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Strait of Gibraltar, La Janda, Los Lances beach, Tarifa, Doñana, Alcornocales Nature Park (8 days)

Tour leaders: Cristian Jensen and Jaume Soler Zurita

Tour members: John Fraser, Norman & Sheila Johnston, Ray & Jill Hodgkins and John & Valerie Hawkins

157 bird species recorded

Trip report written by Jaume Soler Zurita

Tour organized by HEATHERLEA

Day 1 - Sunday September 21st

Today was mostly a transfer day, as the group members arrived in the evening at the airport of Jerez de la Frontera. We packed the vans and drove from this famous city, known for its lovely sherry wine, to our hotel in the small village of Zahara de los Atunes, located just beside the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Cadiz. We had a good dinner while presenting the schedule for the rest of the week to the group members.

Day 2 - Monday September 22nd

Anticipating a long birdwatching day ahead of us, we had an early breakfast and drove to the eastern part of Doñana. The journey to Doñana was kind of rainy, and we feared a bad day in terms of the weather, but fortunately as we were getting close to the area, the sun came back to visit us. We just got some short five-minute showers, which luckily didn’t trouble us in terms of enjoying the birds. Even in the rain we could watch some Cattle Egrets and Common Kestrels from the van.

During our first stop we visited a marsh area located in the very east of Doñana, which is separated from the rest of the park by the Guadalquivir River. The water level of this marsh is managed by use of channels inhabited by many Grey Herons, Moorhens, and a large number of Fan-tailed Warblers. In the surrounding fields we came across several raptors like Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard, and other birds like a late Purple Heron. Passerine species were also seen, for instance Whinchat, many Stonechats, Northern Wheatear, and Yellow Wagtail. Where the water was deeper, forming artificial lagoons, some wildfowl, such as Marbled Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Pintail, Mallard and Common Pochard, could bee seen. Spoonbills were also present in small numbers.

We had lunch in a pine woodland near the park, and whilst watching a couple of Booted Eagles flying over us, Sardinian Warbler and Pied Flycatcher where moving in the trees around us. After lunch we visited the Tarelo Lagoon where the different members of the group made some lifers while observing Squacco Heron, Night heron, and White-Headed Duck.

Later on we visited the Bonanza salt pans, which is a very rich location in terms of waders and other waterbirds. We got to see large numbers of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-Winged Stilt, as well as Dunlin, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Flamingos also appeared in large numbers, and the rich pans delighted us with Black Stork, Osprey, and many species of gulls and terns; for instance, Slender-billed, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, and Common, Caspian and Little Terns.

Our last stop in this intense and complete birding day was in the Medina Lagoon, which is a huge freshwater wetland containing the highest concentration of White-headed Duck in Spain. The lagoon has a large number of coots, and, fortunately, among them we got to see one Crested Coot! Other noted species were Common Pochard, Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall. Apart from waterbirds, Black-shouldered Kite and Southern Great Shrike were also seen.

Later on we came back to the hotel in Zahara to revise the long checklist of the day (up to 95 species!), and enjoy a delicious dinner.

Day 3 - Tuesday September 23rd

We started in La Janda; a large agricultural area where a huge lagoon was dried off in the past to provide grasslands for cattle. At the beginning we got to see Turtle Dove and large flocks of finches containing Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Serin, Chaffinch and Linnet, as well as House Sparrow and Corn Bunting. A Montagu’s Harrier, some Lesser Kestrels, and a couple of Honey Buzzards were seen, and Booted and Short-toed Eagles and Sparrowhawk appeared as well. In terms of waders, some Common Snipes and Green Sandpipers were feeding in the channels.

Later on, we arrived at a flooded grassland, where it was nice to see many other waders like Ruff, Knot, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Redshank and Dunlin. In the whole morning track we saw many White Storks, one Black Stork, and Marsh Harriers hunting over the fields. We had lunch in a very nice White Poplar formation while observing some Booted and Short-toed Eagles.

In the afternoon we went to visit the northern part of La Janda where it borders with Alcornocales Nature Park. While driving we were very lucky to see a wonderful Little Owl perched very close to our vans! Then we had a coffee in the nice town of Benalup, from where we started our way back to the hotel in Zahara. We stopped a couple of times en route to watch three lovely juveniles of Bonelli’s Eagle, one Black-Shouldered Kite, and a Peregrine Falcon, flying fast and trying to catch a prey.

Back in the hotel, having dinner, Jill pointed out that the Short-toed Eagle had been, for her, the bird of the day.

Day 4 - Wednesday September 24th

Today we woke up to a cloudy day, probably due to the Atlantic winds coming from the west. We had breakfast at 9:00 a.m., left Zahara and headed towards the Strait of Gibraltar, where we spent the whole morning in the raptor observation point of Cazalla. In the beginning the day did not seem very nice in terms of raptors, but progressively the activity increased and dozens of Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, White Stork, Black Stork and Griffon Vulture came closer. Also, a couple of Egyptian Vultures flew over us. In all that gorgeous sky of activity, Ray couldn’t believe what was happening as he pointed out that he had never seen so many raptors before in his life! Suddenly, Cristian noticed that a vulture was slightly different than the rest of the flock of Griffons. Fortunately for us, it landed beside other vultures and we could confirm our initial hope: That the bird was a Rüppell’s Vulture! This interesting species comes from the West of Africa, and has probably arrived mixed in with migrating juveniles of Griffon Vulture.

After this exciting morning of raptor migration, we went to Huerta Grande to have lunch. Huerta Grande is a very nice wooded area where we got to see a lovely Hawfinch as well as a couple of Short-toed Tree-creepers. In this area we enjoyed observing several Monarch Butterflies flying so elegantly around us. After having a coffee, we drove along a very nice track in the Alcornocales Nature Park. At the beginning, in a light drizzle, we saw Crested Tit, Firecrest and Cirl Bunting! The clouds drifted off and we had a lovely afternoon light while watching two Bonelli’s Eagles (one juvenile and one adult) as well as a large group of White Storks. All the members of the group wondered about the beauty of this area, saying that they had never expected to see waterfalls in the south of Spain! But certainly, Alcornocales hides wonderful scenery, capable to delight every nature lover…!

Taking the road back to Cazalla, we had a rest in the hotel and left again towards Vejer, where we could enjoy the formation of a huge roost of Cattle Egrets, Jackdaws, Starlings and House Sparrows. In the dusk we could see a Tawny Owl, as well as an Eagle Owl flying far away! Certainly a nice way to end a day in the field!

Back in the hotel, we had a nice dinner with a delicious dessert.

Day 5 - Thursday September 25th

Today we woke up to a nice day and had a big breakfast to keep us going for the rest of the morning.

We had planned a boat trip from Tarifa, so we took the opportunity to enjoy a short visit to the nearby Barbate Marshes. Previously, we had tried to see the Bald Ibis near there, but we were not lucky... In the marshes we had nice views of Sanderling, Kentish Plover, and Ringed Plover, and also some passerines like Northern Wheatear, Stonechat and Whinchat, everything from the car! After that, we stopped to observe a large group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls in the scopes.

We left the marshes and drove towards Tarifa harbour, where we took the boat. Fortunately for us, the sea was unbelievably calm which helped us to enjoy even more our observations…and they arrived soon; we started to see some Black Terns, as well as Great Skua, Balearic Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater and Gannet! The boat was sailing some miles into the Strait of Gibraltar, and we had fantastic views from both Spanish and Moroccan coasts! Later on, we could see, far away, the first cetaceans! They were Pilot Whales! The boat approached them to a certain distance until they got very close. The members of the group really enjoyed having those wonderful animals close, hearing them, and experiencing their magic behaviour. Later, a little group of Bottle-Nosed Dolphins came and joined the Pilot Whales. While observing the cetaceans and as we were coming back to the harbour, we could see some more Cory’s Shearwater, Common Tern and Sandwich Tern.

We had lunch close to the harbour in Tarifa, having a nice view of the coast, and a group of Yellow-legged Gulls with a Whimbrel amongst them! In the early afternoon we went to visit Bolonia, which is a very interesting area containing Roman ruins. We had a coffee and approached a cliff where some Griffon Vultures were taking a rest on the rocks. That place offered us a fantastic view of the Bolonia beach and its huge dune.

We went back to the hotel to take a rest and have another nice dinner.

Day 6 - Friday September 26th

This morning was a bit windy, and after having breakfast we took the cars to visit the Lances Beach just next to Tarifa. Just getting out of the car, we could see some Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles and a Peregrine…a nice beginning! We walked to reach the bird observatory, and just behind it we could see a group of Yellow-legged and Audouin’s Gulls! Some of the latter were ringed, so we could read some colour rings as a contribution to the study of this rare gull species. While observing the gulls, a large group of 51 Black Storks flew over us!

Later on, we did a short walk, at first following a wooden walkway which allowed us to see some waders like Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit, and later on we entered a grassland where we could see a large group of Calandra Larks. Some birds were mixed up in a large flock with Corn Buntings. In the same fields, searching food, we could see a flock of Goldfinches.

We then went to the observatory of Cazalla. Today was another story in terms of weather, so the sun was shining bright and we had eastern winds, so the members of the group could see the change in the raptors’ flight behaviour. Today we got many birds of prey flying low, very close to us…some Booted Eagles, and a gorgeous Short-toed Eagle we could almost touch holding up our fingers! Really a nice view…actually, some of the members of the group chose that moment as one of the most exciting of the whole tour! Apart from these species, some White Storks and a couple of Egyptian Vultures were also seen.

After having lunch in the observatory, we went to have a coffee in the Strait of Gibraltar viewing-point. Then we went to the surrounding fields of Facinas where we could see Montagu’s Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Southern Great Shrike, as well as some Linnets and Corn Buntings taking a bath in a little pool.

We returned early to the hotel in Zahara to take a rest and relax before having dinner.

Day 7 - Saturday September 27th

Today we got up earlier to enjoy a quick birding outing before breakfast. We went to have a look at the Barbate marshes where we saw a Subalpine Warbler as well as a fantastic observation of a very near Osprey, dangling a fish from its claws (for most of the members, the nicest view of the tour!).

We had breakfast in the hotel and left again to La Janda, where we could see Spanish Sparrow and a couple of Squacco Herons staying very close to the vans! A couple of Hen Harriers, first a male and later a female, could be seen as well. Following the same path as previously, we saw a group of Lesser Kestrels hunting in the surrounding fields, and a group of Black Storks mixed up with some White Storks flew over us!

We had lunch in the field while watching a group of White Storks taking a rest in a rice field, and later on we continued until we could see a group of waders. In a very small space we could see Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, and a presumed hybrid Dunlin x Little Stint, which was a very interesting intermediate bird with characters from both species!

Again we had a coffee in Benalup, and later on we went back to the hotel, to take a rest!

Day 8 - Sunday September 28th

We woke up to have breakfast at 9:00 a.m. and pack everything, because today we were already leaving the hotel, heading back home...

When driving to Barbate we tried a last stop between Zahara and Barbate in the hope of seeing the Bald Ibis. We didn’t see them in the wild, but we could see some animals inside a big aviary which is installed near there as part of a hacking reintroduction plan that is being carried out by the Andalusian government.

After that we approached the Barbate marshes. This morning the tide was low, so we had a good chance to see many species of waders. Among other birds we saw Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Cormorant, Curlew Sandpiper, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Caspian Tern and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

We left towards Jerez de la Frontera, but previously we stopped in the Cadiz marshes where we saw again some of the waders we had seen earlier, adding a few species like Grey Plover and Black-winged Stilt. Also, a little group of Slender-billed Gulls was seen mixed up with Black-headed Gulls. After that we left for Jerez where we had a very nice lunch consisting of a buffet of very nice Andalusian food!

Later on we took the opportunity to do some bird watching in the eastern part of Doñana. We could see again both species of Ringed Plovers, as well as Marbled Teal and Red-crested Pochard. Finally we went to the airport, to revise our checklist for the day and help the group members check in, before saying goodbye and good luck to them!

General Comments, best moment, best species…

On the last day of our tour, we all chatted together to decide which had been for us the best moment and the most special species of the whole week.

Regarding the species, Valerie pointed out the observation of the Little Owl as the nicest one, whilst Jill and Ray were most impressed by the Short-toed Eagle and its beautiful shape. The harriers had also been important; John H chose the Hen Harrier and Norman the Montagu’s Harrier (male and female) as the nicest ones. John F preferred the Rüppell’s Vulture and Sheila the Subalpine Warbler.

Regarding the most special moment, Valerie and Ray were most delighted by the proximity of whales and dolphins on the boat. Norman, John H, Sheila and Ray also chose the amount of raptors crossing as the best experience and especially Ray commented that he had seen - in just an instant - more raptors than he had seen in his whole life! Finally, John F was most impressed by the Osprey flying over us with a fish.

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. Storm petrel – Hydrobates pelagicus
  • 7. Gannet – Sula bassana
  • 8. Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
  • 9. Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
  • 10. Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea
  • 11. Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
  • 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. Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
  • 21. Gadwall - Anas strepera
  • 22. Common Teal - Anas crecca
  • 23. Northern Pintail - Anas acuta
  • 24. Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
  • 25. Wigeon – Anas penelope
  • 26. Marbled Teal - Marmaronetta angustirostris
  • 27. Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina
  • 28. Common Pochard - Aythya ferina
  • 29. White-headed Duck - Oxyura leucocephala
  • 30. Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus
  • 31. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
  • 32. Rueppell’s Vulture – Gyps Rueppelli
  • 33. Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
  • 34. European Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus
  • 35. Red Kite - Milvus milvus
  • 36. Black Kite - Milvus migrans
  • 37. Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus
  • 38. Bonelli’s Eagle – Hieraaetus fasciatus.
  • 39. Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
  • 40. Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
  • 41. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
  • 42. Western Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
  • 43. Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus
  • 44. Hen Harrier – Circus cyaneus
  • 45. Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
  • 46. Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
  • 47. Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
  • 48. Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
  • 49. Common Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus
  • 50. Common Coot - Fulica atra
  • 51. Red-knobbed Coot - Fulica cristata
  • 52. Purple Swamphen - Porphyrio porphyrio
  • 53. Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
  • 54. Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus
  • 55. Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
  • 56. Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
  • 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. Little Stint - Calidris minuta
  • 65. Red Knot - Calidris canutus
  • 66. Sanderling - Calidris alba
  • 67. Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
  • 68. Spotted Redshank – Tringa erythropus
  • 69. Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
  • 70. Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
  • 71. Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
  • 72. Ruff - Philomachus pugnax
  • 73. Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata
  • 74. Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
  • 75. Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa
  • 76. Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
  • 77. Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
  • 78. Great Skua - Stercorarius skua
  • 79. Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
  • 80. Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
  • 81. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
  • 82. Audouin's Gull - Larus audouinii
  • 83. Slender-billed Gull - Larus genei
  • 84. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
  • 85. Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
  • 86. Little Tern - Sterna albifrons
  • 87. Caspian Tern - Sterna caspia
  • 88. Black Tern - Chlidonias niger
  • 89. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon - Columba livia/feral
  • 90. Common Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus
  • 91. Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
  • 92. European Turtle Dove - Streptopelia turtur
  • 93. Little Owl – Athene noctua
  • 94. Eagle Owl – Bubo bubo
  • 95. Tawny Owl - Strix aluco
  • 96. Alpine Swift – Apus melba
  • 97. Common Swift - Apus apus
  • 98. Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
  • 99. Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis
  • 100. Hoopoe - Upupa epops
  • 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. Tree Pipit - Anthus trivialis
  • 112. Tawny Pipit – Anthus campestris
  • 113. Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava
  • 114. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea
  • 115. Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator
  • 116. Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
  • 117. Eurasian Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
  • 118. Fan-tailed warbler - Cisticola juncidis
  • 119. Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
  • 120. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
  • 121. Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
  • 122. Subalpine Warbler - Sylvia cantillans
  • 123. Whitethroat – Sylvia communis
  • 124. Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus
  • 125. Common Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
  • 126. Firecrest - Regulus ignicapillus
  • 127. European Pied Flycatcher - Ficedula hypoleuca
  • 128. Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata
  • 129. Whinchat - Saxicola rubetra
  • 130. Common Stonechat - Saxicola torquatus
  • 131. Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
  • 132. Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe
  • 133. European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
  • 134. Blackbird - Turdus merula
  • 135. Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus
  • 136. Crested Tit - Parus cristatus
  • 137. European Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus
  • 138. Great Tit - Parus major
  • 139. Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
  • 140. Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
  • 141. Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius
  • 142. Northern Raven - Corvus corax
  • 143. Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula
  • 144. House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
  • 145. Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis
  • 146. Tree Sparrow – Passer montanus
  • 147. Common Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
  • 148. Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
  • 149. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
  • 150. European Serin - Serinus serinus
  • 151. European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
  • 152. European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
  • 153. Linnet – Carduelis cannabina
  • 154. Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes
  • 155. Reed Bunting – Emberiza schoeniclus
  • 156. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra
  • 157. Cirl Bunting - Emberiza cirlus


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