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Sierra Morena and south west Spain and Portugal in November 2008

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Old Thursday 20th November 2008, 21:43   #1
ColinD
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Sierra Morena and south west Spain and Portugal in November 2008

We set off from Liverpool airport on Thursday 13th November for our now annual short break to south west Spain. This year however was slightly different. The withdrawal of Ryanair flights to Seville, forced us to fly with Easyjet to Faro in Portugal, and then drive across the border to our destination in Spain. We also decided to stay in a seaside town called el Portil, rather than our usual hotel in el Rocio, Donana. We took this decision because el Portil is quite central for many good birding areas, including Portugal, yet it still allowed us to visit the Coto Donana. Once again we were lucky with the weather during our stay, with sunny, cloudless skies, and temperatures which ranged from 26’C at midday to 1’C overnight. There was hardly a breath of wind after the gentle breeze of the first day. Dusk was at about 6:30pm Spanish time.

We touched down at Faro airport at 10:50am, and by 11:30 we had collected our baggage and the hire car and were on our way. The first stop was less than 10 minutes drive from the airport, just before the beach resort of Praia de Faro (which is clearly signposted as you leave the airport). I’ve always found this a good spot for Caspian Tern, and today was no exception, with three of these magnificent birds, with their ridiculously heavy carrot red bills flying around the bay, and plunge diving with incredible ferocity. Also here, a decent selection of waders, but mainly common stuff.

Then it was on to another favourite spot of ours, Quinta de Lago, a golf resort which has inexplicably been allowed to be built in the heart of the Ria Formosa nature reserve. This is a well known spot to many British birders. From the hide we had great views of at least five Purple Gallinules, one Glossy Ibis and 20 Red-crested Pochard. We ended the day at nearby Ludo salinas, which held hundreds of White Storks with a single, unexpected Black Stork, 60 Spoonbills and hundreds of ducks, mainly Wigeon. Also, lots of Azure-winged Magpies and Waxbills.
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Old Thursday 20th November 2008, 21:45   #2
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Laguna de el Portil and Marismas de Odiel

The following day we were up early and exploring the local area. Our first destination was Laguna de el Portil, about a mile from where we were staying. There were plenty of ducks on the lake, including Pintail and Shoveler, and also a few Black-winged Stilts and a couple of Black-necked Grebes, but overall, it was a bit disappointing. In the woodland we had Crested Tits, Black Redstarts and Green Woodpecker. We decided to head for our second destination of the day, the Marismas de Odiel, opposite the city of Huelva and about 10 miles from el Portil.

Dwarfed by it’s neighbour the Coto Donana, the Marismas de Odiel is still a large reserve, almost completely surrounding Huelva, and perhaps 10 miles long by as many wide. In summer, it is home to the largest Spoonbill colony in Europe, so a flock of 40 on the saltmarsh was not a great surprise. Also on a flooded area of saltmarsh, a flock of 40 Black-necked Grebes. Over the river, we saw three Ospreys in the air together, and later a fourth, and on the saltmarsh there were lots of Marsh Harriers and single female Hen Harrier.

On the west shore of the river Odiel the road leads on to a spit, miles long which leads to a lighthouse. As you head down the spit, the saltmarsh gives way to sand dunes, and here we found four Audouins Gulls on the shore, (three adult and a 2nd winter), and six Stone Curlew in the dunes. A Lesser Kestrel hunted in the dunes, and was briefly joined by a common Kestrel for comparison. In the marsh next to the visitor centre, we found two Western Iberian Painted Frogs. Chiffchaffs were in every bush or tree, and this was a feature of the holiday, though we didn’t bother trying to work out if they were resident Iberian or wintering “British”.
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Old Thursday 20th November 2008, 21:46   #3
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Sierra Norte de Sevilla

On Saturday, we decided to have a break from the coast, and head inland. Our destination was the beautiful mountain region of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, which is part of the Sierra Morena and as the name implies, is just north of Seville. Our route took us through Constantina, Cazalla and across a mountain road to Santa Ollala del Cala. This was a completely different environment to the dry coastal area.

The rolling hills rise to a modest 900m, and there are many decidous trees, which provided a wonderful display of autumn colour, red, yellow and gold. We spent the morning searching these damp woodlands for amphibians, specifically Fire Salamader which has a separate race in these mountains, but in this our efforts were in vain. They did however yeald a good selection of woodland birds, notably many Nuthatches, Short-toed Treecreepers and three species of woodpecker, Green, Great Spotted and best of all, Lesser-spotted.

We were surprised to find many Crag Martins still in the area, flying around some of the larger old buildings, and once the temperatures rose in the afternoon, the vultures took to the air, with one flock alone containing over 100 birds, mainly Griffons, but also a few Black. In the foothills we came across a couple of Black-shouldered Kites.
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Old Thursday 20th November 2008, 21:48   #4
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The northern marshes of Coto Donana

Sunday was the day I had waited for almost since we left the area last year, because we were to visit the northern marshes of the Coto Donana, an area unsurpassed for birding by any place I have ever visited in Europe. We started our day by driving along the Corredor Verde. Here we found Woodlarks, Cattle Egrets, a Black Stork, a Night Heron roost of at least 100 birds and a stunning Black-shouldered Kite, which performed admirably its hovering, paper plane like flight, before alighting in a tree to allow us excellent views.

Next we called in at Canada la Rianzula. The scene was breathtaking. At least 3000 Black-winged Stilts and 500 Greater Flamingoes were almost forgotten by the jaw dropping spectacle of at least 8000 Shoveler.

From here it was onto the rice paddies of Isla Mayor, an area so good that it was no surprise to find a flock of nine Black Storks in a field, and hundreds of White Storks. We turned right in the town, and headed for Casa Bombas, a large white pumping station which is passed by birders on their way to the Valverde centre. In this area we found three Hen Harriers, including a stunning male, several Marsh Harriers and our first Common Cranes of the day. Three were feeding in a field, and while we watched them, another nine flew directly over our heads. In the distance, at least 500 White storks were feeding.

We pushed on towards Veta Hornito. Suddenly I saw what I had been looking for. In the distance I could see large birds landing. We had found a Common Crane flock. We drove on for another mile or so, until eventually we were directly opposite them, just a couple of hundred yards away. I counted about 250 birds. They were clearly a little nervous about our presence, because occasionally the whole flock would raise their heads and look at us, but generally they seemed unconcerned and fed together like a flock of huge geese. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, first one bird, then two, then the whole flock took to the air with calls which very much resembled geese, and they flew away into the distance. An unforgetable experience.

By now, we had also started to see Great White Egrets, which totalled about six birds, and another couple of Black Storks. Finally, as dusk approached, we found another two Black-shouldered Kites.

Once more Donana did not disappoint.
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Old Thursday 20th November 2008, 21:49   #5
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Black Vultures in the Seirra Aracena

The final day was spent in the mountains of the Sierra Aracena, another part of the Seirra Morena, north of and between Seville and Huelva. Much of the habitat was similar to the Sierra Norte, though there appeared to be more chestnut trees in the area. Here we had more success with amphibians, finding Bosca’s Newt and Southern Marbled Newt in a pond near Alajar. Many of the bird species were the same, with woodland birds abundant.

Once more, as the day drew on, the vultures took to the air, and this led to the highlight of the holiday. We parked near a view point, with the road heavily wooded on either side. If the birds had flown in any other direction, at best they would have been a glimpse of a second or two, at worst we would have missed them altogether. Fortunately they flew right down the road towards us, not more than twice the height of the trees, and with the sun right on them. They were huge birds, like giant eagles, with black, broad underwings with long fingers, and their pale feet stood out. Black Vultures, and a good enough view to age them as adults, we watched them for several minutes as they gained height and soared over us, and then suddenly we noticed more birds flying down the road to join them. These were clearly Griffons, and they provided excellent comparison. In the end there were about 10 birds soaring together, gaining height until they were little more than dots, but the Black Vultures always seemed to remain a little seperate from the rest, seemingly not wishing to associate with the riff raff.

The following day it was back to the airport at Faro, and the flight back to Liverpool, but not before we had one last look at the fabulous Caspian Terns at Praia de Faro. The holiday ended as it had begun, with some quality birding.
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Old Friday 21st November 2008, 12:15   #6
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Hi Colin,

A good warm up taster for me. I am back in sunny (I hope) Algarve soon and can not wait.

I'd like to ask if you had to do anything special to be able to hire a car and take it into Spain for Donana?

Also any chance of directions to Praia de Faro or is it easy to find on the maps?

Cheers,
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Old Friday 21st November 2008, 12:43   #7
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......I'd like to ask if you had to do anything special to be able to hire a car and take it into Spain for Donana?

Also any chance of directions to Praia de Faro or is it easy to find on the maps?
There is nothing special you have to do with the car hire. You can just drive into Spain as if the border didn't exist, except that you have to put your clock forward one hour!

Praia de Faro is the easiest place to find in Portugal if you fly to Faro. It's clearly signposted on the roundabout right by the entrance to the airport. You don't go as far as the beach itself, it's the first open area of water you come. If you've been driving for more than 5 minutes you've missed it!

One tip which may be useful. As you drive towards Praia de Faro, you pass a pine wood on your right. Just as the trees end, the saltmarsh begins. If you park at the end of the trees, you get a good view over the saltmarsh, but also there is a big white gate which you can walk around, with an obvious track leading off into the distance. This track, which cuts right across the saltmarsh, takes you straight to Quinta de Lago, which is no more than a mile or so away. Lots of people use it, and unless you really want to drive the 10 miles to Quinta de Lago by road, it will save you a lot of driving. It's a great path to see birds from.
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Old Friday 21st November 2008, 15:14   #8
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Hi Colin,

I know it now. It is the first port of call out of the airport for me. I call it by Ludo Farm. A great spot to stop and take your coat and jumper off and be thankful for the sun and waders.

Thanks for the advice about the car. Did not realise it was that simple.

Cheers,
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Old Friday 21st November 2008, 15:39   #9
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Originally Posted by Andrew View Post
Hi Colin,

I know it now. It is the first port of call out of the airport for me. I call it by Ludo Farm. A great spot to stop and take your coat and jumper off and be thankful for the sun and waders.

Thanks for the advice about the car. Did not realise it was that simple.

Cheers,
Andrew.
I've called it Ludo Farm myself in the past, but Praia de Faro is signposted from the airport, so it's easier to explain. Also, the area I'm talking about is really between to two anyway, so who's to say what it's called?
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