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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
A Birding Trip to Southern and Western Spain, 16th-22nd January 2002,
With the cold and birdless days of winter in Derbyshire, We decided to soak up the sun and go birding for a week in Andalucia and Extremadura. We flew from Stansted with Go to Malaga, at only £50 return, you certainly can't go wrong, and the birds didn't disappoint. We hired a Citroen Xsara with National, which was adequate, as we did about 1500 miles, luckily it was a diesel, and fuel costing €0.67 a litre, in other words, a lot less than
Learning a few basic words in Spanish will get you far, as few people spoke English outside the resorts, certainly a phrase book would have helped with the food menu's, I didn't have a clue, and certainly suffered. All I knew was that 'pollo' means chicken! Food was ok at most places, though in Sevilla the chicken was uncooked! If you like ham you're in for a treat in Extremadura, as it is a local speciality. Hotels were of a high standard, with at least one in most towns. A new hotel has opened just south of Monfrague National Park, only 10 minutes from the reserve, and is a bit like an Ikea showroom, though very nice but it will be at least £80 per room, luckily we got a special promotional price.
Sunrise was about 8:30 with birding possible until 18:30, and 18:50 at a push. Weather was excellent throughout, averaging 18* in the day, but cold at night (c1*) in the north, but pleasant in the south, with a couple of exceptions.
The only reference material we took was several trip reports mainly from www.birdtours.co.uk and www.camacdonald.com/birding/birding and also the Dave Gosney guides from www.birdguides.com.
Though we didn't buy the Where to watch birds in Southern
and Western Spain (Garcia and Patterson) I would highly recommend it,
as it the most up to date guide, with all sites covered....
Where to watch birds in Southern and Western
We used the 2 Michelin maps that covered the area, numbers 446 and 444, 1cm: 4km.
Having never birded
16th Took early afternoon flight from Stansted, arriving 20 minutes early at Malaga airport, had pre-booked hotel in nearby Torremolinos, 10 miles south of airport. Dinner at nearby restaurant.
Weather - Warm and clear Skies
17th Late start! Breakfast wasn't until 8. Away for 8:50, headed up the N331 up to Cordoba, then N432, N502 and A420 until we reached Cabeza for a late lunch. Birded the La Serena 'triangle' for the rest of the day. Night at Los Naranjos Hostel in Castuera. Dinner at hostel.
Weather - Excellent, warm and clear skies all day
18th Away for dawn to do the 'triangle' finished early due to fog, without seeing a bird! Headed up to Monfraque NP, via a few wrong turns. Thankfully by the time we passed Trujillo the weather had turned. Birded Monfrague for the rest of the day. Night and dinner at hotel north of Torrejon el Rubio.
Weather - Thick fog all morning at La Serena. Excellent again at Monfraque.
19th Monfrague in morning and the plains north and east of Caceres in the afternoon, then kept on driving south until we were completely nackered. Night in Sevilla. Dinner at hotel was crap, spaghetti stuck together and both chickens uncooked.
Weather - Overnight rain, though sunny and warm again, until mid-afternoon, when turned cool and overcast.
20th All morning around the excellent and bird-filled Brazo del Este/ Pinzon Marshes. Afternoon at Laguna de Medina, with the last few minutes of daylight at Laguna de Taraje. Night and dinner at Ibis Hotel in Jerez.
Weather - The best day, warm, sunny and clear skies from dawn till dusk, this is what it's all about!
21st Early morning at Laguna de Commissario, rest of the morning spent at Laguna de Medina. Afternoon around the Sierra de Grazalema, particularly Puerto de las Palomas and hills around Ronda. Night in Grazalema, excellent 2* in centre of village, with the best lift I've ever witnessed! Dinner at local restaurant - excellent and cheap.
Weather - Excellent again! Even in the hills, though became windy and overcast as the afternoon wore on.
22nd Early morning spent around Puerto
de las Palomas and Grazalema de Sierra, then long and very windy drive back
to Malaga, along the coast to look for Audouin's Gull. Dropped off hire car
and left Malaga airport for a cold
Weather - Misty, cold and wet in the hills. Largely overcast, though warm around coast.
This site is easily reached from the south. From Cordoba travel north on the N432, turn right at Espiel onto the N502 the A420 north at Alcaracejos. This takes you up to Cabeza, then it west along the EX104, after 4-5 km turn right towards Embalse de Zujar. You have now reached the 'triangle'.
After 16km there's a dirt track to the right, this goes on for several km's and is worth a drive, as there's a stream running along side it. Another 4+km further on the road will bend to the left and then go over the south end of the Embalse de Zujar, Dartford Warbler was seen around here. Turn left at the T-junction towards Castuera. The steppe here is completely different to the eastside, being very rocky and quite hilly, about half way down this road there is finally some unfenced habitat to the right, a walk around here allowed excellent views of Little Bustards and Larks.
We found this site disappointing, as most of the habitat had been turned into farmland? It's supposedly some of the best steppe in Europe, so perhaps we were just unlucky at this site! It was full of Golden Plovers and Larks, but it was hard work looking for Bustards here, and most views were distant, Sandgrouse were not even heard here. Few raptors were noted too.
Monfrague National Park
This area was well worthy of a day or two, and more if it's possible. With raptor filled skies and bird packed trees.
From La Serena travel north along EX103, then 3km on from the 'triangle' turn left towards Acedera, drive all the way up to the N430, turning right onto here for 4km. Then left onto the EX355 towards Zorita, go into the town, and then turn right towards the end of the town onto the EX208 to Trujillo. Once here fight your way through the streets to find the EX208 to Plasencia. The habitat along this road is great, open fields and Cork Oaks; it's worth getting out the car anywhere along here for a scan of the skies and Oaks.
Once at Monfrague it's worth taking the road up to the Sanctuario de Monfrague, it may be steep, but our car just about hung on, though it was touch and go at some points! Passerines were everywhere here, mainly being Blackcaps. The views are great, with flocks of Griffon Vultures all around you.
Once back on the main road you go past a huge cliff face on the left, opposite the Sanctuario. This is the Penafalcon. Superb in the morning as Griffon Vultures roost here in their hundreds. Many passerines feed on these cliffs, and there's always other raptors soaring over the valley.
Carrying on from here you go over the river and past
the village of
After another 1.5 Km there's a cliff to the left. This is the Eagle Owl site. They appeared from a little cliff, just to the left of the main face, about half way down the hill. There is a viewpoint here; it's just a case of waiting until dusk now!
This area proved to be excellent, perhaps the best area we visited, though we only gave it an afternoon due to our tight schedule. We didn't even manage to do the plains to the south. If I did this site again, I would give it several days, it was that good.
From Monfrague NP, travel south for only about 8 km, until you get to Torrejon el Rubio, turn right here along the CC912, which becomes the EX390, towards Monroy.
A few raptors were seen, though we didn't stop and check
much, until we went past the Monroy turnoff. The plains then come into view
and constant scanning is required here. Luckily there are several pull-ins and
2 just north of the Rio
Make sure you don't miss the minor road on the left to Santa Marta de Magesca after c5km. It probably took us 4 hours to cover about 15km, it was that good! We soon had 77 Great Bustards in a field next to the road. This was followed by excellent views of both Sandgrouse, try scanning the fields full of stones or crops, continually scan just above the horizon, as the B-b Sandgrouse are easily flushed from great distances. Red Kites and Hen Harriers are always in view here too. We had to give up on this road early as it soon became dark, but I presume this habitat carries on.
Brazo del Este
Great site. Full of the usual Mediterranean wetland birds. To reach it from Sevilla go south on the N IV, come off at the first sign for Isla Menor. Potholes will be seen (hopefully!) more often Marsh Harriers here, and it all starts as soon as you come off the N IV. Travelling along the SE685 you will take a sharp right, by the 'bar', opposite the road off to Adriano. Remember this turn off. Anyway, you will soon come to the marsh, you probably see chickens (oh, sorry, Purple Gallinules) just as you reach the first marsh. Stop ad scan here, especially along the river, this is where we had excellent views of Penduline Tit and Bluethroat. Just as you pass the marsh there is a dirt track that’s follows the edge of the marshes, this is great for Lesser Short-toed Lark, follow the track for as long as you can. It's then back to the Adriano road, turn right after a km here, just past the Silos. This track takes you to the rest of the 'Northern Marshes'. Turn left at the T-junction, this take takes you round the south end of the marsh, then comes the tricky part. When you pass the marsh you will come some crossroads. I think it's straight on, but you can see some farm buildings at
Laguna de Medina is the most famous, and rightly so. This is now THE place in
This is an easy site to reach. Get onto A4/E5, a PAY road! It will cost €4 from Los Palacios (opposite Brazo del Este) to junction 5, the turnoff for Medina and Algeciras, don’t miss the turnoff like we did, it will cost extra, and add 20 minutes! Here you take the A381 to Algeciras, after only 4 km you will see the sign for Laguna de Medina, turn left! There is a parking area and observation area. For a closer look at the lake follow the track that runs along the south side. The bushes are getting quite high though, restricting viewing a bit too much for my liking. The lake is fringed with reeds on the South and Northeast; these housed several Penduline Tits. The lake is covered with wildfowl, mainly diving ducks and Coot. Your only real chance of Crested Coot is hoping that the flock is on the near edge, allowing close looks. We were fortunate on our second day here that a few hundred were; this made Crested Coots easy to pick out.
Laguna de Commisario is a private lake, though we were fortunate that the farmer who owns the land next to the lake was about, he allowed us to walk across his field right down to the lake! Otherwise you will only get distant and poor views of this excellent site. To reach it from Laguna de Medina travel south on the A381, turn right towards Puerto Real after 10 minutes. After 5km you will see the lake on the right, pull over and scan. This was a very shallow lake, with White Storks standing in the middle, so obviously the only wildfowl were dabbling ducks, though this did include 4 Marbled Ducks! Try to get here for dawn and dusk, as it has incredible numbers of White Storks roosting, at least 2000 when we were there.
Laguna de Taraje is further on from Commisario, just past the 9km post is a track to the right through the pines, follow this, keeping to the right for a few km's. The water level appeared quite high here, though there was only Mallards and Coots here. It looks promising, as it is completely surrounded by reeds.
Mountains around Ronda
Sierra de Grazalema is the first, and could be the area you need to visit here. To here from Jerez, get onto the A382 east to Arcos. Go through here and onto the A372 to Ronda, the road soon climbs up into the hills, it wasn't until we were past Benamahoma that we saw our first Rock Buntings, fantastic birds. Turn right at the junction for Grazalema, towards Puerto de los Palomas. The main car park s only a kilometre along this road, this was the best site for Rock Bunting, check the grassy slope, if you have time it's worth walking from here to Puerto de los Palomas, a 2-3 km walk, good for Black Wheatear. If not, drive up to the Viewpoint, there is a mini car park/ pull-in here. I saw little at the Puerto, except Alpine Accentor on the actual viewpoint!
Ronda. We travelled east from Grazalema to Ronda, then south on the A369 to Atajata before crossing the river to check the other side of the valley, back up to Grazalema. Any high road in this area will be worth a check, try to find hills with no fencing, so you can have a walk up them.
Guadalhorce River mouth
This was by far and away the best piece of coastline we checked, well it was where we saw Audouin's Gull! To reach here travel north from Malaga airport and come off at San Julian. As you enter the town take the first left to Guadalmar. Once in Guadalmar follow the river down to the beach and scan the sea here. You will be in the right place if there's some a large platform offshore. Better still, get back onto the main road and come off straight after crossing the river. There's a massive dome type building close to the road, go into the car park closest to the river and follow the road that goes underneath the main road. You then come to some crossroads, turn left onto the dirt track that goes back under the bridge, and this will take you back to the beach.
Great Crested Grebe
2 noted at Embalse de Zujar, La Serena and 3 noted at Laguna de Medina on 20th, with a single next day
At least 15 noted at Laguna de Medina on both dates
At least 25 were noted on both dates at Laguna de Medina. 8 noted on sea between Marbella and Malaga
2 where off Torremolinos and another 2 where off the Guadalhorce River mouth
3 (2 adults) noted off Guadalhorce River mouth
Regularly noted. Good numbers present at Monfrague NP and off Guadalhorce River mouth
At least 300 were roosting in just 5 Willows on the Pinzon marshes
Regularly noted in small numbers in field throughout, though common on the Brazo del Este
At Brazo del Este, 1 was at the Northern Marshes, with 8 together on the Pinzon Marshes
Common in Southern Spain, with smaller numbers noted further north
Great White Egret
1 just north of Trujillo on 18th, with 5 at Pinzon Marshes
Common, with large numbers at Brazo del Este
At Brazo del Este, 1 flew over the Northern Marshes, with 5 (1 1st win) at Pinzon Marshes
Noted in numbers at several sites. Though 40 were together at La Serena and large numbers were at Brazo del Este, with at least 300 over the grain factory just to the south. A big surprise was at least 2000 leaving Laguna de Commissario shortly after dawn, several of which were completely black from oil/soil? At least 20 were dead around the laguna
At Brazo del Este, 3 were in the Northern Marshes, with a flock of c60 at Pinzon Marshes
Up to 70 were noted around the Pinzon Marshes
c50 were at Laguna de Medina on both dates, with c60 at Laguna de Commissario
A single female was noted at Laguna de Medina on 21st
Noted in reasonable numbers at Laguna de Medina/Taraje/Commissario, and other sites
Noted in small numbers at Laguna de Medina/Taraje/Commissario
Up to 10 were noted at both Laguna de Medina and Commisario
Several hundred were noted at Laguna de Medina and Commisario
Commonest duck at Laguna de Commisario, perhaps 500 present, large numbers at Medina too. Much smaller numbers noted elsewhere
Up to 200 were noted on both dates at Laguna de Medina
1 briefly in the reeds on the eastside of Laguna de Medina on 20th, with 4 at Laguna de Commisario next day
17 (10 drakes) were at Laguna de Medina on 20th, though none next day
Several hundred were noted at Laguna de Medina
2 fem. at Laguna de Medina on 20th, with 2 (1 drk) on 21st
11 (4 drakes) were off the Guadalhorce River mouth
Abundant north of Trujillo and around Caceres, with several noted elsewhere
Didn't realise how common they are now! At least 8 seen before we reached Monfrague NP, then at least 4 in the sky constantly around Monfrague, especially along the road running east of the info centre, where a flock of 10 were seen. A single was seen perched at 100 yards range just north of Mirador de la Bascula, brilliant, until some Spanish birders jumped out of their car, slamming the doors, allowing it to fly off, just as I was about to photograph it! Also, at least 8 were seen along the EX390 north of Caceres.
Abundant around Monfrague NP, hundreds were roosting on the Penafalcon and Eagle Owl site, allowing some superb views. Constantly in the sky between there and Caceres and in the hills around Ronda
5 (1 male) were seen at La Serena, and 4 (1 male) were seen around Caceres. A male was also noted at Brazo del Este
Incredibly common around Brazo del Este, at least 30 notes. Several were also seen around the Laguna's at Jerez
2 were seen at Monfrague NP and 4 near Ronda
A common site, mainly in the lowlands
A sub-adult showed very well, over our heads just south of Monfrague on 18th
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Having missed this much wanted bird at Monfrague NP, I was getting a little worried, until a pair of adults were circling distantly together a mile north of the bridge along the EX390, just north of Caceres. Then as we stopped at the bridge to try and get better views an immature was circling with a Black and Griffon Vulture directly above us, excellent!
Single pale-phase adults were seen around the Penafalcon at Monfrague and a mile north of the bridge along the EX390, being mobbed by 10 Ravens, both on the 19th
4-5 (2 dark, 2-3 pale-phase) were around the Brazo del Este, and a pair of mixed phase birds were around the Guadalhorce River mouth
A big surprise was seeing this bird coming straight towards me at head height at Brazo del Este, before it circled off and started hunting in the nearby fields, are these regular in the winter?
A regular roadside companion
Noted around Ronda, at least 2 seen, though several Kestrel sp. not looked at
Singles seen around the Penafalcon at Monfrague on 19th and at Puerto de los Palomas on 21st
At least 4 around La Serena and others seen at Monfrague and around Caceres
Regularly seen from the roadside in most habitats
Several were seen in the reeds at Laguna de Medina
Abundant at Brazo del Este, seen at other sites
Small numbers noted at several sites, though at least 600 were at Laguna de Medina
I wasn't looking forward to looking for this, as I find Coots very boring! At Laguna de Medina on 20th most Coots were quite distant, though a picked out 3 likely suspects, then 1 much closer. On 21st however, 200 were in the near reeds, and 3 were easily picked out, a 1st winter, an adult winter and a sexy looking adult in summer plumage. Much better than I thought they would be! I found the best id to be the blue tinge to the bill, as well as the lack of feathers pointing across the bill.
These offensive looking chickens were literally everywhere at Brazo del Este, hundreds of them! A few were seen at Laguna de Medina too.
Common in the Cork Oak fields around La Serena, also noted along the EX390 north of Caceres
After a distant flock of 4 along the east road of La Serena, a flock of 31 were seen nearby in the evening. A much closer and greatly appreciated flock of 77 were seen along the minor road off EX390 just Northeast of Caceres. All birds were seen in the richly covered green fields
A flock of at least 60 were seen distantly in the same field as the 4 Great Bustards at La Serena, then 2 flocks of 8 and 10 were seen as we walked the only unfenced area on the west side of La Serena 'triangle'
At least 30 were present around the Brazo del Este, with 60 at Laguna de Commisario
30 were seen at Laguna de Commisario
1 was present at Laguna de Commisario
Abundant around La Serena, 1000's being seen. Much smaller numbers noted around Caceres
Common at all lowland sites, especially at La Serena
Seen in small numbers along the coast on 22nd
Reasonable numbers were along the beaches on the 22nd
A small flock was at Guadalhorce River mouth
15 were present at the Pinzon Marshes
A single was noted at the Pinzon Marshes
2 were noted along a stream on the eastside of La Serena
At Brazo del Este, 2 were heard on the Northern Marshes, and 4 were together on the Pinzon Marshes
A single was seen at Brazo del Este
Common around Brazo del Este
1 flew over the EX104 just east of Cabeza at dusk on the 17th
Common at Brazo del Este
An immature caused a bit of mayhem among the gulls at Torremolinos seafront
Noted in very small numbers along the coast, including 6 at Fuengirola and 5 at Guadalhorce River mouth
Common along the coast, with several sitings inland
After several hours of fruitless searching along the coast, at least 7 (5+ adults, 2 2nd winters) were found off the Guadalhorce River mouth
Small numbers seen along the coast, much less than what I expected, perhaps only 100, 75% being 1st winters, odd birds seen inland too, with 6 at Laguna de Medina
Lesser Black-backed Gull
1000's along the coast between Marbella and Malaga, occasionally seen inland
Small numbers (c20) seen along the coast
30 along the coast, with 25+ off Guadalhorce River mouth
After a complete blowout at La Serena we were very thankful when 4 (2 pairs) were seen flying along the minor road NE of Caceres, this was followed by another pair, then a further 12. We eventually found the field they had flown to, and saw them distantly feeding, as we drove past we flushed a total of 40+ birds, at a distance of several hundred yards. They have a very distinctive call, a quiet gargle, bubbling noise
Another failure at La Serena, but after seeing the first 6 B-b Sandgrouse, we had a distant flock of 11 Sandgrouse flying around that looked much slimmer, flying like Golden Plovers, circling then swooping, excellent stuff, but they were a mile away!
Fortunately as we were watching the B-B's in the fields on the right, a flock of 25 P-T Sandgrouse flew round the field to the left, then flew straight over the car, calling their heads off! 2 minutes later at least 70 landed only 200 yards away, excellent stuff, one of the highlights of the trip. They have a completely different call to B-B, being more like a Tufted Duck!
Big flocks noted over Monfrague NP, seen elsewhere
Noted in lowland areas
Another highlight. At Monfrague NP we checked out site 9 in the Gosney guide for them. While watching the Griffon Vultures swoop in to the cliffs to roost, an Eagle Owl started calling for 5 minutes, it was only
A pair was at the Pinzon Marshes
Up to 10 seen most days at a range of sites
Great Spotted Woodpecker
1 was seen on both days at Mirador de la Bascula, Monfrague NP on both days
Flocks of up to 100 were seen around La Serena and Caceres
Several noted around the Cork Oaks and Olive plantations at several sites, especially south of Monfrague NP
Common roadside bird
Not much attention paid until Ronda, when several were seen on the hills. Voice is the best clue, a double-noted call, which rises, then falls. I thought the face pattern was more uniform, with and obvious eye-ring
Lesser Short-toed Lark
At Brazo del Este, 3 flocks were seen (6+12+8), all in ploughed fields around the Northern Marshes
Large flocks were present at La Serena and near Caceres, up to several hundred in a flock
Large numbers around the coastal resort. 'Real' ones were seen at dusk at the Eagle Owl site at Monfrague, up to 10. Odd singles were present around Ronda
Small numbers were hawking over Laguna de Medina
A single was seen at Pinzon Marshes, with another 2 heard
Common at most sites
Another common roadside bird of all habitats
Heard and seen briefly at Monfrague NP
Present at several sites
Another highlight! We knew they were present at Puerto de los Palomas, apparently at the car-park in the Gosney Guide, but as this is several years old we were unsure where he meant, as there is a very new looking car park nearby, and not much of a car park at Palomas. Having split up unsuccessfully to check both areas, we left thinking it was all over. However, with 10 minutes of light left we went back to have one last run around. Then, we found a bird feeding on the observation platform (which looks very new too!) on the other hill. In the gloom it was like a fat dunnock with a long looking bill, so I ran down and up 2 very steep and slippery hills, while getting scope from the car in what must have been less then a minute! Then there, no more than 20 feet in front of us is 4 cracking Alpine Accentors, a huge relief!
At Brazo del Este, 4 were together by the river opposite the Northern Marshes
A common bird in the hills, and recorded elsewhere
One of the commonest birds, absolutely everywhere!
4 were between the big car park and Puerto de los Palomas on 21st, with 2 in the car park next day
Blue Rock Thrush
Regularly seen at Monfrague NP, especially around the Penafalcon. Commonly encountered around Ronda, at least 15 seen
On 22nd 2 were between the car park and Puerto de los Palomas
2 recorded near Ronda
Zitting Cisticola (a.k.a Fan-tailed Warbler)
Common around Brazo del Este, noted elsewhere, especially at La Serena
A common sound at Brazo del Este
2 at the Emblase de Zujar, La Serena and several seen around Puerto de los Palomas
A fairly common bird in scrubby areas, especially around Laguna de Medina
Incredibly common at Monfrague NP, especially at the Sanctuario de Monfrague, common elsewhere
Common at most sites, particularly at Brazo del Este, some birds were heard, but sounded just like collybita
Seen briefly between car park and Puerto de los Palomas on 22nd and several 'crests' heard on both dates
At Brazo de los Palamos, at least a pair showed brilliantly around the River and channel at the Northern Marshes. Several were heard in the reeds at Laguna de Medina, but a few fly-bys were seen
Recorded around Ronda, and elsewhere
As Blue Tit, but commoner
Present around Puerto de los Palomas
Several were seen around Puerto de los Palomas
A single was seen between car park and Puerto de los Palomas on 22nd, others being heard on both dates
Southern Grey Shrike
Surprisingly common, seen in both lowlands and uplands
After several good views I gave up on looking at them, but all that were looked at were this species, though undoubtedly Common (S. Unicolor) occurred. Common in most habitats, and several big flocks seen in evenings
2 at Eagle Owl site, Monfrague NP, with 2 nearby next day
A regular but sporadic siting
Common in and around Cork Oak plantations, but very common all over Monfrague NP
Flocks of up to 60 were noted at Puerto de los Palomas, Ronda and south of Ronda on 21st
Recorded, at least at La Serena
Common around the steppes and hills
Recorded, at least at La Serena
Common, as per usual
Singles were seen from the car park just above Grazalema on 21st and just below Puerto de los Palomas on 22nd
Common, especially in the hills
A regular sound around Monfrague NP, several flocks being seen, especially in the pines just above the dam crossing, up to 50, and the track up to the Sanctuario.
A common but sporadic bird in most habitats, several were singing already
Recorded pines around Puerto de los Palomas
Recorded at least in the pines around Ronda
One of the commonest birds, present in numbers at most sites
A very common and conspicuous bird around La Serena and Caceres
A male was singing at Laguna de Medina on 20th, and a female was seen below Grazalema on 21st
This most attractive bird was a regular site and sound around the Sierra de Grazalema, especially in the grassy slope next to the big car park, odd birds noted east to Ronda
A single male was seen in the Pinzon Marshes
10 were seen in the town of Guadalmar, by the Guadalhorce River mouth, countless others were heard
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