Last week we hosted a lovely bunch of folk – David, Steph, Rob, Julia and Anne – on behalf of Honeyguides wildlife tours. With stays on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar, we managed to build up a great quality bird, butterfly and plant list from European farmland and cork oak forest, Moroccan mountain habitats and wetlands and salt pans on both sides of the Straits, as well as views of hundreds of migrating Black Kites, Short-toed Eagles and other raptors. And of course the superb local food and culture throughout should go without saying…
Day 1 was all about settling in. We met the small but perfectly-formed group at Gibraltar airport, from where we made the short walk across the border to finally arrive in Spain. The minibus swiftly took us on the short journey to our first base at Huerta Grande Ecolodge, and the mood was good as the outskirts of Algeciras, peppered with huge White Stork nests, gave way to the rugged hills and cork oak forests of Los Alcornacales Natural Park.
Huerta Grande is a collection of tranquil log cabins and post-colonial buildings set within seven acres at the edge of the park itself. Here we sat down to a light lunch while Simon gave a brief introduction to the fascinating history and ornithology of the area.
After lunch the group settled into accommodation at Casa del Espia, a building at Huerta Grande that used to house Italian and German Spies during WWII while they monitored British shipping movements in the Straits of Gibraltar. It now nestles quietly amongst Cork Oak and Laurel bushes, with a forest floor of Intermediate Periwinkle, Wild Garlic and Bermuda Buttercup (non-native, but still very attractive!).
Heading out along the coast we stopped in at El Trafico raptor watchpoint, right down at the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar. Although the crosswinds were a little high to offer a major migration event today, we love to bring groups to this place, where you are almost level with the sea and North Africa looks so close you could reach out and touch it.
Our stop gave us excellent views of Northern Gannets and Sandwich Terns close in to the shore, and groups of Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters out to sea. Although the soaring birds didn’t fancy their chances against the crosswinds this afternoon, we were delighted to be in the middle of a steady stream of Sand Martins, Barn Swallows and House Martins arriving back into Europe.
To complete our first relaxed day and help the group orientate, we headed into the picturescue Old Town of Tarifa for some ‘urban birding’! The group were perhaps a bit bemused at first to find themselves birding in a car park, but understanding soon dawned as they were treated to Common Bulbul singing from the palm trees, Lesser Kestrels overhead and a very obliging Little Owl looking down on us from a Eucalyptus! The car park fence brought more gems, with Ramping Fumitory growing all along its base and a Black Redstart perched on it, and we were even lucky enough to glimpse a Black Stork gliding overhead.
A short walk through the delightful plazas and winding streets of the Old Town took us to the Castillo de Guzman, Tarifa’s 1000-year-old fortified castle by the sea. This imposing structure is not only impressive to visit but also hosts a colony of Lesser Kestrels, seven or eight pairs of which had already returned, and were super-active overhead as they rekindled their relationships and rebuilt nests in the holes and features of the fort’s stonework. Lots of Spotless Starlings were also on show doing much the same thing, and there was also a beautifully crisp Black Redstart happy to pose for photos!
We paused at the hilltop Mirador del Estrecho restaurant for a well-earned coffee and another stunning view of the Straits, before making the short trip back to Huerta Grande so the group had plenty of time to relax from their journey before dinner.
Does this sound like your cup of cafe con leche? Have a look at our selection of Straits-based tours and grab an opportunity to come and see our world…