This 7-day birds of prey tour offering the chance to experience not one but two exceptional wildlife areas, combining the lush mountain scenery of the Ronda area with the unparalleled migration spectacle of thousands of Vultures migrating the Straits.
You begin with a flight to Malaga where we will meet you, we then transfer to our delightful lodgings in the quirky mountainside village of Juzcar. 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 feature film ‘Smurfs!’ and it’s adorned with Smurf murals a-plenty to this day.
En route we’ll take a picnic lunch in the magnificent Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere reserve, where we should be treated to views of Black Redstarts, Corn Buntings, Thekla and Crested Larks and Woodlarks and the odd passing raptor while we eat.
On arrival in Juzcar, we’ll settling in to our rooms at Hotel Bandolero, where there’ll be time for a little urban birding from the bar terrace before enjoying some of the best dining of the region laid on by resident award-winning chef Ivan.
Our first stop today will be at Los Riscos, an imposing rocky limestone outcrop at 1400 m above sea level. After enjoying numerous farmland species such as Cirl Buntings, Woodlarks and Rock Petronia in the lower altitude olive groves and cork oak trees we will spend time here 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 eight kilometre cave system, of which we will be birding both ends today.
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 will spend the afternoon observing the canyon’s nature, listening out for Cirl Buntings and Iberian Green Woodpecker as many species passed through and eventually come in to roost among the crags and scrub. Here we hope to add Rock Petronia, Black Wheatear and Red-billed Chough to our mountain list with even the possibility of observing Iberian Ibex bounding over precipitous mountainsides.
Today we say goodbye to our hosts David and Ivan, and travel coastwards to our second base in the Straits.
On the way, we spent a morning in the charming historic town of Ronda where, as well enjoying breath-taking views of the historic town as it straddles the El Tajo gorge, we can scour its cliff faces for further mountain birds including wintering Alpine Accentor and passing raptors such as Bonelli’s Eagle.
We then head to our second base at the charming eco-lodge of Huerta Grande.
If conditions are suitable, we will spend the afternoon at a private farm nearby, where Vultures can often be observed if a carcass is present. If they are, it should offer mind-blowing close-up views of resident and migrating Griffon Vultures and possibly a chance to see Rüppell’s Vulture.
We’ll spend the morning at Los Lances nature reserve, a small area of intertidal habitat on Tarifa beach. On the short walk across low intensity farmland, we may see Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark and Corn Bunting. A boardwalk takes us out to a hide, from where we can look across the lagoons to see birds including Common Ringed and Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint. There’s a decent chance of wintering Western Osprey here too, and Gulls and Terns can include Sandwich and Caspian Terns, and the once extremely rare Audouin’s Gull.
Migratory movement is completely dependent on wind strength and direction. Depending on whether birds are crossing or resting inland to gather strength for their onward journey, this afternoon will be spent at one of several local raptor watchpoints, making the absolute most of whatever the conditions bring us.
Today we’ll visit the farmland and wetlands of La Janda which is host to thousands of wintering Common Cranes. The huge area of low intensity farmland was once a vast wetland on a par with Donana 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 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 as well as a chance of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle whilst the farmland areas should yield Spanish Sparrow and Calandra Lark.
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, as well as some real stars like Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Western Osprey.
Also close by is the 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 foraging on surrounding farmland.
We should again find ourselves in the midst of the Autumn Vulture migration, and will take our final chance to sit back and relax with a picnic and a glass of wine at a raptor watchpoint as the spectacular birds drift overhead.
Today sadly our trip comes to an end, and it’s time to make our own separate journey from Malaga Airport.