Day 1: Arrival in Madrid
Our tour starts when we meet for supper at our hotel in Madrid. Night in Madrid.
Day 2: Sierra de Gredos
We head west from Madrid, perhaps finding daily species such as Cattle Egret, White Stork, Black Kite, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, European Magpie, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Blackbird, and Spotless Starling – an Iberian endemic – before we reach the scenic Sierra de Gredos, the southern boundary of Spain’s Cordillera Central. We first visit the Reserva Natural de Gredos, a spectacular park situated below the rugged 2600 m Pico Almanzor. Here we walk along trails, looking for Eurasian Buzzard, White-throated Dipper, Western Yellow and Gray Wagtails, Black Redstart, Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush, Stonechat, Eurasian Crag and House Martins, European Goldfinch, Ortolan and Rock Buntings, and with luck Bluethroat, and we make extra effort to find the magnificent Spanish Ibex. We should also encounter a diverse flora on the drive from the broom-dominated lowland landscape to the miniature sub-alpine flora up the mountains. Our parador is located in a beautiful setting overlooking pine forest, home to several forest species - Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Coal and Crested Tits, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Chaffinch, and perhaps even Citril Finch and Red Crossbill. The rock wall in the garden supports the Ocellated Lizard, a striking reptile of emerald green dappled with blue spots. Night at the Parador de Gredos.
Day 3: Drive to Extremadura
We leave the Sierra de Gredos and drive past the town of Plasencia, admiring the White Stork nests atop historic buildings, and looking for Black-shouldered Kites and Montagu’s Harrier, before entering the western province of Extremadura, an area of open grasslands, steppes and Cork Oak forests (“dehasas”), and renowned historically for explorers such as Francisco Pizarro and Hernán Cortés. We visit the rolling pasture country around Santa Marta de Magasca, for specialties of the region – both Great and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Eurasian Hoopoe, European Rollers nesting in nest boxes, Calandra Lark, Woodchat and Southern Gray Shrikes, Eurasian Thick-knee, Corn Bunting, and Common and Great Spotted Cuckoos. The dehasas hold many choice species – Melodious and Sardinian Warblers, Blackcap, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie. Night near the charming medieval town of Trujillo.
Day 4: Parque Natural de Monfrague
We spend the day in this superb park, nearly 110 square kms of dehasas, cliffs, riparian vegetation and woodlands. Monfrague is internationally acclaimed for its density of birds of prey – we have a chance at finding a dozen species including Red and Black Kites, Short-toed, Booted and Spanish Imperial Eagles, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Kestrel, and many Cinereous (Black), Egyptian and Eurasian Griffon Vultures, especially at Peña Falcon, where Rio Tajo has cut through the Sierra de Corchuelas, a high cliff face providing constant thermals and updraughts for these large birds to soar effortlessly. Black Stork and Eurasian Eagle-Owl also nest in the park, along with Thekla and Wood Larks, Subalpine Warbler, Blue Rock-Thrush, Rock Petronia, Spanish Sparrow, and Common Nightingale. Night near Trujillo.
Day 5: To El Rocío
Our morning depends upon how well we have done on previous days. We may revisit Monfrague, perhaps out onto the steppes, or spend time walking the ancient cobbled streets of Trujillo where Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts nest. We then leave Extremadura and head south to Andalucia, passing through the Sierra Morena where we could find raptors, White Storks, perhaps Eurasian Penduline-Tit at a river stop. We then travel on to world famous Parque Natural de Donana, and our accommodation in the historic town of El Rocío, home of the Virgen del Rocío, for the next two nights. Our hotel is located on the shores of the marismas, where Greater Flamingos, Eurasian Spoonbills and Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns forage within sight of our rooms. Reed beds hold Great Reed and Savi’s Warblers, and Squacco Heron, Purple Swamphen, Glossy Ibis and Little Bittern feed along the shoreline, and Western Marsh Harriers quarter the marsh. Night near El Rocío.
Day 6: Parque Nacional de Doñana
Today we visit an array of different habitats, from woodlands to open grasslands, beaches and extensive wetlands. One such place is José Antonio Valverde Visitor Center, for Purple Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons, Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, and various waterfowl, grebes and shorebirds including Pied Avocet, Ruff and Little Ringed Plover, while drier areas support Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks. Trails at El Acebuche and La Rocina pass through woodlands and wetlands that support Red-crested and Common Pochards, Eurasian Bee-eater, European Roller, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Nightingale, Serin, Iberian Chiffchaff, and Cetti’s Warblers. Salt pans sometimes have Red-knobbed Coot, Tawny Pipits occur close by, and a night-time foray could turn up Eurasian Scops-Owl and Red-necked Nightjar. Collared Pratincoles and Red-rumped Swallows hawk insects, Spanish Imperial Eagles nest in the open savannas, and we have a chance at several mammals - Red Fox, Iberian red deer, Fallow Deer, and Wild Boar, and with great good luck the Iberian endemic Pardel Lynx, Wild Cat and Eurasian Badger. Night in El Rocío.
Days 7 & 8: Tarifa
We leave the Coto Doñana, perhaps making a side trip to locations in the park to look for species missed to date, and then head southeast towards Tarifa for a two-night stay. A wetland along the Rio Brazo near the small community of Pinzon hosts Black-headed Weaver, an African species newly established in Spain, as well as water birds that includes Marbled Duck, Greater Flamingo, spoonbill, egrets, herons, Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamphen, and a nesting colony of Whiskered Terns. The Laguna de Medina has convenient boardwalks and bird blinds for viewing Great Crested and Eared Grebes, Tufted Ducks, nightingales, several warblers and yet another new colonist, Common Waxbill. We plan to stop in the town of La Barca de Vejer, to look for the recently introduced Northern Bald Ibis which occupy a cliff face at the entrance to the town.
At Tarifa, along the coast, Yellow-legged and Audouin’s Gulls, Sandwich Tern, migrant shorebirds such as Little Stint, Sanderling, Dunlin, Common Redshank and Greenshank and residents like Black-winged Stilt, Avocet and Snowy Plover occur. Zitting Cisticola and Greater Short-toed Lark can be seen from the boardwalk. We also have a chance for Little Swift, an African species that spills across the straits of Gibraltar here, as well as Black-eared Wheatear. This area is famous for raptor migration, and we will watch the skies for migrating birds, perhaps European Honey Buzzard or Short-toed Eagle. Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters occur offshore. Nights in Tarifa.
Days 9 & 10: Ronda and surrounds
We leave Tarifa and head east to the Serrania de Ronda for a two-night stay. We have two days to explore this splendid area. The town of Ronda is bisected by the deep El Tajo gorge, and from the southern walls of the old town one can view the gorge and its nesting Lesser Kestrel, Red-billed Chough, Black Redstart and Crag Martins. We visit the Rio Guadiaro valley for a wide selection of species, from Red-legged Partridge to Golden and Short-toed Eagles, Eurasian Honey-Buzzard, Alpine Swift, Spotted Flycatcher, Sardinian Warbler, Serin and Cirl Bunting. The town of Grazalema, one of the more attractive “white villages”, is an excellent spot for Black Wheatear as well as several warblers including Melodious, Red-billed Chough, shrikes, nightingales and Stonechat
A short drive west of Ronda is Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Bonelli’s Eagles nest in this area, and we should see this species soaring over the mountainsides, as well as Alpine Swift, Cirl Bunting, Dartford and Spectacled Warblers, Long-tailed Tit, and Black and Black-eared Wheatears. Nights close to Ronda.
Day 11: El Torcal de Antequerra
We leave the Serrania and drive east to the Laguna Fuerte del Piedra – a productive, diverse lagoon which supports the largest breeding population of Greater Flamingos in Europe, as well as Pied Avocet, Common Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Common Ringed Plover and Cetti’s Warbler. Red-rumped Swallows nest under bridges, and over the lake swifts forage, perhaps with a White-rumped Swift. Leaving the laguna, we drive south through Antequerra, to El Torcal. We have an excellent chance of seeing Spanish Ibex here as well as Crag Martin, Rock Petronia, Black Redstart and Stonechat. Night in Malaga.
Day 12: Departure
Our tour ends after breakfast in Malaga where we catch flights back to Madrid or to London.