Trip report: Southern Spain: The Europe Introtour (March 2016)

Guided by Lisle Gwynn. This was a set departure tour.

Although it has largely been overlooked by North American birders, birding in Spain remains almost a right of passage to European birders, with many cutting their world birding teeth in the Iberian Peninsula. This should be no surprise, as with fantastic birding, varied landscapes and habitats, great infrastructure, comfortable accommodation and superb food it has everything one needs for a great birding trip.

The focus of this tour is enjoying what is arguably the best birding in Europe, whilst also sampling the Mediterannean way of life. Imagine slowly making your way through the wildflower-filled fields of the open steppe in search of bustards and sandgrouse, watching dozens of giant Griffon Vultures pass by at arm’s length in a reserve world famous for its birds of prey, and scouring a seemingly endless wetland from a town that is straight from the wild west. Along the way we take in epic Iberian feasts of food and wine so local you can point at where the food and grapes came from, and enjoy picnic lunches of local hams, cheeses, fresh baked bread and other delights while taking in the stunning surroundings. That’s just part of what birding in Spain is about.
We began this year’s journey in the capital city of Madrid, making our way south into Extramedura and to our idyllic castle-like guesthouse, home for the next 3 nights. Here we experienced the warmest hospitality and some great food and wine whilst taking daily forays into the open steppe that surrounds us and the interior mountains of Monfrague National Park. We then moved south into the fabled province of Andalucia and the wild west town of El Rocio, where there seem to be as many horses as people and the streets are made of sand. Here we scoured the endless marshes, wetlands and grassland of the Donana National Park and searched the tidal marshes at Odiel. Seawatching and scoring lifers whilst gourging on a picnic lunch will be a lasting memory, as will the taste of beautiful Iberico and Serrano hams that haunts me every time I leave Spain. Until you’ve tasted Spanish food in Spain, you haven’t eaten Spanish food.
The birding was, as always, fantastic. I daren’t tally the number of times I’ve birded in Spain but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the birding here is always great. The stand out highlight for me was watching several large groups of lekking Great Bustards, complete with full marshmallow-like regalia. This is a spectacle every birder shouled experience at least once, and it was reflected in the Top 5 Birds of the Tour as voted by the participants:

1. Bluethroat
2. Great Bustard
3. Eurasian Wryneck
4. Spanish Imperial Eagle
5. Garganey

I think this list speaks for itself, but it doesn’t include other gems like Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Eurasian Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Red-knobbed Coot, Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Slender-billed and Audouin’s Gulls, Moustached Warbler, Bearded Reedling and Egyptian Vulture to name but a few.

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (3 MB file)