Wednesday, 30 March 2016


I've spent the last two days in the Ronda area and am leaving slightly disappointed but I'm not sure why. It's an absolutely beautiful area and I saw some fantastic birds but struggled to get close to many of them which was a bit frustrating so that's probably it.
I started on Tuesday with Peter Jones who has an unrivalled knowledge of the birds of the Ronda area. He has also studied the Black Wheatear population so there is probably nobody better to show you where they are. We spent most of the day in the Llanos de Liber valley which is a fantastic area with a wide variety of habitats.
Llanos de Liber - the sky really was that blue!

We soon found singing male Black Wheatears but they seem to choose the tops of the valley sides to sing from making it difficult to get close. Black Wheatears only occur in Iberia, Morocco and Libya so have quite a restricted range they are also resident unlike our Northern Wheatear which we also saw along with migrant Black-eared Wheatears which are just returning.
Black Wheatear

A Thekla Lark put on a good show, Thekla's are resident in the valley but Crested Larks are common in the open cultivated areas and around the towns so we were able to make a good comparison. The shorter less curved bill of Thekla Lark is probably the most reliable field characteristic.
Thekla Lark
Crested Lark
Further up the valley we encountered Rock Sparrows, Rock and Cirl Buntings and Dartford Warblers.
Red-billed Chough is very common in the valley but again stick to the higher cliff faces.
Peter then took me on a tour of some of the other good birding spots around Ronda. I managed a photo of the Iberian race of Green Woodpecker (sharpei) which lacks the black around the eye of UK birds. 
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis sharpei
Although I have heard, and glimpsed, Cetti's Warbler at almost every stop in Spain I finally managed a photo by the river Guadiaro.
Cetti's Warbler
This morning I was in a hide set up by Pieter Verheij who runs Spanish Nature with Peter Jones.The hide has a special reflective glass front so the birds are completely oblivious of the photographers present. The glass is also slightly tinted so you loose a little light. 
The Agaba hide at first light with Pieter Verheij putting out the food
I got nice photos of some of the common woodland species which were similar to the UK; Nuthatch, Jay, Blue and Great Tits plus Subalpine Warbler and Serin but some of the other birds the pond attracts such as Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers and Nightingale are only just arriving, Booted Eagles also visit the hide and although I saw them over the tree tops they never came close. I wasn't entirely happy taking photos through the glass although the photos themselves look OK.
Subalpine Warbler - Agaba Hide
Whilst in the Ronda area I visited several Bonelli's Eagle nesting territories but had no luck in seeing them. I guess if the birds have eggs or young chicks the adults may not be that active now.
I considered going back over to the Cadiz area to visit sites like La Janda but have decided to move up the Mediterranean coast tomorrow.
Route so far, looking a little messy in southern Spain

Monday, 28 March 2016


It's difficult planning ahead on a long trip because having fixed dates is somewhat restrictive. If I find a good spot I may want to stay several days but if somewhere is not so good I'll be happy to move on. One of the places I definately wanted to visit was Gibraltar, I've never been before and for two species, the Barbary Macaque and Barbary Partridge, this is the only place in Europe that you can see them plus March can be great for raptor passage.
Gibraltar Bird Observatory at the Jews Gate
I therefore decided to book at the Gibraltar Bird Observatory for the nights of 26th and 27th March and as it turned out this was a great decision on all counts. The observatory is incredibly cheap at £10/night, is very clean and tidy and is in a fantastic position. I was welcomed on the 26th by Steve Norman, a visiting British ringer and birder. Steve is in his tenth year of completing a 3 month stay at the observatory from February to the end of March. Steve was a mine of information of what was currently happening but also of past migration on The Rock and was happy to share it.
My first wonder took me in the direction of the Upper Rock for the Barbary Macaques, there doesn't seem to be much love lost between to islanders and the Macaques but the tourists love them and so did I.

Barbary Macaque
It was a clear blue sky on my first day and it was great to watch the family parties. One did pick up my camera lens at one point so you need to keep an eye on them!
Whilst wandering round the island, I didn't drive at all whilst I was there but there are some tough up hills, I added Spanish Festoon to the butterfly list plus some beautiful Moroccan Orange-tips (some books seem to call these Provence Orange-tips as a split from the Moroccan but that's beyond me). 
Spanish Festoon
Moroccan Orange-tip

I saw the local Peregrines and several Sparrowhawk but that was about it for my first afternoon.
The following morning I went to Europa Point, the most southerly point on the island. This is where migrants first make landfall and looking for them around the kids play area and local gardens is like birdwatching on Hartlepool Headland. It was quiet for migrants but I came across a nice male Subalpine Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Blue-headed and White Wagtails plus several Chiffchaff and the resident Black Redstarts and Blue Rockthrush so wasn't complaining.
Subalpine Warbler - male
Woodchat Shrike

I particularly wanted to see Barbary Partridge and walked a long way looking for them, finally flushing two birds which shot in to the air and disappeared in seconds. 
Heading back to the Obs there was some raptor passage underway, in about 4 hours Steve and I had the following;
Kestrel 3
Hobby 1
Peregrine (local bird hunting finches as they crossed the straits)
Sparrowhawk 11
Osprey 1
Black Kite 18
Booted Eagle 13
Short-toed Eagle 2
Marsh Harrier 4
Montagu's Harrier 3
Plus at least 85 Bee-eater which were the first of the year and all from the door of the observatory! This was a fairly quiet day by Gibraltar standards but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. 
Montagu's Harrier - male

This morning, the 28th, I had another go for the Barbary Partridge and struck lucky with three birds at Europa Point, two males calling at first light I had to wait for sunrise before I could get any photos. 
Barbary Partridge
I stayed at the Point for the rest of the morning and met John Harwood a very helpful Gibraltarian birder (who posts some great photos on the bird-nerds blog site) Together we watched about 20 Booted and 2 Short-toed Eagles plus about 20 Sparrowhawks make the crossing from Africa to Europe, some of the birds flying directly overhead.. an amazing site.
Booted Eagle - pale form

I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Gibraltar there is a lot of information, including recent sightings on the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society web site.
At mid-afternoon I set off for Ronda.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Huelva to Malaga

We stayed a day longer than I had planned in the Huelva area and Pam had a flight back to the UK from Malaga on 26th March so on the 25th we started out on the sea-front at El Rompido with a couple of nice Whimbrel and my first Turnstone of the trip then set off for Malaga.
We took the route via Seville rather than down the coast past Cadiz as I had planned to save time.

On the way we stopped at El Rocio and viewed the floods from the village. There were plenty of Glossy Ibis and Flamingo and my first Collared Pratincole of the trip with around 70 dispersed over the raised islands in the lake, but no sign of any 'Marsh' Terns yet.
Collared Pratincole

We had a look at the pool to the west and added Purple Gallinule to the trip list with at least 3 individuals in different areas of the reed bed, but all distant. A flock of 40 Spoonbill was nice and there were plenty of Cattle Egret in the area.
We moved on to an overnight stop just outside Malaga and the following morning after dropping Pam at the airport I went to the nearby Guadalhorce reserve. It was busy, especially so, with it being Easter, but there were still some nice birds. I was particularly interested in White-headed Ducks and saw at least 12 of these amazing looking duck, with a similar number of Pochard and Shoveler plus a pair of Black-necked Grebe, a couple of Avocet and a Woodchat Shrike.

White-headed Duck, male upper female below
On the beach I added Kentish Plover which is the first I have seen for a while.
Kentish Plover - female
I then head off for Gibraltar, for my first visit and staying at the Observatory.

Thursday, 24 March 2016


We have spent a couple of days exploring the Huelva area, particularly the Odiel Marshes bordering the town but also El Portil (where we based ourselves) with a brief trip to Castro Marim on the border in Portugal.
The most obvious birds in the area are the Greater Flamingos with hundreds on the various pools, including El Portil, Castro Marim and the Isla Cristina area, which we passed through, but the best views and biggest numbers were on the Odiel Marshes.
Greater Flamingo
This is also a good area for Spoonbill although they tend to feed out of sight in the various creeks across the marsh for much of the time. Little Egrets were common and we saw several Great White Egrets.

The pool by the visitor centre had around 50 Red-crested Pochard each morning but most left the pool during the day. There were plenty of Coot but I didn't managed to find any Crested Coots. Yellow-legged Gulls were regular visitors to the pool but the only terns I saw were Sandwich Terns feeding along the estuary channels.
Red-crested Pochard - male

Waders were reasonably plentiful with flocks of over 100 Dunlin and similar numbers of Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit with small numbers of Redshank, Greenshank, Avocet, Common Sandpiper and Whimbrel.
Birds of prey were in low numbers with just a couple of Marsh Harrier, several Osprey (which are using the nesting towers provided for them) and the occasional Griffon Vulture passing overhead. 
Marsh Harrier - adult male

No sign yet of any Montagu's Harriers and passerines were in low numbers with what I presume are resident Corn Buntings, Fan-tailed Warblers, Sardinian Warblers and a few Chiffchaff. 
Sardinian Warbler - male

I searched for European Chameleon but without any luck, is it too early I wonder?
Overall it felt like Spring was not really underway here yet.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Trujillo and Caceres

Pam and I joined the now familiar A66 and headed south from Plasencia and, as had been the pattern in recent days, the sky was overcast and threatening rain.
We left the A66 and headed towards the plains around Hinojal, luckily we encountered a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoo before the rain started and persisted for most of the morning.
Great Spotted Cuckoo

Still there were birds to be seen, amongst the Crested Larks, Calandra's started to appear in numbers and some decent flocks of Spanish Sparrow.
Spanish Sparrow
We saw several Hoopoe but no sign of any Montagu's Harriers yet around Monroy but with a slightly brighter afternoon we did find a party of 10 Great Bustards and a distant party of sandgrouse that were too far away to name. 
Calandra Lark

A superb Short-toed Eagle was our first of the trip as we arrived in Trujillo.
Short-toed Eagle
This morning we explored the castle with around 50 Pallid Swifts, 20 Crag Martin and a dozen Red-rumped Swallow as well as Barn Swallow and House Martin. It was difficult to be certain of the swifts identity in the early morning light but as it brightened the paler body with pale fringes to the feathers, giving a scaly appearance, and large pale throat became visible.
Lesser Kestrels were visible from the main square but larger numbers could be seen around the Bull Ring. 
Pallid Swift

Crag Martin
At mid-day we set off again, heading for Huelva on the Atlantic Coast.
Our route so far

Sunday, 20 March 2016


Another poor weather forecast with occasional bright spells interspersed with heavy rain, we headed from the beautiful town of Placencia to Monfrague.
With light rain falling we made our first stop at the Tajadilla picnic area where the Griffon Vultures were soon joined by Black and then a beautiful adult Egyptian Vulture.
Egyptian Vulture

There was a Cirl Bunting singing as we pulled in to the parking area and after we had been parked for 20 minutes there was a sudden influx of Azure-winged Magpies. Fortunately Pam had some bred so we managed to attract several of about 15 birds in to the picnic area.
Azure-winged Magpie

We moved on to the Portilla del Tietar mirador after a brief coffee break at the nearby hotel rural. We had only been parked a few minutes before a superb adult Spanish Imperial Eagle flew over.
Spanish Imperial Eagle
We could see the nest from the viewpoint and it wasn't long before the second bird of the pair flew past, landed and collected a branch and then returned to the nest. 
Spanish Imperial Eagle with nest material

Shortly afterwards a Black Vulture came past carrying some nesting material, although many of the Griffon Vulture nests had small young we were still at the start of the breeding season.
Black Vulture

In-between some torrential downpours we moved on to the famous Pana Falcon viewpoint, we had brief views of a male Subalpine Warbler on the way but it was the vultures which stole the show at Pena Falcon. After the rain they sat with wings outstretched to dry making a fine spectacle.
Griffon Vulture drying its wings

The Pena Falcon is famous for the Black Storks which nest there and we saw three or four birds whilst we were there.
Black Stork

On return to our hotel I finally caught up with a Serin, singing in the hotel garden.

An amazing day despite the poor weather.

Saturday, 19 March 2016


Left Fuente De on Thursday morning, returning to Potes, where we recorded our first Serin of the trip with their jingling song, then crossing the Picos on the N621 via Riano heading towards Villafafilla.
N621 between Potes and Riano

The weather and views were amazing as we crossed the snow clad Picos, a lone Griffon Vulture circled against the bluest of blue skies and we started to see more Rock Buntings.
Griffon Vulture

As we descended towards the plains we saw the first White Storks on their nests, first one pair then dozens on all available structures from trees to buildings to electricity pylons.
White Storks
We also came across a nice party of eight Rock Sparrows at Los Espejos De La Reina and Crag Martins were starting to appear.
Rock Sparrow
The bushes held many Chiffchaff but none were singing so I couldn't be sure of the species but probably our nominate race.

The weather started to deteriorate and soon we had rain but there were still birds to be seen, a confiding Little Owl, why don't they sit like this at home?
Little Owl up close

Finally we neared Villafafilla a species stronghold for the Great Bustard. We saw several hundred during the evening and following morning but the area holds up to 2000 birds which could be around 5% of the world population, so a very important area. I took some record photos and had superb views.
Great Bustard

This morning we visited the Lesser Kestrel colony at Otero De Sariegos. There were at least 5 pairs back around the old buildings and in the provided nest boxes on the road across the marsh. Fantastic birds and even though we had rain on and off for most of the day the Lesser Kestrels looked superb.
Lesser Kestrel - male

All the starlings we have been seeing are Spotless Starlings and they appear to fair worse in the damp weather, looking rather unkempt at best but still nice to see.
Spotless Starling - duet

We are heading to Extremadura and the Monfrague National Park next and hoping for some better weather. This is our route so far.
The route so far