Spain: Birding Andalusia in Fall
Spain: Birding Andalusia in Fall
The Straits of Gibraltar is a narrow piece of water connecting the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Mediterranean Sea in the east, and separating the Iberian Peninsula in the north from North Africa in the south. Andalusia is the huge region in southern Spain that sits adjacent to the straits and is one of the premier locations in Europe to witness the amazing fall (autumn) migration event, as birds nervously cross the sea between the two continents here. The fall migration of birds in the Northern Hemisphere is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, and our Andalusia in Fall tour, will bear witness to this.
Our tour will see us witness the spectacle of fall migration where we will see huge numbers of European raptors, like these Black Kites.
We will visit a range of habitats from vast coastal grasslands to the high peaks of the region. It is this range of habitats, and its geographical location at the bridge between two continents, which makes Andalusia such a fantastic place for birding. The fall migration, along with the spring migration (when we run our other Spain tour), are the ideal times to visit this bird-rich part of Spain and Europe. Our tour is designed to be flexible to maximize our chances of seeing the best of the bird migration, however we will plan to follow the itinerary below, while keeping the weather conditions in mind.
Spain’s bird list currently stands at 659 species (following International Ornithological Congress (IOC) v10.2 taxonomy as of January 2021), one of the highest single country lists in the Western Palearctic. The region of Andalusia actually accounts for an impressive 484 of these species. With such a range of birds on offer, we will maximize our chances of seeing as many as possible with a combination of expert guides, a comprehensive itinerary visiting the best places to go birding in Andalusia, and visiting at the best time of year. These all combine to make for a wonderful birdwatching holiday.
Blue Rock Thrush is a common bird of mountain areas in Andalusia, even within the town of Ronda.
We will begin our tour in the vast wetlands and saltpans on the east bank of the Guadalquivir River. This area is part of the wider Guadalquivir Marshes IBA (an Important Bird Area recognized by BirdLife International) and an enormously productive area. Here we will find a multitude of species, including multiple passerines, egrets, herons, gulls, terns, and around 20 species of shorebirds (waders). While in the area we will look for the colonies of introduced species such as Yellow-crowned Bishop and Black-headed Weaver, and head to Europe’s only breeding colony of Little Swift. After exploring this area, we will take a pelagic trip from Chipiona town where we will explore the productive coastline for migrating seabirds including Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Great Shearwater, and the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Balearic Shearwater.
We then head south to the Straits of Gibraltar to enjoy the best of the fall bird migration. We begin in the western straits and nearby Atlantic coast looking for shorebirds on the famous Los Lances beach, part of the wider Estrecho de Gibraltar IBA, where we also have a chance of the rare Audouin’s Gull. The pastures here are excellent for migrant passerines and it is here we can also witness the raptor migration at its best. At any moment, the skies can be full of raptors and storks, and the visible migration is a truly breathtaking experience. We will also visit nearby sites for the rare Mediterranean Chameleon plus the chance of the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Rüppell’s Vulture, a rare vagrant from Africa.
The skies above the Straits of Gibraltar can be filled with raptors, like this Booted Eagle.
Next, we move to the interior lands of the straits. This area is usually full of passerines, shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors, and always has the chance of throwing up a surprise or two. The area is also a staging area for migrating birds and the number of birds here can be overwhelming. We will then move northwest along the Atlantic coast where we will once again search through large flocks of shorebirds. This area is also excellent for migrating passerines. Finally, we will look for the Endangered (BirdLife International) Northern Bald Ibis. This species has bred well since being reintroduced here.
Returning to the main straits for some seawatching, with the Riff Mountains of Northern Africa as a backdrop, offers the chance of observing migrating seabirds while overhead the raptor migration will continue. Another pelagic trip here will give us the opportunity to search for the many cetaceans that occur in the straits during fall, including the Critically Endangered (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources – IUCN) Straits of Gibraltar subpopulation of Killer Whale (Orca).
Our tour will see us visit the beautiful mountains of the Sierra Grazalema National Park.
We then leave the straits behind and head inland to the vast forests and mountains of the interior. Here we will look for some fascinating specials of the area including White-rumped Swift, a rare and recent colonist from Africa. We then head towards the beautiful, picturesque, and very birdy mountain town of Ronda where we can also find herds of Iberian Wild Goat (Spanish Ibex). We will also enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Sierra Grazalema National Park and spend time here searching the area for its exciting birds.
Sadly, we will have to leave the mountains behind and end our trip as we make our way towards the coastal city of Malaga for our flights home as this tour concludes.
If you cannot make the dates of this scheduled tour, please get in touch and we would be happy to help build a custom tour with dates to suit you.
Itinerary (11 days/10 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Seville
You will be met at Seville San Pablo Airport by your Birding Ecotours tour leader and local Spanish bird guide. Once the group has arrived, we will meet at our hotel to discuss the trip itinerary and use the time to facilitate with anything the group may need, or just relax after your flight, before the trip starts. We will have a group ‘welcome meal’ in the evening.
Overnight: Hotel in Seville.
Day 2. Birding around Brazo del Este and Chipiona
The protected area of Brazo del Este, near the city of Seville, is a superb habitat for shorebirds and waterbirds, with large numbers of Northern Lapwing, Pied Avocet, Mallard and Northern Shoveler gathering here in fall. The area is also superb for passerines such as Eurasian Penduline Tit, Savi’s Warbler, and Great Reed Warbler. We also stand a chance of adding some elusive crakes to our list with Spotted Crake, Little Crake, and Baillon’s Crake all present here.
The vast reedbeds and wetlands here are home to a huge number of Western Swamphen. The area is vital to this species in southern Spain.
As we proceed through the site, we will come across significant numbers of Western Swamphen, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, and Whiskered Tern, and many more species typical of this habitat, such as the vast flocks of Glossy Ibis which have now colonized the area and are present year-round. This is a particularly good site for migrants, and White Stork, Black Stork, European Turtle Dove, European Bee-eater, Whinchat, and Northern Wheatear are often found here during this period. We should also get some introduced species from Africa and Asia that have established themselves in the area such as Black-headed Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Common Waxbill, and Red Avadavat.
While here, we will also visit the Port of Chipiona, home of great seafood. The town also holds the only European colony of Little Swift. While common on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea in Morocco this species is a real European mega rarity, and we will spend time watching the colony. The beach nearby can be excellent for shorebirds, gulls, and terns including rare species such as Lesser Crested Tern, although this species is typically more common in spring.
We will visit the town of Chipiona, home to Europe’s only colony of Little Swift.
Day 3. Bonanza, Trebujena, and Montijo
Today we will explore the vast saltpans and habitats near the mouth of the Guadalquivir river. We will start at the Bonanza Saltpans. This expansive saltpan site is superb for shorebirds and we will spend some time here looking for a range of species including Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Whimbrel, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Ruff, Common Redshank, and Dunlin.
The area is also excellent for two rare waterbirds, the Endangered (BirdLife International) White-headed Duck and the Critically Endangered (in Spain) Red-knobbed Coot (BirdLife International). The entire European population of the coot is found in Spain and even here it is incredibly rare. Greater Flamingo is a common species here as are Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler, and Yellow-legged Gull.
The second site in the area will see us explore the habitats bordering the Guadalquivir River. Along the river we may get passing terns and gulls with Slender-billed Gull, Little Tern, and Caspian Tern all present here. The wetlands near the river are where we will search for two key species in the form of Marbled Duck (another very localized species in Europe) and Lesser Short-toed Lark, two species that are rare elsewhere in Spain. The area is also home to the striking Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin which can be present well into September.
The Guadalquivir area is a stronghold for the Critically Endangered (in Spain), Red-knobbed Coot.
Day 4. Pelagic trip from Chipiona and drive to Tarifa
Today we will take an exciting pelagic trip from Chipiona out into the Atlantic Ocean. This trip lasts around six hours and we will head out to around 10 nautical miles (~19 kilometers) offshore. The Gulf of Cadiz is a marine reserve, combined with the Straits of Gibraltar, and it is a species-rich area. On the pelagic we will look for seabirds with highlights including Balearic Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Great Skua, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), Northern Gannet, and with luck, European Storm Petrel and Wilson’s Storm Petrel. We will have plenty of time to study these species and if conditions allow, we will get excellent photographic opportunities.
Once we have finished the pelagic, we will begin the two-hour drive down to the Straits of Gibraltar and our base at Tarifa. If time allows, we will explore the area around the town or take time to relax on the stunning Playa de los Lances’ beach.
Our pelagic trip will give us excellent views of seabirds like Balearic Shearwater (photo Ricky Owen).
Day 5. Los Lances, migration watchpoints, and Sierra de la Plata
After breakfast, we will visit the beautiful Los Lances beach near the town. This vast beach is popular with tourists but also an excellent spot to look for shorebirds, gulls, and terns such as the Vulnerable (BirdLife International) Audouin’s Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Kentish Plover, and Caspian Tern. The pastures around the beach are usually full of migrating passerines and it can often be hard to know where to look due to all the activity!
Some of the more numerous species here include Spotless Starling, European Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Tawny Pipit, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, and the Iberian subspecies (iberiae) of Western Yellow Wagtail. Overhead we may see migrating raptors as they climb on thermals before drifting south, and over to Africa, an exciting prelude for what is to come on this tour.
Los Lances is an excellent spot to find Audouin’s Gull.
From the beach we will head up into the Straits of Gibraltar proper to witness the spectacle of raptor migration at its best. By keeping in touch with our local raptor counter contacts we will be able to time our visits with the peak movements of raptors as they move through the area. This ploy should allow for excellent views of European Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, Black Kite, Western Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Egyptian Vulture, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk. There is also the chance of bonus species such as Black-winged Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Rüppell’s Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, and Eleonora’s Falcon, an impressive range of species.
During the afternoon, when the raptor migration tends to slow, we will visit the stunning coastline of Bolonia. This is one of the most stunning parts of the Straits of Gibraltar and gives great views across the sea to Africa. The beach and adjoining pine forest can be good for migrating passerines and shorebirds, but the real star here is the rare Mediterranean Chameleon, an incredible, small reptile.
The grazing pastures around Tarifa are an excellent staging area for migrating Western Yellow Wagtail. The Iberian subspecies (iberiae) is by far the most common here.
The mountain behind the village, known as Sierra de la Plata, is home to a Griffon Vulture colony and, with luck, we may also find Common Kestrel, Egyptian Vulture, and the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Rüppell’s Vulture.
The Straits of Gibraltar has become home to the Critically Endangered Rüppell’s Vulture in recent years. This is still an incredibly rare bird in Europe, and worth searching for.
While exploring the mountain we will keep a look out for interesting passerines like Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, and Thekla’s Lark. It is also possible to find migrants here like Western Black-eared Wheatear, Whinchat, and Tree Pipit. Overhead the raptor spectacle may begin to build again as the day moves on and this is an excellent spot to watch from.
Day 6. La Janda, searching for Northern Bald Ibis, and Barbate Marshes
Today we will explore the vast former lake of La Janda. This area was once an internationally important lake and wetland but was drained during Spain’s period under the control of General Franco. Today, while not at the level it was formally, it is still a vitally important breeding and migration staging area for a range of species.
While exploring the area we will come across groups of passerines such as European Goldfinch and Spanish Sparrow, which may contain the rarer Eurasian Tree Sparrow. The agricultural areas can be full of White Stork, Little Egret, and Grey Heron, and these are often joined by the scarcer Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, and Eurasian Spoonbill. A large reed-lined canal is home to good numbers of Western Swamphen, and this abundance of life attracts several raptor species including Montagu’s Harrier, Western Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite, Black Kite, Booted Eagle, and Short-toed Snake Eagle. This is also one of the best places in Spain to find Bonelli’s Eagle and the Iberian endemic Spanish Imperial Eagle, a species that numbers under 1,000 individuals, but is slowly increasing.
The prey rich farmlands of La Janda attract the powerful Bonelli’s Eagle from its nearby mountain home. Fall is an excellent time to see juveniles learning their hunting craft here.
From La Janda we will head northwest to the Barbate Marshes. This area has been transformed in recent years and is now home to good numbers of shorebirds like Black-winged Stilt, Sanderling, and Curlew Sandpiper. Gulls and terns from the nearby Atlantic Ocean often stop here to roost and the marshes are a good place to find Audouin’s Gull and Caspian Tern. The former saltpans here are also a good place to find Eurasian Stone-curlew and Greater Flamingo. This is also an excellent area for migrating passerines with the tamarisks here providing cover and food for species like Tawny Pipit, Greater Short-toed Lark, and Spectacled Warbler.
Barbate is also the best place to look for the Endangered (BirdLife International) Northern Bald Ibis. This strange-looking species was reintroduced to the area and has been a success in recent years with 90 birds present in 2017. We will spend time observing the interesting behavior of one of the world’s rarest birds, which really is a privilege to witness.
The Northern Bald Ibis is one of the world’s rarest birds and a real bonus species for visits to Andalusia. In fall they are found away from their breeding cliffs at the Barbate Marshes.
Day 7. Island of Tarifa, migration watchpoints, and whale watching
Today we will head to the island of Tarifa. This area is the southernmost tip of mainland Europe and a superb point for looking for passing seabirds. As we look out over the water, we will have the Mediterranean Sea to our left, the Atlantic Ocean to our right, and Africa just eight miles (14 kilometers) in front of us.
Access to the island is highly restricted, making a visit here an exclusive event. The island is home to a spectacular Yellow-legged Gull colony and seawatching from here will also give us the chance of Scopoli’s Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Great Skua, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), and Northern Gannet. Depending on how the raptor migration is looking we will remain flexible and may head to the migration watchpoints at any point during the morning.
In the afternoon we will take our second pelagic of the tour out into the Straits of Gibraltar. This two-hour trip will be aimed at finding the resident and migratory cetaceans of the seas here. Resident species include Short-beaked Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, Common Bottlenose Dolphin, and Long-finned Pilot Whale. With luck we also might spot migratory species such as the giant Sperm Whale and Fin Whale, plus the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Straits of Gibraltar subpopulation of Killer Whale (Orca). It is sure to be an exciting trip out to sea, whatever we may find.
Day 8. Valle de Ojén, Barbate Reservoir, and migration watchpoints
Today we will visit Los Alcornocales Natural Park, sometimes known as the Mediterranean jungle. This vast cork oak forest is famous for supplying the world with cork for wine bottles for many hundreds of years, but it is also a fabulous spot for birding. The dense forest here holds good populations of resident Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Firecrest, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Eurasian Jay, and Eurasian Nuthatch, while the more open areas are good spots for Thekla’s Lark, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodlark, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Dartford Warbler, and Sardinian Warbler.
The open areas of the Alcornocales Natural Park are a good place to find the musical Thekla’s Lark. Its iconic flight call is often what gives this bird away.
The forest is also popular with migrant passerines and our visit here is well timed to find Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Tawny Pipit, Common Redstart, Eurasian Blackcap, Woodchat Shrike, and Western Black-eared Wheatear. We will also visit the Barbate reservoir which has become a stronghold for White-rumped Swift. This African species is a recent colonist in Europe and still incredibly scarce. After lunch we will head to the Straits of Gibraltar for one last look at the raptor migration.
Day 9. Casares, Gaucin, and Ronda
Our tour takes a dramatic change in habitat today as we leave the Straits of Gibraltar and head into the mountains that straddle the border between Cádiz and Malaga provinces. The limestone escarpments here are a good place to watch large herds of Iberian Wild Goat (Spanish Ibex), with luck we may even come across an impressive adult male.
The mountains here are also dotted with “Pueblos Blancos” (classically white-painted villages of the local Spanish style) such as Casares, Gaucin, and Algatocin. These beautiful villages are tucked into mountain valleys and the whole area is as atmospheric as it is productive for wildlife. We will explore the habitats around these villages and enjoy species such as European Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, Corn Bunting, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Coal Tit, Eurasian Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Griffon Vulture, and Bonelli’s Eagle.
The limestone mountains around Ronda are home to the striking Sardinian Warbler.
In the afternoon we will visit the beautiful town of Ronda, one of Spain’s most historical cities and an important settlement from as long ago as the Roman Empire. Ronda is built on top of a huge rock outcrop and those with a fear of heights may want to avoid getting too close to the barriers on the famous bridge that joins the two sides of the town. However, those that brace the bridge will be rewarded with excellent views of Eurasian Crag Martin, Alpine Swift, Red-billed Chough, Peregrine Falcon, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, and Common Kestrel. The parks in town can also be a good spot to find the elusive Hawfinch and Red (Common) Crossbill, and at this time of year, Black Redstart begin leaving their breeding grounds higher in the mountains to spend the winter at lower levels, such as in Ronda.
Birding in the beautiful town of Ronda can be extremely rewarding. Fall sees the arrival of the striking Black Redstart from their mountain breeding grounds; after spending the summer in the wilderness they then become garden birds!
Day 10. Montejaque and Llanos de Libar
The final full day of the tour will see us visit the most breathtaking landscapes in the region. The Serrania de Ronda and Grazalema Natural Park are part of the stunning region and are full of birds and jaw-dropping scenery. We will visit several sites, making the most of the continued long daylight hours afforded to us in early September.
Our first stop is the stunning mountain valley of Llanos de Libar. This valley is excellent all year round, with resident species like Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Black Redstart, Iberian Grey Shrike, Little Owl, Red-billed Chough, Griffon Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, and Golden Eagle. There will also be signs of migration here as passerines move through the valley on their way to the coast and raptors like Black Kite, European Honey Buzzard, and Short-toed Snake Eagle migrate overhead.
A nearby area of agricultural land and woodland in the valley holds Woodlark, Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting, Common Chaffinch, White Wagtail, Common Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Meadow Pipit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and Iberian Green Woodpecker.
We will also explore the area around the Cueva del Gato which is home to a large colony of Alpine Swift. Other common birds here include European Stonechat, Corn Bunting, European Serin, European Greenfinch, European Robin, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, and Common Blackbird. This is also a good area to find Cetti’s Warbler, White-throated Dipper, Common Kingfisher, and Grey Wagtail as the river rarely dries up, even during the hottest of summers.
The striking Black Wheatear is one of the star species of the Sierra Grazalema Natural Park.
Day 11. Drive to Malaga and departure
Sadly, today our tour comes to an end. Depending on the time of your flight, we may be able to explore Ronda once more to look for any species we may have missed around the town previously. We will then take the scenic mountain drive towards the coastal city of Malaga in time for your flight home in the late afternoon. At some point today we will also have to choose our ‘bird of the trip’ and your expert guides will be on hand to answer any queries with the trip list or species identification.
Overnight: Not included.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes must use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
Spain: Birding Andalusia in Fall
This small-group birding tour to Spain in the fall (autumn) season offers a wide range of exciting birds without having to travel too far. The tour starts in Seville and ends in Málaga and takes in a wonderful birding circuit, even including two pelagic trips (off Tarifa and into the Bay of Cadiz). The list of possible bird species on this tour is long, and includes Spanish Imperial Eagle, Rüppell’s Vulture, Audouin’s Gull, Balearic Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Northern Bald Ibis, Red-knobbed Coot, White-headed Duck, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Iberian Magpie, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Black Wheatear, and many more, including the impressive spectacle of visible migration of cranes, raptors, storks, and shorebirds. The detailed itinerary includes full details of what to expect on this wonderful European bird tour.
Our fall tour will see high temperatures throughout, ranging from 82 – 95 °F (28 – 35 °C) during the daytime. Coastal areas can be cooler but please be aware of these likely high temperatures and remember to pack accordingly. If you struggle with being outside in these temperatures, then please also bare this in mind. Nights are warm with temperatures of 64 – 69 °F (18 – 21 °C), and evening temperatures will still be very warm. The sun will be incredibly strong at this time of year however rain should not be a problem (but as this is Europe it should never be totally ruled out!).
DAILY ACTIVITIES, PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS, AND TOUR PACE
Our Spain fall birding tour covers a large section of Andalusia and is at a faster pace than some other tours we run. A long list of birds is possible on this birdwatching tour. We break longer journeys up with birding stops and bathroom breaks where needed.
The majority of walking is an easy level of effort and at a gentle pace and should be suitable for most people. For the most part walking will be on easy tracks, roads, and trails. Some longer walks may be required for some bird sites and the exact details of these longer walks will be given to you ahead of time, most walks are optional and should you prefer to sit out a walk we will try to plan something else for you. Relaxing around the hotel grounds could be a good option.
On this tour there will be some early starts and late finishes to our days in the field to maximize our birding time and meal times will remain variable around our birding activities. The main focus of this tour is to find as many Spanish bird specials as possible. Most of the tour is spent at sea-level and low mountain elevations (e.g. around Málaga we will find ourselves birding at around 2,460 feet / 750 meters).
During our Spain fall tour we stay in a range of two-star to four-star hotels. Accommodation is of a traditional style and has been selected to offer the best experience in the area, including being close to excellent birdwatching areas.