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A Report from

Southern Spain May 4th-7th May 2006,


By Richard Bonser


I travelled to southern Spain for a few days in early May 2006 with my girlfriend. Understandably, this was not to be an intense birding trip but there were a few species that I was keen on seeing – most notably Western Olivaceous Warbler and Common Waxbill that would be additions to my Western Palearctic list as well as reacquainting myself with White-rumped Swift, Little Swift and other Iberian species. I was also keen to get to know the lie of the land in the Tarifa area, where we stayed, as I know that I will be visiting this area in the future in order to attempt to see Ruppell’s Vulture.


This holiday was arranged last minute as a result of some cheap flights (£50 per person including taxes) to Jerez airport with Ryanair. We hired a car through Hertz (£56 for the duration) and stayed at the pleasant Hotel Dulce Nombre (€94 euros per night) just to the west of Tarifa town. Food was excellent, as is to be expected in Spain, with seafood restaurants in both Tarifa and Bolonia being brilliant and I couldn’t get enough of the Andalucian Gazpacho and Jamon Serrano. Petrol was cheap compared to the UK, with prices being the same in euros as they are in sterling, and driving was obviously easy and stress free. The only minor irritant during the trip was the queue that we faced getting both in and out of Gibraltar.


Being a bit of a rush job and with only a day or so to prepare after getting back from Corsica and Sardinia, I used books that I’d acquired from my previous visits to the country (1993, 1997, 1999 and 2000) that included ‘A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Southern Spain and Gibraltar’ by Clive Finlayson (1993 edition) and ‘Where to Watch Birds in Southern Spain’ by Ernest Garcia and Andrew Patterson (1994 edition) as well as a combination of trip reports as detailed below.

The internet is littered with trip reports from Spain and after sifting through them, I found that by far and away the most useful for my purposes were those by Chris Bell, Daniel Lopez Velasco and an impressive array of reports by Ian Kinley (October 2002, October 2003, October 2004 and September 2005). Stephen Daly’s website was also consulted as it gives recent sightings from the area as does Ricard Gutierrez’s Rare Birds in Spain. I am grateful to Chris Bell who gave me some decent information in addition to his trip report and also to Lennaert Steen who provided much valuable information on his recent sightings from the area. And finally, thanks to Mark Lopez for lending me his map of the country!


White-rumped Swifts and Little Swifts, Bolonia

On the early morning of 5th May, I visited the traditional cave at Bolonia for these species and was pleasantly surprised with the productivity of my visit. Arriving in the half light, the first half an hour or so only produced the odd Crag Martin and numerous House Martins. However, once the sun came up the swifts were immediately present and displaying in the skies outside the cave – at least 3 White-rumped Swifts and 6 Little Swifts. Note that no Common Swifts were present at this site during my visit.

Although directions have been published elsewhere such as by Daniel Lopez Velasco, I hope the following is about as concise and as accurate as you can get. 14km to the west of Tarifa on the N340 take the turn signposted to Bolonia (as you turn there will be a sign ‘Conjunto Arqueologico de Baelo Claudia’). From here, continue for 6.8km and you will reach a junction just beyond the Bellavista Restaurant where ‘Ruinas Romanas Baelo Claudia’ is signed to the left – but continue to the right here along the main road for a further 2.8km, going through the scattered settlement of Bolonia in the process, and you will reach a couple of signs ‘prohibido el paso zona militar’ and ‘aviso esta carretera no communica con zahara de los atunes’. 2.0km beyond these signs, and after heading uphill, park in the layby on the right opposite a sign on the hillside ‘coto deportivo de caza’ and view the obvious cave with railings around it on the hillside to your left.

Other birds observed at this site during my visit included a male Golden Oriole, a Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Rock Buntings, and 2 Red-legged Partridges, a handful of Stonechats as well as several Sardinian Warblers, Spotless Starlings and Goldfinches.

Western Olivaceous Warblers and Common Waxbills, Los Palacios Lagoon

This site has been described by everybody who has been there as the easiest site in Spain to observe Western Olivaceous Warbler – whether this statement can ever be proved to be a fact, it certainly allows the observer excellent views of this species. During my visit, I was fortunate to observe at least 3 birds in the tamarisks and dry scrub in the north-west corner of the lagoon. Additionally, walking along the track on the north bank of this small area of water, I was able to locate at least 2 Common Waxbills – this species is regularly noted at this site. The Night Heron and Cattle Egret colony here is also worthy of a mention.

To reach this site, head north up the motorway (A4/E5) between Jerez de la Frontera and Sevilla and take the junction to Los Palacios y Villafranca. Follow the signs into the town and you’ll reach the main roundabout where you will need to turn right onto the old road (NIV) to Sevilla (signed Sevilla and Dos Hermanas). Within 2km of leaving the town you will reach a small bridge over a canal and take the track on the right (east) on the south side of the canal just before the bridge. Follow this track along the bank and you’ll swing round to the right (where an old building is viewable) that continues along the east and then the south side of the lagoon. Just as you have past the lagoon, turn right on the track that goes alongside the western fringes of the lagoon and park in the north-west corner. The Western Olivaceous Warblers were in the bushes in the immediate vicinity whilst the Common Waxbills could be found in the arable land and grass on the north side of this small lagoon.

This is an excellent area for birding and considering its size, a large number of birds are compacted into a very small area. The colony of Cattle Egrets and Night Herons, as previously stated, are worthy of a visit in their own right due to the huge numbers especially of the former species whilst on my visit a couple of Purple Herons showed well as did 4 Collared Pratincoles as they hawked over the lagoon. Reed Warbler, Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Fan-tailed Warbler were all common and easily heard and observed whilst a Woodchat and several Crested Larks were observed from the adjacent arable land.

The Tarifa area

Due to its geographical location, being the closest point to Morocco on the Straits of Gibraltar, the Tarifa area is well documented for providing a bottleneck for migration in both spring and autumn periods. Even the hotel that I was staying in produced sightings of Booted Eagle and Black Kite in the limited time we spent their in daylight hours.

Los Lances Beach, at the extreme west end of Tarifa town, can easily be accessed by taking the first Tarifa turn off the N340 (if coming from the west) and following the road around the sports stadium and parking in the car park. This site was very quiet on my visit, with only a few Kentish Plovers of any note, but is one of the best sites in Spain to see Lesser Crested Tern and the first Ruppell’s Vulture for Europe was found in the pinewoods adjacent to this beach.

Ciguena Negra raptor watchpoint is located in the sierras immediately to the east of the town of Tarifa. If coming from the west, clock 2.2km from the 2nd (and final) Tarifa turn on the N340 and take the track on the left up to a small satellite station. I very much visited this site out of intrigue as I wanted to know where it was located, but was pleasantly surprised that a late afternoon vigil of no more than an hour produced 2 Egyptian Vultures, 20 Honey Buzzards, a Black Kite, a Booted Eagle, a Peregrine and a Red-rumped Swallow.

The Jara Valley can be found by taking the minor road north from the N340 near the mouth of the Rio Jara just west of Tarifa town. I drove up this road, somewhat frustrated by the lack of places to pull over, for 10km and during an early evening visited recorded 3 low flying Honey Buzzards, a Whinchat, at least 2 Red-rumped Swallows, a Woodchat as well as common species such as Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Nightingale, Swallow and Swift.

La Janda is situated just off the N340 midway between the towns of Tarifa in the east and Vejer de la Frontera in the west – access is on the driveable track opposite the 1st turning to Zahara de los Atunes (if coming from the east). Once you’ve turned north off the main road you will reach a junction by the canal after about a kilometre – follow this track along the south side of the canal bank for as far as possible and scan the adjacent plains and farmland. The fields here were good for Calandra Lark on my visit and 50 European Bee-eaters perched on the wires, though I could not locate any Little Bustards that occur in the area. A couple of Great Reed Warblers sang from the canal side vegetation and one was seen, whilst other birds of interest seen in this area included a Collared Pratincole, a male Montagu’s Harrier, a Short-toed Eagle, a female Marsh Harrier, a male Yellow Wagtail (of the race iberiae) and many White Storks. Cattle Egret, Fan-tailed Warbler, Spotless Starling and Crested Lark were all common.

Cape Trafalgar, to the west of the town of Barbate, benefits from a lighthouse and the compound here undoubtedly attracts migrants. On my brief visit, a Melodious Warbler showed well on the lighthouse compound fence along with 3 Sardinian Warblers whilst a handful of Sandwich Terns flew west offshore. The estuary just to the east of Barbate proved pretty quiet although the odd Black-winged Stilt was present.


On very much a tourist trip to this place in the middle of the day, I left my girlfriend to do the ‘tourist thing’ (like take photographs of the Barbary Macaques and visit some caves) and spent an hour or so staring at the skies with some reasonable results. All birds were passing from south to north as would be expected, and at variable height, but I observed 1 Griffon Vulture, 1 Short-toed Eagle, 40 Black Kites, 35 Honey Buzzards, 1 Peregrine and 2 White Storks during my period of observation. I found that the best place to observe these birds was either from ‘The Apes Den’ or from the car park by ‘The Great Siege Tunnel’.


Whilst wandering around the narrow streets of this historic city, I observed at least 10 Monk Parakeets with the most favoured spot for this introduced species being the tall trees in the Parque del Genoves. As the city is located on a peninsular, the drive to get there and back crosses an area of saltpans and observations from the main road included a Whiskered Tern, a Caspian Tern and several Black-winged Stilts amongst larger numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls.

Species list – Spain May 2006

Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax

Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea

Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea

White Stork, Ciconia ciconia

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos

Honey Buzzard, Pernis apivorus

Black Kite, Milvus migrans

Egyptian Vulture, Neophron percnopterus

Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus

Short-toed Eagle, Circaetus gallicus

Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus

Montagu's Harrier, Circus pygargus

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus

Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus

Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

Peregrine, Falco peregrinus

Red-legged Partridge, Alectoris rufa

Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus

Coot, Fulica atra

Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus

Collared Pratincole, Glareola pratincola

Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula

Kentish Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus

Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis

Sandwich Tern, Sterna sandvicensis

Whiskered Tern, Chlidonias hybridus

Woodpigeon, Columba palumbus

Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto

Turtle Dove, Streptopelia turtur

Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus

Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus

Common Swift, Apus apus

White-rumped Swift, Apus caffer

Little Swift, Apus affinis

European Bee-eater, Merops apiaster

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major

Calandra Lark, Melanocorypha calandra

Short-toed Lark, Calandrella brachydactyla

Crested Lark, Galerida cristata

Sand Martin, Riparia riparia

Crag Martin, Ptyonoprogne rupestris

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

Red-rumped Swallow, Hirundo daurica

House Martin, Delichon urbicum

Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla flava

White Wagtail, Motacilla alba

European Robin, Erithacus rubecula

Nightingale, Luscinia megarhynchos

Whinchat, Saxicola rubetra

Stonechat, Saxicola torquatus

Blue Rock Thrush, Monticola solitarius

Blackbird, Turdus merula

Cetti's Warbler, Cettia cetti

Fan-tailed Warbler, Cisticola juncidis

Sedge Warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus

Great Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus arundinaceus

Western Olivaceous Warbler, Hippolais opacus

Melodious Warbler, Hippolais polyglotta

Sardinian Warbler, Sylvia melanocephala

Common Whitethroat, Sylvia communis

Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla

Blue Tit, Parus caeruleus

Great Tit, Parus major

Golden Oriole, Oriolus oriolus

Woodchat Shrike, Lanius senator

Black-billed Magpie, Pica pica

Hooded Crow, Corvus cornix

Spotless Starling, Sturnus unicolor

House Sparrow, Passer domesticus

Common Waxbill, Estrilda astrild

Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs

European Serin, Serinus serinus

Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis

Linnet, Carduelis cannabina

Rock Bunting, Emberiza cia

Corn Bunting, Emberiza calandra


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