Southern Spain and the Straits – Spring Migration spectacular
April 25 – May 3 2023
In conjunction with Inglorious Bustards
Leader: Jonathan Meyrav
Spring migration is the best period to visit southern Spain and the amazing Gibraltar straits. During March the “flyway” explodes with tens of thousands of migrants returning to Europe after spending the winter in Africa.
Our tour focuses on migration of course, but also includes many specialty species, iconic birds of Prey and much more. Our birding adventures will bring us to the edge of Europe, the Gibraltar Straits and we will also take a boat trip into the Straits to search for Seabirds, Dolphins, Whales and more. Besides birds we have allocated some time to search for the amazing and critically endangered Iberian Lynx, one of the rarest felines in the world.
Besides enjoying amazing birds and wildlife this tour is truly the “classic Spain” experience: beautiful rural townships, amazing food (and wine) and the wonderful romantic energy that Spain has to offer. Our tour is run with our friends at Inglorious Bustards that besides being a great tour operator are also devoted to conservation and some of the tours proceeds will go directly to conservation.
Click for our Full Program
Our tour begins at the Seville airport where we will meet our guides. We will then make the picturesque hour’s drive south-west to our base at El Rocío, a horseperson´s town complete with sand streets, pretty traditional buildings, hitching posts outside the bars, and a laid-back, slow-paced feel.
Our hotel at the edge of the village overlooks the splendid ‘Madre de las Marismas’ – ´Mother of the Wetlands´ – lagoon, which at this time of year will be teeming with waders and waterbirds including Greater Flamingoes, Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamphens. Black-winged Stilts and Eurasian Spoonbills We´ll take a little time to settle into our rooms before heading out to explore these fabulous wildlife-rich surroundings!
Then it will be time to head out for our first three-course meal of local specialities at our favourite restaurant, perhaps beginning with a glass of the famous local manzanilla dry sherry before dinner.
This morning we´ll head out at first light to explore the woods and heaths of Doñana National Park. Our friends from Doñana Nature will guide us in a custom 4×4 minibus, allowing us to reach areas of the park where others are not permitted to go! We will also have their local knowledge and skill to help us look for the beautiful Iberian Lynx and these two factors combined with a dash of luck could well give us views of this Critically Endangered and enigmatic cat.
We´ll visit the northern edge of the reserve, an area holds the densest populations of raptors in the Coto Doñana with Black-winged Kite, Booted Eagles present. Soaring flocks of Griffon Vultures and we will hope to encounter the Spanish Imperial Eagles that breed in the area.
The Stone Pine woodlands and heath mosaics are home to roving flocks of Iberian Magpies, Eurasian Hoopoes, Woodlarks, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrests, as well as Red and Fallow Deer, Wild Boar and Iberian Red Fox.
After a picnic lunch back in El Rocío, we´ll take some time to relax and explore before heading back into the National Park later in the afternoon.
We´ll enjoy the freshwater wetlands at the Jose Valverde visitor centre, a favoured hang-out for Black-winged Kite and Marsh Harrier. We can also hope for views of Ferruginous Duck, Black-winged Stilts and Purple Swamphens. As the sun sets, we´ll make our way back to El Rocío hoping once more to glimpse the crepuscular activities of the Iberian Lynx.
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we´ll set out to explore another aspect of Doñana – the salt pans and pools of the eastern side of the Guadalquivir – but first, we´ll head to a nearby harbour to enjoy the comings and goings of a Little Swift colony over coffee.
Our next stop will be the salt pans at Bonanza, to enjoy the wealth of life there. Swirling flocks of thousands of waders can include Dunlin, Sanderling, Common Ringed, Kentish and Grey Plover, Common Redshanks, Pied Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Curlews, Common and Green Sandpipers and Little Stint. We´ll also be looking out for Caspian Terns, Slender-billed and Audouin´s Gulls, Black Storks, Western Ospreys and Lesser Short-toed Larks.
On the numerous freshwater irrigation pools in the area lurk some real treats, including Black-necked Grebes, White-headed and Marbled Ducks, Red-knobbed Coot, Purple Swamphens and Ferruginous Duck. We should also see large roosts of Black-crowned Night Herons, adorning the bushes.
Then it will be time to head to East Atlantic Flyways epicentre of migration at The Straits of Gibraltar where we will settle into our beautiful accommodation in the shady wooded valley of the natural park.
Our base is ideal for watching the migration as it is located between two Natural Parks in the The Straits of Gibraltar. In the right conditions we should witness many hundreds of migratory birds making the crossing to their wintering grounds in Africa or breeding grounds in Europe, including Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kites and both Black and White Storks.
We will take a boat excursion, weather permitting, into The Straits to witness the seabird passage and cetaceans. We will be on the lookout for Cory’s, Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters among other species, plus the three species of resident dolphin (Common, Bottlenose and Striped) and the resident pods of Long-finned Pilot Whale. Once back on dry land, we will have a go at some urban birding around the old town of Tarifa where we can encounter Common Bulbul and breeding Lesser Kestrels. We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch at a nearby coastal viewpoint overlooking Tarifa and The Straits. Simply by looking up you will be able to see migrating raptors and Storks crossing over this historic town.
We’ll spend the morning at Los Lances nature reserve, a small area of intertidal habitat on Tarifa beach. On the short walk across low intensity farmland, we may see Crested Lark, Tawny Pipit, Greater Short-toed Lark, Iberian Yellow Wagtails and Corn Bunting. A boardwalk takes us out to a hide, from where we can look across the lagoons to see birds including Common Ringed and Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint. There is a decent chance of visiting Western Osprey here too, other birds can include Little, Sandwich and Caspian Terns, and the once extremely rare Audouin’s Gull.
Migratory movement is completely dependent on wind strength and direction. Depending on whether birds are crossing or gathering inland waiting for their moment, this afternoon will be spent at one of several local raptor watchpoints, making the absolute most of whatever the conditions bring us and ensuring we are in the right place at the right time to see this spellbinding spectacle.
Today, alongside more raptor-watching at sites with stunning views across The Straits to North Africa, we will make a visit to a nearby nature reserve created on the site of disused salt pans. This area offers a fantastic selection of waders which change every day, but we will especially hope for encounters with Kentish Plovers, Eurasian Stone-curlews, Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint and Collared Pratincoles, which have a breeding colony at the site. We will also look out for eye-catchers like Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Western Osprey.
Also close by is the town of Vejer de la Frontera, where a successful reintroduction programme of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis took place in 2004. The local population now numbers around 80, and we should be able to see these engaging and quirky birds at their nesting colony or grazing on surrounding farmland.
We may also have time to visit the farmland and wetlands of La Janda. The huge area of farmland was once a vast wetland on a par with Doñana in terms of its ecological importance. It has long since been drained for agriculture, but amongst the rice fields and managed pools and ditches, some real wetland gems remain, hinting at its former natural glory. Amongst many hundreds of White Stork and Glossy Ibis, here we should see many waders, wildfowl and raptors, such as Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite as well as a chance of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle whilst the farmland areas should yield Spanish Sparrow, Calandra Lark and perhaps Red-necked Nightjar.
Today sadly our trip comes to an end, and it is time to make your own migratory journey home.
Tour leader – Jonathan Meyrav
Local leader – Inglorious Bustards
€1990 per person sharing
€2215 – Single
All transport, accommodation, guiding, taxes, insurances, meals and certain drinks.
A boat trip into The Straits looking for cetaceans and seabirds and excursions into the National and Natural Parks of Doñana (permit only area using a special 4wd drive bus).
Price doesn’t include:
International flights, incidental refreshments, tips and items of personal nature.