July 2018 trip report now available to download here
4 days – 28th June – 1st July 2019
£595 for 4 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.
Single supplement: £80
Deposit: £120 (payable upon booking).
Common, Pallid, Alpine, Little and White-rumped. From our home in Andalusia, we endeavour to bring you together with all five species of that most aerially superb genus, the Swift, all over the course of a weekend of fantastic and varied birding!
Because of its strategic position at the gateway of two continents, Andalusia is a unique blend of European and African, with our beloved Apus species passing through on their way to and from breeding grounds, and the more typically African amongst them choosing the Iberian peninsula as one of their very localised breeding sites in Europe. It’s one of the very few places in Europe you can see them all!
This southernmost Spanish province is the most biodiverse region not only in Spain but the whole of Europe. So, set our swift-spotting against a background of superb resident species in intertidal, wetland, farmland, woodland and urban habitats, accompanied with fantastic tapas, passionate discussions, and welcoming people, and you’re looking at a weekend to remember!
As well as aiming for all five European Swift species, we can also hope for a great selection of raptors including Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, Bonelli’s and Spanish Imperial Eagles, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black-winged Kites and Lesser Kestrels. Perhaps surprisingly, at this time of year, the return to Africa has already begun for some species, so we may well start to see flocks of White Storks and Black Kites crossing the Straits. Resident Spanish specialities include Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested Tit and Northern Bald Ibis. Visits to wetlands should yield a host of waders including Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Collared Pratincole, as well as star birds like Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Spoonbill and Greater Flamingo.
This time of year is also superb for invertebrates, with Monarch butterflies, Two-tailed Pashas, Four-spotted Emerald and Copper Demoiselle all in flight.
We begin with a flight to Gibraltar, from where we transfer to our delightful base at Huerta Grande eco-resort. Situated between two natural parks in the forested hills above the Straits of Gibraltar, Huerta Grande is fast becoming known as the centre of birding in the Straits.
After settling in, we’ll take time to explore our rich local surroundings in the Los Alcornacales natural park. This is the biggest cork oak forest in Europe and especially unique in the way that it gathers moisture coming in off the ocean to create a warm Mediterranean cloud forest.
As well as some cracking local avian specialities in the form of Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Hawfinch and Short-toed Treecreeper, almost anything can turn up here during the early days of autumn migration, as passerines collect amongst the trees to gather strength for their southwards crossing of the Straits. The nearby grazed pastures generate clouds of invertebrates, and we’ll be able to enjoy large numbers of resident Pallid Swifts mopping them up in the afternoon sun.
We’ll also explore the picturesque old town of Tarifa, where we can encounter Common Bulbuls (another unusual European tick), urban Little Owls and breeding Lesser Kestrels. We’ll enjoy a stroll along the harbour front where, simply by looking up we’ll be able to see Pallid Swifts galore and pick out Common Swifts crossing over this historic town.
This morning, as every morning, we’ll be looking up from our breakfast, watching for groups of Alpine Swift. Groups of this super-sized swift will be passing overhead on their early morning passage flight, moving through from their mountain breeding grounds to their Sub-Saharan wintering areas.
We’ll start our off-site birding with a visit to the nearby town of Vejer de la Frontera, where a successful reintroduction programme of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis took place in 2008. From thirty pairs, the birds now number around 78 pairs, and we should be able to see these engaging and quirky birds at their nesting colony or grazing on surrounding farmland.
Then we’ll head out to the farmland and wetlands of La Janda, a huge area of low intensity farmland, once a vast wetland on a par with Doñana in terms of its ecological importance. It’s long since been drained for agriculture, but amongst the newly-wetted rice fields and managed pools and ditches, some real wetland gems remain, hinting at its former natural glory. Amongst many hundreds of White Stork and Glossy Ibis, here we should see many waders, wildfowl and raptors, such as Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite. There’s also a chance of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle, whilst the farmland areas should yield Spanish Sparrow, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Tawny Pipit, Greater Short-toed Lark, Yellow Wagtails and Corn Bunting.
We’ll round off the day with a visit to a tiny breeding colony of White-rumped Swift. Several pairs of this typically African breeding species have found and occupied a collection of old Red-rumped Swallow nests nearby, making this area one of only a handful of European sites for this fabulous little bird. As well as visiting the nest site (always with care and consideration for the birds) we will enjoy them feeding over nearby open water, mixed in with many Common and Pallid Swifts, several species of Swallow and Martin, and hopefully also enjoy views of locally breeding Western Osprey.
Today we’ll make an early start to pick up the last of our five star swifts – Little Swift. This is another typically African species, better known in the souks and medinas of Marrakech. But again, for this tiny Apus the Straits have proved no barrier, and we will be able to visit a coastal breeding site near Cadiz to enjoy their aerial antics.
Cadiz bay and the lagoons and the salt pans of Bonanza are home to some exceptional species. We will take time to explore the creeks and lagoons of this very special area.
This area offers a fantastic selection of wetland birds which changes every day and is a draw for both northerly and southerly bound wading birds with breeding Collared Pratincoles, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Avocets and Kentish Plover all to be encountered. On nearby lagoons we hope to encounter Red-knobbed Coot and White-headed Duck at close range, whilst also observing busy nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night Heron, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill and both Little and Cattle Egrets as Great Reed Warblers blast their song out from the surrounding reeds.
There are many coastal birds such as Sandwich, Little and Caspian Terns, Slender-billed Gull and the once extremely rare Audouin’s Gull. We should also encounter masses of Greater Flamingo and fishing Western Osprey.
Then it’s back to Huerta Grande birding local sites en route, where we’ll celebrate our last night with chef Juan Carlos’s traditional Andalusian fare, and a glass or two of local sherry.
Today sadly our trip comes to an end, and it’s time to travel back to the UK, with memories of some great Andalusian wildlife, and with luck, our Swift page complete!
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