Ronda and the Straits Autumn Tour (2nd trip)

Witness the unknown Vulture Migration spectacle!

  • Duration

    25 October 2017 to 31 October 2017

  • Location

    Ronda & Straits of Gibraltar (Andalusia, Spain)

  • Led by

    Led by Simon Tonkin & Niki Williamson

  • Group size

    up to 16 participants

  • Price

    £1190 per person excludes flights

  • Single supplement

    £100

  • Deposit

    £238 per person

  • Remaining balance due

    40 days before travel start date

Free loan of Leica Ultravid binoculars is available for the duration of the tour – subject to availability.

Please ask for details.

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.

Throughout history the land here has changed hands countless times between the ruling forces of Europe and North Africa do to its strategic position at the gateway of two continents. So the culture here is a fascinating blend of Mediterranean and Moroccan. The flora and fauna on the Spanish side 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 will be amazing photographic opportunities for Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and we will also be looking for Bonelli’s, Short-toed, Booted and Golden Eagles which all breed in the area.

Whilst exploring the area we should see species like 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.

We will also have chance to explore some of the many pretty traditional whitewashed hilltop villages of the area especially the quirkiest of them all 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 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! This is one of most spectacular migrations in the world!

There will also be time to explore the local area in and around Tarifa where you will be introduced to some great wetland, woodland and inter-tidal area and quite likely, a couple of great bars as well!

Expected birds

Our mountain stay should give us views of specialists such as Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare, Redwing, Rock Bunting, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Accentor, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear. In addition, we will be watching for woodland birds like Crested Tit, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and Firecrest.

A massive vulture migration event will be 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 Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Spanish Imperial Eagle, 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.

Itinerary

12 October

Once you touch down in Malaga we will 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 will take a picnic lunch in the magnificent Sierra de las Nieves Biosphere reserve. At this wondrous spot we should be treated to views of Black Redstart, Corn Bunting, Thekla and Crested Larks plus Woodlark and the odd passing raptor, whilst we eat.

On arrival in Juzcar we will settle into our rooms at Hotel Bandolero, where there will 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.

Dinner in Juzcar. Overnight stay at Hotel Bandolero

13 October

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

We will 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 km cave system – of which we will be birding both ends today.

The final stop of the day will be 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 Bunting and Iberian Green Woodpecker amongst the many species passing through and eventually coming in to roost among the crags and scrub. We hope to add Rock Sparrow here along with Black Wheatear and Red-billed Chough to our mountain list with even the possibility of observing Iberian Ibex bounding over precipitous mountainsides.

Dinner in Juzcar. Overnight stay at Hotel Bandolero

14 October

Today we will say goodbye to our hosts David and Ivan to travel towards the coast to our second base in the Straits.

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

We will then arrive at our second base the charming eco-lodge of Huerta Grande.

If conditions are suitable, we will spend the afternoon at a private farm nearby where a recently established vulture feeding station should offer mind-blowing close-up views of resident and migrating Griffon Vulture and possibly a chance to see the rare Rüppell’s Vulture.

Dinner and overnight stay at Huerta Grande Eco Resort.

15 October

We will spend the morning at Los Lances Nature Reserve, a small area of intertidal habitat on Tarifa beach. During the short walk across low intensity farmland we may see Crested Lark, Greater 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 like Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling and Little Stint. There is also a decent chance of wintering Osprey here too and gulls and terns can include Sandwich and Caspian plus gulls like 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, the afternoon will be spent at one of several local raptor watchpoints making the absolute most of whatever the conditions bring us.

Dinner and overnight stay at Huerta Grande Eco Resort.

16 October

Today, we will visit the farmland and wetlands of La Janda. This huge area of low intensity farmland was once a vast wetland on a par with Donaña in terms of its ecological importance. It has 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 we should see many waders, wildfowl and raptors. Birds such as Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite as well as a chance of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle are possible. Meanwhile, the farmland areas should yield Spanish Sparrow and Calandra Lark.

17 October

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

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. We should be able to see these engaging and quirky birds at their nesting colony or grazing 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.

Dinner and overnight stay at Huerta Grande Eco Resort.

18 October

Sadly, our trip comes to an end today and it will be time to make our own northward journey back home.

Special trip notes

This trip is suitable for all ages and abilities.

A moderate amount of walking is involved with no uphill treks.

The weather can range from being mild to pretty hot. It can also be wet so bring waterproof attire and walking boots.

Recommended field guide

Collins Bird Guide – Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström

Book now

  • Price: £1190 per person excludes flights
  • Group size: up to 16 participants
  • Single supplement: £100
  • Deposit: £238 per person
  • Remaining balance due 40 days before travel start date
  • Please contact us if you have any other queries

    Email: tours@theurbanbirderworld.com
    Tel: Niki on +44 7507 470 409

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Price includes

  • Full board accommodation
  • All meals
  • Transport in a comfortable minibus
  • Entrance fees to reserves and national parks
  • The services of locally-based TUB Tour Leaders Simon Tonkin & Niki Williamson
  • The optional loan of a pair of sexy Leica binoculars for the duration of the tour – subject to availability.

Price does not include

  • Airline tickets and airport taxes
  • Incidental refreshments at cafes and bars
  • Items of a personal nature
  • All alcoholic beverages
  • Personal travel insurance