Sky-islands of Andalucía

27 April - 4 May 2003

Teresa Farino

First of all, apologies to everyone as I cannot find my completed copy of the Travelling Naturalist Species Checklist from this tour, which seems to have disappeared when I moved house recently. The usual 'annotated' lists at the end of the report are unfortunately, therefore, just lists of the species seen during our trip, taken from my field notes, so if I have left anything out, please forgive me.

We recorded four species of mammal, 112 of bird, 10 'herptiles' and 26 butterflies. Although the mammals were, as usual, rather few and far between, we did have several good views of Spanish Ibex, especially the amazing male on our last day at the Torcal de Antequera.

The bird list had some notable absentees - for example, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie and Carrion Crow - but these rather commonplace birds were not missed amid our plethora of excellent sightings of colourful species such as European Bee-eater, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear and Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes. The visits to the wetlands of Espera and Fuente de Piedra did not let us down, with the Espera specialities of Purple Swamp-hen, Red-knobbed Coot and White-headed Duck very much in evidence, with several thousand Greater Flamingos and Gull-billed Terns the highlights at Fuente de Piedra.

But perhaps what will remain uppermost in most group members' minds were our superb encounters with a number of reptiles and amphibians; it's not often that you come literally face to face with such a variety of herptiles, notably Moorish Geckoes, Western Three-toed Skinks, both psammodromuses and Stripeless Tree Frogs, or have such excellent photographic opportunities.

Finally, another apology for the tardiness of this report. Its late arrival is due to the lack of time available in between the season's trips, the twins' summer holidays (in Spain, three months!) and a rather traumatic house move. Still, I hope that what follows will bring back some happy, albeit belated, memories of our week's wildlifing in Andalucía this spring.

Daily Diary

Sunday 27 April 2003

transfer from Málaga airport to Grazalema

The pick-up from Málaga airport went smoothly, and after we'd squeezed baggage and bodies into Teresa's 4WD, we set off for a service station 8km to the east, where we figured we could safely leave the vehicle while exploring the environs and partaking of a spot of lunch.

Strolling into the adjacent Aleppo pine Pinus halepensis forest, we almost immediately encountered a few spikes of small-flowered serapias Serapias parviflora and mirror ophrys Ophrys ciliata, plus several small 'herds' of bug orchid Orchis coriophora, growing together with such characteristic southern Iberian species as the graceful Afro-Iberian endemic crucifer Crambe filiformis, bladder vetch Tripodion tetraphyllum, ground-pine germander Teucrium pseudochamaepitys, the yellow-flowered Phlomis lychnitis and mallow-leaved bindweed Convolvulus althaeoides. The main shrub species were narrow-leaved and grey-leaved cistuses (Cistus monspeliensis & C. albida, respectively), the dusky-pink-flowered Phlomis purpurea and dwarf fan palm Chamaerops humilis. On the bird front, we tracked down our first Crested Tits, plus several European Turtle Doves and an abundance of European Serins and Sardinian Warblers.

After lunch we headed further up the hill in search of the irises Iris filifolia, with orange-centred purple flowers and grass-like leaves, that were reputed to occur here, finding just a few still in flower after the hot, dry spring. Here we also found a tiny Spanish festoon caterpillar feeding on the leaves of the birthwort Aristolochia paucinervis., with butterflies on the wing at the site including Clouded Yellow, some lovely male Moroccan Orange Tips, Spanish Marbled White, Painted Lady, Spanish Gatekeeper and Wall Brown.

Other invertebrates of interest were the mantis Empusa pennata, with a long head spike, as well as one of the more typical mantids, rather like the classic Praying Mantis Mantis religiosa, but by far the most exciting find was a couple of huge, probably flightless acridid (short-horned) grasshopper, with cigar-like bodies of the dimensions of my forefinger (almost 10cm long), which have to date defied all attempts at identification, despite the mug-shots which we took to bolster our claim in the face of disbelieving entomologists (including one on Di's arm)!

Approaching our destination - the lovely white village of Grazalema itself - Teresa had to stop to check out recurring patches of an eye-catching lovely pink-purple flower in the verges, which turned out to be mallow-flowered crane's-bill Geranium malviflorum (another Afro-Iberian endemic), where the surrounding cereal fields were also teeming with Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, European Goldfinches, Barn Swallows and Common House Martins.

Monday 28 April 2003

around Grazalema: old road, La Rana, cliffs above the town

The day dawned clear and sunny, and we strolled down to the look-out point in the car park of Grazalema, from which we could see for miles over the countryside to the east. On the cliffs beneath us we could see large clumps of one of Grazalema's botanical specialities: the frothy yellow-flowered crucifer Biscutella frutescens, as well as a mass of the annual valerian Centranthus macrosiphon, both of which are Afro-Iberian endemics.

The air was full of wheeling swifts and pallid swifts (in good light the coloration of the latter can be appreciated as being similar to the alpine swift's medium brown, and differing from the common swift's almost black feathering), and we could hear the Iberian Pool Frogs' rasping calls from the river below.

We then made our way down what was once the main road into the village: a cobbled mule track which zigzags down the face of the cliff to the 'new' road below. Interesting plants of our descent included the Afro-Iberian stonecrop Sedum mucizonia, the Spanish endemic yellow-flowered toadflax Linaria platycalyx, with leaves in whorls of three, cymbalaria-leaved speedwell Veronica cymbalaria, with tiny white flowers, and the yellow-flowered composite Hyoseris radiata.

Here too we found shining crane's-bill Geranium lucidum, shepherd's needle Scandix pecten-veneris, blue hound's-tongue Cynoglossum creticum, borage Borago officinalis and the composites Phagnalon saxatile and red star-thistle Centaurea calcitrapae, the latter extremely rare in the UK today. Near the bottom of the cliff we found intermediate periwinkle Vinca difformis and a few plants of the star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum orthophyllum, to the background music of the songs of Common Nightingales emanating from the riverside scrub, and Rosemary spotted a Spanish Festoon butterfly.

Growing on the cliffs at the foot of the path were some splendid clumps of the Spanish endemic knapweed Centaurea clementei, with jagged silvery leaves and golden flowers, and the pink-flowered Stachys circinata, unique to Iberia. A splendid male Black Wheatear was also spotted by Terry here, making its way up the cliff, with birds in the air overhead including Red-billed Choughs and Eurasian Crag Martins. Di was the first to locate the Spanish Ibex which Teresa was expecting to see here - a group of three - as well as our first Eurasian Griffon Vultures of the week.

After having tracked down a fine male Melodious Warbler in a bush, Teresa left the others exploring the riverine habitats - where they encountered Iberian Pool Frogs and a splendid Viperine Snake -while she went back up the track to collect the car. Reunited once more, we headed off to an area of damp pastures known as La Rana, where we spent the rest of the morning delighting in the floristic diversity of this area of rough grassland.

A host of new orchid species was found here, to Rosemary's delight, including Lange's Orchis mascula ssp. hispanica, champagne Orchis morio ssp. champagneuxii, dense-flowered Neotinea maculata and common tongue Serapias lingua, as well as sawfly, yellow, bumble-bee and woodcock ophrys (Ophrys tenthredinifera, O. lutea, O. bombyliflora & O. scolopax, respectively), plus two other ophrys species: O. dyris and O. sphegifera. Other highlights here included tassel hyacinth Muscari comosum, the splendid Portuguese squill Scilla peruviana, the blue-flowered hairy lupin Lupinus micranthus, spotted rock-rose Xolantha guttata and fedia Fedia cornucopiae.

We had a great 'reptile experience' here, with a Western Three-toed Skink in the hand and prolonged views of both Large and Spanish Psammodromuses, while butterflies on the wing included more Spanish Festoons, Small Heath, Common Blue, Small Copper and Spanish Brown Argus. The birds were very much in the background as most eyes were cast downwards, with only distinctive calls attracting our attention, including those of Eurasian Wryneck, European Green Woodpecker and Golden Oriole. During lunch, taken under a nearby western holm oak Quercus ilex ssp. ballota, we also saw a Southern Grey Shrike, while a flock of European Bee-eaters flew past.

After lunch we made a quick foray into a different part of La Rana, encountering the slender white-flowered spikes of the Afro-Iberian endemic Anthericum baeticum, paper-white daffodils Narcissus papyraceus and rosy garlic Allium roseum, before heading back to Grazalema for a quick look at the shady cliffs above the village. New plants were still appearing thick and fast, including naked man orchid Orchis italica, some not-quite-out lizard orchids Himantoglossum hircinum and Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica as well as the catchfly Silene andryalifolia, star hawkbit Rhagadiolus stellatus, white henbane Hyoscyamus albus and elder-leaved figwort Scrophularia sambucifolia.

A mossy grotto in the cliff was home to some lush cushions of the Afro-Iberian endemic saxifrage Saxifraga globulifera and the Spanish endemic S. bourgeana, while the cliffs above were studded with hundreds of one-sided spikes of white-nodding bells of Ornithogalum reverchonii, found only in the Serranía de Ronda and north Africa. All in all, a superb haul for our first full day in Grazalema.

Tuesday 29 April 2003

Villaluenga del Rosario & La Manga/Salto del Cabrero

A rather more 'birdy' morning, as we set off in bright sunshine once again towards Villaluenga del Rosario, stopping en route to watch European Bee-eaters swooping over an open section of river, where we also saw Southern Grey Shrike, Blue Rock Thrush (located by Terry) and some perched Eurasian Griffon Vultures on the cliffs high above, as well as hearing our first Common Cuckoo of the trip.

Soon we arrived at the valley known as La Manga (the sleeve), near Villaluenga del Rosario, where rain-laden winds often whistle up from the Atlantic to drench visiting British naturalists. Today, however, the weather was fine and we revelled in the sunshine. New birds on offer here included a splendid pair of Black-eared Wheatears, Di spotting the male by in the first instance, as well as Eurasian Linnets and Spotless Starlings galore, singing Winter Wrens and a pair of Cirl Buntings, but the highlight was undoubtedly the superb Bonelli's Eagle that cruised along the ridge to the west, being mobbed by a pair of Common Kestrels (again spotted by Di). A little later on we encountered a brilliantly-coloured male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and watched enthralled as a second Bonelli's Eagle sailed along the same ridge.

Plant-wise, a range of new species was on offer, although the heavily-grazed nature of the roadside strip of grassland obviously had a lot to answer for. We found the seed-pods and leaves of the Mediterranean form of autumn crocus Colchicum lusitanum, love-in-a-mist Nigella damascena, an annual rock-rose with woody capsules which we later identified as Helianthemum ledifolium, soft stork's-bill Erodium malacoides, the highly-fragrant round-headed thyme Thymus mastichina, glandular plantain Plantago afra, corn marigold Chrysanthemum segetum and last, but by no means least, a large example of the spectacular white-leaved, pink-and-blue-flowered cylinders of Echium albicans: one of southwest Spain's most charismatic plants.

As we were examining the roadside limestone outcrops for their botanical interest, we also had close encounters with several reptiles, including a female Large Psammodromus, an Iberian Wall Lizard and a pair of Moorish Geckoes, spotted by Jill, which everybody managed to get good photos of bar Teresa.

We stopped for a mid-morning snack at the lower end of La Manga and then continued heading south, where Di spotted a Woodchat Shrike, Terry another male Rock Thrush and Teresa two new butterflies for the trip: False Baton Blue (a female) and Lorquin's Blue (a male), the latter being her first ever individual of this species for Grazalema (and she's been here a fair few times!). We also saw another group of Spanish Ibex, comprising two females and a couple of young.

Lunch was taken at a handy viewpoint, complete with picnic table, from which we spent some time examining another fine Woodchat Shrike in the top of a nearby western holm oak, Di located a Short-toed Eagle, flying away to the south, and we munched away surrounded by the myriad songs of Common Nightingales.

After lunch we headed off to the village of Benaocaz, from which we followed the trail towards the Salto del Cabrero, through Mediterranean evergreen scrub alive with birds: new for the week were Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch and Grey Wagtail. Having taken note of the three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum growing by the bridge, we arrived at an area of extremely damp pastures - unfortunately at about the same time as a large and noisy party of Spanish schoolkids - where we were delighted by our first Spanish irises Iris xiphium, Barbary nut Gymnandriris sisyrinchium, loose-flowered orchids Orchis laxiflora and white asphodels Asphodelus albus. Here too were a plethora of by-now familiar monocots such as yellow and sawfly ophrys, common tongue orchids, Portuguese squill and Ornithogalum orthophyllum, and the marshy grassland was literally swarming with Western Three-toed Skinks.

Although it was fairly late in the day, we opted to continue up the hill to the Salto del Cabrero (goatherd's leap) itself, en route encountering the rue Ruta angustifolia, honeywort Cerinthe major and the delightful, white-flowered Omphalodes commutata, which is unique to the Serranía de Ronda and Grazalema. An Iberian black pig sporting a tinkling bell 'earring' accompanied us for part of the way, and we also had further views of Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and our first Common Stonechats. We also found a small colony of Ruby-tailed Wasps (Chrysis sp.).

Once at the top of the climb, we traversed the rock-strewn plateau, studded with evergreen oaks, tracking down several large Ocellated Lizards of both sexes en route, although they were rather too wary to provide decent photographic opportunities, and having a brief encounter with a Eurasian Hoopoe. Eventually we arrived at our destination: dozens of clumps of saucer-sized western peonies Paeonia broteri, which were indeed the focus of all cameras. On the descent we surprised a group of Rock Sparrows, and finally located the much-sought-after Aristolochia baetica which had evaded us on the way up, growing amid wild jasmine Jasminum fruticans, butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus and two members of the pistachio family: lentisc Pistacia lentiscus and turpentine tree P. terebinthus.

Wednesday 30 April 2003

Pinsapar: Grazalema to Benamahoma

In contrast to almost all of Teresa's previous trips to Grazalema, when she has had to explore the pinsapar in low cloud and driving rain, the day once again dawned sunny.. In fact, by the end of our walk, the first symptoms of heat stroke were beginning to make themselves felt in a few of the group (soon fended off by a prolonged visit to the bar in Benamahoma, however!).

The plant-life of the rocky limestone ascent through the pine plantations gave us plenty of excuses to pause for breath, with many new plants for us to delight over: felty germander Teucrium polium, the mat-forming bedstraw relative Putoria calabrica, shrubby gromwell Lithodora fruticosa, the scroph. Chaenorhinum villosum and cushions of the shrubby, spiny hare's-ear Bupleurum spinosum. New among the monocots were blue aphyllanthes Aphyllanthes monspeliensis (a rush-like member of the lily family whose flowers only open in full sunshine) and grape-hyacinth Muscari neglectum.

As we ascended we all had reasonable views of Rock Bunting, although the several calling Western Bonelli's Warblers remained secreted in the pines. Di spotted a Black-eyed Blue, and we also came across a glow-worm - probably a female, although these are very much like the larvae.

We paused at the top of the pass to munch biscuits and admire the views of the pinsapar ahead, at the same time scouting around for new species, which here included the subspecies olbiensis of early purple orchid, as well as dull ophrys Ophrys fusca. As we continued on our way, contouring along a small path in the lee of north face of Torreón, the highest peak in the park, more new plants awaited us, including spring rock-cress Arabis verna, with pinky-purple flowers, another, candytuft-like crucifer with white flowers called Jonopsidium prolongoi (an Afro-Iberian endemic), the Iberian endemic saxifrage Saxifraga haenseleri, the red-berried mistletoe Viscum cruciatum (not yet in fruit) and the diminutive rush-leaved jonquil Narcissus assoanus ssp. praelongus.

Here too were more Spanish bluebells, a lovely yellow-flowered treacle-mustard which goes by the name of Erysimum rondae (again unique to Iberia), grass-leaved buttercup Ranunculus gramineus, a scattering of tiny yellow violets Viola demetria, and two rather more familiar British species: stinking hellebore Helleborus foetidus and stinking iris Iris foetidissima. There were even a few orchids laid on for Rosemary's benefit, namely dense-flowered and Barton's Dactylorhiza insularis, growing amid some large hummocks of hedgehog broom Erinacea anthyllis, known locally as 'mother-in-law's cushion'. Few birds were in evidence along this stretch of the walk, although we did turn up Dartford Warbler and a lovely male Black Redstart, with Terry and Rosemary claiming Subalpine Warbler a little later on.

Eventually we reached the pinsapar. The deep shade cast by the forest means that little grows here: the undergrowth is dominated by spurge laurel Daphne laureola, wild madder Rubia peregrina and honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, with patches of colour being provided by the yellow composite leopard's-bane Doronicum plantagineum and a couple of spikes of sword-leaved helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia. A little later in the year the floor is ablaze with scarlet peonies Paeonia coriacea, found only in Iberia, although the plants we saw were still tightly furled in bud.

In the depths of the forest, we listened to the calls of Firecrest, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker, although good views of these were all but impossible amid the dense foliage of the Spanish firs Abies pinsapo. This was also the only place where we heard Roe Deer calling in the course of the week. We ate lunch in the shelter of the forest before emerging onto the coll high above Benamahoma.

As we started our descent, now amid scattered Lusitanian Quercus faginea and western holm oaks, we came across several new plants, including the yellow-blossomed shrubby scorpion-vetch Coronilla glauca, the avens Geum sylvaticum and palmate anemone Anemone palmata. More western peonies livened up the understorey, and as we reached the more Mediterranean climate of the valley bottom, we also made the acquaintance of strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, lygos Retama sphaerocarpa, oleander Nerium oleander, annual scorpion-vetch Coronilla scorpioides and large yellow restharrow Ononis natrix, as well as that of the evil-smelling shrub known as bean trefoil Anagyris foetida. Less obvious were the swathes of sword-leaved helleborines and dense-flowered orchids secreted in the undergrowth, where Terry also spotted a bee orchid Ophrys apifera. More exciting for Teresa, however, were the clumps of crimson-flowered Cytinus ruber, parasitising the grey-leaved cistus.

During the descent, a number of butterflies were seen taking advantage of the warm, sunny conditions: Spanish Festoons, Clouded Yellows, Wood Whites, Orange Tips and Moroccan Orange Tips, Cleopatras, a pair of Black-eyed Blues, Speckled Woods, Wall Browns and Small Heaths. Rosemary also located a fine pair of Cirl Buntings, an Ocellated Lizard put in an appearance, and numerous Eurasian Griffon Vultures were seen circling overhead in the thermals.

Just at the entrance to the village we made a couple more exciting finds: Di spotted some enormous man orchids Aceras anthropophorum, and Rosemary the delightful Jersey fern Anogramma leptophylla, growing on a dry-stone wall. Common Nightingales and Cetti's Warblers heralded our proximity to the river, and continued to provide the background music to our protracted stay in the bar while we waited for Rafa to come and pick us up.

Thursday 1 May

Embalse de Bornos/Lagunas de Espera

Another fine day saw us heading out of Grazalema via El Bosque to explore a couple of wetland habitats to the west. Our first stop was the tail end of the Bornos reservoir, which in previous (much wetter) years has hosted a magnificent colony of Black-crowned Night Herons. Today however, the tamarisks where the nests used to be were high and dry, and what is usually underwater proved to be a thistly pasture, across which we strolled towards the road-bridge and a small swampy area beyond.

Crested Larks, House Sparrows, Common Stonechats and European Serins were the predominant pasture birds, but a distant pool proved to be occupied by several smart Black-winged Stilts. Red-rumped Swallows were obviously nesting under the bridge, swooping past our heads at arm's length as we approached the swamp beyond, where we delighted to encounter a gorgeous Eurasian Spoonbill (at least 5 birds were seen during our sojourn here), as well as Cattle Egret and Grey Heron, with a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons seen flying along the course of the nearby river. Melodious Warbler and Common Sandpiper were also seen here, the latter at very close range, as well as our first Rabbits, spotted by Jill.

Having headed back to the car, we made a short detour to see if we could explode any squirting cucumbers Ecballium elaterium, but the bristle fruits were too young. Some colourful stands of the yellow-and-white-flowered woundwort Stachys ocymastrum, chicory Cichorium intybus, Syrian thistle Notobasis syriaca, milk thistle Silybum marianum, crown daisy Chrysanthemum coronarium and the rather similar Coleostephus myconis were also located here.

Birdwatching en route to Espera we encountered Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-legged Partridge and a fine dark-phase Booted Eagle, with the track leading down to the lagoons themselves turning up Yellow Wagtails galore in the surrounding arable fields, as well as Zitting Cisticola and calling Common Quail.

We stopped just short of the first lagoon - Hondilla - on a low rise which gave us excellent views of the small waterbody where we saw almost all the waterbirds for which Espera is renowned, making the rest of the day rather anticlimactic. A scattering of duck proved to include Gadwall, Mallard, both Common and Red-crested Pochard and a pair of White-headed Duck (located by Rosemary), as well as both Common and Red-knobbed Coot (the latter first spotted by Di), a solitary Purple Swamp-hen (well, we only saw one!), several Little Grebes and a single Great Crested Grebe. A Little Bittern obliged us by flying across the lagoon, while the surrounding reedbeds echoed to the harsh calls of Great Reed Warblers.

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the sight to enjoy a cool lunch under the shade of the only tree for miles around (an olive), during which we were visited by several trundling red-and-black-striped oil beetles Berberomeloe majalis, a Swallowtail and a Hummingbird Hawk-moth.

After lunch we headed along the track which leads to the second lagoon, noting en route the pink and white spikes of bellardia Bellardia trixago, the delicate annual bellflower Campanula erinus, the composite Asteriscus aquaticus, yellow gromwell Neatostema apulum and a rampant mat of squirting cucumber. A light-phase Booted Eagle and a female/juvenile Western Marsh Harrier were notable avian encounters, with Di yet again spotting a Short-toed Eagle, while birds on the second lagoon itself included a hoard of Black-necked Grebes and more Gadwall, Common and Red-Crested Pochards and White-headed Duck. Several flights of European Turtle Doves caught our eye, while the air was alive with the songs of Common Nightingales, Great Reed and Cetti's Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas. A small well turned out to harbour Iberian Pool Frogs and two small European Pond Terrapins, and a moth that Teresa picked up near the path was the lovely Crimson Speckled Utethesia pulchella.

The third lagoon held similar species to the second, although in lesser numbers, contrasting with previous, drier years, when almost all of the Purple Swamp-hens and Red-knobbed Coots had taken refuge in its deeper waters. Gladiolus communis, Ornithogalum narbonense and the Afro-Iberian endemic labiate Cleonia lusitanica were among the floral highlights here, with our first (and only) Bath White of the trip also found in this area. On the way back we tried the well again, in case the terrapins (which had previously dived for cover at the first sign of our approach) had resurfaced, but instead turned up three Viperine Snakes and a Moorish Gecko. At least three Western Marsh Harriers circling over the second lagoon accompanied us almost to the car, our return trip otherwise enlivened by a smart Woodchat Shrike and a Large Psammodromus.

We backtracked to the village of Espera itself, where we spotted a Little Owl on a barn roof, and then returned, well-satisfied, to Grazalema, pausing briefly for a photo-stop near Zahara de la Sierra.

Friday 2 May

Old Road to Ronda/Acinipo/Cueva de Gata-Hundidero

The morning, once again bright sunshine, was spent walking up an old cobbled (now mostly concreted) trail over the ridge opposite Montejaque, which once led to Ronda. Of greatest botanical interest were possibly the magnificent Spanish irises, nestling in pockets of soil in the rugged limestone outcrop, with the arable land at the foot of the path turning up the labiate Ajuga iva and corn buttercup Ranunculus arvensis. Rock Bunting, Eurasian Griffon Vultures and Red-billed Chough provided the main bird interest. Having descended, we had planned to visit the Cueva de la Pileta, but owing to a misunderstanding about times, were unable to gain entrance.

Instead we headed off to a bar near the entrance to the Gata-Hundidero cave complex, famous for its hundred thousand or so Schreiber's bats, where we sat on the terrace and admired the antics of a large flock (50-60 birds) of Alpine Swifts. Following the waiter's instructions, we had lunch near the mouth of the cave, to the sound of the rushing river, at whose edge we spotted a couple of Stripe-necked Terrapins basking on a mat of broken reeds, and which was occupied by some huge, carp-like fish. A Blue Rock Thrush posed conveniently on the chimney-stack of the adjacent building for most of the duration.

After lunch we made a foray to the cave entrance - where the river rushes out of the darkness in a great torrent and makes further progress impossible except to speleologists - noting the very authentic-looking Rock Doves roosting on the cliff to the rear, and the constant tooing and froing of numerous Eurasian Crag Martins, indicating that they too found this an acceptable nest site.

We decided to end the day with a visit to the Roman settlement at Acinipo (Old Ronda), noting en route a kettle of over 100 Eurasian Griffon Vultures and two close-up European Bee-eaters, as well as pausing in a likely-looking patch of evergreen oak forest to search for Violet Limodores Limodorum abortivum. Despite Teresa's never having been here before, she struck lucky, as Di soon found the limodores, after which she proceeded to discover (probably by scent!) an extremely dead adult Wild Boar, the cause of whose demise caused some speculation.

We arrived at Acinipo at just 20 minutes before closing time (it just wasn't our day!), which just gave us time to sprint up to the magnificent cliff-top location of the amphitheatre, noting two pairs of 'grounded' Red-billed Choughs, a Common Raven, a few Thekla Larks perched on piles of excavated stones, and a Berger's Clouded Yellow in the process. When we came to head for home, the warden gave us very misleading instructions, such that we wandered around the narrow lanes of the hills for some time before heading back to Grazalema via a road adjacent to which was a pasture absolutely stuffed with the magnificent pink-flowered umbels of broad-leaved leek Allium nigrum, mostly over half a metre tall.

Saturday 3 May

Grazalema reservoir/Sierra del Endrinal

A stroll up through the picturesque streets of Grazalema itself, to join up with the route up to the reservoir, furnished us with excellent close-up views of a singing Common Nightingale. Once out of the village and onto a narrow rocky trail, we came across the white-woolly mercury Mercurialis tomentosa, more Echium albicans, both male and female Iberian Wall Lizards and a female Lorquin's Blue. Around the margins of the reservoir we were rewarded with a number of immaculate Stripeless Tree Frogs, in various poses on the marginal vegetation, and some veritable granddaddy Iberian Pool Frogs, as well as a large Viperine Snake swimming across the waterbody.

From the reservoir we heady up to a grassy coll, en route finding many spikes of yellow and sawfly ophrys and Ophrys sphegifera, plus Lange's orchid, small-flowered serapias and Spanish bluebell, but the highlight was undoubtedly a copulating pair of Knapweed Fritillaries in a sheltered hollow. Teresa then rushed back to get the car (and lunch) which we ate overlooking a muddy patch visited almost continuously by dozens of Common House Martins, amid a carpet of common tongue orchids.

The afternoon was spent in a foray across the magnificent limestone plateau of the Sierra del Endrinal, where highlights on the plant front included masses of very photographable Saxifraga bourgeana and Biscutella frutescens on a shady cliff and large expanses of hedgehog broom. The birds, for once, were extremely accommodating, giving us good views of Dartford and Sardinian Warblers, a pair of Black-eared Wheatears, a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes, a male Rock Thrush and a flock of Rock Sparrows. An encounter with a female/winter-plumage male flycatcher in the pines at the bottom of the hill was fairly inconclusive, as it wasn't right for either Spotted or European Pied (the latter occurring only on passage here); Teresa freely admits that she just hasn't the experience to triumph in these more difficult birding moments.

Sunday 4 May

Fuente de Piedra/Torcal de Antequera

All to soon it was our last day and, amazingly, the weather had remained fine for us the whole week: almost unheard of in Grazalema at this time of year! We set off bright and early towards our first port of call on the way to the airport: the enormous endorheic lagoon of Fuente de Piedra, home to Spain's (and, in some years, Western Europe's) largest Greater Flamingo colony. Just to the north of Campillos we encountered at least four Montagu's Harriers quartering the fields, with Red-rumped Swallows and a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes also enlivening the journey.

Once at the lagoon Teresa established that this year there were just 8, 000 established pairs of flamingos (and a total of 19,000 birds), as compared to the 18,000 pairs which reared 10,500 chicks here in 2002, the drop in numbers obviously being due to the low water levels which make part of the usual nesting territory accessible to predators.

The broad muddy margins of the lagoon harboured a number of busily feeding waders, however, including Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Little Stint, Northern Lapwing and Black-winged Stilt, with a number of probable Spotted Redshanks which were just out of conclusive 'scope range and steadfastly refused to fly. Above our heads a number of Gull-billed Terns cruised back and forth; up to 400 pairs of which nest at Fuente de Piedra in a good year.

Having exhausted the birding possibilities of the mud, we made our way across a piece of arable land until we could overlook the two freshwater lagoons that are also part of the Fuente de Piedra complex. En route we turned up such typical 'weeds' as prickly poppy Papaver argemone, spiked fumitory Platycapnos spicata, mandrake Mandragora autumnalis (leaf rosettes only as this species - as its name suggests - is autumn-flowering) and Nonea vesicaria.

On this occasion the freshwater lagoons did not provide the bird interest that Teresa had hoped for, producing only a dozen or so pairs of nesting Black-headed Gulls and Black-winged Stilts and a few incidentals such as two Little Egrets (our first of the trip, however) and a pair of Common Pochard. As such, we called it a day and headed off towards the Torcal de Antequera in search of a quiet place to have lunch. The masses of Sunday picnickers made this harder than we had thought, but eventually we negotiated a muddy track and found some relative solitude.

We just had time left for a quick excursion to the top of the Torcal, which was again beset by day-trippers, but even so, while we were photographing some splendid purple-flowered Iris lutescens ssp. subbiflora, we were amazed to see a huge-horned male Spanish Ibex leisurely rise from his crag-top resting place and stroll through across the road just yards from the busy car-park: a fitting end to our sojourn in southwestern Spain.

Fauna lists


Wild Boar Sus scrofa

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus

Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica hispanica

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus


Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus

Black-necked (Eared) Grebe Podiceps nigricollis

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala

Gadwall Anas strepera

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina

Common Pochard Aythya ferina

Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus

Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

Bonelli's Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus

Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Purple Swamp-hen Porphyrio porphyrio

Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata

Common Coot Fulica atra

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos

Little Stint Calidris minuta

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

(Common) Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus

Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica

Rock Dove Columba livia

Common Woodpigeon Columba palumbus

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

Barn Owl Tyto alba

European Scops Owl Otus scops

Little Owl Athene noctua

Alpine Swift Apus melba

Common Swift Apus apus

Pallid Swift Apus pallidus

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops

Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis

Crested Lark Galerida cristata

Thekla Lark Galerida theklae

Wood Lark Lullula arborea

Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica

Common House Martin Delichon urbica

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava

White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea

Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius

Common Blackbird Turdus merula

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus

European Robin Erithacus rubecula

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata rubicola

Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

'W' Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica

Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed W.) Cisticola juncidis

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus

Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta

Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus brehmii

Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata

Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus

Crested Tit Parus cristatus

Coal Tit Parus ater

Great Tit Parus major

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla

Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius

Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax

Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula

Common Raven Corvus corax

Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor

Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra

Rock Bunting Emberiza cia

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs

European Serin Serinus serinus

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia

Reptiles & Amphibians

European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis

Stripe-necked Terrapin Mauremys leprosa

Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritanica

Western Three-toed Skink Chalcides striatus

Ocellated Lizard Lacerta lepida

Iberian Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanica

Large Psammodromus Psammodromus algirus

Spanish Psammodromus Psammodromus hispanicus

Viperine Snake Natrix maura

Iberian Pool Frog Rana perezi


Swallowtail Papilio machaon

Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius feisthamelii

Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina

Wood White Leptidea sinapis

Berger's Clouded Yellow Colias alfacariensis

Clouded yellow Colias crocea

Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra

Western Dappled White Euchloe crameri crameri

Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines

Moroccan Orange Tip Anthocharis belia euphenoides

Large White Pieris brassicae

Bath White Pontia daplidice

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta

Painted Lady Vanessa (Cynthia) cardui

Knapweed Fritillary Melitaea phoebe

Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria

Wall Brown Lasiommata megera

Spanish GatekeeperPyronia bathsheba

Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus

Spanish Marbled White Melanargia ines

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas

Black-eyed Blue Glaucopsyche melanops

False Baton Blue Pseudophilotes abencerragus

Lorquin's Blue Cupido lorquinii

Spanish Brown Argus Aricia agestis cramera

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus

Teresa Farino

© The Travelling Naturalist 2003