Joanna and I just got back from our first trip to Spain. A whirlwind 5-day self-guided birding tour from Malaga to Gibraltar, Seville, Donana National Park, and back to Malaga. When we weren't lost, caught in the rain, or searching desperately for something to eat, the birding was actually pretty good.
The first day of birding got off to a late start due to road closures in Marbella, and when we finally got to our destination we were greeted by gale-force winds and near-freezing temperatures. We did manage to seek out a few species clinging to branches before being hastily blown to the next country! These included Subalpine Warbler, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting and Southern Grey Shrike. In the sky overhead we had soaring Griffon Vultures, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, and Bonelli's Eagle. Later on in the day, in the vicinity of Ronda, we had Woodchat Shrike, Blue Rock-Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Rock Petronia, and Nightingale. We ended the day near La Linea, just outside of Gibraltar.
Our second day of birding began at Gibraltar, but upon arrival we were notified that the passage of birds was very poor and that the winds were blowing in the wrong direction. Confidently, the banders at the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society station told us there was little chance of any hawk migration. Disappointed, we decided to cut our losses and head north toward Seville. Along the way we picked up numerous Yellow-legged Gulls and White Storks, as well as smaller numbers of Alpine Swift, Pallid Swift, Crested Lark and European Serin. At a small botanical garden we picked up Western Bonelli's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff, and at a small lagoon we found Great Reed Warbler and Zitting's Cisticola.
After much confusion in figuring out how to get to our next destination, the third day of birding was spent at Brazo Del Este, a series of wetlands interspersed among extensive agricultural fields just west of Dos Hermanas. The birding here was the best so far, and quickly we picked up Little Ringed Plover, Bee-eater, Collared Pratincole, Purple Heron, Penduline Tit, Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Spoonbill, Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover and Eurasian Thick-Knee. We ended the day at El Rocio, where despite prior information that the estuary here should not be missed at sunset for its spectacular bird aggregations, it was surprisingly underwhelming. In the far distance we did see about 5,000 Greater Flamingos, but given the distance they could have been plastic dummies on sticks and we'd have been none the wiser.
We began our fourth day of birding in Donana National Park, almost immediately adjacent to El Rocio, on the opposite side of the main road. In just 3 hours we had 46 species, including great looks at 7 lifers: Crested Tit, Squacco Heron, Eurasian Hoopoe, Dartford Warbler, Red-crested Pochard, Azure-winged Magpie, and Red-rumped Swallow. From Donana we made our way toward Punta Umbria near Huelva. On the way we stopped at Marismas Del Odeil, a large estuary and mudflat located between two large spits. Here we located a number of shorebirds, including Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Common Redshank and Ringed Plover. The highlight was a Montagu's Harrier. At the hotel in Punta Umbria we ended the day watching Northern Gannets plunge for food into the Atlantic.
Our final day of birding in Spain, and it was a long one. We began at Marismas Del Odeil, where in addition to many of the species we found yesterday, we added Southern Grey Shrike, Red-crested Pochard, Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Pied Avocet, Little Tern, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Sandwich Tern, Red Knot and Caspian Tern. From here we headed to Seville to do tourist type things, which in birder terms means no birding. Afterward we continued east to Laguna Dolce where we picked up White-headed Duck, then to Teba Sierra for Red-billed Chough, and Treba Canyon for Black Wheatear and Eurasian Crag-Martin. As the sun set during our descent into Malaga, we reflected on our crazy five days of mayhem. If we were to do this trip again, we would certainly do it differently, and spend more time in one area rather than sprint across the country in a mad dash bird grab.
We departed Malaga the next morning and arrived back in Oxford at about 2pm. For the trip I added 50 new species to my life list. Not a shabby total considering persistent hiccups.