Except for Rodríguez de la Fuente, the glide of a raptor did not provoke any enthusiasm in the Spanish traveler. Right now, Ornithological tourism is in growing. Its practice is not confined to English naturalists; there is a crowd who, with binoculars in hand, scan the sky with the same ecstasy that which others look at Tuscany. And they do it in Andalucía.
In this region, the natural landscapes of the southwest are famous and recognized ornithological destinations. Just pronouncing names like Monfragüe, Tarifa or Doñana, our head immediately fills with birds and we wish to visit these famous epicenters of the Iberian birds. In a way, the three destinations compete to become the best place to practice this type of tourism in the south of Spain.
In the Eastern Andalusian area, which also has important natural spaces where birdwatchers can locate rare species to mark in their own guides, disputes the scepter with the Western area. It is true that they do not have the prestige of the western enclaves nor do they have such a high volume of infrastructure and services focused at the ornithological tourist. But perhaps these lack of facilities are what gives the journey to these enclaves a range of pioneering experience. It gives the visitor, the sensation, even if it is a mere illusion, of being the first to get there to observe the birds.
So, take your binoculars, throw the guide in the backpack, and arrange to discover with Nattule 5 species of the winged Eastern Andalusian area:
1. Imperial Eagle in Sierra Morena (Jaén)
The Despeñaperros Gorge is one of the busiest places in Spain. Between the Meseta Sur and Andalucía, the motorway that separates them is crossed daily by thousands of vehicles. Traffic, however, does not stop you from finding quiet places within a few kilometers where good ornithological observations are assured.
Specifically, in the village of Aldeaquemada, a colonization village with traced streets and beautiful country houses. From there, a trail takes you to the spot of the Cimbarra Waterfall, where the Guarrizas River falls in one of the most impressive fall of the region. The environment is pure Mediterranean mountain, rich in rockroses, holm oaks and portuguese oaks. The presence of hunting estates and the tranquility of its landscapes make this place an ideal place for birdwatching.
You will have to position yourself in areas from where you are able to sight a wide area of hills and meadows, to surprise the griffon vultures that nest in the near edges of Órganos de Despeñaperros in their paused flight. Likewise, the black vulture, whose closest Andalusian colony, the third most important of the autonomous community, is located in the Sierra de Andújar.
Near the Cimbarra lookout, a high point and an unsurpassed observatory over the river jump, you can settle for the watching two of the main winged jewels of this mountain. One of them, the imperial eagle, has undergone a great recovery during the last decade. So much that the population of the Sierra Morena in the Jaén area is the most important of Andalucía.
Imperial eagle © José Rico Teba
The other jewel, much more discreet, is the black stork, a summer inhabitant of these quartzite mountains that frequents the tails of the dams.
In addition, a short walk around the area will allow you to enjoy unique encounters with azure winged-magpies or even the possibility to watch some of the few white rumped swifts that can be found in Southern Europe.
2. Lammergeier in the Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas (Jaén)
Without leaving the province of Jaén, head east to enter the limestone labyrinth of the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas, one of the largest natural areas in Spain, with more than 270,000 hectares. They stand out for their wide forest area and for their rocky cuts. The area is a safe haven for an important representation of the typical fauna of the middle and upper Mediterranean mountain, with species such as the wild goat and the Valverde lizard.
Aerial view of the Anchuricas reservoir (Sierra de Segura)
From the ornithological point of view, this is one of the most recommended natural spaces during your visit. Its 185 registered species make these mountain ranges one of the most attractive enclaves for the development of ecotourism based on bird watching.
Among those it highlights the lammergeier, the main incentive to approach this enclave of mountain pine forests and steep mountains. The lammergeiers disappeared from these mountains in the eighties. The use of poison to eliminate the vermin that attacked the cattle, along with hunting, was what finished this majestic bird, that has been reintroduced successfully.
Lammergeier © José Rico Teba
The observation of lammergeiers requires patience. Binoculars are important and to position yourself on certain enclaves, although neither the first nor the second guarantee success. There are possibilities, however, to see them from el Chorro, a beautiful vulture nesting area located halfway between La Iruela and the village of Quesada.
You will most likely enjoy the flight of the griffon vultures, the ravens, the red-billed chough and the peregrine falcon. A few years ago, this same enclave was a privileged place to observe the Egyptian vulture, but today this bird is barely visible.
Other places of interest are the surroundings of the Borosa Valley, right between the Sierras de Cazorla and Segura, or the surroundings of Los Pollos de La Mesa, near the village of Vadillo Castril, in the heart of Sierra de Cazorla.
3. Alpine accentor in Sierra Nevada (Granada and Almería)
Climatologically, Andalucía is closer to August than to January. However, in its easternmost part, between the provinces of Granada and Almería, stands an impressive mountain range that exceeds by far the 3,000 meters of altitude, which is synonymous for cold steppes and constant frost. As low temperatures occur a few kilometers from the Tropical Coast, this area has a peculiar birdlife.
Mountain meadows in Sierra Nevada
In the mountain range of Sierra Nevada there are numerous enclaves where the practice of ornithological observations is of great interest. Its northern slope is bordered by thickets of oaks, Pyrenean oaks, and Portuguese oaks that resemble the vast oak groves of Northern Iberian and which attract forest species such as crested tits and firecrests.
Further up, in the pine forests of the nevadensis subspecies, there are really exceptional birds such as the citril finch. If you climb even higher, in the area of the mountain meadows of borreguiles, it is not uncommon to find typical species of wastelands like the larks, the water pipit and the ortolan bunting.
With the arrival of winter, the thorn and pine areas of this mountain range welcome species of birds that take refuge from the cold of Northern Europe, such as the ring ouzel, common pipits, or the precious alpine accentor.
Acentor alpino © J.C. Poveda
One of the most recommended places is the Puerto de la Ragua, halfway between Granada and Almería. This is an exceptional place to embark on a brief visit to the high mountain, crowned by the Chullo Peak, the highest peak in the province of Almería.
You can also visit the wild pine groves that form the most exclusive forest edge of this mountain range, where you can see the citril finch and the ring ouzel.
4. Red-knobbed Coot in Charca Suárez (Granada)
In the municipality of Motril, halfway between the touristy and populous Costa Tropical and Costa del Sol, the Charca Suárez Concerted Natural Reserve is located, which is the sum of 4 small lagoons that cover a protected area of 14 hectares. Its origin is in the hydrological contributions of the aquifer of Motril-Salobreña, that when filtering constitute a singular enclave of free waters surrounded by vegetation. To access the site, it is necessary to request a permit from the City of Motril.
It is practically the only littoral lagoon that remains in the coast of Granada and Almeria, which is why it is a usual stop for the aquatic birds that cross this urbanized coast. The number of ornithological records reaches up to 160 species.
But if anything is highlighted in this discrete spot is the presence, since 2013, of several breeding pairs of red-knobbed coots, one of the most threatened birds in Europe. The origin of these coots is the controlled release of specimens from captive breeding. However, they have already successfully reproduced in freedom.
Red-knobbed coot © Xavier Idigora Planas
Besides the red-knobbed coot, it is not strange to find here other species of great value. Such is the case of the purple heron and the little bittern, the squacco heron or the night heron. It is also possible to see birds such as the purple gallinule, common teal, northern pintail and red crested pochard.
Squacco heron © Cándido Gómez Álvarez
5. Greater Flamingo in the Cabo de Gata Salinas (Almería)
The coastal plain located between the village of Cabo de Gata and Almadrava de Monteleva extends in the easternmost part of west Almería, specifically in the eastern sector of the bay of Almería. Here, an extensive salt exploitation has been taking advantage for decades of the space of an old coastal lagoon of more than 300 hectares.
Cabo de Gata salinas
The place is of great ornithological interest, not only because of its strategic geographical situation, halfway to the Mediterranean coasts of Levante and Andalucía, but also because it is located a few meters from a wide natural beach.
In this sense, to the shorebirds that feed and reproduce in the wetlands of the salt flats we also add the species of the Mediterranean Coast, such as Audouin’s gull, kentish plovers, razorbills and marine ducks.
A young razorbill
At first glance, what will draw your attention is the almost continuous presence of flamingos, who have a safe place to stop and rest in these salt marshes. It is especially advisable to observe them at dusk, moving slowly in the estuaries with their particular tap dance that allows them to remove the bottom and raise the silt rich in larvae and small crustaceans that feeds them and gives them their particular coloration.
Heron flying among flamingos © José Rico Teba
The salinas are easily accessed from the coastal road that connects the village of Cabo de Gata with La Almadrava. Going towards La Almadrava, you’ll leave the salt flats on your left, which are reached from several roads that lead to protected ornithological observatories. It is also worth it to go to the long beach on the right to discover the birds of this Andalusian Coast.
Andalucía is the perfect place to walk through the clouds, which is the grass of the sky. Through them walks the coot, the flamingo and the lammergeier like aristocrats between goldfinches and greenfinches, the working class. In the Andalusian nature, where everything fits, the native ornithological fauna complements the geography. The Guadalquivir River improves a lot when you see the eagle flutter from there.