Trip Report
Birding in Southern Spain
April 2010

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From the 25th April 2010, I spent a week Birdwatching in southern Spain and what an excellent birding week this was. Firstly, I should thank Andy James who had some knowledge of the sites we visited, researched and planned every detail of the trip, did all the driving (we covered 3000km), and he even spoke some Spanish, which is more than the rest of us did. Valuable information also came from Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds in Andalusia' available from birdguides. We saw over 160 species in over 7 days of mostly intensive dawn to dusk birding and it was brilliant.

I'd never done a Spanish birding trip before and was quickly struck by some key differences. Vast areas of un-spoilt countryside and I imagine some key differences in the way the habitat is managed, maintained and farmed must be at least part of the reason so many of the birds we found to be common are declining or rare breeding birds in the uk.

Probably the commonest birds were Corn bunting, Serin and Nightingale, House Sparrows were common and encountered in places where it seemed they could not have been dependant on man. Turtle Doves were regular and we recorded White Storks, Black Kites and Bee-eaters every day. Red-necked Nightjars were heard on several nights and we didn't see a Robin all week!

Below is my account of our week, doubtless some of the information is a little vague or inaccurate. Sometimes the birding was just to good to waste time keeping accurate details. All photographs taken by me during the week.

 
Day 1 - 25th April 2010

We arrived in the Daimiel National Park area as a lunchtime stop point on our way south from Madrid, we stopped in two different areas with open water and reed bed habitats and plenty of birds. A number of White Storks were nesting here and we saw our first of the week along with a Lesser Kestrel as we were getting out of the car. The first of many Black Kites was quickly added to the list along with Nightingale and our first Bee Eater. Spotless Starlings were around the buildings here and we located a Spanish Sparrow nesting in one of the many Stork nest. There were Whiskered Terns over the open water and we found Red crested Pochard among the commoner waterfowl.

European Serin (Serinus serinus)
 
Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica)
A nesting pair of Red-rumped Swallows gave excellent views in flight and collecting mud near to their chosen nest site under a nearby bridge.
The extensive reed beds here quickly got us Cetti's and Reed Warbler along with quite good views of Great Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler and a female Ferruginous Duck. Blue-headed Wagtails were present along with Cattle Egrets and we heard a Hoopoe. Plenty of House Sparrows were around as well as a couple of Tree Sparrows and we also had good views of a perched Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler). On the journey to our next site we picked up Black Stork and Black Vultures from the car!
Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus)



Next we arrived at the Serena Plains, a massive area of unspoilt downland (Steppe) habitat covered in wildflowers. We spent the latter part of the afternoon through till dusk driving around and making various stops to scan or look at birds we had seen from the car. We quickly picked up the first of many Montague's Harriers and some gave close views and later a few Marsh Harriers. Corn Buntings, as was the case in most areas we visited, were a common bird here. We picked up two Great Spotted Cuckoos from the car and stopped to look at them at which point we found a pair of Black Eared Wheatear, and a calling Quail. We picked up Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight but at this stage we didn't get the hoped for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

 

 

 
 
Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)

We stopped at likely looking spots with good views across the plains to scan for Bustards and in this way picked up several flying Collard Pratincoles. We stopped to look at Hoopoe and Little Owls on the roadside poles and cables and picked up Woodchat Shrikes along the way. We were seeing numerous Larks and stopped to check them out and try to identify the various species. We picked out Short toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Thekla Lark as well as numerous Crested Larks.



Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus) Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Great Bustard (Otis tarda)
As Dusk approached we found some Bustards, just a few Little Bustards but probably more than a dozen Great Bustards, both species giving excellent scope views and some males displaying in the fantastic evening light. During this time we heard and then picked out Stone Curlew and several more Montague's Harriers. As the sun set many of these birds were continually in view and we picked out a pair of Black-winged Stilts on a distant pool. What a way to spend an evening! And this was just the end of the first day! Once we had pulled ourselves away we drove to our site for the following morning where we planned to get a few hours sleep in the car. Here we dropped of to the sound of Nightingale and Red-necked Nightjar singing.

 

Day 2 - 26th April 2010

We all woke up bright and early (perhaps because we hadn't really slept!) and decided to try and see the Red-necked Nightjar, we eventually had good silhouetted flight views against the brightening sky. We were in the area of Laguna de Zóñar we didn't get a great deal on the water here but did get good views of Melodious Warbler, Serin, a pair of Marsh Harrier, Turtle Dove and two flyover Purple Herons.

 


Next to the Luguna de Fuenta de Piedra, nature reserve where there was a large area of water with the impressive site of many hundreds of Flamingo. We had Gull-billed Terns instantly over the car, there was an impressive number and possibly a breeding colony here. There were also perhaps 30 Black Terns, there were Zitting Cistacolas and I had a nice flight view of a Hoopoe. We picked out a few waders including a pair of Kentish Plover and two Little Ringed Plovers and many Black-winged Stilts. There were Gadwall on the open water and Black-necked Grebes, distantly we did pick out probably 6-10 White-headed Ducks but the views were unfortunately poor.
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)



Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber)


Our next stop was a site near Teba Gorge, we picked up several Woodchat Shrike here along with our first Griffin Vultures, Chough, more Serins, a Sardinian Warbler, 3 Short toed Eagles, several Alpine Swifts and a Cuckoo, Red-rumped Swallows and several Bee-eaters. Then it was on to Teba Gorge itself, unfortunately due to high water levels we were unable to walk all the way through, but it really didn't matter since we were quickly watching more Griffins, plenty of Chough, Crag Martins nesting under the bridge, several Blue Rock Thrush and 2-3 Black Wheatear. There was also Nightingale, Grey Wagtail and an impressive colony of House Martins, where some of the empty nests had been taken over by House Sparrows.


Eurasian Griffin Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
 




Next it was onto Via Verde (Coripe) this area has an old railway line converted to a foot/cycle path. Here we hoped to connect at an Eagle Owl site and camp nearby for the night. There were around 40 Bee eaters feeding in the sky here as dusk approached and we saw another Woodchat Shrike. Sadly we didn't see the Eagle Owls here but perhaps this was due to the presence of nesting Bonneli's Eagles. On the other side of the tunnel we found an eyrie with two chicks and an adult at the nest. We left the site in darkness and once again fell asleep to the sound of Nightingale this time accompanied by Tawny Owls.



Day 3 - 27th April 2010


We had a good nights sleep and were up before dawn and on the road again, as we drove out of the area we had excellent views
of 2-3 Red-necked Nightjar on the road in the headlights.

Lesser Kestrel (Falcon naumanni) Pallid Swift (Apus unicolor)
Our first site was Ronda Bridge a fascinating place in the centre of town with an incredible view over the surrounding countryside and impressive gorge. For an unforgettable experience add to this the thousands of Swifts which seemed to be mostly Pallid Swifts but there were also Common Swift and Alpine Swift, nesting Lesser Kestrels, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrows, Crag Martin and many Red-billed Chough.
Alpine Swift (Apus melba)
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)

Next in contrast to our experience in the centre of town it was of into the mountains, we stopped where we could scan and look for smaller birds and managed five Rock Bunting, four in the car park at the Mirador (view point) on the Puerto de las Palomas road, where we also had the pleasure of watching thirty two Chough wheeling around in the sky together.

  Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)
Closed roads and a little navigation confusion actually gained us some good birds. I'm not sure if any of us know where but over a few stops we picked up Crested Tit, Bonelli's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff along with a Booted Eagle and the by now expected Griffin Vultures.
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
Back on track we headed for Tarifa the well know migration watch point on the spanish south coast in the hope of seeing raptors arriving of the sea from Africa having crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Morroco which we could see over the water. We arrived at the Mirador at Tarifa with the intention to just drop in to see if any birds of prey were moving and suss out the situation with a view to giving it a proper go in the morning. In the end we hung around for two hours! Some of the Black Kites, Griffin Vultures and Lesser Kestrels were perhaps local birds but others did seem to be coming in off the sea. We didn't get the numbers of birds this site is famous for but we were quite happy with the number of species. We had 2 Egyptian Vultures, 2 Short toes Eagles, probably 20 Booted Eagles, a Sparrow hawk, a Montague's Harrier, an Osprey and a Peregrine. I would imagine things can get rather hectic here with bigger numbers of birds and species coming in at all angles!

We spent the last part of the evening up until dusk at a Sierra de la Plata viewpoint and found the cave which has apparently had breeding Little and White rumped Swifts in the past. No Swifts were to be found but close views of Griffin Vultures roosting nests with chicks was very nice and we also picked up another Blue Rock Thrush and a few Lesser Kestrels and a Great-spotted Woodpecker!


Day 4 - 28th April 2010

After the relative luxury of chalet style accommodation we spent the morning in the Tarifa area. We spent some time looking for migrants in the bushes and produced a few each of Spotted and Pied Flycatchers during the morning. One patch of pine woodland gave us great views of Short-toed Treecreeper where we also had Sardinian Warbler and Woodchat Shrike. Back up at the Tarifa Mirador we had more Griffins and Black Kites but also a Marsh Harrier and a Honey Buzzard along with a few Blue-headed Wagtails (by jeff brantner). We decide to go back down to the beach in the hope of a few raptors coming in low over the water and perhaps some seabirds.

There were Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls along with a flock of fishing Terns, there were Gull-billed Terns and Sandwich Tern but we also picked out a Lesser-crested Tern! None of us knew the status of the species here but the Collins guide describes it as 'very rare vagrant to Europe'. I have since learned that this is 'the' place in Europe where they are most likely to be found due to the proximity to the African coast. There were Black Kites and Spotless Starlings here as well, along with a Lesser Kestrels hunting Lizards or Snakes, difficult to tell, but twice we saw one carrying a long tailed Reptile. We also had Northern Wheatear here along with Crested and Short toed larks.

The La Janda Marshes was the next area we visited. It was quite dry and quiet, though we did pick up Spoonbill, White Storks, a Short toed Eagle, Cetti Warblers, Whitethroat and the by now familiar Zitting Cistacolas. We moved on to the Laguna de Medina where we hoped we may pick up Red-knobbed Coot among the many hundreds of Coot here but sadly not, though I'll bet there were some lurking out of view somewhere here. We did get some more distant White-headed Ducks, certainly two and perhaps five here, there were also a few hundred Red Crested Pochard as well as Common Pochard, Gadwall and Shoveler. Warblers included Cetti's, Great Reed and Zitting Cistocola. There were also Red-rumped Swallows, Black Terns and a Squacco Heron.

 



Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Next to Bonanza Salt Pans, what a place, I was gobsmacked when we first arrived, the numbers of waders were incredible. Many hundreds of Curlew Sandpipers and Avocets along with smaller numbers of Dunlin, Greater Flamingo, Sanderling, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Temminks Stint.  


Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) (with Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling)
From another viewpoint we picked out our first Slender-billed Gulls of the trip and a drive around some of the tracks got us
close up brilliant views of the species.



  Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola)
Next we arrived to view a square, man made freshwater reservoir called Laguna de Tarelo, a lovely little Heronry in the centre of the reservoir held nesting Spoonbills, Cattle Egrets, Squacco Heron and Night Heron. It also gave us much better close up views of White-headed Duck and Tufted duck the only one of the week! Next we spent a few hours driving and stopping along the Guadalquivir River and surrounding habitat. We picked up a pair of Marbled Duck here in flight and got some views of the species on the deck, we had some nice close views of Collard Pratincole here aswell with four birds in the field close to the road.



We also had Great Reed Warbler, Hen Harrier, Spottless Starling, lots of Crested Larks and a few Short toed Larks and Woodchat Shrikes, a few Zitting Cistacola, Lesser Kestrels and Bee Eaters, a few Night Herons along with other commoner Herons and Egrets and a Pied Flycatcher. This area also had a lot of White Stork nest. Road conditions saw us arriving quite late at the Pinzon Marshes, but there was still enough light for us to get nice views of Purple Gallinule/ Swamp Hen here, along with Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, fly over Purple Herons and Night Herons. There was also Great Reed Warbler and Black winged Stilts.
 
White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala)

Day 5 - 29th April 2010


We had again spent the night in the company of Tawny Owls, Red-necked Nightjar and Nightingale and were on the road early heading for the Huelva Marshes / Odiel Estuary area. The roads between Hinajos, Almonte and El Rocio produced several Azure-winged Magpies during the journey. We looked in at Luguna la Batusia on the road down to the signposted La Calatilla restaurant and quickly had two Little Bittern and close range views of Red-knobbed Coot which was almost certainly nesting. We had Montague's and March Harriers in the area and in the Salt pans on the other side of the road there were at least 300 Flamingo several Little Stints, at least ten Greenshank and plenty of other Waders. Ospreys have apparently been released here and elsewhere in Andalusia and do breed but we didn't see any.

 

 
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata)
  The long drive down the Odiel causeway was worth it and various stops on the way got us more waders including, Whimbrel and Curlew, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Spoonbill, Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Turnstone. Lots of Stork nests in this are too, and we had Zitting Cistocola, Sardinian Warbler and a single Caspian Tern. A large pool on the eastern side of the causeway held a flock of large gulls. We picked through the Yellow-legged Gulls and Lesser Black-backed and found three adult Audouin's Gulls and a few immature birds.
Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)
Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber)


At the end of the causeway we decided to have a seawatch, which gave us a few Sandwich and Common Terns along with many hundreds of Black Terns wherever you looked at all distances. On our return the pool with the Gulls held around 200 Black Terns in one impressive flock along its fringes.



Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus)


After that we headed to the visitors centre at Acebuche, within one of the best know birding areas in Spain, The Coto Doñana, we decided to have lunch at the picnic site. It was busy with a school party but when things quietened down we had a couple of excellent views of the Azure winged Magpies hopping around looking for scraps here. There were House Sparrows and a few Tree Sparrows too.


Inside viewing the Luguna del Acebuche from the strangely designed hides (with viewing slots too low to look through standing up but with no seats to sit down!) we had excellent views of Purple Gallinule with young and more good views of Great Reed Warbler. Otherwise it was fairly quiet here though we did hear Golden Oriole and saw Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrikes, Black Kite and Red Crested Pochard.

 


Day 6 - 30th April 2010

Our day started at Corredor Verde in the northern part of the Coto Doñana area, the habitat was like an overgrown canal where there is apparently a large Night Heron roost, though we only saw a few birds in flight. There were plenty of other birds around however, numerous Zitting Cistacola, Little Egrets, Black-winged Stilts and Collard Pratincoles. There were also Melodious, Cetti's and Sardinian Warblers here. A Quail or two were heard calling in crop fields and we manage to see one of them. We also had Booted Eagle and Common Buzzard along with eight Turtle Doves and a Spanish Sparrow. Laguna de Quema only had common Coot and seemed difficult to view but we had many Woodchat Shrike around here and good views of Azure winged Magpie. Canada de Rianzuela is a large body of water easily viewed at distance from the hill (Dehesa de Abajo, visitors centre) from here we counted several dozen Black Kites in the sky as well as many White Storks. On the water were several hundred Flamingos, a Great White Egret and a couple of Whiskered and half a dozen Black Terns.

 


(Black-crowned ) Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)


Most of the Coto Doñana area is closed to the general public but there is a purpose built visitors centre called the José Antonio Valverde Centro des Visitantes. The condition of the tracks leading to the centre could be described as terrible and it wasn't the first or last time this week that we were to wonder if we would leave part of the car behind in one of the many craters! However the view from the centre and surrounding area gave us some understanding of how vast the wetlands within the national park really are. The centre itself was one of the many highlights of the week. Large glass windows gave a great view out over the flooded area which contains thousands of nesting Herons, Egrets and Ibis.
Left, a small part of the view of the colony from the José Antonio Valverde visitors centre

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)




Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
Squacco Egret (Ardeola ralloides)
 
  The site and sound is quite incredible, from an initial look at the visitors centre we went for a drive around and then returned at dusk to watch the many birds come into roost. An incredible experience not just for the site and sound of the many Ibis, Herons and Flamingos coming over, not to mentions the flocks of Whiskered Terns flitting like moths over the nearby reeds and hunting insects (presumably), but also for the sunset and unhindered view of the horizon all around us, and no other people! Fantastic..
 
The afternoon's list and counts went something like this. Black Kite 54 in one flock plus 47 elsewhere, Booted Eagle 2, Montague's Harrier 1, Marsh Harrier 1, Lesser Kestrel 2, White Stork 160+, Greater Flamingo 150, Glossy Ibis 1500, Squacco Heron 100, Cattle Egret 600, Little Egret 100, Purple Heron 12, Grey Heron 3, Little Bittern 3, Night Heron 200, Calandra Lark 4, Short toed Lark 8, Lesser Short toed Lark 2, Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) 10, Turtle Dove 1, Pied Flycatcher 3, Spotted Flycatcher 3, Great Reed Warbler 3, Little Grebe 2, Great crested Grebe 4, Garganey (Drake) 1, Red Crested Pochard 5, Zitting Cistacola 10, Corn Bunting 15, Black Tern 2, Gull billed Tern 4, Whiskered Tern 25, Spotless Starling 12, Black-headed Gull 2, Redshank 1, Black-winged Stilt 12, Avocet 14, Lapwing 4, Collard Pratincole 26 in one flock on the road plus another 30 elsewhere, Ringed Plover 43, Common Sandpiper 1, Dunlin 6, Curlew Sandpiper 2, Little Stint 1, Moorhen 4, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse 4, Linnet 2, Mallard 4, Coot 4, Whinchat 1, Swallow 10, Raven 60. What a day!
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) above
Interestingly this bird is rung and radio tagged!
Blue-headed (Yellow) Wagtail
(Motacilla flava iberiae)
Right
 
Day 7 - 1st May 2010


Another drive overnight with a little sleep saw us arriving at the plains south of Caceres around dawn. As we entered the area we noticed a line of telegraph poles running parallel to the road and all had nestboxes and several of them seemed to have a European Roller in residence a fantastic way to start a day! We were quickly seeing more Crested, Calandra and Short toed Larks and half a dozen Montague's Harriers as we got deeper into the plains. Ones again a vast unspoilt area of open fields and wildflowers, we had a few distant Bustards of each species but also an excellent male Little Bustard close by the road displaying presumably to an unseen female, jumping in the air, flapping and making a sort of snorting click sound, we were impressed! We had Ravens, Quail and Stone Curlew here too, some Hoopoe and Bee Eaters as well and we connected with a few Iberian (Southern) Grey Shrikes. We stopped for a basic breakfast at a bridge over a small pond where we were pleased to find nesting Crag Martins, that put on an excellent show, showing down to a few feet. There were also Red-rumped Swallows here and we saw Black Vulture and Short toed Eagle, Spanish Sparrow and Great Spotted Cuckoo during this period.

European Roller (Coracias garrulus)
Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax)
 
Eurasian Crag Martin ( Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Now we were heading for Monfrague but on our way stopped at a bridge over the river Almonte where we had more excellent views of Alpine Swifts. On our arrival at Monfrague we 'walked' to the top and viewed from the area around the rather strange 'heath and safety nightmare' of a building. We had some good close views of the many Griffin Vultures (35+) and rather more distant views of 4 Black Vultures, 2 Egyptian Vultures and our only sighting of an unfortunately very distant Spanish Imperial Eagle. There were also Blue Rock Thrush and Red-billed Chough. We stopped at a viewpoint on the road below Monfrague and found a singing male Rock Bunting. We hoped to connect with Eagle Owl at the Tietar Cliffs, since we had been told by a very helpful local earlier in the day, that the pair here had two chicks that had unfortunately died, but the adults were still around. We didn't connect visually with the owls here but did hear a couple of hoots from the adjoining woodland later that evening when once again we heard Red-necked Nightjar. There were at least 30 Griffin Vultures here and we had some of our best views of Egyptian Vulture along with more Short toed Eagles and Blue Rock Thrush.
 
Eurasian Griffin Vulture (Gyps fulvus)

The friendly local we had meet earlier had given us some information about a pair of Black-shouldered Kite near Almaraz. This was one of the birds I had most hoped to see and perhaps one we were most likely not to! The gen we had was excellent and Andy got us to the site and quickly picked out one of the birds on a dead tree where it was later joined by another. The whole moment was fantastic, another highlight. The scene with the dead tree against fantastic scenery and the evening light illuminating a fantastic bird, a perfect way to end an excellent weeks birding.
Black-winged (or Black-shouldered) Kite (Elanus caeruleus) (top right of the tree)
Day 8 - 2nd May


Having driven over night we stopped completely at random at a picnic site in an industrial estate a few km's north of Madrid to have a last sort out of the car and luggage. There were some nice poplars by the river here and we soon managed excellent views of Golden Oriole a brilliant end to a week in which we had experienced little else weather wise than blue skies and sunshine, along with brilliant birds and good company.

Huge thanks to Andy, Denise and Pete

Richard Ford
www.digitalwildlife.co.uk
Birding in Southern Spain April 2010