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 extensive lagoons and wetlands surrounding the old town of Jerez before moving on to the famous Coto Doñana to look for its equally famous birds and then visiting Extremadura, home to the highest concentration of raptors in Europe, in addition to its bustards and sandgrouse. From there we’ll make our first visit to the mountains, where Bluethroats and Rock Thrush sing from extensive golden stands of broom, before venturing into the open steppe 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 forests and 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: WINGS participants should arrive in Malaga no later than this evening. Night near Malaga airport. (see Note **, below).
Day 2: Following the mid-morning arrival of the Sunbird group from London, we will begin our 140 mile drive to Jerez. Our journey takes us past 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 still see small numbers of Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and maybe the first returning Honey-buzzards - the latter species having spent the previous year in western Africa before returning, in their third year, to breed in Europe. Migrant passerines may also be present and we may see both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Subalpine Warbler, or groups of European Bee-eaters making their way north. Night near Zahara.
John is an excellent leader. The number of species that we found far exceeded my expectations. I’d birded previously in Portugal and Morocco and thought I’d probably get about a dozen life birds - actually got 21, including the challenging Wallcreeper. John’s selection of the Picos de Europa site for the Wallcreeper is a far superior choice than the long drive and hike to the site in the Pyrenees. Clearly the benefit of having a leader who lives in country.
Wendy Ealding, May 2015
Day 3: 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 the first full day in a new country is always exciting 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 host to 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. On the way back to our hotel 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. Night near Zahara.
Day 4: If raptor migration is in full swing we may backtrack slightly towards Tarifa, perhaps enjoying eye-level views of Honey-buzzards as they power across the Straits of Gibraltar, whilst distant groups of Scopoli’s Shearwaters (recently split from Cory’s) enter the Mediterranean Sea to return to their island breeding grounds. There will be many Yellow-legged Gulls around town, often forming their own welcome party for any incoming Short-toed Eagles. If the beach is undisturbed (sometimes difficult among the myriad of kite-surfers), we’ll search for Audouin’s Gull and Kentish Plover. The town itself holds breeding Pallid Swifts and Lesser Kestrels, which are ideal distractions during a coffee break, and it is still the only site for the only pair of Common Bulbuls breeding in Europe! We’ll continue our journey westwards and hope to be in the famous Coto Doñana region by late afternoon.
Our hotel, settled on the shores of the marismas, is a real gem from which we could see our first Greater Flamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills within a few hundred 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. 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. Following a maze of tracks we’ll spend a whole day birding our way to 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 that offer excellent chances of Red-crested Pochard, Iberian Chiffchaff, Azure-winged Magpie, Woodchat Shrike, Cetti’s and Savi’s Warblers, Firecrest and Tree Sparrow. If time allows we may head west towards Huelva where we have more chances of seeing 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, stopping to look for Rufous Bush-robin and Black Wheatear 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 are possible. If time allows we’ll check steppe habitat closer to our hotel, perhaps seeing our first Great Bustards or European Roller. 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, its 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, Subalpine Warbler, and both Rock and Cirl Buntings - all breeding 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. A few colonies of breeding Montagu’s Harriers still breed in the area, providing an impressive sight, and both Crested Larks and Zitting Cisticolas are common. The number of breeding Corn Buntings is a delight when considering how scarce the species has become in north-west Europe, while 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. 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, the recently split 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 these en route and also for White-throated Dipper and Grey Wagtail which are present on the small rivers. 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. Citril Finch is generally very scarce in these pine forests but we’ll make one or two specific stops to look for them, including a small area of steppe-like páramo not far from the historic city of 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 Larks. Whilst waiting, we hope to see Red-billed Choughs, Red-legged Partridge, Iberian Grey Shrike, Tawny Pipit and Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers. The stunted junipers can hold both Dartford and Western Orphean Warblers, and the rocky terrain is popular with Northern and Black-eared Wheatears. Night in Sepulveda.
Day 12: A quick look outside the hotel grounds before breakfast should produce Blue Rock Thrush, 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, and sometimes even Eurasian Wryneck. If we didn’t succeed in finding Dupont’s Larks yesterday we’ll try again this morning, or perhaps check a nearby valley for Rock Sparrow, and varies Sylvia warblers. With a long journey facing us into the spectacular Picos de Europa mountains we need to be on the road just after lunch to ensure arriving in time for dinner. Night in Potes.
Days 13-14: We’ll wake up to a new avifauna, with familiar northern European breeding species such as Spotted Flycatcher, Blue and Coal Tits, Chaffinch and Mistle 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. Good weather also sees regular raptors passing over. We’ll spend the afternoon lower down searching for a few of the region’s other special birds including Middle Spotted Woodpecker, perhaps an early-arriving Red-backed Shrike and other birds more typical of further north in Europe, including Common Redstart, Marsh Tit and Yellowhammer. Night in Potes.
Day 15: After breakfast we’ll start our journey to Madrid where the tour concludes, pausing for a short break en route if time permits.
Updated: 20 July 2016
- 2017 Tour Price : $3,900
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $560
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and transfers from and to the airport as needed are included in the tour cost for WINGS participants. Meals are not included until you join the Sunbird group arriving on Day 2.
Maximum group size six with one leader; 12 with two leaders.