We had a wonderful tour in Spain. It was so nice that our guide, Rob, could speak Spanish. We saw many more species and lifers than we expected to. We would love to do another trip with him.
This brief yet exciting extension to the Strait of Gibraltar in Spain is timed for the amazing Spring Migration, whereby thousands upon thousands of raptors and a huge array of other Eurasian species make the daily crossing from the African Continent back to their summer breeding grounds in Europe and Asia. Aside from marveling at this incredible spectacle, some of the many highlights we can expect during our time in this immensely important flyby area include the Iberian endemic Spanish Imperial Eagle, visiting a newly established breeding colony of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis, an exhilarating sea cruise in search of seabirds and several species of whales and dolphins, and spending time at a colony of very confiding Lesser Kestrels in the port town of Tarifa.
Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonellí’s Eagle, Northern Bald Ibis, White-headed Duck, Marbled Teal, Audouin’s, Yellow-legged & Slender-billed Gull, Scopoli’s & Balearic Shearwater, Great Skua, chances for Little Bustard, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Collared Pratincole, Caspian Tern, Iberian Chiffchaff, Common Firecrest, European Crested Tit
Pilot, Sperm & Fin Whale, Orca, Bottlenose & Striped Dolphin
coastline, open sea, islands, dunes, marshes, mudflats, salt plants, Cork Oak Forest
mild, Mediterranean climate, though can be cold & windy at this time of year
mostly very relaxed
vast numbers of migrating raptors & other species, visiting a newly established breeding colony of Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis, photographing a breeding colony of Lesser Kestrel, whale watching sea cruise
Day 1: Arrival, Spring Migration and Sierra de la Plata
Our adventure begins with a group transfer from the Seville airport, from where we will immediately head to our conveniently situated hotel near Tarifa, with excellent views of the Strait of Gibraltar. We will have some time to settle down and rest after our flight before commencing our explorations.
After the break, we will drive along the coast and head to Sierra de la Plata. This will likely produce our first raptors of the trip in the form of Black Kite, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian Vulture, Montagu’s Harrier and/or Eurasian Sparrowhawk, all of which will be arriving back from Africa at this time of the year. Moving along the coast in order to fully enjoy the raptor migration from various vantage points will also afford us the chance for some dramatic views of the African coastline, a mere 14km (8.75 mi) away on the other side of the Strait.
Sierra de la Plata is a great location and also offers spectacular views of the Spanish coastline and Africa. Here we will look for Griffon Vulture (Eurasian Griffon), Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Iberian Woodpecker, Thekla Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush and Sardinian Warbler.
Day 2: Los Lances, Barbate, Montenmedio and La Janda
This morning on our Spain birding tour, we will embark on a beach walk along Playa de los Lances near the town of Tarifa, where a network of small fields backing onto the dunes are great for open ground migrants, such as wheatears, pipits, larks and wagtails. Sandwich and Caspian Terns can often be found sitting on sandbars amongst the Audouin’s, Mediterranean, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. Among the waders, Grey, Common Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper are usually around, as well as flocks of European Bee-eater, Pallid Swift, Collared Pratincole, and Barn and Red-rumped Swallows. On the other side of the boardwalk, there are some open grass plains where Greater Short-toed Lark, Zitting Cisticola, European Stonechat, Common Linnet and Corn Bunting are common.
The nearby Barbate marshland is also good for Audouin’s Gull and various waders, as well as Caspian, Sandwich, Black and Little Terns, Great Egret, and Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gulls. Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover can also be seen here; while in the surrounding area, we can look for Calandra and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Black-eared Wheatear, Subalpine Warbler and Eurasian Stone-curlew. Thereafter we will visit the newly established breeding colony of Northern Bald Ibis that was created from captive-bred birds released into the wild, and which provides us with the very rare opportunity for up-close studies and photographs of these critically endangered birds without disturbing them.
After breaking for lunch, we will then explore the network of rice fields at La Janda, once one of the largest natural freshwater lagoons in Europe that has subsequently been drained and given over to agriculture. The area attracts huge numbers of both resident and migrants alike, and here we can expect to see Montagu’s and Western Marsh Harriers, White and Black Storks, Purple and Grey Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Western Cattle and Little Egret, Crested and Calandra Larks and Eurasian Reed Warbler. This rich birding region is often a magnet for early migrants and already the beautiful Montagu’s Harriers should be displaying. At this time of year, there’s even the chance for Little Bustard, and we will scan carefully for this sought-after species. Beyond the rice fields, an area of open country is great for large raptors; in fact, La Janda is among the most important dispersal areas for Bonellí’s Eagle and the Iberian endemic, Spanish Imperial Eagle.
Day 3: Huerta Grande (Cork-oak Forest), Spring Migration and Whale Watching
An early morning walk in the Cork Oak Forest at Huerta Grande should easily produce forest species such as Iberian Chiffchaff, Common Firecrest, Eurasian Wren and European Crested Tit, among others. Following a relaxing walk in the forest, we will then head once again to the raptor observatories in the Strait of Gibraltar, for further marvelling at the Spring migration. Due to the absence of thermals above the ocean, birds that would normally save their energy by soaring thanks to the ascending air currents instead have to flap and fight against the wind to make it safe and sound and continue their travels up north. Spending time at these observatories will give us the opportunity to view these splendid birds at eye level, as they struggle to reach the coast.
We will then break for lunch, after which we will embark on an exciting 2.5-hour whale watching trip off Tarifa. Sightings of Pilot Whales and both Bottlenose and Striped Dolphins are nearly guaranteed, with further possibilities including Sperm Whale, Orca, Fin Whale and Common Dolphin. As for seabirds, the most common species are Scopoli’s Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Skua and Black Tern, though there is always the chance for additional possibilities. Once back in the port of Tarifa, we will visit a photogenic colony of very confiding Lesser Kestrels in the old part of the town – so best to ensure that you still have some power remaining in your camera batteries! Here we may also hear and see a small family group of Common Bulbul, an unusual species (to put it mildly) on this side of the Strait of Gibraltar, as Tarifa holds the only known European population, following the arrival of a pair a few years ago.
Day 4: Doñana National Park and Bonanza Salt Plants
The Bonanza Salt Plants and the outskirts of Doñana National Park are among the less-visited but most rewarding sites in the Doñana area. To visit this productive region, we will need to leave the hotel in the early morning in order to arrive at the best time of the day in terms of light and bird activity.
Near the mouth of the River Guadalquivir is the best place to look for the globally threatened and range-restricted White-headed Duck, as well as the uncommon Marbled Duck in the province of Cadiz. This is also an excellent place for waders, including Kentish Plover, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Ruff, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Stint and Common Snipe. In addition, the saltpans here are our best place for seeing Lesser Short-toed Lark and Spectacled Warbler.
Some special raptors for the area are Western Osprey and the lovely Red Kite, as well as the possibility for Spanish Imperial Eagle that nests inside the national park. However, the most remarkable sight of the day will probably be the large numbers of Slender-billed Gull, Greater Flamingo and Eurasian Spoonbill that gather on occasions in the saltpans. There is also a chance for Caspian Tern, Purple Heron, Black Stork, Great Egret, Little Bittern and even though it is quite early in the season, we should keep our eyes open for the dainty Little Tern as well.
Day 5: Isla de Tarifa, Spring Migration & departure
After breakfast this morning at our hotel, we will head to the Island of Tarifa in the El Estrecho National Park. This is the southernmost tip of the European continent and an excellent lookout spot for sea-watching. Here we will view the Mediterranean Sea on the one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, with the African continent right in front of us. Tourist access here is restricted and has only recently been permitted for a few private companies, with the result that we are likely to have the area largely to ourselves; aside perhaps from other birders. Some of the commoner seabirds that can viewed from the island include Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters, Northern Gannet and Great Skua, though we will also keep our eyes peeled for anything rare and unusual, which at this time of year is always a possibility!
Depending on the time of our departure, we might pay one last visit to the observatories and finish our Spain birding tour enjoying further views of the raptor migration, before driving to the airport of Seville where the tour will conclude and we will make our respective ways home.