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Tuesday 8 May 2012

Spain - Costa Mijas near Malaga

May 2nd to May 6th

Just got back from Spain after staying at my sister Julie’s new apartment with herself and my Mum, my wife Christine couldn’t make it due to work commitments but I had a great time with the family.
The apartment is up for rent and is available most of the year(see side of blog), and as I found, is conveniently placed for some excellent birding. Unfortunately wherever I went it rained with the Saturday being the worst day with 5 hours of constant downpour; however I still managed to see some of Spain’s speciality species.

Short walk to the beach

I had formed a plan of action and targeted 3 sites, Fuente de Piedra – a massive natural lagoon made famous by its flocks of Greater Flamingos, the mountains of Ronda and the adjacent Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves and Raptor watching at Gibraltar.The heavy rain and overcast skies made for poor photos unfortunately but when the sun did shine out came the birds.
I flew out from Gatwick on the 2nd early morning with easyJet at a cost of £131.98, you can do it a lot cheaper if you change the days round when you fly, and also if you book earlier, I booked quite late. Flight time going out was 2 hours 15 minutes, we had a tail wind, it’s usually 2 ½ hours, I landed at Malaga Airport. Julie picked me up in the hire car, a Seat and we then drove to her place at Cala de Mijas just past Fuengirola, about a 30 minute drive.
In the afternoon I went for a walk locally but had already noted some good birds locally singing, Nightingale for one, Serin and Spotless Starlings were everywhere with Sardinian Warblers numerous as well around the complex.Mid-afternoon also produced a pale phase Boot Eagle over along with 2 Groups of Honey Buzzards, 8 and 4 all moving down the coast. By far the best area was a large stand of Eucalyptus trees, Cetti’s and Sardinian Warbler were present along with a Melodious Warbler but the pick of the bunch were a pair of Golden Orioles. I went back for the camera for these but could not relocate them despite a couple of more visits over the coming days, possibly migrants moving through as they were not singing.

May 3rd
Fuente de Piedra
I was on the road around 8.00am with an idea being to reach Fuente de Piedra pretty early, this all went out the window as there was too much to see on the way along the A357 to Campillos.I kept stopping where I could along the road especially over bridges as there was quite a lot of activity around these.
Alpine Swifts were present along the route with 8 seen, also Great White Egret fishing in a river, a number of Crag Martins near a mountainous section and half a dozen Bee Eaters on a cable.
On the raptor front I logged 1 pale phase Boot Eagle and 3 Common Buzzards, I moved on and then came to a full stop at the Lakes of Ardalas, the place was buzzing with birds.

The raptor watchpoint with hide

Red Rumped Swallow

Griffon Vulture

Pick of the bunch were Thekla and Crested Lark, Red Rumped Swallow, Zitting Cascola, Alpine Swift, Woodchat Shrike, Blue Rock Thrush and more Bee Eaters. From here I then drove a few hundred metres up the road and found a Raptor watch point complete with hide.
This produced Peregrine, 3 Griffon Vultures, Kestrel, Alpine Swift, Chough, 2 Turtle Doves, Blue Rock Thrush, Nightingale, pale phase Boot Eagle and the best of all, a Bonelli’s Eagle. Also at this time the weather started to change with dark cloud coming in, no matter though the Bonelli’s was a stunner even though the views were distant and a bit dark.

Alpine Swift

Crested Lark

Bonelli's Eagle hopefully - pale belly, dark broad tail band and sharp carpels

From here I headed to Campillos and then on to the town of Sierra de Yeguas, I then took the road to Fuente de Piedra, this proved a cracking road with some really good species seen. These included 6 Lesser Kestrels working a field, a distant Short Toed Eagle, 9 Honey Buzzards overhead, 2 Alpine Swifts, a single Black Kite,2 Hoopoes and an unidentified Shrike which I could not get good enough views on but looked good for an Iberian Grey.

Lesser Kestrel

Honey Buzzards and Black Kites

Arriving at Fuente de Piedra I was stunned at just how big it was, I could see a flock of Greater Flamingos in the distance, around 200 but it was impossible to get near them, the only way would be to enter through the visitor centre.                                                                                               Looking up produced another group of raptors, around 60, this included Honey and Common Buzzard and also Black Kite, 3 more Griffon Vultures were also seen at this point along with 2 Marsh Harriers hunting a field. Another Short Toed Eagle joined the raptor list + more Bee Eaters as I headed for the visitor centre; it soon became apparent that Gull Billed Terns were numerous along with Corn Bunting.

Gull Billed Tern

Complete with beetle

Curlew Sandpiper

Little Stint

More goodies were found just before the centre with 16 Curlew Sandpipers and 3 Little Stints feeding amongst the Black Winged Stilts, Ringed Plovers and Avocets. Heavy rain soon arrived as I just started to walk around after parking up; unfortunately the centre was shut from 2.00 to 5.00pm so I ducked into the nearest hide. Here I added Great Reed Warbler and a Whiskered Tern to the day list, the rain was setting in so I headed for home. Looking at the size of the site it would take ½ a day to walk round it and cover it properly.

A soaked Corn Bunting

Black Kite

Booted Eagle

All in all it’s probably just over an hour’s drive to get too Fuente de Piedra, there are probably quicker routes but this was great birding just getting there.

May 4th
Ronda Mountains and Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves
I took the mountain road from Marbella, the A376, the mountain scenery as you climb the windy road is stunning, unfortunately the weather turned as soon as I started to climb, but it is an enjoyable drive.
At the very start I had a pair of Bee Eaters sitting in a tree with a pale phase Booted Eagle in the background, a good start as I headed up towards Ronda. As I climbed the weather got thicker with low cloud and rain but in between here and there you would get clear spells. It was in these gaps that I started to pick up birds.
A flock of Buzzards mostly Honey’s numbered 15, 4 more Bee Eaters, a Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, 4 Griffon Vultures, another 2 Booted Eagles, one pale one dark, Crested Tit and a flock of 23 Choughs along with 3 Turtle Doves.

Honey Buzzards

Rock Bunting

Woodchat Shrike

Female Cirl Bunting

My intention was to head to Ronda, a very historic town but I only made it as far as Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves, a massive area of forestry and clearings, I covered this for 3 hours as it was too good to miss.
Corn Buntings were again ever present along with calling Nightingales but virtually the first bird seen were 3 Woodchat Shrikes, 3 of the Larks also joined the list, Wood, Thekla and Crested.
Moving further in to a rocky outcrop produced 3 Rock Buntings and a Cirl Bunting, as I entered some pines 2 Firecrest and a Crested Tit showed themselves

Bee eaters numbered 21 with 3 flocks going over, also Honey Buzzards were again seen with small flocks of 3,7,6 and 2 overhead, Griffon’s numbered 5.Booted Eagles again made an appearance with another 2 seen at the same time, both pale phase, star birds though went to 2 Short Toed Eagles hunting together. Whether these were paired, on territory or migrants moving through is hard to say, it is just a pity that the light was so naff.

Hovering Short Toed Eagle

Male Cirl Bunting

I also got onto a couple of Warblers that I could not get enough on to id, frustrating as both were in deep cover and from the brief views that I had were not the commoner species.
I also had an animal calling on the side of a wooded mountain and despite a search with the scope could not locate it, possibly an Ibex.
Shortly after this the rain got heavier and I gave up and headed back to my sisters, a pity as I felt that with constant sunshine raptor passage would have been good.
Time wise I reckon just under an hour, the trouble is, in a good sense, there’s just too much to see on the way.

May 5th 

Having visited Falstebo on a couple of occasions Gibraltar has always been on the must go to list, today I decided to go even though I knew the weather was not ideal for migration.
And so it proved with a westerly wind blowing strongly, not ideal and to add to this it, you guessed it, it started to rain as I arrived.
Having come this far, it took 1 hour 25 minutes on the A7 road, it would be a lot less on the toll road, I decided to have a look anyway with an eye to future raptor and migration watching.
Although it is joined to Spain by land it is British and you have to have your passport to gain access, I did this and started the long climb in the SEAT to get as high as possible. As you climb after the town it is one way and very narrow, not for the faint hearted with some stretches barely wider than a car. Also here and there, no crash barriers to stop you going over, only white marker stones forming the edge, some of the gradients were also a 1st gear job, the car wouldn’t handle 2nd it was so steep.


Looking towards Tarifa

The sign say's it all

Meditating and thinking about where the next banana is coming from


Barbary Monkeys are also present and have the run of the rock and are very approachable, Yellow Legged Gulls are presents in there hundreds and gave me a hard time every time I got out of the car.
I did not get right to the top, I just wanted to see the layout for future watching, the views were spectacular with Africa seen clearly, the ‘ natural’ harbour held many ships and to this day I understand is still used by the Royal Navy.

I could also see Tarifa, if anything the crossing looked less mileage for migrants so I expect that would be just as good as well with the right weather conditions.
After descending I sea watched for an hour from the car due to constant drizzle, the only birds of note were 15 Gannets passing and a very distant brown Falcon shape that looked good for a Skua.

Summing up it was great to spend time with my family, the birding was great even with the weather trying it’s hardest to put a dampener on proceedings; it’s just another reason to go back isn’t it?

Note – on the way to the Airport along the A7 just before you get to the Torremolinos Chair Lift, my sister was driving, I looked over to the fence and sitting there bold as brass was a Black Wheatear, it was the only Wheatear seen.


  1. Nice trip report Dave, some good pics too - the Gull Billed Tern is very nice.

  2. Dave, some good photos mate and the place looks very nice to stay in!

  3. Martin/Shaun,thanks for the comments, you would love the apartment,need more time to cover the birding, the Coto Donana is only 2 hours away.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Hi, my name is Herman. I am a professor at the Colegio Añoreta Torre Benalgabon and I am doing a project with my class about native birds and migration. I want to make this class more interactive and I am looking for one of two options, someone to come to the school with birds or somewhere to take a class to. Do you have any ideas on either. I need to get the information before I propose to the school board. you can send to my personal email, Thank you in advance

  6. Hi, my name is Herman. I am a professor at the Colegio Añoreta Torre Benalgabon and I am doing a project with my class about native birds and migration. I want to make this class more interactive and I am looking for one of two options, someone to come to the school with birds or somewhere to take a class to. Do you have any ideas on either. I need to get the information before I propose to the school board. you can send to my personal email, Thank you in advance

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.