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A Report from

Spain, Malaga area: 31st March – 8th April 2008,


A bird trip report by Bob and Dora Swann

We organised the trip ourselves using the internet, booking the hotels and car hire prior to our departure. We flew out by Easyjet from Glasgow to Malaga. We decided to spend the first four days near Estepona and the next four further inland at Antequera.

31st March. Arrived Malaga about 10am local time. Collected the car and then decided to check out the Guadalhorce reserve just east of the airport. I had visited here 11 years ago, but the access had totally changed over that time, so it took us a while to find our way in. Basically from the airport you follow the signs for San Julian. Then follow the signs for Guadalmara. You go past a large retail park (Leroy Merlin), then under the motorway flyover, then take a right turn at the roundabout into Guadalmara. Bear left, when you can. This will take you to the river. Park then cut back north, till you find a footbridge that takes you into the reserve.

There are several pools with good hides. Had nice views of Little Egret, Great Cormorant and a few Grey Heron. On one pool a group of 12 Little Grebe and one Black-necked Grebe. Ducks included lots of Common Pochard, Gadwall, Shoveler, at least 5 White-headed Ducks and a Common Shelduck. There were lots of waders especially on the most north easterly of the pools. These included many Black-winged Stilts, Common Redshank, Sanderling, a few Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Ringed Plover and single Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit. Just behind the beach I spotted a Stone Curlew. There were lots of Sandwich Terns offshore and a single Gull-billed Tern and Whiskered Tern on a pool. By the edge a few Yellow Wagtail, mostly Iberiae. Lots of hirundines moving through including a Sand Martin and a Red-rumped Swallow, as well as 15 European Bee-eaters and at least one Pallid Swift. Also lots of typical Med birds such as Crested Lark, Zitting Cisticola’s zitting everywhere, Cetti’s Warblers, Spotless Starlings and Serins. This is a very nice little reserve.

We then drove west to just outside Marbella, where we booked into Hotel Diana Park, a nice 3 star hotel close to the main road.

1st April. A nice hot sunny day. We decided to head inland a bit from Marbella. We got onto the motorway then drove up the A335 past Ojen, then turned left up to Refugio de Juanar in the Sierra Blanca. We parked our car at the end of the road, by the hotel. Here there was a creek next to a deciduous woodland area, adjacent to some conifers. In the woodland were lots of Blue, Coal, Great and Crested Tits, also a Short-toed Treecreeper and two pairs of Firecrest. The male firecrest were displaying against each other and we later saw one collecting nest material. The wood also held several pairs of Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Jays. Other common birds included Chaffinch, Blackbird, Song thrush and Wren. We started to walk up the track to the mirador. Lots of singing Serins and in the pines a Common Crossbill. Overhead a Common Buzzard and a Booted Eagle. Eventually we reached the mirador (about 2km) with superb views over Marbella and west to Gibraltar and Morocco. Here in more open, scrubby country we had excellent views of a pair of Short-toed Eagle low overhead. In the scrub alongside the wee track just beyond the mirador we located Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Rock Bunting, a pair of Blue Rock Thrush also a male Ring Ouzel and 2 Crag Martins. We had our picnic lunch here, very peaceful. We walked back down to the car and in the wood by the creek I flushed a Woodcock. This was a very nice area and a fairly easy walk. We returned to the hotel where we had another 3 Crag Martins fling around the buildings.

2nd April. A nice hot sunny day, but very windy. Headed west along motorway to Algeciras. We were going to go to the raptor viewing area at km99.1 (just at the top of the hill). Unfortunately we missed the turn off, so proceeded to the next noted viewpoint at km87. Got the turn off OK, but discovered building work was going on, so access was prohibited. There was an exceptionally strong NW wind blowing and no raptors were noted anywhere along the road, apart from Common Kestrel. Went into Tarifa and seawatched (just west of the fort) for an hour. Lots of Yellow-legged Gulls, many Gannets and two Cory’s Shearwater. A few hirundines and a Sparrow Hawk observed coming in off the sea. Then drove further north and at km80 stopped by a track leading down to Tarifa beach. We walked down the beach to the Rio Jara. Here were 18 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, an Oystercatcher and a few Kentish Plover. Walked back through the dunes, but little seen bar a singing Corn Bunting.

Drove on north till we reached Facinas. Turned right following the road towards Puerto de Ojen. Although for the first 6 or 7km this was a good road, it quickly deteriorated into a poor quality track. We passed a small reservoir, but it was so windy we could not see much, bar lots of Mallard, a Carrion Crow and a few Stonechat. We continued cautiously as the track got worse till we reached a stone marker at 11km. Here there was a gate and a track leading down to the Tirendo stream and some nice alder and cork oak woodland. We walked down to the burn and then followed it up through the woodland, getting some shelter from the wind. Lots of Robin, Blackcap, Blackbird, Wren and Blue Tit. Eventually we tracked down what we were looking for - Iberian Chiffchaff,  two singing birds with their ‘peculiar’ metallic song. Overhead a nice Booted Eagle.

We decided the road was too poor to risk heading up to the viewpoint, so retreated back the way we had come. Had a couple of stops between Tarifa and Algeciras, but still no sign of raptors, but the wind was still incredibly strong.

3rd April. Another nice hot sunny day, but not as windy. We decided to visit the mountains around Ronda. We drove up the A376, then about 10km south of Ronda turned right at a road sign saying Los Quejigales. We followed a good track for about 10km till we came to a fork in the track (just before the campsite) with a sign saying Puerto de los Pilones. We parked the car here. This was a nice scrubby area where we had excellent views of Sub-alpine Warbler, Crested Tit and Rock Bunting. We started following the track up through more scrub with good views of Dartford Warbler and more Rock Buntings. The track rose steeply up the hill side and we started seeing Black Redstart, Stonechat and a nice Woodlark. As it rose higher we passed through a relic area of mature conifers. Here we had a Common Redstart (as well as more Black Redstart), 2 pairs Nuthatch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Above the wood we flushed a Rock Sparrow from the trackside. Eventually after 3-4 km of continuous ascent into the Sierra de la Nieves we reached a summit with a building and signal mast. Here on the more open areas were several singing Skylark, a Greater Short-toed Lark, a small flock of Meadow Pipit, 3 Northern Wheatear, a Ring Ouzel and a few Linnet. Also flushed two Red-legged Partridge. A pair of Common Raven were flying about and several Red-billed Choughs. In the distance a Short-toed Eagle. Had a picnic lunch as we recovered from our exertions. Then as we started the decent we noted a few Griffon Vultures soaring overhead. Eventually we had at least 21 soaring very low over us giving stunning views. A few began to land on a rocky knoll. As we proceeded down the track, just above the forest we had excellent views of a cracking male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. A group of 30+ European Bee-eaters flew by heading north.

Although quite a long uphill walk this had been worthwhile with lots of good birds and some stunning views at the summit.

4th April. Another warm, suuny day. Checked out of Diana Park Hotel after breakfast and headed back up the A376 to Ronda. Continued north then branched of left taking the small road to Zahara. Just before entering Zahara we turned off left on the road to Grazalema. We drove up the road a few km then stopped at Sendero Gargante Verde. We arrived about 1030am and from the car park we had good views of Griffon Vultures heading out from the roosting sites in the gorge and soaring up over the hills, probably 50+. Also a pair of Booted Eagle. Overhead lots of Common Swift, a few distant Alpine Swift and some Red-billed Choughs. We continued up the road to Puerto de los Palomas. Just before the pass we had good views of a Northern Goshawk, drifting north. At the pass close views of another 7 Griffon Vultures and a Bonelli’s Eagle.  Walked up through the scrub on the east side of the pass. On the main cliff good views of a Black Wheatear and at least 2 Blue Rock Thrush. Amongst the scrub were Linnet, Stonechat, Sardinian and Dartford Warbler and at least 3 Ring Ouzel. As I got higher I found a couple of singing Thekla Lark. Back in the car park had our picnic lunch and then headed back to Ronda and then east towards Antequera. A quick stop by a quarry just east of Teba gorge revealed a pair of Rock Bunting and fine views of a singing male Black Wheatear fanning its very white tail..

Arrived on outskirts of Antequera and checked into Hotel Los Dolmenes. Opposite the hotel was a black olive grove with some big trees round an old house with an ornamental pool. Lots of birds here, mainly House Sparrows, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Serin but by the pool a Common Nightingale, two Blackcaps and a Mistle Thrush.

5th April. Up early at 0700am to find it bright and sunny but very windy again. Headed to Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra. This is famous for its flamingos and in early March also had 2 lesser flamingo in residence. Got to the lagoon to find it was about two-thirds dried out and only a few hundred Greater Flamingos present, quite a disappointment. Some, however, were displaying.

On the marsh by the visitor centre was a flock of 110 Cattle Egrets. In the marshy pools lots of waders including 4 Common Snipe, 10+ Wood Sandpiper, a Green Sandpiper and 3 Lapwing with many Moorhen. Also at least 2 Blue-headed Wagtails. At the edge of the main dried out lagoon were 4 Ruff, around 50 Little Stint and 15 Redshank with lots of Black-winged Stilts. We then walked up to the hides overlooking the pools behind the visitor centre. Lots of  duck included Shoveler, Gadwall a male Garganey, Common Pochard, a pair of Red-crested Pochard and a male White-headed Duck. About 15 Gull-billed Terns dropped in and two nice Black Terns. Waders included about 40 Avocets, several displaying Little Ringed Plovers and 5 Common Sandpipers. On way back to car had nice views of a Hoopoe.

We drove back into the town and out along the road on the south side of the lagoon. Had close views of a Marsh Harrier and a very low Short-toed Eagle. Passed Laguna Dulce but it was totally dry. Then went to Laguna de la Marcela just south of Campillos.  This had a fair bit of shallow water in it. There were 160 Greater Flamingo, lots of Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Ruff, a few Black-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper, Kentish and Little Ringed Plover. On the water ducks included Shoveler, Gadwall and a pair of Garganey. There were also about 20 Gull-billed Terns. In the surrounding fields lots of Yellow Wagtails, Corn Buntings and at least 2 Montagu’s Harrier.

In the afternoon we visited Antequera, though much was closed. In the evening I went back into the olive grove opposite the hotel. Here by the old house were two Cuckoo and a pair of displaying Hoopoe.

6th April. Yet another warm sunny day. We decided to head further inland to check out more lagoons. Drove up to Fuente de Piedra, then turned off along road to Sierra de Yoguas and then to Martin de la Jara. Enroute in an olive grove spotted a Stone Curlew with two downy chicks. Just north of Martin de la Jara is a small reserve- Laguna del Gosque. It was a bit dried out but had 50 Greater Flamingo, 1 Squacco Heron, a male Common Teal, 15 Gull-billed Tern and a Greenshank. In the adjacent scrub we had nice views of a singing Woodchat Shrike.

Went back into Martin de la Jara and then took the road to Osuna. This passed through some undulating hill country. A stop here revealed 2 Griffon Vulture, a few Jackdaws, 2 Woodchat Shrikes, 6 European Bee-eaters and several Red-legged Partridges. North of Osuna stopped at Laguna de Calderon. It was fairly dried out with most water and birds at the distant west end. At least 300 Greater Flamingo and overhead a Black Kite, a Marsh Harrier and a Montagu’s Harrier, whilst a pair of Red-rumped Swallow had a nest under a road bridge. The three neighbouring small lagoons were all dried out, as was Laguna de Ruiz Sanchez further north. We drove west towards La Lantejuela and after a few km turned off right to Laguna de Consuerga. Drove up to a farm, through the farmyard to the shore of the lagoon. This one had plenty of water and plenty of birds. There were large numbers of loafing gulls mainly Lesser Black-backed and Black Headed Gulls. On the water were Little, Great-crested and Black-necked Grebe, Common Coot along with Common Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Shoveler and one male White-headed Duck. There were at least 20 Gull-billed Tern, with a single Whiskered Tern and a Black Tern. Waders along the shore included Avocet, Kentish, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, 20 Little Stint, 5 Curlew Sandpiper and 20 Ruff. Best of all a flock of 40+ Collared Pratincole feeding above the adjacent fields then loafing on the lagoon edge.

We drove back down to the main road and towards La Lantejuela. Checked Laguna la Ballestera by the road side.  500+ Greater Flaningo, 50 Shoveler and a flock of 18 European Bea-eater flying north. Drove into La Lantejula and out north. Just beyond the town a pair of White Storks by a large nest on a roadside building. About 5km further along the road a dazzling European Roller on overhead wires (near a house with big trees surrounding it). Checked two more lagoons but both totally dry, so decided to head back to Estepa. Close views of 3 Black Kites feeding on road kills and a Common Buzzard.

From Estepa took A92 to junction 83 and then went west to Badolatosa. Just as we entered the town took the turn off to Corcoya. This took us to a viewpoint overlooking Embalse de Malpasilo. Out on the water 50+ Common Pochard, a pair of Great Crested Grebes and a few Shoveler. In the reeds had nice views of two preening Purple Swamphens. Towards the top end of the reservoir found 4 Marsh Harriers and a calling Water Rail. Followed the Corcoya road back to the A92 with a nice Booted Eagle enroute. Back at the hotel had a final visit to the olive grove with the highlight being a male grey-brown variant Pied Flycatcher by the pool.

6th April. A cloudy, cooler day. Decided to go back to the Guadalhorce reserve near Malaga. As we entered the reserve we had excellent views of 6 Monk Parakeets feeding on thistle seeds. Later we saw them flying back to their huge stick nests in Eucalyptus trees by the river. Walked round the reserve. Several Reed Warblers singing in the reedbeds. On the lagoons much as our first visit, but extras included 4 Spoonbills and a flock of 8 Whiskered Terns, whilst extra waders included a Wood Sandpiper and 3 Curlew Sandpipers. Walked down to the beach, where there were no gulls but 3 White Wagtails and a Northern Wheatear. In the scrub had good views of a Common Nightingale, a Woodchat Shrike and 2 Hoopoes, with 5 European Bee-eaters overhead.

Crossed back over the footbridge and walked down the river towards the mouth. Lots of birds in the riverside scrub including a Willow Warbler, a Western Bonelli’s Warbler and 4 Common Whitethroat. Also a Weaver. It was starting to rain heavily so we decided to head back to Antequera. On the road north I accidentally got onto the A359 to Loja! At junction 11 I realised my mistake and took the small road towards Archidona. After 2km passed through an interesting scrubby area. Had a quick look round and found a superb flock of 25+ Azure-winged Magpies and a nice Hawfinch. Eventually got back to hotel.

7th April. Packed, checked out of the hotel and drove back down to Malaga airport, through some horrendous traffic on the outskirts of Malaga. Returned hire car having clocked up 1500km. We had had a good holiday. Saw 143 different species. Only disappointment was the lack of flamingos on Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra

Bob Swann


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