Spain trip report 1

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Subject: Spain trip report 1
From: "michael hunter" <>
Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2007 12:16:35 +1000
Spain Trip Report. Tarifa to Gibralter.  Part 1
Day 1  Sat. 5th May 2007
Birds in capital letters were ticks for us.

  Caught the Ferry from Tangier (LITTLE SWIFT) across the Med to Tarifa,
overcast, and not a bird was seen on the crossing, thence bussed along
coastal ranges, dreadfully polluted by lines of giant windmills, to
Algeciras. Two Griffon Vultures seen from the bus.
     Just made it to the Hertz on time to pick up a battered black Ford; we
were too late and hassled to do any birding; the ferry timetables on
computer were wrong, Hertz closed at 1.30pm,  for the weekend; we got there
at 1.20. Drove on the first of many of Spain's excellent and fast (very
fast) roads to Sanlucar la Mayor, just west of Seville and North of Donana,
to stay at the Hacienda Benazuza. This is an historic Sultan's Palace, its
buildings, with classic courtyards and gardens including a walled, sunken
orange grove has been  beautifully restored by Ferran Adria, who has also
installed his second el Bulli restaurant there. Amazing meal, even breakfast
was a masterpiece.

     The gardens, overlooking olive orchards, were full of what proved to be
typical garden birds; Nightingale, Robin, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit,
Spotted Flycatcher, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Golden Oriole,
European Collared Dove, Magpie, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Spotless
Starling, a Kestrel overflying.

Day 2 Sun. 6th May 2007

      DONANA National Park. The only bird-tour operator who spoke English
was booked out, we used "Birds of Southern and Western Spain " as our guide.

      Within Donana;

      El ROCIO . The town near the pretty old church was packed with weekend
visitors, the church was host to many hundreds of House Swifts nesting
around it's facade, House Sparrows common around the town, Swifts.    The
church and adjacent tourist shops overlook part of a long lagoon, which was
not quite seething with birds as we had expected from our research, but
there were quite a few to see, particularly at the far end away from the
town, viz,

Great Cormorant, Greater Flamingo, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Grey
Heron, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Mallard, Gadwall, Common Pochard,
Red-crested Pochard, Black Kite, Eurasian Coot, Common Moorhen, Black-winged
Stilt, Pied Avocet, Black-headed Gull, Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Common
Swift, Pallid Swift, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow,
European Reed Warbler, House Sparrow.

    CENTRO de la ROCINA, just down the main Rd, the A483, was a good place
to stretch our legs on the nature walk taking in several small lagoons,
reedbeds,creeks and maquis. Picked up two ticks for us, SAVI'S Warbler and
DARTFORD Warbler, plus a good closeup look at a curious Nightingale, and
Purple Gallinule.

    EL ACEBUCHE further south has an Information Centre and cafe, the coffee
there was welcome. Around the Carpark were AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES  and
(ordinary) Magpies the latter obviously larger when both were interacting in
the same tree. Storks were everywhere in Western Spain (and Morocco)  nests
a dime a dozen, and a particularly photogenic example was on one of the El
Acebuche buildings. House Sparrows and Red-rumped Swallows around the
Centre, Short-toed and Booted Eagles notable overhead.

   Another longish walk to hides at scattered lagoons and reedbeds yielded
Red-knobbed Coot as well as the ever-present Eurasian Coot, another Dartford
Warbler, and other warblers we could not identify by call. No White-headed
Ducks although these were a major target, and there was supposed to be a
captive breeding program at El Acebuche.

   Spain is also about raptors, we drove back north to Almonte on the
western side of Donana , here mainly pine forest, looking, and scored more
Short-toed and Booted Eagles but not the Imperial Eagle, a few of which
breed in Donana. A few Kestrels and Black Kites, a distant Griffon Vulture.

Day 3  Mon 7th May.

    There was plenty of Donana we didn't see, but not many likely ticks for
us, so we visited sites noted for their "permanent" population of
White-headed Ducks.  LAGUNA de MEDINA was such a site, south-east of

   On the walk into this reserve a Melodious Warbler was singing and
obtrusive, Chaffinches, Siskins, Green and Gold finches, Stone-chats on the
fence,  European Reed-warblers singing like crazy, Nightingales in the dense
shrubbery, Crested and Short-toed larks in the field over the fence, a
Woodchat Shrike. Notable were a Little Bittern flying across the reeds, and
a single Marbled Duck with a group of Mallard, but not a single White-headed
Duck despite scoping the entire surface of Lake Laguna many times. The
Ranger appeared and confirmed their absence, indicated that they were at
lakes further south.

   LAGUNAS de PUERTO REAL was south, with an unused hide and recent tree
plantation work in progress, no WH Ducks, but eight Montague's Harriers,
some juveniles, and a possible Goshawk, Little Ringed Plover in a puddle.
This spot was fairly remote, several km off the road on a track, only one
farmhouse in the vicinity, but as I walked back to the car police in a 4wd
splashed along the track, and at the car Penny had been accosted for leaving
the windows down a fraction for ventilation.

     That was it for the morning's birding, Gibralter was next.

    Well worth the long afterternoon we spent there just for the experience,
history .
    We drove up as far as we could, ie just past the extremely scungy
Barbary Apes being photographed by buses of tourists outside the
cafe/souvenir shop at St. Michaels cave, then walked to the top, Morocco was
visible  across the sea and above the haze.
    Yellow-legged Gulls were the birds of the Rock, thousands flying around
the sea side and roosting beside the paths.
    Two Peregrine Falcons would repeatedly soar above the rock for a minute
or two, then plummet and disappear down the northern side. Many groups of up
to twenty European Honey Buzzards drifted, spiralling in local thermals
inland, some at eye-level from where we watched. Quite a few Black Kites,
not much else that afternoon. We were a month late for the main migrations.
     The Rock Hotel was marvellous in its fading British glory, we wined and
dined on the patio overlooking the Gibralter Botanic Gardens, listening to
the Chaffinches, Siskins and doves, trying to pick out something other than
Yellow-legged Gulls from the hundreds flying around.  Nest morning the dawn
chorus from the Gardens wished us on our way. Our only stomach upset of the
entire Morocco-Spain trip followed from eating a Cornish Pasty the day
before at the souvenier shop.

                                                Michael Hunter


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