Málaga, Guadalhorce River, Fuente de Piedra, El Torcal, Lagunas de Campillos, Teba Mountains, Guadalhorce Reservoirs, Laguna del Rincón, Sierra Morena, Sierra de Andújar (8 days)
Tour leader: Cristian Jensen Marcet
Tour members: Ken & Sue Tapp
141 bird species and 13 mammals recorded
Trip report written by Cristian Jensen Marcet
For more photos from the trip see our Sierra Morena photo gallery
We met at the airport of Malaga at lunchtime, and after placing our luggage in the van we started out with a birding visit to the mouth of the Guadalhorce River. This little green nature reserve acts like an oasis in the middle of the urbanised surroundings of Malaga. The area holds large amounts of birds, and Goldfinch, Serin, Sardinian Warbler, and Zitting Cisticola, started our list. Close to the beach a surprise awaited us; a Spectacled Warbler jumping around in the nearest bushes! We got very close and good views of this scarce warbler, a rare luxury! At the Mediterranean Sea we saw Razorbill, Northern Gannet, Sandwich Tern, several groups of Balearic Shearwaters, Audouin's Gull, and the more common Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls. We started our walk towards the lagoon, and Crested Lark, Monk Parakeet, Greenfinch, Blackcap, and Cetti's Warblers were seen on our way. By the lagoon we got Black-winged Stilt, White-headed Duck, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, and Little Ringed Plover. A Little Grebe was busy diving, and Swallowtails were chasing each other in the air while House Martins and Barn Swallows flew by high up in the sky.
After our walk we headed towards Fuente de Piedra. Mid-way we stopped at a "venta" to have some lunch. We enjoyed a tapa of Spanish ham with bread and salat. Once arrived at Fuente de Piedra, we checked in to our hotel and settled ourselves in the nice rooms. The beautiful decoration of the hotel included typical Andalusian tiles and a wonderful patio in the middle of the building. Our rooms were also nicely decorated and had the warmth and charm of the people of southern Spain.
After a break we went to the Fuente de Piedra lagoon, a big shallow lake that gets flooded by the autumn and winter rains. It has no outlet to the sea, so all the water from the nearby fields and mountains ends in the lagoon. After thousands of years of water collection, the water in the lagoon contains a very high concentration of salt, and until the 1950es salt was recollected from the lake. The biggest natural colony of Greater Flamingoes in Europe is found in the Fuente de Piedra lagoon where up to 18.000 pairs have bred in good years (with a lot of precipitation). The water of the lagoon does not contain enough food for so many flamingoes, so they will undertake feeding trips of up to 150 kms each way and even visit Doñana to forage!!!! During the summer all the water evaporates and the lagoon remains dry.
We visited the information centre where postcards, t-shirts and other souvenirs were sold. The staff informed us of a group of 5-6 Lesser Flamingoes present in the lagoon, and also that the last count of Greater Flamingoes was of about 15.000 birds, so finding a Lesser Flamingo was almost impossible. We went for a little walk around the lake, where our shorebird list included Little Ringed Plover, Pied Avocet, Dunlin, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, and a Stone Curlew. A happy Hoopoe flew around in the garden of the information centre, and a couple of Stonechats were placed on top of the bushes so we could see them nicely. Among other birds seen were Corn Bunting, Yellow (iberiae) and White Wagtails, Meadow Pipit, House Sparrow, and Spotless Starling. In my last look at a group of flamingoes in the lagoon... there was a Lesser Flamingo! The light was disappearing, so we couldn't get good views of it, but it was definitely there!
After breakfast we went to the Fuente de Piedra lagoon again. One of the reasons was to get better views of the Lesser Flamingo. All the sightings of this species are still considered as possible escapes, but it is not unlikely that when Greater Flamingoes go to overwinter in tropical Africa a small flock of the Lesser Flamingoes becomes associated and follow the Greater Flamingoes back to Europe. At least two Lesser Flamingoes have been seen in the colony in what appears to be breeding preparations... After searching for a while, we found 2 out of the 5-6 Lesser Flamingoes. The lagoon is big, about 6,5 km by 2,5 km, so we felt very lucky that morning.
We also looked for other birds and found Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, and three Stone Curlews. The Rabbit is very common in the surroundings of the lagoon, despite the general decrease in the Spanish populations over the past years. On our way around the lagoon we got different views of the Flamingo colony, and we added Marsh Harrier and Woodchat Shrike to our list. On top of a ruin Ken found a Little Owl sitting very still and confiding in its camouflage, and we all got good views which especially made Sue very happy. We met a group of British birdwatchers out with a different tour operator, and as the leader of the group told us that they got their scope stolen, we let them all have a look at the Little Owl and the Flamingo colony.
We stopped in Antequera for lunch, enjoying our picnics whilst looking at the city walls and watching the swifts fly over our heads. After lunch we went to El Torcal, a rugged mountain chain with very special shapes sculpted by wind and water. We stopped on the way leading to the top and did a bit of walking to look for birds on the rocks. Only Black Redstart, Corn Bunting, and Crested Lark, were around, so we continued up into the mountains. A Southern Grey Shrike perched in the open permitted us to have very good views. The wind near the top was very cold, almost freezing cold, and when we spotted some Spanish Ibex on a mountain slope the wind was so strong that the scope almost couldn't stand on its own. Once at the top, the wind dropped and we could enjoy a short walk to the view point, now appreciating fully all the amazing shapes of the limestone rocks. After our walk we bought some post cards in the information centre and then took a different road where we saw Blue Rock Thrush, Thekla Lark, Dartford Warbler, Rock Bunting, and a couple of Black Wheatears. We also spotted several Spanish Ibex, this time very close to the car. They were so close that we didn't need binoculars to have a good look at them. As the day was coming to an end, we went back to the hotel to have a good rest and a shower before going to our restaurant where Elena cooked a typical local meal for us.
We woke up to a sunny day and went to the Fuente de Piedra lagoon once again. We spotted all the usual shorebirds: Golden, Kentish, Greater and Little Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Little Stint, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, and Stone Curlew. Among the Greater Flamingoes and a single Lesser Flamingo we saw a single White Stork, and we also spotted Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red-rumped Swallow, Garganey, Common Teal, and a group of Spanish Sparrows. Sue had a late start this morning, and we picked her up when we went to pick up the picnic lunches. She instantly regretted having stayed in the hotel when she heard about the birds we had seen, but we headed for the Campillos lagoons as planned rather than visiting Fuente de Piedra once more. One of the lagoons was dry, but the other two still held some water. In the area Ken spotted some Pallid Swifts and also a group of Little Bustards. At first we counted 30 to 40, but we kept on spotting more males displaying, and probably there were more than double our first count. One group was rather close, allowing us to see all the plumage details of both males and females.
In one of the lagoons we met a group of local ladies from the nearest village (Campillos) and showed them some birds through the scope. They were so grateful that they invited us to join them for an outdoor breakfast with coffee and cookies. We politely refused, as we had a long itinerary for the day, with lots of birds to be seen. In the third lagoon, the more interesting one, we had some great views of Gull-billed Tern, Shoveler, Flamingo, and Black-winged Stilt.
Our next stop was in the Teba mountains where we decided to have our picnics. From our lunch spot in this picturesque landscape full of flowers and butterflies we saw Red-billed Chough, Crag Martin, Griffon Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush, and heard both Rock Sparrow and Iberian Chiffchaff. Among the butterflies seen here were Clouded Yellow, Swallowtail, Large White, and Spanish Festoon.
After lunch we headed towards the Guadalhorce reservoirs. We went to the "Chorro" with spectacular views of dramatic landscapes and some breathtaking views down a gorge with an impresive hanging bridge and a hanging path built along the surface of the cliff. We heard Robin and Grey Wagtail, and Griffon Vultures were flying above us. Back at the reservoirs we saw a distant Short-toed Eagle hovering, and an Osprey flying above the reservoir. After a bit of birding in the area we went to our hotel for well deserved rest and shower. Once again, Elena and her husband prepared a delicious dinner with nice cold beer and wine.
Today was our transfer day, and we headed for Andújar (Sierra Morena); the home of the last healthy population of Iberian Lynx in Spain. On our way we had some more birding to do, and we went for a last visit to the Fuente de Piedra lagoon. Fuente de Piedra means "the spring of the stone", and the town got its name because it was thought that the water from the local spring could cure people suffering from bladder stones. The spring is still found in the middle of the town, but no water is running these days. Now the village of Fuente de Piedra is more known because of the lagoon and its bird life. We said goodbye to the Flamingoes and started our drive.
Our first stop en route was at Laguna del Rincon, where we saw Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage and three Red-crested Pochards feeding happily in in the water. We also saw European Pond Terrapins sunbathing along the edges of the lagoon. After this short break, we kept on driving through landscapes of olive tree plantations, vineyards, and cereal crops.
Our arrival to Andujar was a success. Just upon entering the dirt road by the Jandula River, three Egyptian Mongooses crossed the road to the joy of all of us, leaving us full of expectations for the mammal sightings in this great area. During our first hours in Sierra de Andújar, Red and Fallow deers were also spotted commonly. At lunch time we had our picnics by the river, where we met Juan, a pilgrim from Valencia who was also hoping to see the Lynx. After having lunch, we went to our cottage and got settled in, and then we rested for a few hours. Ready again, we later went back to the river where we saw a Spanish Imperial Eagle calling above us for a brief period of time.
We met the Iberian Lynx research team in charge of following the rarest cat in the world here in Andújar, and whilst having a chat with them we saw an Otter swimming up the river. This made Ken very happy, as it was his first Otter ever. Azure-winged Magpies were playing in the trees in large numbers, and the noisy Great Spotted Cuckoos were flying around us; both species were found at close range to the joy of everybody. At dark we went to our restaurant to have a good red wine and eat a very nice dinner, this time based on the local cuisine of the mountains.
We woke up to a very cold morning caused by the weather front moving through Spain from the north during those days. We had our "tostadas y cafe con leche grande" and then headed towards the reservoir. We stopped in several places with plenty of rabbits, hoping to see the king of the forest on the hunt. Flying low, a couple of Spanish Imperial Eagles passed by, and the Iberian Green Woodpecker was calling in the woods and sometimes showing up between the trees. A Great Spotted Cuckoo was showing off, and Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Crested Tit, Serin, and Chaffinch, were among the common birds seen in the forest.
We kept going slowly down the road until I spotted a poo and stopped the car immediately. It wasn't just any kind of poo, it was a CAT poo! Sue started laughing at me because of the poo, but this poo was a sure sign that this was a territory of a big cat. Whilst I was taking pictures of the poo, Ken suddenly said "I got the Lynx!!!". He was very serious and had a concentrated look on his face, so I put my binoculars to my eyes and looked in the same direction as Ken. Sue was still in the car trying to get out; for some reason the door was stuck! Ken gently opened the door for her, and I got out the telescope to find the animal. An Iberian Lynx was lying in the shade of two trees, and in between the tall grass we could only see part of the body and the head with the two pointy ears sticking out. As the animal looked around, we could see the beard hanging down on each side of its face and its beautiful greenish-yellow eyes. It seemed to be well aware of us, but did not seem worried. There was a distance of 400-500 metres between us and the animal, and we placed ourselves among some rocks - moving slightly away from the animal, but at the same time getting a better view of it.
We watched the Lynx for a while, and judging by the shape of its beard it appeared to be an animal in its second year, possibly a female. She was lying down peacefully, from time to time scratching and licking herself, and for a few moments she sat up so we could see a bit more. Later she laid down, made her body completely flat, and stared in the direction of two Red-legged Patridges walking around the area and getting very close to the lynx. When they were about two meters from her, they seemed to feel her presence and turned around, thus saving their lives. Our hearts were pounding with the emotion of the moment; Sue was almost shaking and kept saying -I can't believe this, I can't believe it, whereas Ken was just speechless. After her bad luck with the two partridges, the Lynx laid down to take a nap, and it was time for us to have lunch. I went back to the van and took our two picnic baskets; we each had a complete salad and a Spanish omelet made with potatoes and onion, and an apple for dessert. The Lynx was still sleeping, although she some times lifted her head. We watched some Woodlarks singing in the area, Sardinian Warblers, and some Griffon Vultures soaring just above us. By this time we had been watching the Lynx for more than two hours!!!! We were close to good areas for Black Stork and Black Vulture, among other birds, so we decided to leave our friend sleeping in peace and meet her on our way back to the hotel later on.
We arrived at the reservoir and saw yet another Spanish Imperial Eagle. Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were flying above the water. We entered a tunnel where we found two species of bats; one was the Great Mouse-eared Bat, a big light brown bat with long and big ears, and the other one was a medium sized, dark brown bat with a very pale underside which looked like a Parti-colored Bat (Vespertilio murinus). However, this species is very unlikely as it is normally found in eastern Europe. On our way back, we stopped at the lynx spot, but she had left so we went back to our cottage for a very cold beer to celebrate this great day!
Sue proclaimed that today she wanted another Lynx, as she was a bit disappointed not to have seen it in action the day before, so we set out to find another one for her. The morning was a lot warmer than the day before, and we went to the river where we saw an adult male Hen Harrier and a Goshawk with a prey in its talons. We met our friend Juan again, and he gave us some presents that he found in the forest - a very nice detail! We continued to the Sanctuary, where we saw Short-toed Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, and a group of Black Kites on migration. While having our lunch in a lovely picturesque spot, we saw another Goshawk in nuptial flight. After relaxing for a while, we went on into the area of Andujar where one can still find wolves, but unfortunately we had no chance to see this skulky animal. However, we did see a couple of Golden Eagles!
We went back to the river after enjoying our little drive around this area with much more dense vegetation (particularly many Rock Roses), and from the river we continued on towards our cottage. We felt tired of the sun and the breeze, and 20 km before arriving to the cottage we were forced to slow down because a group of bikers were on their way up the road. And all of a sudden, while we were following the group, a Lynx crossed the road between us and the bikers. I immediately alerted Ken and Sue, who both got good views of it, and this time the Lynx was moving! We looked at him for a few seconds until he vanished in the bushes on the other side of the road. Two Iberian Lynx in two days!!!! Absolutely incredible!!!!
On request from Ken and Sue we had a very early start this morning. We left before breakfast to see the area where we saw our first Lynx, and on the way there we saw Moufflons as well as the more common deer species, and also lots of signs of Wild Boars. We had no luck with the lynx this time, so we headed further down the road which resulted in seeing two new species for the trip: Common Buzzard and Bluethroat. We then went back to the hotel to have breakfast, and after some free time we went for a short walk into the forest. Here we saw a pair of Golden Eagles with their talons interlocked in one of their typical nuptial rituals. A male Subalpine Warbler sat out in the open so we could enjoy all his beauty. After the walk, during which we had our lunch, we went back to our rooms to get the packing done before meeting up for dinner.
Time for goodbyes :( The week had disappeared very fast, we had seen lots and lots of things, and we had had a super cracking tour! Ken and Sue asked me to drop them off in Baeza, from where they wanted to visit some historical sites around Ubeda and Jaen and also visit Cazorla for some days. I left them in their hotel and started my drive back home, back to the Ebro Delta.
Thank you so much for all your efforts in finding not one but two lynx for Sue and I on our recent visit to Andalusia - not to mention Otter, Egyptian Mongoose, Spanish Ibex, Moufflon, and numerous Red and Fallow Deers. The bird list of 141 species also exceeded my expectations for March due in no small part to your excellent hearing dedication and hard work. If you need a reference at any time I will be very happy to recommend your excellent service.
- 1. Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus
- 2. Black-necked Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis
- 3. Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis
- 4. Balearic Shearwater - Puffinus mauretanicus
- 5. Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
- 6. Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
- 7. Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
- 8. Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
- 9. Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
- 10. White Stork - Ciconia ciconia
- 11. Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus ruber
- 12. Lesser Flamingo - Phoenicopterus minor
- 13. Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
- 14. Gadwall - Anas strepera
- 15. Garganey - Anas querquedula
- 16. Common Teal - Anas crecca
- 17. Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
- 18. Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina
- 19. Tufted Duck - Aythya fuligula
- 20. Common Pochard - Aythya ferina
- 21. White-headed Duck - Oxyura leucocephala
- 22. Black Vulture - Aegypius monachus
- 23. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
- 24. Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
- 25. Red Kite - Milvus milvus
- 26. Black Kite - Milvus migrans
- 27. Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus
- 28. Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
- 29. Spanish Imperial Eagle - Aquila adalberti
- 30. Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
- 31. Northern Goshawk - Accipiter gentilis
- 32. Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
- 33. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
- 34. Western Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
- 35. Hen Harrier - Circus cyaneus
- 36. Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
- 37. Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
- 38. Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
- 39. Common Coot - Fulica atra
- 40. Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
- 41. Little Bustard - Tetrax tetrax
- 42. Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
- 43. Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
- 44. Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus
- 45. European Golden Plover - Pluvialis apricaria
- 46. Common Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
- 47. Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
- 48. Kentish Plover - Charadrius alexandrinus
- 49. Dunlin - Calidris alpina
- 50. Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
- 51. Little Stint - Calidris minuta
- 52. Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
- 53. Spotted Redshank - Tringa erythropus
- 54. Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
- 55. Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
- 56. Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
- 57. Ruff - Philomachus pugnax
- 58. Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa
- 59. Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
- 60. Stone Curlew - Burhinus oedicnemus
- 61. Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
- 62. Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
- 63. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
- 64. Audouin's Gull - Larus audouinii
- 65. Gull-billed Tern - Sterna nilotica
- 66. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
- 67. Razorbill - Alca torda
- 68. Feral Pigeon - Columba livia feral
- 69. Common Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus
- 70. Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
- 71. Monk Parakeet - Myiopsitta monachus
- 72. Great Spotted Cuckoo - Clamator glandarius
- 73. Eurasian Cuckoo - Cuculus canorus
- 74. Common Scops Owl - Otus scops
- 75. Little Owl - Athene noctua
- 76. Tawny Owl - Strix aluco
- 77. Common Swift - Apus apus
- 78. Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
- 79. Hoopoe - Upupa epops
- 80. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major
- 81. Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis sharpei
- 82. Woodlark - Lullula arborea
- 83. Crested Lark - Galerida cristata
- 84. Thekla Lark - Galerida theklae
- 85. Eurasian Crag Martin - Hirundo rupestris
- 86. Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
- 87. Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica
- 88. Northern House Martin - Delichon urbica
- 89. Sand Martin - Riparia riparia
- 90. Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis
- 91. White Wagtail - Motacilla alba
- 92. Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava
- 93. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea
- 94. Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator
- 95. Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
- 96. Zitting Cisticola - Cisticola juncidis
- 97. Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
- 98. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
- 99. Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
- 100. Subalpine Warbler - Sylvia cantillans
- 101. Spectacled Warbler - Sylvia conspicillata
- 102. Dartford Warbler - Sylvia undata
- 103. Common Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
- 104. Iberian Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus ibericus
- 105. Firecrest - Regulus ignicapillus
- 106. Common Stonechat - Saxicola rubicola
- 107. Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
- 108. Black Wheatear - Oenanthe leucura
- 109. Black Redstart - Phoenicurus ochruros
- 110. European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
- 111. Bluethroat - Luscinia svecica
- 112. Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus
- 113. Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos
- 114. Blackbird - Turdus merula
- 115. Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus
- 116. Crested Tit - Parus cristatus
- 117. European Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus
- 118. Great Tit - Parus major
- 119. Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea caesia
- 120. Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
- 121. Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
- 122. Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius
- 123. Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica
- 124. Azure-winged Magpie - Cyanopica cyana
- 125. Northern Raven - Corvus corax
- 126. Carrion Crow - Corvus corone
- 127. Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula
- 128. Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
- 129. House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
- 130. Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis
- 131. Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
- 132. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
- 133. European Serin - Serinus serinus
- 134. European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
- 135. European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
- 136. Eurasian Linnet - Carduelis cannabina
- 137. Common Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra
- 138. Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes
- 139. Rock Sparrow - Petronia petronia
- 140. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra
- 141. Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia
- Iberian Lynx - Lynx pardina
- Fox - Vulpes vulpes
- Red Deer - Cervus elaphus
- Fallow Deer - Dama dama
- Spanish Ibex - Capra pyrenaica
- Moufflon - Ovis orientalis
- Otter - Lutra lutra
- Spanish Hare - Lepus europaeus
- Rabbit - Oryctolagus cuniculus
- Egyptian Mongoose - Herpestes ichneumon
- Common Dormouse - Muscardinus avellanarius
- Greater Mouse-eared Bat - Myotis myotis
- Common Pipistrelle - Pipistrellus pipistrellus
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