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A Report from

South West Spain, Sierra De Grazalema Natural Park, 22/9/02 - 2/10/02 ,

Brian Russell

Detailed Itinerary

Apart from the journeys from and to home, all the following trips were on foot. Altogether we walked nearly 90

Miles. We averaged about 9 miles per day, the shortest walk about 7 miles, and the longest about 16 miles





Flew to Gibralter ( Arrived 12.30 local time). Train from San Roque to Benaojan. Car to Grazalema

Unsettled. Sunshine and some showers around Gibralter. Cloudier around Grazalema. Warm in sun


From Grazalema to Zahara De Sierra

Unsettled with bright periods and several light showers. Coolish but warm in sun


Descended the Verde Gargante ( Green Gorge ) justoutside Zahara.

Dry with sunny periods


From Zahara to Prado Del Rey

Dry with long sunny periods, although quite hazy p.m. Warm


Prado Del Ray to El Bosque

Dry with long sunny periods, although quite hazy p.m. Warm


El Bosque to Grazalema

Dry with long sunny periods. Warm


Local walk around Grazalema

Dry, sunny and warm


Grazalema to Benaojan

Dry, sunny and v. warm


Benaojan to Ronda

Dry, hazy sun and warm



Cloudy, rain p.m.


Journey  Home



The Natural Park is very extensive and is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It is a mountainous area with peaks rising above 4,000 ft. and a couple around Grazalema more than 5000 ft. high. There are steep cliffs, gorges, bare crags, valleys and extensive plateaus. At Zahara a large reservoir has been built.

Although being so close to the Mediterranean it is often hot and dry in summer, Grazalema has the highest annual rainfall in the whole of Spain (Average 2500 litres per year). This gives rise to a great variety of vegetation with extensive conifer, oak, and mixed forests, scrub, and cultivated olive groves, vegetables and pasture. Cacti, including prickly pear were common in lower areas. What were particularly interesting was the Pinsapar forest at Grazalema (The Pinsapo fir is a very rare Spanish fir which only grows on the wet and sunless north facing slopes), and the Cork Oak forests.


Apart from the variety and special species of the area, the sheer abundance of birds was a delight to experience. Wherever we were even when it was comparatively 'quiet' there were always birds present. At times particularly in the lower more open areas (farmland, fields, scrub etc.) there were very big flocks of finches and sparrows, together with large numbers of larks, chats, and buntings.

Visible migration was often evident with hirundines sometimes flying through in their thousands, and flycatchers being particularly common.

A lot of the summer migrants had left e.g. no Bee-eaters, Shrikes, or Rollers were seen. Some other birds were noticeable by their absence e.g. no Carrion Crows or Magpies. I've no doubt I missed many other birds as with the distances walked I could not spend long periods of time searching for elusive or shy birds.



Grey Heron

2 seen flying near Zahara

Cattle Egret

Several seen around grazing cattle in fields outside Prado Del Ray

White Stork

c60 seen trying to gain height presumably to cross the Straits of Gibralter, whilst we were waiting for the train @ San Roque Station. 1 soaring with Griffon Vultures near Zahara. 10 seen migrating, whilst walking towards Montejaque. Others were seen still perching on their 'pile of sticks' nests from the train when returning to San Roque.

Griffon Vulture

This area is a real stronghold for Griffon Vultures. We saw them every day and often several were in view at any moment. On 25/9 there were at least 80 rising in a thermal above the 'Gargante Verde' near Zahara. There was a somewhat surreal moment when we stopped to have our picnic lunch under the shade of some trees by a stream in a typically remote area. Several Vultures started circling above us but because of the trees we could not actually see them, only their huge shadows passing over the adjacent fields and hillsides. It was a little unnerving!         

Short Toed Eagle

At least 3 seen. Best view was of 1 patrolling a nearby ridge just outside Benaojan.

Booted Eagle

Several excellent views of pale morph adults, in particular from San Roque  Station; just outside Zahara; and Ronda.

Bonelli's Eagle

Although a rare Eagle in Europe several pairs do breed in the Grazalema Natural Park and I thought there would be a good chance of seeing one. However I had nearly given up hope, when towards the end or our penultimate walk on 29th, whilst descending a dirt road to Montejaque between 2 barren rocky hillsides, a superb adult suddenly appeared on 1 side, being mobbed by dozens of Martins and Swallows. It glided above me to the other side, then stooped like a Peregrine, rose again, and finally soared behind a ridge. Wonderful!             

Honey Buzzard

Several seen from San Roque station on migration

Common Buzzard

4 seen together late afternoon on 25th. As they do not breed in the area it is possible they were arriving to spend the winter here


Several seen, and seem to be widespread.


2 definite sightings near the Pinsipar Forest. 1 was being mobbed by 2 Sparrowhawks, which helped to dispel any doubts as it was so much bigger than them! 

Lesser Kestrel

2 including adult seen hunting insects, rather 'hobby like' in fields someway from Zahara 


A few sightings, including one hovering above the Rock of Gibraltar


1 seen presumably on migration.  

Red Legged Partridge

Common in more open areas

Yellow Legged Gull

Lots around Gibralter

Wood Pigeon

Only a few seen

Feral Pigeon

Common in towns.

Turtle Dove

1 seen, presumably on migration.

Little Owl

1 standing on a low rock scrutinising us closely as we walked slowly by.

Tawny Owl

Several heard from the hotel near Prado Del Rey

Alpine Swift

Just 1 seen near the Verde Gargante

Pallid Swift

Again just 1 seen between El Bosque and Grazalema 


2 brief sightings

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Common in most wooded areas

Green Woodpecker

Common in slightly more open areas


1 seen well if briefly before it flew from an Olive Tree

Crested Lark

Both these species are reasonably common in this area and most of the time I could not distinguish between them! However I did get a few opportunities to study some at close quarters and satisfied myself that I had at least identified a Thekla Lark, which was my main concern. 

Thekla Lark


Encountered several times. Somewhat surprisingly most of them were singing as if it was Spring!


Lots. Many migrating

Red Rumped Swallow

3 seen very well, preening on telegraph wires.

House Martin

Thousands. Some still breeding in the area. Others migrating through.

Crag Martin

Common in suitable areas. A lot in the gorge at Ronda.

White Wagtail

Some seen usually around towns.

Yellow Wagtail

A couple of parties seen, presumably migrating.

Grey Wagtail

Seen along all the faster flowing rivers, including in the gorge at Ronda.


Common and widespread


A few seen


Heard often in more woody areas, but not many seen.


Some seen most days at lower levels

Black Redstart

Seen several times in higher rockier areas 

Black Wheatear

A very striking bird. Surprisingly only seen just outside the lower end of Grazalema, and also one on a roof of a building in Zahara


Common in lower more open areas.


Only seen on 29th when 4 individual birds spotted, presumably on migration.

Blue Rock Thrush

2 sightings

Mistle Thrush

1 seen





Garden Warbler

A couple of sightings only

Sardinian Warbler



Only 1 seen

Zitting Cisticola

1 seen

Willow Warbler

A few sightings

Chiff Chaff

Seen / heard most days

Cetti's Warbler

Common in most of the damper areas.


Some excellent views of this lovely little bird, especially in the woods around Grazalema.

Pied Flycatcher

These were surprisingly common and quite a lot were seen every day, presumably stopping off to 'refuel' on migration.

Spotted Flycatcher

Far fewer than Pied Flycatchers.

Blue Tit

There is lots of ideal habitat for tits and not surprisingly often seen sometimes in very large mixed flocks. Great Tits appeared to be the most common.

Great Tit

Coal Tit

Long Tailed Tit

Crested Tit

Seen well in the pine and fir woods around Grazalema


Common in woods.

Short Toed Treecreeper

2 seen well.


Seen most days. Flocks of 50+ seen near Grazalema, Zahara, and in the Ronda Gorge


Common in wooded areas, although heard more often than seen.

Spotless Starling

Largish flocks coming to roost in the evening in all the towns.

House Sparrow

Very large flocks present especially near farms and towns






Common. Some very large flocks of 500+ often seen





Cirl Bunting


Corn Bunting


Rock Bunting

Only 1 seen, but a good view of 1 on rocky outcrop outside Grazalema

Other Wildlife






Spanish Ibex

Seen on 2 days. Firstly on 27/9, after passing through the Pinsapar Forest a male was seen high above us on top of a ridge. The following day, whilst walking the Sierra del Endrinal from Grazalema, we had very good views of 3 different small groups, comprising mainly of females and young. This included a superb male looking down on us from a rocky outcrop, not far above us. 


Just 1 seen


Seen most evenings, but not able to identify any species.


Reptiles & Amphibians


Wall Lizard












'Grizzled' Skipper sp.


Southern Speckled Wood


Southern Meadow Brown


Red Admiral


Bath White


Southern Small White


Grayling sp.


Small Copper ?




2 x Blue sp


Other Insects


Preying Mantis


Mantis sp.

Brown, wider bodied than Preying Mantis, devouring a cricket


Abundant including Blue Flash Winged

Dung Beetle


Devil's Coachman



Mainly Hawkers present

Carpenter Bee


Humming Bird Hawk Moth




Large Wolf Spider ?

Large spider found under a piece of cork oak


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