High as a kite

We’ve been high…in the Mountains of Ronda where we delighted in showing the best wildlife to our group who not only had the best encounters with the nature of the area but also some of the best food and culture of these two wonderful areas on our “Unknown Vulture Spectacle tour”

This tour had two bases – a mountain hotel  with our friends and hosts David and Ivan – who provide the warmest of welcomes and the best food in the quirky and fabulous blue village of Juzcar and the tranquil eco-lodge and our home of Huerta Grande in the village of Pelayo near Tarifa.

We yielded a great quality bird list from mountain habitats, coastal and inland wetlands, salt pans, farmland and cork oak forest as well as views of thousands of migrating and resident Griffon Vultures in the Straits itself.  Highlights included excellent views of raptors Including no less than three Bonelli’s Eagles just metres overhead, Short-toed and Booted Eagles provided near daily sightings, Ruppell’s Vulture, Black-winged Kite, Lesser Kestrel and Osprey.

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Osprey at Los Lances

The group also had close encounters with many species including, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrow, Crag Martin, Red-billed Chough, Hawfinch, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Northern Bald Ibis, Audouin’s Gull, Purple Swamphen, huge flocks of White Storks and some exciting Spanish rarities in the form of a Yellow-browed Warbler at Huerta Grande and an Atlas Long-legged Buzzard that whizzed through.

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The mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves hosted hundreds of wintering Black Redstart

Non avian stars came in the form of Iberian Ibex sauntering along a cliff face, daily encounters with Monarch Butterflies and Portuguese Sundew.

One of our first stops was at Los Riscos, an imposing rocky limestone outcrop at 1400m above sea level.  After pausing on the way up through olive groves and cork oak trees to admire an Iberian Grey Shrike, several Common Chiff-chaffs and Blackcaps and large flocks of farmland birds, we ensconced ourselves in a viewing area high up in the crag.  Here we enjoyed the aerial antics of Crag Martins as well as some great views of Wood and Thekla Lark and a female Hen Harrier flying down the valley.  We were also treated to brief glimpses of Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor before we travelled on.

While we prepared a delicious open air picnic for the group, the group had some time to wander around the caves and crystal blue streams at Cueva del Gato.  This awe-inspiring beauty spot – whose streams and pools are frequented by Black-bellied Dipper and Grey Wagtail – forms the downstream end of a vast 8km cave system of which the group would be birding both ends today.   We ate while Griffon Vultures and Crag Martins swirled overhead, and Cetti’s Warblers skirmished in the undergrowth, so busy with their antics they were oblivious to our gaze.

We made a stop for coffee and local apple and nut cake before continuing on to the final stop of the day at Cueva del Hundidero.

This second cave lies at the base of a spectacular mountain gorge and forms the northern end of the Hundidero/Gato cave system. From our viewpoint at Montejaque dam, we spent a spectacular afternoon observing the canyon’s nature, listening to Cirl Buntings and Iberian Green Woodpecker as many species passed through and eventually came in to roost among the crags and scrub.  A mammalian highlight was a majestic Iberian Ibex sauntering along the skyline.  The group had superb views of four Black Wheatears and several Blue Rock Thrushes flitting among the boulders.   As the afternoon wore on, the scrub filled with groups of roosting Rock Sparrows and Hawfinch, and Red-billed Choughs and Griffon Vultures lined up along the rock faces.

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An Iberian Ibex saunters across the high tops

We returned to the hotel as the sun was setting over the impressive scenery, to more fabulous food including a sensational fennel and manchego risotto!

No sooner had we arrived at our base at Huerta Grande in the Straits than a massive kettle of hundreds of Griffon Vultures formed overhead, providing the group with an awe-inspiring spectacle! along with large groups of Red-rumped Swallows.

The unknown’ Vulture spectacle did not disappoint as several groups of Griffon Vultures numbering well over 1000 birds – and at least one Ruppell’s Vulture – were drifting around the hillsides.  A sheep carcass at one of the farms brought the birds down spectacularly low as we observed them spiralling down to eat.

….and you can never fail to be impressed with thousands of Griffon Vultures just metres overhead!

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A snapshot of the mass of Griffon Vultures migrating through the Straits in November.
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