. We turned around here to walk back along the forest track, stopping for a few minutes to watch a pair of Nuthatch that were in  trees close to the path, calling to one another. As we had seen one in almost the same place on our way through the first time we thought they may well have had a nest site close by.
Back at the river past the bridge where the water runs fast through rocks, a Grey Wagtail was spotted hunting insects.

Romulea - Romulea bulbocodium

Well into the afternoon now, the thought of lunch was foremost in most of our minds and our walk back to the cars was made at a much quicker pace; it was downhill too, which helped. We did well and resisted stopping, well except once when Paul found a newt in a shady pool for us to look at.

Being such a lovely sunny day, the venta looked to be very busy when we arrived; the car parking areas seemed full and some of our party decided not to stay, reducing our numbers to just 7 for lunch. Those of us that stayed enjoyed it nonetheless - and those that didn't missed out on a menu that included locally hunted game, venison,wild boar, partridge etc. and freshly picked wild asparagus. A very pleasant way to end a lovely outing.

No comments:

Post a Comment