A Western Black-eared Wheatear chases after a rival Photo: James Lidster
Our tour will travel almost the entire length of this fascinating country, beginning with the extensive lagoons and wetlands surrounding the old town of Jerez and continuing to the famous Coto Doñana to look for its equally famous birds. Next we’ll visit Extremadura, home to the highest concentration of raptors in Europe. From there we’ll venture out into the open steppe habitats of northern Spain, home to bustards, sandgrouse, and the elusive Dupont’s Lark, before ending our tour amid the splendor of the Pyrenees.
Along the way we’ll encounter sleepy villages and shady olive groves, seeing a part of Spanish life that many tourists miss on their conventional itineraries.
Day 1: Our tour begins at midday at the Malaga airport, followed by a transfer to our hotel. If time allows, we’ll bird en route, perhaps encountering a White Stork, Booted Eagle, or Eurasian Hoopoe flying over the road. Night near Jerez.
Day 2: The shallow lagoons around Jerez play host to one of the country’s special birds, White-headed Duck. This will be our main target for the day, but the first full day in a new country is always exciting, and new species will come thick and fast. We’re almost sure to see herons, storks, terns, bee-eaters, and raptors, and in the nearby woodlands we should find Crested Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers. Night near Jerez.
Day 3: We’ll continue our journey and aim to be in the famous Coto Doñana by the afternoon. Our hotel, settled on the edge of the marsh, is a real gem, and from here we could see our first Greater Flamingoes and Eurasian Spoonbills within a few hundred feet of our rooms! The wetlands at El Rocio are always exciting. If the water level is 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 hold singing Great Reed Warblers, and careful scanning of the shoreline often produces both Squacco and Purple Herons, sometimes Glossy Ibis, the occasional Little Bittern, and the rare Red-knobbed Coot. Night in El Rocio.
Days 4–5: The Coto Doñana has been described as one of Europe’s last wilderness areas, and during our two days here we’ll sample from its rich and varied habitats. Following a maze of tracks we’ll spend a whole day birding our way to the José Antonio Valverde Center, in front which is a superb colony of Purple Herons and Glossy Ibis mixed with smaller numbers of Squacco and Black-crowned Night Herons and Cattle Egrets. This used to be a good area for Marbled Duck, but in recent years they have been hard to find. 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 for Little Bittern, while Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Turtle Dove, and Corn Bunting are all still surprisingly common. Open water areas can hold Great White Egret, as well as more Greater Flamingoes in addition to Gull-billed Terns and various wildfowl and shorebirds, while drier areas support Lesser Short-toed Larks.
Closer to our hotel is a series of nature trails and blinds that offer excellent chances for seeing Red-crested Pochard, Iberian Chiffchaff, Azure-winged Magpie, Cetti’s Warbler, Firecrest, and Tree Sparrow. If time allows, we may head west toward Huelva, where we’ll look for Red-knobbed Coot, Osprey, and shorebirds around the saltpans. We’ll venture out one night after dinner to try for Red-necked Nightjar. Nights in El Rocio.
Day 6: Leaving Doñana behind, we’ll begin our journey north, passing groups of White Storks, Cattle Egrets, and Black Kites along the way. The Honey-buzzard migration should be at its peak, and if the winds have been from the east we’ll hope to pick out one of these long-distance migrants. Once into the hills we may start to see more vultures, with Eurasian Griffon being the most likely, but both Eurasian Black and Egyptian are possible before the day is over. If we have time, we’ll visit the steppe habitat close to our hotel, perhaps seeing our first Montagu’s Harrier or European Roller. Night near Trujillo.
Days 7–8: We’ll have two full days to explore the wonders of Extremadura, dividing our time between Monfrague National Park and the steppes. Monfrague has arguably one of the highest concentrations of breeding raptors in Europe, and if the weather is favorable we’ll see hundreds of Eurasian Griffon Vultures as well as Eurasian Black and Egyptian Vultures, Red and Black Kites, Booted, Short-toed, Golden, and Bonelli’s Eagles, and with luck that global rarity the Spanish Imperial Eagle. It’s not only raptors that will grab our attention, as other highly sought-after species, such as Black Stork, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Subalpine Warbler, and both Rock and Cirl Buntings, breed in the park.
Our day on 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, Thekla and Wood Larks, and possibly Black Wheatear. The density of breeding Montagu’s Harriers in this area can be impressive, and both Crested Larks and Zitting Cisticolas are common. The number of breeding Corn Buntings is a delight when we consider how scarce the species has become elsewhere in northwestern Europe. As a bonus, the town of Trujillo holds breeding Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts. Nights near Trujillo.
Day 9: After breakfast we’ll leave Extremadura and head toward Madrid. Our destination is a small area of steppe to the north of the capital. Close to our hotel we’ll hope to see Red-billed Chough and Black Redstart, and we’ll search as well for Eurasian Wryneck and “Sharpe’s” Green Woodpecker. Night in Sepulveda.
Day 10: We’ll start early today in search of one of Europe’s most elusive birds, Dupont’s Lark. Typically they sing only at dawn, so we’ll be in place, ready for a chance to see “el diablo” as the sun rises. Its strange mournful song is not difficult to hear, but it will be competing with the songs of Short-toed, Eurasian Sky, and Calandra Larks. This area has proved a favorite on previous tours, and breeding birds include Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Red-legged Partridge, Southern Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers, and Rock Sparrow. The stunted junipers can hold both Dartford and Western Orphean Warblers, and the rocky terrain is popular with Northern and Black-eared Wheatears. After a late breakfast we’ll begin our lengthy journey into the mighty Pyrenees. Night in the Hecho Valley.
Days 11–12: We’ll wake up to dramatic scenery and a new avifauna, with familiar northern European breeding species such as Blue and Coal Tits, Chaffinch, and Mistle Thrush all being found around our hotel. We’ll have two full days to explore our new mountain home, focusing on some enigmatic species. For many people, Lammergeier and Wallcreeper are not only special Spanish birds but special world birds, and they are species of endless fascination. The former is often seen over our hotel, and we hope to have multiple encounters over the two days. Wallcreeper can be much harder to find, but we’ll try several favored spots. It can be neck-aching work searching the high cliffs, but by constantly looking up we may encounter a Golden Eagle or more Lammergeiers. Other montane species should include White-throated Dipper, Water Pipit, and both Alpine and Red-billed Choughs. We’ll also check a site for Alpine Accentor and White-winged Snowfinch, but they often retreat to the high peaks once the snow has begun to melt. On one day we’ll search for Black Woodpecker, Citril Finch, and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, and we have a good chance for eye-level vulture encounters. Nights in the Hecho Valley.
Day 13: After some morning birding we’ll drive to Bilbao, where the tour concludes.
Updated: 12 April 2013
- 2013 Tour Price : $3,950
- Single Occupancy Spplement : $470
* This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Please review the explanation of our Sunbird pricing here.
Maximum group size six with one leader; 12 with two leaders.