The Strait of Gibraltar - Tarifa - La Janda - Cape Trafalgar - The Alcornocales Forest & Barbate Marismas... are all names that are synonymous with great birdwatching in Europe that are right on ourdoorstep. Take these fabulous places and the sight of North Africa as a backdrop then you'll know that you are on one of the busiest avian flyways on Earth.
This really is such a very special place and the variety of habitats provides birders and wildlife enthusiasts with an incredible list of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, herps and other creatures. The visible migration of birds across the narrow stretch of water between the continents happens every month of the year but at certain times of the year it can be utterly breathtaking. In spring and autumn the migration peaks but throughout the year we always have lots to see.
The Short-toed Eagle is one of the most spectacular of eagles. This medium-sized bird of prey hunts reptiles, particularly snakes and can often be seen hovering in flight then 'parachuting' down onto its prey. Most Short-toed Eagles migrate but we have wintering birds here in Cadiz province and they can be seen all year round.
Rufous Bush Robin's are sought after and can be quite difficult to see. They arrive late in the spring and leave fairly early, heading back across The Strait to Morocco. They can be seen from April - September.
Bonelli's Eagles are breeding closeby, one pair on the site of an ancient Lammergeier's nest! Bonelli's are resident birds although like a lot of raptor species juveniles will part-migrate in autumn and winter. La Janda is a great place in winter for juvenile Bonelli's Eagles but these powerful birds can be seen all year round (scroll down to see the sub-adult photo below)
Black-winged Kites are always a joy to watch and Cadiz province has a very good breeding population of these raptors at present.
Having said that, this species is somewhat of a nomad, often breeding hundreds of kilometers away from their last nest-site. Their behaviour is more akin to owls, particularly like Short-eared Owls who too find population explosions of voles and other smaller rodents and time this exactly to their breeding season. They can be seen all year round but best sightings are from September to May.
An adult male Blue Rock Thrush basks in the sunshine. These lovely birds are resident all through the Province and breed right down at sea-level on The Strait of Gibraltar. Spring and summer migrants of course boost the numbers of species that can be seen along the changing coastline or inland around the agricultural plains. These lovely birds can be seen all year round
The stunning Collared Pratincole is also a breeding bird and can be found at a few sites right on the coast. You can also see them across the other side of the county on the Guadalquivir River. The pratincoles can be seen from end of March - September
Looking to Morocco across The Strait. This is the narrowest point of The Strait and at roughly 14kms wide the mountain of d'Jebel Musa makes a good takeoff for spring migrants returning to Europe. There are many winding tracks, military land and private areas that cannot be accessed without permission or intimate local knowledge and these can often serve as wonderful migration watchpoints in the right weather conditions.
Black Storks migrating south in September
Black-winged Stilts and Glossy Ibis at Barbate Marismas
A typical full day’s Birding tour starts around 9am near Vejer de la Frontera or at a convenient rendezvouz point if you are staying further afield. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for prices and other day tour information
As an example we can head through Barbate and the coastal stretch of western end of The Strait of Gibraltar, to Zahara de Los Atunes and from there go across private farm tracks that lead towards the La Janda area, a rich agricultural plain that was once a huge natural lake and still an important birding area. Some of these routes are the best places to watch or photograph birds - in fact a lot of my Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle and Black-winged Kite photos were taken on private, where vehicles have restricted access. You can of course travel along the public main track that runs parallel with La Janda's main collector canal and it certainly holds a lot of birds when green during the rice growing season from May until November.
A Stone Curlew flies past us at Barbate Marismas during summer. This area is one of the best kept birding secrets on The Strait and knowing how to access the area can be difficult. Be careful not to stray onto the military zone without authority. We can take you to see the key birds like Greater Short-toed and Calandra Larks all year as well migrants like Tawny Pipit, Woodchat Shrike, Western Black-eared Wheaters - both forms breed there, the males with and without the black throatpatch. In late spring the area seems to be alive with migrating birds that stop off to feed there and we've even had Rüppell's Vulture there in September.
The rare and beautifully haunting melanistic form of the elegant Montagu's Harrier at La Janda. We had good fortune in 2011 observing these birds at a harrier roost. Read more about it here on Rare Birds Spain blog. The Melanistic form of Montagu's Harrier can be best seen in September-October at roosts of harriers here in Cadiz province. Sightings during the spring migration are rarer.
From nearby Benalup and the the surrounding countryside, we can travel cross-country (when dry) to watch or photograph species such as Montagu’s Harrier, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Eurasian Spoonbill, Purple Swamphen, Night Heron and Collared Pratincole.
An adult Squacco Heron in breeding plumage at La Janda
One of the very rare Rüppell's Vultures comes in to land on the northern edge of the Barbate Marismas. September - October is usually the best time to see juvenile Rüppell's Vulture.
Travelling via Facinas and on into the cork-oak forest and Parque Natural of Los Alcornocales, climbing slowly up to the sierras on old drovers tracks. In summer we come here to watch Rufous Bush Robin, Black-eared Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Tawny Pipit and Woodchat Shrike.
Birders amongst the Spring blossoms in April
Afternoons can include a walk at the coastal limestone slabs for Ortolan and Rock Buntings or watching perched Griffon Vultures and Egyptian Vultures at a local colony at the coastal Sierras where White-rumped Swift have previously bred and Little Swift can often be found.
Watching the Autumn raptor migration in September
The amazing success story of the breeding Northern Bald Ibis nest Barbate - one of the World's rarest birds! Present all year around Zahara de Los Atunes to Barbate/Vejer areas
We can also take time to do some leisurely birding around the tidal estuary and military zone’s fringes at Barbate and with luck we'll see the colony of free-flying -free-breeding programme of Northern Bald Ibis, as well as Stone Curlew, Little Bustard, Black shouldered Kite, Thekla, Calandra Crested, Greater Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks feeding there.
Winter birding can be spectacular for larger raptors like this young Bonelli's Eagle taken in December. It's possible to see five eagles species in one day during any of the winter
You can also see Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus) that winter with us very close to where we live. Read more about the reasons for the changes in Pallid Harrier distribution and their presence so far west in Europe here.
- Day tours normally start at 9am and end back at our starting point at La Barca de Vejer around 5.30pm: We can collect day tour birders at some hotels or meet en route at a convenient rendezvous point. *Our minibus seats 9 people.
- Lunch is usually taken at a local restuarnt around 2pm. The menu del día is excellent value at €10 pp and includes three courses and a drink
- If the weather is hot and sunny remember to bring water, hat and sun-cream. Trainers or walking sandals are fine to wear during a day tour.
- We have some extra pairs of binoculars, field guides and the use of a telescope is included in the day price.
- Please note we cannot logistically run a mix of half-day with full day tours during the busier migration months. It becomes impossible to get half-day clients back to their starting point at 2pm with full-day clients on borard the minibus.
- There is an extra €25 surcharge for the Guadalquivir day tour. This is to cover the extra travelling costs from Barbate and return.
- *If you'd like an exclusive tour without sharing with others then please as about this sursharge.
If you'd like to talk to us about any tailor-made holidays for groups, we can cater for most parties. Some people like a mix of the interesting day tours we offer. With Patricia leading half-day walking tours and our cultural and historical knowledge, birdwatching expertise and wildlife day tours skills, we can arrange a package that includes airport collection and return, hotel accommodation and many tips about dining out.
This is an ideal way to celebrate important birthdays, retirement or celebrating your very own special event. Please talk to us and I'm sure we'll be able to help out with our specialist knowledge, contacts and logistics
Stephen & Patricia Daly