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Red-legged Partridge - © Melvin Fringer

Sierra de las Nieves, the Alcornocales Nature Park, Strait of Gibraltar, Doñana, Odiel, and Seville (14 days)

Tour leaders: Iben Hove Sørensen & Cristian Jensen Marcet 

Group members: Julia Scully, Carla Ciau, Darci Moore, Barbara Moore, Kathy Estey, Joan Roberts, Joan Mitchell, Susan Fuller, Joseph Ceriani, Cathie LaZier, Dorothy & Melvin Fringer, and Patricia Wagner.

173 species recorded

Trip report written by Iben Hove Sørensen

This tour was arranged by Elderhostel and only available to Elderhostelers.

Sunday April 29th - Day 1

We met in the small cafeteria at Malaga airport, and after a brief introduction and a few refreshments, we went out searching for our bus. We expected to find a small bus with an attached trailer for the luggage, but instead we found a large bus with almost three seats available per person. Our bus driver, the ever-smiling Hamid, was quite proud of the spacious bus, but he was soon to understand that this was a birding tour with higher premium on agile transportation than on comfort. Anyhow, it was nice to be able to stretch out properly after the flights, and at least one or two group members dozed off during the transfer to El Burgo. Along the way we had some frustratingly brief views of Short-toed Eagle, Common Kestrel, and even a couple of Bee-eaters, but we were unable to stop on the narrow, curvy mountain roads leading to the beautiful white village of El Burgo.

On the edge of the village we stopped for lunch at Venta Yoni, where we finally had a chance to talk and eat, although several group members were more than ready for a siesta after the long journey. So we did not linger after the meal, but instead headed straight for La Casa Grande inside the village, where Hamid for the first time found the bus to be too big for the streets we had to climb. Instead of the bus, our suitcases were rolled up the hill, and check-in was fast and efficient.

After a couple of hours, we met again for a proper introduction and welcome reception. We went through the tour schedule, all of us said a few words about ourselves, and we enjoyed a nice homemade Sangria served with olives and potato chips. Following our little meeting we went straight to the restaurant to have dinner, following which we all headed for our beds and a good night's sleep.

Monday April 30th - Day 2

Birding in El Burgo - © Melvin Fringer

We met for an early morning walk before breakfast, most people in a much more talkative mood than the day before. Along the stream running past El Burgo we saw a couple of Grey Wagtails and heard numerous Cetti's Warblers and Nightingales. A Golden Oriole was also heard, the first of many to remain hidden despite intensive search, and a small group of Rock Sparrow was seen on the opposite bank. Back in the village we headed towards the hotel for breakfast, stopping only for Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swifts on our way.

Everyone seemed enthusiastic about going into the mountains and get on with the birdwatching. We took the bus as far up the track as possible and then went for a walk in the beautiful mountains of Sierra de las Nieves. Several distant Blue Rock Trushes were spotted on the rocks, and Coal and Crested Tits were singing from the pine trees. A Rock Bunting was seen well by the first part of the group whilst the others made an attempt at identifying the first of several orchid species seen along the track. Eurasian Jays and Wood Pigeons repeatedly crossed the valley down below, and in the bushes we could hear both Sardinian and Dartford Warblers singing from their well-hidden perches.

A beautiful, but unfortunately dead, specimen of the Lataste's Viper (Vipera latasti) was found on the track, thus offering a rare opportunity to photograph this extremely shy species. Sadly, even in the mountains, people drive way too fast for offering amphibians and reptiles time to escape! On our way down, we found several orchids (including the Yellow Ophrys and two species of bee orchid), and we were also lucky enough to encounter a long-staying female Common Crossbill perched in the top of a pine tree. Despite an intensive search, no Spanish Ibex were found among the rocks this time.

With the first drops of rain falling on our heads, we entered the bus and rolled down the hill to have lunch in the village of Yunquera. On the way down, Hamid optimistically announced that now the worst ride of the trip was over. His otherwise permanent smile faded quickly when Cristian told him that the worst was far from over and that the tracks were to get much narrower in the days to come, and Hamid finally realised that the big bus was in fact too big!

In the restaurant, most of us ordered chicken, but to our disappointment the kitchen was only able to offer five servings and some of us had to pick something else. Iben was one of the volunteers for pork instead of chicken, but thanks to Hamid she ended up with two main courses in front of her when the waiter suddenly offered two extra portions of chicken. As we hadn't exactly starved since our rendezvous the day before, no one could be persuaded to accept the other portion, although Joe secretly helped Iben finish her meals.

Back at the hotel, Hamid made the necessary arrangements to get a new and smaller tour bus, and then headed off towards Huelva to effectuate the change. The rest of us took a rest and later met for Cristian's talk on bird song. Following the talk, most of us went for a walk along the stream - this time downstream from the village. Again, numerous Nightingales were singing in the dense vegetation next to the stream, and they remained hidden right until Cathie commented on the Spanish birds being much more secretive and difficult to see than their French relatives. Almost immediately one came straight out in the open and landed just in front of us while singing the best he could. Following that lovely performance, Nightingales popped out everywhere, and we soon became accustomed to seeing them as well as hearing them. Along the track we also had our first glimpse of a Pied Flycatcher, heard our first Common Cuckoo, and had great views of a whole family of Great Tits foraging in the almond trees. We headed back for dinner in the hotel with a Booted Eagle soaring high above us and the cuckoo calling incessantly in the background.

Tuesday May 1st - Day 3

View of Ronda - © Melvin Fringer

We woke up to a cloudy day and a new bus waiting outside the hotel. This one was a much better size, and - although blocking the road completely and having to reverse back out again - Hamid had managed to enter El Burgo this time. After breakfast we quickly loaded the bus and left towards Ronda. Along the way we ventured out of the bus at a few selected sites, and despite the wind picking up as we went along we managed to add a few good species to our list.

Our first stop was at a view point high above El Burgo with excellent views of the beautiful mountains and white villages of Sierra de la Nieves. Chaffinches dominated the soundtrack to our visit, and from the view point we finally spotted a couple of Spanish Ibex climbing on the rocks below. Rock Bunting and Linnet were seen briefly, and as we headed back down we surprised a pair of Red-legged Partridges trotting silently through the vegetation. They did not seem bothered about having several pairs of eyes watching them, and we had absolutely wonderful views of these pretty birds. Next up was a stop in the Secret Valley, but on our way we paused for Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Black-eared Wheatear, Corn Bunting, and a flock of Red-billed Chough. In the valley itself we had great views of a singing Thekla Lark, and Stonechats seemed to appear everywhere. Orphean Warblers were singing from the olive trees and only allowed us to catch glimpses of them as they moved between the branches. It was very cold and windy by now, so we soon gave up and headed back to the bus.

By the time we reached Ronda, it was time for us to meet with our local guide, and we started the walk down towards the bull ring. The gorge cutting the town in two held the usual Red-billed Choughs and Crag Martins, and this time a male Golden Oriole also showed up briefly. A Short-toed Eagle was patrolling the cliffs, and down below we heard several Cetti's Warblers. After a quick tour of the old part of town, we headed for the bull ring again, and this time we entered for a tour round the hidden part of the ring. There were no bulls, but it was still a peculiar feeling being led to the centre of the largest bull ring in Spain - the most dangerous one for the toreros! After the visit, we walked back up the hill to Hotel La Reina Victoria, where we had an excellent lunch in the beautiful dining room. Following the meal, the group split into a garden walking group and a coffee drinking group (some managed to do both), and the garden walkers were rewarded with a Peregrine Falcon flying right past the hotel.

We arrived at Almoraima, an old convent and our new base, in the late afternoon. We went for a walk around the convent garden before dinner, but we were not left with much time to enjoy the atmospheric Cork Oak forest. However, we did hear a couple of Golden Orioles and saw several White Storks, and the change of scenery just seemed altogether promising for the birding to come. For dinner we had some tapas starters, followed by a white garlic soup and fish - and finally a deceiving white 'cheese cake' that turned out to be made out of pure white chocolate...veeery rich!!

Wednesday May 2nd - Day 4

Birdwatching near Castellar el viejo - © Melvin Fringer

This was the day. The day of the walk we had been talking so much about; the walk along the Hozgarganta River. As it happened, no one had needed to worry about whether or not they could make it up the hill at the end of the walk, because we woke up to a grey day with the potential for lots of rain - Pat's prayers seemed to have worked unusually well from the old convent!!

The walk was cancelled, and we did part of the route in bus. Our first stop finally gave us the chance to have a proper look at Bee-eaters close up. Several of them were perched on the electricity wires around us, and from time to time they took off to display their aerial elegancy as well as their colours. Two Black Storks circled a hill in the distance, and a Little Owl was found perched on an electricity pole right out in the open. Due to its concentration clearly focused on something on the ground, and the fact that it had now started to rain lightly, the owl remained still long enough for all of us to have several looks at it through the telescopes. In fact, it was still sitting there when we all ran back to the bus and out of the rain.

At the bridge crossing the river, we heard our daily, invisible Oriole, and we also saw our first Mallard; the first duck of the trip! As we were about to enter the bus, Cristian caught sight of a pair of vultures sitting on the ridge above the river - one Egyptian and one Griffon for easy comparison. A quick look, and then back to the dry (and now rather dirty) bus. It was now raining properly, and we watched with great amusement as a road worker carrying an umbrella busied himself watering the sand at the roadworks just outside Jimena de la Frontera. No wonder there is a shortage of water in Andalucia...

After a stop in the hills above Jimena, where we saw Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, and a little Serin singing in the rain, we headed for the camp site where lunch was awaiting us. This lunch was probably the longest we had throughout the trip, and it was not the restaurant's fault...we simply enjoyed ourselves too much to move on! The rain was pouring down outside, and there seemed to be no reason for leaving the table, so we accepted the hostess' offer of a little Licor de hierbas after the coffees and remained seated just a little while longer.

On the way back to the convent, we decided to add a bit more birdwatching to the schedule. This turned out to be more difficult that expected. After waiting in line at some roadworks for 15 minutes, Hamid decided to turn around, and we quickly rescheduled the birding excursion - only to pass a recent car crash on a very narrow road, with lots of policemen all over the place. However, we made it to the bridge, and we had great views of Short-toed and Booted Eagles, an Iberian Chiffchaff out in the open, and a Pied Flycatcher perched in a tree near the bus (spotted by Carla whilst knitting, as many other critters in the days to come...). Heading home again, we saw a flock of Turtle Doves, a Spotted Flycatcher, and a pair of Hoopoes, all hanging around inside the deer fencing right next to the convent!

Back at the convent we had a couple of hours to relax, and then we met for a talk on the bird diversity of Spain. The convent ghost came by for a visit as we were going through the bird list, but she obviously didn't share our passion for birds and quickly decided to leave again. For dinner we had gazpacho and a lovely steak of Wild Boar with chestnut sauce, followed by yet another healthy dessert (mousse de turrón).

Thursday May 3rd - Day 5

Darci and Donkey - © Melvin Fringer

Time for packing up again. This morning we had planned a visit to Castellar el Viejo, an old fortified village on a hilltop with wonderful views of the nearby reservoir. The sky looked a bit grey as we started out, so the rain that started to pour as we enjoyed the view from the 'Lovers' balcony' didn't exactly come as a surprise. An escape route to the nearest bar (the only one in the village) was planned, and the beautifully set lunch tables were cleared so we could all sit down and have a coffee. After a while, we ventured out again to find that the sky had turned blue, and we made our way around the village. A visit to Ursula's little shop near the top resulted in several new scarfs for the group members, whereas Iben once again was too indecisive to pick one - perhaps in 2008?

From one of the balconys on the stone wall surrounding the town we had stunning views of a male Blue Rock Thrush, with Crag Martins repeatedly flying past. A group of Lesser Kestrels were perched on the wires across the road in perfect position for close scrutiny through the scopes. All we needed was a Common Kestrel on the wire for comparison, but there seemed to be none around this morning. A walk down the road just outside the village provided great views of Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler, and the ubiquitous Stonechat, and we also found time to chat with a few friendly donkeys (or whatever they were).

Leaving Castellar, we rolled down through the oak forest towards our lunch restaurant, and on the way we found time to enjoy the Turtle Doves and Hoopoes seen the day before, and this time we actually believed that everyone saw them (and if not, you better not tell Cristian...!).

Following a lovely lunch at the old mill, we drove towards Algeciras. The drive through the city involved a quick visit to the supermarket Eroski, where little packets of saffron were the most wanted items, but otherwise the transfer to Huerta Grande passed without much excitement. In Huerta Grande, we were given full occupancy of both the Spy House and Casa del Commandante, in addition to two cabins. The atmosphere was as always wonderful, and we could hear the Tawny Owl singing in the dark as we came back down from dinner.

Friday May 4th - Day 6

Gibraltar Ape - © Melvin Fringer

In the early morning, several of us had heard the Tawny Owl singing in the hotel garden, and Cathie had even been lucky to catch a glimpse of one taking off in the dim morning light outside her cabin. We packed the bus and headed up the hill for breakfast. The coffee machine was slow, but made excellent coffee, and everyone calmed down when the muesli glass was refilled and toasts produced - except for Hamid, who found the waiters to be too slow and decided to give them a hand! After breakfast we headed off south for our visit to Gibraltar.

For the past two or three days we had been able to look across to the rock, and it was with some excitement that we finally approached the border and made our way across the narrow strip of land that connects Gibraltar to Spain at the town of La Linea. Hamid stayed on the Spanish side with our bus, and we went round Gibraltar with Emilio, a knowledgeable local guide with a great love for his country. He allowed us some extra time at Europa Point, where Yellow-legged Gulls were nesting on the rocks. Several Honey Buzzards made their way across the Strait, and as we were watching them a few Gannets flew past, entering the Mediterranean Sea. When a Sardinian Warbler popped up in the nearest bush - the first chance we'd had to get a proper look at this species - luck would have it that one of the Gibraltar 'Apes' (Barbary Macaques) placed itself on the front windscreen and completely blocked the line of view. Luckily he was a sweet little baby, and nobody was really upset with missing out on the warbler.

Further along, we visited Saint Michael's cave, a large limestone cave that was used as a hospital during the war. We resurfaced near the monkey feeding station, where the monkeys had heaps of healthy fruit and vegetables to forage on. Sadly, some guides encourage the monkeys to go searching peoples' pockets instead by carrying peanuts and other goodies for them, thus creating the potential for quite unpleasant encounters between monkeys and the five million tourists visiting Gibraltar each year. Watching a monkey chew an onion is fun and so much more charming than watching them lick an empty Twix-packet or run away with a pair of glasses!!! From the hill we had great views across the bay, amazingly full of very large cruise and container ships. The winding streets going through the town were charming and full of life, but the tour did not leave us time for exploring neither the old English pubs nor the well-stocked Moroccan corner shops.

Instead we headed for lunch in La Linea, where a wonderful shellfish soup and fried John Dory were awaiting us. The restaurant was right on the beach, and during lunch a European Shag flew past. Later we went out to check out the gulls on the beach, and Lesser Black-backed Gull turned up amongst the more numerous Yellow-legged Gulls. A few Sanderlings and a Ruddy Turnstone also made a brief appearance for us, but apart from that nothing much happened in the midday heat.

We stopped at Eroski once more to stock up on spices and warm clothes for the evenings, and then we headed home for a free afternoon in Huerta Grande. As the swimming pool was home to hundreds of tadpoles, most of us spent the afternoon doing laundry or having a go at a typical Spanish siesta. We had dinner in El Bosque, which is situated a short, adventurous walk (or a bus ride) away from the cabins.

Saturday May 5th - Day 7

Meadows of Bolonia - © Melvin Fringer

This morning we had arranged a banding session in Huerta Grande with David Barros and David Rios, the two authors of the 'Field guide to the birds of the Strait of Gibraltar', and we met them by the Commandante's house before the first visit to the nets. A Nightingale, a Cetti's Warbler, and two Greenfinches were caught in the first round, whereas the next half hour did not result in any trapped birds. We headed off to have breakfast, and later when we returned to the nets two Blackcaps, a Nightingale, and a Firecrest were waiting for us. It was wonderful to see the Firecrest close up after several brief views of this little beauty. Some of the birds had already been banded, and David could look them up in the notebook straight away and tell us when they had been caught the first time. Only one, a Nightingale, was not one of their own birds.

With a long birding day ahead of us, we said goodbye to the Davids and boarded the bus. We approached Bolonia on little roads winding their way through amazingly beautiful meadows full of flowers. The sunshine and the blue sky enhanced the reds and yellows of the fields and made it difficult to spot the eagles and kites flying overhead. We stopped at a dirt track where we had good views of Black Kite, Common Kestrel, Crested Lark, and a hovering Short-toed Eagle. Further down the track we saw Melodious Warbler and the increasingly rare Rufous Bush Robin, and several Woodchat Shrikes flew around in the shrubby vegetation.

When we reached the little beach settlement of Bolonia, most of the group headed straight for the (restrooms at the) old Roman ruins. Just over an hour was spent wandering about the beautiful ruins of Baelo Claudia, once a very successfull town right on the Atlantic coast, following which we all met by the beach for a lovely lunch in a nice, shady spot. After lunch we had some free time to enjoy the wonderful scenery and walk a bit along the beach, and then we headed up into the hills just inland from Bolonia. On the way up we saw a Rock Bunting and several Sardinian Warblers, and from the top we could enjoy views of nesting Griffon Vultures as well as several swifts and swallows circling above us. A little flock of Linnets were feeding in the grassy vegetation near the top, and as we headed back down the hill a Green Woodpecker made its undulating way across a meadow, unfortunately only allowing us brief views.

From the coast we headed a bit inland towards the former wetland of La Janda. At present the area is mainly used for agriculture, large expanses of which are rice fields. At our first stop we had a beautiful male Yellow Wagtail perched on a fence post, and little by little we discovered new bird species all around us. Grey Heron, Cattle & Little Egret, and Common Moorhen were seen in the channel feeding the rice fields, and Marsh Harriers were gliding slowly and silently over the fields in search of food. One went down near us and scared off a little flock of Red-legged Partridge. A Collared Pratincole flew right past us, showing off its red underwings, and a large group of White Stork was foraging in the more distant fields. The recently flooded rice fields held Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Dunlin, and Sanderling, and we also found a single Red Knot and a couple of Ruddy Turnstone. Towards the end of the track we finally found some terns and gulls. Whiskered and Black Terns were skimming the surface of a large, shallow lake formed by several rice fields, and a large flock of Yellow-legged Gulls stood in the opposite corner. A small group of Eurasian Spoonbills were foraging in the water, and a very confident male Whitethroat was singing in the vegetation just behind us. As we stood there, David Barros and his 'assistants' pulled up behind us; they had also decided to spend the afternoon at La Janda.

It was getting late so we decided to get back to Huerta Grande and dinner in El Bosque as soon as possible. Hamid was relieved to get back onto the tarmac and swiftly brought us back while the rest of us either dozed off or engaged in plant identification matters. Dinner was excellent; this time we had grilled meat and an extra bottle of red wine donated by the owner, and we all went to bed well satisfied after a great day in the field.

Sunday May 6th - Day 8

Before our scheduled boat trip at lunch time, we headed off for a couple of hours at Los Lances beach. Collared Pratincoles and Kentish Plovers allowed us to get very close as they rested on the green grass, and a Tawny Pipit showed very well and landed several times on top of the numerous low bushes. Lots of gulls were lined up on the beach, and a trio of Audouin's, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls offered the perfect opportunity for a lesson on gull identification. Shorebirds were eagerly foraging in the shallow pools and Grey Plover, Greenshank, and Common Sandpiper were new on our list. However, the little piggies that seemed to be continuously running away from their immovable mother definitely caused more cheers and received far more attention than the birds this morning, and only the cute little chicks of Kentish Plover provoked an 'aawwww' comparable to the ones for the pigs... Walking back to the bus we had good views of Greenfinch and Turtle Dove through the scopes.

After enjoying our picnics by the harbour of Tarifa, we embarked on our boat trip into the Strait of Gibraltar. Initially we all got seats inside the boat, but during the trip we all had a chance to get out and feel the sea breeze. We were extremely lucky with the Pilot Whales and saw several groups of these gentle giants. Their more playful cousin, the Bottlenosed Dolphin, also surrounded us and rode playfully in front of the boat. We even saw a few riding the bow of a large tanker crossing the Strait - an amazing sight, and quite beautiful in the bright sunshine. Although there weren't many birds around at sea this day, we did manage to see Cory's and Balearic Shearwaters, Gannets, lots of Yellow-legged Gulls, and Cristian also saw three Puffins speeding past the boat. The great surprise of the day was an Eleonora's Falcon crossing the Strait right next to the boat, although this fast-flying raptor was only seen by the small group standing out at the front.

Back in Tarifa we took an hour to explore the town and finish our picnics, and then we slowly made our way home. We took a different route this time, leading us through a valley with great raptor potential, but the heat seemed to have hit even the eagles. We did spot our first Eurasian Cuckoo, however, and Carla suddenly revealed herself as a great lizard-spotter and pointed out no less than three large Ocellated Lizards to the rest of us who were looking way too high for finding lizards ;) A Sardinian Warbler showed very well and allowed us all the luxury of prolonged views of this otherwise elusive little warbler. We also managed to see Northern Wheatear during this little detour, and the scenery was just beautiful!

This night's dinner was served in Huerta Grande, and we all enjoyed the local dishes and the wonderful fruit salad for dessert. It even had fresh strawberries added! A short chat and an extra drink after dinner finished off our stay at Huerta Grande, and we went to bed for one last night in the forest.

Ocellated Lizard - © Melvin Fringer

Monday May 7th - Day 9

This day we were to leave Huerta Grande and head further west to El Rocio near the Doñana National Park. Before breakfast we did a bit of birding in the garden and had great views of Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, and Western Bonelli's Warbler, and Golden Orioles were singing from the tree tops. Cathie and Joe saw the Tawny Owl again, this time sitting perched in a tree, but when the rest of us got there it had left - apparently only a selected few were allowed audience. Raptors began to pass from the south, and before 8.30 we had counted the first 50 Honey Buzzards. Griffon Vultures were up flying too, but their movements definitely lacked the determinedness of the buzzards' so they were probably local birds. We had our breakfast and then went back down to load the bus. By now the Honey Buzzards were passing in large groups, some of them forming beautiful kettles with wonderful displays of the plumage diversity in this peculiar, insect-eating raptor, and we stood and watched outside the Spy House for a while.

Since we had had such a great experience with raptor migration this morning, we decided to stop at the raptor watch point of Cazalla. A couple of Common Kestrels were hovering above the hillside as we arrived, but apart from those there were no raptors in sight! Not a single Honey Buzzard! We stood and watched for a while, but the kestrels were only accompanied by a female Marsh Harrier drifting slowly towards the east. To save the morning and add another species to the list, a beautiful male Montagu's Harrier suddenly appeared and began hunting in the valley below. We watched him for a long time, and although he kept disappearing into the adjacent valleys he returned each time into full view and we all got good looks at him.

From Cazalla we drove until Sanlúcar de Barramedia, where we had our first taste of the local sherry (a tradition started by Larry in 2006) as we stopped at a bar for coffee and other necessities. Next stop was the Bonanza salt pans, where we saw lots of shorebirds, gulls, and terns. And of course, finally lots of Flamingoes! Pied Avocet, Curlew Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull, Common and Little Tern were all new on our list, and all were seen well through the scopes. Three Eurasian Spoonbills were standing in a corner of the salinas, probably foraging on the little crustacean Artemia salinas like most of the other birds present.

Lunch time was approaching, but it was still too early for going to the restaurant, so we decided on visiting some of the nearby lagoons in search of the area's two rarest duck species, the Marbled and the White-headed. Having searched for the former on several previous occasions, Iben was in doubt of its existence altogether, but the fact that Kathy wanted to see it more than any other bird species in Spain called for an intensive search of the area. And so, before long Cristian had his telescope on two Marbled Ducks, lying there right out in the open like they had just been waiting for us to drop by and have a look at them. New tick for the tour as well as the tour guide! This was a succesful trip, so we carried on despite the fact that we would definitely be late for lunch. Next stop brought us to a lagoon with a nice colony of herons and egrets right in the middle, and with at least 10 White-headed Ducks resting on the water. Several males were present, and after enjoying them for a while we returned happily to Sanlúcar for a late lunch.

The rest of our transfer went smoothly, but we still arrived at El Rocio just in time for  Jon Jauregi's talk on Doñana, which was held in the bar across the street from the hotel. Not the best classroom, but Jon managed to keep everyone awake with his enthusiasm and lovely slides. After the talk we passed our rooms briefly and then walked down through the sandy streets to have dinner at Pension Cristina. The food was delicious, although we were somewhat surprised to find that the meat balls were made out of squid and shrimps instead of...well, meat!! Apparently this is a typical local dish and the waitress hadn't thought it necessary to point it out. After the usual flan (for most people), we said our goodbyes to Jon and headed back to the hotel after a long day in the field.

Tuesday May 8th - Day 10

Three lovely ladies - © Melvin Fringer

It was now time to visit the eastern part of Doñana, and we set out in beautiful sunshine. Our first planned stop was the Valverde visitor's centre, which is always worth visiting despite the long, bumpy dirt track leading there. Just before reaching the centre we stopped to check out the gulls and terns foraging over a large flooded area, and we added both Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, and Northern Lapwing to our list.

The amount of birds present at the centre itself was very impressive and definitely made up for the long drive through the bumpy dirt track. The Glossy Ibis was the most conspicuous species at first, with all the recently banded youngsters moving about in the reeds where the colony had been placed. All the herons and egrets were present in the large mixed colony behind the centre, and the nesting Squacco Herons were studied close-up and admired by everyone. Purple Herons were playing hide and seek in the reed beds surrounding the lagoon, and various species of duck drifted peacefully around on the calm water. Great Reed Warblers produced the main soundtrack, and we all took our time to just sit down and enjoy the spectacle.

We left Valverde when everyone had seen everything and headed towards Isla Mayor where we were to have our lunch. Along the track we saw several larks, including Crested, Calandra, and Greater Short-toed, and we also heard the Lesser Short-toed Lark somewhere high in the sky. The first thing set on our table as we entered the restaurant was big jugs of beer to which we all helped ourselves, happy to be served something cold in the midday heat. Next up was some large plates with beautifully cooked American Crayfish, soon after followed by Salmorejo and an absolutely wonderful paella with a mix of seafood and meat. The dessert consisted of a selection of cakes and concluded what was certainly one of the best meals of the whole trip - and it wasn't just due to the beer!!

After lunch we drove down to Dehesa de Abajo, where we had some stunning views of (among other things) Bee-eaters and Red-rumped Swallows. The rice fields around us held many shorebirds and ducks, and a tamarisk in a little lagoon provided shelter for a couple of Common Waxbills. It took a while for us all to see them, as we had to glance through a thicket of Opuntia (the fig cactus) with practically every gap occupied by large spiders in very dense webs. A drive around the area revealed a Spanish Sparrow in one of the many stork's nests, and luckily it was a very obliging male who stayed put long enough for all of us to spot him. Thousands of swifts were foraging in the air as we headed back to El Rocio, and in the forested areas we caught numerous glimpses of Azure-winged Magpies - all of them equally frustrating, and no one really dared believe Cristian's so often repeated words: "Don't worry about the Azure-winged Magpie!!!".

We had dinner in La Rocina on the main square, where the menu contained almost too many options. Only Cristian dared choose the 'Pork secret', but between us we had sampled all the main courses and enjoyed a very nice dinner.

Wednesday May 9th - Day 11

After breakfast we drove south towards Huelva, where we were to visit the Odiel salt pans and marshes with the local guide, Manu. Just as we entered the visitor's centre at Odiel, we spotted three little Coot chicks in the lagoon next to the road, and we asked Hamid to stop for a few moments. When the parents came to feed, we couldn't have been happier: They were Red-knobbed Coots! The moments turned in to a little while, and we had the birds close enough to study every little detail and convince everyone that this species is really veeery different from the American Coot. The trip into the salt pans was done in a different (but identical...) bus, and it was a colleague of Hamid who had the honour of manoeuvring us through the rough tracks between the salt pans. Inside we saw lots of shorebirds, including Little Ringed Plover and both species of Godwit as new on the list. New were also Black-necked Grebe, Shelduck, and Caspian Tern, and the views of the Flamingoes were much better than the days before. We saw several Northern Wheatear perched next to the track, and in the forested area we met a couple of Red-legged Partridge that appeared to be running for their lives.

Out of the salt pans, we dropped Manu at the visitor's centre and drove out along the estuary. Here we had great views of Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel (once everyone knew that we weren't looking at wind mills), and we also saw many of the other shorebirds again. We turned around and went for lunch in Palos de la Frontera, where our group finally met its match when it came to being noisy at lunchtime. A large Spanish party were having a tapas lunch, and the noise as they entered the dining room was simply amazing.

After lunch we drove back towards El Rocio, but we had just one more stop before reaching home: Laguna primera de Palos. Lots of ducks were present in the lagoon, but still we did not manage to see any Purple Swamphen. It seemed as if this species had somehow vanished from the area, and part of the group walked back to the bus in disappointment. But they shouldn't have! A Penduline tit landed in the tamarisks just in front of us, and it was so busy foraging that we all had time to see him in the telescope for a real close-up. Just when we were all ready to go, a couple of Purple Swamphens appeared at the other side of the lagoon and walked around in the open for a while, but we only looked at them briefly and then headed back to the airconditioned bus - it was getting very hot by now! On the way back we did one more stop to enjoy a Red Kite circling low over the road; a new bird on the list, but unfortunately a few of the group members were too tired to really appreciate this elegant raptor.

The rest of the afternoon was free, and we met again in the evening for a class on the study of birds by their pellets. We dissected pellets from Booted Eagle and Long-eared Owl, and some of them held remains from both birds and various mammals (mainly voles and shrews), which gave us a great opportunity for studying the differences between the prey items. After the class everyone walked off to have dinner on their own, and to the guides' great relief everyone managed to get some food :)

Thursday May 10th - Day 12

Birding in Doñana & Azure-winged Magpie - © Melvin Fringer

This was our last real day in the field, and we had a visit to the Doñana National Park scheduled for the morning. We met with our guide, Gonzalo, and his big 4x4 Mercedes bus at the Acebuche visitor's centre and headed out towards the beach. A Peregrine Falcon was perched on one of the little towers in the dunes, and on the beach the Sanderlings and Oystercatchers spent their time foraging between the resting gulls. Among all the little animal tracks in the dunes was a very distinct one made by a Spur-thighed Tortoise Testudo graeca, and at the end of the track we spotted the tortoise itself - a rare and unexpected sight. Just a few hundred metres further down the track, Cristian suddenly shouted out from the front seat - a Roller had flown in to land in a tree right in front of the bus, and it was now perched out in the open. While we stopped to watch this beautiful bird, it swiftly went down to snatch a big beetle from the ground and then returned immediately to its perch once more to savour the meal. During our ride through the forest we saw numerous Black Kites, and in the more open areas Dartford and Sardinian Warblers were skulking about in the low bushes and pines. Wild Boar and Fallow Deer were seen on several occasions, and near the edge of the marsh we finally added Great White Egret to our list.

After checking out numerous raptors above the forest, one suddenly turned out to be something other than a Black Kite - a Spanish Imperial Eagle was circling in the distance. It remained quite far away from us, but we all managed to see the characteristic white shoulders, and the ubiquitous kites provided an excellent means of size comparison. The way back didn't add any new species to the list, but it allowed us great views of gulls and terns seen previously, and also the beautiful Oystercatchers now resting on the beach. Back at Acebuche we had our sandwiches in the picnic area surrounded by Azure-winged Magpies, and everyone understood why Cristian had been so calm regarding this species - it was impossible to miss them here! Later we  took some time to buy t-shirts and other souvenirs, and then we went back to El Rocio for a free afternoon in the little town.

In the evening we met for dinner in La Rocina once more. The choices were the same as last time, except that there were no pork secrets this time, and we all tried to remember what had looked the most interesting meal on our previous visit. After dinner we all got back in the bus, put on some great Spanish music, and attempted a visit to a nearby area which is great for Nightjars. However, some grim-looking guards wouldn't let us through - the road was closed for the night!! When we tried to explain what we were doing there they just seemed even less interested in letting us through, so perhaps they had sensed the party atmosphere in the bus (although Hamid had turned the music down before opening the window)? We turned around and went to bed instead; it was getting late and we needed to be ready for our transfer to Seville the next morning.

Friday May 11th - Day 13

After breakfast we packed the bus and drove up to Seville, where we checked in at Hotel Inglaterra. Shortly after our arrival, the group was picked up by Moisés, our guide of the city, and headed off for a walk around the old part of town. The visit to the cathedral was brief, but most people saw the Lesser Kestrels and Jackdaws nesting in the old building, and everyone was impressed with the city's wonderful architecture and lively atmosphere. At lunchtime we met for our farewell lunch in La Taberna, where we had an exquisite meal in a large room reserved only for us. It was Barbara's birthday, and the guides had arranged for birthday cakes and candles to celebrate. After the meal we persuaded the waiter to take several group photos, and as we were leaving the restaurant we all started to feel that the trip was really coming to an end.

We decided to meet for drinks in the lobby before going out for dinner on our own, and then it was time for the first goodbyes. No one was completely sure who they were travelling with the next morning, so some of us managed to say goodbye two or three times, equally sad each time. Anyhow, it was a nice evening, and those of us having dinner near the cathedral could enjoy the Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts hunting in the lights above the Giralda tower - just as pictured in the field guide!

The group - © Melvin Fringer

Saturday May 12th - Day 14

The departures were spread out during the morning, and the first group left hotel at 5 am with little breakfast picnic bags to be consumed in the airport. The rest were left to sleep in at the hotel until 6.30 which allowed them to enjoy the big breakfast buffet before being picked up by a taxi and brought to the airport.

It was sad to say goodbye after two such wonderful weeks, but hopefully we will all meet again at some point.

Best wishes, and thanks again to all of you, we really had a wonderful time! Hope to see you all again.

Cristian and Iben

Bird list

  • 1. Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus
  • 2. Black-necked Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis
  • 3. Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis
  • 4. Cory's Shearwater - Calonectris diomedea
  • 5. Balearic Shearwater - Puffinus mauretanicus
  • 6. European Shag - Phalacrocorax aristotelis
  • 7. Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
  • 8. Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
  • 9. Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea
  • 10. Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
  • 11. Great White Egret - Egretta alba
  • 12. Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
  • 13. Squacco Heron - Ardeola ralloides
  • 14. Black-crowned Night Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax
  • 15. Glossy Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus
  • 16. Eurasian Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia
  • 17. White Stork - Ciconia ciconia
  • 18. Black Stork - Ciconia nigra
  • 19. Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus ruber
  • 20. Greylag Goose - Anser anser
  • 21. Ruddy Shelduck - Tadorna ferruginea
  • 22. Common Shelduck - Tadorna tadorna
  • 23. Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
  • 24. Gadwall - Anas strepera
  • 25. Common Teal - Anas crecca
  • 26. Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
  • 27. Marbled Teal - Marmaronetta angustirostris
  • 28. Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina
  • 29. Common Pochard - Aythya ferina
  • 30. White-headed Duck - Oxyura leucocephala
  • 31. Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus
  • 32. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
  • 33. European Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus
  • 34. Red Kite - Milvus milvus
  • 35. Black Kite - Milvus migrans
  • 36. Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus
  • 37. Spanish Imperial Eagle - Aquila adalberti
  • 38. Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
  • 39. Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
  • 40. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
  • 41. Western Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
  • 42. Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus
  • 43. Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
  • 44. Eleonora's Falcon - Falco eleonora
  • 45. Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
  • 46. Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
  • 47. Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
  • 48. Common Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus
  • 49. Common Coot - Fulica atra
  • 50. Red-knobbed Coot - Fulica cristata
  • 51. Purple Swamphen - Porphyrio porphyrio
  • 52. Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
  • 53. Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus
  • 54. Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
  • 55. Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
  • 56. Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus
  • 57. Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola
  • 58. Common Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
  • 59. Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
  • 60. Kentish Plover - Charadrius alexandrinus
  • 61. Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
  • 62. Dunlin - Calidris alpina
  • 63. Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
  • 64. Red Knot - Calidris canutus
  • 65. Sanderling - Calidris alba
  • 66. Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
  • 67. Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
  • 68. Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
  • 69. Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata
  • 70. Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
  • 71. Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa
  • 72. Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
  • 73. Collared Pratincole - Glareola pratincola
  • 74. Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
  • 75. Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
  • 76. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
  • 77. Audouin's Gull - Larus audouinii
  • 78. Slender-billed Gull - Larus genei
  • 79. Gull-billed Tern - Sterna nilotica
  • 80. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
  • 81. Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
  • 82. Little Tern - Sterna albifrons
  • 83. Caspian Tern - Sterna caspia
  • 84. Black Tern - Chlidonias niger
  • 85. Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybridus
  • 86. Atlantic Puffin - Fratercula arctica
  • 87. Feral Pigeon - Columba livia feral
  • 88. Common Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus
  • 89. Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
  • 90. European Turtle Dove - Streptopelia turtur
  • 91. Eurasian Cuckoo - Cuculus canorus
  • 92. Little Owl - Athene noctua
  • 93. Tawny Owl - Strix aluco
  • 94. Common Swift - Apus apus
  • 95. Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
  • 96. European Bee-eater - Merops apiaster
  • 97. European Roller - Coracias garrulus
  • 98. Hoopoe - Upupa epops
  • 99. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major
  • 100. Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis sharpei
  • 101. Calandra Lark - Melanocorypha calandra
  • 102. Crested Lark - Galerida cristata
  • 103. Thekla Lark - Galerida theklae
  • 104. Greater Short-toed Lark - Calandrella brachydactyla
  • 105. Lesser Short-toed Lark - Calandrella rufescens
  • 106. Eurasian Crag Martin - Hirundo rupestris
  • 107. Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
  • 108. Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica
  • 109. Northern House Martin - Delichon urbica
  • 110. Sand Martin - Riparia riparia
  • 111. Tawny Pipit - Anthus campestris
  • 112. White Wagtail - Motacilla alba
  • 113. Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava
  • 114. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea
  • 115. Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator
  • 116. Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
  • 117. Savi's Warbler - Locustella luscinioides
  • 118. Great Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus arundinaceus
  • 119. Eurasian Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
  • 120. Zitting Cisticola - Cisticola juncidis
  • 121. Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
  • 122. Melodious Warbler - Hippolais polyglotta
  • 123. Orphean Warbler - Sylvia hortensis
  • 124. Garden Warbler - Sylvia borin
  • 125. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
  • 126. Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
  • 127. Common Whitethroat - Sylvia communis
  • 128. Dartford Warbler - Sylvia undata
  • 129. Western Bonelli's Warbler - Phylloscopus bonelli
  • 130. Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus
  • 131. Iberian Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus ibericus
  • 132. Firecrest - Regulus ignicapillus
  • 133. European Pied Flycatcher - Ficedula hypoleuca
  • 134. Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata
  • 135. Common Stonechat - Saxicola rubicola
  • 136. Rufous Bush Robin - Cercotrichas galactotes
  • 137. Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
  • 138. Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe
  • 139. Black-eared Wheatear - Oenanthe hispanica
  • 140. European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
  • 141. Common Nightingale - Luscinia megarhynchos
  • 142. Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus
  • 143. Blackbird - Turdus merula
  • 144. Eurasian Penduline Tit - Remiz pendulinus
  • 145. Crested Tit - Parus cristatus
  • 146. European Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus
  • 147. Coal Tit - Parus ater
  • 148. Great Tit - Parus major
  • 149. Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
  • 150. Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
  • 151. Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius
  • 152. Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica
  • 153. Azure-winged Magpie - Cyanopica cyana
  • 154. Northern Raven - Corvus corax
  • 155. Carrion Crow - Corvus corone
  • 156. Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula
  • 157. Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
  • 158. House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
  • 159. Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis
  • 160. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus
  • 161. Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
  • 162. Golden Oriole - Oriolus oriolus
  • 163. Common Waxbill - Estrilda astrild
  • 164. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
  • 165. European Serin - Serinus serinus
  • 166. European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
  • 167. European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
  • 168. Eurasian Linnet - Carduelis cannabina
  • 169. Common Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra
  • 170. Rock Sparrow - Petronia petronia
  • 171. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra
  • 172. Cirl Bunting - Emberiza cirlus
  • 173. Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia


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