Recreation & Sports - Bird Watching

© iStock photo Bird watching in Andalucia
Bird watching in Andalucia

Bird waTching

Andalucía is a birdwatcher's paradise and attracts ornithologists throughout the year. The best time of the year, however, is during the spring, as this is when you can see many wintering species, together with those arriving for the summer months.

Not surprisingly, the Straits of Gibraltar are a key point of passage for raptors, storks and other birds migrating between Africa and Europe. Northern migrations take place between mid-February and June, while those birds heading south will set off between late July and early November when there's a westerly wind. Gibraltar itself is generally good for birdwatchers, although when there is not much wind the Tarifa region on the Atlantic coast is usually better.

Soaring birds such as raptors and storks cross the Straits of Gibraltar as they rely on thermals and up-drafts which only occur over narrower expanses of water. One of the most impressive sights over the Straits is when flocks of storks, sometimes numbering up to three thousand, cross en masse.

 

 

The Birds of Andalucía

The following is a brief summary of the bird species you can expect to find in Andalucía, obviously depending on the time of year and place:

There are some 13 resident raptor species in Andalucía, as well as several which migrate here annually from Africa. The best place to see them is in the more hilly parts of the province where they hover or circle high in the sky.

The Sierra Morena region north of Sevilla is where you find the black vulture, one of the country's rarest birds. There are thought to be just a few hundred pairs here. Yet this may well be the largest colony in Europe, with most to be found in the Paraje Natural Sierra Pelada y Rivera del Aserrador, south of Aroche in Huelva province.

Equally rare is the magnificent Spanish imperial eagle. Again, most are located in one place, in this case within the Parque Naciónal de Doñana.

Birdwatching in Andalucia. © Michelle Chaplow
Birdwatching in Andalucia. © Michelle Chaplow

Other large birds of prey which can be found in mountainous regions include the golden eagle (and several other eagles) and the Egyptian and griffon vultures. Smaller birds of prey, such as the kestrel, buzzard various harriers and red kite, can be spotted in lowland woods and forests.

A far more common sight in northerly Extramadura, the large white stork can be seen in the western region of Andalucía where they nest from spring to summer on electricity pylons, trees and towers.

Water birds are far more plentiful, with many species, particularly in the wetlands area along the Atlantic coast. These include wild ducks and flamingos; the latter can be seen in several other places including La Fuente de Piedra and Cabo de Gato.

Among the most colourful of Andalucía's many other birds is the golden oriole, which can be seen in orchards and woodlands, particularly during the summer months. The male oriole has a dazzling bright yellow body. The orange, black and white hoopoe is a similarly striking bird, common in open woodlands and golf courses. Also worth seeing is the gold, brown and turquoise bee-eater, which nests in sandy banks in summer and, last but not least, various woodpeckers and owls which generally inhabit mountainous woodlands.

Birdwatching Wetlands

Coto Doñana National Park
The Coto Doñana National Park comprises delta waters which flood in winter and then drain in the spring, leaving rich deposits of silt and raised sandbanks and islands. These conditions are perfect in winter for geese and ducks but most exciting in spring when they draw hundreds of flocks of breeding birds.
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La Fuente de Piedra
Surrounded by vast, monotonous terrain, the Lagoon of Fuente de Piedra appears like a glorious oasis in the extensive Llanure de Antequera, considered to be one of the largest natural lagoons in Spain. North of Antequera, the lagoon is home to as many as 5,000 breeding pairs of Flamingos - the highest concentration in Europe - and also many cranes.
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The Guadiario Estuary, Sotogrande
The resident osprey often flies overhead into the high trees and, if you stand on the bridge, you might catch a glimpse of the shy otters. Gulls, including Audoin's, abound. Bluethroats and Penduline tits may be seen in winter and flamingos and spoonbills sometimes pass through. You might also see cormorants, kingfishers, plovers, innumerable grey herons, cattle and little egrets, and there's a lovely stroll along the beach. Palmones Estuary is perhaps not the most attractive site, opposite a heavy industry works, but Palmones can be a staging point for many migrants including waders, passerines, storks and herons and is alive with cattle and little egrets. Osprey are often spotted here.
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Laguna de Medina
Laguna de Medina is near Córdoba; look for the rare white-headed Duck and the purple gallinule.

Birdwatching Migration

Southern Spain and Istanbul share the honours as the two main migration routes between Europe and Africa. Imagine standing on the Rock of Gibraltar looking across the Strait as the raptors soar overhead on the thermals - Egyptian, griffon and rare black vultures; golden, imperial, booted, and Bonelli's eagles, the honey buzzard and the pallid harrier. Or see them grounded in their hundreds on the Atlantic coast when the strong Levante (Easterly wind) is blowing.

The sheer limestone cliffs of Gibraltar provides one of the finest viewing platforms in the world. High points of the migration occur between February and May for the northern raptor migration and September to October for the return journey. Gibraltar is the perfect site if the westerly wind is blowing. In addition, passerine and near-passerine migrants should be seen at about the same time and seabirds are good all year round. Peregrines and blue rock thrushes use the cliff face, the only Barbary partridges in mainland Europe wander freely on the Upper Rock and, down by the sea, you might be lucky to see one of the few remaining shags.

Tarifa & Los Barrios
With the Easterly wind blowing, drive to the Atlantic coast and watch the migrants crossing over the Strait, or, when it really blows, just grounded waiting for the wind to drop. And for the dedicated birder, visit the municipal refuse tips at Los Barrios and Tarifa -the smell is appalling but the chances are good. Almost invariably, you will see quantities of Griffon Vultures. 

Ornithological Observatory of Cazalla or Mirador del Estrecho  is one of the best location to watch migrating birds. This is worth a visit for the views and wind blast alone by any curious traveller. It is deliberately not promoted as a tourist atraction and so lacks any sinage on the N-340 road.  The 2015  access and exit road now makes it safe to enter and leave the N-340 at km 87 when heading west towards Tarifa.  Local birdwatching group  'Colectivo Ornitológico Cigüeña Negra' have maintained a hut on this site since early 1990s. They initially oposed the local council installing permanent facilities here but reached agreement in 2005. GPS 36.0337291,-5.578016 There is a observatory area, car park, research centre, cafe exhibition facilities all run by the group so it keeps irregular hours.    

Fundacion Migres carry out important research  work and organise events and workshops. They have a base within the 'Centro Internacional de la Migración de las Aves (CIMA).' located just east of Tarifa at Punta Camoro. ( GPS: 36.016762, -5.87950 ) leaving N-340 at km 85 when driving east away from Tarifa. Follow the paved road to the end. There is a bird watching point open all the time. Exhibition centre, shop, vending machines open 10.00 to 15.00 hrs.  

There is also a birdwatching section at the information centre of the Parques Naturales Del Estrecho y Los Alcornocales at Huerta Grande, N-340 Km 96,7 at Pelaya near Algeciras. PDF Visitors centre Guide (7MB).

Map of Birdwatching lookout stations in the area of Tarifa and the Straights of Gibraltar

Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park
In spring and early summer the breeding species are most evident in this mountainous and wooded region.
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Birdwatching Books

Birdwatching on Spain's Southern Coast
By John R. Butler

A guide to watching birds at 39 major and 35 subsidiary sites on the Costa del Sol, Costa de Almería, Costa de la Luz, Doñana and some inland sites, with detailed maps of all the sites, a calendar giving the best times of the day and year to visit, a complete list of birds personally identified by the author at each site, and information on wheelchair accessibility. An amazing book. It confirms an opinion that tourist boards should not try to produce material themselves but patronise those who know the subject and how to present it in a practical form.

A Birdwatching Guide to Southern Spain
by Malcolm Palmer (Author), John Busby (Illustrator)

 

A Birdwatchers' Guide to Southern Spain and Gibraltar
By Clive Finlayson and Mike Langman

Written by the author of "The Birds of the Strait of Gibraltar", this is a much-needed site guide to this major migratory passage point. It provides details of the key birdwatching sites and areas, and birdwatching tips for the region, as well as information on accommodation, planning a trip, bird species and other wildlife likely to be seen.

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