8th April 1983 - 22nd April 1983.
The group of 8 people met me at Gatwick Airport for the first Wingspan Bird Tour to central and southern Spain, this was the first tour of its type to birdwatch in Spain and it had taken over a year to set up.
We flew to Malaga, then transfered to our hotel in Fuengirola. we had time for an afternoon visit to areas around Mijas, a village set high in the Sierra de Mijas overlooking the coast. Here we had our first taste of Mediterranean birds, seeing 4 Woodchat Shrikes, 2 Ravens, c30 Spotless Starlings, c20 Serins, 3 Black Wheatears, 2 Crag Martins, a Lesser Kestrel, a Blue Rock Thrush and a Tree Pipit.
Returning to Fuengirola, our evening meal was taken in the open, with 100+ Swifts, of which at least 4 were Pallid Swifts, hawking noisily overhead.
We set off south along the coast and then turned north to Ronda, on the way we had distant views of a Bonelli's Eagle, good views of 9 Booted Eagles and 2 Egyptian Vultures, a flock of 70+ Bee-eaters, a mixed flock of swifts containing at least 10 Alpine Swifts, 3 Black Wheatears, 4 Sardinian Warblers, a Pied Flycatcher and 4 Crag Martins.
In Ronda, from the bridge over the deep, steep-sided gorge near the main square we saw 14 Crag Martins, a Blue Rock Thrush, 10+ Rock Doves,
20+ Serins, a Kestrel, 8 Chough, 2 Grey Wagtails, a Whinchat and some of the group saw Rock Sparrows which soon disappeared.
After lunch we headed west towards Grazalema and the Sierra del Pinar, along the route we saw a Black-eared Wheatear, over 20 crested larks with at least one being a Thekla Lark, a new bird for me. Also seen was a Corn Bunting, a Cuckoo, 2 Stonechats, another Blue Rock Thrush, 5 Ravens, a Lesser Kestrel, 8 Spotless Starlings and a Nightingale.
From Grazalema we took the mountain road to Las Palomas, the view from the top is impressive and a good vantage point to watch for raptors, here we saw 6 Griffon Vultures, 6 Egyptian Vultures, a Kestrel, 5 Lesser Kestrels and at very close range 2 Bonelli's Eagles. Also seen were 5 Black Wheatears, a Raven, 4 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Wheatears, 37 Chough, 2 Sardinian Warblers, 3 Dartford Warblers, an Alpine Swift, 2 Crag Marins and a Rock Bunting. We returned to Ronda for an overnight stay.
Leaving Ronda we set off north towards Cordoba, our first stop was at the Salinas de Fuente de Piedra, where the water level was very low, in the distance there were hazy pink images of lots of Greater Flamingos, also seen were 20+ Yellow and Blue-headed Wagtails, 2 Ortolan Buntings, 3 Short-toed Larks, 6 Bee-eaters, 3 Black-winged Stilts, 15 Kentish Plovers, a Little Stint, 5 Gull-billed Terns, a White Stork, a Booted Eagle, 12 Calandra Larks, a Montagu's Harrier and a Great Grey Shrike, later split and known as Southern Grey Shrike.
We continued north seeing 2 more Southern Grey Shrikes, 2 Hoopoes, a Whinchat and a Black-eared Wheatear.
At the reed-fringed Laguna de Zonar we saw Stripe-necked Terrapins and 2 Ocellated Lizards the largest European lizard and new for me, excellent views of 9 White-headed Ducks, at this time only one other site in Spain was known where these rare ducks ocurred, also Mallard, Coot, 2 Red-crested Pochard, 4 Great Crested Grebes, 8 Pochard, a Tufted Duck and a Little Grebe. The reeds were full of birds, mainly Reed and Great Reed Warblers and we also saw 2 Nightingales.
Around the lake there were lots of Serins, Swallows and Sand Martins, later we left for our hotel in Cordoba.
Today a long drive from Cordoba to the Sierra de Guadarrama north of Madrid, frequently stopping for birds and refreshment, along the way seeing 3 White Storks, Spotless Starlings, 3 Southern Grey Shrikes, a Montagu's Harrier, 3 Hoopoes, 2 Azure-winged Magpies, 40+ Magpies, 4 Red-rumped Swallows, 4 Crag Martins, 3 Blue Rock Thrushes, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 2 Black Kites and 2 Kestrels.
Our hotel in Miraflores had marvelous views over the foothills of this mountain chain, and from the hotel window saw a Black Redstart, Spotless Starling and a Griffon Vulture.
We had all day to spend in the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Not an early start, there was a chill in the air and the roadside puddles remained frozen from overnight frost, but by our first stop it had warmed up. We made our way along the mountain road towards Segovia stopping frequently, seeing lots of Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Linnets, Godcrests, Dunnocks and Crows, 2 Song Thrushes, a Cetti's Warbler, 2 Cirl Buntings, 5 Rock Buntings, a Red Squirrel, a Cuckoo, 3 Short-toed Treecreepers, 3 Mistle Thrushes, 7 Wheatears, 8 Skylarks, a Stonechat, a Meadow Pipit, 4 Redstarts, a Crested Tit, 5 Woodlarks, c15 Bee-eaters, a Schreiber's Green Lizard, a Black Redstart and in a spot where I had seen them before we could only find 1 Citril Finch.
Birds of prey were evident throughout, seeing 5 Short-toed Eagles, 2 Golden Eagles, a Honey Buzzard, a Booted Eagle, 2 Buzzards, 4 Black Vultures and 2 Griffon Vultures, also 18 Ravens.
As we descended to the foothills we saw a Hawfinch and 5 Crossbills. On the way back to Miraflores we stopped at the Embalse de Santillana, the lake was very low and most of the birds distant, but we did see 2 White Storks, a Cuckoo, 4 Hoopoes, a Wheatear, 6 Black-winged Stilts, at least 6 Tree Sparrows, Pochard, Mallard, Tufted and Gadwall, a Common Sandpiper and 3 Little Ringed Plovers.
A cool morning after another overnight frost, We left Miraflores and headed southwest to Avila and then south to the Sierra de Gredos, stopping along the way. On the journey we saw lots of Serins and Corn Buntings; White, Grey, Yellow and Spanish Wagtails; 2 Redstarts, 13 Crag Martins,
4 Azure-winged Magpies and lots of Magpies, 3 Black Redstarts, 12 Wheatears, a Cuckoo, 12 White Storks, 13 Kestrels, 10 Hoopoes, a Marsh Harrier, 4 Black and 4 Red Kites, 3 Southern Grey Shrikes, 12 Stonechats, 2 Tree Sparrows, 2 Lesser Kestrels, lots of Short-toed Larks and several Sky, Calandra, Crested and Thekla Larks, also lizards during our stops, including 2 Spiny-footed Lizards new for me, Iberian Wall Lizards and several more Ocellated Lizards.
As we neared the highest point of our drive, Rock Buntings became more common with 16 seen in total, also a Blue Rock Thrush, but perhaps the highlight of the day was seeing 3 Iberian Ibex standing on the most precarious of pinnacles.
The descent down from the mountains is spectacular with views across the Rio Tietar plain below, our hotel was set amidst the pine-clad slopes of the foothills, as we approached a Golden Eagle soared overhead.
So far the tour had gone smoothly, but at this hotel there was a problem, the owner said he hadn't been paid and so was not expecting us! Finally, after phone calls to the agent who assured him that he would be paid and he let us stay. Even though I was using the largest tour operator in Spain they were not used to organising a tour like this, a first for them, they were much more a package holiday, one or two destination operator, but were the only company prepared to take on the task.
The hotel was great, full of rustic charm and good food, after our meal we had time for an evening walk up a nearby gully, seeing a Dipper, Rock Buntings, Ravens, lots of tits including 3 Crested Tits, a Jay and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, On the way back a large bat flew over which we later identified as a Serotine Bat, new for me, and back at the hotel we saw a Turkish Gecko, also new for me.
An early morning walk through the pine woods and a return look along the gully, seeing 6 Blackcaps, 2 Dippers, a Grey Wagtail, 4 Ravens, 14 Rock Buntings, 3 Jays, a Short-toed Treecreeper, 20+ Crested Tits, 2 Serins, a Booted and a Bonelli's Eagle.
After breakfast we descended to the Rio Tietar and spent the rest of the morning at a spot by the river, here we saw a White Stork, 2 Red-legged Partridges, 44 Azure-winged Magpies, 3 Hoopoes, 3 Black Kites, 25 Bee-eaters, 3 Nightingales, a Great Spotted Cuckoo, 3 Woodlarks, lots of Serins, 3 Sardinian Warblers, 3 Cuckoos, a Pied Flycatcher, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, 2 Common Sandpipers, a Kingfisher, a Green Sandpiper, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, a Short-toed Treecreeper, an Iberian Green Woodpecker, lots of Magpies and heard lots of Marsh Frogs and a Scops Owl, we also saw 2 lizards, a Large Psammodromus and a Spanish Psammodromus, which was new for me.
In the afternoon we continued south towards Trujillo, stopping along the main road at a vulture colony, at the eastern end of Monfrague Nation Park, seeing up to 50 Griffon Vultures either perched on ledges with their chicks or gliding overhead, among them 6 Egyptian Vultures and 2 Black Storks; 2 Red-rumped Swallows and at least 20 Crag Martins hawked insects above and below us, on the rocks and cliffs we saw 3 Blue Rock Thrushes, a Black Wheatear and 4 Rock Buntings, also 2 Chough and our only Sparrowhawk of the trip flew over.
Also seen on the drive were 9 Ravens, 5 Southern Grey Shrikes, 3 Booted Eagles, 14 Black Kites, 6 Hoopoes, 13 Bee-eaters, 2 Kestrels, 2 Black-eared Wheatears, 36 Azure-winged Magpies, a Short-toed Eagle, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Nightingale, 2 Woodchat Shrikes, a Montagu's Harrier, a Turtle Dove and a Little Owl.
In Trujillo we had time for a visit to the magnificent central square where at least 20 White Storks were nesting on the surrounding roof-tops and we counted 39 Lesser Kestrels coming to their nest holes in the same buildings.
An early morning walk to the square in Trujillo, seeing 36 Lesser Kestrels, 18 White Storks and around 300 Swifts.
After breakfast we drove towards Caceres, exploring the grassland areas to the west, seeing 16 Hoopoes, 5 Montagu's Harriers, 12 Black Kites, 11 Red-legged Partridges, 10 Little Bustards, 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, 3 Great Spotted Cuckoos, 4 Red Kites, a Stone Curlew, a Black-eared Wheatear, 12 Azure-winged Magpies, 4 Rollers, 5 Griffon Vultures, 4 Buzzards, 3 Southern Grey Shrikes, 6 Bee-eaters, a Cirl Bunting, 5 Calandra Larks and a Cuckoo. In one area there were several pools where there were lots of Iberian Marsh Frogs, Pond Terrapins and a Viperine Snake, new for me.
Driving south from Caceres we stopped in an area known as the Rio Salor Plain where we spent most of the afternoon, along the road and on a walk in the grasslands we saw lots of Corn Buntings, 15 Lesser Kestrels, 8 Southern Grey Shrikes, 11 Montagu's Harriers, 11 Little Bustards, an Azure-winged Magpie, 4 Hoopoes, a Black Kite, a Black-shouldered Kite which was a new bird for me, 7 White Storks, a Black-eared Wheatear, 2 Quail hearing 2 more, 7 Calandra Larks, 2 Rollers, 3 Collared Praticoles, a Red Kite and as we returned to the vehicle we had a great view of a Great Bustard as it flew over us.
We continued south toward Merida, in a few miles saw a group of 6 Great Bustards standing in a ploughed field, during this part of the journey we also saw 2 Hoopoes, 7 Southern Grey Shrikes, 3 Azure-winged Magpies, 3 White Storks, 2 Little Owls, a Little Egret and as we approached Merida groups of Cattle Egrets.
A leisurely day, leaving Merida after breakfast we drove south towards Seville, on the way seeing a Southern Grey Shrike, 3 Woodchat Shrikes, a Roller, 3 Kestrels, 4 Hoopoes, a White Stork, 5 Ravens, a Cuckoo, 4 Griffon Vultures, 3 Red-rumped Swallows, 3 Black Kites, a Short-toed Eagle,
2 Azure-winged Magpies and a Whinchat.
Just north of Seville we stopped to visit the Italica, an ancient Roman city founded in 206 BC, which had a superbly preserved arena and many fine mosaic floors. After we continued to Seville.
We left Seville on a wet, windy, cool morning and drove west towards Huelva, then south to Matalascanas and the Coto Donana National Park.
It rained all morning, so we took an early lunch break and by the time we had finished it was sunny with a clear blue sky, so we were able to visit some saltpans on the way. On our journey we saw 10 Woodlarks, 56 Bee-eaters, 6 Black Kites, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, 18 Cattle Egrets, 6 Grey Herons, lots of Yellow-legged Gulls, a Snipe, 5 Redshank, 3 Caspian Terns, 15 Little Terns, 4 Fan-tailed Warblers/Cisticolas, several flava wagtails of 3 different races, 4 Kentish Plovers, 3 Sardinian Warblers, Black-headed Gulls, 4 Black Terns, 2 Grey Plovers, 18 Dunlin, 3 Greenshank, 6 Curlew Sandpipers, a Sanderling, 2 Ringed Plovers, 2 Little Stints, 7 Little Egrets, 2 Spotted Redshank, 2 Sandwich Terns, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 4 Little Ringed Plovers, 23 Azure-winged Magpies, a Roller and a Red Kite.
We arrived at our hotel in Matalascanas mid afternoon, at this time there was only one hotel in this seaside village, although there were quite a lot of holiday apartments. From the hotel it was only a couple of minutes walk to the scrubby boundary of the park and the beach, which we followed east seeing a Song Thrush, 5 Sardinian Warblers, 5 Woodchat Shrikes, 6 Dartford Warblers, 2 Red Kites, c60 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Bee-eaters, a Redstart, 2 Blackcaps, a Hoopoe, a Tawny Pipit, 4 Spectacled Warblers, a Turtle Dove, 4 Willow Warblers, a Wheatear and a superb male Rock Thrush.
Later, we had an evening visit to El Rocio Bridge seeing 10 Black-winged Stilts, 31 Spoonbills, a Little Egret, a Greenshank, a Black-tailed Godwit, a Tree Sparrow, a Great Reed Warbler, 2 Grasshopper Warblers, a Nightingale, 2 White Storks and a Bittern.
Off the main road the village of El Rocio was reached along a sandy track and at dusk the tracks leading east through the trees were where we looked for nightjars, we did see one, a European Nightjar, no Red-necked tonight, but we did see 3 Little Owls and 20+ Fallow Deer.
An early morning walk along the track from the hotel, seeing much the same as yesterday, including the Tawny Pipit, 4 Spectacled Warblers and male Rock Thrush, adding a Nightingale and an Orphean Warbler, a new bird for me.
Then most of the morning was spent at El Rocio Bridge, with a reed fringed pool on one side and wet marismas on the other the whole area teemed with birds. We saw 4 Whiskered Terns, 50+ Little Egrets, 40+ Black-winged Stilts, 250+ Black-tailed Godwits, 33 Ruff, 4 Fan-tailed Warblers, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 3 Black Kites, 44 Bee-eaters, a Hoopoe, 3 Tree Sparrows, 4 Avocets, a Marsh Harrier, 14 Spoonbills, 2 Great Reed Warblers,
20 Collared Praticoles, 10 Gadwall, a Grasshopper Warbler, 3 Green Sandpipers, 5 Spotted Redshanks, 6+ Greenshanks, a Little Grebe, 2 Common Sandpipers, a Purple Heron, 5 Red-rumped Swallows, 2 Cattle Egrets, a Red Kite, a Snipe, 3 White Storks, 2 Buzzards, a brief view of a Little Bittern, 2 Nightingales and a Reed Warbler.
In the afternoon we went into the Coto Donana and boarded a Land Rover for a tour of park, the first part of the trip took us along the beach where we stopped several times, seeing 36 Gull-billed Terns, 54 Little Terns, c50 Black-tailed Godwits, 4 Caspian Terns, 150 Sanderling, a Whimbrel, 10 Sandwich Terns, 88 Oystercatchers and near the eastern tip of the reserve the shore was covered in Fiddler Crabs.
Inland we drove through woodland where at one point we were able to walk around for a while, here we saw 5 Red Kites, a Short-toed Eagle, 3 Pied Flycatchers, 8 Azure-winged Magpies, 18 Woodchat Shrikes, 10 Redstarts, 3 Nightingales, 2 Crested Tits, a Hoopoe, 38 Fallow Deer, 3 Red Deer and a family group of 5 Wild Boar.
The southern marismas were dry and we only saw 31 Black Kites, 2 Ravens and 2 Peregines there, we headed back to the park entrance and from there set off for Seville and an overnight stay, on the way seeing 4 Little Owls and a Barn Owl.
The first part of the morning was spent in Seville with everyone doing their own thing. Later we drove to Jerez de la Frontera and a guided tour and sherry tasting at the Sandeman Bodegas, then lunch.
After, we drove to Sanlucar de Barrameda and on to Bonanza Saltpans, which is privately owned. We had booked getting the key to get in and picked it up from the managers office on the way there. By now there was quite a strong southwesterly wind and it was abit chilly, but on our walk around the saltpans we still saw around 350 Greater Flamingos, 113 Avocets, 15 Whimbrel, 16 Ruff, 60+ Curlew Sandpipers, 42 Spotted Redshanks, 20+ Dunlin, a Greenshank, 110 Black-winged Stilts, Ringed Plovers, 10 Redshank, 40 Turnstone, 23 Black Kites, 2 Red Kites, a Buzzard, 14 Little Terns, 2 Sandwich Terns, 8 Slender-billed Gulls, 5 Little Gulls, a Great Black-backed Gull, 2 Little Egrets and 13 Cattle Egrets.
Today was almost a complete washout, we started early and hoped the heavy rain would stop by the time we arrived at Laguna de Medina, but it didn't. Fortunately, making use of the thatched picnic tables to shelter under we could see most of the lake, later in the morning the rain stopped for almost a couple of hours, giving us a chance to walk around, before starting again for the rest of the day.
At the lake we saw 134 Greater Flamingos, a Montagu's Harrier, 39 Shoveler, 17 Red-crested Pochard, 8 Pochard, 3 Little Egrets, 2 Little Grebes, 2 Black-necked Grebes, masses of Coot, a male Garganey, 10 Kentish Plovers, 23 Curlew Sandpipers, 18 Avocets, 2 Little Stints, 40+ Dunlin, c30 Black-winged Stilts, 6 Ringed Plover, 5 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Gadwall, 2 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Reed Warblers, 17 Fan-tailed Warblers, a Reed Bunting, 4 Cuckoos, 9 Nightingales, 10 Great Reed Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Sedge Warblers, 3 Garden Warblers, 2 Melodious Warblers,
2 Whitethroats, 3 Blackcaps, 6 Sardinian Warblers, a Woodchat Shrike, 2 Cetti's Warblers, a Purple Heron, a Black Tern, 2 Whiskered Terns and excellent views of an Olivaceous Warbler, a new bird for me.
It was a pity we couldn't explore the whole area, but the rain returned and we drove to Algeciras, on the way seeing a Whinchat, 159 Cattle Egrets, a Raven, a Montagu's Harrier and a Woodchat Shrike. In Algeciras above a square near the hotel there were 150+ Pallid Swifts with 100+ Swifts.
The last full day of the tour, with everyone opting for a trip to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco. Most of the group booked a tour of Ceuta, lunch and a visit to Tetouan market, John Potts and I chose to go birding at a marsh just north of M'Diq a few miles south of Ceuta on the way to Tetouan.
On the boat trip to Ceuta we were followed by lots of Yellow-legged Gulls, in Ceuta there were lots of Swallows and Pallid Swifts, also Swifts, a Gull-billed Tern, a Sandwich and Little Tern, a Common Sandpiper, 2 Cattle Egrets and a Peregrine.
At the marsh near M'Diq we saw c70 Little Egrets, 5 White Storks, 12 Woodchat Shrikes, c200 flava wagtails, 41 Black Kites, 9 Marsh Harriers,
6 Purple Herons, 7 Sardinian Warblers, a Raven, 50+ Fan-tailed Warblers, a Little Bittern which gave much better views than the one glimpsed in the Coto Donana, so a new bird for me. Also seen were 3 Water Rails, a Greenshank, 2 Bitterns, Goldfinches, Linnets, 3 Blackbirds, masses of Swallows, House Martins and Swifts flying through, Pallid Swifts, Moorhens, 5 Little Grebes, 16 Cetti's Warblers, a Blackcap, a Bee-eater, 17 Cattle Egrets, 8 Reed Warblers, a Kestrel, 2 Red-crested Pochard, a Great Crested Grebe, a Garden Warbler, a Grey Heron, 3 Turtle Doves, a Redstart, 30+ Sand Martins, a Whinchat, 2 Cuckoos, 3 Corn Buntings, a Willow Warbler and 6 Camels.
After breakfast we left Algeciras for Malaga Airport, seeing 3 Cattle Egrets and a Kestrel on the drive.