Only a half-dozen Andalucian sites on Ebird (https://ebird.org) have managed to top 200 hundred species and just as few over 500 trip reports so with a reported 235 species listed in 538 reports (figures correct to 20/11/18) La Janda is clearly a remarkable birding destination despite being a mere shadow of its former self. If current plans come to fruition it's about to become even better. The circumstances behind this change are explained in the paragraph below and the map that follows it shows the area which may soon be open to (pedestrian?) birders. This new paragraph has been inserted into my account of La Janda after my description of the egret colony (f). Please note that as area (g) has not previously been mentioned in my notes (h) to (q) on the map below refer to (g) to (p) on the most recent previous version. It should, however, be noted that these details are preliminary. Another recent development is that the road onto La Janda from the A2226 near Benalup has now been resurfaced and improved.
To the north-west of the weir lies the strictly private Las Lomas Estate. The roads here have long been gated and inaccessible. However, in 2018 a judgement regarding the legal status of the area concluded that the Junta de Andalucia had a legal claim to the area and a responsibility to develop which should mean better access (see http://blog.lagunalajanda.org/2018/08/14/los-humedales-de-la-janda-son-dominio-publico/). As a result, following an initiative by the Asociación de Amigos de la Laguna de La Janda (www.lagunalajanda.org), the Department of the Environment of the Andalusian junta has requested that the Las Lomas Estate allow access on tracks currently kept closed (see yellow routes marked on the map (g)). This should open up a lot more of the area for birdwatchers but note that, although it is planned to allow unrestricted non-motorised access along these routes, vehicular access will only be by prior arrangement and “for a justified reason”. Details of how to gain permission and what qualifies as “a justified reason” remains to be seen ….. The track first follows a main drainage channel (3.5 km) before turning south along the Rio Barbate and then on to El Canal (5 km). There’s also a shorter spur (3 km) towards the estate buildings although it seems unlikely that you will be able to access the A 2228 by this route). The bushes along the canal/river may prove to hold interesting species whilst the track down from El Canal should offer excellent views across the area. Check locally for the current situation and whether access has been formally agreed (hopefully I will be able to post details on my occasional blog).
When I have any further information I will post it here and add it to my notes. If you visit the area before I do so please don't assume the the area is open unless you have positive news of the fact. If so let me know asap!
To get some idea of who the professional guides in Cadiz Province (and elsewhere in Andalucia) are and what they can offer I recommend taking a look at a short video of interviews with some (but not all) of the guides I recommend which was made at the 2018 UK Birdfair - see www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydA8kmiKPFY
Having been back to Cadiz province this September (at long last!) one of the sites I really wanted to visit was La Janda. On doing so I decided that the map of the area in my birding guide wasn't up to scratch so once back home I decided to redraft it to make it more clear and to show the main 'central' section' in greater detail. Naturally, I couldn't do this without tinkering with the text. Equally predictably that 'tinkering' turned into a full scale redrafting which, I fear, has turned out to be rather longer than I'd intended and probably a little OTT. That said this is an iconic and well visited site where too much detail is probably better than too little. I've reproduced the revised text below (with minor alterations) and have added a number of my indifferent photos. I've omitted my original (lengthy) access details but, in short, arriving along the N 340/E-5 from Tarifa and turning right into (a) or (d) should not cause problems as long as you indicate in good time. Coming from Vejer is a little more difficult as you have to cross the northbound carriageway of the N 340/E-5. Access via Benalup (m) is straight forward and is my usual approach as I generally come from Alcala de los Gazules but as the majority of birders will be arriving from Tarifa the description that follows is based on arrival via (a).
This iconic site was once the largest, if very shallow, natural lake in Andalucia and rivalled the Coto Donaña in terms of rare and scarce species. (see the Asociacion de Amigos de La Janda Facebook page for further details of the history & background of this site https://www.facebook.com/AmigosLagunaJanda/posts/1485470394846998:0).
Sadly, the wetland was drained and large wind farms have now been built south of Tahivilla and near Facinas. To the west lies the strictly private Las Lomas estate (once the playground of field sports loving Spanish royalty). However, the estate has resisted the financial temptations of wind farms and much of the area is given over to rice paddies – an attractive habitat for wetland species. The rice fields are usually re-flooded at the end of May. In winter it is now one of the best sites in Europe, let alone Spain, to see a variety of large eagles (including in recent years Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles plus hybrids between the two) and has the additional draw of wintering Common Crane. Accordingly, I have treated this site in particular detail.
Much of the area is strictly private and most side tracks are designated private (‘camino particular’). Towards Tahivilla and again along the road to Zahara vast wind farms now mar the skyline – a development that may account for the increasing scarcity of Little Bustard in the area. Unfortunately, a project to ‘restore’ a small part of La Janda to its former glory seems permanently stalled (being an offset measure if/when the N 340/E 5 is ‘improved’). However, as noted in my last blog, in 2018 a judgement regarding the legal status of the area concluded that the Junta de Andalucia had a legal claim to the area and a responsibility to develop it for the public good which may mean better access (see http://blog.lagunalajanda.org/2018/08/14/los-humedales-de-la-janda-son-dominio-publico/).
As it’s the most frequently used access point the description that follows assumes entry off the N 340 (E-5) as you drive north opposite the turning for Zahara de los Atunes (a) although there’s a second point of entry off this road further north (d). (Note the restrictions & warnings regarding turning off the N 340 under ‘Access’) In theory, the area can also be reached via the ‘canada real’ (j) from Facinas (n), but this route is so badly degraded in parts such that even an off-road vehicle may struggle.
Turning off at (a) the track runs parallel with the main road for c120m before swinging right and dropping down to the ‘Canal Principal’ c1 km below. Before doing so it’s often worth scanning the area from the top of the track as this affords a good panorama of the old lake bed. Doing so will locate any areas of standing water (a draw for many species) and, in autumn–early spring, flocks of Common Crane. As you drop down check the fences for birds like Fan-tailed Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, etc., the ditch for Green Sandpiper and pull over where the track turns sharp left. Depending of the state of the rice paddies and time of year you should see wetland species such as White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt, etc. The corner where the track turns to follow the main irrigation ditch is a popular stopping point to scan for birds so it’s often the place to meet other birders and hear what others they've seen.
Following the track (b) you have the ‘Canal Principal’ on your right and pylons with rice paddies beyond to your left. Raptors (esp. Short-toed Eagles) often use the pylons as vantage points whilst harriers – Marsh (resident), Montagu’s (summer) and Hen (winter) - skim low over the fields and eagles/buzzards/vultures pass overhead. Check passage/winter harriers for Pallid Harrier, a rare but regular visitor in recent years. In addition, to the species already noted the rice paddies may hold a variety of waders (Ruff, Snipe, Greenshank, etc), Purple Gallinule and egrets/herons (Squacco, Purple, etc). Check sparrows carefully as Spanish Sparrows can often be unearthed amongst the more numerous House Sparrows. Similarly check any Whitethroats since, although this is the most usual species here, Spectacled Warblers do occur. Black Stork turn up on passage and a few winter. For non-avian delights check the main ditch for Otters, look out for Mongoose, search the embankment for the rare and localised Zeller’s Skipper (found only in the Campo de Gibraltar in Europe) and expect a variety of dragonflies (esp. the abundant Northern Banded Groundling, a recent colonist from Africa).
After just over 5 km you reach a bridge on your right across the ‘Canal Principal’ (c). Continuing along the track you are likely to see many of the birds noted in the previous paragaph before reaching, after just over 4 km, the N 340. On reaching the main road check the ditch on the right as it often seems attractive to migrating Bee-eaters in autumn In the evening check the pylons here for Eagle Owl (esp late winter). Turning right towards Vejer you can also pull off at a picnic site (e) which offers views across a different aspect of La Janda – I have seen both Crane and Black Stork here in winter.
Crossing the bridge at (c) takes you along a track which borders a channel screened by trees which for much of its length in spring/summer hosts an egret colony (Cattle and Little Egrets plus a handful of Glossy Ibis). Minimise disturbance by staying your car and remembering to have your camera handy before you proceed. After c1.5 km you reach an area near a weir where there’s plenty of space to pull over. This is another good place to scan for raptors - I’ve had 3 or 4 Bonelli’s Eagle from here in autumn. It’s also a good spot to look for Black-winged Kite perching on pylons or irrigation superstructures. During migration periods the whole area can be alive with Back Kites, Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Kestrels, etc. The reedy scrub here can also hold wintering/passage Bluethroats and other passerines.
Continue across a small bridge and around the flanks of a small hill. (NB – there’s often a large puddle across the track just after the bridge which should be negotiated with great care even though the surface below is largely solid cobbles. If in doubt wait until a local passes by to see how they tackle the flooded section!). Being a little raised above the old lake-bed the track here again offers a good opportunity to scan for raptors. The track then drops down to the old lake-bed before edging along the flank of a second larger hill topped by an old finca (g). Pull off just beyond the crash barriers on your left to enjoy a splendid panorama across La Janda which once again offers a good chance of scanning for raptors.
From the farm (look out for Little Owl) a straight concrete track runs along the top of a ridge flanked by light woodland to the left and weedy fields to the right (h). Inevitably, this is another location where patient scanning of the skies may yield results but don’t neglect the fences and scrubby field which may hold Woodchat Shrike, wheatear sp., warblers, etc. After c2.5 km the track (now tarmacked) drops down towards a junction with the old cañada to Facinas and a small bridge and more rice paddies (i). During peak migration periods the hillsides here can be alive with resting Black Kites. Check the paddies, old river channels and drainage ditches here for species like Purple Gallinule and the wet scrub for passage/wintering Bluethroats. The track runs along the drainage channel towards the Embalse de Celemin can also be profitably checked for the same species (Bee-eaters often hawk from the wires here). The low wooded ridge here offers creates updrafts for passing raptors.
The gravel track (j) towards Facinas was once in very poor condition this track was regraded and improved in 2011 and is now signposted (look for orange tipped finger posts). In summer check for Red-necked Nightjar along here. (Note – if you find a roosting bird be careful not to approach too closely or linger too long to avoid disturbance). If you do take this track look out for Spanish Imperial, Bonelli’s Eagle etc and carefully check any Buzzards as Long-legged Buzzard are a remote possibility (as elsewhere). However confusing ‘Gibraltar Buzzards’ (Buzzard x Long-legged hybrids) are far more likely. Little Bustard has also been reported along here (although there are much better sites locally for this species). Sadly, Great Bustard is now extinct on La Janda. Unless badly degraded by winter rains the track should be easily drivable (with care) until roughly opposite Tahivilla. However, it is frequently in an extremely poor condition beyond this point with a c1 km long section that is deeply rutted and flooded challenging even in a 4x4. As it nears the wind farm it improves but access here is better from (n). (Note – the 2013 booklet 'Birds from the Coast of Trafalgar' appears to suggest that you can use farm tracks here to reach the N 340 but access to these tracks from that road are often guarded by closed gates which suggests local farmers may be of a different opinion …).
The concrete track from (i) towards Benalup and the A 2226 (CA 212) was, until recently, in an almost un-drivable condition with numerous deep sharp-edged holes that you had to negotiate with great care. Patched-up in summer 2018 it is now easily drivable but it’s a moot point how long this repair will last so be prepared for a long detour if it again falls into disrepair. If you take this route look out on your left after c750m an old 'oxbow' (k). When muddy this can be an excellent spot to stop and scan for waders (esp. if there's little suitable habitat along the main track across La Janda); during passage periods waders (e.g. Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, Little Stint, Collared Pratincole, etc.) plus larger birds like Glossy Ibis and herons. A further 2km along the track you cross the Rio Barbate where you can pull off onto a track (l) on your left that allows exploration of wet river margins that can be of interest (Squacco, Purple Herons, etc) and fields nearby often have Montagu’s Harriers. From here it’s c2 km to (m) and the A226 (which can come as a relief after driving on poor tracks for several hours!). The fields on the right after the bridge have held Little Bustard in the past but new buildings here may have deterred them. Nonetheless, it may be worth checking along the track on your right that runs past an active sandpit and down to the Rio Barbate (c1.5 km after the bridge)
For those determined to reconnoitre the La Janda area in its entirety there remain two additional areas to explore. The track (j) running along the north-eastern edge of La Janda finally reaches the road to Facinas at (n). This area has been made is less inviting than elsewhere thanks to the construction of a large wind farm so is infrequently visited . However, the presence of the wind farm at least means that the track to a bridge (c3 km from the Facinas road) over the Rio Almodovar (o) is kept in good repair. The area around the river here (and by a ford a little further on) can be worth closer scrutiny - Hoopoe and Tawny Pipits are often found in this area and flocks of Corn Bunting can exceed 200 birds. As already noted beyond the ford the track is usually in an appalling undrivable condition. To be honest this area is probably not worth making a time consuming diversion for unless you like to explore neglected lesser known spots.
Back on the N 340 at Tahivilla, the Venta Apolo XI makes an excellent refreshment stop as the food is first rate (and is often an impromptu meeting point for lunching birders). A narrow road beside the venta loops around and back to the main road (via a failed polígono) which allows you to scan this part of La Janda if you wish (impossible from the busy N 340). Across the road from the venta is the village of Tahivilla itself where, if you take the first left onto Calle Corrales, which runs parallel to the main road for a few hundred metres before swinging sharp right across open farmland towards a large wind farm (p). This track (sometimes called the ‘cemetery road’) was once particularly good for Little Bustard and, although reduced in number, they are still reported here at times. It can also be good for Montagu's Harrier, larks, etc.
As noted at the start of this account, the whole area has a good record for birds of prey with Pallid Harrier now turning up regularly in autumn and sometimes wintering, both Lanner and Eleonora's Falcon have sometimes lingered in autumn and there's even a recent record of Steppe Eagle (plus those aforementioned “spotted” Eagles). A survey of La Janda (inc. some areas normally closed to birdwatchers) in January 2017 found an exceptional 4-6 Spanish Imperial Eagles, a Golden Eagle, 2 Spotted Eagles, 3 Lesser/Greater Spotted Eagle hybrids and 9-12 Bonelli's Eagles.
It's not possible to mention all the possible (or even likely) species you might see on a visit to La Janda but in this account I've endeavoured to note the most sought after species (or groups) you should encounter. For a full list of species and their pattern of occurrence check E-bird accounts for La Janda particularly https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2345561 . Knowing where in the account to mention them is problematical and whilst I've tried to do so at what I feel are the most appropriate points in reality expect any of them anywhere on this route! At the very least I hope this account conveys something of the nature of the area and its birds even if the dry pedantic nature of 'route guide' has robbed the text of excitement and wonder.
The Asociacion Amigos de la Laguna de la Janda's blog is always worth reading even if, for monoglots, like me it means doing so through the uncertain medium of Google Translate. Arguably, their latest post (see here) is their most significant one yet as it reports a recent finding regarding the legal status of La Janda. This legal paper (see here) has concluded that La Janda is publicly owned. This 38 page document probably doesn't make transparent reading even if you've perfect Spanish so my take on what it says and it's importance may well not be as accurate as it might be so read what follows with a pinch of salt!
Fortunately, though, the document has an abstract in English which explains the background to the legal finding. This reads as follows: The opening In the second half of the 20th century, the largest wetland in Spain, the lagoon of La Janda (Cádiz), was drained, pursuant to a law that conferred special incentives to the drainage promoters such as ownership of the land. However, in the case of La Janda this drainage did not succeed and the Government reversed the grant of the property and announced its return to the public domain. Notwithstanding this, the Government has not exercised its jurisdiction to regain its full property rights, even though the Supreme Court has ruled in its favor and the land has retained its wetland characteristics. This paper analyzes the legal history of this event and the authority of the State for the restoration of the lagoon.
The rest of the paper is not only in Spanish (of course!) but in a legal jargon that defeats online translation. However, from what I can make out (and what is suggested by the abstract) it seems that the failure to fully drain the land, as set out in the original grant, means that La Janda remains in public ownership. Not only that but in the paper's conclusions there's a relatively simple sentence which reads, in translation, as follows - "The investigation is not subject to the administration's discretion, but is a duty that must be fulfilled in the defence of its assets, in the face of which there is no scope for administrative inactivity". This I understand to mean that the governmental department responsible is legally obliged to take control of La Janda as it forms part of the state's assets. There's a good deal of dense legal argument (I think!) in the document but from what Google and my meagre Spanish can make out, the conclusion is that the restoration of the laguna, or at least of some of the wetlands, would be the in the public good and that therefore the administration is obliged to take action.
At this point a note of caution must be added since those who currently farm La Janda are both very wealthy and well connected politically. One apparent example of this influence is that when, a few years ago, a paper was prepared on La Janda for a conference in Jerez on Spain's wetlands, it was suddenly pulled, without explanation, by the organisers. Talking to my well informed Spanish friends at the Birdfair last week, they seemed to be confident that the case is watertight(!), that the administration includes those willing to push this forwards and that the judgement can be used to exert pressure on those who farm the land to make concessions. That said, there also seemed an awareness that a wholesale restoration and any consequent loss of jobs was not feasible in the current climate (nearby Benalup has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain). However, there seemed to be a real confidence that birding visitors should see concessions to allow for the wider public use of the area within a year or two. This may take the form of access along currently closed tracks to areas of wetland and of other interest (although whether this would be by permit or entirely open remains to be seen). In the longer term there may even be some restoration. It would be foolish to underestimate the reality of political inertia, the lack of funds for any significant restoration and the power of vested interests, but the judgement gives hope that this superb birding site may become still better in the foreseeable future. Watch this space ....
Update - I am indebted to my friend Javi Elorriaga for the link to an article in La Vanguardia (see here) which, even in Google Translate, explains the situation very clearly. For those with good Spanish, he also directed me to a book on the restoration of La Janda (Bases ecologicas para la restauracion de los humedales de la Janda - Cadiz, España € 17.00 by Manuel Angel Dueñas López € 17.00 - see here)
Look at a large scale map of any part of Andalucia (and most of Spain come to that) and you will quickly discover that rural areas are crisscrossed by cañadas (droveways). Andalucia has a disproportionately high proportion of these old cattle trails - 3,000 km - amounting to 25% of the total national network. Their abundance reminds us of the former importance of transhumance (the seasonal movement of livestock) and that, before mechanisation, droving (herding animals along what amount to linear pastures) was the only way to get sheep and cattle to market. Hence these ancient vias pecunaira (as they are also known) are flanked by broad margins to provide grazing en route, wells to provide water (abrevaderos), overnight resting places (descansaderos or majadas) and points where counting animals to enable royal taxation was facilitated (puertos reales).
Exactly how old these routes are is a matter of some dispute. Most authors suggest that they date to the early Medieval period but some suggest, perhaps fancifully, that they may be traced back far further into antiquity and are an echo of the migratory routes taken by wild animals and early human hunters who pursued them in Neolithic times. It is certain, though, that their use and legal status can be traced back to the 13th century. The most significant regulation was enacted by Alfonso the Wise of Castille in 1273. Their legal status as protected common land has since been confirmed and regulated by national laws in 1995 and local regulation in Andalucia in 2001. These laws were enacted to ensure the conservation and restoration of these trails (and anything culturally or environmentally valuable associated with them). Despite this, rapacious landowners have habitually used their power to illegally block cañadas or absorb them into their own landholdings. Hence some routes exist only on paper, many are illegally blocked at some point and others have degenerated into narrow little used paths but many remain as gravel tracks with generous borders.
Cañadas (in the north called carrerada or valgada) fall into three main categories:
Cañada Reales: tracks up to 75m wide.
Cordel: tracks not above 37.50m wide (literally a 'string')
Vereda: tracks not above 20m wide (a 'sidewalk')
For the most part they seem to be named for the places they link but they are also named after topographical features or the trades using them. Not surprisingly, today they more used by walkers and cyclists than herders. Happily for naturalists those broad untamed margins are a perfect reservoir for wildlife. They can also act as unexpected sources of cultural, social and historical information as I discovered when researching the Cañada de Marchantes (Merchant's Droveway) as noted in my previous post.
With the help of "Google Translate" I managed to resolve all but one of my questions. The word that remained, "Paquiro", was obstinately obscure no matter how many dictionaries, online and otyerwise, I consulted. However, this too was explained when my good friend Luis-Mi Garrido Padillo explained that it was a name. So thanks to Google, Luis-Mi and with a little editing by myself this, I discovered, was what was written:
Magic Point - Miralamar.
Our Romantics and seafarer forebears rightly called this place Miralamar (Sea View). The sea, the bay (of Cadiz), Chiclana and its countryside, a whole wide horizon is viewed from this hill where Paquiro had his vineyards and the drovers' road takes us to the lagoons of Jeli and Montellano and 'Cortijo del Ingles'. Chiclana de la Frontera VII centenary 1303 - 2003"
"Paquiro" was the nickname of Francisco Montes Reina who was born in Chiclana in 1804. Abandoning his ambition to become a surgeon due to his father's financial problems, he turned instead to bullfighting. Reina remains one of the most famous names in bullfighting history, having codified rules for the corrida and introduced the matador's now traditional "Traje de Luz" (Suit of Light) and hat, the Montera. Indeed, the toreador's headgear is named after him (from his family name Montes). Whatever your personal views about bullfighting, it's clear that Paquiro was a considerable local celebrity whose memory was so important to the town that almost 200 years after his birth (and over 150 years since his death) it was felt it important to name him on this monument. That he is still revered by many in his hometown, a traditional area of support for bullfighting, is also reflected by the fact that there's a museum dedicated to him and bullfighting in Chiclana.
The view from Punto Magico is indeed extraordinarily spectacular encompassing, as the inscription tells us, a wide panorama across the sea and the hinterland of Chiclana. Yet so wide and open is the view that it's difficult to do justice to it in a photograph (particularly one of mine). Today it seems a somewhat out of the way place to commemorate Chiclana's septcentenary but I would imagine that it was chosen as from this point all the factors that shaped the town's history are visible from here. The sea that provided both sustenance and, until the coming of the railways, the best means of transport (although it wasn't until 2009 that a tramway linked Chiclana to the 19th century line to Cadiz).
The 'Cortijo Ingles' mentioned on the inscription may seem surprising given that this view looks out towards Cadiz the scene of Drake's (in)famous 'singeing of the King of Spain's beard' when, in spring 1587, the English privateer sacked the place (and in the process gave the English a taste for 'sack'). However, it was also near here that the British tried to break the Napoleonic siege of Cadiz at the Battle of Barrosa (Chiclana, 5th March 1811). Despite a single British division defeating two French divisions and captured a French regimental eagle, the British were unable to break the siege and the French continued the siege and held Chiclana until August the following year. Subsequently, British investors became heavily involved in the sherry trade and it is probably then that the farmhouse was given its name (one of several farms in the province so named).
All of this, of course, will be lost on determined monomanic birders who will have eyes only for the avian delights of the area which, with luck, can include the declining and much sought after Rufous Bushchat!
It was great fun helping Julian with information for his short trip to Andalucia but the credit for seeing all of his target birds belongs entirely to him. He did exceptionally well with the rarer swifts which have proved elusive in the Bolonia area for many visitors and particularly well with Crested Coot at Laguna de Medina where it's been seen very infrequently in recent years. I'm always very happy to have any feedback or trip reports for this blog so please don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to contribute. Many thanks to Julian for letting me share his excellent account here - I hope it will encourage others. (NB - As Julian only took photos of the Northern Bald Ibis I've added several of my own indifferent photos to the blog).
I had flights left over from a failed British twitch, so decided to switch them to Bristol–Malaga for a short break in southern Spain instead. A small number of target lifers and Western Pal ticks awaited, and planning was aided mightily by John Cantelo’s excellent online guide to birding Cadiz province and nearby areas – see https://birdingcadizprovince.weebly.com/ – plus additional info from John and from Cliff Smith.
Monday 25 June
The early morning flight arrived at Malaga airport late and picking up the hire car took ages, so it was 1130 before I started the 200km-plus drive to Vejer de la Frontera. The journey was uneventful other than 2 Monk Parakeets near the airport and occasional Spotless Starlings and Crested Larks.
The prime target for today was Northern Bald Ibis (or Waldrapp) at the well-known roadside colony at Barca de Vejer, but when I arrived mid-afternoon, no sign! Presumably they had finished breeding. No sign either in fields between Barbate and Zahara de los Atunes, but plenty of swifts, including several Pallids and at least one Little Swift showing close and well. No swifts, however, near the lighthouse at Atlanterra, just good views of 3 Red-rumped Swallows, a Sardinian Warbler, and 2 or 3 Monarch butterflies. As I drove back out of Atlanterra, thinking that things were not going well, a single small, attenuated swift whizzed across – White-rumped! I tried the famous Cuevo del Moro at Bolonia in the hope of better views, but no joy; I did, however, add Alpine Swift, 2 Blue Rock Thrushes, and several Griffon Vultures. Back to Barca de Vejer, hoping that the Bald Ibises would come in to roost, and there they were – 8 of them! A contender for ugliest bird in the world, but globally rare, and quite bizarre (and wonderful) to see them just above a busy road.
Vejer is a classic Spanish hilltop town – white buildings and a maze of narrow, often one-way streets. The Hostal La Posada (basic but comfortable, and unbeatable value at €25 per night) was easily accessible from the west, however. After checking in it was straight back out again the same way for the short drive north-east to Cantarranas, noting an occupied White Stork nest on the church there as I headed towards the olive groves. I didn’t see Black-winged Kite (normally easy there, apparently*), but I got good views of Iberian Green Woodpecker and then, as dusk fell, the main target – Red-necked Nightjar (three flight views, including one virtually overhead, and I heard several others). It turned out to be a good day after all. (* I've been there many times at dusk and never missed them so, unless they've declined locally, Julian was unlucky to dip the species there - John)
Tuesday 26 June
A quick look back at Barca de Vejer at 0700 showed only one Waldrapp left on the cliffs, though another was circling. Next stop was Laguna de Medina, about 45 minutes’ drive north. I spent longer than planned here (c. 90 minutes), but it worked out very well, with good views of 4 Western Olivaceous Warblers, and plenty of Reed Warblers (a recent paper assigns Iberian birds to African Reed Warbler rather than European, so technically a Western Pal tick for me). Nightingales, Crested Larks, Sardinian Warblers, and Zitting Cisticolas were singing continually, and a gravelly Great Reed Warbler sang from a reed head, though the calling Stone Curlews remained invisible. From the hide I scoped the wildfowl on the lake, especially the coots, and was rewarded with one that, though distant, had a squared-off shield and red bumps on the crown – Crested Coot! Several White-headed Ducks and Black-necked Grebes too, plus a drake Ferruginous Duck, and on the walk back a male Common Waxbill showed well perched on a reed.
It was another hour’s drive north to Los Palacios y Villafranca, and the morning was wearing away when I arrived at Laguna de la Mejorada. The lagoon held lots of herons (including Squacco), single Little and Whiskered Terns, and a very close Red-rumped Swallow. My main target here, though, was Rufous Bush Chat, and I found a pair nest-building in a bush close to a track – sumptuous views, though I didn’t stay long for fear of causing disturbance. Besides, the next stop was just west of Los Palacios at the fantastic Brazo del Este, where I ended up spending several hours. It was an extraordinary spectacle, with astonishing numbers of Black-winged Stilts, Glossy Ibises, and Whiskered Terns, various herons (including several Purples and a male Little Bittern), 2 Caspian Terns, several Collared Pratincoles hawking over nearby fields, and many Western Swamphens. Two introduced African weavers have also established populations here, and I got great views of several Black-headed Weavers and a fine male Yellow-crowned Bishop.
Leaving mid-afternoon, I headed south towards Sanlucar de Barrameda via Lebrija. It took ages to find the right way along a maze of gravel tracks and poor tarmac roads, but at last I did it. Relief! It was already 5pm, though, by the time I reached the famous* Bonanza Pools. (* That's the first time I've heard them called 'famous'! Until I publicised this superb little site, I knew of no other birders who visited it! John). More brilliantly close views of White-headed Ducks here, but I failed again on Marbled Duck, the last lifer target available. One last site to try, Las Portugueses saltpans, but time was running on and the short drive north through Algaida Pines (itself an interesting site which I had no time to explore) seemed to take forever, not helped by the many speed bumps. At last I got there, only to find the first pool virtually dry! Disaster, or so I thought. Several Gull-billed Terns showed very well by the sluice, but…
A short drive further on, the second pool had much more water, lots of Greater Flamingos, and 20 exquisite Slender-billed Gulls. Almost out of time, I was still determined to enjoy scoping these beauties. Then I noticed a pale duck way over at the back - Marbled Duck! Even better, it had at least a dozen ducklings in tow. Then I noticed another, also with a large brood (14 this time), much closer. At 19.00 I dragged myself away, arriving at my overnight stop at Mollina just before 22.00. A fantastic day’s birding, celebrated with a cerveza grande or two.
Wednesday 27 June
I said goodbye at 0700 to the Hotel Molino de Saydo (highly recommended – great old building, good rooms and food, and very friendly, helpful staff). A short drive later I was at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra – the sheer spectacle of hundreds of Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts, and breeding Gull-billed Terns is worth it in itself, and there were plenty of passerines too (Western Olivaceous Warbler, Nightingale, ‘Iberian’ Yellow Wagtail, Corn Bunting, etc.). The prime target here, though, was Lesser Flamingo, a Western Pal tick for me – regular at this site now, and I knew up to 3 had been seen recently. Two good sets of scope views, possibly of the same bird, in the near corner of the lagoon left of the viewpoint behind the visitor centre, and thankfully no issues with heat haze that early in the morning.
By 0900 it was time to pack the scope, use the automatic car wash in the nearby village of Humilladero to avoid any extra charges for ‘more than reasonable cleaning’, then drive the hour or so back to Malaga in time for my lunchtime flight. I arrived back at Bristol airport at c.1430, happy with a very successful short trip, including 4 lifers, 8 other Western Pal ticks, and a host of wonderful birding experiences.
As noted in my earlier post about the Bahai de Cadiz I am always very grateful for any updates or feedback on the area. Along with Alf King, one of my regular correspondents is Richard Page-Jones. Richard and his wife Michele have a casita just south of Chiclana and in one of those serendipitous events that make life more interesting, we met thanks to a mutual friend of my sister's rather than directly via birding. Amongst other things Richard has discovered an excellent area for Rufous Bushchat and has been able to explore parts of the province I know less well than I should. Rather than make a digest of his points I've reproduced his correspondence below adding only, for clarity, references to my notes, highlighting the species mentioned and adding newly redrawn map of the Lagunas de Chiclana showing the Cañada de Marchantes (not named in earlier editions of my opus). Naturally I am extremely grateful for Richard's valuable input and most of the photos that grace this post.
Hi John. Back home now, and while its fresh in my mind I thought I would send you a few updates on Cadiz Province.
It had been a very wet spring. The flowers and vines have really benefitted but in some of the lagunas; in particularly our local one at Chiclana (NW 16.5 Laguna de Paja), the reeds have grown very high making visibility difficult and we couldn't see much at all.
Our favourite area has been the Cañada de Marchantes (NW 12 - Lagunas de Chiclana). There are very good breeding birds. Rufous Bushchat, Black-eared Wheatear and Stone Curlew. Good raptors including Montagu’s Harrier and both the lagunas had water and the usual suspects. There is now a car park at the top of the path down to Jeli, which is now a footpath only. There is a new viewing platform half way down which gives good scope views. Its difficult to get near the water and if you can visibility is poor due to high vegetation. The road to Montello has excellent scrub for warblers, and the Stone Curlew were in the low lying reedy bit to the right of the road. Overall the Cañada is a great place. Lovely views and great birds, particularly during the passage.
By contrast, in May, La Janda (SW 7 - La Janda) was something of a disappointment. It was dry and dusty and if its windy, finding birds in the reeds is difficult. Very few waders. The Egret nests are impressive, but there were few raptors. Over the top and down the hill to the small pond was better. Decent numbers of raptors. The road to Celemin is now gated just before the dam, but the gateway was our most productive spot for raptors. Small groups of Black Kite and Booted Eagle passing through with Egyptian and Griffon Vulture and the odd Short-Toed Eagle. There seems to be more dark phase Booted these days.
As usual, Bonanza and La Algaida (NW 2 - Sanlucar – Bonanza - Trebujena Area) were really excellent. No problems getting to the the small pumping station, but the track round to the Guadalquivir was impassable even in a 4x4. Huge tractor ruts following the spring rain. Overall this remains the most productive birding area in all seasons; as you point out in your excellent recent article. You get very close to waders and the raptors are always good. Incredible numbers of Flamingo and Slender Billed Gull. There is now a very large and impressive heronry at the end of the pinewoods by the picnic site. Grey Heron, Spoonbill, White Stork and Black Kite all nesting close together in the tops of pine. Spectacled Warbler is a banker in the gateway on the left of track from fish farm toward the salt pan by the river. Also this year Gull-Billed and Black Tern, and in the past Orphean Warbler in trees by river and Wryneck by the disused holiday camp. But never had a sniff of a Sandgrouse.
We enjoyed our trip to the Salina de Chiclana at the Salinas Santa Maria de Jesus (NW 16.1 - St Maria de Bartivas Salt Pans). There is the museum, restaurant, and you can buy sea salt. There was a very impressive Little Tern nesting site with about 100 birds. A local birder said it was good for Caspian Tern and Stone Curlew in the winter.
Another favourite is El Canillo near Barbate (SW 6 - Barbate Estuary (d)). This now holds very large number of breeding Collared Pratincole. Also very good for Audouin’s Gull and in the winter Stone Curlew. The fields have impressive number of larks and the trees have a god range of passerines.
Conil is (SW 4 - Los Naveros- Conil area) also very good for Auduoin’s Gull, Slender Billed Gull, Caspian and Sandwich Tern. There were huge numbers of Chiffchaff in February and an Osprey was fishing in the river.
Our big disappointment was Brazo del Este (SV 2 - Brazo del Este). A disaster. Dry and dusty and a steady procession of lorries and tractors down the main drag made birding uncomfortable and difficult and the pools held nothing we could see more easily elsewhere. This contrasted totally with a wet day in April two years ago when it was awash with birds.
Chipiona (NW 1 - Chipiona Area – Chipiona, La Jara, etc) was nice for tapas and Little Swift.
We dropped in at La Cazalla (SW 10.2 - Cazalla). The migration had almost finished; just a few non-breeding stragglers. A very nice young guy called Diego gave us some very helpful info on best viewing points depending on wind and time of year. The site is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11.00 to 18.00. Not sure what months it is open, but I would have thought during migration times. He said that there was no problem going to Cueva del Moro, despite the sign (SW 8 - Bolonia - Atlanterra – Sierra de la Plata). We went up there. Just a few odd Honey Buzzard with the Griffons and a few Egyptians. No sign of the Little Swift. Diego confirmed they had not been seen in the last few years.
Finally, around our house nice to see the usual Red-Necked Nightjar, Spotted Flycatcher, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Nightingales, and a very elusive Golden Oriole (we heard it most days but difficult to see) and the surprise drop ins - European Nightjar and Reed Warbler.
Thanks again to Richard not only for his excellent resumé but also for putting Cañada de Marchantes firmly on the 'birding map'. It's an excellent area not only for birds but also for affording exceptional views across Bahia de Cadiz and its hinterland. I will be returning to this topic in a future post.
Although I had been vaguely aware of "E-Bird" (http://ebird.org) for some time until late in 2017 I hadn't really appreciated its usefulness. Once I did so I realised that adding references to that resource would greatly enhance my birding guide. However, realisation and actually doing something about it are two different things! Unfortunately, a series of domestic events forced me to put the idea on the 'back burner' for six months or more so I returned to it only in late April of this year. Even so, the process of incorporating the information from E-bird took a lot longer than I had hoped (with external factors again hampering progress). In addition to adding links to E-bird for those sites that this resource covers, I have also added links to relevant posts on my blog. This seemed to be the only way I could give readers access to photos of some of the sites mentioned in my guide (although my plans to cover the principle sites with photos and a more discursive account has had to be postponed until I can return to Spain regularly). It also draws attention to my discussion of various points of interest - tricky bird ID (e.g. larks & swifts), particular species of bird (e.g. Bald Ibis), the historical context (both ornithologically and in general), expand on points made in my introduction and a number of book reviews.
So how and why can E-bird be so useful? Well, it allows you to generate useful checklists for whatever region you're visiting. Hence a few taps on the keyboard allows you to discover that Spain as a whole has a checklist of 589 bird species of which Andalucia has 424 species (the highest total for all Spanish provinces), 346 species have been reported on E-bird from Cadiz "county", a figure exceeded only by Malaga with 355. (Note: the raw figures generated for provinces and individual sites appear to include undetermined species pairs and escapees which inflates the totals but this is countered by the omission of those extreme rarities not reported to E-Bird. However they should still be useful for comparative purposes). It also gives information on species reported for individual sites with, for example, 233 species being reported from the Canal principal area of La Janda (and, I note, another 11 checklists submitted since May when I originally wrote my notes!). From the data available you can also generate useful bar charts not only of any of the above regions but also specific sites. In additions to indicating temporal presence, these bar charts give you an idea of frequency (from rare to widespread). Naturally, how accurate these are depends rather on how many checklists have been submitted so only really works well for larger regions and frequently visited locations. You can also hone your search down to look at a specific time frame. Fortunately, each for each 'hot spot' the total number of submitted lists is given allowing you to make a reasonable judgement about how accurate they might be. From my perspective, it saves the drudgery of composing a more detailed species/seasonal occurrence list for each site (and it's not difficult to extrapolate from well-known locations to similar areas nearby). You can also generate data on particular species (including a map). This is hugely useful if you want to find your 'target birds'. It's not perfect and information remains patchy and should be used with some caution but it's a huge advance and one to be nurtured and valued. Note that the details (number of checklists & species) given in my guide are accurate only up to May 2018 so you'll find some discrepancies between the quoted and current figures given but should still be adequate to give the reader a good idea of what to expect. (Note - E-bird was developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA so American bird names are used - loon, jaeger, etc - but this shouldn't cause much of a problem).
The most important element, though, is not what E-bird can do for you but what you can do for E-bird and, by extension, the wider birding community. Accordingly, I urge all birders to submit their checklists so that the resource can grow both in size and functionality. Here in the UK we are fortunate to have a long established network of county bird societies to provide information but this is not (yet) the case in Spain (and elsewhere). In many, but not all, respects E-bird can fill this gap. Going through old notebooks is tedious and easy to put off as I well know since I still have much of my own checklists to submit ..... when I discover where the hell I've squirrelled away most of my notebooks ... but it's well worth it!
Addendum - since publishing this post I've had a typically encouraging and helpful message from Yeray Seminario who reminds me that when he, Javi Elorriaga and Miguel Gonzalez started collaborating with the E-bird about five years ago, they were amongst the first to really engage with this project in Spain. I've not had the pleasure of meeting Miguel but Yeray and Javi are two of the finest birders in not only in the province but in Spain. We are extraordinarily fortunate in Cadiz province to have two such experts supervising the input to this scheme. Fortunately, for hopeless monoglots like me, they are both fluent English speakers and very helpful too. As noted above, they and Miguel were three of the first reviewers involved in Spain but numbers have now swelled to 50 odd. It is they who review information to ensure any errors are picked up and weeded out making the resource as reliable as possible. As Yeray observed, the quality of the data is constantly improving whilst its volume is growing exponentially. This means that researchers and conservationists are already putting all this data to good use. The importance and potential of this project simply cannot be understated!
These points aside, the only area whose coverage I've revised to any great degree is in the Bahía de Cádiz. Changes to my coverage of the San Fernando Marshes (NW 15) - mainly an improved map and better directions - have been set out in my previous blog. However, I have also added an entirely new site the Marisma de las Aletas (NW 14.4) entirely derived from E-bird which, thankfully, I could add to a redrawn map of the Los Turunos area (Map 23). This is based on a couple of checklists submitted to E-bird by Rafael Garcia (see https://ebird.org/hotspot/L5561089). I don't know Rafael but I hope he doesn't mind my using the information he kindly put in the public domain and thank him for his efforts. Surrounded by busy trunk roads, this site will never be a huge draw but it does allow another point of access to the habitat in the bay of Cadiz and seemingly attracts sought-after birds such as Slender-billed Gull and an excellent opportunity to get to grips with lark identification as Greater & Lesser Short-toed, Crested & Thekla Lark and, in winter, Skylark can be found there. Since I've not been there as yet my directions are necessarily tentative so any feedback would be welcome.
I'm acutely aware that of all the areas described in my birding notes, I know the Bahia de Cadiz least well. This is partly because exploring them usually requires a drive along busy suburban roads and partly because other sites are more conveniently explored from my base in Alcala de los Gazules. Another consideration is that the most significant birding experience of the area (large numbers of waders) largely involves species familiar to UK birders. They do hold more exotic species (Audouin's Gull, Caspian Tern, Kentish Plover, etc) but these are just as easily found in the Bonanza area or Barbate (which also tend to have more exotic birds and, in the case of the former, offer better views of waders). I had intended to explore the area more fully but, with circumstances dictating that I've not been able to get out to Cadiz province for the last three years, such plans remain "on the back burner". Accordingly, I depend more than ever on correspondents and users of my site guide to update me on corrections/changes. Disappointingly, I never hear back from most of those who use my notes presumably (or should that be hopefully?) because they don't encounter any problems with them. Thankfully a handful are regular correspondents one of whom, Alf King, has kindly pointed out some errors in my description of San Fernando marshes.
Armed with this new information I have fully revised my notes and redrawn my map of the area (see above). Despite several sources (inc Wikiloc on GoogleEarth) indicating that the sendero at the Tres Amigos saltpans offered an 8 km circular route, this is not the case and visitors have to content themselves with a 3 km route (a) that loops around part of the site. In the process of revision I also noticed that the northern 'arm' of the Tres Amigos sendero appears to be accessible off the CA 33 (f). Google Street View shows cars pulled off here by derelict buildings by the 6 km marker but great caution is needed if turning off and back on here (only possible as you head towards San Fernando) as this is a very busy road. Not having explored it personally I'm unsure about access details so use at your own risk! I have also revised access details in general. Alf also tells me that the board walk along Punta del Boqueron (c) was badly damaged by tidal surges in early 2018 so access might be limited until it is repaired.
Addendum - on reading the above the ever helpful Alf King reminds me that the Visitors' Centre here has maps and leaflets about the area including one that shows the 'northern arm' of the Tres Amigos sendero as being legitimately accessible. He also tells me that the principal interest here isn’t ornithological but historical as the site has a late 13th century flour mill powered by the rising and falling tides. This was one of a network of hundreds of such mills stretching from Faro to Cadiz Bay and they were the main means of milling in that period.
Having revised access to and details of NW 15, I also took the opportunity to revise my notes on the following site (NW 16). Little needed to be changed for NW 16.1, 16.3 & 16.4 but NW 16.2 was more tricky. First, though, those curious about what facilities are available at NW16.1 (particularly if you have some Spanish) might like to view this short video on the site (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm6MuJjCSPo).
On paper at least, NW 16.2 has good potential but access is problematical and I've not been able to check in person. Only one of the three suggested walks (Collejon del Mollino) is featured in the “300 senderos” booklet (https://issuu.com/cadizturismo/docs/300senderoscadiz/1?ff=true&e=3220287/1858612), the others being derived from a search of GoogleEarth. This suggest that access may not be straight forward. The 6 km walk through Salina de San Ramón y la Pastorita (b) takes you to the main channel and should allow good views across of the centre of the marshes. In all likelihood you’ll see few birds you won’t find at the more convenient NW 16.1 (which also has the advantage of offering refreshment and a panorama across the salinas from a covered viewpoint) but may interest the adventurous. About 500m further along the Calle Molinos another sendero, Collejon del Molino (c) - Walk 167 in the “300 senderos" booklet - also promises a route into the salinas (but is not shown on GoogleEarth). The wild card here is the Coto de la Isleta, a wooded island in the centre of the marshes, which should be an interesting destination but access is open to doubt. “Wikiloc” shows a sendero linking it to the village of La Coquina (d). However, a close look at GoogleEarth seems to show that the causeway connecting the island to the village has been breached and therefore that the island is inaccessible. I've left it in just in case foot bridges have or may yet be constructed. Even so it may still be worth exploring this area as some roads/tracks may offer good views over the marshes/salinas. Another option for the adventurous....
I've tried to drive through Los Gallos to (e) several times but the maze of narrow one-way streets in the urbanisation are such that I've got lost every time! I've revised my directions to take what seems a longer, but should be quicker route (as you're less likely to get lost!), via the suitably named Calle Carboneres, which involves only two turns and no one way routes! Essentially, you head north on the Avenida de la Diputacion and when you've negotiated roundabout betwixt the Mercadona and Lidl supermarkets the left-hand turning into Calle Carbonares is another 650 m (although it may be easier to continue a further 150m to a roundabout and return the way you came to make it an easier right-hand turn). Follow this road almost until its end (c1 km) and then turn left and shortly afterwards right into the Calle Codorniz where you can pull off onto rough ground and explore the sendero. Access via (f) is much less complicated since the white 'Puerta de Carboneros' makes the start of the sendero obvious whilst parking in a nearby side road is convenient. You can even reach this starting point by bus (routes L8 & L11).
Alf has also pointed out that many of the information boards that dot many sites listed in my guide now boast QR codes which helpfully allow you to download information onto your mobile phone.
Whilst there's no doubt that the raptor migration across the straits is the 'jewel in the crown' of Cadiz birding, that doesn't mean it's sensible to concentrate solely on the jewel and forget the crown! Yet that often seems to be what many visitors seem todo and, by ignoring the delights available elsewhere in the province, they are really missing out on some terrific birding. Personally, I've found that having a base in Alcala de los Gazules (i.e. in the centre of the province) maximises flexible birding options since most birding hotspots are within an hour's drive (and some a good deal less). The downside is that by not being at the focus of bird migration, the Straits, I can't step out of my door and witness the really impressive streams of raptors that you get on the coast (although I see enough to satisfy most!) Then again, being based near Tarifa means up to a two hours drive to reach some key sites for rare or scarce species. My solution isn't the only one and there's much to be said for splitting your visit between two bases, one on the Straits and the other near the marshes of the Guadalquivir (and other wetlands and birding sites). The problem has been that there's been no really "birder friendly" accommodation in the Sanlucar area where it's really needed ….. until now!
It gives me great pleasure to be able to warmly recommend El Martinete Guest House (http://www.martinete.eu) near Trebujena. Not only is it in a pleasant location with superb views across the Guadalquivir but it's also under the care and direction of Juan Martín Bermúdez. That he's a highly expert and knowledgeable birder (and former Director of the Coto Ornithological Donana station) would alone be recommendation enough but he's also a fluent English speaker, the author of several wildlife guides, founder of the innovative Salarte project (see www.salarte.org) and a thoroughly pleasant chap. Casa Martinete itself is a charming well equipped three bedroom villa ideally situated to explore the lower Guadalquivir. It's a great base from which to 'do your own thing' but if you need expert guidance then Juan Martin is available as your mentor and guide (the "Wildlife Experiences" bit on their logo). I know that admitting that there's more to life than birds is a cardinal sin for some but staying here also allows you to explore the magical cultural and gastronomic delights of the Jerez area. If like me, you're a lover of history and good sherry (there's no other kind!), as well as birds, then there's nowhere better to explore. When you half close your eyes and squint at that fabulous view across the lower Guadalquivir, you can almost see a galley pulling towards Tartessus, the near-mythical and certainly mysterious harbour city that was once here (which was quite possibly the model for Atlantis).
Being based here means that the excellent birdwatching to be had along the Guadalquivir between Trebujena and Bonanza is only a few minutes away. Birding along this stretch of river ending up at Algaida Pinewoods and Bonanza saltpans (c40 mins drive … if you don't stop to look at the birds!) is one of my favourite birding routes in Cadiz province. It offers the chance of scarce and local species like Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Azure-winged Magpie (the only site in the province but often very difficult!) not found near Tarifa plus delights like Flamingos, Collared Pratincoles and much else. Bonanza saltpans are also probably the best site in the region for photographing waders.
The other bonus of being based here is that access to several other excellent birding sites is much more convenient than from Tarifa; Mesas de Asta Marsh (Spain's largest Gull-billed Tern colony) is 15 mins away, Chipiona area (regular rarities & Little Swift) 40 mins, Laguna de Tollos (an exciting newly restored wetland) 40 mins and Brazo del Este (wetland birds and exotics) less than an hour. The drive along the Carr. de Práctico beside the river Guadalquivir north from Trebujena to Brazo del Este is little known but a wonderfully shady excursion on a bright sunny day with plenty of pleasant spots for a picnic and even more marshy margins for birds. On this route at La Señuela, the old church provides a most picturesque site for nesting White Storks. Brazo del Este is a key site for waders, Marbled Teal, small crakes, Savi's Warbler, Black-headed Weaver and other exotics. Even Osuna, the best place in western Andalucia for Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Great and Little Bustards, is only a manageable 90 minutes. Grazalema (Black Wheatears, Rock Sparrow, Bonelli's Eagle, Alpine Accentor, etc) is also only 90 minutes or so. For all of these localities, you have to add at least 60-90 mins travelling time to reach them from the Tarifa area which makes a trip to them more of an expedition than a jaunt. Not that you miss out entirely on raptor migration if based further north in the province since, whilst you may not see the impressive streams of migrating birds you get along the straits, the same species often use the Guadalquivir as a flyway so you can catch up with all the species (except Ruppell's Vulture and Bonelli's Eagle) that you can expect around Tarifa. Besides, if conditions are looking good for a serious passage across the Straits then it's only 90 minutes or so away and Juan Martin will surely tip you off when it's a good time to give it a go.
So if you're planning a birding trip to Cadiz province – and why wouldn't you? - remember that you don't have to follow the herd down to Tarifa and that you can have a wonderful and equally memorable time exploring the lower Guadalquivir and nearby sites. You'll probably return home with a longer list of birds – not to mention other species – than if you'd been based around Tarifa. Better still, if you're a tyro birdwatcher then you can avail yourself of the services of an authoritative and knowledgeable guide.
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks at Secondary School. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired now spend as much time as in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.