The unknown Vulture spectacle! – Ronda and the Straits

 

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Griffon Vultures © Inglorious Bustards

7 days – 18th October – 24th October 2019 – Now Full!

7 days – 16th October – 22nd October 2020

€1,500 for 7 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.

Deposit €300

Single Supplement €150

Tour overview

This trip offers the chance to experience two exceptional wildlife areas at the cusp of two seasons.  As autumn ends, hard-to-see mountain birds come down to within our reach amongst the forests and crags of the Serranía de Ronda. As days shorten, we´ll find ourselves in the midst of the unforgettable spectacle of thousands of Vultures crossing The Strait of Gibraltar to winter in Africa.

We begin in the mountains above Málaga, a little-visited but stunning place hosting the densest raptor populations in Europe, including resident Griffon Vultures and Bonelli’s, Short-toed, Booted and Golden Eagle.  In late Autumn, hardy mountain birds are on the move south and to lower altitudes, and we´ll be on the lookout for Black Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Rock Bunting, Alpine Accentor, Red-billed Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Petronia and Black Redstart on the peaks and crags as well as woodland birds like Crested Tit, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrest amongst the thousands of acres of Mediterranean forest.

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 show you the quirkiest of them, Juzcar, whose inhabitants voted to go against the grain and decorate the village blue!  As well as enjoying the gorgeous mountain location amongst Holm Oaks and Sweet Chestnuts, we´ll also be able to taste mouth-watering local food from the kitchen of an award-winning chef.

At the coast near Tarifa, we´ll use our local knowledge of wind and weather to bring you the very best of the late Autumn migration.  The vulture migration is particularly spectacular at this time of year, with as many as 2,300 birds recorded crossing the Strait in a single hour!  You cannot see this anywhere else in the world!

Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kites and White Storks will still be piling through the area, looking for their chance to cross the 14km of water that separates Europe from Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar.  Seabirds too, are on the move, and this is a magical time to watch many thousands of Cory´s, Scopoli´s and Balearic Shearwaters migrating between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.  On the area´s wetlands, wintering waders will be building up and we should also be able to enjoy the first arriving Common Cranes.

There will also be time to explore the local area in and around Tarifa, where we’ll introduce you to some our favourite wetland, woodland and inter-tidal areas, and quite likely a couple of our favourite bars as well.

To book your place on the above tour, check availability or for further information  contact us

Download the trip report for 2017 here:  Ronda and The Straits trip report 2017

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Blue Rock Thrush © Inglorious Bustards

About Andalusia

This southernmost province of Spain 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.

Because of its strategic position at the gateway of two continents, the land here has changed hands countless times in history between the ruling forces of Europe and North Africa, so the culture here is a fascinating blend of Mediterranean and Moroccan.  The flora and fauna too provides tantalising glimpses of nature from across the waters, and from a migratory bird’s perspective it is quite simply the centre of the world!

Expected Birds 

Our mountain stay we 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.  A massive vulture migration event is in progress at this time of year, and among the thousands of amassing Griffon Vultures we ought to be able to see many other raptors such as Black Kites, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, and White Storks.  Seabirds can include Audouin´s Gulls, Balearic, Cory´s and Scopoli´s Shearwaters, Great Skuas.  Farmlands and wetlands should yield a host of waders including Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint, as well as Purple Swamphens, Eurasian Spoonbills, Greater Flamingoes, Common Cranes, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black-winged Kite and the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis.

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Red-billed Chough © Inglorious Bustards

Itinerary

Day 1

We will meet you at Málaga airport, driving immediately up into the mountains of the Serranía de Ronda, a little-visited but stunning area where Los Alcornacales, Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra de Grazalema meet.

En route to our hotel we’ll make a stop 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 Short-toed 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 Juzcar, our base for the next two nights.  Among the many picturesque whitewashed villages in the area, Juzcar 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 Juzcar, 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 trained chef Ivan specialises in using seasonal, local produce to put his own mouth-watering twists on traditional Andalus dishes.  You certainly won´t go hungry on this trip!

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Crag Martin © Inglorious Bustards

 

Day 2

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.  After enjoying numerous farmland species such as Cirl Buntings, Woodlarks and Rock Petronia in the Wild Olives and Cork Oak trees, we will 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.

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Rock Petronia © Inglorious Bustards

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.

Day 3

Today we say goodbye to our hosts David and Ivan, and travel coastwards to our second base in the Strait of Gibraltar.

On the way, we´ll spend a morning in the charming historic town of Ronda where, as well enjoying breath-taking views of the historic town straddling the El Tajo gorge, we can scour its cliff faces and trees for further mountain birds including Red Crossbill, Red-billed Chough and wintering Alpine Accentor as well as keeping an eye skywards for passing Golden or Bonelli’s Eagles.

Taking our picnic lunch en route, we´ll soon arrive at our second base – the charming eco-lodge of Huerta Grande.  The cosy log cabins and early 20thCentury buildings nestle among seven acres of Cork Oak forest at the edge of Los Alcornacales Natural park.  After settling in, time permitting we´ll take a stroll around the grounds where we can hope to encounter Short-toed Treecreepers, Crested Tits, Hawfinches, and Firecrests.  Perhaps even Billie, the Yellow-browed Warbler who was first recorded here by us in October 2017 and now seems to be a regular winter visitor!  Butterflies are abundant here and throughout the area, and their flight season is long.  We´ll look out for such beauties as Common and Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, migrant Painted Lady, Geranium Bronze, Monarch and – Europe´s largest – the Two-tailed Pasha.

Then it´s time to enjoy our first delicious three-course meal, introducing some new tastes from coastal Andalusia – perhaps preceded by one of this eco-lodge´s renowned G&Ts!

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Rüppell’s Vulture © Inglorious Bustards

Day 4

This morning we´ll head to Tarifa Island – a private military site requiring special permission to access.  Amongst the ruins of abandoned military buildings, we´ll enjoy the sights, sounds and antics of one of Europe´s largest Yellow-legged Gull colonies.  At the tip of this peninsula, we are at the closest possible point to Africa, and from here we can watch the spectacular passage of Cory´s Shearwaters as they head to wintering grounds in the Mediterranean.  Scopoli´s and Balearic Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, and Great Skuas are also on the move, and we may also see pods of Striped, Common and Bottlenosed Dolphins or even a migrating Sperm Whale out in the deeper waters of the Strait.  Surprisingly for some, in the right conditions we will also be able to hear the chatter of thousands of migrating House Sparrows and European Goldfinches passing over our heads on their way to Morocco!

As the air starts to warm, we´ll head out to a nearby raptor watchpoint to catch the beginning of the day´s raptor migration.  Movements are completely dependent on wind strength and direction, with the birds having to make life-or-death decisions about where to begin their crossing or indeed if it is safe to cross at all!  Griffon Vultures are particularly dependent on soaring flight, so crossing conditions must be perfect.  This can result in phenomenal bottlenecks of thousands of birds, and it is this spectacle we will hope to see!

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Griffon Vultures devour a carcass © Inglorious Bustards

It is only the immature Griffon Vultures that migrate, so later today we will head to a nearby cliff face where the area´s resident adult Griffon Vultures remain in their colony.  Here we can while away the afternoon watching, photographing and simply enjoying these enormous birds, soaring effortlessly above us and hissing to each other as they come in to roost.  This site is also a favoured area for passage raptors so we´ll keep an eye out for the afternoon movement of Black Kites, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Western Ospreys, Montagu´s Harriers, Eurasian Sparrowhawks and more!  Here we may also catch up with Blue Rock Thrush and Peregrine Falcon.

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Short-eared Owl © Inglorious Bustards

Day 5

Today we’ll visit the farmland and wetlands of La Janda – a huge area of low intensity farmland which was once a vast wetland on a par with Coto Doñana in terms of its ecological importance.  It’s long since been drained for agriculture, but amongst the rice fields and managed pools and ditches, some real wetland gems remain, hinting at its former natural glory.

Amongst flocks of White Stork and Glossy Ibis on the stubbles of rice fields, we should be able to pick up Water Pipits and the first of the many thousands of Common Cranes that winter here.  We should find passage waders such as Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Dunlin and Common Ringed Plover.  In the reed-fringed ditches, we´ll look and listen for Purple Swamphen, Penduline Tits, Reed Buntings and maybe an early Bluethroat.

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Bluethroat © inglorious Bustards

The higher, drier farmland areas are a real magnet for raptors.  Days have been known where twelve raptor species were recorded in just twenty minutes, including Marsh and Hen Harrier, Red and Black Kite, Short-toed, Booted, Bonelli´s and Spanish Imperial Eagles!  We should also pick up Iberian Grey Shrike, Black-winged Kite, flocks of Spanish Sparrow, Calandra and Crested Lark.

Day 6 

Today, alongside more raptor-watching at sites with stunning views across the Straits to North Africa, we’ll make a visit to nearby Barbate salt pans.  This area offers a fantastic selection of waders which change every day, and we´ll look out for Kentish Plover, Stone Curlew, Sanderling and Dunlin.  Eurasian Spoonbills and Greater Flamingoes occur here, and we should also find wintering flocks of Audouin´s Gulls and perhaps a passing or overwintering Western Osprey.

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Audouin´s Gull © Inglorious Bustards

We´ll take our picnic lunch here which, today as every day, will feature the best of local sustainable produce including fresh bread, organically-grown salads, olives, wines and some of the area´s award-winning goats´ and sheep´s cheeses!

Close by are the cliffs which hosted a successful reintroduction programme of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis in 2008.  From thirty pairs, the birds now number around 78 pairs, and the population is still on the increase.  At this time of year these engaging and quirky birds will have moved away from their colony, so we will look for them foraging in favoured spots on nearby farmland.

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Northern Bald Ibis © Inglorious Bustards

We should again find ourselves in the midst of the autumn Vulture migration, and will take our final chance to sit back and relax at a raptor watchpoint – perhaps with a glass of wine – as thousands of these tremendous birds soar and swirl over our heads.

Day 7

Time allowing, we´ll make a final visit to some local woodland sites, to enjoy our last views of some Straits residents and huge vultures leaving their roosts ready to make their onward journey.  But now sadly our trip comes to an end, and it’s time to make our own onward journey back home, from either Gibraltar or Málaga Airport.

Contact us for further information and to book your place on this tour.