Spain Andalucia from 16th to 21st of September
And we go again
On the 16th of September: We had just last day came from Madeira, when we packed all new clothes to our luggage and drove back to Helsinki-Vantaa airport with our car that had been fixed during the last week. Our SAS plane left to Copenhagen at 12.50 p.m.
At 1.30 we landed to Copenhagen where we spent a couple of hours while waiting our Iberia flight to Malaga. The airport was surprisingly big and also cheap so the time ran fast.
We had already started to wonder why our next flight was taking so long when we surprisingly landed to Madrid instead of Malaga. Nobody had told anything about the stop in Madrid and the English call came when most of the Spanish were already leaving the plane – it told that we should go to the airport and find our next flight as soon as possible. Iberia always surprises!
In Madrid airport we met Jaakko Paju who was representing BirdLife Finland in this trip where we had been invited. After an hour at 8 p.m. started the boarding to Malaga so we were once again pretty much late. So I sent an sms to our contact person in Malaga that they’d know when to pick us up from the airport.
In Malaga we found our luggage easily and soon we met Mike Lockwood, a British living in Girona – he was our English speaking guide during the next 4 days tour in Andalucia. After we had found also a Belgian participant Sophie we were ready to carry our luggage to a small bus and start our way to Ronda.
During the 1.5 hours drive to Ronda we saw a Barn Owl crossing the road and finally about at midnight we were in our Hotel San Gabriel, where the rest of the participants had already had lunch and were already sleeping in their rooms. Luckily we had also something to eat in our room and soon we were able to go to sleep.
To the mountains
On the 17th of September we woke up before 7 a.m. and at 7 we had all the birding equipment ready and went to have a breakfast. There we met the rest of our group invited to this bird tour in Andalucia. There were participants from 10 different countries: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Nederland, Germany, France, Britain, Ireland and of course Spain. Most of the participants were leaders of bird tours but there were also some journalists. Only familiar face was Swedish Christian Cederroth, whom I’ve met on my previous trip to Andalucia Donana when I was participating to the first international congress of bird-watching in Andalucia 1.5 years earlier. Mike introduced the rest of the tour-leaders of this trip Lola Crespo and Sergio Gonzales.
At 7.45 we packed all luggages to 2 similar buses and started our first birding near Ronda. After some driving we met our guides of the day from Ornironda and followed them to Cueva del Gato limestone-ridge, where a river was coming out underneath the ridge. There were lots of birds around: the bushes were full of Corn Buntings, Spottles Starlings were flying around, Cettis Warblers were singing, Robin was calling… I put my scope ready and started to watch to the top of the mountain ridge and the first bird I found was a Black Wheatear! Only Hanna managed to see the bird briefly before it dropped down and we could find only some Blue Rock Thrushes and Alpine Accentors anymore. Also the first mammals – Spanish Ibexes were seen.
We walked down to the riverside where we found Grey Wagtals, Dippers, Chiffchaffs, a Garden Warbler, a Blackcap and a Sardinian Warbler and soon Christian found a warbler from the closest bush and after some work we managed to identify it as a Western Olivaceous Warbler!
After some hundreds of metres walk we headed to a cave where we were told that plenty of different bat-species were living, but there were also birds around. Crag Martins and Alpine Swifts were flying in and out from the cave and it was nice to hear the Alpine Swift call so well. A couple of migrating flocks of Black Storks were found from the sky where also a Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle and an Osprey were found soon. Luckily we found soon also several Black Wheatears from the ridge so everybody now saw this species too.
The schedule was tight so soon we walked back to buses but luckily from the next bushes we managed to find another Western Olivaceous Warbler. This bird we managed to see better. We would have enjoyed staying in this place much further but we continued to Sierra de las Nieves.
We started to climb higher along a bad road between karst-rocky mountains and from the windows we saw some more Black Wheatears, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Yellow Wagtails, Rock Buntings, some Griffon Vultures and a Common Whitethroat. After all there weren’t many birds in this dry habitat. We walked a kilometer or so in a pasture where were lots of cows, pigs and sheep and saw 2 flocks of Rock Sparrows, some Thekla Larks and lots of Spottles Starling before we arrived to a oak-forest where were totally different birds. Nuthatches, Firecrests, Short-toed Treecreepers and different Tits were calling, an Azure-winged Magpie was also calling somewhere in the forest, some Redstarts, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Mistle Thrushes, Tree Pipits, Chaffinches, Wrens and a Sparrowhawk were seen. In a small spring that had been masoned to a drinking place for stock we saw Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Firecrests and a Subalpine Warbler coming to drink and also a Cirl Bunting. While we’re already driving back down we found a Southern Grey Shrike perched on the top of a bush.
We continued to the next place where we had lunch in a small hut in the middle of the forest. Then we walked to a strange spruce-forest. Local sausage-dogs were leading us deeper to the forest. Some Common Crossbills were flying over us and we heard a call of a Green Woodpecker that we managed to imitate so well that it came closer and flew several times over us but never landed. A young Golden Eagle was soaring over the mountains but otherwise the place was pretty birdless. Of course the mid-day wasn’t the best time to do birding in a forest. Anyway we spent too much time in this place before we started a long way to our next hotel in Benalup-Cajas Viejas (Cadiz)
We were already badly late when we finally arrived at Benalup. On the way we passed a Medina lagoon that would have been one of the most interesting places to visit during the trip but we had spent so much time in the forests that we had to skip this place. Birds on the way were 3 Black-shouldered Kites, several flocks of Red-legged Partridges, Crested Larks, Cattle and Little Egrets and a Little Owl.
In Benalup we lodged to an extremely elegant Fairplay Golf hotel, where the price of our suite was 720€ without a breakfast! We hadn’t got time to enjoy our luxurious room or even a shower but we had to rush to a lunch to a city to a 1920s stylish restaurant. And as the habit in Spain the lunch was a spectacle that took more than 2 hours. But no nooed to opmplain, the food was excellent! After all we were back in our hotel after midnight.
On the 18th of September we woke up later than we had planned but the last day had been very long so we changed the schedule. After the breakfast we met our guides of the day from Ornitour and started our way to Laguna de la Janda fields. Janda had been a huge delta like Donana some tens of years earlier but it had been dried for plantation.
Next 2 hours we were driving in the middle of huge fields without stopping at all. All the birds we saw were possible to identify from the bus: Turtle Doves, a couple of young Bushchat Shrikes, Kestrels and some flocks og Lesser Kestrels which I might have wanted to have a better look.
Finally we stopped to a small pool where we found some waders: Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Snipes and Ruffs and a Moorhen. After all the only better bird was a Red-rumped Swallow that was flying in a flock of Swallows.
Soon we continued to other even bigger fields where we found lots of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, White Storks and some Glossy Ibises. A couple of Common Buzzards were soaring on the sky, a Kingfisher flew over the road, Zitting Cisticolas were beeping, a young Night Heron was escaping our bus from the reeds and a Hoopoe from the ground. Somehow Janda was a disappointment as was the quality of the local bird-guides too – again.
At mid-day we continued towards Tarifa. Once we were there we went to a raptor-watching place where we saw only some Honey Buzzards, a Peregrine and a couple of Montagu’s Harriers migrating, a Cormorant and some local Griffon Vultures, Short-toed Eagles and Booted Eagles. Unfortunately the weather was very bad during this 2 hours – it was raining.
Next we continued to the first BirdFair of Tarifa. We met some partners that had made this tour come true and then walked around the main tent. The Fair seemed to be pretty good – there were plenty of people even though it was only the first day! Local companys had really efforted to their offers as they had really good leaflets and lots of other material, but unfortunately everything was only in Spanish. So I coulnd’t find anything to buy. We checked briefly a carcass where an Egyptian Vulture was seen before we had to hurry to eat again. Again we spent a couple of hours eating but luckily the weather was now so bad that there wasn’t really mean to go birding either.
After the lunch we went back to the BirdFair to check another 2 tents but they weren’t that good – there were plenty of empty space in the art-tent, so I decided to go to the shore nearby to do some birding. Some trip-ticks were a Gannet, Auduoin’s Gulls, Whibrels, Kentish Plovers, Sanderlings, Sandwich Terns and so on.
In the evening we had again a longer way to drive to El Rocio Donana. We were there very late at night but again we went to eat for 2 hours before we were able to go to sleep. Luckily the schedule had changed so that now we’d stay in the same Malvasia hotel for 2 nights so we were able to open and unpack our luggage for the firts time during the trip.
19th of September – Donana
Luckily we had now an opportunity to do birding in Donana, where I had been once before but Hanna hadn’t. After the breakfast at 8 a.m. we met our local guides from Donana Nature and I managed to get my old friend Abel as a driver and guide of our 4-wheel drive. I knew he really knows the area well and is a good guide too.
We drove first through the forests where the Iberian Lynxes are living but only mammals we saw were a Red Deer and a flock of small Wild Boars. Several flocks of Azure-winged Magpies were seen before we reached the dry clearing where a Tawny Pipit was seen and Short-toed Eagles and Griffon Vultures were perched on the poles. Some of the vultures were feeding on a dead horse carcass and finally we found an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle perched on the top of one of the poles. Unfortunately the light was very bad so the pictures we got weren’t really good but Hanna and many others got a good lifer! A couple of Hen Harriers, a Black-eared Wheatear and some Whinchats were seen before we found another good bird a Little Bustard!
Whole Donana was now extremely dry if comparing to my previous trip in early spring. Even the pool behind the information centre was completely dry. Nearby we found a pool where were lots of Dunlins, Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Redshanks and Spotted Redshanks and a local rarity a Red-necked Phalarope. Some Little Grebes, a Great White Egret and lots of Flamingos and Spoonbills, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Common and Sandwich Terns, a flock of Short-toed Larks and a single Lesser Short-toed Lark and a Spectacled Warbler were added to our trip-list too.
We stopped to eat to a same hut where I have been 1.5 years earlier too. After the dinner we continued to the only really good waterbird place this time of the year to Dehesa del Abajo. Already on the way we saw a couple of Purple Herons but the lagoon itself was a bird-paradise! There were crazy numbers of birds! Flamingos, White Storks, Spoonbills and Glossy Ibises were in big flocks. With all the common ducks we found 3 Marbled Ducks and 2 Red-crested Pochards, Black Terns were flying around and catching insects and lots of waders were on the shores. We checked all the Coots carefully but couldn’t find any Crested Coots, so soon we continued to the another side of the lagoon where were a couple of bird-hides where to continue birding in a shadow as it was really getting hot – it was 33 degrees now!
From the flocks of waders we found some Turnstones, a flock of Collared Pratincoles, some Bar-tailed and lots of Black-tailed Godwits and some Lapwings. The huge surprise was swimming in a flock of Black-headed Gulls and a Common Gull – a young Sabine’s Gull! Even thought the gull was really far it was easy to identify – a really good lifer! An sms-answer from my Catalan friend Oriol told that the bird had been found already 2 weeks before but we hadn’t heard about it at all.
We were very happy when we drove back to El Rocio where we had finally some free time to take a shower and also go for shopping. We also bought something to drink for the next days birding as we had really suffered dehydration during the trip. We still managed to rest a half an hour before we went to eat again. I had already used to eat different kind of seafood.
The dessert was a birthday cake as our new friend Simon had told someone that he had a birthday so our guides had planned to surprise him. After some celebrating we managed to go to sleep earlier than in previous nights.
Marismas del Odiel
On the 20th of September after the breakfast we drove west through the city of Huelva and close to Portugal border to Marismas del Odiel pools, where we were just right on the high tide so the pools were full of waders. Our local guide was trying his best to show us some birds but as it was already our last birding-day we had already seen almost all the species many times. Caspian Terns, Slender-billed Gulls, a couple of Pochards, Grey Plovers, some Knots and Curlews, a flock of almost 1000 Avocets and altogether 750 Black-necked Grebes were very good! We spent some time while watching Flamingos, Yellow-legged Gulls and other species and I managed to get some good pictures of Auduoin’s Gulls and together with Christian we managed to read rings of a Lesser Black-backed Gull before we continued to have cold dinner to a parking place of the information centre.
Behind the centre there were a couple of pools that should have had some Crested Coots but we never found one, a couple of Purple Swamphens were nice to see and hear anyway. Black Terns were easy to photograph as they came very close to fly and Christian took many gigas of pictures of gulls!
In the afternoon we continued to a long cape of La Cabeza Alta to do seawatching. This couple of hours was really good! Right away we found some 30 Mediterranean Gulls, Gannets were fishing on the sea and some Cory’s Shearwaters were found immediately. Soon we found also some European Stom-Petrels and after some time we had found at least 40 of them! 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a couple of Arctic Skuas, a Pomarine Skua, a Great Skua and a couple of Gull-billed Terns were seen too!
We were more than happy after the quality-seawatching when we continued to Sevilla. At 9 p.m. we were having our last lunch in our good hotel and finally we had also something else than seafood. We were chatting with our new friends for a long time before we had to go to sleep because of we had an early plain to catch.
On the 21st of September we woke up at 4.30 a.m and after 15 minutes we and the rest of the Nordic people – Jaakko, Christian and Stejn who flew back to Norway via Barcelona, were on our way to the airport. Christian and some others had been in Sevilla city at night so it was amazing to see that Christian wasn’t sleeping at all but he started to do his work right away we were in the airport and he continued again in Madrid where we had 3 hours wait for our flight to Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen Christian continued to Sweden by train but we had more than 4 hours wait for our flight to Helsinki. Finally we were back in Helsinki at 10 p.m.
From Helsinki we drove straight to Parikkala and we were at home at 3 a.m. After some hours sleep I had to go to work…
During this bird-trip in Andalucia we saw about 190 bird-species, that nobody could see all, as there were altogether 29 participants in this tour. All longer drives were made by 2 buses and in Donana we were having four 4-wheel drives.
All the birding places in Andalucia are excellent but they are surprisingly far from each others. Many different kind of biotops are found so the numbers of bird-species are really huge! I am sure that it is easy to make a week bird-tour and see much more than 200 species – I am pretty sure that our company Ornio will make it soon in the future.
Big thanks to all the people that made this trip come true: Maialen Gutiérrez Garcia from Spanish Tourist Office, Lola Crespo, Mike Lockwood and Sergio Gonzales from Plegadis and of course all the other participants of the tour!