Last week I visited my dad in San Pedro, Andalucía, but also spent nearly 2 000 km on the road visiting different birding hotspots.
It was a nice but also a bit frustrating week, since the Spaniards have a somewhat tricky way of accessing nature from a photographers view. Most areas where the birds are is either private or fenced off, and many reserves are fenced off, mostly only accessible from boardwalks and hides in spotting scope-height making low-angle photography very hard. Therefore, I found the Doñana area very unfruitful in terms of photography, and the difference in accessibility compared to the Danube Delta in Romania, which I visited last year, was vast. However, the bird watching was good and I got some new species: the Iberian Magpie and White-headed Duck (Possibly also Iberian Grey Shrike, if it will be considered as an own species).
We started off by visiting the lake Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, situated an hour north of Málaga. The lake is a large, shallow and usually gets drained during the hot summer. Thousands of Greater Flamingos breed here and many ducks are wintering in the area. We visited the area in the early morning and found 2 White-headed Ducks, some Red-Crested Pochards and huge amounts of Black-headed Gulls, Greater Flamingos and several hundred Northern Shovelers. However, photographing these at a close range was out of question, so I went strolling around photographing Stonechats, sparrows and finches, without getting anything really good. At least I got to cover a new subspecies to me, the Iberian Grey Shrike.
We continued half an hour southeast to the village Villanueva de Rosario and drove up the mountain range with summits reaching above 1 600 m above sea level. Loads of wintering Blackcaps were in the scrub just outside the village. Coal, Crested, Great and Blue Tit were numerous in the pine forest just as the Common Crossbills and the in southern Spain ever-present European Goldfinches. We drove all the way up and enjoyed the beautiful scenery, but apart from a few Rock Buntings and a flock of Spanish Ibexes passing by, the area was quite empty.
On the way home we stopped at the river mouth of the Río Guadalhorce, where we saw about ten White-headed Ducks in a pond, but otherwise the area was quite poor with very few ducks and shorebirds.
We (me, dad and his wife Kerstin) set off from San Pédro and drove the 270 km’s to the town El Rocío, the only accessible part of the Coto Doñana reserve southwest of Sevilla.
After arriving at the hotel El Toruño, we set off for the Iberian Magpies at El Acebuche visitor center. They turned out to be really hard to photograph without offering some treats, as they had no clean perches because on the way the Spaniards had cut all (!) the trees, plus the fact that they were quite skittish and took of as soon as I pointed my lens their way. So I went to a gas station and got some peanuts and was able to get some clean portraits of a few birds on the ground. But the coolest part was to see the swarm of magpies coming in to look for any leftovers as I backed off some 50 metres.
I started the day by lying at one of the very few areas with access to the water’s edge in El Rocío, shooting Greater Flamingos. Quite soon all birds got flushed by a tractor passing by, so I walked around the water to find anything to photograph, but couldn’t find anything accessible in my height apart from two Cattle Egrets.
Later on, we spent the day in the Marismas del Odiel area outside of Huelva. The birding was good with many shorebirds, such as Black-winged Stilt, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Dunlin. The area held thousands on Black-headed Gulls but I failed to find my target species of the day, Slender-billed Gull. Instead I went farther out where a huge jetty extends into the ocean, and found to Audouin’s Gulls in a big flock of Yellow-legged Gulls. Unfortunately I didn’t get any reasonable pictures of them before they disappeared. On the way home to El Rocío, we kept looking for Audouin’s Gulls but only found Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls before the sun went down. A few Iberian Magpies were at the edge of the almost deserted town of Matalacañas at sunset.
I intentionally planned to stay in El Rocío until the 28th, but decided to head back to San Pedro because of the lack of photo opportunities. In the morning I tried to improve my magpie shots without any luck, but before heading back we visited another lake a kilometer southwest of El Rocío, where we saw some Western Swamphen together with the regular menu of ducks and ibises, some Western Marsh Harriers, Serins, Long-tailed Tits, Cetti’s Warbler and the only Great White Egret of the trip.
I decided to take the southern route home via Algeciras to get another shot at the Audouin’s Gulls which are usually present at Playa de los Lances, just northwest of Tarifa, the southernmost point in Spain situated at the strait of Gibraltar. Once I got there, I found some gulls on the north side of the river. But since I came from the south side, I had to go all the way back to the car and drive to the north parking and start from there. After an hour of walking in sand with all my camera gear, I got a really nice session with the gulls roosting in the river in the evening light. Among other notable birds were one Grey, a few Greater Ringed and over a hundred Kentish Plovers, crouching in the sand just like the Snowy Plovers I’m used to seeing in California. After some 5 hours on the road and over 17 000 steps of walking, I came back to San Pedro quite tired, and decided to get a day of rest on the 28th.
I wrapped up the trip by going up the Ronda road from San Pedro to the highest areas around the entrace road to the Los Quejigales of Sierra de las Nieves park. Like last year, I was able to find Black Wheatears and Dartford Warblers, but this year I finally found a singing Rock Bunting (and a Pine Bunting in the same area), allowing me to get my first decent Rock Bunting shots, a much wanted opportunity to get before heading home to Sweden.