Ten participants plus one leader set off from Gatwick to Faro to meet Bob Buckler, already in Spain, and two others flying direct from Manchester.
Having picked up the vans we were quickly on our way towards the Coto Doñana seeing our first White Storks sitting on nests and in the fields as we drove east. A couple of stops on the way produced many wader species heading north, including a large flock of beautiful Red Knot in breeding plumage. Greater Flamingos were in small parties and Eurasian Spoonbills flew around carrying nesting material. Red-rumped Swallows flew alongside Barn Swallows, and Whiskered Terns flew over most patches of water. Spanish Wagtails, Zitting Cisticolas and three Sardinian Warblers plus our first of many Hoopoes enlivened the day.
A further stop involving a long drive down a very narrow isthmus, apparently occupied by the whole population of Spain fishing (it was a Sunday!) found us searching the gull flock for Audouin's Gulls. We were successful with up to 20 birds, including a very small individual. Then it was on to our hotel at Matalascañas for a four-night stay.
Next day, an early-morning sea watch produced Cory's and Mediterranean Shearwaters and a single distant Northern Gannet, while we were joined onshore by our first close Spotless Starlings and a Black Kite. After breakfast we started exploring the Coto Doñana properly. Woodchat Shrikes appeared to be everywhere, and Serin, Melodious and Great Reed Warblers, Crested Tit, Common Nightingale, European Bee-eater and the dark continental race of Long-tailed Tit were all added to our list. Lunch was taken (or should I say shared?) with a flock of Azure-winged Magpies. Highlights after lunch were three Little Bitterns, including a spectacularly bright individual. A visit to La Rocina produced our only Great White Egret of the trip, a flock of over 200 Eurasian Spoonbills and the largest flock of migrating Common Sandpipers I have ever seen – in excess of 20 birds. An evening drive having successfully located Red-necked Nightjars, we retired for the day.
Next day saw us exploring a different area of Doñana. Large numbers of Glossy Ibis, European Bee-eaters, Corn Buntings and in excess of 100 Collared Pratincoles followed an early visit to a White Stork colony. Hundreds of Black Kites in 'kettles' migrating northwards were scattered over the area, with Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks feeding along the track. A family of five Black-shouldered Kites entertained us in a low wooded valley. Much to everyone's delight, a close scrutiny at Cañada de Rianzuela eventually revealed two of our rarer target species, seven White-headed Ducks and two Marbled Teal.
The following day, a long drive to cross the river, via a traffic jam in Seville, took us to a very different area. An estuary added more waders to our list, including Kentish Plovers. A dry area around Laguna Espera had us ticking our first Black-eared Wheatears and our only Western Olivaceous Warblers.
Next morning we set off for the long drive to Extremadura. The Plains of Casares gave us Eurasian Griffon-vulture and Black Vulture, plus Booted and Short-toed Snake-agles and our first sightings of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, European Rollers and Great Spotted Cuckoos. Numerous Calandra Larks were also in display flight above us. Two stops along the Rio Almonte added Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Spanish Sparrow, Alpine and Pallid Swifts and Eurasian Crag-martin. A short stop at the Bullring in Trujillo added at least ten Lesser Kestrels. The hotel gave some problems, luckily all resolved, and we retired after a long but successful day.
A beautiful dawn drive took us to the Belen Plains, where scrutiny revealed ten Great and two Little Bustards before we returned to town for breakfast. A drive to Montfragüe NP took us through some wonderful scenery before we climbed up to the Castillo to get a closer look at the Eurasian Griffon-vultures. The surrounding area added Black Redstart, Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli's and Spanish Imperial Eagles, Rock Bunting and White-rumped Swifts. An evening meal in Trujillo Square rounded off a fine day.
More Great and Little Bustards, Black Vultures and Black-bellied Sandgrouse marked our final day in the north. New species added included Eurasian Thick-knee, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and close views of six Spectacled Warblers on a small area of heathland. A final stop added Common Waxbill and Red Avadavat before we set off back to the coast.
This brief summary can only give a glimpse of a wonderful, bird-filled trip. The spectacular fields of sunflowers, wild flowers and butterflies kept the all-round naturalists in the party occupied. If you want to explore the wildlife of southern Spain you should join Birdfinders next year!