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Costa de la Luz



15 - 25 April 2009

Observers: F. Simpson



This was another university field course trip based around Zahara de los Atunes on the Costa de la Luz in south-western Spain. Much of the time was spent around Zahara, Barbate and the Valle de Ojén in the Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales. Some time was possible for birding but in general the following notes document the observations at the various study sites. On our free day, a few of use took a boat trip out into the Strait of Gibraltar to observe whales and dolphins.

Previous Trip Reports:  2023 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2003




Purple Swamphen · Audouin's Gull · Slender-billed Gull · Short-toed Eagle · Griffon Vulture · Caspian Tern · Thekla Lark Booted Eagle · Crag Martin · Short-toed Lark · Calandra Lark · Pallid Swift · Subalpine Warbler · Black-eared Wheatear · Spoonbill · Lesser Kestrel · Gull-billed Tern · Hawfinch · Western Orphean Warbler · Montagu's Harrier · Bee-eater · Blue Rock Thrush · Melodious Warbler · Purple Heron · Tawny Pipit



Literature, references & site guides used

1.      Simpson, F. 2008. Trip Report: Costa de la Luz, 2-12 Apr 2008.
Simpson, F. 2007. Trip Report: Costa de la Luz, 10-20 Apr 2007.
Simpson, F. 2006. Trip Report: Costa de la Luz, 25 Mar-4 Apr 2006.
Simpson, F. 2005. Trip Report: Costa de la Luz & Tanger, Morocco, 30 Mar-10 Apr 2005.
Svensson, L. et al. 1999. Bird Guide. HarperCollins.
Tolman, T. & Lewington, R. 1997. Butterflies of Britain & Europe. Collins.
7.      Arnold, N. & Ovenden, D. 2004. A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain & Europe. Collins.



Day 01       15/04/09     London Gatwick > Málaga > Algeciras > Tarifa > Zahara de los Atunes
Day 02       16/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > Playa de Atlanterra > La Zarzuela > Barbate
Day 03       17/04/09     Zahara > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales > Valle de Ojén > Arroyo del Tiradero
Day 04       18/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > Cabo Trafalgar > Vejer de la Frontera
Day 05       19/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales > Conil de la Frontera
Day 06       20/04/09     Tarifa > Srait of Gibraltar > La Janda > Benalup > Vejer de la Frontera
Day 07       21/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales
Day 08       22/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > El Almarchal > Marismas de Barbate
Day 09       23/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > Breña de Barbate > Sierra de la Plata > Baelo Claudia, Bolonia
Day 10       24/04/09     Zahara > Bolonia > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales
Day 11       25/04/09     Zahara de los Atunes > Málaga > London




The Diary

Day 1                                                                                                                                        Vía de Tarifa
Wednesday 15 April 2009
London > Málaga > Algeciras > Tarifa > Zahara de los Atunes
Cool, cloudy & light rain showers, max 14°C

Strait of Gibraltar © 2009 Fraser Simpson 

Málaga Airport
On landing, after some bumpy conditions over the Montes de Málaga, Cattle Egret, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, House Martin and Common Swift were noted in the cold, gloomy and un-Mediterranean-like conditions.

Málaga > Algeciras > Tarifa > Zahara de los Atunes
There were very few species noted on the drive. For the first time this year I managed to get stuck in the old congested coastal route through all the lovely (not) resorts, before finding my way back onto the motorway. Very few species noted: Yellow-legged Gull, Spotless Starling, Feral Pigeon, House Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Kestrel, Collared Dove and Red-rumped Swallow.

Mirador de el Estrecho
We stopped briefly to stretch the legs with a few Spanish tourist and even fewer birds. The views across the Strait of Gibraltar to Jbel Musa rising from the Moroccan coast were spectacular though and the weather had picked up after turning north-west onto the Atlantic shores. Only single Black Kite and Montagu's Harrier were noted. Driving on west of Tarifa, a heavy downpour slowed the traffic right down but cleared to reveal an impressive rainbow over La Janda.

Hotel Gran Sol, Zahara de los Atunes
[36º 08' 9.9'' N  05º 50' 51.7'' W] 0m
Arriving in Zahara, a Little Egret was noted as we crossed over the small estuary and the welcoming chatter of many House Sparrows along the Avenida de la Playa and Castillo de la Almadrabas.



Day 2                                                                                                                              Sand, sea and snails
Thursday 16 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Playa de Atlanterra > La Zarzuela > Barbate
Partly cloudy, showers a.m. sunnier afternoon, strong W to SW wind, max 18.5 °C


El Señora © 2009 Fraser Simpson   Playa de Zahara © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| El Señora · Zahara de los Atunes |                                                        | Playa de Zahara|

Playa de Zahara (Tentyria, Erodius, Pimelia beetle study site)
Set up beetle experiment. Cold and wet with few beetles active apart from a few Scarities. Species noted flying north-west out of the Strait: Audouin's Gull (2), Yellow-legged Gull (120+), Gannet (14 inc 4 ads), and Sandwich Tern (3). Kentish Plover (pr) on the beach. Around 40 Yellow-legged Gulls (mostly immatures) feeding/loafing around an almadraba. Crested Lark displaying. Small parties of Goldfinch and Linnet flying over - possibly migrants. Barn Swallow (5+) hawking over the scrub behind the foreshore.

Playa de Atlanterra (Cistus rockroses & 2nd beetle study site)
Just a brief stop here to meet the other group. Very few flowering Cistus around. A Nightingale was singing from scrub behind the foreshore at the foot of the slope with the housing development. Blackbirds common. Painted Lady after the sun came out. Also Greenfinch, House Martin and Collared Dove noted.

La Zarzuela, Km-5 on A-2227 (Finca la Negra/Cerro del Hinojal) (Theba pisana snail study site)
At least 15 Griffon Vultures drifted over from then Sierra de la Plata towards the Sierra del Retín. A Short-toed Eagle was hunting the fields to the west between the road and the Sierra del Retín. Briefly hovering and 'sitting' in the wind at times. Several small groups of Cattle Egrets in roadside fields between Zahara and La Zarzuela. Zitting Cisticolas (3+) 'yoyo-ing' in display flights around the wind turbines. At least 3 singing Corn Buntings in the area. Calandra Lark song flighting and two Crested Larks displaying. Several Bee-eaters heard calling as they passed overhead. Also Goldfinch and Linnet noted.

Zahara de los Atunes > Barbate A-2232 road (2nd Theba study site)
Woodchat shrike singing from Dwarf Fan Palm on the north side of the road; also Goldfinch, Crested Lark and Linnet singing here. Around 30 Cattle Egrets feeding in the marsh near where the Arroyo Cachon del Concho passes the road. At least 8 Spoonbills on the old flooded salt pan closest to Zahara. Single Knot and Turnstone observed in a brief look at on lagoon opposite the mouth of the Barbate estuary. A pair of Black-winged Stilts probably breeding again at one of the regular small marsh sites here. Sandwich Terns passing along the coast here towards the town. On returning to Zahara a Cormorant was observed in the estuary, to the north of the bridge.

Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus © 2009 Fraser Simpson Kentish Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Griffon Vulture  Gyps fulvus |                                                                                           | Kentish Plover  Charadrius alexandrinus |




Day 3                                                                                                             A stream in the cork oak forests
Friday 17 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales > Puerto de Ojén > Arroyo del Tiradero
Cool, cloudy with a light wind, 15°C


Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica © 2009 Fraser Simpson   Castello de las Almadrabas · Zahara © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Barn Swallow  Hirundo rustica  |                               | Castello de las Almadrabas · Zahara|



Zahara de los Atunes
Barn Swallows nesting in the castle and resting on wires over the palm-lined Avenida de la Playa. The above photographs were taken here later in the week when the weather had improved, hence the nice blue skies.

Playa de Zahara
Back at the beetle site, an Oystercatcher flew NW along the coast, probably back to breed in more northern climes. Two Moorish Geckos were observed following a careful approach to one of the small ruined brick structures. These reptiles are very nervous here and scramble off at the slightest detection of movement. A stand of reeds in damp, brackish dune hollow held a singing Cetti's Warbler. Singing Sardinian Warblers were common in the dune scrub. One displaying male Sardinian Warbler was observed song-flighting up to six metres into the air while another was observed singing at about three metres on top of another reed stand. Movements of seabirds included the following NW: Gannet (4), Sandwich Tern (7), Cormorant (1), Lesser Black-backed Gulls (9) and many Yellow-legged Gulls. Up to four pairs of House Martins collecting sand/mud from a pool behind the foreshore. Other birds building included a House Sparrow carrying a strip of plastic that was four times the length of its body. Linnet, Goldfinch and Greenfinch regularly passing over. Around eight Spotless Starling were carrying food dug up in the foreshore back to theirs nest in the new holiday housing developments. Also Barn Swallow (6+) and a Blackbird in dense scrub.

Drive from Zahara to Facinas
Among roadside larks, fields full of Cattle Egrets and dead Algerian Hedgehog, a Montagu's Harrier and a Black Kite were observed below the many wind turbines in the area.

Puerto de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales
Into what is possibly the largest cork oak forest in the world, the road is now being surfaced all the way between Facinas and Los Barrios and access was difficult, particularly trying to convince park officials of our need to be here. All the massive craters and pot-holes were being filled and the road levelled which made for a more comfortable drive through this very scenic area. Asphodelus study site. Due to perhaps an early spring and our later than normal timing of the field course, the vast majority of the asphodels has finished flowerings. A few remained under the shade of the oaks. A brief stop around the mirador here produced Thekla Lark, Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike, Nightingale, Pallid Swift (10+), and Goldfinch. We carried on to the beautiful shaded, alder-lined stream, lower down on the valley.

Arroyo del Tiradero, Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales
[36º 08' 52.0'' N  05º 35' 01.2'' W] 198m
Aquarius study site c11 kilometres from the Facinas entrance. This site is excellent is for a whole community of woodland passerines combining some typical northern species (Robin and Bullfinch) and southern specialities (Iberian Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler and Western Bonelli's Warbler). The sun appeared 1530h and birdsong picked up again later in the afternoon; Iberian Chiffchaff ( min 3 singing mm), Firecrest (pr inc singing m), Subalpine Warbler (singing m), Blackcap (10+ singing mm), Grey Wagtail along the Tiradero stream, six Griffon Vultures and four Bee-eaters overhead, Cuckoo singing, numerous Nightingales singing along the watercourse, a Common Buzzard and Raven passed briefly overhead, and Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, Great Tit and Blue Tit all singing. A few butterflies appeared on the flowery slope above the stream including Moroccan Orange-tip, Wall Brown, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Common Blue, Cleopatra and Scarce Swallowtail



Sonogram of Iberian Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus ibericus ibericus © 2009 Fraser Simpson 


5 Iberian Chiffchaff  Phylloscopus ibericus ibericus

Sonogram of a single verse/strophe of territorial song from a bird singing in open cork oak woodland in the Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales, 17/04/09.



 Valle de Ojén · Los Alcornocales © 2009 Fraser Simpson   Arroyo del Tiradero · Los Alcornocales © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Valle de Ojén · Los Alcornocales |                            | Arroyo del Tiradero · Los Alcornocales|




Sonogram of Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla© 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

Sonogram of territorial song from a bird singing in open cork oak woodland with scrubby understory on asphodel slopes in the Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales, 17/04/09.



Day 4                                                                                                            Lesser Kestrels in a pueblo blanco
Saturday 18 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Cabo Trafalgar > Vejer de la Frontera
Cloudy until early afternoon, sunny later, max 17°C


Vejer de la Frontera © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Vejer doorway © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Vejer de la Frontera |                                                                               | Vejer doorway|



Zahara de los Atunes
My brother came down from Madrid so we did a morning tour of the area, just general sight-seeing, until field course activities after lunch. A Crested Lark was scampering around outside the beach-side hotel and a few Cattle Egrets passed overhead.

Los Caños de Meca > Cabo de Trafalgar
The small lagoon on the north side of the sandy causeway from Los Caños to the lighthouse held Audouin's Gull (7), Yellow-legged Gull (30+), Sanderling (5), Kentish Plover (5), Redshank (1), Grey Plover (1) and Turnstone (2).

 Vejer Passage © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Zahara Sheep © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Vejer passage |                                                                                       | Zahara sheep|



Vejer de la Frontera
This hilltop white town affords some impressive vistas of the surrounding landscape but more importantly it is a great place to watch the colonial Lesser Kestrels and small gregarious flocks feeding on the slopes below. Up to twelve birds were seen at any one time a two Red-rumped Swallows were also making some close fly-pasts. Parking can be difficult in the town and its easy to get temporarily lost in the ever-narrowing street in the old town. One particularly tight bend, just room for a small car to squeeze through and no more, displayed a rainbow of car paintwork on the corner! 

 Atlanterra > Faro de Camarinal
Walked up to the garrigue habitat around the lighthouse where to end of the Sierra de la Plata dips into the sea. Numerous singing Sardinian Warblers and Short-toed Eagle and Griffon Vulture on the mountainside.



Day 5                                                                                                                                 The coast of light
Sunday 19 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales > Conil de la Frontera
Cloudy and showery in the morning, clearing to near blue skies by late afternoon, strong SW wind, max 20°C


Faro de Camarina © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Castillo de la Almadrabas Flora © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Faro de Camarinal |                                                        | Castillo de las Almadrabas flora|



Zahara > Facinas
As we departed for another trip into the mountains in Los Alcornocales, a Purple Heron was noted in the small estuary on the edge of Zahara. Driving along the prickly pear-lined A-2227 through La Zarzuela towards the main N-340 road, Griffon Vulture (2), Montagu's Harrier (2) Bee-eater (10+), Calandra Lark, Crested Lark and White Stork were all noted in a flower meadow landscape of cattle and wind turbines, bordered on the nearside by the Sierra del Retín, with the Sierra de la Plata on the farside.

Puerto de Ojén, Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
The drive along the winding track from Facinas to the Puerto de Ojén resulted in a count of 12 Woodchat Shrikes and many more Stonechats. A few Mallard and Little Egrets were noted at the reservoir of Embalse de Almodovar and a Black Kite and two Common Buzzards flew overhead.

Arroyo del Tiradero, Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales
Aquarius study site c11 kilometres from the Facinas entrance. After a heavy shower, the cloud began to clear after 1110h. Usual species noted here including a singing Short-toed Treecreeper, calling Great Spotted Woodpecker and three singing Nightingale were located around the pond skater pools in the streams. The Firecrest were located in the same area as two days previous and allowed very close approach for sound recordings of the male's territorial vocalisations to be made.


Sonogram of Firecrest, Regulus ignicapilla © 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 Firecrest  Regulus ignicapilla

Sonogram of a single verse/strophe of territorial song from a male singing along the border of riverine alder woodland and open cork oak woodland in the Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales, 19/04/09. Composed of repeated notes rhythmically ascending slowly in pitch, c2 seconds in length.

Cortijo Los Villares, Conil de la Frontera
[36º 17' 10.11'' N  06º 03' 52.3'' W] 1m
Polistes wasp study site at the farm. This is an area of waste ground and rough grassland surrounded by prickly pear cactus hedges and an agricultural landscape dominated by wheat fields. A Melodious Warbler was singing from scrub, and at least five Zitting Cisticolas were song-flighting overhead, regularly landing and showing well for several seconds before disappearing into cover. A nearby dry, recently ploughed field produced three Collared Pratincoles and at least three singing Corn Buntings around the vegetated margins. Also two Pallid Swifts, Barn Swallow, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Collared Dove and Spotless Starling around the farm buildings.


Sonogram of Zitting Cisticola, Cisticola juncidis © 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 Zitting Cisticola  Cisticola juncidis

Sonogram of territorial song composed of a repetitive single note song uttered in yoyo-ing flight display over waste ground surrounded by wheat fields near Conil de la Frontera.


Breña de Barbate
A brief stop here to check out the lavenders produced Sardinian Warbler, Serin, Nightingale, Bee-eater, Kestrel, and Yellow-legged Gull.



Day 6                                                                                 Looking for cetaceans between the Pillars of Heracles
Monday 20 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Tarifa > Srait of Gibraltar > La Janda > Benalup > Vejer de la Frontera
Partly cloudy, max 22°C


Spanish Festoon, Zerynthia rumina © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Spanish Festoon  Zerynthia rumina |                       | Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus |


Zahara > Tarifa
Today was our day off and few of us made arrangements for a whale watching boat trip which worked out at €27 for two hours. The drive to Tarifa produced Griffon Vulture (6+), Montagu's Harriers, Woodchat Shrike, Cattle Egret, White Stork, Turtle Dove, Black Kite, Spotless Starling, Red-legged Partridge, Kestrel, Blackbird and Collared Dove. he 10th century Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno

Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno, Tarifa
We parked close to 10th century castle overlooking the Srait and observed a number of Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts around the former coastal defence along with Spotless Starling, House Sparrow and Feral Pigeon.

Strait of Gibraltar
The boat trip produced few birds due to the bright and relatively calm conditions but a dark phase Arctic Skua and an adult Gannet were the only species of note among the many Yellow-legged Gulls. No true whales were seen but good numbers of four species of the Delphinidae order were observed at close: Pilot Whale, Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin. The highlight for me though was the Sunfish that cruise past almost unnoticed!

La Janda
Track along the south side of the Canal Colector del Este (Río Almodóvar), running parallel to Carretera Nacional N340/E5 (accessed opposite the A-2227 road to Zahara, from building once marked Venta de Retín).
The area was particularly dry this year and the lack of wetland species was obvious.

Track down to the canal
Usual Corn Buntings, White Storks and Stonechats present.

Canal Colector del Este (Río Almodóvar) mostly fringed with Phragmites and some mud, depending on water levels.
[36º 13' 12.2'' N  05º 47' 5.4'' W]
The first four kilometres offer the best visibility, after which the reeds get quite high. Just a single Purple Swamphen observed along with the usual Mallard and Moorhens. Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler were heard singing.

Main marsh on the left after 3.1 km from Venta de Retín
[36º 13' 43.9'' N  05º 48' 5.7'' W]
Usual volume of water but fewer birds than on visits in previous years. A Black Tern was hawking over around 20+ Black-winged Stilts, Mallard (60+), Spoonbill (1), Yellow Wagtail (4) and a few Cattle Egrets. At least 10 Little Egrets were also counted by driving slowly along the track as well as Raven (2), Kestrel, Common Swift and White Stork.

Lagoons on the left between 6.4 and 8.0 km from Venta de Retín
At junction/stop sign at bridge (7.0 km) over canal, signposted to Presa del Celemin. The lagoon was completely dry this year with no rice growing, instead lying fallow. The area around the bridge was quite interesting with singing Nightingales addressing the ears from all around. The increased number of Nightingale present in the wider area was most notable on this visit compared with precious years when we are usually somewhere between late March and mid-April. A Turtle Dove was purring from the cover of some canal-side scrub but a singing Melodious Warbler was more confiding. Around 30 Black Kites were hunting in the area, probably feeding on the many Egyptian Grasshoppers present. A group of eight Spoonbills were loafing on a nearby drainage ditch.

Presa de Celemin
No raptors but a few House Martin and Jackdaws around the dam. Nightingales singing from the surrounding slopes.

A rice field on the edge of Benalup produced Spotted Redshank (2), Wood Sandpiper (1), Redshank (4) and several Cattle Egrets and Mallards.

Vejer de la Frontera
Checked the town again for Red-rumped Swallows but failed to find any. Nightingales and Greenfinches were singing from the wooded slopes and further below, White Storks and Cattle Egrets were feeding in the farmland. Species noted from the lookout to the north produced Lesser Kestrel (6+), Common Swift (2), Barn Swallow (6+), House Sparrow, Jackdaw, House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon and Spotless Starling.

Playa de Zahara
Three Sanderling and a dead Common Dolphin on the beach in the evening.



Day 7                                                                                                         Return to the Mediterranean jungle
Tuesday 21 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Blue sky, max 22°C


Prickly Pear, Opuntia fiscus-indica © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Playa de Zahara beach tower © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Prickly Pear  Opuntia fiscus-indica |                                      | Playa de Zahara beach tower|


Arroyo del Tiradero, Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Aquarius study site c11 kilometres from the Facinas entrance.

Facinas > Zahara
A Booted Eagle and Honey Buzzard were observed heading inland. A weasel showed itself briefly at the roadside before running back into the cover of a prickly pear hedge. Several Calandra Larks and Zitting Cisticolas singing.

Arroyo de la Zarzuela (Zahara estuary)
[36º 08' 17.8'' N  05º 50' 36.2'' W] 0m
Before dinner, I walked from the mouth of the Zarzuela stream on the beach and up through the small estuary, continuing along the course as it meandered inland through the farmland. A few Kentish Plovers and Sanderlings along with a Little Egret were present at the mouth. A couple of Audouin's Gull flew past towards Barbate. The estuary near the bridge into the town produced Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. The upper part of the estuary a territorial pair of Kentish Plovers, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Zitting Cisticola, and Woodchat Shrike. A distant Blackbird was singing from the garrigue slope at the end of the Sierra del Retín, inside the military zone. A Melodious Warbler was singing from the scrubby slope between the estuary and the main road. Also noted: singing Corn Buntings and Crested Larks, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Linnet (pr), Spotless Starling and House Sparrow.


Iberian Water Frog, Rana perezi © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Atlanterra, Costa de la Luz © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Iberian Water Frog  Rana perezi |                                                                                                       | Atlanterra · Costa de la Luz |



Day 8                                                                                                     Polistes paper wasps and prickly pears
Wednesday 22 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > El Almarchal > Marismas de Barbate
Blue sky, 24°C


Windfarm & Wildflowers © 2009 Fraser Simpson   Cabo de Trafalgar Sunset © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Windfarm & Wildflowers · El Almarchal |                                                                                                  | Cabo de Trafalgar sunset |


Castillo de las Almadrabas, Zahara de los Atunes
At 0615h this morning as I stepped out of the Hotel Gran Sol, I was greeted by the short, fluty tones of a Blue Rock Thrush (see the sonogram produced the following  day on the 23rd). The bird was singing from the castle walls of the Castillo de la Almadrabas overlooking the Avenida de la Playa. I never heard this species here before, except on rocky outcrops of the nearby mountain. It was increasingly drowned out by the late arising House Sparrow as they chirped in the dawn.

El Almarchal
[36º 08' 38.7'' N  05º 48' 20.9'' W] 11m
Around 0630h, a Little Owl was calling and another was observed in the nearby village of La Zarazuela. The farmland and rough grazing here didn't produced any Little Bustards but the following species were noted: Turtle Dove, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Melodious Warbler, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Spotless Starling, Corn Bunting, Zitting Cisticola, Stonechat, Linnet, Goldfinch, House Sparrow and Collared Dove.

Marismas de Barbate
Track to the newly created lagoons
[36º 11' 01.5'' N  05º 53' 07.5'' W] 1m
At the board signed 'Dragados' with an information board on the regeneration of the marismas between the old stone and new metal Km-3.0 signs. The lagoon still resemble moon craters and devoid of water birds. Most interest is confined to the trackside scrub and surrounding fields. A number of northern migrants were noted with several Northern Wheatears, Redstarts and Whinchats. At least seven Greater Short-toed Larks were observed along with several birds song-flighting. Other species noted: Woodchat Shrike (3), Iberian Yellow Wagtails (5), Calandra Lark, Tawny Pipit (3), Cetti's Warbler, Crested Lark, Melodious Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting, Cattle Egret (15+), Bee-eater, Goldfinch, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Yellow-legged Gull, and Kentish Plover.

Km-2 on the A-2231 [36º 11' 01.5'' N  05º 53' 07.5'' W] 1m
High tide was dropping and numerous Fiddler Crabs were waiving at each other. One approximately 4x4 area contained 30 individuals. Many Corn Buntings and Crested Larks singing. Several species of waders were noted in small numbers including Whimbrel (4), Turnstone (2), Ringed Plover (17), Dunlin (2), Kentish Plover (7), and a Common Sandpipers (1). Black-winged Stilts were probably attempting to breed with at least three pairs present. Also noted: Little Egret, Zitting Cisticola, Mallard, Spotless Starling, Greenfinch, Yellow-legged Gull, Barn Swallow and House Sparrow.

Behind the Estadio Municipal de Deportes off Avenida Joaquín Blume [36º 11' 45.6'' N  05º 54' 41.0'' W] 0m
This site offers the best vantage point for scanning the estuary and surrounding marshes. I didn't have my field scope with me on this trip due to the amount of field course equipment carried but a surprising amount can be observed through the bins. Two Nightingales were singing from the woodland adjacent to the sports stadium. Species noted:
Caspian Tern (2), Gull-billed Tern (2), Slender-billed Gull (3), Grey Plover (22 including two birds in full breeding plumage), Spoonbill (1), Dunlin (55+), Little Egret (1), Black-winged Stilt (pr), Cormorant (2), Yellow-legged Gull (40+), Redshank (7), Iberian Yellow Wagtail singing, Barn Swallow, Crested Lark, Linnet, Goldfinch, Sand Martin, Goldfinch, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling, and House Sparrow.

Playa de Zahara de los Atunes
Many Painted Ladies were noted flying in off the sea well after sunset in the warm evening air.



Day 9                                                                                                                    Lizards in the temple of Isis
Thursday 23 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Breña de Barbate > Parque Eolico > Sierra de la Plata > Baelo Claudia, Bolonia
Blue sky, max 27°C


Ocellated Lizard, Lacerta lepida © 2009 Fraser Simpson   Harvesting Wind & Water © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Ocellated Lizard  Lacerta lepida |                                                                                                           | Harvesting wind and water |


Castillo de las Almadrabas, Zahara de los Atunes
Male Blue Rock Thrush again singing before sunrise this morning from the castle walls.


Sonogram of Blue Rock Thrush, Monticola solitarius © 2009 Fraser Simpson 


5 Blue Rock Thrush  Monticola solitarius

Sonogram of a verse/strophe of territorial song (low pitched fluty whistles) from the ruined walls of the beachside Castello de las Almadrabas against a noisy backdrop of an awakening House Sparrow roost in nearby palm trees, 0600h, 23/04/09.

Breña de Barbate
A pre-breakfast walk through the cliff-top Umbrella Pine forest, listening to Sardinian Warblers in the more open areas with juniper understory and yet another unsuccessful hunt for Mediterranean Chameleons in the Spanish Broom. Best was a Montpellier Snake as well as singing Serin, Greenfinch and Wren.

Returning to Zahara for breakfast, around 30 Pallid Swifts were noted over the port area.

Castillo de las Almadrabas, Zahara de los Atunes
Mid-morning and the Blue Rock Thrush was still singing around 1035h.

Parque Eolico
[36º 11' 25.0'' N  05º 47' 55.3'' W] 37m
There are now 'no entry' signs at the start of the track into the wind farm, but the start is still a good enough vantage point for observing the Montagu's Harriers. Two males were watched hunting below the turbines. Four Griffon Vultures drifted over from the nearby Sierra del Retín. Two 'flying in slow motion' displaying Calandra Larks were singing in the sky above as well as yoyo-ing Zitting Cisticolas, singing Crested Larks and Corn Buntings, and a Whitethroat song-flighting above the field-side scrub. House Sparrows were breeding in externally constructed nest in the floodlights at the Enagas compound. Also noted: Cattle Egret (4), White Stork (2), Linnet (pr), Barn Swallow (3) and Goldfinch (3).

 Venta de Retín woodland
[36º 12' 40.1'' N  05º 47' 42.6'' W] 47m
This is really rich area of Mediterranean woodland dominated by Holm and Cork Oaks. This area covers much of the slopes of the Sierra de Retín and the following is a report from just one small corner of it. Top find here was a male Orphean Warbler that was initially located from a brief burst of song. Five territorial Woodchat Shrikes were located, several singing Turtle Doves, two Hoopoe territories, singing Cuckoo and several Bee-eaters hawking low overhead. At one point while quietly sitting in the wood, three Hawfinches landed just a few feet above me, uttering their characteristic electronic 'pix' call. The perfect opportunity for a sound recording... until my relatively cheap, video microphone decided to fail (with noisy/hissy interference)! Well, this is the excuse I've needed to invest in a professional mic for wildlife sound recording when I get home. Passerines were well represented with singing Melodious Warbler, Nightingale, Serin, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Blackbird, and Greenfinch. Wood Pigeons also singing. The field between the woodland and the road held White Stork and Cattle Egret with Short-toed Eagle and Griffon Vulture overhead. Butterflies noted included Morrocan Orange-tip, Meadow Brown, Small Copper, Painted Lady, Western Dappled White and Bath White.

© 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 European Serin  Serinus serinus

Sonogram of a complex territorial song composed of a constant stream of high-pitched 'electronic noise', Sierra de Retín, 23/04/09.



Hoopoe (Upupa epops) sonogram © 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 Hoopoe  Upupa epops

Sonogram of territorial song; trisyllable notes around 0.5 kHz repeated around 28 times/minute. Also a dry, harsh call at 4 seconds, Sierra de Retín, 23/04/09.



Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) sonogram © 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes

Sonogram of sharp, high-pitched, metallic 'pix' calls from a perched bird.

 N-340 Cadiz > Tarifa road
Montagu's Harrier hunting in roadside field at Km-61.7.

 Mirador near Corijode de la Lapa, Bolonia
[36º 06' 02.3'' N  05º 43' 47.7'' W] 176m
Two Egyptian Vultures were the highlight here and three Griffon Vultures were observed above the track to El Alamo. Several Stonechats and Corn Buntings in this wind swept area.

Bolonia Swift Cave
[36º 06' 01.2'' N  05º 47' 35.4'' W] 255m
Despite a couple of hours here, no Little Swifts were observed and it was presumably still too early for White-rumped Swifts. At least three Crag Martins were hawking around the cliff and at one point one of them decided to harass a male Black-eared Wheatear with an extended chase over the slope below. Up to four Griffons and an Egyptian Vulture were present in the sky at any one time. Around nine Pallid Swifts were identified and a male Blue Rock Thrush was regularly song-flighting off a prominent song post pinnacle. Two Red-rumped Swallows showed well. Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle put in regular appearances as some newly-arrived birds passed overhead from the coast. Also noted: Serin, House Martin, Goldfinch, Kestrel, Barn Swallow and Great Tit.

 Trajan, Baelo Caludia © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Trajan · Baelo Claudia · Bolonia |                                           | Griffon Vulture  Gyps fulvus|


Baelo Claudia
[36º 05' 24.5'' N  05º 46' 28.8'' W] 4m
I visited the famous Roman remains, mainly as I had been here in five previous years and never entered for a closer look. Definitely worth it, if only for the massive Ocellated Lizards that show themselves well (see photograph above). Two large full grown adults were chasing each other in a territorial dispute and failed to even notice me as they approached to with a couple of metres. One retreated into an obvious underground hole while the other froze for a few seconds, allowing some photographs to be made. Another four were seen around the archaeological site. Eight Bee-eaters were hawking overhead and Sardinian Warblers sang from the small, ornamental hedge lining the pathways. Also noted: Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Serin, Whinchat, Black-eared Wheatear, Zitting Cisticola, House Sparrow and Greenfinch

 La Janda
Track along the south side of the Canal Colector del Este (Río Almodovar), running parallel to Carretera Nacional N340/E5 (accessed opposite the A-2227 road to Zahara, from building once marked Venta de Retin).
The area was particularly dry this year and the lack of wetland species was obvious.

Canal Colector del Este (Río Almodóvar) mostly fringed with Phragmites and some mud, depending on water levels.
In addition to species noted on the previous visit, several Great Reed Warblers were heading singing from the small canal-side reedbeds. Four Purple Swamphens observed between 36º 13' 21.8'' N  05º 47' 23.9'' W and 36º 13' 31.4'' N  05º 47' 47.7'' W. A movement of Bee-eaters was also noted.

Main marsh on the left after 3.1 km from Venta de Retín
[36º 13' 43.9'' N  05º 48' 5.7'' W]
A nice group of six Wood Sandpipers along with single Little Ringed Plover and Kentish Plover. A female Marsh Harriers was hunting and a least one Black-winged Stilt was present. Also Cattle Egret (2), Little Egret (1), White Stork (2) and several Mallards.



Day 10                                                                                                                  Festooned in the dawn light
Friday 24 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales
Blue sky, max 25°C


Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Spanish Festoon  Zerynthia rumina |                                    | Spanish Festoon  Zerynthia rumina|



Arroyo del Tiradero, Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
[36º 08' 49.6'' N  05º 34' 56.8'' W] 182m  Aquarius study site c11 kilometres from the Facinas entrance
The road into the park from Facinas was now closed - yesterday a group of students working on pond skaters for their project had been turned away here and at the opposite side near Los Barrios. The only solution to enable them to complete their study was to go in before dawn. I volunteered to drive up. Arriving at dawn, and the area was alive with birdsong and activity with: Crested Tit, Bullfinch, Iberian Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Firecrest, Nightingale, Subalpine Warbler, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Eagle (2), Mistle Thrush, Woodlark, Hawfinch, Blackcap, Cuckoo, Turtle Dove, Jay, Sparrowhawk, Wood Pigeon, Serin, Woodchat Shrike, Grey Wagtail, Griffon Vulture, Kingfisher, Bee-eaters, Raven,  Blue Tit, Blackbird, House Martin, Robin, Greenfinch, Wren, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, and Mallard.

I found a roosting Spanish Festoon in the shade and it was clear that some time would pass before the rays of the rising sun would reach the insect in its final resting place from the previous evening. This afforded the perfect photo opportunity of this normally restless and difficult to capture species (see above).


Sonogram of Western Bonelli's Warbler, Phylloscopus bonelli© 2009 Fraser Simpson 


5 Western Bonelli's Warbler  Phylloscopus bonelli

Sonogram of a single verse/strophe of territorial song; a short trill of just less than 1 second. Bird constantly feeding and moving through the scrub layer of open cork oak woodland while pausing to sing at a rate of 4 phrases/min in the Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales, 24/04/09


Sonogram of Sardinian Warbler, Sylvia melanocephala © 2009 Fraser Simpson


5 Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

Sonogram of territorial song; fast chattering warblers lasting 3-8 seconds mostly uttered from within scrub in the Valle de Ojén, Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales, 24/04/09



Day 11                                                                                                                   The migration continues...
Saturday 25 April 2009
Zahara de los Atunes > Málaga > London
Blue sky, 25°C


Stonechat, Saxicola torquata © 2009 Fraser Simpson  Avenida de la Playa palms © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Stonechat  Saxicola torquata |                                                 | Avenida de la Playa palms|



Zahara de los Atunes > Málaga (via Tarifa)
We had started the course in cold, wet weather but finished it in the brilliant light and warm temperatures that make this area so good. On departing, I remarked on some Cattle Egrets flying overhead.... as they came closer, in two close groups, one in a v-formation and the other trailing behind in a line, I realised they were Spoonbills! In total, 83 glowing white Spoonbills were migrating north-west along the coast against a deep, blue sky.

A brief stop in Mijas produced the only White Wagtail of the trip.




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 Costa de la Luz sunset © 2009 Fraser Simpson   Castillo de las Almadrabas © 2009 Fraser Simpson

| Costa de la Luz sunset |                                                         | Castillo de las Almadrabas |




 All photographs © 2009  F. S. Simpson

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