Sierra de las Nieves, the Alcornocales Nature Park, Strait of Gibraltar, Doñana, and Odiel (8 days)
Tour leaders: Iben Hove Sørensen & Cristian Jensen Marcet
Group members: Michael & Jo Ellen Thelen, Peter James, Peter Jones, and Richard Squires.
147 species recorded
This trip was organised in cooperation with Frontier Holidays
We all met up in the airport of Malaga and after an introductory coffee headed off towards the scenic white village of Jimena de la Frontera. Along the route we had brief views of a few raptors such as Short-toed Eagle and Common Kestrel, and a roadside stop provided excellent views of the first pair of Booted Eagles of the trip. After checking in to our hotel we went to the nearest bar for a tapas lunch, preparing ourselves for an afternoon of birdwatching.
Our first stop was by the river Guadiaro running past the village. Although several local families had decided on the exact same spot for their Sunday outing, we managed to get good looks of several of the more common species such as Collared Dove, Spotted Flycatcher, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, and Serin. In this area we also found our first couple of Woodchat Shrikes, and several flocks of Corn Buntings were seen in the surrounding fields. A Zitting Cisticola made its appearance right next to the road, and as usual this bird demanded quite a bit of patience for everyone to see it - its mouselike movements and stripy plumage served as perfect camouflage in the dry grassland!
As we moved on into the hills surrounding Jimena, we spotted our first group of migrating raptors. Honey Buzzards were on the move, and we decided to spend the last daylight at a viewpoint with raptors migrating straight overhead. Hundreds of Honey Buzzards passed during the following hour, accompanied by a few Black Kites, and Short-toed and Booted Eagles. A very impressive start to the trip! We also found time to enjoy the smaller birds of the area, and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Rock Thrush, Pied Flycatcher, and Sardinian Warbler all perched out in the open long enough for us all to enjoy them through the telescopes. Back in the village we stopped at the main square to enjoy the Spotless Starlings singing from the church tower, and then headed for the hotel, dinner, and a good night's sleep.
The following morning we went for a walk up the Hozgarganta River inside the Alcornocales (Cork Oak) Nature Park. During the first part of the walk, we were virtually surrounded by House Martins. We saw them on the rocks, in the air, on the electricity wires, and there were thousands of them! It was an incredible experience, and between great views of Griffon Vulture and Blue Rock Thrush we kept returning to the little martins filling the air.
Further down the track we encountered a small group of Crested and Blue Tits, and various warblers showed up briefly in the denser parts of the vegetation. While we were watching a pair of Common Buzzards soaring above the valley, our attention was drawn by a larger raptor circling the opposite side of the hill and only occasionally coming into view. As soon as it crossed the hilltop and flew across our side of the hill were we finally able to identify it as a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle - a great surprise in this area! After a short flight the eagle settled down on a rock, and we spent several minutes taking in the grace and beauty of this large raptor. The bird species recorded during the latter part of the walk included Nuthatch, Cirl Bunting, and numerous Short-toed Treecreepers, and we ended up in Jimena just in time for lunch.
In the afternoon we drove up to the fortified village of Castellar del Viejo. As we were driving along, Mike spotted a 'swift with a white rump' and discreetly asked which species it could have been. He insisted that it was no martin or swallow, so we decided to check it out on the way back - at that moment it was impossible for us to turn around, but any chance of seeing the rare White-rumped Swift should always be investigated. Cristian promised to buy everyone beers in the event of adding the species to his lifelist, and our expectations for the way back started to build up. In Castellar we went for a walk around the picturesque village and enjoyed the views across the reservoir down below (where Mike, with his hawk's eye, spotted a flock of Red Deer) and the surrounding valleys. We had great views of Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, and Honey Buzzard, and a couple of Alpine Swifts flew high in the sky surrounded by the smaller Pallid Swifts.
As we made our way back down, we found the spot where Mike had seen the swift, and parked the car. After several minutes of waiting in vain, we anticipated failure to relocate the swift, and only a passing Peregrine Falcon followed by a male Marsh Harrier prolonged our patience. When we had just decided to give up and accept separate beer bills this evening, a little bird came zooming past. It turned around right in front of us with all the characteristics clearly visible - a White-rumped Swift!! The wait had been well worth it, and we returned to our hotel in high spirits.
This morning we started with a trip to the Migres watch point of Algarrobo, where we enjoyed the morning's migration of raptors. We had several birds passing just overhead, and only reluctantly did we leave the hill and head for Tarifa, from where we were to embark on a whale watching trip into the Strait.
Despite the strong winds blowing across the Strait, the boat sailed out in search of dolphins and seabirds. Barely out of the harbour, the first wave swept across the front deck, and everyone there got soaked! It was a rough ride, and although we managed to get close to several large groups of Striped Dolphins, it was not entirely enjoyable. We saw several Cory's Shearwaters, Black Terns, and Yellow-legged Gulls, and around the harbour of Tarifa we had good views of Sandwich Terns and a single Black-headed Gull. Back on solid ground we enjoyed a warm cup of coffee and our picnic lunches, and once we had dried up we headed back to Huerta Grande for hot showers and a change of clothes. On the way down to the spy house we met a Hoopoe showing off on the track, and we enjoyed its beautiful colours and funny appearance for several minutes from inside the car. Only when we attempted to pass did we realise that the bird had an injured wing, so we caught it and delivered it to the recovery centre situated near the reception - hopefully to a better fate than what would have awaited it in the forest...
In the late afternoon we went out again; this time to the raptor watch point at Cazalla. Here we had excellent views of Black Kites and Short-toed Eagles repeatedly attempting to cross the Strait despite the strong winds. A Sparrowhawk was hunting for a quick meal before attempting to cross, and a couple of Egyptian Vultures appeared in the distance; apparently without any intentions of heading further south this afternoon. A piece of bread left on the ground attracted a Sardinian Warbler which fearlessly enjoyed its meal only a few metres from us, and we once again enjoyed good views of this skulky bird out in the open. Back in the hotel we went through the checklist, and after dinner we all went straight to bed after a long and eventful day.
The Algarrobo watchpoint - © Michael Thelen - Sardinian Warbler
As the weather had improved markedly overnight, we decided to visit Cazalla once more. The morning migration did not pass straight over us, but instead all the raptors passed eastwards in the valley below us and along the ridge high above. This seemed to be the day for Egyptian Vulture, and we had a continuous flow of this beautiful species throughout our stay at Cazalla. Hundreds of Honey Buzzards passed along the ridge where large numbers of Griffon Vultures rode the thermals, and a couple of Black Storks headed south across the Strait.
From Cazalla, we drove down to Bolonia where we had our first and only view of a Bee-eater (a rather late record). The bird was perched on a wire and allowed us to admire its stunning colours for as long as we wanted, and only when everyone was happy with the view did we head up the hill towards the view point. A Griffon Vulture sat perched on the cliff and a pair of Kestrels was hunting above us, yet everything seemed quiet. As we started to talk about the view, the forests below us, and the shape of the enormous dune by Bolonia, raptors began to pass overhead. A Marsh Harrier came first, soon to be followed by a couple of eagles and a loose group of vultures. Among the Griffon Vultures we spotted a very dark individual, and as the bird approached it became easy to tell that it was in fact a subadult Rüppell's Vulture, one of several individuals regularly seen in the area and a new lifer for most of the group members. We headed down to the beach for lunch and a visit to the Roman remains, and whilst enjoying our food we admired the diving skills of a group of young Gannets inside the bay.
In the afternoon it was time to visit La Janda. At the entrance to this vast area of 'agricultural wetland', we were met by large flocks of Corn Buntings. In the distance we saw Montagu's and Marsh Harriers hunting above the recently harvested fields, and Little Egrets were patiently waiting for a meal to pass along the canals and edges between the rice fields. Large flocks of sparrows and finches, including Spanish Sparrow, were roaming the reeds and grasses for seeds, and we had several good looks at them through the telescopes. Halfway down the track we spotted a Black-winged Kite perched on a wire, flanked by a pair of Turtle Doves; two new species for the trip, both beautifully illuminated by the sun (in fact, Peter Jones voted that the kite would have been the bird of the day had we not had such great views of the Bee-eater already!). Other highlights included a Hobby passing us at breathtaking speed, a large group of Glossy Ibis foraging quietly in a nearby field, and thousands (!) of Wood Pigeons and Cattle Egrets searching the ground side by side in a recently ploughed field. We also had great views of Red-legged Partridge, Common Pheasant, and Lesser Kestrel, and we headed back to Huerta Grande with our heads full of birds and new impressions.
After two nights in Huerta Grande, it was time to head further west towards Doñana and the charming little town of El Rocio on the edge of the (now dry) marshes of the park. On the way to Doñana we visited the area known as Dehesa de Abajo, where we saw lots of shorebirds and thousands of White Storks. A flooded field provided good views of several species of ducks, including Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Pintail, and Shoveler, and also of Black-winged Stilt and Avocet. We had lunch in the town of Isla Mayor, following which we had to go straight to the visitor centre at Acebuche to meet our guide, Gonzalo, and the rest of the group for the visit inside Doñana.
As always, Gonzalo did a great job driving the big 4x4 bus, and his running commentary in both English and Spanish ensured that we all made the most of the trip in terms of spotting the park's wildlife. Along the coast we saw large roosting groups of terns and gulls, including numerous Audouin's Gulls, and the beach was speckled with little shorebirds - mostly Sanderlings and Kentish Plovers, but also small flocks of Oystercatchers. Throughout our journey we saw several groups of Red-legged Partridge, and both Fallow and Red Deer allowed us to get very close before calmly moving away from the familiar, green bus. A Wild Boar in the process of finding food underneath a large pine completely ignored us, and everyone admired this funny-looking creature at less than a meter's distance. As we headed back home along the beach, the wind and rain made it difficult to see anything, and only the Oystercatchers were easily identifyable through the water running down the windows.
This morning we left for the area at the mouth of the Odiel River, where we were planning to spend the morning watching shorebirds. We were not disappointed! The tide was out, and the mudflats of the river and the surrounding saltpans were all full of birds looking for food. By the information centre we watched our first Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins foraging by the river's edge, and also enjoyed good views of smaller birds such as White Wagtail, Pied Flycatcher, and Zitting Cisticola.
As we went out towards the coast, we saw numerous egrets and herons, and also little groups of Flamingos looking bright and colourful in their green/brown surroundings. A couple of Whinchats caught our attention in a nearby field, and we stubbornly followed a pair of Dartford Warblers alongside the road until we all caught at least a glimpse of them in the vegetation. Curlew, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Redshank, and Greater Ringed Plover were all readily seen from the road, whereas Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, and Ruddy Turnstone, demanded a little more intensive search. A group of Mediterranean Gulls floated lazily in a sheltered corner of the river, and a Caspian Tern was majestically perched on a mudflat surrounded by what seemed to be minute Sandwich and Common Terns; even the Black-headed Gulls appeared small next to this large tern. We had our picnic lunch near the beach, where Northern Wheatear was added to the list, and on the way back we had great views of at least a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes in the bushy vegetation.
Instead of going straight back to El Rocio, we did a brief stop at Laguna 1era de Palos, where we watched several Purple Gallinules foraging around the edges and numerous Coots and Moorhens dotted like black pearls all over the lagoon. One individual stood out; a male Red-knobbed Coot was swimming amongst all the others, seemingly unaware that it is still a scarce and sought-after bird in most parts of Spain. In the reed beds just in front of us we spotted several passerines, including both Sedge and Reed Warblers which were presumably migrants on their way to Africa. A flock of Common Waxbills landed briefly near us, only to continue their noisy flight until the other end of the lagoon.
As we approached the entrance to the Acebuche visitor centre, a murmur of Azure-winged Magpies and photo opportunities rose within the car, and we decided on another visit to the domain of these beautiful birds. Whilst the photographers were at work, others opted for a visit to the gift shop and the coffee bar, and after a good half hour we were on the road again. A couple of Thekla Larks were seen along the track, and back in El Rocio we had great views of five Black Storks blending in with the Grey Herons of the marshes. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the town, and we met up for dinner a couple of hours later.
This morning we headed back east, towards the little white village of El Burgo in the Sierra de las Nieves Nature Park. Our trip took us through some very beautiful stretches of mountain roads, and a few stops en route provided good views of a variety of birds ranging from an adult Golden Eagle flying along a ridge to several Subalpine Warblers skulking about in the scrubby vegetation of the Secret Valley.
We reached El Burgo just in time for lunch, and we decided to stay in the hotel rather than looking for other last-minute options. The food was great, and after the meal we decided to have a quick siesta to prepare ourselves for the afternoon walk. Mike was feeling slightly under the weather, and we hoped that a siesta would make him feel better as a certain amount of lifers were awaiting him in the mountains.
Unfortunately the siesta did not have the desired effect on Mike, so we had to leave him and Jo behind as we embarked upon our excursion into the Mountains of the Snow. Barely out of El Burgo, a large group of sparrows attracted our attentioTo our luck and enjoyment, some of them landed on a post near enough for everyone to see that they were indeed Rock Sparrows! As we reached the walking trail, we spotted a little group of Spanish Ibex; the beautiful mountain goat with a scary tendency of climbing to the highest peaks and the most dangerous-looking ledges. Further up the track we had good views of Coal Tit, Crested Tit, and Rock Bunting, and groups of Common Crossbills crossed several times overhead. In the valley below we caught glimpses of Wood Pigeons and Jays flying from tree to tree, and as we were about to return to the car a Subalpine Warbler appeared a few metres below us. So did a Chaffinch and a Dartford Warbler, and with all three birds behaving in the same skulky manner (and the only one appearing out in the open being the Chaffinch) it took a little while for everyone to get good views.
Back in El Burgo we met up for a big paella in a nearby restaurant, and we spent the evening looking back on the trip, tasting the local sherry and enjoying the food. However, as we had an early start the following morning and some people still needed to pack, we headed for our rooms at a reasonable time.
At 5 am we met up in the reception, got our picnic breakfasts (a first for at least some of us), and packed the bus. A long, dark ride through narrow mountain roads awaited us, and at least a few heads were nodding as we made our way to the airport of Malaga. We said goodbye to Mike and Jo first, as their plane left rather early, and then settled in for a two-hour wait for the next check-in. We spent the time drinking coffee, eating our picnics, and watching the airport slowly waking up, as the sun quietly rose and spread light over the city of Malaga.
Thanks to you all for creating such a great atmosphere throughout the trip. It was a great pleasure travelling with you, and you were always good-humoured, even when we made you wait for strange swifts for hours or led you into the Strait of Gibraltar on a rocky boat. We hope to see you again soon.
All the best,
Cristian & Iben
Your choice of accomodations for Spain was excellent. The hotels were comfortable, the restaurants in the hotels provided great food and service and the locations within the town/villages were very well placed. Your daily schedule was very reasonable. We especially appreciated that you scheduled a real lunch most days. It was very civilized and made sense based on the heat/climate of the locale. You made a point to find unique restaurants for dinner in every city we were in during the trip. The meals, wine selections and desserts that we experienced each evening made me feel like we had a special connection to each city. This is a very unique aspect of this tour vs. others tours that we have been on with different companies.
- 1. Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus
- 2. Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis
- 3. Cory's Shearwater - Calonectris diomedea
- 4. Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
- 5. Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
- 6. Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
- 7. Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
- 8. Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
- 9. Glossy Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus
- 10. White Stork - Ciconia ciconia
- 11. Black Stork - Ciconia nigra
- 12. Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus ruber
- 13. Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
- 14. Gadwall - Anas strepera
- 15. Eurasian Wigeon - Anas penelope
- 16. Northern Pintail - Anas acuta
- 17. Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
- 18. Common Pochard - Aythya ferina
- 19. Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus
- 20. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
- 21. Rüppell's Vulture - Gyps rueppellii
- 22. European Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus
- 23. Red Kite - Milvus milvus
- 24. Black Kite - Milvus migrans
- 25. Black-winged Kite - Elanus caeruleus
- 26. Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus
- 27. Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
- 28. Spanish Imperial Eagle - Aquila adalberti
- 29. Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
- 30. Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
- 31. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
- 32. Eurasian Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
- 33. Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus
- 34. Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
- 35. Eurasian Hobby - Falco subbuteo
- 36. Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
- 37. Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
- 38. Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
- 39. Common Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus
- 40. Common Coot - Fulica atra
- 41. Red-knobbed Coot - Fulica cristata
- 42. Purple Swamphen - Porphyrio porphyrio
- 43. Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
- 44. Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus
- 45. Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
- 46. Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
- 47. Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus
- 48. Common Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
- 49. Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
- 50. Kentish Plover - Charadrius alexandrinus
- 51. Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
- 52. Dunlin - Calidris alpina
- 53. Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
- 54. Red Knot - Calidris canutus
- 55. Sanderling - Calidris alba
- 56. Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
- 57. Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
- 58. Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
- 59. Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
- 60. Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata
- 61. Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
- 62. Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa
- 63. Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
- 64. Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
- 65. Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
- 66. Mediterranean Gull - Larus melanocephalus
- 67. Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
- 68. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
- 69. Audouin's Gull - Larus audouinii
- 70. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
- 71. Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
- 72. Caspian Tern - Sterna caspia
- 73. Black Tern - Chlidonias niger
- 74. Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybridus
- 75. Feral Pigeon - Columba livia feral
- 76. Common Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus
- 77. Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
- 78. European Turtle Dove - Streptopelia turtur
- 79. Tawny Owl - Strix aluco
- 80. Common Swift - Apus apus
- 81. Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
- 82. White-rumped Swift - Apus caffer
- 83. Alpine Swift - Apus melba
- 84. European Bee-eater - Merops apiaster
- 85. Hoopoe - Upupa epops
- 86. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major
- 87. Calandra Lark - Melanocorypha calandra
- 88. Woodlark - Lullula arborea
- 89. Crested Lark - Galerida cristata
- 90. Thekla Lark - Galerida theklae
- 91. Eurasian Crag Martin - Hirundo rupestris
- 92. Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
- 93. Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica
- 94. Northern House Martin - Delichon urbica
- 95. White Wagtail - Motacilla alba
- 96. Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava
- 97. Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator
- 98. Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
- 99. Eurasian Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
- 100. Sedge Warbler - Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
- 101. Zitting Cisticola - Cisticola juncidis
- 102. Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
- 103. Garden Warbler - Sylvia borin
- 104. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
- 105. Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
- 106. Subalpine Warbler - Sylvia cantillans
- 107. Common Whitethroat - Sylvia communis
- 108. Dartford Warbler - Sylvia undata
- 109. Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus
- 110. Firecrest - Regulus ignicapillus
- 111. European Pied Flycatcher - Ficedula hypoleuca
- 112. Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata
- 113. Whinchat - Saxicola rubetra
- 114. Common Stonechat - Saxicola rubicola
- 115. Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
- 116. Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe
- 117. Common Redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus
- 118. European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
- 119. Blackbird - Turdus merula
- 120. Crested Tit - Parus cristatus
- 121. European Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus
- 122. Coal Tit - Parus ater
- 123. Great Tit - Parus major
- 124. Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea caesia
- 125. Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
- 126. Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
- 127. Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius
- 128. Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica
- 129. Azure-winged Magpie - Cyanopica cyana
- 130. Northern Raven - Corvus corax
- 131. Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula
- 132. Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
- 133. House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
- 134. Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis
- 135. Common Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
- 136. Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
- 137. Common Waxbill - Estrilda astrild
- 138. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
- 139. European Serin - Serinus serinus
- 140. European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
- 141. European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
- 142. Common Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra
- 143. Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes
- 144. Rock Sparrow - Petronia petronia
- 145. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra
- 146. Cirl Bunting - Emberiza cirlus
- 147. Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia
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