Example Tour: Birding in Northern Spain
Migrating birds over the Straits, Wetland Birding in Doñana National Park, Desert Steppes & Mountain Birding in Monfragüe Natural Park
Spring or Autumn Departure. One Week options available
A two week trip taking in the astounding migration of raptors, storks and passerines North from Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar, the astonishing profusion of breeding and migrant birds in the wetlands and salt marshes on the south coast near Cádiz and the Doñana National Park.
A chance to see the Iberian Lynx – the rarest felid in the world. Birding and walking in the deciduous forests of Aracena and a visit to the desert steppe and mountains of Extremadura for a huge profusion of birds in a beautiful landscape.
As well as birding excursions with some walking we´ll do some longer hikes, enjoy the spring flowers including displays of orchids and observe many insects and butterflies.
Accommodation is in very nice hotels and casas rurales sometimes in lovely natural surroundings or in charming villages. We´ll try and find time for some sightseeing and enjoy the food, culture and atmosphere of Andalucia and Extremadura at their absolute best at the best time of year.
Day 1 Hotel in Tarifa
Arrive Malaga and, depending on arrival times, make a visit to the Guadalhorce rivermouth five minutes from the airport for raptors, waders, duck and, nearer the sea, Mediterranean, Slender billed and Audouin´s gulls.
Then we drive to our first base just outside Tarifa. Tarifa is just 16 km from Africa - the narrowest part of the straits of Gibraltar and is the ideal place to see migrant birds crossing on their way to their breeding grounds further north. Soaring raptors and Storks especially have to use this route as they cannot fly long distances without thermals (which come off the land). We´ll spend a couple of days watching migrants either on the coast or from various vantage points depending on the wind direction (Levante or Poniente) on each given day. Birds lose a lot of altitude on the crossing and arrive at the coast very low giving us superb close views. We should see large numbers of, among many other species: Black Kite, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian Vulture, Montagu’s Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, White and Black stork, Osprey. Another highlight will be the Spanish imperial eagle.
Day 2 Hotel in Tarifa
In the morning we´ll take a walk along a beautiful beach with dunes, sandbars, marshy areas and fields further inland to see migrants, such as wheatears, pipits, larks and wagtails and on the sandbars, Sandwich and Caspian Terns, Audouin’s, Mediterranean, Lesser Black backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. Grey, Common Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper are as well as flocks of European Beeeater, Pallid Swift, Collared Pratincole, and Barn and Red-rumped Swallows. Short-toed Lark, Zitting Cisticola, European Stonechat, Linnet and Corn Bunting.
Later in the day we´ll head out to some vantage points to see the incoming migrating raptors.
Day 3 Hotel in Tarifa
Our final day in the Tarifa area. More coastal birding for migrants, gulls and shore birds and then spotting the flocks of raptors heading north. We´ll also see the Lesser kestrel colony in Tarifa and hopefully locate the only breeding pair of Common bulbul in Europe.
A possible option for the afternoon could be a 2.5 hour whale watching trip in the strait to see Pilot, Sperm & Fin Whales, Orca, Bottlenose & Striped Dolphins plus pelagic birds such as Northern gannet, Balearic and Scopoli´s shearwaters, Great skua and terns.
Day 4 Boutique hotel, Vejer de La Frontera
Today we move West along the coast stopping at Spain´s most beautiful beach at Bolonia and the very fine Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia – once a production centre for Garum – a fermented fish sauce condiment that the Romans couldn´t do without. There are many birds in the scrub behind the beach – Corn and Cirl buntings, Wheatears, Larks, Pipits and finches. We may also see the Rufous bush chat – a local speciality. In the bushes near a stream we can see Cetti´s, Melodious, Olivacious, Sedge and Willow warblers plus Blackcap, Kingfisher, Nightingale and Grey wagtail.
Looking around the Roman ruins is worthwhile for historic interest and to see Little owl, Woodchat and Iberian Grey shrike, Blue rockthrush and Black eared Wheatear all perched on the ruins while hunting for insects.
Behind the beach the Sierra de La Plata is a breeding site for the very scarce White rumped swift which we´ll look out for.
After Bolonia we´ll continue West to La Janda. Once a huge marshland this was drained in the 1960s to make farmland (an environmental tragedy/crime) It´s still a fabulous area for birding and we´ll see many species. If there have been recent rains, the flooded low lying land attracts thousands of waterfowl, waders and gulls. Along watercourses we´ll see Purple, Squacco and grey herons, Little bittern, Cattle and Little egrets and Black stork. Among the many raptors to be seen are Montagu´s and Marsh harrier, Short toed and Booted. In the scrub areas are found Dartford, Spectacled, and Olivacious warblers as well as Hoopoe, Shrikes, Bee eaters and Wheatears. In the dryer arable areas we´ll look for Little bustards, Calandra and Short toed larks and Stone curlews.
Nearer Vejer we´ll pay a visit to one of only two Northern bald ibis colonies in Europe. This critically endangered bird (extinct in Spain for maybe 500 years) was reintroduced here in 2003 and is thriving. There is another reintroduced colony in Italy and about 80 birds in Morocco. We´ll be looking for Glossy ibis also as we head towards Doñana.
Day 5 Boutique Hotel, Vejer de La Frontera
In the morning we´ll do a 4 hour walk south from Vejer towards the coast first through fields – Hoopoe, warblers, egrets and migrant passerines. We´ll then walk through Stone pine forest where Treecreepers, Serin, Tits and many orchids can be seen. There are Mediterranean chameleon near the coastal cliffs which of course are difficult to spot! Here it´s worth scanning over the sea for Gannet, Shearwaters, migrants and gulls. Passing through the village of Caños de Meca, we´ll continue along the beach out to the lighthouse at Cape Trafalgar (the famous sea battle was fought off the shore here) looking for gulls and waders, Cormorant and often some migrants at this time of year.
In the afternoon we´ll visit either the nearby Barbate marshes or visit another part of La Janda as it is such a good and diverse birding area with so much to see.
Day 6 Hotel in El Rocio Doñana National Park
Today we continue west to the mouth of the River Guadalquivir to see a huge variety of birds in salt marsh, pools and arable habitats. Some highlights are Crested coot, Purple gallinule, the rare Marbled and White headed ducks. The area is good for seeing Little and Pallid swifts and the marshy pools are habitats for Squacco, Purple and Night herons as well as Little bittern , Purple gallinule. The salt marsh have many flamingo, several different terns, Black stork, Little egrets and overhead can be seen Booted, Short toed and Spanish imperial eagles. Passage waders such as Green and Wood sandpiper should be around as well as Little ringed plover. The fields around the salt marsh are good for Lesser and Greater short toed larks and we may see the beautiful Pin tailed sandgrouse and Collared pratincole.
If we can drag ourselves away by late afternoon we will then drive around the outskirts of Seville to cross the Guadalquivir and on to El Rocio, the wonderful village that is our base for exploring the Doñana National Park.
Possible here – a seafood lunch – the best places in Spain for seafood!
Day 7 Hotel in El Rocio Doñana National Park
The Doñana National Park is huge area of wetlands, sand dunes, Mediterranean scrub and Stone pine and Cork oak forest. Our hotel is set right next to the shallow lagoon at El Rocio – a superb site for a huge range of waterbirds such as Flamingos, Spoonbills, Cranes, egrets, ducks, geese and many waders. There are colonies of Bee-eaters, Herons and egrets and the lagoon is overflown by Black and Red kites, Marsh and Hen harriers, Kestrel, Lesser kestrel Short toed, Booted and Spanish Imperial eagles.
Today we´ll have an early start to take a private guided ´safari´ into the National Park to see the huge variety and number of birds here. We should see upwards of 75 species including many waders – Redshank, Spotted redshank, Greenshank, Black winged stilt. Water birds including the Purple swamp hen (Gallinule), Larks – Calandra, Crested, Lesser short toed. Marsh and Montagus harriers, Black winged kite, Bee-eaters, Spoonbill, Great reed warbler……………… What is astonishing are the sheer numbers of birds here. It´s a paradise bursting with life!
An emblematic species in Doñana is the worlds rarest felid; the Iberian Lynx. There are only 400 individuals left and 50 or so live in the Doñana area. We´ll keep our eyes peeled to see one of these beautiful big cats.
In the afternoon we´ll do a nature walk in another part of the park with forest and a lake and see more birds including azure winged magpie, Yellow wagtail, Common Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap Garden Warbler, European Bee-eater, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, many common finches and water birds including the Purple gallinule.
Day 8 Village Posada, Sierra de Aracena Natural Park
Today we will drive to Huelva and the Marismas de Odiel marshes to see plovers, waders, and gulls in a beautiful natural reserve along a narrow spit of land with Huelva harbour on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other.
We´ll then drive north to the Sierra de Aracena about 1.5 hours away. This is a complete change of scenery with hills forested with Cork and Holm oaks and pretty villages. It´s a quiet and unspoiled area. The bird species are quite different with Nuthatches, Golden oriole, Woodchat and Southern grey shrikes, Hoopoe, Nightingales, Griffon vulture, Goldcrest, and many warblers. We stay in my favourite village in Andalucia and we will do a couple of really nice walks combined with birding.
Day 9 Village Posada, Sierra de Aracena Natural Park
A 4.5 hour walk through fields and woodland starting from Almonaster with it´s ancient mosque. We´ll see many woodland birds and Griffon vultures on this hike through the heart of the Aracena Natural Park. We gradually climb past fields and through forest up to a high point before descending back to our starting point. The mosque on a hilltop above the village has a large colony of Crag martins and we´ll see Hoopoes, Bee-eaters and Kites. The spring flowers and butterflies are a wonderful highlight on this walk.
Day 10 Village Posada, Sierra de Aracena Natural Park
Drive to the north side of the Sierra de Aracena to dryer more open country where we may see Bonelli´s eagle, several lark species, Rollers and Azure winged magpies. The villages here were once along the border with Portugal and have impressive castles used to defend the frontier in the middle ages. There are some beautiful villages and we´ll do a walk along part of a long distance path taking in some of the best scenery and birding.
Day 11 Rural Hotel , Near Trujillo
Today we set out for the hills and plains of Caceres and the Monfrague National Park. We´ll break the three hour drive with a few stops for birding and visit the city of Mérida with it´s ancient Roman theatre, temples and the 2000 year old, 790 metre long bridge crossing the River Guadiana.
We stay just outside Trujillo at a very nice casa rural perfectly situated for discovering the natural wonders of Extremadura. The semi desert steppe land is a haven for Great Bustard – one of the worlds largest flying birds. At this time of year we may see the males doing their wonderful courting display of flared feathers. There are many other steppe species here including Little bustard, Stone curlew, Montague´s harrier many lark species and, wherever there is some water, we´ll find waders and other water birds. The craggy granite hills of Monfrague are home to the world´s largest population of the rare and huge Black vulture as well as many Griffon vulture. We´ll also see Golden, Spanish imperial, Bonellis, Short toed and Booted eagles plus many Black and Red kites. The sheer number of species and their abundance makes this area one of Europe´s finest birding hotspots.
Day 12 Rural Hotel , Near Trujillo
We´ll head into the plains west of Trujillo to look for Great Bustard. We should also see Little bustard, Pin tailed sandgrouse, Calandra, Thekla and Crested larks, Black eared wheatear, Black and Griffon vultures, Montague´s harriers. We´ll then walk along a river valley in an area which is good for Golden eagle and possibly Bonelli´ s eagle.
The steppe plains here have an austere beauty of their own and it´s incredible to see so much life and activity in this harsh environment.
In the evening, after an early dinner, we´ll try for owls near our casa rural – Scops owl, Tawny owl and Long eared owl are all possible here.
Day 13 Rural Hotel , Near Trujillo
Today we´ll go into Monfrague National Park, one of the best birding spots in Europe to look for nesting Black stork, Spanish imperial eagle, many warblers, Rock bunting, Black vulture and the world´s largest colony of Alpine swifts. These stunning swifts are the finest flyers cutting through the air with their long scythe like wings.
We´ll do a walk (tba) in the park and we should spot plenty of birds and perhaps deer and wild boar.
We´ll have an early dinner near the park and then return to try for Eagle owl which nests nearby. We´ll hopefully spot one of these massive owls at dusk. The long evenings at this time of year are a big help.
Day 14 Rural Hotel , Near Trujillo
We´ll head for a steppe area to look for Black winged kite, Rollers, Sandgrouse and Bustards again. After that we´ll go to a wetland area for egrets, heron, waders, Marsh harrier, Cuckoo (common and Greater spotted) and many passerines.
After our picnic we´ll return to our casa rural for a rest and then go into Trujillo – a lovely old town famous as the birthplace of the conquistador of Peru Francisco Pizarro. The town has a castle on a hill above the town and a wonderful medieval main square. We´ll have our final dinner in town.
An option here is to do photography of raptors – vultures and eagles mostly - from a hide.
Day 15 Transfer to Madrid B
2.5 hour drive to Madrid city and/or airport.