A relaxing break from work.
A week spent in two Andalucian provinces that are among my most favourite areas to watch birds in Europe, I just keep going back and love exploring new sites and visiting productive scenic places again.
I have put together some wildlife related notes and images from my family holiday this year that you may enjoy or find useful, although this was not a birding trip I often get a little bit of time to explore in the mornings whilst everyone else is waking or taking their time to get up and about. We rented a quiet villa in the mountains with spectacular views and great sunsets. Despite it being the hottest time of year and birds being in moult, the area still offered decent birding.
I made no real attempt to take pictures, just reacted to what came my way, this trip was all about relaxing and spending time with my family who do put up with me forever being distracted by wildlife. On the flip side I put up with ‘stuff’ too so it all balances out.
Villa la Palma is near Gaucin, Malaga province, situated on the south side of the Rio Guadiaro within the Serrania de Ronda. The views from the house take in the Sierra de Grazalema on the north side. It is surrounded by Olive groves, woodland and some very steep open grazed fields with livestock the bells of which are among the only sounds you’ll hear, it is one of the sounds of the mountains. Cicadas and crickets also sing, it is a very tranquil place.
Griffon Vultures were present every day and seemed to be trying their luck at what has been described as a vulture restaurant or feeding station on a distant hillside. I noted up to 50 daily and they did circle very low over the pool at time giving brilliant views. Every single one carefully was checked for the rare Ruppell’s Vulture but I had no luck. I did a bit of research and visited this site, it is reached by turning off on a minor road to Colmenar west of Cortes de la Frontera.
The vulture site was very productive for birds but I did not see any vultures on my visit, it is within a fenced area to prevent ground predators from helping themselves to the food with interpretation and a public viewpoint on a nearby hill. I am not sure if food is being put out or not.
Other daily visitors from the garden were Booted Eagles (a pair were feeding young in the woods below the pool), Short-toed Eagle, Swift, Pallid Swift, Crag and House Martin, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows, Sardinian Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler and I also saw or heard House Sparrow, Wren, Nuthatch, Serin, Golden Oriole and Blue and Great Tits. Nearby we saw Hoopoe, Alpine Swift (Venta/radio masts), Kestrel and Stonechat. A single Turtle Dove flew through. Best of all was the constant presence of a flock of c25 Bee Eaters with some juveniles among them. This flock gave us regular insect catching displays over the pool as they moved up and down the slopes. I did see two other flocks that went through South, a flock of 50 and 15, they did not stop so they may have been migrating.
Short birding/insect finding excursions were as follows
We visited Ronda to get provisions for the week and had a good walk around the old quarter, 30+ Red-billed Chough, Crag Martins and a Short-toed Treecreeper were all seen, it was a sweltering 40c.
A morning out with my son exploring took us the Jimena de la Frontera area. A slow drive across a country track south of the town took us past open fields, eventually we reached a copse on the edge of a village. We had great views of Stonechats, Red-rumped Swallows, 4 Short-toed Eagle, Little Owl, Woodchat Shrikes, singing Golden Oriole, Melodious Warbler, Kestrel, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe and more.
We also walked a stretch of the Rio Horzgarganta from the bridge below the castle seeing Red veined and Scarlet Darters, Violet Dropwing, a bunting sp and a few frogs. It was getting very hot at midday so we headed back to the villa. A repeat visit later in the week was made to climb to the castle and enjoy tapas at a restaurant during the heat of the day, at the castle we added two Lesser Kestrel, Booted Eagle, Crag Martins and Griffon Vultures to our list of species seen.
A morning out at in the cork oak woods on the way to and back from the Vulture feeding station between Colmenar and Cortes de la Frontera was productive. Short-toed Treecreeper, Blue, Great and Crested Tits were roaming in a large flock, many Bonelli’s Warblers were among them. A Dartford Warbler or two hid in the roadside brambles and three Short-toed Eagles cruised overhead. Pretty sure I saw a Rock Sparrow on wires below Cortes de la Frontera on the drive up.
One of my favourite drives takes in circular route with a stop at Grazalema, the Mirador de Boyar and Puerto de la Palomas, we also stopped in Zahara where we found La Gallo bar, this provided us with a great table outside and an extensive range of vegetarian tapas for 2.5 euro per dish, delicious! Birds seen included a smart Black Wheatear below Grazalema village, the mirador was a busy spot, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers, Woodlarks, Jays, Stonechats and a Hawfinch. At the pass we watched a large eagle sp that drifted off before I could scope it, lots of Griffon Vultures, 30+ Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart and more Stonechats.
We visited the excellent Roman ruins at Acinipo and saw a pair of Black-eared Wheatear, two probable Thekla Larks (never looked at them through binoculars) and plenty of Swifts. A few individual Rock Sparrow flew past and a small flock also whizzed through down the hill. A pair of Turtle Dove rocketed through and zig-zagged over me, no doubt seeing any human contact as a potential death threat. I was shocked not to see this species regularly during the week.
Two Alpine Swift were seen over Cuevo de Gato near Benajoan, I have seen flocks of them here before. Worth visiting for the blast of natural air conditioning as the water spouts from the cave entrance. It is very busy with people on a hot August day.
Got to make a special mention to encourage anyone passing to stop at the store in the small mountain village in Algatocin, modest entrance but the place is a cavern full of stock, everything you need and refreshing to see an independent store. The bars and restaurants of these mountain towns were all very good and we did very well for vegetarian tapas pretty much everywhere we tried.
I hope you enjoy the images, they are a nice reminder of what was a great week.
Sunset view from Villa de Palma, Malaga Province
Red-billed Chough over Ronda, Malaga Province.
Bonelli’s Warbler and Griffon Vulture, Villa de Palma, Malaga Province
Juvenile Woodchat, Marchenilla track
Stonechat, Marchenilla track
Short-toed Eagles (Marchenilla and Colmenar road)
Booted Eagle diving below Casares Castle
Weathervane or vultures this way?
Cork Oak woodland
Bonelli’s Warbler, Cortes de la Frontera, Cadiz Province
Black-eared Wheatear, Ancinipo, Malaga Province
Probably Thekla Lark, Acinipo, Malaga Province
Melodious Warbler, near Mirador de Boyar, Cadiz Province
Woodlark, near Mirador de Boyar, Cadiz Province
Bee Eater, Villa la Palma, Malaga Province