Trip report - south and west Spain

04th May 2012
Dates: 24th April to 3rd May 2012

Destination: south and west Spain






Purpose of trip:

The purpose of my trip was to see the coastal, marshland, steppe, dehesa and upland species of the south and west regions of Spain, namely Andalucia and Extremadura.

In addition, I made another attempt to see the very rare and endemic Iberian Lynx in the Sierra de Andújar in the Jaen province of Andalucia following my unsuccessful visit in September 2010.

Primary target areas:

The primary target areas for wildlife watching were:

Andalucia: Sierra de Andújar

This Natural Park (Parque Natural) includes a large sector of the central Sierra Morena, the east-west line of mountains which divides Andalucia from the rest of Spain.

The Sierra de Andújar stretches for 45 miles with a highest point of 4230 feet and it is densely wooded boasting one of Andalucia's best preserved expanses of Mediterranean woodland and scrubland.

The Sierra de Andújar is one of Spain's last refuges for the elusive and highly endangered Iberian Lynx.

This February 2010 trip report by Lee Dingain is exceptionally helpful in providing detailed information and a location map on where to see the Iberian Lynx.

Andalucia: Coto Doñana

The greater Coto Doñana area is huge and is located just south of Sevilla in south west Spain and lies either side of the Rio Guadalquivir. It is one of Europe's most important wetland reserves.

The National Park (Parque Nacional de Doñana) itself and the surrounding Natural Park (Parque Natural de Doñana) amount to over 1,300 sq km in the provinces of Huelva, Sevilla and Cádiz.

The Coto Doñana area is internationally recognised for its great ecological wealth and it is well known for its enormous variety of bird species, either permanent residents, winter visitors from north and central Europe or summer visitors from Africa. Some of these birds are extremely rare in Europe and some even on a global scale.

The area as a whole comprises distinct kinds of ecosystem: the marismas (marshlands), the Mediterranean umbrella pine forests and scrublands and the coastal mobile dunes with their beaches.

Extremadura

The remote and sparsely populated region of Extremadura in west Spain borders Portugal and is situated between the mountains of the Sierra Morena of Andalucia to the south, the Sistema Central mountain range to the north and the mountains of the Sierra de Guadalupe to the east.

Extremadura is characterised by vast grassland plains and steppes, savannah like holm and cork oak dehesas, flower-lined creeks and streams, dramatic cliffs and river gorges, Mediterranean evergreen forest, gently rolling hills and mountains. The region’s rural landscape sustains incredible numbers of birds and has a unique traditional rural lifestyle with tiny villages and the ancient cities of Trujillo and Caceres.

Extremadura is just one big birding site: more than 75% of the region qualifies as IBA’s (Important Bird Areas) under Birdlife International’s criteria or ZEPA’s (Zonas de Especial Protección para las Aves).

Getting there:

I flew from London Gatwick to Sevilla San Pablo with Easyjet.

The cost of return flights including baggage and taxes was £79.98, reduced by £35 to £44.98 by using my accrued Nectar points.

The schedule was as follows:

24th April: London Gatwick to Sevilla San Pablo – depart 06:50 a.m. and arrive 10:30 a.m. (local time GMT+1)

3rd May: Sevilla San Pablo to London Gatwick – depart 11:55 a.m. and arrive 13:30 p.m. (local time UK)

Both flights departed and arrived on time.

Getting around:

At Sevilla San Pablo airport, I hired a VW Polo for 10 days from Europcar booked in advance via expedia.co.uk.

The cost of car hire was £102.55 reduced by 6.9% Quidco cashback to £95.47 .... less than £10 per day!

The car proved to be very reliable and economical returning somewhere between 50 and 60 mpg and with diesel at an equivalent £1.15 per litre compared with £1.43 per litre in the UK the cost of driving in Spain was significantly less than I had expected.

During my trip, I drove 2997 km (1862 miles) and driving in Spain again proved to be a generally enjoyable experience. The National Carretera “N” roads, autovias/autopistas (motorways) and especially the rural country and mountain roads were on the whole extremely quiet and empty. The only exception to this was the area around Sevilla which, like my experience of Madrid and Barcelona, had extremely busy, congested and chaotic routes.

The other impression that I have now gained on my trips to Spain is that Spanish drivers fall in to 2 distinct groups: the excruciatingly slow and erratic and the exceedingly fast and aggressive, the former requiring you to keep a careful eye on their movements and the latter quite definitely putting a capital “T” in tailgating!

I travelled independently following thorough research and preparing an itinerary before leaving the UK.

24th April: Andalucia - area east of Sevilla, Laguna Dulce, Laguna de la Fuente Piedra, Sierra de Andújar

25th April: Andalucia - Sierra de Andújar

26th April: Extremadura - La Serena, Rio Guardiana valley, Campo Lugares steppes, steppes of Belen

27th April: Extremadura - Embalse de Arrocampo, Monfragüe Parque Nacional

28th April: Extremadura - Monfragüe Parque Nacional, Rio Almonte, Cuatro Lugares steppes, Caceres-Trujillo steppes

29th April: Extremadura - Caceres-Trujillo steppes, Los Barruecos

30th April: Extremadura - plains of western Caceres, western sierras and Sierra de San Pedro

1st May: Andalucia - Coto Doñana Parque Nacional (El Rocio, La Rocina and El Acebuche), Cañada de Rianzuela

2nd May: Andalucia - east bank of lower Guadalquivir (Salinas de Bonanza and Marismas de Trebujena), Laguna de Medina, Laguna de Los Palacios y Villafranca

Accommodation:

Prior to my trip, I had pre-booked the following accommodation via booking.com.

24th April – Marmolejo, Jaen, Andalucia: Hostal Plaza – £25 per night

25th April – Almadén, Ciudad Real, Castile-La Mancha: Gran Hotel Almadén – £37 per night

26th and 27th April – Plasencia, Cáceres, Extremadura: Hostal Real – £35 per night

28th and 29th April – Mapartida de Cáceres, Cáceres, Extremadura: Hotel Los Barruecos – £37 per night

30th April and 1st May – Aznalcazar, Sevilla, Andalucia: Hotel Lince – £29 per night

2nd May – Santiponce, Seville, Andalucia: Hotel Anfiteatro Romano – £25 per night

Research and planning:

Prior to my trip, I had undertaken a significant amount of research and planning and therefore had a detailed itinerary which I largely kept to.

Andalucia and Extremadura have been visited by birders for many years and as a result there is a wealth of information available.

Apart from a large number of Internet trip reports provided by others, the following proved to be particularly useful and are highly recommended:

“Where to watch birds in southern and western Spain” by Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson: this book provides detailed site information including habitat, access, species to be seen and location maps.

“Crossbill guide: the nature guide to the Coto Doñana and surrounding coastal lowlands”: this book provides information on landscapes and ecosystems, flora and fauna and walking and driving routes

“Crossbill guide: the nature guide to Extremadura”: this book again provides information on landscapes and ecosystems, flora and fauna and walking and driving routes

“Finding birds in Andalucia” by Dave Gosney: this booklet provides information on sites with detailed sketch maps and is accompanied by a DVD.

I had also picked up a lot of free information and leaflets from Turismo Extremadura at the 2011 Birdfair at Rutland Water where the organisation had a stand. This included their free publication Birdwatching routes in Extremadura which provides detailed information on 19 routes in the region.

There are also 2 DVDs covering Extremadura which are both excellent:

“Birding Extremadura: azure wings in the dog’s bowl” by Malcolm Rymer

“DVD guide to birdwatching in Europe” by Paul Doherty

I also used Michelin regional maps 578 covering Andalucia and 576 covering Extremadura, Castilla La Mancha and Madrid in addition to my trusty TomTom satnav.

Impressions, experiences and memories:

The overwhelming memory from this trip is the staggering diversity and abundance of wildlife in both Andalucia and Extremadura and their varied ecosystems.

I endeavoured to keep notes of my sightings as detailed below but these inevitably under-recorded the numbers identified due to distance, heat haze or too brief views.

Weather:

My days in Andalucia at the beginning and end of my trip were characterised by bright and very sunny weather with temperatures ranging from 8 degrees in the morning to highs of 26 degrees in the afternoon. In the weeks following my visit, temperatures reached up to 38 degrees so I was grateful for relatively cooler weather when I was in Andalucia since this caused less potential problems with heat haze.

In Extremadura the weather was much more variable with frequent cloud, drizzle and rain in the mornings leading to brighter and sunnier weather in the afternoons. Temperatures were much cooler than further south in Andalucia ranging from 8 degrees in the morning to highs of 14 degrees in the afternoon. Prior to my visit, Extremadura’s weather was much drier and hotter and I believe that the drizzle and rain during the early part of each day did have a definite impact on the birding experience.

Wildlife highlights:

During my trip, I was able to record 148 species of birds.

Trip records - south and west Spain

Of these, I saw 16 species that I had not seen before.

In addition, I saw 51 notable species i.e. birds seen before either as a single UK vagrant or on a few occasions in the UK plus birds seen before in Spain and/or elsewhere in Europe.

The 16 “lifers” were:

Little Bittern
Bonelli’s Eagle
Red-knobbed Coot
Little Bustard
Collared Pratincole
Slender-billed Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Short-toed Lark
Savi’s Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Melodious Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Western Orphean Warbler
Spanish Sparrow
Common Waxbill
Rock Bunting

The 51 other notable species were:

Red-crested Pochard
Quail (heard only)
Night Heron
Squacco Heron
Great White Egret
Purple Heron
Black Stork
White Stork
Glossy Ibis
Spoonbill
Greater Flamingo
Black Kite
Egyptian Vulture
Griffon Vulture
Black Vulture
Montagu’s Harrier
Short-toed Eagle
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Golden Eagle
Booted Eagle
Lesser Kestrel
Purple Swamphen
Great Bustard
Black-winged Stilt
Yellow-legged Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Alpine Swift
Pallid Swift
European Bee-eater
Roller
Hoopoe
Calandra Lark
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Crag Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow Wagtail – iberiae
Blue Rock Thrush
Zitting Cisticola
Sardinian Warbler
Penduline Tit
Golden Oriole
Southern Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Spotless Starling
Serin

During my trip, I was also able to record 5 mammal species, 2 reptile species and 1 amphibian species:

Egyptian Mongoose
Iberian Brown Hare
Red Deer
Fox
Rabbit
Ocellated Lizard
Large Psammodromus
Spanish Terrapin

Having failed to see an Iberian Lynx in the Sierra de Andújar (or it’s other stronghold in the Coto Doñana), the mammal highlight was the sighting of an Egyptian Mongoose at Laguna Dulce in Andalucia.

The huge Ocellated Lizard at El Acebuche in the Coto Doñana was also memorable.

Disappointments:

The obvious and massive disappointment was failing yet again to see an Iberian Lynx despite the long hours put in at dawn and dusk at the Sierra de Andújar watchpoints.

This is one elusive cat as far as I am concerned with the disappointing outcome made even more frustrating by talking to other people from the Netherlands and Belgium who had not only seen an Iberian Lynx but also managed to take some photos.

Third time lucky for me?

As far as birds are concerned, there were several target species that I missed:

Marbled Duck
White-headed Duck
Black-winged Kite
Stone Curlew
Kentish Plover
Eagle Owl
Red-necked Nightjar
White-rumped Swift
Rufous Bush Chat
Black-eared Wheatear
Black Wheatear
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
Spectacled Warbler
Western Olivaceous Warbler
Rock Sparrow
Cirl Bunting
Red Avadavat

Of these, failing to see a Black-winged Kite, one of the iconic birds of Extremadura, was the greatest disappointment.

Photos

Photos from trip can be found in the European trips gallery

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