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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Spain

Saturday 29 April to Friday 12 May 2023
with John Muddeman and Howard Vaughan as leaders
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A Western Black-eared Wheatear chases after a rival Photo: James Lidster

There is no other European country that offers such a wealth of birdwatching as Spain and this comprehensive tour is designed to take in the very best the country can provide. We’ll travel almost the entire length of this storied land, beginning with the famous migration bottleneck of the Strait of Gibraltar and the lagoons and wetlands near the old town of Jerez before moving on to the famous Coto Doñana to look for its equally famous birds. Moving north we then visit Extremadura, home to the highest concentration of raptors in Europe, in addition to its bustards and sandgrouse and move up to enjoy our first taste of the mountains, where Bluethroats and Rock Thrush sing from extensive golden stands of broom, before venturing into the open paramo habitats of northern Spain that are home to a suite of special birds including the elusive Dupont’s Lark. We’ll end our tour amidst the splendor of the vallyes, forests and spectacular limestone crags of the Picos de Europa.

Along the way we’ll encounter sleepy villages and shady olive groves, and see parts of Spanish life that so many tourists miss in their headlong dash to the coast.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening at our hotel near Malaga’s Costa del Sol airport.

Day 2: We’ll set off this morning after breakfast. Our journey takes us to one of the most famous migration routes in the world, the Strait of Gibraltar, and depending on the weather conditions we’ll stop at various migration watch points along the way. We should see small numbers of local and migrant raptors, including Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Black Kite and maybe eye-level view of the first returning European Honey-buzzards - the latter species having spent the previous year in western Africa before returning, in their third year, to breed in Europe. Distant groups of Scopoli’s Shearwaters enter the Mediterranean Sea to return to their island breeding grounds, while the endangered and early nesting Balearic Shearwater can also regularly be seen, often already heading out into the Atlantic at this time. Many Yellow-legged Gulls are present along the coast, often forming their own ‘welcome’ party for any incoming Short-toed Eagles. Migrant passerines are usually present in a few wooded areas and we may see both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Western Subalpine Warbler, our first Western Orphean Warblers and Woodchat Shrikes or even groups of European Bee-eaters making their way north. Night near Algeciras.

This tour was a wonderful introduction to Spain and its birds. The itinerary and pace were very good and John Muddeman was an excellent guide, a good all-round naturalist with outstanding abilities to hear and see birds, patience to get everyone on them, good ability to plan and also to adjust plans to the unexpected, and very strong people skills.

Catherine K., May 2019

Day 3: We take in a series of series of sites around the southernmostpoint of Europe, concentrating more or less on the passage of raptors depending what we encountered the day before, but also enjoying a variety of coastal habitats. Near Tarifa a partially flooded beach and its dunes is major attraction for migrant birds, and if the beach is undisturbed (sometimes difficult among the myriad of kite-surfers), we’ll search for Audouin’s Gull and Kentish Plover. Numerous shorebirds, plus a variety of terns and gulls may be present, and even Greater Short-toed and Crested larks, migrant Northern Wheatears, plus Pallid and Common swifts, and perhaps even migrant European Bee-eaters passing overhead are amongst those in the dunes. Some old salinas provide more quiet feeding habitats for numerous shorebirds, including breeding Collared Pratincoles and Little Terns, the flowery slopes behind support impressively large Calandra Larks and elegant Tawny Pipits and our first Greater Glamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills are often seen feeding in the shallow waters. A nearby rock outcrop with nesting Blue Rock Thrush and Griffon Vultures also affords superb views over the west part of the Strait and over to Morocco, while another houses a surprising colony of the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. We may either start off, or round off the day with a quick visit to Tarifa in the search for one of Europe’s rarest birds, Common Bulbul, and enjoy the aerial antics of the local Lesser Kestrels. Night near Algeciras.

Day 4: The shallow lagoons around Jerez play host to one of the country’s special birds, White-headed Duck. This will be our main target, but these pools are also home to lots of other exciting birds and new species will come thick and fast. Wet fields, saltpans and small lagoons should hold herons, including both Purple and Squacco, White Storks, Gull-billed Terns and yet more raptors. The White-headed Ducks can be on several small lakes, which also host Red-crested Pochard and in some years even Marbled Duck. The nearby woodland and scrub holds Melodious and Sardinian Warblers, Crested Tits, and Short-toed Treecreepers. We’ll divert from the main road to check out one of Europe’s rarest breeding species, Little Swift, a common bird throughout Africa that has just a toehold in Spain before starting the journey north towards Seville and onwards to our destination in the famous Coto Doñana region. Our hotel, settled on the shores of the marismas, is a real gem from which we could see Greater Flamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills within a few dozen yards of our rooms! The wetlands at El Rocio are always exciting and if water levels are low we may see flocks of Curlew Sandpipers, feeding Whiskered Terns and Collared Pratincoles hawking for insects. If the levels are high then species such as Avocet and Black-winged Stilt may find it to their liking. The reedy edges often hold singing Great Reed Warblers, and careful scanning of the shoreline usually produces both Squacco and Purple Herons, sometimes Glossy Ibis, and the occasional Little Bittern and Eurasian Penduline Tit. Night in El Rocio.

Days 5-6: The Coto Doñana has been described as one of Europe’s last wilderness areas and during our two days we’ll sample from its rich and varied habitats. If conditions are right, we follow a maze of tracks and spend a whole day birding our way to and from the José Antonio Valverde Centre. In front of the information centre is a superb mixed colony of herons and egrets and Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes breed to a backdrop of noisy Great Reed Warblers. The journey there can be so full of birds that it’s difficult to know how long it will take. The roadside ditches offer a chance of Little Bittern, while Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Turtle Dove and Corn Bunting are all possible, the latter still surprisingly common. Open water areas can hold Great White Egret, as well as more Greater Flamingos, in addition to Gull-billed Terns and various wildfowl and shorebirds, while drier areas support Lesser Short-toed Larks. Closer to our hotel a series of nature trails and observation blinds through scrub and woodland offer excellent chances of Iberian Chiffchaff, Azure-winged Magpie, Iberian Grey Shrike, Dartford Warblers, Thekla’s Lark, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. On one morning we head west towards Huelva, where we have more chances of seeing Western Osprey, Audouin’s Gull and shorebirds around the saltpans and estuary. Nights in El Rocio.

Day 7: Leaving the Coto Doñana behind we’ll begin our journey north into Extremadura, stopping to look for Rufous Bush Robin, Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Eurasian Crag Martin and Alpine Swift at different sites along the way. Once into the hills we may start to see more vultures with Eurasian Griffon being the most likely, but both Eurasian Black and Egyptian, as well as Black Stork, are possible. In the late afternoon we’ll detour to check our first steppic habitat in the region, looking for our first Great Bustards and European Rollers, with a chance of Little Bustard and Black-bellied Sandgrouse as well. Night near Torrejon el Rubio.

Days 8-9: We’ll have two full days to explore the wonders of Extremadura - dividing our time between Monfrague National Park, the steppes and if necessary, the region’s wetlands and valleys. Monfrague has arguably one of the highest concentrations of breeding raptors in Europe and if the weather is favorable we’ll see Red and Black Kites, Booted, Short-toed, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, and hopefully the globally rare Spanish Imperial Eagle. It’s not only raptors that will hold our attention but also other much sought-after species such as Black Stork, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Western Subalpine Warbler, Black Redstart and both Rock and Cirl Buntings - all breeding in the park. Our visit to the steppes could be no less exciting and we’ll make several stops in search of singing Common Quail, Great and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Stone-curlew, European Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Little Owl, and possibly Black Wheatear. A few Montagu’s Harriers still breed in the area, providing a lovely sight, and Crested and Calandra Larks are common. The number of breeding Corn Buntings is a delight when considering how scarce the species has become in north-west Europe, while if we have time, in Trujillo town we can again watch breeding Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts. Nights near Torrejon el Rubio.

Day 10: Sometime after breakfast we’ll make the relatively short journey north to the Gredos Mountains. However, if we still haven’t seen certain species, such as Black-shouldered Kite we’ll alter our route accordingly, including enjoying Monfrague and or nearby wetlands again. The high mountains of central Spain support several special habitats and these in turn are home to excellent populations of highly sought-after species, ranging from freshly arriving Eurasian Hobby, Iberian Green Woodpecker, the iberiae race of Pied Flycatcher, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Firecrest, quirky Crested Tit and Common Crossbill in its pine forests, to healthy populations of Bluethroat, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Water Pipit and Ortolan Bunting above the treeline. We’ll look for some of these en route and also for White-throated Dipper and Grey Wagtail which are present on the small rivers, while Citril Finch is generally very scarce in these pine forests but we’ll also make one or two specific stops to search for them. Night in Navarredonda de Gredos.

Day 11: If we didn’t make this excursion yesterday afternoon, our morning will largely be dedicated to walking into a relatively easily accessible higher part of the Gredos to search for the other high mountain species. We also have an excellent chance of seeing the endemic Spanish Ibex here. After lunch we continue our journey past the historic cities of Avila and Segovia. Once close to our hotel we’ll head directly to a site for perhaps the most sought-after bird of the region, Dupont’s Lark. Contrary to popular belief there is just as much chance of seeing one in the afternoon as there is at dawn, although seeing ‘el diablo’ at any time is far from easy. As the evening sets in the song activity should increase although there will be stiff competition from Calandra and Great Short-toed Larks, Eurasian Skylark, and both Crested and Thekla’s Larks as well!. Whilst waiting, we hope to see Red-billed Choughs, Red-legged Partridge, Iberian Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit and perhaps Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers. The stunted junipers can hold both Dartford and Western Orphean Warblers, and the rocky terrain is popular with Northern and Western Black-eared Wheatears. Night in Sepulveda.

Day 12: A look outside the hotel before breakfast may produce Eurasian Wryneck, Rock Sparrow, Black Redstart, singing Golden Orioles, Common Cuckoo, European Serin, Cirl Bunting and Eurasian Hoopoe. Nearby woodland can be alive with Common Nightingales, Garden Warblers and Blackcaps. If we didn’t succeed in finding Dupont’s Larks yesterday we’ll try again this morning, including checking a nearby valley as we move north for Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting, Melodious, Spectacled, Dartford and Sardinian Warblers. With a long journey facing us into the spectacular Picos de Europa mountains we need to be on the road before lunch to ensure arriving in time for dinner, including stops on the way for another chance of White-breasted Dipper, plus Tree Pipit and possible Middle Spotted Woodpecker and European Bullfinch in the old oak woods here. Night in Potes.

Days 13-14: We’ll wake up to a largely new avifauna, with familiar northern European breeding species such as Common and Black Redstarts, Spotted Flycatcher, Blue and Coal Tits, Chaffinch and Song Thrush all found around our hotel. The morning will feature one of the more memorable outings during the tour, as we take a cable car ride up to the high mountain alpine pasture and bare rock habitats above Fuente Dé. This area is the realm of a small but remarkable suite of birds including Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor, White-winged Snowfinch and that enigmatic ‘avian butterfly’, the Wallcreeper, plus further chances for both Water Pipit and Northern Wheatear and perhaps even Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush again. Good weather also sees regular raptors passing over, including chances for the still rare but slowly increasing population of Lammergeier. We’ll spend the afternoon lower down searching for a few of the region’s other special birds including Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Our second day is spent visiting a series of sites on the climb up to a mountain pass, plus on the valley-sides of these impressive mountains, searching for a range of other relatively scarce Spanish species more typical of further north in Europe, such as Marsh Tit, Common Goldcrest, Yellowhammer, perhaps an early-arriving Red-backed Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher and Common Redstart amongst others. Night in Potes.

Day 15: After breakfast we’ll drive direclty to Madrid’s Barajas airport where the tour concludes shortly after midday.

Updated: 08 June 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2022 Tour Price $3,950)

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size six with one leader; 10 with two leaders.

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