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.
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks (all of us are still birding!) at Taunton's School in Southampton. 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 I now spend as much time as possible in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.