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Cadiz Lagoons - BirdForum Opus

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These lagoons form a series of sites in an arc in the lowlands to the east of Cadiz Bay in Andalucia in the far southwest of Spain.

These are generally shallow and rather small lagoons with inflowing streams and variable amounts of vegetation. The extent of the emergent and marginal vegetation is dependent on season and rainfall and often in summer some of the lagoons dry out completely. Reeds Phragmites, rushes and bulrush Typha fringe most of the lagoons and they are set in scrubland with Tamarisk Tamarix sp., Mediterranean Fan Palm Chamaerops humilis, Wild Olives Olea europaea and Kermes Oak Quercus coccifera, or in some cases the pools are surrounded by crops.


Notable Species

The water level and extent of vegetation greatly affect the birds that can be seen here but most years these lagoons will produce the southern Iberian wetland specialities such as White-headed Duck and Marbled Duck, Crested Coot and Western Swamphen as well as many others of interest. Unfortunately the Ruddy Duck, an alien species which has wandered to Europe from the feral population in Britain, has recently been recorded in the area. This poses a potential threat to the already recovering population of the rare White-headed Duck through hybridisation.

White-headed Duck is resident along with Red-crested Pochard, Crested Coot and Western Swamphen. Other species present all year include Black-necked Grebe, Cattle Egret, Little Egret and Marsh Harrier. Greater Flamingo is generally present all year if water levels allow.

Summer visitors include Little Bittern and Purple Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole and Kentish Plover, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern and European Bee-eater. Marsh Harrier breeds and Montagu's Harrier is regularly seen in summer along with Egyptian Vulture, Osprey, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle (a few of which may winter). Black-shouldered Kite has increased rapidly in recent years and may be seen in the vicinity of any of these lagoons.

Passerine breeders include Black-eared Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike[[ and marshland warblers such as Cetti's Warbler, Savi's Warbler and Great Reed Warbler.

Passage periods bring a wide range of migrants, particularly including Mediterranean Gull and terns such as Gull-billed Tern and all three marsh terns Black Tern, although White-winged Black Tern is scarce)., and Mediterranean Gull. Passage waders sometimes include Marsh Sandpiper but All most of the familiar northern waders also occur and sometimes includes Marsh Sandpiper.

Small numbers of dispersing Spanish Imperial Eagle are now becoming infrequent, but regular visitors in the area, Osprey, Black Kite and other raptors also occur on passage. In winter the area is very important for waterfowl with Greylag Goose and Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler and huge numbers of Eurasian Coot. Ferruginous Duck is usually recorded in winter and spring. Hen Harrier, Red Kite and Short-eared Owl, Hen Harrier, Red Kite and, less frequently, Merlin, hunt over the marshlands in winter and Common Kingfisher, Bluethroat and Penduline Tit are regular in the reedbeds.

During dry or otherwise unfavourable periods the birds frequently move from one lagoon to another in search of better conditions. All of the lagoons are worth visiting and most of the birds mentioned below can be seen at any group of pools.


Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Tufted Duck, White-headed Duck, European Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Red Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Common Quail, Water Rail, Baillon's Crake, Common Moorhen, Western Swamphen, Eurasian Coot, Crested Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Stone-curlew, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, White-winged Tern, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, Pallid Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, Eurasian Wryneck, Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Northern House Martin, Water Pipit, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Bluethroat, Black-eared Wheatear, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Savi's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler Dartford Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Wood Warbler, European Pied Flycatcher, Penduline Tit, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike

Other Wildlife

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Site Information

History and Use

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Areas of Interest

Laguna Medina

Photo by John Cantelo
View of Lagua de Medina (from a) - see map
Photo by John Cantelo
Map of Lagua de Medina

Laguna Medina is the largest and best-known of the lagoons is next to the A 381 Jerez-Medina Sidonia road (no longer designated as the C440). This road been rebuilt and is now a fast dual carriageway. Laguna Medina is well signposted off the 'El Portal' junction on this road (opposite a large cement works). It is now reached by driving several hundred metres south along the 'via de servicio' formed by the old road (on the eastern side of the new road). The original car park is on the left and a much larger new one is on the right; park wherever you can find shade! The birdlife here varies to some degree with the water level. After recent dry winters this has been quite low in recent years, but heavy rain in 2008/2009 have topped levels up well.

Behind the white building a track takes you up to a viewpoint (a) and, although it's a bit too distant to be useful for birding, it does give a good view of the lagoon. A gated track from the old carpark takes you along the southern perimeter of the laguna (a full circuit is not possible). Two recently constructed raised boardwalks (b) have improved visibility along this track; the end of the first one is often a good spot for Crested Coot. Beware that these birds often hug the reeds and can be seen only fleetingly - patience is the key.

Further along this track a path has been cleared down to the edge of the laguna where there is now a large hide (c). Originally furnished with overly large un-openable, tinted glass windows, the hide has been much improved by the removal of the 'glazing'. However, any nearby birds can still clearly see into the hide and often flush. However the new path and boardwalk do mean views of the lagoon have been improved although the a telescope is needed to take full advantage of this. Numerous ducks winter here and this is an iconic site for White-headed Duck, but for good views a telescope is a distinct advantage. Marbled Duck is said to be here, but is clearly quite scarce. Check the bushes for Western Olivaceous Warbler although without knowing the species' song they can be difficult to locate. Carefully scan the hills beyond the laguna for Black-shouldered Kite which is now regular here. Beyond the hide is a marshy area (d) viewable from a new boardwalk/causeway which may have Savi's Warbler. Beyond is a small track (e), also accessed via the service road, the open areas around which can attract raptors

A small reedy pool known as Laguna de las Pachecas (or Laguna Istata) is said to be located about 1km to the north, but seem to now be difficult to locate due to both the recent dry years, agriculture and building.

Lagunas de El Puerto Santa Maria

The Lagunas de El Puerto Santa Maria (also known as the Lagunas de Terry) are situated about 6km to the north of the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria and reached from the C440 A381 (c440) by turning off towards El Portal (i.e. the same junction for Laguna de Medina). Continue through to El Portal where you turn left at a T-junction just after crossing the railway. (Do not confuse this with the new AVE railway line you pass under). Continue until you reach a large roundabout on the N IV. (Note it may be worth stopping at the impressive ancient watchtower at Dona Blanca for views across Cadiz Bay). At the roundabout go straight on heading towards the 'Aqua Park'. is crossed, after After c3km, the road turns sharp left at past the casino, and shortly thereafter take a concrete track on the right. (Although this follows an irrigation channel, this is not visible until c30m after you've taken the turning). This road has been upgraded and tarmaced in recent years. Continue for several kilometres until a small bridge crosses the irrigation channel and leads to some houses and farmland. Drive across the channel and park. Here a short walk along the track leads to the lagoons.

The first lagoon, Laguna Juncosa, near the bridge is usually completely choked with rushes and is often said to be of least interest. However, it can hold Western Swamphen and other birds. The next is Laguna Salada is the largest in this group of lagoons and has artificial islets. Laguna Chica, down a track to your right at the 'entrance to Laguna Salada, has a good reedbed. and Laguna Juncosa is usually completely covered in rushes. Note that the path here is sometimes reduced to a glutinous muddy goo and thus access can be difficult.

White-headed Duck and Marbled Duck, Crested Coot and Western Swamphen all occur here as well as Collared Pratincole, Red-crested Pochard and Little Bittern. However, viewing is distant and a telescope is essential. Moustached Warbler is sometimes said to be a possible breeder, but local information and recent atlas surveys cast grave doubt on this assertion.

Note that by following the track besides the irrigation ditch you can obtain more, albeit distant, views of the main lagoon. More importantly this route provides a useful short cut to the Chipiona coast and the San Lucar area.

====Lagunas de Espera The Lagunas de Espera (Lagunas de Zorilla) can be reached from Jerez de la Frontera on the N IV turning off onto the A 384 (N342) to Arcos de la Frontera. From Just beyond Arcos here take the A393 (C343) north towards Espera, go through the village and then take a minor road turn left for Las Cabezas de San Juan. and after After 2km with the old castle looming to your left you take a track on turn left towards a lagoons. This is now well signposted. Although in the mid-2000s these lakes were very dry, they were again in splendid condition in Spring 2009.

Look out for larks en route and examine all passing raptors; in winter both Bonelli's Eagle and Spanish Imperial Eagle may occur. Continue along this passable track until you see a small white building on the left that marks the position known as Laguna Hondilla. Although somewhat overgrown, in good conditions this laguna can hold all target birds.

The next lagoon, the largest, is immediately round a bend to the left and is partly hidden by bushes. It is accessed by a gated path running along its edge. The remaining lagoons are all close by and the best are generally Hondilla and La Salada de Zorilla. Follow this path up a gentle slope to the last lagoon which is hidden beyond the brow of the hill. A small viewpoint has been constructed here, but the tall reeds can make viewing the nearside of the lagoon difficult. This lake is often best for Crested Coot. Also look out for Stone Curlew here.

Marbled Duck and White-headed Duck, Western Swamphen and Crested Coot can all be seen here regularly as well as can Greater Flamingo, but Marbled Duck is far less frequent. The adventurous armed with a good map may like to continue along this gently degrading track to explore other nearby wetlands. Alternatively use this route to cut across to the Trebujena area. Black-shouldered Kite - a rapidly increasing visitor to this area - have been noted a number of times along this route.

Lagunas de Puerto Real

The Lagunas de Puerto Real hold a similar range of species to the other groups of pools but may well be worth visiting. They can be reached from the A408 Puerto Real to Paterna de Rivera road where, on a bend just past the 9km marker post, there is track heading north. Follow this and fork going right at a T-junction and it leads to the Laguna del Taraje.

Views may be had from the track across the lake or beside an often flooded path that runs the eastern edge. The path to the hide on the right now appears completely overgrown whilst that across the fields and further on to Laguna de San Antonio has vanished completely.

This superb site holds many of the birds found elsewhere although both Crested Coot and Marbled Duck are more unusual. In winter Spanish Sparrow may be found along the track and.in summer, Red-necked Nightjar, in the woodland by the main road. Huge nuimbers of White Stork can be found here in season and Stone-curlew are particularly frequent.

Return to the road and head left for towards Paterna de Rivera. Note that this road can be particularly good for Black-shouldered Kite. As you pass a small venta distant views of Laguna de San Antonio, good for raptor roosts, may be obtained . and about 7km further along this road, well screened by trees on your right, is Laguna de Comisario. Formerly accessed by on a footpath to the right leads to Laguna de Comisariothis is now closed and defended by barbed wire fences.

Access and Facilities

The town of Chiclana de la Frontera is situated on the N340 close to Cadiz and the Lagunas de Chiclana are found to the east and south of the town. To the south La Paja lagoon is about 3km out of Chiclana beside the N340 road to Algeciras. To the east Jeli and Montellano lagoons are found off the C346 A390 (C346)road to Medina Sidonia. About 2km out of Chiclana turn left towards the velodrome after which take the track to the left and continue until a junction. Right here leads to Jeli and further on another track to the right leads to Montellano. Alternatively, it is possible to walk to the lagoons from a track on the left of the C346 A390 (C346) about 7km out of Chiclana.

NOTE - road numbers in Spain have changed significantly in recent years and those given are the ones currently in use. Former road numbers, where different, are given in brackets)

Jerez de la Frontera has an airport with domestic and international flights. Most of the local towns and villages can provide accommodation particularly Jerez de la Frontera but Chiclana, Arcos de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria also have hotels, hostels and campsites. The Cadiz Lagoons can also be visited on a day-trip from Gibraltar.

Contact Details

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External Links

Cadiz Parks and Gardens Laguna Medina [1]

Content and images originally posted by Steve


Alf King's review

Laguna de Medina should be an excellent birdwatching site but unfortunately, like many other sites in Spain, it has suffered badly from inadequate maintenance. This has meant that the ability to view the Laguna itself from the footpath is extremely limited.

Plenty of encouraging notices for birders all around but the fact that you can't actually see the birds when you are there seems to spoil all of the good work that has gone into the site. Cons

  • Poor viewing

Meridian's review

Agree with Alf..but still worth visiting. However avoid windy days particularly when "levant" blows as water can be very choppy. Saw White Headed Ducks there (2001).

If in area thoroughly recommended the short tidal Rio San Pedro near the University ( Puerto Real campus) and extensive mud flats at Puerto Real in Bahai Cadiz. All easily accessible by foot from bus stop

Half hour bus trip, bout 30 minutes interval from Gomes Bus Station , Cadiz. (10 minutes walk from railway station)

Recommended excellent 1:50,000 MAPA GUIA "LA BAHIA DE CADIZ Y SUS"

Map covers Laguna de Median and about 12 other lagunas, extensive salinas, mud flats etc, Cadiz, San Fernando, Puerto Santa Maria, Jerez

Please e mail me for more information

John Cantelo's review

Personally, I think that the various sites listed here are better treated separately than as a 'job lot'. Some of the site details are also somewhat dated. I hesitate to correct the original text since I'm uncertain of the protocols here. If anyone else would like to up date the info please do. These comments are based of half a dozen visits to the area between 2005 and early 2007.

ACCESS The Jerez-Medina Sidonia road is the A 381 (not C440). It has also been rebuilt and is now a fast dual carriageway. Laguna Medina is well signposted off the 'El Portal' junction on this road (opposite a large cement works). It is now reached by driving several hundred metres south along the old road (on the eastern side of the new road). The car park is clearly marked to the left. Behind the white building a track takes you up to a viewing area although it's a bit too distant to be useful. A gated track takes you along the southern perimeter of the laguna (a full circuit is not possble). A raised boardwalk has improved visibility here. The good news is that further along this track a path has been cleared down to the edge of the laguna where there is now a large hide. Unfortunately this 'hide' is dreadful; it has large un-openable, tinted and often dirty windows. Hence views through the windows are hopelessly compromised and any nearby birds can clearly see into the hide and flush. Worse as it doesn't have side windows you can't some of the best habitat. To be honest I've not been able to find Laguna de las Pachecas/Istata - has the new road destroyed it?

Laguna del Taraje is a superb little site, but the path from here to Laguna de San Antonio seems to have disappeared. There doesn't seem to be a path to the hide either! The path along the edge of Laguna de Comisario is now fenced off with threatening notices banning access. However, I gather a local farmer may allow access over his fields.

I think the directions for Lagunas de El Puerto Santa Maria could be improved. (NB - the El Portal road exits from the A 381 at the same point as the access for the Laguna de la Medina). Turn left at the T-junction after crossing the train line at El Portal. Continue for c7km (passing a mediaeval tower on your left) until you reach a large roundabout where you go straight on. The track after the casino does indeed follow a drainage ditch, but this is only visible after you've driven a way along it. On my three visits here I've found the path here flooded and access very difficult. Even when you've negotiated the access, birds can be pretty distant. It should also be noted that you can continue along the main track besides the drainage channel further north and obtain more views of the laguna. This track is a good short cut if heading towards Sanlucar or Chipiona.

Lagunas de Espera are now clearly signposted off the Las Cabezas road. The first laguna here is easily visible from the access track, but the second is screened by bushes. Access to the third laguna, which is tucked away well out of sight, is via the gated path along the edge of the second laguna.

BIRDS Black-shouldered Kite has increased enormously in this area. I've seen them at (or near) Espera, Taraje, Comissario, Arcos & Medina. In fact I've found it much easier to find in this area than in Extremadura - I'd be disappointed not to find them here. A few Booted Eagle winter in the area and Back Kite are appearing in numbers in early February. However, some details seem optimistic. Local sources suggest that Moustached Warbler is a very unusual visitor and claims of 'possible breeding' seem doubtful.

I'd also be surprised to find Lesser Short-toed Lark at any of these sites whilst Rufous Bush Chat seems very hard to find in recent years.

NOTE - I have now incorporated most of these points in the main text.