The unknown Vulture spectacle! – Ronda and the Straits

7 days – 17th October – 23rd October 2018 – spaces available

£1,190 for 7 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.

Deposit £240

Single Supplement £180

This trip offers the chance to experience not one but two exceptional wildlife areas, combining the lush mountain scenery of the Ronda area with the unparalleled migration spectacle of thousands of Vultures migrating the Straits.

As we travel along narrow, winding roads through thousands of acres of cork and laurel forest towards Ronda, we will hopefully have seen birds like Alpine Accentor, Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare and Redwing before we even arrive.  As if the journey wasn’t picturesque enough, your first view of Ronda, perched high above the massive El Tajo canyon, will take your breath away.

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The neighbouring Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra de Grazalema mountain ranges are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and host the densest raptor populations in Europe.  There’ll be amazing photographic opportunities for Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and we’ll also be looking for Bonelli’s, Short-toed, Booted and Golden Eagle which all breed in the area.

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While we’re exploring the area we should see species like Rock Bunting, Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, and European Eagle Owl, as well as woodland birds like Crested Tit, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrest.

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You’ll also have chance to explore some of the many pretty traditional whitewashed hilltop villages of the area – we’d be particularly excited to show you the quirkiest of them, Juzcar,  whose inhabitants voted to go against the grain and decorate the village with Smurf murals!

Returning to our home-from-home at Huerta Grande we can then take you to all the best places to observe thousands of Vultures, Eagles, Kites and Storks soaring across the 14km of water that separates Europe from Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar.  The vulture migration is particularly spectacular, with as many as 2,300 birds recorded crossing the Strait in a single hour!  You can not see this anywhere else in the world!

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We will engage in observing a Vulture picnic where many of the birds may come to feed upon a carcass.

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There will also be time to explore the local area in and around Tarifa, where we’ll introduce you to some our favourite wetland, woodland and inter-tidal areas, and quite likely a couple of our favourite bars as well.

Be sure to watch our Vulture video here to get a sense of this wonderful experience.

To book your place on the above tour, check availability or for further information  contact us

Download the trip report for 2017 here:  ronda and the straits trip report 2017

About Andalusia

This southernmost province of Spain is perhaps best known for its fantastic tapas, passionate discussions, and welcoming people. However it is also the most biodiverse region not only in Spain but the whole of Europe.  This comes not only from the low-intensity land use in the area and the innate local respect for the natural world, but also from the range of habitats here, from mountains right down to coastal, with everything in between.

Because of its strategic position at the gateway of two continents, the land here has changed hands countless times in history between the ruling forces of Europe and North Africa, so the culture here is a fascinating blend of Mediterranean and Moroccan.  The flora and fauna here too provides tantalising glimpses of nature from across the waters, and from a migratory bird’s perspective it is quite simply the centre of the world!

The local currency is the Euro.

Tour overview

This trip offers the chance to experience not one but two exceptional wildlife areas, combining the lush mountain scenery of the Ronda area with the unparalleled migration spectacle of thousands of Vultures crossing the Straits of Gibraltar.

As we travel along narrow, winding roads through thousands of acres of cork and laurel forest and through mountains towards our first base in the quirky blue mountain village of Juzcar, we will hopefully have seen birds like Hawfinch, Crested Tit and Black Wheatear before we even arrive.

As if the journey wasn’t picturesque enough, your first view of Ronda, perched high above the massive El Tajo canyon, will take your breath away.

The neighbouring Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra de Grazalema mountain ranges are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and host the densest raptor populations in Europe.  There’ll be amazing photographic opportunities for Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and we’ll also be looking for Bonelli’s, Short-toed, Booted and Golden Eagle which all breed in the area.

While we’re exploring the area we should see species like Rock Bunting, Chough, Alpine Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush, and Black Wheatear, as well as woodland birds like Crested Tit, Hawfinch Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrest.

You’ll also have chance to explore some of the many pretty traditional whitewashed hilltop villages of the area – we’d be particularly excited to show you the quirkiest of them, Juzcar,  whose inhabitants voted to go against the grain and decorate the village with Smurf murals!

From our second base at the rural eco-lodge of Huerta Grande we can then take you to all the best places to observe thousands of vultures, eagles, kites and storks soaring across the 14 km of water that separates Europe from Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar.  The vulture migration is particularly spectacular, with as many as 2,300 birds recorded crossing the Strait in a single hour!  You cannot see this anywhere else in the world!

There will also be time to explore the local area in and around Tarifa, where we’ll introduce you to some our favourite wetland, woodland and inter-tidal areas, and quite likely a couple of our favourite bars as well.

Expected Birds 

Our mountain stay should give us views of specialists such as Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare and Redwing Rock Bunting, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush, and Black Wheatear, as well as woodland birds like Crested Tit, Hawfinch Short-toed Treecreeper, and Firecrest.  A massive vulture migration event is in progress at this time of year, and among the thousands of amassing Griffon Vultures we ought to be able to see many other raptors such as Egyptian Vultures, Bonelli’s Eagles, Spanish Imperial Eagles, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, and huge flocks of White Storks.  Visits to local farmlands and wetlands should yield a host of waders including Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint, as well as star birds like Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis.

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Itinerary

Day 1

We begin with a flight to Malaga, from where we transfer to our delightful lodgings in the quirky mountainside village of Juzcar.  Among the many picturesque whitewashed villages in the area, Juzcar stands out as its residents unanimously voted to paint the town blue!  As such it was featured in the feature film ‘Smurfs!’ and it’s adorned with Smurf murals a-plenty to this day.

En route we’ll take a picnic lunch in the magnificent Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere reserve, where we should be treated to views of Black Redstarts, Corn Buntings, Thekla and Crested Larks and Woodlarks and the odd passing raptor while we eat.

On arrival in Juzcar, we’ll settling in to our rooms at hotel Bandolero, where there’ll be time for a little urban birding from the bar terrace before enjoying some of the best dining of the region laid on by resident award-winning chef Ivan.

Day 2

Our first stop today will be at Los Riscos, an imposing rocky limestone outcrop at 1400 m above sea level. After hopefully enjoying numerous farmland species in the lower altitude olive groves and cork oak trees we will spend time here looking for mountain specialities such as Crag Martins, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor.

We’ll take our picnic lunch at the picturesque caves and crystal-blue streams of 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 eight kilometre cave system, of which we will be birding both ends today.

The final stop of the day is 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 will spend the afternoon observing the canyon’s nature, listening out for Cirl Buntings and Iberian Green Woodpecker as many species passed through and eventually come in to roost among the crags and scrub. Here we hope to add Rock Sparrow, Black Wheatear and Red-billed Chough to our mountain list with even the possibility of observing Iberian Ibex bounding over precipitous mountain sides.

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Red-billed Chough © Inglorious Bustards

 

Day 3

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Rüppell’s Vulture © Inglorious Bustards

Today we say goodbye to our hosts David and Ivan, and travel coastwards to our second base in the Straits.

On the way, we spent a morning in the charming historic town of Ronda where, as well enjoying breath-taking views of the historic town as it straddles the El Tajo gorge, we can scour its cliff faces for further mountain birds including wintering Alpine Accentor and passing raptors such as Bonelli’s Eagle.

We then head to our second base at the charming eco-lodge of Huerta Grande.

If conditions are suitable, we will spend the afternoon at a private farm nearby, where sometimes if food is available and conditions are right Vultures come to feed and if they are, it should offer mind-blowing close-up views of resident and migrating Griffon Vultures and possibly a chance to see Rüppell’s Vulture.

Day 4

We’ll spend the morning at Los Lances nature reserve, a small area of intertidal habitat on Tarifa beach. On the short walk across low intensity farmland, we may see Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark and Corn Bunting.  A boardwalk takes us out to a hide, from where we can look across the lagoons to see birds including Common Ringed and Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint.  There’s a decent chance of wintering Western Osprey here too, and Gulls and Terns can include Sandwich and Caspian Terns, and the once extremely rare Audouin’s Gull.

Migratory movement is completely dependent on wind strength and direction.  Depending on whether birds are crossing or resting inland to gather strength for their onward journey, this afternoon will be spent at one of several local raptor watchpoints, making the absolute most of whatever the conditions bring us.

Day 5

Today we’ll visit the farmland and wetlands of La Janda.  The huge area of low intensity farmland was once a vast wetland on a par with Donana in terms of its ecological importance.  It’s long since been drained for agriculture, but amongst the rice fields and managed pools and ditches, some real wetland gems remain, hinting at its former natural glory.  Amongst many hundreds of White Stork and Glossy Ibis, here we should see many waders, wildfowl and raptors, such as Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite as well as a chance of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle whilst the farmland areas should yield Spanish Sparrow and Calandra Lark.

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Day 6 

Today, alongside more raptor-watching at sites with stunning views across the Straits to North Africa, we’ll make a visit to nearby Barbate salt pans.  This area offers a fantastic selection of waders which change every day, as well as some real stars like Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Western Osprey.

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Northern Bald Ibis © Inglorious Bustards

Also close by is the town of Vejer de la Frontera, where a successful reintroduction programme of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis took place in 2008.  From thirty pairs, the birds now number around 78 pairs, and we should be able to see these engaging and quirky birds foraging on surrounding farmland.

We should again find ourselves in the midst of the Autumn Vulture migration, and will take our final chance to sit back and relax with a picnic and a glass of wine at a raptor watchpoint as the spectacular birds drift overhead.

Day 7

Today sadly our trip comes to an end, and it’s time to make our own northward journey back to the UK.

 

Contact us for further information and to book your place on this tour.