Welcome to our bird watching trip to Morocco. On this occasion, we have repeated our favourite itinerary in this wonderful and welcoming country, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert. In total we have seen 116 species of birds (many of them with a restricted distribution) and several subspecies which will probably be split in the following years.
Five of us meet in Valencia airport and fly together to Madrid airport (Terminal 4) on time to join with Keith and Deidre, both travelling from the United States. Once we get at Marrakesh airport, we meet our driver Hamid. While we get into the van, we see the first bird of the trip, a flock of Little Swifts.
After having breakfast at 8 o’clock, we set off towards the Atlas Mountains. The first stop in route is in an open scrubland area where we see a beautiful male of Moussier’s Redstart, as well as a group of Spanish Sparrow. In addition, in some nearby fields, the scope two Barbary partridges, a pair of Little owls, a Southern Grey Shrike (subsp. algeriensis) and a beautiful Barbary Falcon. What a great start to this bird watching trip to Morocco!
Later, we continue our journey to the Atlas Mountains. Our next stop is at the hotel to leave our luggage and get some new birds. Soon we locate the Atlas Crossbill, a subspecies of the Common Crossbill which is a clear candidate to be a new specie. You might find interesting this article about the differences between the Atlas Crossbill and Common Crossbill. In the same trees we also see a African Blue Tit.
Around the garden, we see the endemic Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker feeding on ants. In addition, in a large walnut tree we get two Great Spotted Woodpecker which are breaking the walnut galls to feed on the insects.
We continue our journey towards the ski slopes of Oukaimeden where we stop to have lunch. After having our first Tajin, we start looking for some local bird specialities. A few meters from the restaurant, we see a large group of Red-billed Chough and Alpine Chough having a feast on a rubbish pile.
After searching for one hour, we finally find a good number of Atlas Horned Larks and a newly arrived Northern Wheatear. This winter the weather has been warmer than average, and therefore the snow has retreated to a higher level. This makes it even more difficult to locate the beautiful Crimson-winged Finch.
Finally, around 5:30 we watch three Crimson-winged Finches flying which we locate later in the market. Next to them, we find an African Chaffinch. These approachable birds allow us fantastic close views.
Today we have a long drive ahead. Around 11:30, we make a stop for coffee in a bar and from the terrace we get four Lesser Kestrel migrating.
After lunch, we continue the itinerary making short stops to watch some birds such as Black Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear. The latter one gives a lot of discussion as immature birds do not have the characteristic white crown but do have a different pattern on the tail. In the same stop we also find a couple Desert Larks and Thekla Larks.
Finally, our last birding stop is to look for one of the Magreb “jewels”, the spectacular Magreb Wheatear. After searching for 15 minutes, we find a beautiful male, followed by a female and our first Trumpeter Finch of the trip.
A couple of hours later, we arrive at our cosy accommodation, a traditional Riat in Boumalne du Dades where we have a delicious couscous for dinner.
No doubt today will be a fantastic birding day. After breakfast, we visit the famous landfill which attracts numerous species of birds. On the way we pull over to observe an “infiltrated” Atlas Horned Lark among a group of Temminck’s Larks. We also find a flock of Lesser-short toed Larks.
As soon as we arrive at the landfill, we find a beautiful male of Red-rumped Wheatear and three Thick-billed Lark which are on pursued. At some distance we scope pair of Long-legged Buzzards.
In the surroundings we find a beautiful male of Desert Wheatear in full song. Among the piles of debris, a group of 50 Trumpeter finches flies off.
We continue our bird watching tour finding the spectacular Hoopoe Lark and a group of four Cream-coloured Coursers. How beautiful they are! One of the most stunning waders! Later, we stop in the surroundings to have our picnic lunch, a Moroccan omelette. While we tuck in our sandwiches, we scope a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouses.
Finally, our last stop of the day is in a gorge to look for the impressive Pharaoh Eagle Owl. Soon, we find the female perched at the entrance of the nest and the male just few meters away. What a stunning bird! On the way back to the hotel we see a pair of Laughing Dove resting in a tamarisk.
Yesterday was a long day on the road, so we call it a day. Everyone has time to rest and enjoy the patio of the Riat. We make the checklist having some cold beers.
Today we set off towards the Sahara Desert. Our first stop is to stretch our legs is the Todra Gorge, and we are lucky enough to see a beautiful pair of Bonelli’s Eagles. Superb!
After lunch, we make a stop in a wadi close to Merzouga to look for one of the most difficult species, the Scrub Warbler. Once we start looking around, we see a flock of Great short-toed Larks as well as a Great Grey Shrike of the subspecies elegans, which is much paler than the subspecies algeriensis.
There is also two approachable Black-tailed Larks. Nevertheless, the sighting of the Scrub Warbler is poor and some people miss it. We will try again tomorrow.
Juan and Mateo photograph a weird-looking Wheatear which turns to be a Seebohm Wheatear. A beautiful and unexpected sighting of a short-distance migrant bird that breeds in the Atlas Mountains. In a nearby bush, we find a beautiful male Tristram’s Warbler.
Finally, we arrive at our accommodation in the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Today we have an interesting bird watching day ahead. We leave the hotel in two 4×4 vehicles and head to a watering hole for dromedaries which is sometimes used by Sandgrouses. Once we arrive, we get a pair of Spotted Sandgrouses. A little later, we see a flock of 12 birds landing by the watering hole. Shortly afterwards, a group of 5 Crowned Sandgrouses land not far from us allowing good pictures. What a start!
Our next stop is at a tent where the nomads live. They very kindly offer us tea with mint. While we have the drink seated in the ground, a Hoopoe Lark and a beautiful Desert Sparrow get closer and closer to us. Fantastic!
After that, we go straight to a scrubby area where we find different territories of Spectacled Warbler and Desert Warbler. In the transect to our next stop, we find a good bunch of Brown-necked Ravens.
Later, we meet a Berber shepherd who has been searching at dusk for us a spectacular bird. This bird has just arrived to breed in the desert, the Egyptian Nightjar. Once we get to the area, we locate the bird under a bush, dozing. We enjoy watching it just few meters away. What a wonderful bird!
It’s time to have lunch and our Moroccan friends invite us to have a Berber pizza at their place. During the afternoon, we continue looking for the birds we have miss so far. The weather is not very hot (28 ºC) but the sun is strong.
We set off to some cliffs where a pair of Lanner Falcons nest. The male brings a catch and offer it to the female, great! In the near bushes, we find a female of Tristan’s Warbler.
After that, we visit a wadi where we manage to see two Scrub Warblers after an intense search. Finally, we have a stop in a palm tree grove to see a small group of Fulvous Babbler.
We have seen all the desert bird species, so it is time to celebrate it with a cold beer!
Today we start the trip back to Marrakech. During the journey we cross fertile valleys where palm trees and alfalfa are grown. On a pylon, we see a Short-toed Eagle.
After lunch, we make a stop on the Draa River. Here we see the Moroccan subspecies of White wagtail (subsp. supersonata), as well as Common, Green and Wood sandpipers.
The last stop is made near Ouarzazate, in the Mansour Eddahbi. In this reservoir we find a good number of new species for the trip: Marbled Teal, Ruddy Shelduck, Magreb Lark, Black-winged kite, Greenshank and Kentish plover among many others.
We leave Ouarzazate behind and head North towards Marrakesh. On the way, we visit the impressive Kasbah Ait Benhaddou. This World Heritage city (17th century) has been the set of many popular films such as Game of Thrones, Prince of Persia and Gladiator among many others. We walk along the alleys passing through numerous craftsmen shops and watching birds such as Blue-rock thrush, Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Marin.
After having lunch, we make the last stretch of road to our accommodation in Marrakech.
Today is our last day in Morocco so we will spend the morning visiting the Medina of Marrakech and buying some souvenirs. In the sky we watch migrating, two Booted eagles and a kettle of few tens of Black Kites.
After visiting the Palais Bahia in Marrakesh, we are driven to the airport to end this wonderful bird watching trip to Morocco. We have seen all the target birds and enjoyed the Moroccan hospitality and food.
I am regular visitor of the Cantabrian mountains and Picos de Europa. As a result, I have spent many summers searching for its wonderful wildlife. Here you can read my last wildlife trip report in the Cantabrian Mountains.
We usually run two types of wildlife tours. In June, we start leading natural history tours mainly consisting of orchids, butterflies, birds, etc. and during September, the itineraries are more focus on mammals: wildcat, Iberian wolf and brown bear.
Dates: June 25-July 1st
The group arrives on time to Santander airport and soon we are in the minibus heading to our accommodation in Boca de Húergamo. After 2 h 40 min journey, everyone is willing to stretch the legs before dinner. We walk around the surroundings of the hotel watching Serins, Black redstarts and two White storks in the nest. Mike finds a Hummingbird-hawk moth in a honeysuckle. After that, we stroll down to the river when Pau finds an adult Dipper feeding three grown-up chicks. On the way back, we take another path to see the beautiful Lilium martagon.
We set off at 9:00 driving South to the village of Crémenes. Soon we see the first orchids: Lizzard, Pyramidal and Woodcock orchids. Sadly, the Sawfly orchids are almost over. Black kites, Griffon vultures and Common buzzard patrol the sky and the nearby farms looking for some carcass. As the temperature warms up, we start finding the first butterflies: Clouded yellow and Berger’s clouded yellow, Spotted fritillary, Small tortoiseshell and a Heath fritillary which finds Edward’s T-shirt a good place to land.
Just few of us, manage to see an Iberian chiffchaff which keeps jumping from branch to branch. After that, we continue walking along a small stream watching a Beautiful damselfly and few more species of butterflies: Green-vein white, Adoni’s blue, Essex and Small skippers. Not far from there, we add two more species of orchids: Small-tongue orchid and Green-winged orchid, the last one almost over.
We get back to the vehicles and drive a short distance to a picnic area. As we are enjoying our salads and local cheese, Jenny gets her eyes in two birds which turn to be an Egyptian vulture and a Peregrine falcon. The grass in the picnic area hasn’t been cut yet and therefore, there are lots of gorgeous butterflies such as Iberian Marbled white, Dark-green and Cardinal fritillaries.
Once we have finished lunch, we drive for 20 minutes to our next location. Here the landscape is a bit more Mediterranean, and so are the birds! We enjoy great views of the colourful Bee-eaters and a Red-back shrike. Sadly, just Pau see a Short-toed eagle after it vanishes behind the hill. In addition, we all see a Melodious warbler singing on the top of a bush and an Iberian green woodpecker flying from tree to tree. Some new butterflies include Silver-studded, Long-tailed and Little blue, Large and Oberthür’s grizzled skipper.
Today we have a long drive (1 h 40 min) to Fuente Dé. Once we get there, Pau rushes to get the tickets so the waiting time is just 30 min. Meanwhile, we wander around watching a beautiful Firecrest and a Coal tit. In addition, there are large numbers of Painted lady which have been pushed to Europe as a result of the heat wave a few days ago.
Once we get out of the cable car, we soon find some alpine plants. For instance, Trumpet gentian and the Pyrenean toadflax. We continue walking and taking photos of “cheeky” Alpine chough and we are rewarded with the sight of a Lammergeier. That is fantastic! It is even possible to see the numbers in the wing tags as most of the birds in this area are part of a restocking programme. During the winter 2020, a pair of Lammergueiers have mate and laid an egg. This is the first breeding attempt in many decades. Let’s hope they succed!
We keep moving as we have more birds to see, but before we get to the spot, Pau sees a Southern Chamois resting among the boulders. Once we get to the “wall”, we wait for 30 min until two Snow finches show up. After that, we stop in another area to scan the walls, finding a Wallcreeper, that is great! It keeps hiding just showing for seconds.
While we wait to get better views of the Wallcreeper, Pau finds two approachable Alpine accentors. Finally, the Wallcreeper remains on view and all the group gets good sight of this stunning bird. The breeze carries the butterflies away and makes difficult to spot any of them, just finding a Common blue and a Common Brassy ringlet.
After some refreshments in the bar, we take the cable car back and set off to the hotel.
Our first stop today is to add an interesting bird to our list, the Citril finch. In the same spot, we add two more species of orchids: Heath spotted orchid and Dactylorhiza incarnata. After that, we continue driving along the beautiful Valdeón valley and stop near a stream. As we get off the vehicle, we get a nicely perched Yellowhammer and a Linnet. The meadows are packed with flowers such as the endemic Digitalis parviflora, the beautiful Linaria elegans, Trollius europaeus and the purple Jasione laevis just to name few. The hillsides are pink as the heath (Calluna vulgaris) is in full bloom. There are some interesting butterflies like the Scarce Swallowtail, Scarce copper and Turquoise blue.
We keep driving admiring the stunning views from Pandetrave pass, the towering Picos mountains are right in front of us. Our next stop is in Posada de Valedón, where we have coffee and take a stroll along the village. We watch a family of Marsh tits picking insects in the dung and not far from there a beautiful male Common redstart stands out. In a hillside we find a nice Flax (Linum narbonense).
After eating the picnic, we spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the meadows and we add a new species of orchid, the Dark red Helleborine. There were also Man orchids but already in seedpods. The meadows are full of butterflies: Pearly and Chestnut heath, Iberian marbled white, Glanville fritillary and Short-tailed blue to name few. John and Pau find in different corners of the meadows two Owl flies (Ascalaphidae) which turn to be two different species.
Today, we head South to visit the valley where Pau lives. Our first stop is by the road to see a group of blooming Butterfly orchids and some Robust marsh orchids that were starting to come into flower.
We take a stroll along the river finding the path covered by Butterworts and Heath-spotted orchids. Soon we see the first species of butterflies: Ringlet, a Southern brown argus and a sunbathing Spanish purple hairstreak. Suddenly, a large butterfly catches our eyes, an Apollo butterfly! It lands on a Cephalaria allowing us fantastic views! On the way back to the minibus we add Chalk-hill blue and Spanish gatekeeper.
A short stop in the town of Crémenes reveals Common twayblade and Marsh helleborine. The surprise comes when we see a Black vulture, an uncommon species around here.
We set off to Lois where we have a coffee stop before visiting the “smoking house” and the cathedral. The smoking house is a remarkable building from a traditional and cultural point of view. Until the 90’s it was inhabited. The way locals used to isolate the straw roof and to warm the house was by burning wood inside the building and allowing the smoke to get out through the roof and walls. As there were no chimneys in the facilities, the houses used to have a thick layer of soot covering both, walls and roof. Living in the Cantabrian mountains used to be tough!
The cathedral is also worth visiting it. It is a pretty large cathedral considering the tiny size of the village. Moreover, this extraordinary building is a sign of a past when the rights of grazing and the cattle transhumance meant an important income for the villagers.
After lunch, we spend a couple of hours looking for butterflies in the meadows. Amanda’s blue, Champman’s ringlet and White admiral are added to the list. It is getting a bit too hot, so we decide to drive back to the hotel. On the way back, we make a short detour to see a roosting Tawny owl.
In our last full day, we set toward Asturias. We visit a couple of lagoons hoping to find some Odonata and amphibians. Soon, we find a Four-spotted chaser, Common bluet, Ruddy darter and quite a lot of Western willow spreadwing. In terms of plants, we find a single Dactylorhiza insularis, the lovely Viola cornuta, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Valeriana montana and Yellow gentians which are starting to flower. A Booted Eagle and a Tree pipit in full song are seeing. Pau does well when he finds two different amphibians: Stripless tree frog and an Iberian frog. We also see some day flying moths like the Speckled footman and Isturgia flamula.
Our next stop is to have lunch. It is a beautiful sunny day, so we take a stroll and find a worn-out Camberwell beauty. In a nearby meadow, Pau shows us a boggy area where we see the scarce Dusky large blue, one of the rarest and more threatened butterflies in Spain. Other butterflies seen include Cleopatra, Meadow fritillary and Sooty copper among others.
As the departure is in the afternoon, Pau has planned a couple of stops on the way to the airport. The first one is South of Guardo in an open plateau. Our first birds of the day are Spotless starlings and a couple of Cirl buntings. In addition, Black-veined whites, Great banded graylings and Gatekeepers seems to be everywhere! Mick finds a pair of Whinchats perched. Pau spots a Tawny Pipit and later we see a Hopooe looking for grubs near a dung pile.
Our picnic and last stop are in the marshes of Santander. A fantastic restoration project and a nice area to walk around. Here we see some rafts where Common Terns are breeding and a large colony of Cattle egrets.
Whit no more time, we drive the short distance to the airport and say goodbye to the group, what a beautiful wildlife holiday!
Wildlife report to the Cantabrian Mountains. Pau Lucio
In this article we analitze the diversity and some of the key butterfly species that can be found in the Spanish region of Valencia, a butterfly sanctuary.
Valencia region, in East Spain is considered one of the most diverse European areas for butterflies. A staggering 159 species of butterflies have been recorded. That means 72% of all the species found in the Iberian Peninsula.
The key of this diversity is due to its variety of habitats. In the South and West, the climate is much dryer, with a semi-desert habitat. Here we find some beautiful butterflies from the Euchloe genera, i.e. Green-striped white (Euchloe belemia), Portuguese dappled white (Euchloe tagis) and Western dappled white (Euchloe crameri). In addition, close to the cereal crops and fallow fields, we can see the Sooty orange-tip (Zegris eupheme).
During March/April, if we visit the Mediterranean scrubland we might find a nice variety of Lycaenidae. Panoptes blue (Pseudophilotes panoptes) and the stunning Adoni’s blue (Lysandra bellargus) are common species. In addition, we can see the colourful Provence hairstreak (Tomares ballus), Black-eyed blue (Glaucopsyche melanops) and the endemic Mother of pearl blue (Polyommatus nivescens).
Other species we might encounter include Spanish festoon (Zerynthia rumina) which tends to be located in small areas where the food plan (Aristolochia pistolochia) is abundant. What’s more, Provence orange tit (Anthocharis euphenoides) and the beautiful Green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) are abundant species.
Later in the season, the butterfly diversity changes giving place to Spanish gatekeeper (Pyronia bathseba), Southern marbled skipper (Carcharodus baeticus) and Mallow skipper (Carcharodus alceae). Other butterfly species include Dusky heath (Coenonympha dorus) and Striped grayling (Hipparchia fidia). False ilex hairstreak (Satyrium esculi) and the Blue-spot hairstreak (Satyrium spini) are common species in the scrubland.
In the valleys, are found mainly three different groups of butterflies. The first group is formed by species with a marked Ethiopian origin; Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius), Mediterranean skipper (Gegenes nostrodamus) and African grass blue (Zizeeria knysna), being the three more abundant towards the end of the summer.
The second group are butterflies with a migratory tendency: Desert orange tip (Colotis evagore) and Plain tiger (Danaus chrysippus) which is very common species in marshes. Finally, the third group is for the invasive species such as the Geranium bronze (Cacyreus marshalli).
Two-tailed Pasha is one of the biggest and most spectacular butterflies found in Europe. It is a bivoltine species, i.e., two annual generations. The first generation occurs in May-June and the second, always more abundant, takes place from the end of July until the end of October. What is more, it is the only butterfly which do not feed on nectar and it is greatly attracted to fermenting fruit. It has a marked territorial and hilltopping behaviour.
It lives in open Mediterranean forests where the caterpillar’s foodplant, the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), is abundant. This butterfly can be seen in a butterfly micro reserve set in the hills of Gandia which we survey regularly. Please, contact us for more information.
Two mountainous systems cross the Valencian Region, the Baetic and the Iberian. The Baetic System comes all the way from Sierra Nevada, which is the highest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula. It follows a NE direction and once the system arrives to Alicante, it gives place to numerous mountains ranges reaching over 1500 m.s.s.l. For instance, Aitana or Sierra Mariola, the latest being has its higuest 1390 m.a.s.l.
In May, these mountains are covered by a carpet of aromatic flowers mixed with thyme, sage and chamomile, this is heaven for butterflies! There, we can easily find Spanish marbled white (Malanargia ines) and Knapweed Fritillary (Melitaea phoebe). Silver studded blue (Plebejus argus) and Green-underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis) reach good density at the end of May.
Another beautiful butterfly we will find easily in Alicante Mountains is the Western marbled white (Melanargia occitanica). However, the star of the show is the lovely Spanish fritillary (Euphydryas desfontainii)!
On the other hand, the Iberian System follow a SE direction colliding with the Baetic system in the Monduver mountain, near Gandia (Valencia). The Iberian range is different in terms of climate and altitude also allowing a nice variety of butterflies. Here can be found Apollo (Parnassius apollo), Purple-shot copper (Lycaena alciphron) and Spanish argus (Aricia morronensis). Some of the blues include Small blue (Cupido minimus), Escher’s blue (Polyommatus escheri) and Meleager’s blue (Polyommatus daphnis) among many others. Moreover, in the green meadows we will find Chestnut heath (Coenonympha glycerion).
There will also beautiful fritillaries like the, Spotted fritillary (Melitaea didyma), Provençal fritillary (Melitaea deione) and Meadow fritillary (Melitaea parthenoides).
When these mountains range decrease in altitude and become dryer and warmer, we find a good habitat for Great banded greyling (Brintesia circe). In addition, we might find Silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia) and Oberthür’s anomalous blue (Polyommatus fabressei).
In conclusion, Valencia region offers a great number of butterflies being one of the most diverse regions in Spain.
We post regularly photos of this beauties in our Instagram page. Join one of our day butterfly walks and tailor-made tours around Valencia Region and beyond! For schedule trips, please visit our tour calendar or contact us. Next May we have planned a 7-day itinerary focus on butterflies and other wildlife in Valencia.
The Valencia Region offers a wealth of opportunities for visitors to get in touch with nature and to admire numerous species of orchids, making this region a delightful destination for plant and wildlife lovers.
Mediterranean orchids produce microscopic seeds, which have no reserve tissues to support the embryo when it germinates. That is why they must be associated with fungi as soon as they germinate. The fungi provide them with some of their nourishment. These are the so-called ‘mycorrhizae’, which are highly specific to each place and most likely to each species. In addition, because they depend on fungi, these plants cannot live with harmful substances like sulphur and copper. In other words, that is why most orchids only grow in very natural places.
In Valencia Region, there are still good natural patches to look for orchids. Abandon orchards and natural meadows are probably the best habitats.
A total of 70 species of wild orchids have been identified in the Valencia Region, most of them classified as very rare. In addition, numerous uncommon hybrids such as Ophrys x castroviejoi, Ophrys x pielteri, Ophrys x pseudoespeculum, Orchis x bivonae and Ophrys x serrae can be found in the region.
The diverse climate, soils and mountain ranges in the Valencia Region provides the perfect habitat for wide range of orchids. Some live in arid areas at low altitudes, such as the Fan-lipped orchid (Orchis collina) which can be seen in Alicante. On the other hand, others are found in the high mountains: Sierra Mariola and Penyagolosa. For instance, in the Penyagolosa (North of Castellón) you will find Elder-flowered orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina) and Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii). In addition, in the woods you will find Helleborines (Epipactis kleinii), Red Hellebotine (Cephalanthera rubra) and White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium). What is more, there are small patches with Butterfly orchids (Platanthera), Fragant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) and Bird nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), among others.
Regarding Sierra Mariola in Alicante, here we will look for Pink butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilonacea), the gorgeous Lady orchid (Orchis purpurea) and Violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum).
Many of our orchids, particularly those of the genus Ophrys (the most common type in Valencia’s lowlands) have flowers that look like wild bees. This is an adaptation to attract pollinators, which, are looking for a mate.
Among our orchids, there is an endemic species Ophrys lucentina. It is a bee orchid with a distinctive yellow border in the “labellum”. Moreover, we can find other beauties like the Sombre-bee Orchid (Ophrus lupercalis), Dark-bee orchid (Ophrys dyris), the Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum) and the Yellow Bee orchid (Ophrys lutea) to name just a few.
The genera Orchis is also well represented with gorgeous hybrids like Orchis x bivonae, a hybrid from the combination of Italian man orchid (Orchis italica) and Man orchid (Ochis anthropophora). Besides, it is not unusual to find large parched of Bug orchids (Orchis fragans) mixed with Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis).
We cannot overlook the largest of all, the impressive Giant orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum). A rather common specie and one of the earliest species to bloom.
In Valencia region is also possible to find a large number of Helleborine. The most common ones are Narrow-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium) and red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra). However, you might find some restricted range species such as Epipactis cardina, Epipactis tremolsii or Epipactis phyllanthes. They are found in the forested and highest mountains in the region. On the other hand, in the lowlands close to the coast is possible to find two species of Serapias. These are Tongue orchid (Serapia lingua) and the Small-flowered tongue orchid (Serapia parviflora).
Finally, in Autumn we are delighted with the last orchid of the season, the Autumn lady’s tresses (Spiranthes spiralis).
You can read more about the orchids found in the Valencia region and Spain in the following article. We as a local experts organise orchids walks that can be combined with butterflies, dragonflies and birdwatching tours. Please, do not hesitate to contact us for further information.
We hope this birding trip report to Morocco describes the beauty of the landscape as well as the diversity of the birds seen during our wildlife trip to Morocco.
Carles, Jenny and Pau arrived the day before to Marrakech. During breakfast, Rod arrives and the four of them go for a walk around the city. Shortly after leaving the hotel they see the first Common Bulbul singing in a garden. Just in front of them, in an old mill, Pau spot a small group of House Buntings. After that, the group continues walking to the garden of El Hartí where spend the morning watching birds until the arrival of Chris.
After lunch, Hamid the local guide picks them up to visit the city centre, the medina and the Bahia Palace. Finally, a visit to the bustling Jemaa El Fna, a must-see in Marrakech. The square is full of vendors of spices and leather goods, snake charmers, Barbary macaque to take pictures with and countless places to eat. During the stroll, they observe different species of birds, among them White Storks, Little Swifts and a Common Sparrowhawk.
At dinner time, the six members of the group join, and Pau brief them about the plan for the next day.
At 9 o’clock in the morning the group leaves Marrakech towards the beautiful mountains of the High Atlas. The first stop is excellent for birds. As soon as they arrive, a small group of Maghreb Magpies show up. This species was split as a different species from the Common Magpie during this year, 2018. Not far from the Magpies, they find a beautiful Moussier’s Redstart, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful birds in all of Morocco. The search for birds continues in the surroundings and soon John find a Southern Grey Shrike of the subspecies elegans. A different subspecies of the Great Grey Shrike that is found in UK. In a nearby cultivated fields, the group locates a group of Barbary Partridges, and at the top of a mound a Little Owl stands out.
The party continues the trip to the High Atlas stopping at the Oukaimeden mountain pass. Along the way, children sell fruits of the strawberry trees in small stands along the road. In a short stop to take landscape pictures, a pair of Bonelli’s Eagle fly over them just few meters away. Superb! Once Hamid drives them to the mountain pass (2600 m asl), is time for having lunch: Moroccan salad and chicken tajin. Now with the bellies full, everyone is ready to look for the specialities of the Atlas.
In the nearby meadows, a large flock of Common Chaffinch and Rock Sparrow are seen. After an hour of unsuccessful search of the Crimson-winged Finch, they set off to try their luck in another area. Suddenly, a small group of Crimson-winged Finch shows up and lands few meters away from them. That’s a treat for photographers!!! Finally, the last stop of the day is in a meadow where they see the beautiful Atlas Horned Lark and Black Wheatear.
As they have seen all the targets and there is still light, the group decides to make a last stop for woodpeckers. The stop is well worth it as they find the endemic Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and the African Blue Tit. Happy with the sightings, the group goes to the lodge; beautiful stone cabins surrounded by cedars and junipers in the Atlas Mountains. The night is chilly so the staff kindly light the fire in the cabins, making our stay even more pleasant.
Today is basically a transfer from the mountains to the semi-desert of Boumalne du Dades, in total 350 km. The pace of the trip is slow but steady. Few weeks ago, there were severe floods that damaged the main road which crosses the Atlas. Some stops are made along the way to stretch the legs and to see the scarce Magreb Wheatear. The landscape is spectacular with massive snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys where people still plough the fields with donkeys and women wash clothes in the rivers.
After few hours, the van drive through the Moroccan “Hollywood” Ouarzazate, where films as popular as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator or The Mummy have been filmed. After fer hours, Hamid drives the minibus through the city of roses, famous for the cultivation of this flower. Today last stop is to see the White-crowned Wheatear. All in all, a long road journey that is necessary in order to visit very interesting and diverse birding areas in Morocco.
After breakfast, the party visit the famous Tagdilt track. Without doubt, this is one of the top areas for birding in Southern Morocco. It takes them only 10 minutes to get there from the hotel in Boumalne du Dades. This track attracts numerous bird species, due to the presence of a nearby landfill. As soon as they arrive, a Long-legged Buzzard flies by in front of them.
Walking along the track, Brahim spots a beautiful male Red-rumped Wheatear, which continually sings its melodic song. The group checks in detail every bird they see and soon find the pretty Thick-billed Lark, a species difficult to find. In addition, the party also enjoys numerous juveniles as well as adults of Temmick’s Larks. What a beautiful bird with its little horns!
The group get into the van and Hamid drives for a couple of kilometres until they bump into a small group of Trumpeter Finches perched on the wires of a fence. At the same time, a beautiful Hoopoe Lark is heard, so the group sets out to look for it in the surrounding fields. They locate up to four different birds, and everyone is impressed by the display of this stunning bird. After that, Hamid take the group to an area to have the picnic. Everyone enjoys the sandwiches of Moroccan omelette while two White-crowned Wheatears perch just few meters away.
About around 1:30 p.m., the party sets off to explore a nearby gorge where they find a small group of Desert Larks. However, the main reason to go there, is to try to locate the Pharaoh Eagle Owl. After looking for it in different areas, Brahim finally find a beautiful bird hiding in a crevice. There is no better way to finish the day than watching this gorgeous owl! As all the targets have been seen, the group decides to return to the hotel a little earlier and have free time the rest of the day. Later, Carles and David go for a walk around the Riat and they find a Laughing Dove.
After breakfast, the group sets off towards Merzouga. This city is the gate to the Sahara. The first stop of the day is in the popular and touristic gorge of Todra. However, this is mainly a stop to enjoy the impressive walls, to buy some souvenirs and to take some photographs of the old towns built by a mixture of mud and straw. After this, the journey continues for one hour until they get to the restaurant to have lunch.
One hour later, it is time for a birding stop. As soon as the group get off the minibus, a Fulvous Babbler is spotted. Where there is one there is more! This beautiful bird is always found in family groups. After that, everyone starts the search of the “mouse”, or better named the Scrub Warbler. It eludes the group by flying from bush to bush, until finally they get it. Speaking of mice, Carles locates a Fat Sand Rat, a common rodent in desert areas. In addition, other species are seen such as Lesser-short toed Lark and gorgeous Bar-tailed Larks, which stand out for their pale coloration. Finally, the journey continues to the hotel. From the terrace of the rooms, there are spectacular views of the desert dunes.
Today will be a great day of bird watching in the Sahara Desert. After breakfast, the group meet the drivers and split in the two 4×4 vehicles. The first species they watch is the Brown-necked Raven, which stands out for its brownish colour around the neck, smaller wingspan and bill size than the Common Raven. Their next stop is in a nomad house where the group enjoys superb views of Dessert Sparrow and a Hoopoe Lark. Nomads put out every morning some food and water for the birds. This allows very close observations of these stunning birds. While the group enjoys the green tea generously offered by the nomads, a group of 30 Spotted Sandgrouses fly over the dunes. That’s a good start of the day!
Later, the group visits an area with a little more vegetation where have very good sightings of a Desert Warbler. Furthermore, they see between the bushes a cracking male of Tristram’s Warbler. This bird is much easier found in winter as they spend the cold period in the desert. On the way to the next point, Pau find a female Desert Wheatear and a stunning Cream-coloured Courser. The luck is on their side, as in winter it is a difficult time to find the Courser which tends to move to the South.
At lunchtime, they have a tasty Berber couscous and take the opportunity to buy fossils in the family shop of their local guide. Courtesy of Brahim. During the afternoon, the group set out to look for the only species that remains to be seen, the Lanner Falcon. The sun is strong and the area they explore is facing the sun. While part of the group scans the sky looking for the Falcons, others enjoy the butterflies. There are many interesting species to watch, but the most numerous is the Painted Lady. It has recently been published in a paper that this species is the longest continuously migrating butterfly ever recorded, even more than the Monarch.
The group decides to try their luck with the Lanner Falcon in another area. As they scan the wall, a Red Fox pops up its head from a cave, but no sight of the Falcon. The group is divided to cover the whole area and can only watch the Lanner Falcon for few seconds and far away. Finally, when they were heading back to the vehicles, a Lanner Falcon perched on the wall is spotted by Brahim. A few minutes later, another bird arrives and perches few meters away from the other bird. Happy for finding the bird, the group heads back to the hotel. A wonderful day in the desert!
Today it will start the journey back to Marrakech. During the morning the van crosses the Anti-Atlas mountain range where the Acacias trees dominate the landscape. They make a short stop in this area and find a pair of Tristram’s Warblers, which hide quickly in the thick trees. Ten minutes later, the van is back on the road until lunchtime. The stop is in a restaurant with fabulous views to an oasis. Here small groups of Laughing doves and a colourful Plain Tiger Butterfly are seen.
After an hour’s drive, Hamid stops at the Dadès River, where they find the Moroccan subspecies of White Wagtail and a Cetti’s Warbler among other birds. The last stop before arriving at the hotel is in the reservoir of El Mansour where they see numerous Ruddy Shelducks, Ducks, White Storks and Maghreb Lark, which is considered by some authors a subspecies of the Crested Lark.
Today’s route runs through the pass of Tizi n’Tichka (2260 m asl) offering spectacular views. One hour later, a stop is made to see a female Blue-rock Thrush perched on the roof of a farm. In the same area, they find a beautiful male of a Moussier’s Redstart and Thekla Larks. The journey continues with a stop for coffee and another to have lunch on a terrace with stunning views of the Atlas Mountains. Before getting to the hotel, a short stroll is taken through some wheat fields. Here they find six Barbary Partridges, Linnets, Corn Bunting and a Long-legged Buzzard.
After breakfast, the group go for a walk through the wooded area in the hotel, finding different Common crossbills. It is very likely that this subspecies of Atlas Crossbill will be soon split and therefore be a different species than the Common Crossbill that can be observed in UK. In addition, they find Cirl Bunting, Coal and African Blue Tit and the two subspecies of Chaffinches, the nominal one, and the africana one which is exclusive of North Africa.
Around 11:30 a.m., they are transferred to the airport in Marrakech. Sadly, the birding trip to Morocco comes to an end. All have enjoyed spectacular scenery, birds and a wonderful culture and will certainly go back to Morocco.
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For more information regarding our next bird watching trip to Morocco, please visit our tour calendar
The strait of Gibraltar and the surroundings are a wonderful place to witness the bird migration. We organise birdwatching and birding tours to the Strait og Gibraltar every spring and autumn. Please find our last trip report below.
It is a beautiful morning in Málaga airport. Pau is waiting for the arriving of the group from Bristol airport.
After greetings, we set off towards the Strait of Gibraltar for birding in the most important migratory bottleneck in West Europe. As we are getting close to Tarifa, we see the Rock of Gibraltar on our side and the Djebel Musa on the African side. Our first stop is in route, in Palmones river mouth where a Lesser Crested Tern was spotted few days before. This vagrant is recorded every autumn in the region. It takes just few minutes to get this beautiful tern in the scope. It stands out in a mix group of Sandwich and Little Terns. Along the muddy shores, we see different waders: Dunlins, Sandernings, Redshanks and Kentish Plover. In addition, there are 4 different species of gulls, including Mediterranean Gulls, Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls. On the back of the main lagoon a group of Greater Flamingos rest along egrets and herons.
We continued our journey towards the accommodation to enjoy our first Spanish dinner.
We have a long day planned and indeed it is! We have an early breakfast at the hotel and set off to the West part of Doñana Natural Park. The first stop of the day is for Bald Ibis, which a sighting of 24 birds feeding along Jackdaw. It is great to see how well they are doing after the reintroduction!
After enjoying these weird-looking birds, we make a detour to see Stone Curlew in Barbate. We continue our journey stopping for the Little Swift, watching a colony of about 20 pairs. After that, we get to a pond to see White-headed Ducks where we have lunch. In the surroundings of the pond, we get an Iberian Green Woodpecker flying over the woods. The rest of the day is spent in Bonanza saltpans. We scan the reeds in detail and we get good views of Western Purple Swamp-hen, Squacco Heron and Little Bittern. Regarding waterfowl, we find swimming around Red-crested Pochard and a Marbled Teal among others species.
On the saltpans, we see three different species of terns: Gull-billed, Black and Caspian Tern. Furthermore, there are both species of Godwits, Little Stints, Turnstone and other waders.
Finally, we make a stop in the surroundings for Lesser-short toed Lark. As we wait for them to show up, we see flying over our first Osprey.
It has been a long day and we still have a bit of driving ahead. Thus, we set off to the hotel after a successful birding day in the Strait of Gibraltar.
In our third day of this exciting birding tour to the Strait of Gibraltar we start the day watching the migration from a viewpoint. During the morning we add Lesser Kestrel, numerous Sparrowhawks and Bee-eaters, which are one of the favorite birds. Then, suddenly the sky is covered by a flock of 120 Black Storks!!! What an amazing and unusual sighting!! As the wind speed up again, we set off to the forest west of Tarifa. Here, sheltered from the wind, there are numerous passerines waiting for the right conditions to migrate. A female Redstart moves from the busses to the Umbrella pines, and in the branches there are Garden Warblers and both flycatchers: Pied and Spotted. In a Pistacia bush there are different warblers feeding on berries which turn out to be Sardenian Warbler and Bonelli’s Warbler.
After lunch, we drive towards la Janda, to look for new species. White Storks, Glossy Ibises and Egrets feed on the farmland. We continue driving along the track to find Tree and Spanish sparrows, Yellow wagtail and over 30 Turtle doves. We are very pleased to see so many Turtle Doves together, sadly an unusual sighting nowadays. The day finishes with a stunning pair of Spanish Imperial Eagle perched on a Pilon.
After breakfast we drive for few minutes to our first watchpoint. Winds play an important role in the migration, so depending of the wind direction we will choose a location. Soon, we watch our first raptors of the day: Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Short-toed Eagles and Honey Buzzard. The wind makes them fly a bit higher but the number of raptors is just amazing! We enjoy watching the interaction between birds. Raptors are mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon which ends up diving after a group of feral pigeons. Other interesting raptors include Egyptian Vultures, Bonelli’s Eagle and a Montagu’s Harrier.
As the weather has improved today, we decide to take the boat trip hoping to add seabirds and whales. As we wait to jump on the boat, we get a group of Pallid Swifts flying around. Once we are few miles away from Tarifa, we get a single Storm Petrel. About half an hour later, we see a group of 6 Pilot whales swimming right besides us. A fantastic sight! Later, we see a group of Cory’s Shearwaters. We also see two species of dolphins: Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin
After lunch, we look for birds among the cork oak forest. Here we get Short-toed treecreeper, Crested Tit, Jay, Firecrest, Subalpine Warbler and other forest birds. On the way back we get two “extra” raptors, a fast flying Hobby and a Goshawk. Later we drive back to our accommodation.
Today is our last day of the tour and we make the most of the few hours left before heading to Malaga airport. We go back to la Janda and this time we do get Black-shoulder Kite and few more waders: Common Snipe, Wood and Green Sandpiper.
All in all, it has been a successful birding trip around the strait of Gibraltar with a great diversity of species, including good number of raptors. Thanks everyone for joining this trip. Should you have any question, please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our tour calendar.
Butterflies in Sierra Nevada, a European hot spot for wildlife.
Sierra Nevada in SE Spain is the highest mountain of the Iberian Peninsula, with picks exceeding 3400 meters above sea level. This is a wonderful place for enjoying wildlife, especially for butterflies and plants with a high proportion of endemics.
In this impressive altitudinal range has been recorded no less than 127 species of butterflies.
During early July I got an enquire asking me for a couple of days looking for butterflies in Sierra Nevada. After making all the arrangement, I meet the small party on June 5th and we set off to Sierra Nevada ski resort.
The wind is strong in the summit so we decide to walk along small gorge where we should be more sheltered from the wind. Our first sights are a group of Spanish Ibex, a solitary Griffon Vulture and a gorgeous male Rufous tailed rock thrush.
After searching for half an hour, we find the first of many stunning Nevada Blues. The morning is a bit cold, so they are half asleep. Lindsay, Peter and I take advantage of this and take some nice pictures of this endemic butterfly. Later, we carry out our search and find good number of Small tortoiseshell, Adonis, Escher’s and Common Blue butterflies. Furthermore, we get views of Spanish brass ringlet which fly off as soon as we approach. Sadly, the strong wind makes impossible to find the local race of Apollo butterfly.
After coffee and facilities in a near Kiosk, we drive down and park near a hotel. Pau wants to have a look in a wet meadow where he has seen in the pass Purple-shot cooper. The first thing we spot is a beautiful Robust marsh orchid and a common Swallowtail butterfly. Flying around there are dozens of Pallid Swifts, Black redstarts and Northern wheatear. John spots a Purple-shot cooper drinking in the ground and Pau finds a Rock Grayling and a Small skipper.
Our last stop is on the way to the Hotel, in a pond near Villanueva. Here we get 10 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including Blue-eye, Small redeye, White featherleg, Broad scarlet and Violet dropwing among others.
We arrive to the Hotel around 2:30. As it is already hot (31ºC), the rest of the day is spent by the Hotel’s swimming pool.
The following day, we set off again to look for more butterflies in Sierra Nevada. Pau suggests trying another location for Apollo butterfly. After driving for 1 hour, we get over 2200 meter high and park the vehicle. We start following a track finding Water Pipit and Dunnocks. Soon we find our first Apollo butterflies, followed for 30+ more. Other butterflies sightings include Queen of Spain Fritillary, Painted lady, Long-tailed Blue, Amanda’s blue, Wall Brown and Ida’s Blue.
On the way down, we have a quick visit to the Botanic garden. Here we find an adult and a caterpillar of Moroccan Orange Tip. In addition, we see a beautiful Iberian Marbled White and a Silver studded blue “drinking” nectar on a thistle. Regarding birds, a Golden Eagle is seen by Lindsay and John, and in the nearby pine forest a family of Rock buntings feeds on seeds. Pau finds a Crested tit picking insects from the bark.
We continue the trip looking for butterflies in Sierra Nevada and drive down to a much lower altitude towards Güejar-Sierra. In a meadow, we get Wall brown, Blue-spot hairstreak, Gatekeeper and Southern Gatekeeper. There are also Yellow Clouded, Southern Speckled Wood and Lulworth skipper among others. All flying around plants of the Eryngium genus.
Our final stop is in a path along the Genil river. Marbled White, Cleopatra and Meadow brown are everywhere. The river is patrol by Common Goldenring dragonflies and we also bump into a Large psammodromus which was enjoying a sunbath.
Finally, Pau drives to Granada where the group will remain the following days sightseeing this terrific city. All in all, an enjoyable couple of days in these wonderful mountains full of interesting butterflies. In total, we recorded 65 species of butterflies. Please, do not hesitate to contact us for any schedule or tailor made tour around Granada and Sierra Nevada.
Welcome to our wildlife report to Valencia, La Mancha, Madrid and Pyrenees. We planned this itinerary to cover most of the habitats found in mainland Spain in order to get a good diversity of birds. May 2018
At 8:45 sharp, Deidre, Karmela and Rod are picked up by Pau from their hotel in Valencia. They drive west through a busy traffic in Valencia, and about 1:10 h later arrive to Fuenterrobles, close to the border with La Mancha. After a short walk in the scrubland, Pau finds a Thekla Lark and a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear perched on a telephone wire. Pau ears a familiar call and after few minutes searching they get their reward, a beautiful Spectacled warbler. On a nearby field, Greater short toed larks delight the group with their full song in a beautiful morning.
They continue driving along the A3 for 1:30 h to a local bar to have lunch. Their next stop is in the lagoons of “La Mancha Húmeda”. By the road, there is a small pond packed with birds, including 40+ Black terns, numerous species of waders and a pair of the most wished Bearded tits. They drive along the track and find the colourful Bee-eaters and distant Lesser Kestrels.
Finally, the afternoon is spent in Alcázar enjoying close views of White-headed Ducks, Black-necked Grebes and Red-crested Pochards.
Dinner is in a local restaurant in Belmonte: Ajoarriero (cod and potato), Patatas bravas, Pisto manchego (ratatouille with egg) and a salad, all washed down with a good bottle of red wine.
After driving through gorgeous fields of poppies, they arrive to a private state where Rock sparrows thrive in the ruins of what were the facilities of a quarry. Soon after that, they bump into a small patch of Woodcock orchids. This well managed state is a wonderful place for birds. It just take them few minutes to find Subalpine and Melodious warblers, however these birds are no the main reason why Pau take the group here. After searching for few more minutes, they hit the jackpot!! A cracking Eagle Owl takes off from about 12-15 m from where the group is standing. Smiling faces after seen this wonderful raptor.
The rest of the day is spent in the National Park of Tablas de Daimiel and the surrounding area. From the blind they get fantastic views of a Penduline Tit as well as Cetti’s and Savi’s warblers. After a most wanted coffee, they take a stroll to get some of the targets. Soon, they are rewarded with great views of a pair of European rollers mating and Deidre finds a Purple heron carrying a snake in its bill. They keep postponing lunch as there is a lot going on! Rod enjoys watching a pair of Golden orioles chasing one another from tree to tree and Pau finally gets in its scope some Spanish sparrows.
After lunch, they take a stroll around the reeds finding Spoonbills, a Greenshank and a Common coot with chicks which are photographed by Karmela from many different angles. Finally, we stop in the souvenir shop before driving back to our 18th century Hotel.
After loading the car they set off to the near farmland. Before reaching the first stop of the day, Pau has to pull over so everyone can get excellent views of a Black vulture. From a nearby almond tree, a stunning Great spotted cuckoo can be seen! That’s a good start! They continue driving but Pau stops again as Deidre spots a Stone curlew followed by another one.
Later, Pau takes them to the magic track where everyone gets excellent views of a male Little bustard displaying. Pau says it is his best view ever! Good to see Little bustards, since there has been a huge decline of these magnificent birds in the last decades. They drive to the following village to locate the elusive Great bustards with no luck. Pau decides to move towards Madrid hoping to find them in another area and bingo! They find 5 stunning males feeding in the arable land. After pleasant views, they drive for 1:30 h to make a stop for coffee and facilities in a petrol station near Madrid.
The group continue the journey towards the north of Madrid and make a stop near Tres Cantos. While they have the picnics lunch there, a Spanish Imperial Eagles display in the air. Fantastic! The air is quite warm, so the butterflies are very active: Marbled White, Kidnapped Fritillary, and Yellow Clouded are seen among others butterflies.
Their final destination is in the steppes close to the hotel in Torrelaguna, where they get close views of a group of 15-20 male Great bustards and a distant male Montagu’s Harrier.
Today the group set off to the snow-capped mountains of the National Park of Guadarrrama. The first stop in the mountain pass is rewarded with a group of very confident Citril finches. Everyone enjoys this beautiful bird displaying. Later, after lunch, they visit the woods adding Garden warbler and the Iberian subspecies of Pied flycatcher. The sun is warming up and butterflies start to fly around: Orange tip, De Prunner’s ringlet, Brimstone and Marsh fritillary. Reptiles also seem more than happy with the weather, especially the half meter Ocellated lizard that Pau finds in a wall. Later we enjoy great views of Tree pipit displaying and raptors such as both kites and Black vultures.
The party leaves the park and head off to the oak forest near el Escorial. Sadly start raining as soon as they find a Cirl bunting. On the way back to the hotel, a flock of Iberian magpies fly right across in front of the car.
After dinner, Deidre and Pau try to locate some of the Red-necked nightjars that Pau saw the previous night. After the rain, the tracks are too muddy to drive with the car so they decide to go for a walk. The night is filled with the sound of Scops owls and Red-necked nightjars. On the walk back to the car, we bump into a Natterjack and a Midwife toad.
Pau suggests having breakfast today at 6:00 am. He would like to try a spot for Dupont’s lark on the way to the Pyrenees. Once they get to the spot, the weather is not the best for finding this elusive bird, with wind and showers in a cold morning. However, they do get other interesting birds like Common cuckoo, Montagu’s harrier and Rock thrush. On the way back to the motorway, Pau see a Iberian green woodpecker flying to a poplar tree so pulls over to allow everyone views of this woodpecker. At the same time, a Golden oriole pops up in the top of a tree.
After a welcome stop in a local bakery, they set off to Zaragoza for a stop near el Pilar to see Pallid swifts.
The group arrives to Valle de Hecho around 3:30 pm and decide to explore for a couple of hours the surroundings before going to the hotel. In a farm, they get fantastic views of 5 Egyptian vultures displaying and chasing one to another. Karmela keeps pressing the button of her camera. It is just amazing! Later, along the river, we get long views of a Dipper diving and Pau finds Green-winged and Marsh orchids. In a meadow close to the car, we find 3 gorgeous male Bullfinches and a pair of Red-backed shrikes.
After a long day, we all soon go to bed.
The morning is spent locally. After 30 minutes hike the party get to the cliffs where the Wallcreeper have been breeding during the last years. After waiting about 40 minutes, they get a glimpse of this stunning bird quite high up in the cliff. Suddenly, another one arrives and both fly off showing their distinctive red patch on their wings. The group decides to wait hoping to get another view and their patience pays off but not with a Wallcreeper but with a Lammergeier.
On route, Pau stops for a coffee in Hecho before visiting the next valley for lunch. In the near meadows everyone gets nice views of Rock bunting and Red kites. Few minutes later, Deidre spots a Griffon’s vulture perched in the ground just few meters from the road. They stop the car to watch the vultures circling around, there must be a carcass. They spend the rest of the day in Ansó, where the group get nice views of a Red Fox and a Crested Tit among other common birds.
Deidre and Karmela are woken up during the night by a loudly Tawny Owl, calling from a small patch of forest near the garden.
Today, the group sets off to Navarra to look for some alpine birds. On route, Deidre finds an Egyptian vulture perched on a telephone post. It is nice to see that this threatened bird still remains fairly common in the area. Once they get into the valley, they find Alpine chough and lots of Northern wheatears displaying in the meadows. The group carry on towards France enjoying wonderful views of the snowy mountains. The snow still remains in many areas which is quite unusual at this time of the year. Later, Deidre finds a Ring ouzel perched in a pine and Pau quickly focuses the telescope so everyone enjoy fantastic views of a male of the subspecies alpestris. Citril finches chirp and fly in small flocks in front of the vehicle.
On the way down the valley they spot a flock of 4 raptors which turn out to be 3 Red kites and a Booted eagle. Near the road, Pau locates a Water pipit with its distinctive pinkie chest. However, the big surprise comes when Pau finds a friendly Marmot which looks to us hidden in a pile of rocks.
Once they get to the hotel, Karmela, Deidre and Pau walk around the forest and meadows looking for other species. A Firecrest shows well in a nearby Scots pine and Short-toed treecreeper flies every minute to its nest located under a tile on the roof. The rest of the evening is spent drinking some of the local beer and chatting with a group of Swedish birders.
Today is the final day of this wildlife adventure around Spain. After passing through Siresa, Pau pulls over to one side as he hears two Wrynecks calling. Everyone see this nice bird. The group continue the long journey ahead, making a couple of quick stops for photographing Common buzzard, Melodious warbler and other common birds.
After a couple of stops for facilities and lunch, they get near Valencia where they spend few hours birding in the coastal wetland of Marjal del Moro. Audouin’s gulls, Little and Sandwich terns fly around while the group stays in one of the hides. While the group waits patiently to see some Little Bitterns, Pau and Deidre get a glimpse of a Purple swamp-hen walking along the shore. Rod also enjoys great views of a Great reed warbler perched up on the reeds. Before they leave the hide, a pair of Turtle doves land on a nearby tamarisk. The final surprise comes when Pau finds in the colony of Sandwich terns, an Elegant tern incubating its nest. Therefore, this pair will be the second breeding in Valencia region this season!
Finally, we drive to the hotel and say goodbye. Thanks to Deidre, Rod and Karmela for making this trip so enjoyable.
To download the complete check-list of the Wildlife trip report to Valencia, La Mancha, Madrid and the Pyrenees, please click here.
Recce trip-Wildlife trip report to the Canary Islands (Tenerife and Fuerteventura)
March 30th – April 5th 2018
It has been my second wildlife trip to the wonderful Canaries Islands, a great opportunity to visit other less-known places and to put together an itinerary we will run next year in late winter.
After a late flight from Valencia to Tenerife Sur Airport, Pau and Virginia head off with the rented car straight to the Rural Hotel in Güímar to rest and be ready for this new adventure!
At dawn, we are soon woken up by the songs and calls of the numerous birds that live in the hotel’s orchards. Among the avocados, Atlantic Canaries build their nests and the endemic Canary Islands chiffchaffs sing and flick their wings displaying. After a nice breakfast, we are off to the Canary pine forest near the Orotava to look for some endemic forest birds. Soon, we bump into a distinctive local form of Common Chaffinch F. c. tintillon. We continue walking for 10-15 minutes to get away from the crowds who are enjoying barbecues, a popular pastime in Easter. Near a stream, we find two Tenerife (African) Blue Tit C. t. teneriffae, a Tenerife Kinglet and a Common darter dragonfly.
Later we drive towards the impressive Teide. No wonder that this National Park gets 4 million visitors per year!!! It is an impressive volcanic landscape with different lava formations each few hundred meters. As we have the picnic, numerous Tenerife Lizards get closer and closer to us, hoping to be fed by tourists. We continue our journey towards the Parador to find there our first of many Berthelot’s pipits, and also the endemic subspecies of Common Buzzard B. b. insularum. From a viewpoint, we see another Macaronesia endemic, the Plain Swift.
Finally, our last visit of the day is in the pools of Erjos. We don’t see many birds, probably because there are dogs swimming in the pools. We just add Common coots and Barbary partridge, but some interesting and nice flowers make worth the stop: Argyranthemum frutescens, Bituminaria bituminosa, Mercurialis annuus, Canary Samphire (Astydamia latifolia), Aeonium canariense and Euphorbia aphylla. Regarding dragonflies, Blue emperor and Red-veined darter are seen.
During our pre-breakfast walk around the orchard, we find a beautiful Stripeless tree frog resting in a pond, a Broad scarlet dragonfly, a Canary Speckled Wood and a Turtle dove perched on the top of the stem of an Agave americana.
Our first stop of the day is for the endemic Blue chaffinch at Las Lajas. Soon, we get an approachable beautiful male. Then, we drive for 45 minutes to a well-known viewpoint for the endemic pigeons on the West coast. The downside of this place is the constant traffic along the TF-5 but it is a reliable place for Laurel Pigeon. After 15 minutes, we get a distant bird flying over the vegetation.
The next stop is a small patch of laurel forest where we find two distant Bolle’s pigeons and some interesting laurel forest plants: Echium giganteum, Silene gallica and Limonium fruticans.
Today’s final destination is Punta de Teno. Due to access restrictions, we have to take a bus to reach this rocky lava habitat known as ‘malpaís’. It is midday and temperature is quite high (25ºC) and this might be the reason why it is so quiet. Nevertheless, we manage to see in the scope a distant group of 50 or so Cory’s Shearwaters. Regarding plants, some remarkable species are Reichardia crystalina, Monanthes laxiflora and Euphorbia canariensis.
Our rural hotel is not serving dinner today due to some improvement works, so we head off to El Puertito to have some excellent Canary food: almogrote (goat cheese with red pepper), fish and papas with mojo picón. Around the harbour, we find Whimbrel, Grey Wagtail, and Turnstone.
Today is our last day in Tenerife as the plan is to take a flight to Fuerteventura during the evening.
After breakfast, we drive North to the Anaga area and as nearly always happen there, the laurel forest is cover by clouds. This is the wettest area in Tenerife, the trade winds (‘vientos alisios’) blow from the sea carrying moisture. Nevertheless, we walk along an interesting path covered by Azores Laurel, Canary Strawberry Tree, and Tree Heather, watching our first Canary Islands Robin. Later, we drive down towards the sunny coast for some more plants and birds. Along the path, we find a Sardinian Warbler as well as a nice variety of flowers and endemic plants: the stunning Canary Bell flower, Dragon-tree, Echium leucophaeum, Lavandula buchii, the beautiful Echium simplex, Limonium arborescent, Monanthes wildpretii and Lotus dumentorum.
After lunch, we set off to Los Rodeos, near the airport, to see some fine patches of Gladiolus italicus. Corn buntings sing from the fences and we try to locate unsuccessfully a Quail.
Around 7:20 pm we board to the plain and 50 minutes later we land in a completely different landscape in Fuerteventura. After getting our rental car, we head off to the Hotel.
Once we have breakfast, we visit a pool near La Antigua. This green area is a magnet for both resident and migrant birds. As soon as we arrive, we find Ruddy shelducks, the local race of Great grey shrike L. e. koenigi and a Little ringed plover. Among the grass, Pau finds a bird that turns out to be a Wryneck. Most of the sightings of this uncommon migrant are recorded in the Eastern islands (Lanzarote and Fuerteventura) which are closer to the African coast.
On the sky, we find a ‘Guirre’ local name for the endemic race of Egyptian vulture N. p. majorensis. There are around 65 breeding pairs in Fuerteventura and a total population of 300 birds. This amazing raptor is recovering from a near extinction in the 80’s. One of the main differences from their European cousins is that the Fuerteventura ones do not migrate during winter, thus they can be found all year around.
On the way back to the car, five Black-bellied Sandgrouses fly off scared by the presence of a Common Buzzard.
Our next stop is near Los Molinos. There, we find a confident group of Spanish sparrows carrying damselflies on the bill. We also get to see Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Northern Wheatear, and our first Barbary Falcon. In addition, there were a couple of Lesser emperors mating, Blue-tailed damselflies, and several Atlantic Lizards. We decide to drive few kilometres to have the picnic and while Virginia enjoys great sea views, Pau plays hide-and-seek with a Spectacle warbler and a Barbary squirrel. This mammal was brought in 1965 from Sidi ifni (Morocco) and since then, they have multiplied causing conservation problems.
After lunch and coffee, we head North to our next stop. Our next new species is a group of three lovely Colour-creamed Courser and after a bit of search, Virginia spots a fantastic and globally threatened Houbara bustard, probably the most wanted and highly prized species in this area. A walk around the area proves to be a good decision as we got an excellent view of a perched Barbary Falcon and two Red-billed Tropicbirds, a species which is breeding in the islands since a few years ago.
Our last stop is in Vallebrón, where we get the endemic Fuerteventura stonechat. Later, we have a pleasant dinner with Toni and Julio, two good friends who are involved in the ‘Guirre’ conservation project.
Today is our last full day in these wonderful islands, so we start visiting the Salinas and adding Sandwich tern. In the nearby ‘barranco’ there are some plants adapted to salty soils such as Canary island Tamarisk, Atriplex semilunaris, Suaeda vera and also Asphodelus tenuifolius.
Following, we drive to Río Palmas where we see Epaulet skimmer dragonflies and Laughing dove, a recent coloniser on the island from continental Africa. Sadly, we find a death Barn Owl in the stream. However, the big surprise came later when Pau spotted two Ring Ouzels feeding on dates, a local rarity in the island.
We decide to drive to La Pájara for having lunch but before that, we make a quick stop in the viewpoint where we see a very tame Raven (C. c. tingitanus).
To finish the day, we visit a goat pen with a drinking trough which is a fantastic area for Trumpeter Finches. In just 1 hour we recorded above 50 birds drinking and feeding in the surroundings. There are very nice males with its bright orange-red bill, grey head and pink breast and rump. In the surroundings rocks, we also see a couple of Fuerteventura stonechats.
Our last day in the island is to finish packing and driving to the airport to take the plain to Madrid, where we will visit the ”dehesa” and the Guadarrama mountains for some specialities.
To download the full wildlife trip report to the Canary islands and check list, please click here.
Today I have prepared for Jan and Robert an interesting itinerary which combines wetland birds, with butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca. The last weeks has been very warm for March (max, temperature of 31ºC!) and butterflies are already very active. In addition, we are at the peak of the Mediterranean orchids so I expect to see a good number and variety of them.
After picking Jan and Robert up in Jávea we set off to Pego marshes. The paddy fields are being drying out and the number of birds is amazing. There are thousands of Little and Cattle Egret, White Wagtails, Pipits, Gulls, etc. Very soon we find 19 Common Cranes feeding in a field and Pau spots a couple of Little Ringed Plover and a Bluethroat popping out from the reeds. As we drive around, we find a stunning male Hen Harrier. It is probably the same bird seen last week by Pau. Other common birds seen include Hoopoe, Serins and Tree Sparrows.
In the North part of the park, we spot 2 Booted Eagles, several Marsh Harrier and 5 Common Buzzard migrating above the Montanyeta verda. Later, we find over 100 Audouin’s Gulls, joined by few Mediterranean Gulls feeding on the invasive american crayfish in a paddy field.
After a rewarding coffee stop in Pego, we continue driving to the near valleys to look for butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca. In our fist stop, Pau show us 3 spikes of Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum) and a couple Sawfly Orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera). Our next stop is on the shade of a stone oak to have lunch. Soon we have to stand up to see a nice Firecrest and a stunning Moroccan orange tip butterfly. Once we finish and pack up the picnic table and chairs back in the boot, we drive few km more. A short walk reveals few tens of Early purple orchids (Orchis olbiensis). We find from white ones to magenta, a nice variety of colours!
Later we drive to an area near Vall d’Ebo where Pau has found previously orchids and his favourite butterfly, the Spanish festoon. There, we see lots of spikes and basal rosettes of two species: Sombre-bee Orchid (Ophrys fusca) and the endemic Ophrys dianica. Regarding butterflies, we have superb views of Spanish festoon, Bath white and Provence Hairstreak among others. Along the road, we find a Cirl Bunting.
Finally, on the way back to Jávea we make a quick stop to add some cracking orchids: Giant Orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum) and Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys scolopax). Furthermore, we add two hybrids Ophrys x castroviejoi (O. scolopax x O. speculum) and Ophrys x pielteri (O. scolopax x O. tenthredinifera). Regarding butterflies, we add an extra 15 species more of butterflies, including Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Western Dappled White, Mallow Skipper and Holly Blue.
All in all, a fantastic general wildlife day out with many birds, butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca, Spain. Should you have any question, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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