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Costa de la Luz



2-12 April 2003

Observers: F. Simpson




In early April 2003 I was working on an ecological genetics university field course based around Zahara-de-los-Atunes (in the province of Cádiz in southwest Spain). Much of the time was spent outdoors which provided the opportunity to note the birdlife in the area around Zahara, Tarifa, Barbate and Parque Natural de los Alcornocales. It was a good time of year to observe some of the northward spring migration of raptors from North Africa.

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





Booted Eagle · Pallid Swift · Crag Martin · Lesser Kestrel · Montagu's Harrier · Spoonbill · Cattle Egret · Bee-eater · Short-toed Eagle · Woodchat Shrike · Black-eared Wheatear · Balearic Shearwater · Cory's Shearwater · Gannet · Blue Rock Thrush · Melodious Warbler · Iberian Chiffchaff · Purple Heron · White Stork · Calandra Lark · Kentish Plover · Whiskered Tern · Short-toed Lark · Tawny Pipit · Spotless Starling · Golden Oriole · Gull-billed Tern · Marsh Sandpiper · Audouin's Gull · Black-winged Stilt · Curlew Sandpiper · Nightingale.





Day 01       02/04/03     London Luton > Malaga > Algeciras > Tarifa > Zahara de los Atunes
Day 02       03/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes & Cerro del Hinojal
Day 03       04/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes & Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Day 04       05/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes & Atlanterra
Day 05       06/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes
Day 06       07/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes & Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Day 07       08/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes & Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Day 08       09/04/03     Barbate Estuary > Los Caños de Meca > Cabo Trafalgar > Breña del Barbate
Day 09       10/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes & Bolonia
Day 10       11/04/03     Parque Natural de los Alcornocales > Los Barrios > Algeciras > Playa de los Lances, Tarifa
Day 11       12/04/03     Zahara de los Atunes > Malaga > London Luton






Day 1

Wednesday 2 April 2003
London Luton > Malaga > Algeciras > Tarifa > Zahara de los Atunes
Warm (max 18°C), hazy sunshine, coastal harr, wind 4 (s)

Malaga > Algeciras > Tarifa > Zahara de los Atunes
Sightings from the drive west on the A-7 and N-340 along the Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz from Malaga Airport to Tarifa: White Stork, Cattle Egret, Yellow-legged Gull, Spotless Starling, Feral Rock Dove, Zitting Cisticola, Booted Eagle (pale + dark morphs), Goldfinch, Swift sp., Black Kite, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Crested Lark, Kestrel sp., Griffon Vulture and House Sparrow. Stopped in Tarifa for lunch; Lesser Kestrel observed at close range perched in a date palm tree. Several Pallid Swifts identified amongst the common relatives. Sightings from the drive west on the N-340 from Tarifa to Venta de Retin and along the 10 kilometres of minor road to Zahara de los Atunes: Montagu's Harrier (2 pairs), Spoonbill with several Cattle and Little Egrets in roadside wetlands (edge of the area known as La Janda) near Km 57.5 on the N-340 (E-05), Kestrel sp., Crested Lark, Stonechat, and Corn Bunting.

Zahara de los Atunes viewed from Hotel Gran SolZahara de los Atunes
Species noted around Hotel Gran Sol on the beach: Barn Swallow, House Sparrows abundant in date palms and nesting in the old walls of the former castle, Goldfinch, and Feral Pigeon. Area of beach and coastal grassland c2 Km south: Crested Lark (3 singing mm), Goldfinch (4), Sardinian Warbler singing, Barn Swallow (2), Silver-Y moths (Plusia gamma) noted.

House Martin (4), Spotless Starling (10+), Serin, Goldfinch, Collared Dove (3), Blue Rock Thrush heard singing near the track up to the Faro de Camarinal.

Finca la Negra/Cerro del Hinojal
Km 5 on the minor road CA-P 2221 from Zahara to the N-340:
Corn Buntings (4-5) singing close to the road, Linnet (pr), Crested Larks along the roadside, Zitting Cisticola song-flighting over pasture and rough verges of the roadside, Goldfinch, Cattle Egret and House Sparrow.



Day 2

Thursday 3 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Cerro del Hinojal > Zahara de los Atunes
Strong wind from the southwest, cloudy and cool until noon, warm and blue sky by 1300h

Area of matoral, coastal grassland and beach 2 km south of Zahara town
Two male Sardinian Warblers displaying to a single female at ground level amongst Dwarf Fan Palms. A second female Sardinian Warbler appeared and all four birds were then flushed by a horse with one male flying to the top of some scrub and uttering loud alarm calls with the other male later singing from the interior of nearby vegetation. A pair of Stonechats perched conspicuously on a couple of weather-beaten stakes on the foreshore, the male bird singing repeatedly. Crested Larks abundant, singing and displaying over the low dunes. Zitting Cisticolas singing - one bird observed carrying nesting material in the form of down feathers into thick scrub. Two parties of Bee-eaters heard passing overhead uttering soft, bubbling calls but difficult to see due to the intense sunlight. Two pairs of Kentish Plovers observed in the low dunes. House Sparrows common on the gardens overlooking the area here. Yellow-legged Gulls overhead. Pairs of Goldfinches and Linnets passing along the coast. Increased insect activity apparent after 1300h. A female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) observed in a carpet of Birds-foot Trefoil.

Finca la Negra/Cerro del Hinojal
Km 5 on the minor road CA-P 2221 from Zahara to the N-340: wide, open, gently undulating agricultural countryside 50-90 metres asl east of the Sierra de Retin. Bee-eater migration was evident with birds regularly heard overhead. A two hour count revealed that birds were headingSierra de Retin on a north west course with at least 162 birds counted flying over Cerro del Hinojal towards Sierra de Retin: 1 + 12 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 3 + 4 + 7 + 21 +16 (1516h) + 27 (1529h) + 22 (1434h) + 8 (1537h) + 34 (1540h>1555h). The last flock hung around for a while unlike the preceding flocks which passed straight overhead. Other visible migration or local movements: north-northwest Barn Swallow movement apparent, Griffon Vulture (3) north-west at 1500h and a further (5) between 1505 and 1510h. Pair of Montagu's Harriers hunting over the large monoculture on the western slope of Cerro del Hinojal. Numerous Corn Buntings singing. Calandra Larks displaying. Zitting Cisticolas song-flighting. Pair of Linnets overhead. Crested Lark (2) on the road. A female Marsh Harrier passed southwest low over an arable field. Yellow Wagtail (Iberian race) perched on a roadside barbed wire fence. Cattle Egrets feeding in the company of bulls by the farmhouse. At least 20+ feeding in a cramped enclosure of cattle and hens. Up to four Calandra Larks observed displaying in relatively close proximity. Goldfinch overhead. Common Kestrel hunting over the monoculture field which the harriers were present over earlier. This field seemed to attract more birds than grazed rough and rocky pasture. Two to three singing Zitting Cisiticolas in the air at one time. Spotless Starling (20+) in the area.

Area of matoral, costal grassland and beach 2 km south of Zahara town
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) observed, first from about 40 metres away, along the street leading down to beach here. Caught up with it to obtain closer views.



Day 3

Friday 4 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de los Alcornocales > Zahara de los Atunes
Strong SW wind, cloudy start, clearing later to blue skies

Zahara > La Zarzuela > Tahivilla > Facinas
Cattle Egret (50+), Barn Swallow, Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark and a Kingfisher perched beside a stream by the N-340.

Embalse de Almodóvar > Puerto de Ojén > Arroyo del Tiradero, Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Arroyo del TiraderoShort-toed Treecreepers singing in the cork oak woodlands. Many Blackcaps singing, one pair observed feeding in 0.7 m high scrub in the understory of the woodland. Chaffinch and Robin singing. Speckled Woods common in sunny glades away from the strong winds. After the clouds cleared and the air temperature increased, Moroccan Orange Tip (Anthocharis belia), Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) and several pierids appeared along the roadsides. Bee-eater and Barn Swallow overhead. Cetti's Warbler singing from a bracken covered glade on the bank of the Tiradero stream - only a single burst of song heard in 40 minutes in the area. The Spanish Festoons are extremely fast in flight at times, some flying at canopy level around the oaks. Melodious Warbler singing in a scrubby clearing amongst the oaks. Raptor observations over the surrounding hillside between 1630h and 1700h: Black Kite (5), Short-toed Eagle (1), Booted Eagle (1), Common Kestrel (1), distant unidentified Kestrel sp. (2), Sparrowhawk (1) and Common Buzzard (2). Short-toed Treecreepers fairly common. Woodchat Shrike (2). Raven (2) overhead. Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra). Sardinian Warblers vocal. Cuckoo calling. Greenfinch.

Drive back to Zahara
Cattle Egret (70+) mostly in pasture, some in roadside wetlands along the N-340 (E-05) with Mallards and White Stork near the turnoff for Zahara. A Hobby hunting over a large, flat field on the left at Km 1 on the minor road to Zahara. Approaching Zahara, about 500 metres north of the bridge over the estuary, a Black-eared Wheatear was flushed from the edge of the road. Crested Lark, Barn Swallow and Goldfinch also noted.



Day 4

Saturday 5 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Atlanterra > Zahara de los Atunes
Partly cloudy (max 18°C), wind 4 (sw)

Atlanterra & Punta Camarinal
An obvious movement of shearwaters today with many birds flying east into the Mediterranean Sea. Cabo de GraciaMostly Balearic Shearwater close in along the coast with fewer Cory’s further out. Gannet (ad + 3rd year bird) diving offshore. Easterly movement of Yellow-legged Gulls (mostly immatures). Barn Swallow passage evident. Occasional Pallid Swift passing although a flock of 10 at Nuevo Zahara. Painted Ladies fairly active. Clouded Yellow (1). Small Coppers in sheltered bare patches in the matoral scrub. Blue Rock Thrush heard singing from a higher area near the lighthouse. Stonechats on thorny scrub. Five large raptors observed coming in from Morocco, flying fairly high and mobbed by gulls – too distant to identify as they arrived in the Barbate area. Another was struggling to maintain height and was repeatedly attacked by gulls as it laboured just above the waves. Numerous Blackbirds in the gardens of Atlanterra. Single Wren singing. Sandwich Tern (2) flew east. Another Clouded Yellow passed by. Coastal plants noted in the area: Grey-leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus), Narrow-leaved Cistus (Cistus monspeliensis), Sage-leaved Cistus (Cistus salvifolius), Winged Sea Lavender (Limonuim sinuatum), Red Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus acinaciformis), Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali), Shrubby Pimpernel (Anagallis monelli), Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella), Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus athaeoides), Large Blue Alkanet (Anchusa azurea), Borage (Borago officinalis), Broomrape (Orobanche densiflora).




Day 5

Sunday 6 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes

No observations made today.

 Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides) Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales Shrubby Pimpernel (Anagallis monelli)



Day 6

Monday 7 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de los Alcornocales & Almarchal

Zahara de los Atunes > Los Alcornocales (Puerto de Ojén/mirador)
Little Egret, Cattle Egret and Mallard in wetland areas along the N-340 (E-05) near the Zahara junction. Up in the national park, Melodious Warblers singing in scrubby areas with plenty of gorse. In an area of grazed grassland and many flowering Asphodelus: Painted Ladies particularly numerous and a very worn Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia). Valle de OjenA displaying Stonechat and a flock of c20 Goldfinches. Bee-eaters overhead. Blackbird, Wren, Robin and Chaffinch singing. Silver-Y. Linnet. Bullfinch. Blue Tit. Greenfinch. Sardinian Warblers common. Spanish Festoons fairly common – very territorial. Another flock of 32 Goldfinches overhead. Flock of Bee-eaters (18) over at noon after which a northerly movement of Painted Ladies was evident with 50-60 noted in 30 minutes. Barn Swallow. Wood Pigeons singing. Spotless Starlings fairly common around farm buildings. Moroccan Orange Tip (5+). Short-toed Eagle (pr) drifted over the valley at 1305h then hunting along both ridges. Griffon Vulture over one ridge at 1310h. Cleopatra (f). Single Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) and Green-striped White (Euchloe belemia) observed. Very close views of a pair of Tawny Pipits perched on the fence line along the track. Further into the park along the banks of the Tiradero stream: Cleopatra, Spanish Festoon, Moroccan Orange Tip, Common Blue, Painted Lady, Wall, Speckled Wood and Brimstone flying. Great Spotted Woodpecker calling. Subalpine Warbler singing a few metres from a Sardinian Warbler. Blackcap, Wren and Robin vocal in the deciduous riverine woodland. Iberian Chiffchaff observed singing – quite different from the British/western European species. Reminiscent of a Willow Warbler but with obvious Chiffchaff cadence.

Drive back to Zahara de los Atunes
Purple Heron in the wetlands along the N-340 (E-05) near the junction for Zahara. Montagu’s Harrier (m), Stonechat, Mallard, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Melodious Warbler, Calandra Lark, Barn Swallow, Linnet, Crested Lark, Spotless Starling, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Red-rumped Swallow (2) collecting mud in the centre of Zahara.

Playa de Atlanterra: area of matoral, costal grassland and beach 2 km south of Zahara town
Bedstraw Hawkmoth (Hyles gallii) in an flowery area amongst Dwarf Fan Palms on the foreshore. Nightingale singing from scrub. Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady common. White Wagtail overhead. Pair of Kentish Plovers holding territory (but not for long) on a flattened area of dune ready for building development. Whiskered Tern (3) heading east along the beach.

Almarchal areaEl Almarchal (a few kilometres north of Zahara)
Short-toed Lark and Crested Lark singing. Calandra Larks hovering and sailing overhead in dancing display flights. Corn Buntings abundant here. Stonechats on the Prickly Pear hedges lining some of the unclassified farm roads. Zitting Cisticola displaying. Cattle Egret passed by. Painted Lady and Silver-Y noted. Red-legged Partridge calling from a newly-sown monoculture. Corn Buntings watched song-flighting with their legs dangling. Tawny Pipit and Red-legged Partridge in an area of rough grazing pasture. Bee-eater overhead. Another pair of Red-legged Partridges skimming over a ploughed field. Barn Swallows and a single Collared Dove on the edge of the village. Arriving back at Zahara, a Spoonbill was feeding in the small estuary on the edge of the town.



Day 7

Tuesday 8 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de los Alcornocales

Zahara: old and newZahara de los Atunes > Los Alcornocales
Species noted on the drive: Montagu's Harrier, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Mallard, Calandra Lark, House Sparrow and Griffon Vulture. Golden Oriole (m) flew over the road in the Dehesa de Ojen. Iberian Chiffchaff observed singing again along the Arroyo del Tiradero.

Zahara de los Atunes estuary
Sanderling (22), Kentish Plover (8), Knot (4), Little Egret (2), Zitting Cisticola (1) and a Griffon Vulture over the nearby hill. Also Yellow-legged Gull, Crested Lark, Spotless Starling, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Linnet and several Bee-eaters overhead. Group of 14 Mediterranean (Yelkouan) Shearwaters flew east, approximately 200 metres from the shore. Gannets (2) fishing.



Day 8

Wednesday 9 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Marismas de Barbate

Zahara de los Atunes
Collared Dove and Spotless Starlings singing. House Sparrows nesting in the remnant castle walls and Barn Swallow inside the old grounds. Migrant Painted Ladies hitting the Spanish coastline this morning.

Parque Natural de la Marismas del Barbate
The surprise bird here was a Marsh Sandpiper. Black-winged Stilt (min 20), Gull-billed Tern (2), Pallid Swift (7), Common Sandpiper (6). Kentish Plover (18), Ringed Plover (50+), Little Ringed Plover (1), Dunlin (12), Redshank (2), Little Egret (8), flava and iberiae race Yellow Wagtails (10), Short-toed Lark, Stonechat, Sandwich Tern (4), Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-legged Gull, Corn Bunting, Spotless Starling, Mallard, House Martin (30), and Common Swift. Among the many Barn Swallows, an interestingly plumaged individual initially got me thinking of some sub-Saharan species but was actually an aberrant rustica lacking all red/buff plumage on the forehead and throat. This gave a striking white and blue head pattern, contrasting with the normal blue upper breast band. Clearly visible from some distance. Back at Zahara a Booted Eagle arrived in off the sea at 1324h. Also Brown Argus, Common Blue, Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady.

Barbate Estuary Marismas de Barbate Cape Trafalgar

Faro de Trafalgar (Lighthouse area)
Audouin's Gull (22) loafing on the beach with Yellow-legged Gull (50+) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (11). Sanderling (11). Kentish Plover (2). Cory's Shearwater (7) flew east at 1510h. Little Egret (3) in the coastal marsh to the north west of the lighthouse. Singing male Sardinian Warbler in dune scrub around the base of the lighthouse. Bee-eaters overhead.

Drive through Los Caños de Meca
Three singing Nightingales heard. Several Serins singing.

El Jarillo, Parque Natural de la Breña del Barbate
Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, Goldfinch, Wren, Blue Tit, and Bee-eaters overhead. Queen of Spain Fritillary, Speckled Wood, Large White, Small White and Painted Lady.

Gulls at Cabo de Trafalgar Barbate Stone Pine Woodland Costa de la Luz

Marismas del Barbate (eastern end)
One small area held Curlew Sandpiper (1), Ringed Plover (88), Dunlin (52), Kentish Plover (8), Greenshank (3), Black-winged Stilt (1), Common Sandpiper (1), Crested Lark, Cattle Egret, Yellow-legged Gull, Zitting Cisticola, and Feral Pigeons.

Zahara de los Atunes estuary
Black-winged Stilt (pr), Little Egret (2), Yellow Wagtail (2), Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Sparrow and a bat sp.



Day 9

Thursday 10 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Bolonia

Explored the Umbrella Pine-covered dune system around Bolonia for Chameleon - no luck. Firecrest, Crested Tit and Sardinian Warbler noted in the forest. A few Booted Eagles arriving.



Day 10

Friday 11 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Cloudy (max 12°C), wind 4 (sw)

Parque Natural de los Alcornocales
Obvious fall of fresh migrants after yesterday's rain. Some areas of scrub were buzzing with Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and Nightingales. Many Cuckoos singing. Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Linnet and Sardinian Warbler singing from a large expanse of gorse scrub. Cattle Egret (o/h). Crested Lark. Greenfinch (flk 7). Goldfinch (flk. 10). Barn Swallow. White Wagtail. Mallard (9), Little Egret (4) and Cattle Egret (4) at the Embalse de Almodóvar. Chaffinch. Northern Wheatear. Griffon Vulture (12) over the hillside above the reservoir. Blackbird singing. Woodchat Shrike (pr) in evergreen scrub by the roadside. Lesser Kestrel (2). Group of three Cattle Egrets overhead. Black Kite at the Mirador Puerto de Ojen. Griffon Vulture (8) over Tajo del Aguila. Lesser Kestrel (m) at Montes de los Barrios. Another Woodchat Shrike. Flock of (50+) House Martins contained a few Barn and Red-rumped Swallows in tow. Corn Buntings singing. Zitting Cisticola singing.

Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospemum inodorum) Cork Oak (Quercus suber)

Rio Jara, north of Tarifa
Audouin's Gull (82). Yellow-legged Gull (200+). Grey Plover (4). Redshank (2). Dunlin (3). Black-winged Stilt (6). Short-toed Lark (6). Sandwich Tern (17). Grey Heron (1). Short-toed Eagle and Egyptian Vulture arriving. Shearwaters moving offshore. Also Crested Lark, Serin, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat, Linnet, Goldfinch and Spotless Starling.



Day 11

Saturday 12 April 2003
Zahara de los Atunes > Malaga

Species noted on the drive back to Malaga Airport
Yellow-legged Gull, Crested Lark, Little Egret, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Feral Pigeon, Zitting Cisticola, Booted Eagle, Black Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Goldfinch, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Egyptian Vulture, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Kestrel sp., Griffon Vulture, Honey Buzzard, Black-billed Magpie, and Spotless Starling.





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


 All photographs © 2003  F. S. Simpson

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