The trip started with a short and hassle free flight to Malaga and a 2 hour drive south to Tarifa where we hoped to witness the spring migration of thousands of raptors heading back to their breeding grounds after spending the colder winter months in Africa. The vast majority of them like to cross from Morocco to Spain, across the straight of Gibraltar at Tarifa, as it’s the shortest point and they can conserve more energy. However, the weather gods were not in our favour, and unseasonably high winds were forecast coming out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic, meaning the birds would not cross, at the risk of being blown out into the open ocean. So, we decided to head to Los Barrios rubbish dump to pick up some of the scavenging birds that are guaranteed there. Wow. What a stop that was. A huge steep-sided Rubbish dump with thousands of birds circling overhead. Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Black Kite, White Stork and Yellow-legged Gull in massive numbers. The shape of the site enabled us to get really high up and above the birds allowing for some great photography opportunities.
Full eBird checklist for Los Barrios Dump.
After Los Barrios we went to check out the usual raptor watch points at Tarifa, but as we expected, it was far too windy to see any bird migration. In fact we could hardly stay on two feet it was that blustery. Instead we took the back roads through the valleys of Los Alconacales National Park, a great little birding spot along a rugged mountain track through ancient cork oak woodlands. Birds of note along here were our first Barn Swallow of the year, aptly followed by our first Hobby, a singing Cirl Bunting, and a silhouetted Little Owl against the setting sun. A quick stop for supplies before checking into our apartment at Camping Tarifa, a glass of wine and an early night in anticipation of what tomorrow might bring.
We completely wrote off migration watch due to the winds. So headed down to Playa de Los Lances nature reserve on Tarifa beach to check for waders. The wind was howling but we managed to get some lovely Kentish Plovers, Swallow in off the sea, plenty Yellow Wagtails, Short-toed Lark, endless Crested Lark, Sandwich Tern, Spotless Starling, Zitting Cisticola, Black-winged Stilt, and Common Sandpiper.
eBird checklist for Playa de los Lances Beach.
Moving on, we went to La Janda, a former lagoon that has now been drained for agriculture yet is still a very important and productive place for birds. On this occasion it was quieter than when I’ve been in the past but we picked up a few good birds such as Greater Flamingo, large flocks of Linnet, Goldfinch and Greenfinch, Green Sandpiper, Sardinian warbler, Spoonbill, Marsh harrier, Spanish Sparrow and the ever present Corn bunting. iT was Unusually quiet, which we believe was a combination of the heavy winds, combined with the wintering birds having already left, and the migrants not yet arriving.
eBird checklist for La Janda.
The next stop was Barbate Marshes, a really good estuarine habitat where the river Barbate meets the ocean, creating a series of pools and lagoons that are great for waders and gulls. Some great birds were seen such as Northern Bald Ibis, Whimbrel, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian and Slender-billed Terns, Sanderling and hundreds of Greater Flamingo. A great birding site that we decided to spend a little more time on by having a long walk around the back, which was even more productive. 4 pallid swift in off the sea, followed by a group of 3 Audouin’s Gull sat with a Mediterranean Gull that caught our attention. As we watched them we flushed 7 Stone Curlew from a nearby marshy island. That was a turn up for the books and a bird we was not expecting to see in this area. Especially 7 of them together in 1 place. Migration at its finest.
eBird checklist for Barbate Marshes.
We thought we’d head a bit further away, out of the winds, by heading to that edges of Doñana national park about 2 hours away. On route our good friend Javi Elorriaga, bird guide and co-owner of Birding The Straight, gave us some great tip offs to check en-route. First of them was the point blank views of the Northern Bald Ibis nesting site at Vejer de la Frontera. These birds have been reintroduced into the wild after being extinct for over 500 years. A lengthy and successful conservation project that has resulted in show stopping views of this weirdly beautiful creature.
After that we continued on and before long arrived at the salt pans surrounding Doñana. The skies were clear, the sun was very hot for March and we soaked up this almost Martian landscape full of salt pans, heat hazes and most importantly, shore birds. They were literally everywhere we looked, and being able to drive around we were able to get unbelievably close to waders we are used to viewing from distance in a scope. Avocet, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Sanderling, Green Sandpiper, greenshank, redshank, grey plover, Kentish Plover and bird of the day, Collared Pratincole. Thousands of flamingo moved between the salt pans in floating waves of pink. What a site, a great shout by Dennis as this is somewhere he’d been before.
eBird checklist for Salinas de Bonanza near Doñana
Using eBird we looked at other locations in the area and found Laguna del Tarelo, another cracking spot where we picked up a small lake full of White-headed Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Pintail, Shoveler, Gadwall, Greylag and Black-necked Grebe. We then walked around the surrounding pine trees in search of new passerines and saw Iberian Green Woodpecker, Hoopoe, Short-toed treecreeper, Tree Sparrow, Iberian Chiffchaff and common Waxbill to expand the list.
eBird checklist for Laguna del Tarelo.
At this point we received a text from Javi, saying we should check out a specific birding spot. Bizarrely, it was 1km away from us and was a roositing spot for various birds. It was a very strange spot indeed as there were hundreds of Herons, Spoonbills, Cormorants, Black Kites, Red Kites all perched on the ground in an open field by a drainage canal. We couldn’t quite work out the fascination they had with the area. Maybe safety and proximity to all the resources of Doñana, who knows, but it was a fascinating place. Other birds of note were Green Sandpiper, Short-toed Eagle, House Martin, Common Redstart and this stonking Purple Swamphen:
eBird checklist for Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Last day and we were going out with Javi Elorriaga for the day. As I mentioned before, one of the best guides I know, we have been using him for a long time in this region. We gave him our shopping list and he planned our day out for us. First bird we targeted was Little Bustard, and to get there we went via the back roads of La Janda, which was a real treat, and a road I have never been down in all the years of going to Tarifa. The first bird of the day was a lovely pair of Little Owls on a pile of rocks.
It was still really windy but the birds were cracking on regardless, and we had some great species such as Spanish Imperial Eagle, Calandra Lark and a lot of the more common species on the way up to the Little Bustard site. Javi had 3 sites in mind and we couldn’t find them at the first but managed to pick up our first Montagu’s Harrier of the trip as well as 3 Red-rumped Swallow. We arrived at the second location and after a bit of a scan we saw the Little Bustard making contact calls in the middle of the field. Amazing bird. There was a local man in the field that was doing a bit of foraging, and rather amusingly, he came over to our car to tell us this was his patch and to bugger off haha. We definitely weren’t interested in your salad leaves pal don’t worry.
Next stop was a known Eagle Owl nest with 3 chicks in a quarry. Not something to be sniffed at and we went straight there and were soon viewing them in the scopes. Owls are my absolute favourite, so it was a good moment for me and my first good views of Eagle Owl chicks on the nest.
We then stopped off at the traditional La Janda spots to try get Back-winged Kite, but the winds were really bad and it was very quiet, but in the end we were rewarded with a lovely juvenile Montagu’s Harrier with prey. We decided not to waste any more time around there and try for Egyptian vulture at the cliffs around Bolonia. A great site with stunning views over the straight of Gibraltar. We got to a hide that was built to view vultures, even though it was pointing in the wrong direction rather strangely. We got to watch a great bit of vulture behaviour while we were there, as they were landing rather clumsily in the trees that were at the foot of the cliffs in the picture below. Javi explained that they were collecting new sticks to replenish the nest now that the chicks had got a bit older. After a while of watching and with the clock ticking, we decided to leave. As we got to the car we were treated to a fly over of a gorgeous pair Egyptian vultures, possibly my second favourite vulture after Lammergeier.
Time to get ready to leave for the airport, but we needed 1 last bird that we had a chance of getting really close to in the town centre of Tarifa, Lesser Kestrel. There are a good few pairs nesting in the castle there, which are very used to humans, allowing super close views. This is the resulting shot:
And that was that. Trip over. A really good birding weekend, with 106 species seen in 3 days. Tarifa is a place I have been to many times, and one that I will be returning to time and time again because the birding is excellent and I learn something new every time I go. Javi is the main guide around there so if yiou go, be sure to use his services, contact details are here. Thanks for reading and please share.
Check the eBird checklist for the day with Javi around La Janda etc, common species omitted.