Wednesday 20th April
After a perfect landing at Malaga Airport, our first sightings were around the terminal buildings and included Barn Swallow, House Martin, House Sparrow, Kestrel and Collared Dove.
We couldn’t believe it when our cases were first onto the carousel and minutes later we were collecting our hire car and heading off to Cota Donana. Enroute we stopped for a picnic at Mirador Cerro del Palo overlooking Laguna de Fuente de Piedra. On the lake were Purple Swamphen, Greater Flamingo and Gull-billed Tern whilst around the Mirador were Crested Lark, Stonechat, Spanish Sparrow, Corn Bunting, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Swift and Swallow.
We arrived at El Rocio at 5pm. After quickly unpacking and enjoying a refreshing beer we finished the day viewing the marsh. The star bird was a Long-billed Dowitcher that had been found two days earlier and showed well. Other sightings included Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel, Snipe and Greylag Goose.
Thursday 21st April
Pre and post breakfast views over El Rocio marsh added Little Egret, Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Black Kite, Red Kite, Ruff, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Lesser Black backed Gull, Great Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Spotless Starling and Spanish Yellow Wagtail.
After breakfast we walked along the sandy track west from El Rocio and to the north of El Rocina. Sightings included European Bee-eater, Egyptian Vulture, Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Pallid Swift, Hoopoe, Nightingale, and Woodchat Shrike.
After a late lunch we drove to the Visitor Centre Reserve at El Acebuche where Iberian Azure-winged Magpie were abundant around the car park. On the reserve we saw Iberian Green Woodpecker, White Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Pied Flycatcher and Serin. The reserve was a good example of the typical habitat of the area, with extensive areas of umbrella-shaped Stone Pine giving an open undercover with a range of shrubby aromatic plants, many of which were in flower. These included a wide range of the cistus family, French lavender and broom.
A last look over El Rocio marsh on the way back to the hotel produced Garganey, Marbled Duck, and Whiskered Tern,
Friday 22nd April
We’d booked a day’s guided birding with John Butler from Donana Bird Tours to show us the northern marshes. We were collected from our hotel at 09.00 hours.
First stop was Arroyo de Santa Maria where we were soon ticking Zitting Cisticola, Greenshank, Redshank, Red-rumped Swallow, and Wood Pigeon.
After a stop to view a White Stork colony at Villamanrique we went to Laguna de Mancho Zurillo and Corredor Verde where we added Booted Eagle, Osprey, Tree Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, Raven, Melodious Warbler, Buzzard, Iberian Chiffchaff and a splendid Black-shouldered Kite. We also came across three Helmeted Guinefowl (Cat. E birds).
Our lunch stop was a picnic at Dehesa de Abajo which turned up Northern Wheatear, Little Owl, Jackdaw, European Bee-eater, Shoveler and Mute Swan.
We called into Jose Antonio Valverde Visitor Centre and around the pools visible from the Centre building we picked up Little Crake, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Whiskered Tern and Gull-billed Tern.
Enroute and returning to El Rocio we added Marsh Harrier, Montague’s Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Great-crested Grebe and Red-crested Pochard.
We were dropped off back at Hotel Toruno about 6.30pm.
Saturday 23rd April
We spent the day on foot at El Rocio marsh and walking around the nearby El Rocina reserve. A new bird at El Rocio was Shelduck whilst at El Rocina we added Crested Tit, Long-tailed Tit, and Blackcap. Overhead we had a splendid Spanish Imperial Eagle, our only sighting of the trip.
Before our evening meal we drove along the dead-end road from the gates of El Rocina to El Acebron Visitor Centre. Hunting over the scrub next to the road was a Black-shouldered Kite. We revisited the road at 11.00pm after dinner and came across Red-necked Nightjar sitting on the road which allowed us to view for 10 minutes using the car headlights and to drive to within a few feet before flying. This was one of the many birding highlights of our trip.
Sunday 24th April
Although designated a travelling day as we were moving to Grazalema Natural Park area, we made a detour via Huelva to visit Laguna Batuca which held Red-knobbed Coot. Whilst there we also added Yellow-legged Gull and Little Bittern.
Enroute we saw Red-legged Partridge and when we stopped for tapas at Utrera we were treated to Lesser Kestrel around the church. Montecorto greeted us with Griffon Vulture, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Stonechat
Monday 25th April
A walk before breakfast revealed Wren, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Corn Bunting, Nightingale and Blackbird
After breakfast we drove to Zahara and up to the viewpoint at Puerto de las Palomas. Enroute we saw Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater and Southern Grey Shrike. At the viewpoint we added Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Chough and Rock Bunting.
Stops near Grazalema produced Golden Oriole, Nuthatch, Serin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Serin, and Woodchat Shrike; whilst at Puerto de Montejaque we heard Quail.
Tuesday 26th April
An early walk at El Tejar added Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler and Cuckoo.
After breakfast we drove through Zahara adding Jackdaw, Raven, Blue Rock Thrush and Lesser Kestrel before setting out on a walk down the valley of Llano del Rabel. Please note that a permit from the Park Office in Zahara is required before setting out on this path. The valley was wooded and at the bottom a pleasant meadow area before a final loop amongst pine trees – this being one of the very few remaining areas of an ancient Spanish Pine – Pinsapos, the reason for the protected status of this beautiful valley.
We added Firecrest, Bonelli’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Jay and Cirl Bunting. At the bottom of the valley we saw Scare Swallowtail and Spanish Festoon butterflies, and on the return leg found Yellow Bee, Sawfly and Monkey Orchids.
Wednesday 27th April
We drove to Benaojan Railway Station and walked a path down the valley alongside a stream and the railway line to Jimera de Libar. The valley was alive with birds including Nightingale, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Serin, Blackcap, Cetti’s Warbler, Firecrest, Subalpine Warbler, Jay and Golden Oriole. On the stream we saw a Common Sandpiper and a pair of Mallard. Along one stretch we saw literally dozens of dead fish on the water surface. We also saw a Bee Orchid with distinct white sepals. We lunched at Quercas Restaurant located in a converted engine-shed at Jimera station before catching the train back to Benaojan station.
We stopped near Benaojan to scan the mountains and were treated to Bonelli’s Eagle, Golden Eagle, Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, Swift, and Alpine Swift.
Thursday 28th April
A day to visit some tourist sites. We started at the roman amphitheatre at Acinipo. Around the remains we had Linnet, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush whilst overhead Griffon Vulture, Buzzard, Booted Eagle and Kestrel.
Next stop was for lunch in the semi-troglodyte village of Setenil. As we ate tapas we watched Swift, Swallow, House Martin and Crag Martin.
Last stop was at Ronda. Kestrel, Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin and Feral Pigeon circled the gorge and rock faces. There were also some ‘genuine-looking’ Rock Doves.
Friday 29th April
Necessity meant no time for birding but enroute to the airport sightings included Little Egret, Mallard, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Corn Bunting and Crested Lark.