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A Report from

Birds of Eastern Almeria. Summer 1997 and 1998,

John Girdley

This report highlights what can be seen in the very hot summer months and also identifies some previously unpublished sites that give rewarding birding in the east of the region. It is based on two, two week visits spanning the end of July and the beginning of August.


This report highlights what can be seen in the very hot summer months and also identifies some previously unpublished sites that give rewarding birding in the east of the region. It is based on two two week visits spanning the end of July and the beginning of August.

I stayed at a hotel just to the north of the small fishing port of Garrucha, an excellent choice from a family point of view but at least an hours drive to the nearest of the known birding hot-spots. A car was essential.

The heat of the summer sun was intense. Birding after 10am was out of the question. My normal routine was to arrive at my chosen destination at first light (7am ) which entailed being on the road as early as 5.30am, for some destinations, and driving and navigating in the dark. Needless to say, I couldn't keep this up every morning and so finding some local sites became imperative.

The only species still singing at this time of the year was Black Wheatear and so I had to rely on my eyes to a large extent with just a few, often unfamiliar, calls to help out.

I saw about one hundred species in total, which for the time of year and considering these were family holidays, I found very pleasing. There were certainly plenty of quality birds.

I would have liked to have visited the Salinas at Roquetas de Mar (one of the major sites in Almeria) but I didn't think the distance would have been justified by many new birds.

I chose not to spend much time in the desert partly because of the heat. I had seen (quite easily ) most of the likely species during a recent visit to Fuerteventura. Duponts Lark, which I do need, is hard enough to pick up even when it is actively singing. I assumed that my chances of seeing one in summer would be slim indeed.

Copy of map-test.jpg (112330 bytes) 1.Rio Almanzora Estuary

2.Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora

3.Pueblo Laguna

4.Vera Playa Badlands

5.Sierra Almagrera

6.Los Guiraos

7.Rio Aguas Bridge

8.El Cortijo Grande


10.Herrerias (Los Perales)


Site Accounts  Almeria.

This is in two parts, firstly the well known sites, which are mainly in the west of Almeria and for which I have given no directions.(See Garcia and Paterson). Secondly is a selection of worthwhile sites in Eastern Almeria for which I have given directions as these are largely unknown.

1. Well publicised sites within easy reach of Almeria city. (no directions given.)

Salinas del Cabo de Gata.

A superb and major wetland area. An essential visit! This is the main site in Almeria for Greater Flamingo and Audouins Gull. There are also many species of waders. It is easily viewed from only a few places, the road at the north end, the hide reached from the coastal road and from behind the village of Almadraba to the south. (this is where the Audouins Gulls are easily seen.)


Cabo de Gata lighthouse.

A token five minute sea-watch added Med. and Cory's Shearwater to the list with the ubiquitous Black Wheatear singing nearby.  This major Mediterranean headland is apparently grossly under-watched.  It certainly was by me!


 Las Amoladeras steppe reserve.

The reserve gates open at 10 am (but not on my visit.)  The whole area is, however, easily accessible on foot.  On my first visit the wall of heat that hit me at 10.15am. as I opened the car door sent me scurrying for the hotel pool. A second, early morning visit, yielded little but Thekla Lark!  Had the Breeding birds departed at this time of the year?  Potentially an excellent site in the cool light of a spring dawn!


Caņada de Las Norias

This is a beautiful green oasis in the middle of square mile upon square mile of hideous plastic greenhouses, situated on the eastern outskirts of the village of Las Norias. It is hard to navigate through all of the plastic in the dark but well worth it if only to see over five hundred Little Egrets leave their roost site at dawn, with the odd Cattle Egret and Night Heron thrown in for good measure. This is a reliable stake out for both White Headed Ducks and Marbled Ducks. Gull Billed Terns headed a support cast of numerous quality species. Ornithologically, this was the richest site that I visited.

The area was created as a soil quarry for the greenhouses and is still being worked in one corner. Contrary to other reports, it is not easy to access the central area, it is too wet, the reeds are both too dense and too high (phragmites giganticus?) and anyway, there is no point in disturbing the birds which are easily scoped from the roadside pull-ins. There is a road round to the back of the area, which gives further access and good views of marsh terns, Stone Curlew, Hoopoe etc. There are also pools to either side of the main area, each holding good birds.


Sierra de Alhamilla

I concentrated on the area between Cuevas de los Ubedas and Cuevas de los Medinas

Most of the birds could have been just as easily seen at sites nearer to my base.

An area about 1km south of Cuevas de los Ubedas, near to some ruined buildings and pine trees, held Bee Eater, Roller, Black-eared and Black Wheatears and Crested / Thekla Larks.

The highlight of this area was a rare sighting of a raptor, a Short-toed Eagle roosting on a low desert ridge 1km north of Cuevas de los Medinas at dawn.

The Road between Nijar and Lucainena is a beautiful drive and worth exploring with frequent stops.  The most productive stop was c10 km out of Nijar, very high up in the hills at an old olive grove with Agaves  and Prickly Pears.   Olivaceous Warblers and some confiding Sardinian Warblers plus the usual high mountain birds were all to be seen.

I returned via the Rambla de Polopos which passes through some tremendous habitat.


Sierra de los Filabres

My visit centred on the mountain road between Gergal and Castro de Filabres.   The last section between Olula de Castro and Castro de Filabres is a steep and narrow dirt road, not for those of nervous disposition.  The most productive sections were where the Arroyo de Valdelecho and its tributaries cross the road.  All the common high mountain species can be seen.


Desierto de Tabernas

The prevailing advice is to enter one of the Ramblas and walk along it.  However entry to the ramblas can be difficult, they  can be very deep and steep sided and unbearably hot when the sun enters them.  I tried several entry points:

Driving through the Mini Hollywood car park gives easy access to the area.  This has been mentioned as a possible site for Trumpeter Finch.  I saw nothing in fifty minutes of birding!

The Rambla de Tabernas can be entered at the junction of the N3326 / N340a and provided a few Bee Eaters.

The Rambla de Sierra (just west of Tabernas and a prominent  castle on a hill) can easily be driven into. Rollers and Bee Eaters were easily seen.  It would be worth spending more time here.

There are view points into some very deep ramblas from the N3326 Gergal Road which provided views of Crag Martin, Pallid Swift and Rock Bunting among others.


2. Less well known sites in eastern Almeria. (With directions. )

The Rio Almanzora Estuary. (c10km N. of Garrucha along the coast road.)

The Rio Almanzora is embanked for all of its length for many miles inland.  Both banks between the road and the sea are drivable.  The river held water along this section although it was heavily overgrown with reeds.  The key birds included a massive hirundine roost plus Little Bittern and Great Reed, Savi's, Moustached and Fan-tailed Warblers.

Following the Southern bank to the sea gave access to a small lagoon which held a variety of ducks and waders, notably Kentish Plover and Black Winged Stilt.

The track along the north embankment of the river gave views over a cleared field which was being used by roosting Y.L.Gulls and Stone Curlews. On several occasions small groups of Audouins Gulls were seen here. There was a turning point at the end of the track.

The wooded headland just to the south held Golden Oriole and Little Owl and was a potential sea-watching point for some rather distant Shearwaters.

I would assume that at migration times this whole area could be a real migrant trap.


Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora. (c10km. NW. of Cuevas del Almanzora )

A new road leads directly along the southern bank of the Rio Almanzora from Cuevas directly to the ( new? ) dam. There is an attractive wetland area at its base surrounded by rugged cliffs. There were several skulky warblers and this was the only site that I saw Blue Rock Thrush and Kingfisher (a difficult bird in a desert area! )

The road wound steeply from here to the dam, providing views of Roller, Hoopoe, Bee Eater and Red-rumped Swallow. The reservoir held only Great-crested Grebe with crag Martins and Black Wheatears seen from its steep sides.

The extensive Eucalyptus woodland on the left of the road on the way up to the dam proved difficult to work in summer but would doubtless be productive in spring.


The Rio de Aguas Bridge. ( Midway between Turre and Los Gallardos. )

The road between Turre and Los  Gallardos crosses the steep scenic gorge of the Rio de Aguas via an old stone arched bridge. It is possible to park on either side. A path leads down to the river. This is a stake out for Rock Sparrow which nests in cracks in the stonework of the bridge. Rollers, Shrikes and Black Wheatear all gave good views


El Cortijo Grande. (c5km SW. of Turre )

Between the two above mentioned Rio de Aguas sites, a good sign-posted road leads south through an impressive entrance "gate" into the Sierra Cabrera. El Cortijo Grande seems to be populated mainly by ex-pats. It is heavily irrigated and there is even a green golf course. (Green is an unusual colour in this part of Spain. )

On the way to the village there was a small reservoir, (Red-rumped Swallow, Crested Lark) which was always worth checking.

The golf course had Serin, White Wagtail and Hoopoe.

A shrubby area just beyond the village was quite rich in birds, with Olivaceous Warbler, numerous Shrikes and Bee Eaters. (Bee Eaters were plentiful throughout this valley. )

Red-rumped Swallow and Red-legged Partridges became more common as one climbed further up the valley. Apparently Bonelli's Eagle nested on the crags hereabouts until a couple of years ago.


Los Guiraos (In the Sierra de Almagro)  (about 12 km. NE. of Cuevas at possibly the highest drivable point in the Sierra.)

I was hoping to find a footpath into the sierra but none was apparent. Instead I concentrated on an area in the NE part of the village where the road dropped downhill again, below a small escarpment with Prickly Pears, trees and scrub.

Rufous Bush Chats were the main birds with an extensive supporting cast including Cirl Bunting and Serin.


The Vera Playa Badlands.  (There is is a big brown Vera Playa sign on a hill about four miles along the coastal road north of Garrucha. A   minor road heads inland just south of this. Follow this for about 1km.)

An unusual variety of birds were seen but the highlights were several juvenile Great-spotted Cuckoos, all parasitic on Magpies.

Coastal Road along the Sierra Almagrera. ( North of the Rio Almanzora.)

There were plenty of elevated sites for sea watching but regretably little to see! The adjacent hillsides held only a few of the commoner species, Black Wheatear, Crested Lark etc.


Pueblo Laguna ( Between Garrucha and Puerto Del Rey. Turn right 100m north of the roundabout when heading north along the main coastal road from Garrucha.)

This is the estuary of the Rio Antas. It is a good sized reed fringed lagoon. It has some protection but it is hemmed in by recent tourist development. An early morning visit is absolutely essential.

Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern and a juvenile Greater Flamingo that unexpectedly dropped in were the highlights.


Alfaix ( Approach via Junctions km.520 or km.516 of the N340. Park at the junction of the Rio's Jauta and Aguas. There is good habitat in all directions. )

I arrived in the half light of dawn and headed towards a prominent clump of five large eucalyptus trees below an obvious crag above the Rio Aguas, where I could hear Bee Eaters calling. This turned out to be a roost of about 400 birds, a most impressive sight.

There were a good variety of birds to be seen especially in the extensive reeds.


Los Perales (Herrerias) (5km. N. of junction km.504 on the N344. )

My map and the road signs didn't agree on the name of this site but it was easy enough to find. Leave junction km.504 heading for Peņas Negras. Almost immediately, turn left onto a minor road, sign-posted to Los Perales. After about 4km the road drops down some hairpin bends into the village.( My map showed this as Herrerias. ) Park by the ford on the Rio Aguas and walk up-stream past the Parque Natural signs.

Two family parties of Rock Buntings were the highlight for me but other good birds included Great Reed Warbler, Dartford Warbler and R.R. Swallow.

Where to watch birds in Southern and Western Spain
Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson: Buy from or

  • The reprint and update of this excellent book have been long awaited. I have birded in this region of Spain many times and yet I still have much to learn, Garcia and Paterson are the experts. Where else in Europe can you see five species of swift in one day? Did you know that Ruppel's Griffon Vulture is now regular in part of the region? New sites have been added and access details thoroughly updated. Areas covered include birding hotspots such as Extremadura, Gibraltar and Ronda. A "must buy" if you are traveling to Southern Spain.


Species list for Almeria-S.E. Spain.

Birds Seen


Great Crested Grebe Twelve on the Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora, one on the wetland at its base and one one at the pool at the mouth of the Rio Almanzora
Little Grebe Reasonably common in wetland areas i.e. Caņada de Las Norias and the Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora wetland.
Cory's Shearwater Presumably always present well offshore but only seen at relative close range from the headland at Cabo de Gata Lighthouse and from the elevated coastal road by the Sierra Almagrera.
Mediterranean Shearwater Seemingly less common than Cory's, however many Med's leave the Mediterranean in high summer.
Little Bittern One seen in flight at Rio Almanzora Estuary on a couple of occasions. two at Pueblo Laguna and one at the Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora wetland.
Night Heron Four had a brief dawn flight at Caņada de Las Norias.
Squacco Heron One at first light at Pueblo Laguna.
Cattle Egret Four at first light at Pueblo Laguna all of which flew inland as the sun rose. One at Caņada de Las Norias.
Little Egret 500+ in a dawn roost at Caņada de Las Norias.                           40 at Rio Almanzora Estuary.                                                        20 at the Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Grey Heron Six roosting above the Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora. Plus other odd individuals seen i.e. at Caņada de Las Norias.
Greater Flamingo c1000 birds scattered widely at the Salinas del Cabo de Gata. A juvenile unexpectedly flew in off the the sea at Pueblo Laguna.
Mallard Small numbers in most wetlands.
Marbled Duck. About 8 birds seen at Caņada de Las Norias, mainly concentrated in the western most subsidiary pool behind the car scrap yard!
Pochard A few at Caņada de Las Norias and Pueblo Laguna.
White Headed duck. 8 birds seen at Caņada de Las Norias, widely scattered in the main reed lined pools. Presumably there were others skulking in the reeds.
Short-toed Eagle One seen roosting on a low stony ridge to the west of the road about 1km. north of Cuevas de los Medinas.
Osprey One seen coming in off the sea during the early morning at Rio Almanzora Estuary. A very unexpected record for late July!
Kestrel Just four records. One at Los Perales, two in the Sierra de los Filabres and the other at Cuevas de los Medinas.
  Just six raptor records of only three species in four weeks! I'm not the first to comment on the perceived lack of birds of prey in this area.
Red-legged Partridge Very common especially in dry steep sided valleys and all mountain areas. Several large covey's seen.
Moorhen Present in most wetland areas.
Coot As above.
Black-winged Stilt Very common in the larger wetland areas, especially Caņada de Las Norias and Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Avocet Numerous at Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Stone Curlew 5 at Caņada de Las Norias but odd ones seen at several Places i.e. Rio Almanzora Estuary, Cuevas de los Medinas and 3 at Rio Aguas Bridge.
Little Ringed Plover A few at Caņada de Las Norias. One at the Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Kentish Plover Quite common at Salinas del Cabo de Gata, also seen on the beach at Rio Almanzora Estuary and a few at Caņada de Las Norias.
Knot Small no's. at the Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Sanderling Small numbers on the beach at Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Little Stint. One close to the hide at Salinas del Cabo de Gata. This is a huge area. There were many small waders beyond easy telescope range and so attempting to give numbers for them is probably not meaningful.
Curlew Sandpiper. Six close to the hide at Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Dunlin Several with the above waders at Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Curlew Ten at the Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Redshank Plentiful at Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Green Sandpiper Small numbers at Caņada de Las Norias.
Terek Sandpiper A small yellow legged wader with a Common Sandpiper like flight action and a white trailing edge to its secondaries was flushed at Caņada de Las Norias Its jizz strongly suggested Terek Sandpiper but my failure to get clear views of the bill before it disappeared would hardly convince the rarities committee of the SEO. There have been a few previous records in Spain. Caņada de Las Norias is just the sort of place that a major rarity could turn up.
Common Sandpiper. One at Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora.
Black Headed Gull A few in coastal areas.
Audouins Gull c100 roosting at the south end of the Salinas del Cabo de Gata. Small flocks were seen several times in the Gull roost at the Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Yellow-legged Gull This is the commonest gull of the area and is seen all around the coast. The largest gathering was c300 at the south end of Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Gull-billed Tern Four seen at the north side of Caņada de Las Norias.
Sandwich Tern Two flew by the Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Common Tern One at Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Black Tern c20 roosting at the north end of Caņada de Las Norias.
Whiskered Tern Ten birds seen distantly from the hide at the Salinas del Cabo de Gata.
Rock Dove Some seen nesting on inland cliffs were probably genuine.
Collared dove Apparently Collared Dove has just started to colonise the region. c20 at Caņada de Las Norias. Two at Pueblo Laguna and two singing males at Los Guiraos.
Turtle Dove. Quite widespread.
Great-spotted Cuckoo Four juveniles in the Vera Playa "badlands" all parasitic on Magpies.
Little Owl Common and fairly widespread.
Swift Frequently overhead in most coastal areas, less so inland.
Pallid Swift Less common than Swift but careful checking of all Swift flocks will often reveal this species.
Kingfisher This is a very local breeder in southern Spain and so one at Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora was most unexpected.
Bee-eater Only seen in the greener upland valleys and along (often dry) water courses. There were c400 roosting at Alfaix which quickly dispersed at dawn. They were widespread in El Cortijo Grande and sometimes in good sized flocks. Also c10 seen about 1km. south of Cuevas de los Ubedas. An easy bird to see.
Roller Quite widespread. Best views were six at Rio Aguas Bridge. Also at Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora and 1km. south of Cuevas de los Ubedas. Sometimes seen perched on overhead wires.
Hoopoe Widespread and quite common. 1 at Rio Almanzora Estuary, 4 at Caņada de Las Norias and 4 at the golf course at El Cortijo Grande. etc.
Green Woodpecker. One at Los Perales. One heard in the Eucalyptus woodland at Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora.
Crested Lark. Common in lowland arid areas and sometimes along beaches.
Thekla Lark. Common usually in more upland areas than Crested Lark but they were sometimes seen together. After a few days of careful observation it becomes relatively easy to sort Thekla / Crested on jizz alone!
Sand Martin A few at the Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Crag Martin. Several seen well at close range, and probably others more distant, at Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora Presumably nesting on the steep crags hereabouts or under the arch of the dam. One seen in the Tabernas area.
Swallow. Widespread and very common. Huge hirundine roost at Rio Almanzora Estuary (thousands of birds which all flew at the first hint of dawn.) was thought to be almost entirely this species.
Red-rumped Swallow Seen flying over the small reservoir at El Cortijo Grande and also quite numerous further up the valley. Also seen on the approach to Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora. Seems to prefer higher altitudes to Swallow.
House Martin A few birds seen at various places.
Yellow (Spanish ) Wagtail Numerous at Caņada de Las Norias. 30+ birds.
White Wagtail Several on the Golf Course at El Cortijo Grande.
Rufous Bush Chat Four seen on the edge of the Village of Los Guiraos.
Black-eared Wheatear. Not as common as I had expected. 3 on the desert plain south of Salinas del Cabo de Gata and 2 about1km. south of Cuevas de los Ubedas. A few in the Sierra de los Filabres.
Black Wheatear. Much more common than expected. The fact that it was the only species regularly singing certainly helped. Seen at most inland and upland sites sometimes in flocks of up to eight birds.
Blue Rock Thrush. One seen flying onto the crags above Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora. (but beware blackbirds here.)
Blackbird Only a few sightings.
Fan-tailed warbler Several at Rio Almanzora Estuary, Pueblo Laguna and at several inland sites in this area. (All living up to their "Zitting" Cisticola image.)
Savi's Warbler. One at Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Moustached Warbler One at Rio Almanzora Estuary.
Reed Warbler Seen in most reedy areas. i.e. Rio Almanzora Estuary and Caņada de Las Norias.
Great Reed Warbler As above. It is worth noting that a Great Reed Warbler in the giant reeds of Spain looks to be about the same size as an ordinary Reed Warbler in a UK reed! Accurate size assessment is quite important.
Olivaceous Warbler Two showed well, feeding on Agave plants in the Sierra de Alhamilla. One bird in the scrubby area just beyond the village and golf course at El Cortijo Grande.
Melodious Warbler One seen in a back garden in the village of Almadraba at the southern end of the Salinas del Cabo de Gata This is the same area that you view the Audouins Gulls from, just look behind you instead.
Dartford Warbler A few skulky warblers could have been this species. Seen  at several upland sites and at Los Perales where two birds were seen.
Sardinian Warbler The commonest warbler. Seen in many places, quite common but very skulky. They actually have a very distinctive jizz as they fly into cover never to be seen again!
Spotted Flycatcher. A few seen.
Great Tit Just two at El Cortijo Grande.
Golden Oriole Four in the wooded headland to the south of Rio Almanzora Estuary. Two near Olula de Castro and others calling in the Eucalyptus woodland near the Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora.
Great Grey Shrike Common in most Habitats.
Woodchat Shrike. If anything, even commoner than Great Grey.
Magpie A few seen mainly in the more eastern lowland sites.
Jackdaw The commonest of the Corvids, with a liking for steep gorges.
Carrion crow Uncommon. Two over the Vera Playa "Badlands".
Spotless Starling During the height of summer all of the Starlings are of this species, a fact that I wish I had realised earlier. Peak counts were 60 at Salinas del Cabo de Gata, c100 at Caņada de Las Norias and c100 in the vicinity of Embalse de Cuevas del Almanzora.
House Sparrow. Common.
Rock Sparrow A candidate for the scruffiest birds of my trip, but a lifer is a lifer and I'm pleased I saw some. They nest in the stone work of the Rio Aguas Bridge. (And so do House Sparrow!)
Serin A flock of about twenty birds was seen at Los Guiraos and a flock of four was feeding on one of the greens of the golf course at El Cortijo Grande.
Greenfinch A few seen.
Goldfinch As above.
Cirl Bunting Two at Los Guiraos.
Rock Bunting Two family parties seen at Los Perales. The females and immatures are not at all distinctive but the males are stunning.


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