The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Southern Spain: 21/8 - 26/8

Day 1, 21st August:

We touched down at Malaga at lunchtime, having experienced Abi's first ever flight, despite having missed our train to the airport back in the UK. Thanks to the Salisbury train station staff who paid for a taxi!

Our next hiccup was that we couldn't find where we caught the courtesy bus to the car hire company, so we had to walk it. The upside to this, was that we saw our first Spanish birds, Feral Pigeon and House Sparrow, but, rather more exciting, we found several of the tiny Geranium Bronze egg-laying on ornamental flowers!

Geranium Bronze 

Once we'd got a car, we zipped down to our accommodation for the week, at La Linea de la Concepcion, not far from the Gibraltar border.  The view from the flat was rather special!

Gibraltar, from our apartment

From the balcony, there were a number of Swift whizzing about, and I was delighted to spot a couple of Pallid Swift with them.  On top of that, a little bare area out the back of the block had 2 Hoopoe on! We went on to see the pair almost every morning.  There were plenty of Spotless Starling about too, which became my first lifer of the trip!

After we settled in, we thought we'd do what many a holidaymaker might do in Spain - have a dip in the sea! The difference with us though, was that we had a snorkel and goggles, and while relaxation was partially on our mind, so was looking for sea life! There was indeed a fascinating array of fish down there, in a very ordinary, bare corner of a man-made bay.

Day 2, 22nd August:

Today, we wanted to spend the day around the wetlands of the north-west of the province.

On the way, we just stopped at random spots as we passed through the Southern Alcornocales, and experienced the first little bit of raptor movement. Lots of Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, a close Booted Eagle, and lots of mostly local Griffon Vulture - such impressive beasts!  A little derelict building had a Red-rumped Swallow hawking about it.

Our first proper stop was a pair of very ordinary looking concrete agricultural reservoirs on the edge of Sanlucar de la Berrameda.

Popping up onto the bank, we were greeted with an 'explosion' of Herons and Egrets being flushed from some nearby Tamarisks.  This included Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, along with 2 Squacco Heron.

 Night Heron and Little Egret

The 1st basin was full of water, and there wasn't a great deal besides the Heron-filled bushes.  Just a few Common Sandpiper on the edges, and commoner Grebes on the water. The rear lake was entirely different.  The water level was much lower, and it was jam packed with birds!  Over the two pools, I estimate there were 50 Night Heron, 40 Cattle Egret, 60 Little Egret, 10 Great White Egret, 50 Spoonbill, 70 Black-winged Stilt, 20 Grey Heron, and 10 Glossy Ibis.  On top of those, there were 2 Gull-billed Tern and 3 Whiskered Tern flying about, and occasionally landing on the raised dry areas of the lake.  As we arrived, a single Greater Flamingo took flight too!  On top of the birds, there was an incredible plethora of other life here, such as Red-veined Darter, Scarlet Darter, and Lesser Emperor dragonflies, and a Tamarisk Plume moth.

Tamarisk Plume

Best of all, amongst the hundreds of Coot were a pair of White-headed Duck!

White-headed Duck 

What a place!

Agricultural reservoirs, nr Bonanza 

We eventually tore ourselves away onto what supposedly the Bonanza pools proper. They had loads more White-headed Duck on, as well as 3 Red-crested Pochard, though nothing else new. Presumably everything was back at the reservoirs!

Then, we were on to a top site, the saltpans.

Bonanza Saltpans 

We had to get quite a way in before we found any birds at all, but we were soon tripping over waders! On top of Dunlin, there were a few Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, and all 3 small plovers. At one point, a Kentish Plover followed us along the track! There were plenty of Flamingo about too, which are so striking, particularly in flight.  We drove down to a little dead end where water was being pumped, and creating an enriched area of water.  Both Whiskered and Little Tern fed here, and a Greenshank lingered nearby.  Through awful heat haze, I was able to spot a Red Kite (scarce in the province) and a distant Osprey on a post.

It was awesome to spot one or two Slender-billed Gull mixed in with the Black-heads.

On we went, on towards La Algaida Pinewoods.  The woods held little of interest in terms of birdlife, bar the trip tick of Short-toed Treecreeper.  However, there were a number of interesting reptiles to be found. A juvenile Spiny-footed Lizard, and Moorish Gecko were quickly found.  Also spotted, was the striking yellow moth, Ophiusa tirhaca.  

Ophiusa tirhaca 

We finished off the day heading back through the woods, and on back past the agricultural reservoirs.  3 Booted Eagle came overhead calling (they breed nearby) and we found a few Crested Lark and a juvenile Woodchat Shrike near the reservoirs.

A great start to the trip!

Day 3, 23rd August:

We were determined to do a walk today, considering we spent all yesterday in the car.  We stayed local, and had a walk through the hills at El Bujeo, not far from Tarifa. We were hoping for some raptor migration, and it wasn't long before we saw a few Honey Buzzard and Black Kite drifting over as we walked.  We were soon racking up the trip ticks as we walked through woodland, with the likes of Nuthatch, Wren and Robin, all ending up being the only ones of the week.  Several Dragonfly species were spotted, as was this unidentified parasitic plant (no green pigment).

We were hoping to do a circular route, but found no way of connecting to the path on the other side of the ridge. So instead, we retraced our steps and went up the other path.  The bushes here were particularly busy, with Crested Tit, lots of Cirl Bunting, and a Melodious Warbler among others. A few more raptors over, including Griffon Vulture, one or two Booted Eagle, and a Short-toed Eagle into the bargain.  The other wildlife continued to be exceptional, with plenty of Large Psammadromus lizards and Iberian Pond Frogs, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, and, best of all, a single Monarch, and my first Two-tailed Pasha!

 Two-tailed Pasha

A corking little stream here held a couple of unfamiliar Odonaterids, turning out to be Copper Demoiselle and Dusk Hawker. Plus, a nearby dry field held an incredible gigantic Spider, Lobed Argiope (close relative of our Wasp Spider), as well as an equally large and impressive Violet Carpenter Bee.

After that rather successful stop, and the raptors continuing to stream over, we decided to head for the premier raptor migration monitoring station at Cazalla.  Once there, we discovered the wind was absolutely howling through, which was basically stopping the birds crossing. There were plenty of raptors about, but the were just lingering about, mostly in the distance.  What enlivened the watch, was that a flock of 50 Bee-eater suddenly appeared in the adjacent valley. Abi's first!


They fed a bit, then as quick as they appeared, they were off over our heads!

On the road again, heading for a site to the north, when, just the other side of Tarifa, we suddenly noticed that there were raptors simply everywhere, so had to stop! There was a single huge kettle high right overhead, that had at least 25 Short-toed Eagle in it, each shining white like a beacon.  Wasn't time to do a proper count, and they were miles and miles up anyhow, but no rest for the wicked.  Onto Sierra de la Plata near Bolonia.

There were a few Swifts about (including a single Alpine Swift), but none of the two rarer species which are sometimes about here.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was added to the list, and a Western Bonelli's Warbler called.  There was another Two-tailed Pasha to be seen, as well as lots of Striped Grayling.  The main feature of the visit, surprise, surprise, was raptor passage!  There was a steady stream of large birds going over, including a number of Montagu's Harrier.  But, the most overwhelming spectacle was the flocks of White Stork, 1000s strong in several flocks.

A whisp of flies in lee of tree?

White Stork 

However, the best find here was probably the Vagrant Emperor dragonfly hawking about!

Another cracker of a day!

Day 4, 24th August:

On our first visit to the Bonanza area was awesome, but Abi discovered early on that she'd forgotten her spare camera batteries, and her main one went flat! As a result, we decided to go back today.

Of course, we started at the amazing reservoirs.  Much of the same mass of birds were present, but a single juvenile Purple Heron was flushed, a Yellow Wagtail was present, and best of all, a flock of 4 Marbled Teal were lurking among the Coots! A key species which we missed on our first excursion.

Marbled Teal 

Sand Martin, Shoveler, and Woodpigeon(!) were added to the trip list.

All the amazing Dragonflies were again present, and another bonus was a tiny Shrew snuffling around, which we later identified as an Etruscan Shrew - one of the worlds smallest mammals!

Once again, we went on to the saltpans, looking as stunning as ever.

Bonanza Saltpans 

Initially, there was little different to last time, other than a Sanderling flying by.  But, then a small flock of Larks suddenly took flight from the saltmarsh vegetation, whose calls identified them as Lesser Short-toed Lark. Bonus!

After that success, we had a bit of time to kill before we were due to head to Tarifa to go on a Whale watching boat trip.  So, we bypassed on the way there to the village of Benalup, and its nearby plains.  
We were soon seeing a number of Lark, a number of which looked good for Thekla, but I still wasn't confident with them!  We stopped at a spot for lunch, surrounded by Bee-eater.  Then a group of Lark landed by the car, and one was certainly a Short-toed Lark. Nice!  A pair of Raven flew past, and better than that, a low-flying Black Kite flushed a pair of Stone Curlew. I was surprised not to see more, (plus Bustards), but if it wasn't for the Kite, we wouldn't have even seen them!  Presumably these sorts of things were hiding in the longer vegetation at this time of year.

We stopped by an awesome little stream, which had Dragonflies in quantity.  Violet Dropwing over the water were striking enough, but even more so were the massed ranks of Banded Groundling on the banks. 

Banded Groundling 

We then learnt that our boat trip had been cancelled.  Those strong easterlies of the strait strike again!  Sadly, that was our last chance for this holiday. Something to do next time we visit the area, which we hope to be quite soon!

The silver lining was that we had more time to kill in the area.

We next stopped at the bridge on the main road out the village, to decide where to go next.  We spotted a number of Goblet-marked Damselfly on the river.

Our decision was to pop down the road to the incredible-looking Alcala de los Gazules, gleaming in the distance.  More specifically, we headed to the nearby Molinos valley.  The place was stock full of Bee-eater once again, though little else of note, bar one or two more probable Thekla Lark!

A pretty decent day, once again!

Day 5, 25th August:

The plan for our last full day was to try and make up for not getting on the boat, by doing some seawatching.  First of all we headed towards Cape Trafalgar.

As we headed through the town of Barbate, I heard some Parakeet calling, and Ab managed to see them, but I never did! Surely Monk?

We stopped at a random car park east of the cape, and walked through the Pines to the cliff edge.  There were clearly migrants about, with a Redstart in the Pines and a number of things flying along the coast including Swifts, an unidentified Lark, and a Hoopoe.  The sea itself was rather disappointing, despite the easterly wind.  The only thing of interest were a number of Cory's (Scopoli's) Shearwater lingering about.  Among the Pines we also encountered a few large Cicada, and a very Stag-like large Beetle.

The forecast showed today to be a much calmer day in the Straits, the first for our trip, so we thought a bout of raptor watching back at Cazalla would be fruitful.  Sadly, the forecast was totally wrong! As windy as ever!  So, the raptors were again not really featuring much there, although, just as we were about to leave, an awesome Egyptian Vulture made a low flypast through the adjacent valley.

We wanted to stop somewhere for lunch, so, after being moved on from an area which turned out to be a military zone (oops!), we thought that El Bujeo would be as good as any.  After a bite, we just had a little wander round the stream area which was so productive before, and soon added Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler to the trip list, as birds were flocking round the waterside bushes.

But, the highlight from here, was this cracking European Mantis I found.

 European Mantis

 Abi with new friend

We still had hopes for seawatching, so we next headed up the coast to the town of Sotogrande.  We found a supposed marsh completely overgrown, and lacking in anything that interesting, bar the trip tick of Reed Warbler, and a huge Locust.  The sea was also completely empty.  However, the saving grace of the place was a Monk Parakeet which flew overhead, which I'd missed earlier!

Despite the enjoyment of the day, we always looked forward to a spot of tea, and this view every evening!

 View from apartment at night

Day 6, 26th August:

We weren't flying out till the evening, so had almost the whole day for one last Spanish hurrah. We chose to spend it all at just one site, one which we'd been told is one of the best to see mountain species in the whole province, Llanos de Libar near Montejaque, in the Grazalema national park.

We set off, and very soon we were hearing and finding a number of Blue Rock Thrush about the place, including juveniles.  A few confirmed Thekla Lark whizzed about the place (Crested does not occur up there), and we soon glimpsed a number of confusion Sylvia Warblers, which would later become clear.

We hadn't gone far when I scanned a stony field, and found a Northern Wheatear, a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear...

Black-eared Wheatear 

...and 2 Black Wheatear!  One of the main targets already!

The Warbler were slowly starting to show better, and a monster of a Western Orphean Warbler showed well.  That was followed but a pair of Melodious Warbler feeding by the path, and then, a female/juvenile Spectacled Warbler! Awesome.

A small livestock water trough had a number of birds around it, including Black Redstart, and our first Rock Bunting, including a striking leucistic bird with all-white head!

As we got as far as we could in the time, we picked up a couple of new butterflies. A Tree Grayling, and this Sage Skipper.

 Sage Skipper

We went on to see so many Black Wheatear, seemingly round every corner.

Black Wheatear

On the way back down, I found a female Subalpine Warbler to add to the Sylvia ranks, and we found more than one Crag Martin hawking about high over the valley.  Two juvenile Woodchat Shrike were found, and a stream of migrating raptors passed overhead.

We weren't far from the end of the walk, and our holiday, when we heard a Warbler making quite a racket close to the path.  We watched in amazement as a number of Warblers flocked into the spot, and started alarm calling whilst looking downwards! They were presumably mobbing a snake, though we couldn't see it.  2 Spectacled, 3 Sardinian, 2 Western Orphean, 2 Melodious Warbler, and a Black Redstart all had a go!  The predator then unsurprisingly retreated into a dense bush, with the birds still zitting away!  A great climax to the trip.

Our journey back to the airport, then back to blighty and home, was far easier than the one in, and we were very grateful to be back at home that evening, though already missing Spain.  In birding terms, we most miss seeing both Bee-eater and Griffon Vulture routinely!  We'll be back before long for sure, perhaps even next spring.

I must say a huge thanks to John Cantelo ( ), who's information on sites was invaluable, and without which the trip would have been much the poorer.

Bird List

Mallard - A few at several sites.
Gadwall - Two at Bonanza agricultural reservoirs (AR)
Shoveler - One at Bonanza AR
Marbled Duck - Four at Bonanza AR
Pochard - A few at Bonanza Pools
Red-crested Pochard - Three at Bonanza Pools
White-headed Duck - Two at Bonanza AR. Lots at Bonanza Pools
Red-legged Partridge - A few at a random pond nr Jerez.
Little Grebe - A few at several sites.
Great Crested Grebe - Three at Bonanza AR.
Cory's (Scopoli's) Shearwater - Several off Cape Trafalgar.
Night Heron - 50 at Bonanza AR
Cattle Egret - Lots at many sites.
Squacco Heron - Two at Bonanza AR and one nearby in an agricultural field ditch.
Little Egret - 100 at Bonanza AR, and several at Bonanza Pools
Great White Egret - 10 at Bonanza AR, and one at Bonanza Pools
Grey Heron - A few at several sites.
Purple Heron - One at Bonanza AR.
White Stork - Thousands over Sierra de la Plata, and ones and twos elsewhere.
Glossy Ibis - Several at a few sites.
Spoonbill - 50 at Bonanza AR.
Greater Flamingo - Lots at Bonanza Saltpans and one at Bonanza AR
Griffon Vulture - Many at many sites.
Ruppell's Vulture - One at Cazalla.
Egyptian Vulture - One at Cazalla, and one at Llanos de Libar.
Osprey - One at Bonanza Saltpans.
Short-toed Eagle - Several at several sites.
Booted Eagle - A few at several sites.
Red Kite - One at Bonanza Saltpans.
Black Kite - Lots at many sites.
Marsh Harrier - A few at a few sites.
Montagu's Harrier - Ten over Sierra de la Plata.
Buzzard - One at La Algaida Pinewoods
Honey Buzzard - Lots at many sites.
Sparrowhawk - A few at a couple of sites.
Kestrel - Several at several sites (no confirmed Lessers, almost all birds seen were fem/juvs).
Hobby - One at Cazalla.
Peregrine - One at Llanos de Libar.
Moorhen - A few at Bonanza AR.
Coot - Lots at a few sites.
Avocet - Lots at Bonanza Saltpans
Black-winged Stilt - 70 at Bonanza AR at lots at Bonanza Saltpans
Stone Curlew - Two at Benalup plains.
Little Ringed Plover - One at Bonanza AR and several at Bonanza Saltpans.
Ringed Plover - Lots at Bonanza Saltpans.
Kentish Plover - Several at Bonanza Saltpans.
Sanderling - One at Bonanza Saltpans.
Dunlin - One at Bonanza AR and lots at Bonanza Saltpans.
Curlew Sandpiper - Two at Bonanza Saltpans.
Little Stint - 10 at Bonanza Saltpans.
Green Sandpiper - A few at several sites.
Common Sandpiper - 20 at Bonanza AR and one at La Linea de la Concepcion.
Redshank - Several at Bonanza Saltpans.
Greenshank - One at Bonanza Saltpans.
Black-tailed Godwit - Five at Bonanza AR and one at Bonanza Saltpans.
Whimbrel - Five at Bonanza Saltpans.
Black-headed Gull - Lots at Bonanza sites.
Slender-billed Gull - Several at Bonanza Saltpans.
Yellow-legged Gull - Several at several sites.
Lesser Black-backed Gull - One at Barbate.
Little Tern - A few at Bonanza Saltpans.
Sandwich Tern - Two at La Linea de la Concepcion.
Gull-billed Tern - Two at Bonanza AR.
Whiskered Tern - Three at Bonanza AR and a few at Bonanza Saltpans.
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon - Lots seen everywhere.
Woodpigeon - A few at a few sites.
Collared Dove - Several at several sites.
Monk Parakeet - Two at Barbate and one at Sotogrande.
Common Swift - Lots seen at many sites.
Pallid Swift - A few seen at several sites.
Alpine Swift - One from the car somewhere south of Malaga, and one at Sierra de la Plata.
Hoopoe - Two at La Linea, one at El Bujeo, and one at Cape Trafalgar.
Kingfisher - One at Bonanza AR and one at Bonanza Pools.
Bee-eater - Lots seen at several sites.
(Iberian) Green Woodpecker - One seen from car near Jerez.
Great Spotted Woodpecker - One at Sierra de la Plata.
Crested Lark - Several at several sites.
Thekla Lark - One at Molinos valley and five at Llanos de Libar.
Short-toed Lark - One at Benalup plains.
Lesser Short-toed Lark - Four at Bonanza Saltpans.
Sand Martin - Three at Bonanza AR.
Crag Martin - Three at Llanos de Libar.
Swallow - Lots seen at many sites.
Red-rumped Swallow - Several seen at several sites.
House Martin - Lots seen at many sites.
White Wagtail - One seen at Barriada de la Estacion.
(Iberian) Yellow Wagtail - One seen at Bonanza AR.
Grey Wagtail - One at El Bujeo.
Robin - One at El Bujeo.
Redstart - One at Cape Trafalgar.
Black Redstart - Three at Llanos de Libar.
Wheatear - One at Llanos de Libar.
Black-eared Wheatear - Two at Llanos de Libar.
Black Wheatear - 10 at Llanos de Libar.
Stonechat - Lots at many sites.
Blackbird - A few at a few sites.
Garden Warbler - One at El Bujeo.
Blackcap - A few at El Bujeo.
Western Orphean Warbler - Four at Llanos de Libar.
Sardinian Warbler - A few at several sites.
Spectacled Warbler - Five at Llanos de Libar.
Subalpine Warbler - One at Llanos de Libar.
Zitting Cisticola - Lots at several sites.
Cetti's Warbler - Two at Bonanza AR and one at Bonanza Pools.
Reed Warbler - One at Bonanza Pools and one at Sotogrande.
Melodious Warbler - One at El Bujeo, one at Molinos valley and four at Llanos de Libar.
Willow Warbler - One at El Bujeo.
Firecrest - Five at El Bujeo.
Wren - One at El Bujeo.
Spotted Flycatcher - Several at several sites.
Great Tit - Two at El Bujeo.
Blue Tit - A few at a few sites.
Crested Tit - Two at El Bujeo.
Nuthatch - Two at El Bujeo.
Short-toed Treecreeper - A few at a few sites.
Woodchat Shrike - A few at a few sites.
Jay - Three at El Bujeo.
Jackdaw - Several at a few sites.
Raven - Two at Benalup plains.
Spotless Starling - Lots seen at several sites.
House Sparrow - Lots seen at lots of sites.
Chaffinch - Lots at El Bujeo.
Goldfinch - A few seen at a few sites.
Serin - One at La Algaida Pinewoods and three at Llanos de Libar.
Cirl Bunting - A few at El Bujeo and a few at Llanos de Libar.
Rock Bunting - Four at Llanos de Libar.
Common Waxbill - Several seen at Bonanza AR and Pools.

TOTAL: 127


  1. Seems like a good trip. I'm off next month to Southern Spain + hoping to see a pasha or too. I think your unidentified plant is a Sea Squill- not a parasite but leaves not showing now.

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