Big day out La Janda

On Day Three of their trip, we took our lovely Honeyguides group to the huge plain of La Janda, formerly a vast wetland which was mostly drained for agriculture in the 19th Century.  Fragments of wetland remain amongst the low-intensity farming, and we spent the morning finding a host of wetland and farmland treasures. 

 As the breeding season really gets into gear, the air here is thick with birdsong and we arrived to jangling Corn Buntings, Zitting Cisticolas calling and a symphony of song from the resident Calandra and Crested Lark population.  To the group’s pleasure, several of these perched conveniently on nearby fence posts for great views and photo ops!  Julia soon picked up on a Common Quail calling to add further to the soundtrack.  The group got amazing views of a Great Spotted Cuckoo perched up in a trackside bush, and it hung around calling and flitting between trees for a long time.

 In the wetter rice stubble fields, groups of Spoonbills and Common Cranes mingled with huge flocks of Cattle and Little Egrets.  We had several groups of Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe and Green Sandpiper and good views of an elegant Wood Sandpiper – unusual for the site. Amongst the numerous Meadow Pipits, we also picked up on at least three Water Pipits, their broad superciliums and light wing bars visible even at a distance.


Some of the day’s more glamorous birds were Purple Swamphens, which were very active today.  We saw a total of five birds moving around the bulrushes fringing the main ditch, iridescent in the sun. They were not to be outdone by a particularly flirty Hoopoe, which teased the group by giving great views from the minibus but continually darting a bit further away before it could be photographed!


Migrant passerines are reaching the area in early spring and we had brief but enjoyable encounters with Northern Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail. The springlike feel was enhanced by Clouded Yellow and Cleopatra butterflies and Iberian Pond Tortoise basking in the sun.

 Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and both Kestrel species quartered the land, and the group had stunning views of an adult Short-toed Eagle, first perched up on a telegraph pole and then low overhead.  Two Black-winged Kites were also distantly visible hunting over the fields. 

 Another superb sighting for the day was a Greater Spotted Eagle, which drifted overhead as the group picnicked by a river.  A couple of these magnificent raptors, normally associated with the Eastern Palearctic, have been recorded wintering at La Janda and we were able to get a good look at the diffuse light patch on its upper wing, compact wing shape and distinct upperpart spotting which made it stand out from more typical local raptors.


 The group members were by now firm converts to urban birding, so our bins were very much at the ready as we headed in to Benalupe village for an afternoon coffee stop!  This didn’t go amiss as we passed a large kettle of newly arrive Black Kites over the town, bringing the day’s total to around 300 birds.  Outside the café in the peaceful town square, we were treated to the aerial antics of Barn Swallows and Crag Martins, as well as cruising Griffon Vultures.

Does that sound like your kind of day out?  We’ll be going back there soon!  We’d love to take you with us on one of our Strait Birding and Cetaceans tours in Spring or Autumn, Birding Two Continents (next running in September) or Ronda and the Straits in October

Flying Kites in the Straits

How we love waking up to find the wind has dropped!  Strong winds stop migrating raptors in their tracks, so when a stiller day follows a couple days of bad weather, we know it will be a good one for northward movement, as the birds take the opportunity to continue their journeys. This time it coincided with the second day of a tour with our group from Honeyguides, and we were looking forward to sharing the upcoming spectacle with them.

On days like this, it’s important to use local knowledge to anticipate where the birds will be crossing.  A group of ten or so Alpine Swifts passing high over Huerta Grande first thing certainly boded well, so after breakfast we headed straight to Cazalla watchpoint, which looks down over Tarifa beach.  Sure enough, after a brief period of enjoying the differences between the singing Thekla and Crested larks, we spotted a group of a dozen or so Black Kites drifting west over the town below us, and the game was on!

As the air warmed and the wind subtly changed direction, we spent a very exciting morning between Cazalla and El Trafico watchpoints, eventually heading east along the coast to the Guadalmesi area.  Amongst the ever-arriving Hirundines, huge groups of Black Kites were crossing the sea in towering columns of 50+ birds at a time and arriving low all around us.  It was a thrilling site and we counted over a thousand birds overall during the morning.  Black Kites are the earliest raptors to make the journey north, but the tide of other species was also beginning.  We were lucky enough to catch four Egyptian Vultures and four Short-toed Eagles arriving early, as well as Sparrowhawks, Lesser Kestrels and a Marsh Harrier.

Steph and Dave enjoy a kettle of kites

After a celebratory ice cream at the Mirador del Estrecho, we headed off for some mountain birding at Sierra de la Plata, near Bolonia. Simon and Niki took the group along winding tracks through remote countryside covered in wizened wild olive trees and newly flowering Cistus scrub to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the village of Bolonia and Baelo Claudia roman ruins.  These well-preserved ruins used to be a thriving town which became prosperous due to the local tuna fishing trade and the manufacture and export of ‘garum’, a predecessor to modern day fish sauce.  As the Roman Empire was falling, a string of earthquakes hit the Iberian peninsula, from which the town never recovered.  Today its distant crumbling columns alongside the white sands and azure sea of Tarifa bay provided a picturescue backdrop to a signature Inglorious Bustards picnic lunch, which the group enjoyed while watching soaring Griffon Vultures and hovering Common Kestrels. We also stumbled upon a stunning male Blue Rock Thrush, perched up right by the track, providing perfect opportunities for Rob and Dave to get some great photos.


flirty Blue Rock Thrush


Moving on up the track, we reached a stark rocky outcrop surrounded by swirling Crag Martins, which hosts a colony of resident Griffon Vultures.  The group was blown away by the breath-taking close views and eerie ‘prehistoric’ screeching of these imposing birds as they came in to roost.  While at the site, we really had chance to get to grips with the scratchy call and song of the many Sardinian Warblers in the low scrub, and a couple of individuals put on a great show for the photographers in the group.  We also got scope views of two Iberian sharpei Green Woodpeckers flitting round the rocks, although perhaps not quite well enough to see the reduced black around the eye which distinguishes them from the Northern European sub-species.

Griffon Vultures – lush!

Arriving home in plenty of time for dinner, we took the opportunity to make a short exploration of the grounds at Huerta Grande.  Wending up through the Cork Oaks and Laurel bushes, we took some time to look out over an area of low intensity farmland which was home to the famous free range Iberian black pigs.  Here we were surrounded by glittering late afternoon Serin song, and after a bit of trying had excellent views of a pair of Hawfinches perched in a wild olive tree.

Does this sound like an experience that would fly your kite?!  Have a look at our selection of Straits-based tours, all of which are planned to feature magical encounters with migrating birds…

Welcome to our world

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.

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.

View across the Straits

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.

Lesser Kestrel – with a snack!

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…


Hold the front page! We’ve teamed up with @theurbanbirder and @TUBTours to bring you more!

Here at Inglorious Bustards we take pride in bringing you the best of birding and migration spectacles along the East Atlantic flyway, all nothing to do with racing around ticking birds and more about enjoying landscapes, habitats, culture and having a good laugh – at a relaxed pace.

 So we’re delighted to say we’ve found a soulmate in David Lindo, aka The Urban Birder.

As well as being a successful author, journalist and TV presenter, with a passion for bringing wildlife to the masses, David has been running his own fantastic tours to destinations across the globe for years, in a similar spirit to ourselves, and with a special interest in Eastern Europe.  We’ve joined forces to bring you a fantastic range of tours for 2017, all including a laid-back ethos, an element of conservation and, of course, time spent urban birding.

We’re really excited about the year to come!  Have look at our tours page, and David’s fantastic Urban Birder World offerings to see what we’ve got in store.  It’s sure to have you reaching for your bins and passport!



The Dance Begins!!

The migratory orchestra has been warming up here in the Straits for some weeks now, with steady trickles of hirundines, storks and black kites coming through, but today the opening chords were struck in earnest and the show was underway!

It’s been raining on and off for two days solid here, with unfavourable winds undoubtedly causing a bottleneck of impatient birds around the northern coast of Morocco.

But today the south-westerly winds provided the perfect lift and tailwinds for our performers waiting in the wings, and the dance began!

The winds swept away most of the last of the wet weather and – like a cork had been popped from a bottle of joyous raptor champagne – the birds began to surge across the Straits!

We were looking out over our usual patch neighbouring our base at Huerta Grande, admiring Crag Martins, Cirl Buntings and the stunning view across to Morocco’s Jebel Musa mountain, when we noticed the first two Egyptian vultures, already safely across the sea.  It was just moments till we saw the towering kettle of 30 or more black kites, also just about to reach our shores.

At last, it was time to give the trusty Inglorious Bustards raptor-watching chairs their first proper outing of 2017!

Best seats in the house…

We spent a lush couple of hours watching the migratory waltz unfold, yielding Egyptian Vultures, Black Storks, a brookei Peregrine Falcon, crossing Sparrowhawks and Lesser Kestrels, four early but absolutely gorgeous Short-toed Eagles and an impressive 109 Black Kites,  powering across the sea like the cool, scary bit in a paso doble.

And this is just the beginning!  This spectacle will build and build as the East Atlantic Flyway’s migratory raptors move north to breed, coalescing and descending on this tiny strip of sea called the Straits of Gibraltar.  For us, experiencing this powerful event has led to a life-long fascination with avian migration.

It’s no accident that we have chosen our base to be here at Huerta Grande Eco-lodge.  Our location between Gibraltar and Tarifa puts us right at centre stage of birding in the Straits and, from a migrating raptor’s point of view, we must surely also be at the centre of the world!

What are you doing this Spring?! Don’t you think you need to make sure you’ve got stageside seats to the hottest show in town?? Check out our tours page to make sure you don’t miss a thing!


At 8.10am @Jonny09Jonny and @robert_yaxley set off on #Dovestep3 into a raging storm most likely never to be seen again…

A raging sea and a howling ‘Poniente’ storm provided the dramatic opening ceremony for #Dovestep3 this morning, at dawn on Tarifa beach, where we sent the brave lads on their way.
They left the southerly-most point of the Spanish mainland at 8.10am, all set to walk the 700 mile distance to Gijon on the north coast of Spain in marathon distances every day for a month.

They will be best remembered for their heroic fundraising efforts, pioneering the Dovestep project which sees them undertake vast journeys of hundreds of miles on foot, to raise money for Turtle Dove conservation. They will be sadly missed by the birding, and indeed the metalling community.

It was to be our honour to host them in comfort here in a log cabin at Huerta Grande ecolodge for the first couple of legs of their journey north. Their trusty driver Sven – who survives them – will no doubt take some time to recuperate and pursue his botanical interests here in the beautiful grounds.

We will know by later today whether the lads have made it through their first day, and look forward to hearing the first tales about their 1000 km dash, the concept of which has met with a mixture of amusement and incredulity from locals…

You can support Dovestep 3’s heroic efforts by parting with a few groats at

Introducing the Choc and Pode Tour – Part 1: Pode!

Morocco.  Full of exotic sights, sounds and smells, stunning wildlife and engaging people, this place is exciting and adventurous yet at the same time accessible and safe. The Inglorious Bustards have explored far and wide together but this is one of the countries we can’t get enough of.

That’s why, armed with some exciting gen about where we could find some real star species, we set off on a vast road trip from Tarifa to Marrakech, with our trusty colleagues Juan-Louis and Miguel, with a mission to develop a tour to bring you Andalusian Hemipode, Eleanora’s Falcon and all the other birding delights on the way.

As with any tour, the slick, well-organised finished product belies a host of adventures and mishaps on the way!  So here’s the no-frills version of what we went through to bring you Choc and Pode!

We’d been on the road for several days already, researching a different set of destinations (watch this space!) by the time we reached the first recky point for this tour, Oualidia.  Imagine then, how pleased we were to find this pretty, bustling little resort town, nestling around a languid crescent-shaped lagoon on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.  We stretch our legs and watched House Buntings in the streets before tucking in to freshly-caught fish in a local restaurant.  


After lunch we washed away the road-weariness with a refreshing boat trip out onto the peaceful waters of the lagoon, fringed with golden sands and protected from the Atlantic surf by a rocky breakwater.  Within minutes, beach-going families gave way to Marbled Ducks, Greater Flamingoes, terns and a host of wading birds replete in their summer plumages.  Our skipper, Hassan, knew the creeks and gulleys like the lines on the face of a loved one, and he got us mesmerizingly close to Kentish Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, stunning Black-and-Silver Grey Plovers as well as getting us some of the best views of perched Osprey that I’d ever had.

But this was simply the hors d’oeuvre, for it is in this area that we knew we could find the Common Buttonquail or the more romantically-named Andalusian Hemipode if you prefer.  Or, when you’ve discussed it as much as we have, simpy ‘Pode’.  Thought extinct, the small population that breeds here was rediscovered in the 2000s. On the neighbouring farmland, in 2007, a living Andalusian Hemipode was photographed for the first time in the Western Palearctic.

It’s easy to see why the nearby farmland is ideal. The farming methods here are traditional and non-intensive.  Rolling fields stretch right down to the coast to meet marshes, reedbeds, saltpans, sandy beaches and rocky outcrops.  In my book, you know it’s going to be a good day if you see a Turtle Dove on farmland, and see them we did, along with Southern Grey Shrikes and Black-eared Wheatears.

Our contact, a local farmer, though we had no word of common language, has clearly come to know and love his Podes, as he observes them amongst his pumpkin crops.  We were pleased to see he clearly understood their importance and sensitivity, and confident that his help in finding them represents ecotourism in its purest form.  He knows exactly where to look and he was happy to allow us to explore his land.  So engrossed were Miguel, Simon and I in searching the surrounding pumpkin fields for signs that it took us quite a while to notice that by now Juan-Louis had retired to the shade of the farmer’s hut to enjoy a Prickly Pear or two!

It should go without saying that it is vitally important for the future of this population that bird-watchers keep a respectful distance from potential nest sites when they visit.  We visited outside the breeding season when activity was low, but luckily the many farm tracks through scrub and fallow land offer plenty of opportunities to hear and perhaps even see this most elusive of birds without resulting in disturbance.

Ahead of us lay an enjoyable afternoon exploring the area’s superb mixture of salt pans, brackish and fresh marshes, and sandy and rocky beaches opening straight onto the Atlantic Ocean, where gulls and terns mix with Greater Flamingos and a bewildering array of migratory wading birds.

Juan-Louis is also utterly passionate about Morocco.  He’s been coming here for decades and if you cut him, he bleeds tagine.  I’ve never seen anyone look more at home than he did as we chilled out in the shade of a rickety beach bar, with a mint tea and some traditional Moroccan music, and let our thoughts start to coalesce about how a trip might look…

We will be running Choc and Pode for the first time this June – it’s completely new and to our knowledge nobody else does a trip like it.  Find out more here and be sure to look out for Part Two: Choc!

All you need is #Dovestep 

The Dovestep team are all set to smash their own fundraising records for Turtle Doves in Spain this February, and what an adventure awaits them…

Turtle Dove encountered migrating through the Strait of Gibraltar in autumn

What’s not to love about Turtle Doves?  Behind that gentle appearance, delicately-patterned plumage and soft purring song masquerades a tough migratory traveller, a great conquistador of distance, completing a 7,000 mile return trip to Africa each year, crossing the Sahara and running the gauntlet of legal and illegal hunting on the way.

How sad that on arrival back in their N European breeding grounds there is no warm welcome, just intensive agriculture, disease spread by introduced birds, and lack of the seed food from wild plants they need to regain their strength.

The impacts of these challenges are proving disastrous. In the UK only three birds remain for every hundred there were in 1970, and numbers are still in free fall.

Before our move to Spain, the ‘Bustards’ devoted a large chunk of our careers to trying to halt their catastrophic decline in the UK. It’s something that will always be close to our hearts, particularly as our UK breeders will soon be stopping to rest here at Huerta Grande after crossing the Straits of Gibraltar on their way home.

Laying out the Fumitory Carpet at Huerta Grande

For this reason, we and the Huerta Grande team are chuffed to bits to be able to support our own softly-purring conquistador of distance, Jonny Rankin, and his delicately-plumaged crew as they embark on DOVE STEP 3 – an epic on-foot crossing of Spain to raise money for Turtle Dove conservation .

The Dovestep Team – Sven, Jonny, Malcolm and Robert 


The first Dove Step journey, a 300 mile walk for Turtle Doves, was completed in April 2014 and saw Robert Yaxley, Andrew Goodrick and Jonny Rankin walk from Lakenheath Fen RSPB to Saltholme RSPB, covering the core UK range of Turtle Doves in the process.

The second, in May 2015, was a 700 mile triathlon and included a Channel Crossing equivalent sea kayak, 570 mile cycle and 140 mile walk, connecting Suffolk to Spain.

The third, beginning on 5 February this year, will be an exhausting on-foot exploration of the Spanish leg of the Turtle Dove’s journey.

Walking from south to north with back-to-back marathon distances each day for over 700 miles, the lads will be starting their adventure on Tarifa beach just down the road from us, and concluding on the northern coast looking out into the Bay of Biscay.

To date, the Dove Step campaigns have raised £9k in support of Operation Turtle Dove.  This impressive amount has been used to fund such projects as habitat creation on UK farmland, and satellite tags to better understand what happens to the birds during migration.

They want to make this year the biggest yet, with a fund-raising target of £10,000. We’re thrilled to have the chance to greet them with Fumitory garlands, put them up and help them out logistically on the first legs of their tiring journey.

Over to you! Please dig deep for the Dovestep conquistadors by visiting their Justgiving page, catching one of their talks and supporting them during their journey via Facebook and Twitter!

Rule Number 1 of Bustard Club…

Don’t leave home without yer bins!

Rule No 2 of Bustard Club – Don’t leave home without yer bins!

There’s some other ones about not spilling alcohol, but that’s the main one, something I would have done well to note when we popped down the shops in Pelayo the other day.

Living and working at Huerta Grande eco-lodge, we find ourselves at the edge of Los Alcornacales natural park, so a quick stop at the pub on the way back from the grocer’s is enough to put you in the middle of some prime habitat.

While supping a well-earned Cruzcampo on the bar’s terrace, Simon soon picked up on a calling Yellow-browed Warbler in the Cork Oaks nearby!

Being in the doghouse for breaking Rules 1 & 2, it was left to me to settle the tab and run home for the camera, leaving Simon in hot pursuit!

Luckily this plucky little Phylloscopus was not going anywhere. It was in with a group of Firecrests and Crested Tits and seemed quite at home feeding in the trees so many miles from its normal wintering grounds and migratory route.

Yellow-browed Warblers (‘Mosquitero Bilistado’ in Spanish) occur here even less frequently than in the UK, with only 77 records being approved up until 2009 for mainland Spain and the Balearics.  On a par with North-west Europe, however, numbers have been on the up in recent years, with 70+ being recorded in November 2015 alone.

It is thought these are birds that have failed to re-find their traditional trajectory to South-east Asian wintering grounds after deviating west, and are wintering at an unknown location in Africa through a process of ‘parallel migration’

Apparently there are now some overwintering birds in mainland Spain after the largest Autumn influx ever recorded for the country in 2016.

Our Bilistado (now known as ‘Billy’) was indeed a scruffy little blighter, and we think there’s a good chance it was the same bird that we recorded here in October and November last year.

This means it had foregone a winter in Thailand to survive a winter in Andalusia! What a fighter! It can join our club anytime!


During the autumn and spring months it is clearly apparent that just about anything can turn up here at the bridge between continents from migrating raptors, storks and waders to eastern gems like this Yellow-browed Warbler.  Why not  join us on one of explorations to see what they all find so appealing?

New Year’s Revolutions!

If you’re reading this in the UK, chances are 2017 started with a hangover, some soon-forgotten vows to shed the Christmas belly and a realisation that the long cold nights will have to be endured for a few more weeks.

Well we can’t help with the first two, but we can at least offer you some reassurance from Iberia that Spring really is on the way!

We spent our Yule in Portugal’s Algarve region, where, among the many species on the trip list, sightings included Barn Swallows, House Martins and Ospreys.

DSC07999We are close enough to Africa that some birds overwinter here, notably Ospreys. However some of our sightings were probably early returners, intent on burning off the Christmas belly by beginning their traverse of the globe.

The springlike trend continued on New Years Day – we have, perhaps foolishly, accepted the 2017 bird race gauntlet thrown down to us by David Lindo, aka The Urban Birder. Keen to get off the blocks, we headed down to local birding hotspot La Janda – just a short drive from our base at rural eco-lodge Huerta Grande – to bag a few wetland and farmland lovelies in this superb birding area.

Among the dozens of species, we again picked up Barn Swallow and also added Black Stork, and a cheeky Garden Warbler.

Reflecting on our progress outside a favourite bar in Tarifa, we had Lesser Kestrel overhead (probably an overwintering bird) and Yellow-legged Gull in full breeding cry.

And, to my delight, while walking the woods of Huerta Grande this morning, I found a stack of Fumitory in flower. If you’re aware of the plight of the Turtle Dove, you’ll understand why this plant is such a welcome sight to us, involved as we were in Turtle Dove conservation through the RSPB’s Operation Turtle Dove for many years.

So fear not, ye dwellers of Northern darkness! Though it may yet seem a distant dream through the fug of washing up and mince pie crumbs, Spring is coming, and Nature’s annual Revolution has begun!

If you fancy shaving a few weeks off your winter and exploring these areas with us, then why not get in touch..?

Happy New Year from the Inglorious Bustards and Huerta Grande xx