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A Report from

Estepona area, Southern Spain, May 2000,

Gareth Watkins


This report covers the period May 15th-20th when I spent a week based in Estepona on the Costa del Sol, about 20 minutes' drive west of Marbella. This was something of a family holiday and not all birding, however we did see some interesting birds and the following report details these.

While here I found Dave Gosney's Finding Birds in Southern Spain useful, although we didn't visit many of the sites listed.


We stayed in an apartment on the sea front at Bermeja Beach, on the west side of town opposite the local police station. There is a lot of new building going on in the immediate area (and around the town in general). As a result, there wasn't a lot of scope for birding in the immediate vicinity.

Maybe 200 yards on the left past the police station there is a track leading down to the beach. There are some tall trees here and were full of finches: Goldfinch, Greenfinch and a few Serins. Just before the beach, there is a narrow path going up a bank to the right and this leads to a small pool with some reeds. I expected a lot more here than we actually saw (it looks a likely spot for a decent vagrant crake), although it was interesting to note that the pool was full of terrapins (one as big as a dinner plate!) and crayfish. A pair of Sardinian Warblers was nesting in the reeds here. Fan-tailed Warblers did their distinctive display flight around the area and a lone Moorhen was the only bird seen in the pool itself. Spotless Starlings were common and a few Pallid Swifts were seen overhead. One afternoon when we walked here, I looked up and 3 raptors were circling overhead, presumably having drifted down from the nearby hills: a Short-toed Eagle and 2 Buzzards.

We visited an excellent venta in the foothills to the north of Estepona (Venta Los Reales, Carreterra Estepona-Jubrique, C557 Km 1). Just a bit further up into the hills from here, we passed a bare area of stony ground and found a pair of Black-eared Wheatears here. They were very approachable and gave great views. Nightingales were fairly easy to see too as they often sang from the tops of bushes, unlike their British counterparts.


No trip to Southern Spain is complete without a drive into the mountains to Ronda. We took the main C339 from Marbella to get there. This is a decent road - many of the roads in the area are not - and there were plenty of pull-ins to stop and admire the view (and birdlife!). One such pull-in (about ¾ the way to Ronda) overlooked some pines, with scrubby slopes behind us and provided two key species for the area: Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting. The Blue Rock Thrush was a cracking male and just sat on a dead, fallen pine for ages, while a Redstart vainly tried to mob it. We saw two Rock Buntings here, one flew into a tree in front of us and perched for inspection (cracking bird!) and the other was creeping in between some rocks on the slope behind us, constantly giving a twittering call. Crag Martins were common overhead.

As you near Ronda, the land opens out into limestone hills and raptors increase. We saw Golden Eagle and Griffon Vulture just outside the town.

In Ronda, you have to go to the gorge! We viewed from the park to begin with, where the vista is incredible. Alpine Swift, Pallid Swift and Crag Martin cannot be missed and we even had a Peregrine on the cliff side. The famous bridge provided a greater diversity of birds though. Chough and Lesser Kestrel were easy to see here and we even picked up a male Blue Rock Thrush. It flew across the north side of the gorge, landed and started singing! Serin are common and I only missed Rock Sparrow because I forgot to look for them!! (Other people report them as quite easy to see here)

We took the A369 southwest out of Ronda to return to the coast. This was a decent road and took us through more spectacular scenery. Immediately out of the town you go through some groves and orchards and we pulled off the road to explore one of the tracks through them (about 6km out of town). Unfortunately, the track had a locked gate across it about 200 yards off the road but we did see Short-toed Treecreeper, Corn Bunting and many Woodchat Shrikes. A pair of Woodlark seemed to be nesting in a grassy clearing along here.

About 12km out of Ronda, where the hills had taken over from fruit groves, we pulled off the road to check the mapbook and a female Black Wheatear popped up onto a rock by the road! She had a beak full of grubs and was obviously nesting close by. While watching her, we also saw 2 Griffon Vultures, an Egyptian Vulture and a Booted Eagle.

We made another stop at about km25 in a place called Benadalid. Here we picked up Melodious Warbler in the roadside scrub. Shortly after we took a turn off to Jubrique and the road condition got worse. However we drove through beautiful valleys of cork oak and they were full of common woodland birds.


This was a site we got from Dave Gosney's book. Once passed Gibraltar, we suddenly started noticing White Storks nesting on top of the pylons! Fan-tailed Warbler display calls echoed from every direction. At Tarifa itself we visited two sites: the beach and raptor watchpoint.

To get to Tarifa beach, we took the main road past the town then took the first left and first right. You see a sports stadium ahead and a car park. Park here and explore the dunes to the west. A path goes through and the place was full of Short-toed larks. I've heard of people seeing Calandra here too but the only other lark we saw was the common Crested Lark. A cow field beyond the dunes had a small number of Cattle Egrets. When you walk clear of the dunes, you come onto the beach. A tidal lagoon is here and was covered in Kentish Plovers. I feel sure this could be very productive in peak wader time. A flock of about 30 Gull-billed Terns was good and 8 Little Egrets fed in the lagoon.

If you go to this beach, you will have already passed the raptor lookout. Drive back the way you came along the main road up into the hills. About 7km along you reach a roadside café (green building) called Mirador de Estrecho. Park here and enjoy the view of Morocco! We got here late in the afternoon but when we came by a couple of hours earlier, the place was like a raptor motorway! Black Kites and Eagles everywhere! We spent about an hour here and saw 3 Booted Eagles, 9 Black Kites, Osprey and a Honey Buzzard. It was here that we saw our only White-rumped Swift of the holiday. It was a quiet moment and I saw a lone swift flying by. Having a liking for swifts in general, I lifted my bins and saw the bird bank to reveal a white rump! My non-birding girlfriend found a flock of 10 Alpine Swifts heading west to add to the tally. Stonechat, Corn Bunting and Sardinian Warblers provided entertainment on the slopes in front of the watchpoint in between raptors.

Enquiries about the places we visited can be emailed to

Gareth Watkins

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."


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