The Maestrazgo – By Malcolm Palmer

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Barry and I decided to leave the Costa Blanca Bird Club in the capable hands of Stephan and Els for the May field trip, and do our own thing. This consisted of a couple of nights away in the north of the Valencian Community. We headed for the Maestrazgo, and three hours after leaving home, we were winding our way up the long hill to the pass of Ares, at 1,137 metres above sea-level. The need of a bocadillo drove us to a charming little bar in an even more charming square in the tiny town of Ares, where a Griffon Vulture sailed over, and Red-billed Chough tumbled around the rooftops. No sooner had we restarted our journey northwards than a small bird wandering around in the road caught our attention – it turned out to be Barry’s first Spanish sighting of Ortolan Bunting. Northern Wheatears were plentiful nearby. We meandered along minor roads, stopping to hear singing Bonelli’s Warblers, then, when a few drops of rain started to fall, we heard a Cirl Bunting sing. Fortunately, the rain was no more than a few drops, and we climbed up to a moorland plateau, where it was nice to hear Skylark in full song – an unusual sound in Spain. A solitary raptor flew by, and turned out to be a Honey Buzzard. More Wheatears were our companions as we made our way to the spectacular walled town of Morella, where the Hotel del Cid was to prove absolutely first class, with Choughs, Black Wheatear, Black Redstart and Griffons all flying past our windows, and even a Scops Owl singing during the night – strictly for insomniacs.

Next morning we drove west under threatening skies, towards Forcall, near where we were lucky enough to have good views of a (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush. A little further on, Golden Oriole put in an appearance, and we managed to add Subalpine, Melodious and Garden Warblers to our list. It was time to descend to lower levels, so we made a fairly fruitless detour to near the Catalan border, ending up for lunch in a nothing sort of a town called San Mateu, where, however, we had bocadillos to rank with any we had ever eaten. To be continued …