7 days – 29th January – 4th February 2021
€1,300 for 7 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.
€165 single supplement
2019 trip report (for Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays) available to download here
Though just a short journey away from Málaga, the remote wooded mountains of the Serranía de Ronda are worlds apart from Spain’s bustling Costa del Sol.
This little-visited but astoundingly beautiful area hosts the densest raptor populations in Europe, at this time of the year featuring Griffon Vultures, Bonelli’s and Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon and Eurasian Eagle Owl. In late winter, hardy mountain birds such as Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Red-billed Chough and Alpine Accentor hang out amongst the imposing limestone crags. Spanish Ibex cling to seemingly sheer rock faces. Thousands of acres of Mediterranean scrub and Sweet Chestnut forests provide food and shelter for wintering Ring Ouzels, Rock Petronia and Black Redstarts as well as woodland birds like Crested Tit, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrest.
Nearby, the Fuente de Piedra lake covers an area of almost 1,400 hectares. The shallow, salt water of this outstanding protected wetland is home to the largest colony of Greater Flamingoes on the Iberian Peninsula. White-headed and Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochards, Black-necked Grebes and Purple Swamphens stand out amongst the pink-feathered haze, and Black-winged Stilts, Little Stints, Kentish and overwintering Little Ringed Plovers parade in the shallows.
On the surrounding plains and farmland, we´ll enjoy the spectacular sights and sounds of hundreds of Common Cranes resting and feeding before they disperse to their northern breeding grounds, and with luck, groups of Little and Great Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Iberian Grey Shrike and Black-winged Kite, Eurasian Stone Curlew and Bluethroat star amid huge flocks of wintering Eurasian Skylarks, Corn Buntings, Spanish Sparrows, Calandra, Crested and Thekla Larks.
As well as a visit to the beautiful town of Ronda – its three historic bridges straddling the Tajo Gorge in spectacular fashion – you’ll have chance to explore the pretty hilltop villages of the area – we’d be particularly excited to host you in the quirkiest of them, Júzcar, whose inhabitants voted to go against the grain and decorate the village blue! In this gorgeous mountain location amongst Holm Oaks and Sweet Chestnuts, we´re in for a splash of luxury, dining on mouth-watering, sustainably-produced local specialities from the kitchen of an award-winning chef.
About the area
Our base is in Júzcar, a tiny mountain village situated between the limestone crags of the Sierra de la Grazalema Natural Park and Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere Reserve, and just a short journey away from the lagoons and plains of the lowlands, allowing us to experience the range and depth of this extraordinary biodiversity. As well as being home to outstanding wildlife, it is also the habitat of award-winning chef Ivān Sastre, and he’ll be adding a splash of luxury to our meals with the delicious, seasonal local produce for which he is renowned.
Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost province, is perhaps best known for its fantastic tapas, passionate discussions, and welcoming people. However, it is also the most biodiverse region not only in Spain but the whole of Europe. This comes not only from the low-intensity land use in the area and the innate local respect for the natural world, but also from the range of habitats here, from mountains right down to coastal, with everything in between.
During our mountain stay we will look for Black Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Alpine Accentor, Thekla Lark, Rock Petronia, Red-billed Chough, Fieldfare, Redwing, Dartford Warbler, Bonelli´s and Golden Eagle as well as woodland birds like Woodlark, Crested Tit, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrest. Amongst the crags we will also hope to see Spanish Ibex.
Wetland areas should yield Greater (and possibly Lesser) Flamingoes, White-headed Ducks, Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochards, Purple Swamphens, Black-winged Stilts, Little Stint, Pied Avocets, Eurasian Stone-curlews, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, and Black-tailed Godwits amongst many others.
On the surrounding plains and farmland expect Common Cranes, Little and Great Bustards, Iberian Grey Shrike, Black-winged Kites, wintering flocks of Eurasian Skylarks, Corn Buntings, Spanish Sparrows and Calandra, Crested and Thekla Larks, Iberian Grey Shrike, Dartford Warblers, Bluethroat and Eurasian Hoopoe.
We meet in Málaga around midday, soon leaving the bustling coast of the Costa del Sol and taking our road up through the coniferous forests and evergreen Mediterranean scrub of the Serranía de Ronda, a little-visited but stunning area where the Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra de Grazalema meet.
En route to our hotel we’ll make a stop for picnic or afternoon tea in the magnificent Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere Reserve, where we should be treated to views of confiding Black Redstarts, Thekla Larks, Woodlarks and Corn Buntings amongst the mountain scrub and rocks. Hen Harriers, Golden and Bonelli´s Eagles frequent this lofty place, and if we´re lucky we may pick up a wintering Ring Ouzel.
Soon we´ll arrive in the quirky mountainside village of Júzcar. Among the many picturesque white-washed villages in the area, Júzcar stands out as its residents unanimously voted to paint the town blue! As such it was featured in the film ‘Smurfs!’ and it’s adorned with Smurf murals a-plenty to this day.
On arrival in Júzcar, we’ll settle in to our rooms at Hotel Bandolero and enjoy views across the beautiful wooded valley from the terrace bar, before enjoying some of the best dining of the region! Cordon Bleu chef Iván specialises in using seasonal, local produce to put his own mouth-watering twists on traditional Andaluz dishes. You certainly won’t go hungry on this trip!
After collecting the fresh bread from the hotel oven, our first stop today will be at Los Riscos, an imposing limestone outcrop at 1400 m above sea level. On the way up, we’ll enjoy numerous farmland species such as Cirl Buntings, Woodlarks and Rock Petronia in the Wild Olives and Holm Oak trees. Then we’ll be looking for mountain specialities such as Crag Martins, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor.
We’ll take our picnic lunch at the picturesque caves and crystal-blue streams of Cueva del Gato. This awe-inspiring beauty spot – whose streams and pools are frequented by Black-bellied Dipper and Grey Wagtail – forms the downstream end of a vast 8-kilometre cave system, of which we will be birding both ends today. Above our heads we should see Griffon Vultures soaring on afternoon thermals, and we’ll keep our eyes out for the area’s formidable Bonelli’s Eagles.
The final stop of the day is at Cueva del Hundidero. This second cave lies at the base of a spectacular mountain gorge and forms the northern end of the Hundidero/Gato cave system. From our viewpoint at Montejaque dam, we should enjoy Rock Petronia, Black Wheatear and Red-billed Chough coming in to roost, as well as Cirl and Rock Buntings, Crag Martins, Iberian Green Woodpecker and maybe Alpine Accentor. As the shadows lengthen, we’ll look out for Iberian Ibex bounding over the precipitous mountain sides.
Today we head to the wetlands at Fuente de Piedra lake, Andalusia’s largest protected inland wetland. We’ll spend the full day in this area, enjoying views of its thousands of resident Greater Flamingoes, and with luck picking out one of a handful of Lesser Flamingoes which have also made this lake their home.
In the shallow, salt water of this 1,400 hectare lake and on the myriad of nearby freshwater ponds, we’ll look for interesting waterbirds such as White-headed Ducks, Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochards, Black-necked Grebes and Purple Swamphens amongst the assembled wintering wildfowl. A large variety of wintering waders also await, such as Black-winged Stilts, Little Stint, Pied Avocets, Eurasian Stone-curlews, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, and Black-tailed Godwits.
On the surrounding plains and farmland, we can enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of Common Cranes resting and feeding before they disperse to their northern breeding grounds, and with luck, our first groups of Little Bustards.
Today after a later start, we’ll spend a more leisurely day in and around the beautiful historic city of Ronda, whose three bridges (one Roman, one Moorish and one 18th century) span the dramatic El Tajo gorge.
This charming city has been home and inspiration to many writers, artists and poets, including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Mary Anne Evans (better known as George Eliot) and German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and with a stroll through the tranquil gardens and along the spectacular cliff-edge paseo you’ll soon understand why.
Don’t be caught here without your binoculars though – the town´s birding is also impressive, with Red Crossbill possible in the town parks, Red-billed Chough often dropping in, plentiful raptors overhead and wintering Blue Rock Thrush in the gorge itself!
En route, we´ll make various stops in the expansive countryside to enjoy the area’s plentiful farmland birds as well as keeping an eye skywards for passing Golden or Bonelli’s Eagles.
Today we’ll spend a full day exploring the plains around Osuna and Lantejuela. This sweeping landscape features a patchwork of arable land, undisturbed areas and pockets of marsh and pond, so we can expect a diversity of birds from this array of habitats.
The fields here are alive with huge flocks of wintering Eurasian Skylarks, Corn Buntings, Spanish Sparrows and Calandra Larks, and we can also hope for views of Iberian Grey Shrike, Dartford Warbler, wintering Bluethroat and Eurasian Hoopoe, and maybe a Little Owl or two. Wintering Black-winged Kites, Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers, Red Kites and Common Buzzards patrol the area and we may be lucky enough to pick up a Short-eared Owl or Merlin.
But with luck the stars of today’s show will be some real plains specialists – flocks of Great and Little Bustard and Black-bellied Sandgrouse – for which the area is known.
Time permitting, we’ll grab refreshments in the town of Osuna, amidst its many medieval and baroque buildings dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. You may even recognise some of them from hit drama series, Game of Thrones!
Another chance to explore different aspects of our local mountains, exploring the beautiful woodlands of Sweet Chestnut and Holm Oak in the valleys around our hotel. Here we’ll be looking for more local woodland species, such as Hawfinch, Black Redstarts, Firecrests and Short-toed Treecreepers.
We’ll spend the rest of the day exploring around the prettiest parts of the limestone Serranía de Ronda, enjoying the first flush of its fabled wildflower assemblage and looking out for more of the area’s mountain passerines and raptors.
Amongst the stunted trees bearing fruit and nuts, and the montane pastures, we’ll look out for Cirl Buntings and Woodlarks, Thekla and Crested Larks, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, Rock Petronias and large mixed flocks of wintering finches, as well as Mistle and Song Thrush and perhaps Redwing.
We’ll round off the trip with more outstanding local cuisine, which draws on local delicacies such as chestnuts, cherries and mushrooms, not to mention the area´s world-beating goats´cheese.
This morning we enjoy one last hearty breakfast, courtesy of our hosts David and Iván, before heading back to Málaga. The views across the Mediterranean as we descend are spectacular, and we´ll be sure to take time to enjoy them one more time on our way home!