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Spain NEW! Andalucia: Sierras & Strait

An 8-day birdwatching tour to Andalucia, Spain

New for 2020, our September birdwatching tour to southern Spain is timed to coincide with one of Europe’s greatest avian spectacles - the mass migration of birds of prey and storks over the Strait of Gibraltar. As well as experiencing the thrilling build up of raptors waiting to cross the waters to Africa, highlights of this superb Spain birding tour include a boat trip out of Tarifa in search of seabirds and cetaceans, a visit to the mouth of the famous Guadalquivir River - for flamingos and Little Swift, plus the chance of Marbled and White-headed Ducks - and 2 nights in the Sierra de Grazalema near Ronda, seeking Bonelli’s Eagle and Black Wheatear. Join our English-speaking Spanish expert Fernando for an exciting personal tour of his own ‘local patch’!

Tour Dates

2020

Spaces
7

Leaders
Fernando Enrique

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1895

inc return flights London Heathrow-Gibraltar, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £245
Land Only: £1725

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short toed snake eagle juv Spain Morocco Gary Elton resized

This Short-toed Eagle has Africa firmly in its sights as it heads south to cross the Strait of Gibraltar © Gary Elton, Limosa

The southbound migration of birds of prey and storks across the Strait of Gibraltar in autumn has long been recognised as one of Europe’s greatest avian spectacles. This narrow stretch of water between the sierras of southernmost Andalucia in Spain and the coastal mountains of North Africa provides the shortest crossing over the Mediterranean - less than 9 miles at the closest point - and huge numbers of migratory soaring birds from all over Europe congregate here to make the crossing every autumn.

This exciting new tour begins within a short eagle’s flight of Tarifa, which sits at the most southerly tip of the Spanish mainland and from where the mountains of Morocco are clearly visible across the sea. After exploring the best raptor watchpoints and coastal wetlands - and enjoying spectacular views over the Strait - we head inland to beautiful Ronda, still with a view to watching migration, but also to explore the limestone landscapes close to this picturesque and historic Spanish town.

The second half of September sees peak passage here, with birds of prey funnelling down from the hills to local migration ‘hotspots’.  When conditions are right, parties of Honey Buzzards, Black Kites and Short-toed Eagles rise up above the wooded coastal sierras in search of the thermals that will give them lift. Anticipation grows as the first distant dots appear, gradually metamorphosing into an assortment of different shapes and sizes, discernible as birds of prey as they glide ever nearer. Soon they are with us - at times, some may pass so close we can even see the expression on their faces! Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Hobbies and Sparrowhawks, Bonelli's and Booted Eagles, Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers... all pass this way, gathering in readiness for the crossing to the Moroccan shore. With them come clouds of White Storks - and often a sprinkling of scarcer Black Storks, too - all seeking to gain height before streaming out across the waters of the Strait.
    
Each day will be different as the presence of soaring birds is influenced by the prevailing winds. On days when the winds are 'not right' however, there is much to see elsewhere in this bird-rich corner of Spain. Red-necked Nightjar, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe and Iberian Grey Shrike are among a wealth of Mediterranean species to try for and we might also be lucky to find one or two of the region’s rarer inhabitants - over our many previous visits to Andalucia, our groups have seen Northern Bald Ibis, Lesser Crested Tern, Little Swift, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black-winged Kite and even Rüppell’s Vulture!
 
But southern Andalucia is not all about raptor migration; there are also many great wetlands. Taking a day trip west to the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, we’ll visit saltpans and lakes that are home to some of the most iconic and sought-after species of the region - including Red-knobbed Coot, Marbled and White-headed Ducks, Audouin’s Gull and Greater Flamingo.

If the sea conditions permit, a boat trip out of Tarifa offers a great opportunity to get close to seabirds, including Gannets, both Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters, and maybe a few Balearic Shearwaters, too. Cetaceans such as Bottlenose Dolphin and Long-finned Pilot Whale are also possible from the boat trip here in September.

After five nights close to the coast, we travel north a couple of hours to spend our final two nights amid the beautiful limestone mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema. As well as enjoying birdwatching here in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, we’ll pay a visit to the historic and hugely scenic hill-top town of Ronda that sits astride El Tajo - a deep chasm carved by the Río Guadalevín. Bonelli's Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush and the localised Black Wheatear are among a wealth of upland birds to look forward to here.

Fernando Enrique is our English-speaking Spanish specialist and Limosa's ‘man on the spot’ - his own home in Andalucia being just a stone's throw along the coast from Tarifa, where we start our tour. His intimate local knowledge of the fickle winds, weather patterns and local birding sites during this, the peak period for raptor and stork migration in autumn, will prove invaluable on this exciting tour. During our stay, we will no doubt also try a couple of Fernando’s favourite local restaurants for lunch… tapas is always a treat!

Limosa has been operating bird tours to Spain for more than 30 years, and 2020 will be Fernando’s sixth year of guiding tours in the region for Limosa.

White Storks queuing SPA Sep tour FE 2 resized

Form an orderly queue now!... White Storks gather on migration at La Janda prior to heading south to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa © Fernando Enrique, Limosa

Day 1            
FLY GIBRALTAR, CROSS INTO SPAIN
Our autumn birdwatching tour to Spain and Morocco begins with a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Gibraltar, where Fernando will be waiting to welcome us. We walk the short distance - just a couple of hundred yards - over the border into Spain and load up our minibus for the short drive (just 30 minutes) along the Mediterranean coast towards Tarifa.

Our eyes will soon turn skyward as we scan eagerly for our first ‘kettles’ of birds of prey and storks gathering over the rugged Spanish coast and the wooded sierras beyond. One of the great migration corridors of Europe, in autumn huge numbers of birds - most notably raptors and storks - congregate here to take advantage of the narrowest crossing over the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa.

Situated well away from the Spanish costas, and overlooking both the Mediterranean and Spain’s less developed Atlantic coast, the Tarifa area will be our base for the first five nights of our tour. Night near Tarifa

Days 2 - 5
THE STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR AND RAPTOR WATCHPOINTS, COASTAL SIERRAS, BARBATE, LA JANDA & GUADALQUIVIR RIVER MOUTH
Our itinerary in this delightful corner of Andalucia will remain flexible to take best advantage of the prevailing weather. We have chosen the optimum dates for our tour - when the raptor migration is usually at its peak - and will spend time looking for those as well as exploring the coastal sierras, woods and wetlands, north and west to the Guadalquivir.

If conditions are right, we will make raptor watching a priority, ensuring we are in position to witness peak passage of the day’s crop of southbound migrants. With a westerly edge to the wind, we will want to be in the Gibraltar area, where the spectacular slopes of 'The Rock' itself offer an impressive backdrop to our birding. If the winds have an easterly origin however, birds of prey will be pushed further west and we’ll then station ourselves in the hills between Fernando's hometown of Algeciras and Tarifa, so as to get the best possible views.

Choosing one of the prime watchpoints - Punta Carnero, Algarrobo, Punta Camorro or Cazalla  - we will soon be getting to grips with birds of prey of all shapes and sizes as they stream towards the Strait. From mighty Griffon Vultures to elegant Montagu’s Harriers and dashing Hobbies, the second half of September sees the peak of raptor passage and we should have a grandstand view of the fascinating spectacle that unfolds before us. As they seek to gain height in preparation for the sea crossing from Europe to the mountains of North Africa, birds of prey may suddenly appear low over our heads - even passing us at eye level, as they hunt for the next thermal that will give them lift. On the best migration days, hundreds of raptors - especially Short-toed and Booted Eagles - can fill the sky, along with Black and White Storks, Egyptian Vultures and Sparrowhawks. As we watch and wait for the next ‘wave’ to appear, we may spot a tetchy Sardinian Warbler and migrants such as Hoopoe and Redstart skulking in the low scrub.

We will combine our watches over the Strait with an exploration of the wider Andalucian countryside. Picturesque wooded valleys cut through the low limestone sierras, clad in dense stands of Evergreen Oak and set amidst more open slopes of sheep-grazed turf and scrub.

Birds of prey are again the stars, with a sizeable resident population of Griffon Vultures plus good chances of Bonelli’s and Golden Eagles, Goshawk and Common Buzzard, while Hobbies and Short-toed Eagles drift lazily through on passage. In recent years, we have even managed to find the odd Rüppell’s Vulture, too - a rare and recent arrival here from tropical Africa! In comparison to them, the Crag Martins that swirl about the towering limestone bluffs appear minuscule as we check the steady stream of southbound hirundines for scarcer species such as Red-rumped Swallow and the racy Alpine Swift.

Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested Tit and Hawfinch are among woodland residents to look for, while the more open slopes afford wonderful panoramic views as we scan for Woodlark, Black Redstart and Cirl Bunting. Add the prospect of Thekla Lark, Blue Rock Thrush and any number of migrants that could be present at this time of year and we are assured of an exciting few days! Fernando’s intimate knowledge of ‘his own backyard’ should pay dividends in our quest to see the localised Black-winged Kite, while another possible September highlight here is the ground-roosting Red-necked Nightjar, which we will hope to find with a bit of patient searching.

A little to the northwest of Tarifa lies the flat plain of La Janda. Once an immense, seasonally flooded lagoon where Cranes and other wetland birds bred in abundance, the area nowadays lies mostly under agriculture. Nonetheless, it is still an important habitat for birds, the broad sweep of fields criss-crossed by a network of canals and reedy dykes harbouring a fine array of species. Glossy Ibis, White Stork, Iberian Grey Shrike and Calandra Lark are likely, as migrating Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers sail lazily across the fields. We have occasionally seen the very rare Spanish Imperial Eagle hunting here, too!

The port of Barbate (not far from La Janda) offers another change of habitat, its extensive saltpans much liked by Little Egrets, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, as well as Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. Zitting Cisticolas (or Fan-tailed Warbler in old money) ‘zip’ incessantly as we check the lagoons and tidal mud for passage waders. We might even encounter the weird Northern Bald Ibis, small numbers of which have recently been re-introduced into this corner of Spain in a bid to bolster the beleaguered wild population in southern Morocco.

Northwest of Tarifa, where the Rio Guadalquivir meets the sea, is one of the most productive birding spots in Andalucia. Many of the species for which Coto Donana National Park is famous can be found just as easily here. This rewarding area comprises a fine mix of habitats - from saltpans, open wetlands and small freshwater lagunas to farmland and pinewoods - that hold an excellent diversity of species. Little Swifts have spread here from North Africa, and the well known Salinas de Bonanza are a reliable spot for Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt along with Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and other autumn shorebirds. They can be good for terns too, with Little, Gull-billed, Whiskered and Caspian among species we hope to find. Tucked away freshwater lakes nearby are the haunt of iconic and sought-after Spanish specialities such as Red-knobbed Coot, Marbled Duck and the odd White-headed Duck. Topping them all off, lunch today will be at a restaurant famous for its seafood and local sherry!

If the weather permits, we’ll enjoy a morning (or afternoon) whale-watching boat trip out from Tarifa. In September, cetaceans are largely made up of Bottlenose Dolphins and Long-finned Pilot Whales, but we should also encounter seabirds heading out of the Mediterranean into Atlantic waters. These can include Balearic and Scopoli’s Shearwaters – plus a chance to see the latter alongside the very similar Cory’s. Gannets, gulls and terns are also likely, attracting passing Arctic and Great Skuas in search of an easy meal.

The enticing beach of Playa de Los Lances extends northwest from Tarifa, presenting a long, sweeping bay of golden sand. Surprisingly, it can often be almost devoid of people at this time of year. A freshwater outlet running across the sands attracts a regular gathering of gulls and terns. Yellow-legged Gulls are numerous but we should also find the ‘clean-looking’ Audouin’s Gull, while September terns can include the rare Lesser Crested Tern. Sanderlings scamper along the tideline, and Ringed and Grey Plovers trot beside the resident Kentish Plovers, while the dunes behind are good places to look for Crested Lark and migrant Yellow Wagtails. Four further nights near Tarifa

Days 6 - 7
RONDA & THE SIERRA DE GRAZALEMA
If there is one place in this corner of Andalucia that you must visit, it is Los Llanos de Libar, in the beautiful Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park... so today we travel northeast from Tarifa to enjoy a two-night stay there, close to the historic and impressively scenic town of Ronda.

Over many centuries, Iberians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans (Acinipo), Visigoths and Arabs have all left their mark on this splendidly situated town, with its white painted walls and terracota roof tiles. The dramatic, 100 metre deep El Tajo Gorge divides the town into two, with the old town standing on the southern edge. Bridges and watchpoints over the river far below afford incomparable views of birds such as Lesser Kestrel, Red-billed Chough, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Sparrow.

As we head northeast we will stop along the way and spend time birding in the Guadiaro valley. In September we still have a chance of finding Iberian Chiffchaff and Golden Oriole here, plus the local Dippers, while at the Cueva del Gato there is a spectacular Alpine Swift colony. In autumn, these magnificent birds can be seen sweeping about the cave entrance and cliffs.

Close to Ronda, the Libar range consists of two karst limestone ridges that run in a north-south direction, helping to funnel birds of prey down towards the Strait in autumn. At this time of the year, migration should be in full swing and this whole area is not only an excellent ‘migration corridor’, but also a great location to find some of the resident bird specialties of the area. We’ll watch for the declining Bonelli's Eagle cruising the cliff faces, where smoky Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Sparrow can also be seen. Dartford Warbler, Iberian Grey Shrike and Rock Bunting prefer scrubbier habitats here and are often located by their calls. Adding to our pleasure, lunches over these two days will be taken at local restaurants chosen by Fernando, and serving traditional food. Two nights Ronda

Day 8                
RETURN TO GIBRALTAR, FLY LONDON
Flight schedules permitting, we should have time to enjoy some further birding in southern Spain today – either locally near Ronda or as we travel back south (about two hours) to Gibraltar. Keep your bins handy - even at the airport - for storks and raptors may be migrating right over The Rock as we wait for our flight home!

Evening arrival back at London Heathrow, where our birding tour to Spain concludes.

Marbled Duck SPA Sep tour FE 7 resized

The localised Marbled Duck is one of Europe's scarcest wildfowl, with a disjunct breeding range that stretches eastwards from Andalucia in southwest Spain to western China © Fernando Enrique, Limosa

What To Expect

Our September birdwatching tour to southern Spain is timed to coincide with one of Europe’s greatest avian spectacles - the mass migration of birds of prey and storks over the Strait of Gibraltar. As well as experiencing the thrilling build up of raptors waiting to cross the waters to Africa, highlights of this superb Spain birding tour include a boat trip out of Tarifa in search of seabirds and cetaceans, a visit to the mouth of the famous Guadalquivir River - for flamingos and terns, plus the chance of Marbled and White-headed Ducks - and two nights in the scenic Sierra de Grazalema near Ronda, seeking Bonelli’s Eagle and Black Wheatear.

Southern Spain enjoys a Mediterranean climate. In late September, the weather in southern Spain is usually warm and sunny, with clear blue skies and temperatures in the range of 23-28C (73-82F). Cooler evenings and at night, and it can feel fresh on the coast, especially if an onshore breeze is blowing. Rainfall is generally low at this season, but infrequent heavy downpours can occur at any time of year.

Birds

130-160 species

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation at hotels in southern Spain.

We spend the first 5 nights at a comfortable 3-star hotel near Tarifa - right on the spot for the passage of birds of prey and storks over the Strait. The hotel has gardens and an outdoor swimming pool. We follow that with 2 nights near the town of Ronda, in the lovely Sierra de Grazalema. All rooms en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner in Spain on Day 1 and concluding with lunch there on Day 8.

Our evening meals and breakfasts will be taken at the hotels. Lunches will be a mix of light, sit-down cafe meals and picnics, whichever best suits our daily plan.

Walking

Easy. Short walks interspersed with periods sitting, watching and waiting for migrating birds of prey and storks to appear over the Strait. Sturdy waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with rugged soles for grip advised.

Travel

Return flights London Heathrow-Gibraltar, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport  By minibus.

Boat Trips

Our tour cost includes a morning or afternoon boat trip (weather permitting), out from Tarifa into the Strait of Gibraltar aboard a local whale-watching boat.

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