Trip report southeast Spain 14-23 March 2017 birding and geology
John van der Woude
In fine weather, with a good rental car, and with help of the app for finding hotels, Nollie and I set out for a ten-day trip in southeast Spain, a part of Spain where we had not been before (except in Granada long ago). For finding the best nature areas we used Montero's Where to watch birds in Spain and the brand new Crossbill Guide Eastern Andalucía. Also, I checked and for a few recent sightings, especially of bustards.
I entered bird sightings in with the field app Obsmapp. This app is much easier to use for single observations than the app for eBird. So I hope I will once find an Excel conversion tool from observado to ebird. The output list of our records in can be found here (Dutch version here). Please also try the overview of all our sightings in Google Earth (or other map tool), with the kml output of (Dutch version here). When going there yourself, it will be useful to load this kml in a smartphone app like, not necessarily for the sightings but more for finding location details of the sites you want to visit, inasfar needed apart from the info in Montero's book and the Crossbill guide.
Spain is still good value-for-money and one of the best European countries for birders and other nature lovers. We flew with Transavia Amsterdam-Alicante. Our rental car was a new Europcar Kia Cee'd Diesel arranged via Sunnycars, for only EUR 185 for 9x24 hours including all insurance.  Hotels via (mostly booked on the day itself) were around EUR 50 in this low season, and they were good, often including an extensive breakfast or for an additional EUR 5 or so. Our main meals mostly were a fast and vast mid-afternoon menu del día for around EUR 10. In the evenings we just took a beer with some tapas or simple snacks. Driving is easy, as the roads are the best in Europe in my opinion, and the traffic is quiet.
The most important bird species of southeast Spain is probably Trumpeter Finch (Woestijnvink). The dry region around Almería is the only place where it occurs in Europe. We had seen in in Morocco before, but seeing it in Europe is a different thing! It is not guaranteed as it wanders around a lot, but we found it, albeit after several efforts.
Visited sites:
1 = Saliñas de Santa Pola
2 = El Hondo reserve
3 = Lagunas de Campotéjar
4 = Cabo de Gata
5 = Desierto de Tabernas
6 = Castro de Filabres road
7 = Gorafe
8 = Baza steppe
9 = Embalse de Negratin
10 = Sierra de Cazorla, mountain road JF-7091
11 = Sierra de Cazorla, Rio Borosa valley
12 = Albacete plains, 'Camino Derecho'
13 = Albacete plains, road AB-2201

As noted above, use the kml file to see exact location details of these sites and the bird observations.
For sites 1+2, 3, 4, 10+11 and 12 see also the maps below.

Saliñas de Santa Pola and El Hondo reserve:
1 = road from Alicante airport and the conveniently situated Ibis hotel
2 = P for the saliñas, at the tower (see photo below)
3 = park here along dirt road to walk over dam towards the beach, passing the best wader spot
4 = park here at small sluice to try the trails into the reeds for the hides - if water level allows
5 = El Hondo reserve information centre (NE of San Felipe) and start of good marsh trails
6 = Casa Pepe restaurant in Dolores, good and lively for the menu del día around 14:00/15:00 h

Lagunas de Campotéjar:
1 = the lagoons
2 = leave main road here
3 = highway from Murcia
4 = TCH hotel (business hotel with good deals at

Cabo de Gata:
1 = Blanca Brisa hotel
2 = information centre and steppe
3 = start of long track into steppe
4 = creek (ramblas)
5 = lagoons
6 = mountain pass, park at several spots and scan for Trumpeter Finch
7 = P for seawatching
8 = find this dirt road to Playa der Mónsul
9 = P at barrier and continue dirt road on foot westward for chance of Trumpeter Finch (our sighting was here)

Cazorla mountains:
1 = hotel Sierra de Cazorla in La Iruela, 2 km past Cazorla town
2 = leave main road here for the long mountain road
3 = keep driving on this mountain road, take a whole day for it
4 = to Rio Borosa valley

Albacete steppes (= former steppes but still good)
1 = Camino Derecho, straight dirt road, good for Great Bustard
2 = lagoon and surroundings
3 = small lagoons
4 = road AB-2201 (see at photos at bottom: our Little Bustard and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse)
5 = Chinchilla castle

Saliñas de Santa Pola with old (partly restored) tower.

Yellow-legged Gulls

Slender-billed Gull (Dunbekmeeuw).

Iberian Yellow Wagtail near the tower.

Southern Grey Shrike (Iberische Klapekster) and Scarce Swallowtail (Koningspage) in the dune reserve south of the Saliñas de Santa Pola. Also several Serins (Europese Kanaries) singing here (and later on the trip many more in the hills).

White-headed Ducks (Witkopeend) seen from a hide along the south rim of the El Hondo reserve. Along the trail to the hide also Penduline Tit (Buidelmees).

El Hondo reserve behind the visitor centre near San Felipe. The reserve is also called El Fondo.

Flamingoes are abundant in SE Spain.

Pallid Swift (Vale Gierzwaluw) above the visitor centre. Must have just arrived, we saw them hardly anymore on this trip. Probably these marshes produce so much insect food for them that they stay here for a while. Also Red-rumped Swallow here.

Marbled Duck (Marmereend). There is a breeding program here to save them from extinction in Spain, but this one was far from the breeding centre.

Good long trails start at the visitor centre of El Hondo. This one brings you a bit closer to the centre part of this otherwise restricted-access reserve.

Now at the Lagunas de Campotéjar N of Murcia, with Black-necke Grebe (Geoorde Fuut). A site I only became aware of via Many swallows and martins feeding here, apparently having just arrived from Africa. Also Hoopoe nearby, and Cetti's Warbler in the reeds.

House Martin.

Barn Swallow.

Bank Swallow (Oeverzwaluw).

Sardinian Warbler (Kleine Zwartkop) was common in many areas on this trip.

Alpine Swift (Alpengierzwaluw) was also feeding above these Campotéjar ponds, before going up to the mountains.

Broomrape (Bremraap, Orobanche) and one of the many Thekla Larks (photo below) of this trip. At a stop on our way to Cabo de Gata. At this site was also our only singing Greater Short-toed Lark (Kortteenleeuwerik).

The dry steppe-like plain behind the Cabo de Gata. A nice walk to try to find the Trumpeter Finch (Woestijnvink), but not found yet. Our only Tawny Pipit (Duinpieper) here, and another Southern Grey Shrike. The Cabo de Gata rock is visible to the left.

After another try for Trumpeter Finch, this time at the famous Desierto de Tabernas (where we soon gave up as the water level in the normally dry river beds was too high to walk) we visited the nice valley up to Castro de Filabres. Several Iberian Green Woodpecker in this valley, plus Black Wheatear and this Little Owl.

Small rivers, also temporary ones, are called ramblas here. This is the Ramblas Morales, very close to the little town of our Blanca Brisa hotel (San Miguel de Cabo de Gata). The dry area to the left was said to be good for wandering Trumpeter Finch sometimes. Not now, but we had Lesser Short-toed Lark, Southern Grey Shrike, Subalpine Warbler (Baardgrasmus), Marsh Harrier and Garganey (Zomertaling), a nice combination. In the town Spotless Starling (Zwarte Spreeuw) and along the beach our only Audouin's Gulls.

Another of the many Thekla Larks. The thin spiky crest and the heavy stripes on the breast separate it from the very similar Crested Lark.

A must-visit in the Cabo de Gata area is, apart from the cape with the lighthouse, the dirt road ALP-822 from San José westward towards the cape. This dirt road ends for cars 4 km before it would reach the cape. Park there at the P at the barrier (not earlier) and walk 1 or 2 km of the remaining 4 km to have another chance for Trumpeter Finch according to the Crossbill Guide Eastern Andalucía.

One of the surprisingly few Western Black-eared Wheatears (Blonde Tapuit) of the trip was along this dirt road.

View from the dirt road after the barrier. This is one of Spain's most interesting areas in terms of geology and landscape, with a lot of old vulcanism and a semi-desert climate. Now it was pretty green (it had rained a lot before our trip) but this will not last very long.

Basalt pillars testify of the vulcanism in late Tertiary times.

And there it was, feeding on some lost cereals along the dirt road: Trumpeter Finch (Woestijnvink).

After a few minutes, the two Trumpeter Finches flew down some distance towards the sea and we would probably never have detected them there.

Also present in this area, and seen on this trip more often than any previous trip to Spain, was Black Wheatear (Zwarte Tapuit).

View from the car park at the end of the dirt road from San José. Several Crag Martins (Rotszwaluw) here.

Another Thekla Lark somewhere along the road after leaving the Cabo de Gata area.

Later in the afternoon we visited the Gorafe valley on our way to Baza. Ibex on the plateau rim above the gorge. On this plateau are some megalithic remnants but we were not very impressed by those.

Close encounter with a Golden Eagle (Steenarend), which apparently comes down from the Cazorla mountains to this quiet plateau for a snack.

The plateau has nice dehesa remnants, where we saw a group of 80 (!) Red-billed Chough (Alpenkraai).

The towns in this Guadix-Baza region have many houses built in front of (and partly consisting of) caves. Funnily, several chimneys arise not from the houses but from the ground behind the houses.

The Crossbill guide mentions the plains northeast of Baza as a good steppe area. So we went there in the morning but there are only a few patches of steppe-like vegetation left. Still, we saw our only Spectacled Warbler (Brilgrasmus) of the trip just here.

So we drove on towards the Cazorla mountains and had a nice stop at the dam of the Negratin reservoir, with true Rock Doves (photo below; Rotsduif)) and Blue Rock Thrush (Blauwe Rotslijster). Also Short-tailed Eagle (Slangenarend) and Griffon Vulture (Vale Gier) in the air.

After arrival in our very nice (and good value-for-money) hotel Sierra de Cazorla we made a late afternoon reconnaisance drive up the mountains along the JF-7091, recommended in the Crossbill guide. Spectacular views, and good to see that we can drive up all the way to the pass. Promising for the next day!

Along the same mountain road we saw these Crossbills. Remarkably, the lower photo shows a juvenile, which means that they had been breeding here in winter. This is known for example in the Pyrenees (

A good stretch of this mountain road for viewing raptors in the air. Booted Eagle (Dwergarend) on photo below.

What makes this road also interesting is the combination of pine trees and holm woodland (steeneik). Must be good for songbirds later in spring. Several Crested Tits, Crag Martins and Blue Rock Thrushes. Also a singing Western Bonelli's Warbler (Bergfluiter).

Lense-like clouds typically appear above the highest parts of these mountains.

Southeast Spain has a very active tectonic geological history. Imagine the history of this huge limestone block seen along the mountain road.

A school example of an anticline: rock layers folded upwards like the letter n. In the Rio Borosa valley of the Cazorla mountains.
All 15 photos below are from the picturesque Rio Borosa valley, a must-see for anyone visiting the Cazorla mountains.

Grey Wagtails (Grote Gele Kwikstaart) at several spots along the river.

Stones carving out the bedrock below the river.

Never seen so many Dippers (Waterspreeuw) as here!

Travertine deposition in grass (!) along the dirt road above the Rio Borosa valley. The water here must be very calcareous. Here are plant fossils in the making!

This side creek of the Borosa river runs through a syncline: rock layers folded downward like the letter u. Detail of the centre part of the photo is shown below. Possibly the creek is also due to a fault (breuk).

Now in the former steppe plains east of Albacete, along the narrow straight road SE of Pétrola mentioned in Montero's book. Wide open spaces where we saw several groups of Great Bustard (Grote Trap).

Thicknee (Griel) above. Below two of the hundreds of Calandra Larks we saw here, most still in wintering groups but some also territorial like these ones.

Most of the scattered small barns in these wide open plains have some Lesser Kestrels around. Here a pair, male left.

We checked several of the large stone heaps and found Little Owl on some of them.

Great Bustard was easily found in this area. Mostly in groups of a dozen or so.

Even here, far inland, Flamingoes are a common sight in lakes.

To find Little Bustard (Kleine Trap), we tried a road (AB-2201) NE of Albacete where they had been seen this winter according to (the worldwide bird record database). We were lucky indeed to find three of these difficult birds (difficult in breeding season), see the poor photo below. The photo above shows Corn Bunting (Grauwe Gors), still a common bird here. Also groups of migrating Barn Swallows here.

Our luck with Little Bustard continued when suddenly a group of 30 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Witbuikzandhoen) flew up from the same field.

The Castillo de Chinchilla, east of Albacete. Nicely built on the horizontal rock layers of this small plateau.

Back in the Alicante region for our flight home, we paid a short last visit to the Saliñas de Santa Pola, where we had this late first-winter Slender-billed Gull (adult plumage but still a light-colored bill) and a cute Kentish Plover (Strandplevier).

Species list
This list is taken from the output of observado (see the introduction). For location details of the observations follow the links given in the introduction, especially the kml file.
1 Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
2 Common Shelduck - Tadorna tadorna
3 Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
4 Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
5 Garganey - Anas querquedula
6 Marbled Duck - Marmaronetta angustirostris
7 Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina
8 Common Pochard - Aythya ferina
9 Tufted Duck - Aythya fuligula
10 White-headed Duck - Oxyura leucocephala
11 Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis
12 Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus
13 Black-necked Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis
14 Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus roseus
15 Glossy Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus
16 Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
17 Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
18 Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
19 Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
20 European Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus
21 Black Kite - Milvus migrans
22 Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
23 Short-toed Snake Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
24 Western Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
25 Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
26 Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
27 Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus
28 Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
29 Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
30 Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
31 Great Bustard - Otis tarda
32 Little Bustard - Tetrax tetrax
33 Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
34 Eurasian Coot - Fulica atra
35 Eurasian Stone-curlew - Burhinus oedicnemus
36 Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
37 Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta
38 Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
39 Kentish Plover - Charadrius alexandrinus
40 Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
41 Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa
42 Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
43 Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
44 Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos
45 Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
46 Sanderling - Calidris alba
47 Little Stint - Calidris minuta
48 Dunlin - Calidris alpina
49 Slender-billed Gull - Chroicocephalus genei
50 Mediterranean Gull - Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
51 Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
52 Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
53 Sandwich Tern - Thalasseus sandvicensis
54 Audouin's Gull - Ichthyaetus audouinii
55 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Pterocles alchata
56 Rock Dove - Columba livia
57 Stock Dove - Columba oenas
58 Great Spotted Cuckoo - Clamator glandarius
59 Little Owl - Athene noctua
60 Common Swift? - Apus apus
61 Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
62 Alpine Swift - Tachymarptis melba
63 Eurasian Hoopoe - Upupa epops
64 Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major
65 Iberian Green Woodpecker - Picus sharpei
66 Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
67 Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius
68 Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica
69 Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
70 Northern Raven - Corvus corax
71 Western Jackdaw - Coloeus monedula
72 Coal Tit - Periparus ater
73 European Crested Tit - Lophophanes cristatus
74 Eurasian Penduline Tit - Remiz pendulinus
75 Calandra Lark - Melanocorypha calandra
76 Greater Short-toed Lark - Calandrella brachydactyla
77 Lesser Short-toed Lark - Alaudala rufescens
78 Crested Lark - Galerida cristata
79 Sand Martin - Riparia riparia
80 Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
81 Eurasian Crag Martin - Ptyonoprogne rupestris
82 Common House Martin - Delichon urbicum
83 Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropis daurica
84 Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
85 Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus
86 Common Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
87 Iberian Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus ibericus
88 Western Bonelli's Warbler - Phylloscopus bonelli
89 Eurasian Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
90 Zitting Cisticola - Cisticola juncidis
91 Eurasian Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
92 Spectacled Warbler - Sylvia conspicillata
93 Subalpine Warbler - Sylvia cantillans
94 Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
95 Goldcrest - Regulus regulus
96 Eurasian Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
97 Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea
98 Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
99 Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
100 Common Blackbird - Turdus merula
101 Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus
102 European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
103 Black Redstart - Phoenicurus ochruros
104 Western Black-eared Wheatear - Oenanthe h. hispanica
105 Black Wheatear - Oenanthe leucura
106 Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
107 White-throated Dipper - Cinclus cinclus
108 House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
109 Iberian Wagtail - Motacilla flava iberiae
110 Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea
111 White Wagtail - Motacilla alba
112 Tawny Pipit - Anthus campestris
113 Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis
114 Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta
115 Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
116 European Serin - Serinus serinus
117 European Greenfinch - Chloris chloris
118 European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
119 Common Linnet - Linaria cannabina
120 Trumpeter Finch - Bucanetes githagineus
121 Red Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra
122 Corn Bunting - Emberiza calandra
In Dutch/NL:
1 Rode Patrijs - Alectoris rufa
2 Bergeend - Tadorna tadorna
3 Wilde Eend - Anas platyrhynchos
4 Slobeend - Anas clypeata
5 Zomertaling - Anas querquedula
6 Marmereend - Marmaronetta angustirostris
7 Krooneend - Netta rufina
8 Tafeleend - Aythya ferina
9 Kuifeend - Aythya fuligula
10 Witkopeend - Oxyura leucocephala
11 Dodaars - Tachybaptus ruficollis
12 Fuut - Podiceps cristatus
13 Geoorde Fuut - Podiceps nigricollis
14 Flamingo - Phoenicopterus roseus
15 Zwarte Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus
16 Blauwe Reiger - Ardea cinerea
17 Kleine Zilverreiger - Egretta garzetta
18 Jan-van-gent - Morus bassanus
19 Aalscholver - Phalacrocorax carbo
20 Wespendief - Pernis apivorus
21 Zwarte Wouw - Milvus migrans
22 Vale Gier - Gyps fulvus
23 Slangenarend - Circaetus gallicus
24 Bruine Kiekendief - Circus aeruginosus
25 Sperwer - Accipiter nisus
26 Steenarend - Aquila chrysaetos
27 Dwergarend - Hieraaetus pennatus
28 Kleine Torenvalk - Falco naumanni
29 Torenvalk - Falco tinnunculus
30 Slechtvalk - Falco peregrinus
31 Grote Trap - Otis tarda
32 Kleine Trap - Tetrax tetrax
33 Waterhoen - Gallinula chloropus
34 Meerkoet - Fulica atra
35 Griel - Burhinus oedicnemus
36 Steltkluut - Himantopus himantopus
37 Kluut - Recurvirostra avosetta
38 Kleine Plevier - Charadrius dubius
39 Strandplevier - Charadrius alexandrinus
40 Watersnip - Gallinago gallinago
41 Grutto - Limosa limosa
42 Tureluur - Tringa totanus
43 Witgat - Tringa ochropus
44 Oeverloper - Actitis hypoleucos
45 Steenloper - Arenaria interpres
46 Drieteenstrandloper - Calidris alba
47 Kleine Strandloper - Calidris minuta
48 Bonte Strandloper - Calidris alpina
49 Dunbekmeeuw - Chroicocephalus genei
50 Zwartkopmeeuw - Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
51 Geelpootmeeuw - Larus michahellis
52 Kleine Mantelmeeuw - Larus fuscus
53 Grote Stern - Thalasseus sandvicensis
54 Audouins Meeuw - Ichthyaetus audouinii
55 Witbuikzandhoen - Pterocles alchata
56 Rotsduif - Columba livia
57 Holenduif - Columba oenas
58 Kuifkoekoek - Clamator glandarius
59 Steenuil - Athene noctua
60 Gierzwaluw? - Apus apus
61 Vale Gierzwaluw - Apus pallidus
62 Alpengierzwaluw - Tachymarptis melba
63 Hop - Upupa epops
64 Grote Bonte Specht - Dendrocopos major
65 Iberische Groene Specht - Picus sharpei
66 Iberische Klapekster - Lanius meridionalis
67 Gaai - Garrulus glandarius
68 Ekster - Pica pica
69 Alpenkraai - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
70 Raaf - Corvus corax
71 Kauw - Coloeus monedula
72 Zwarte Mees - Periparus ater
73 Kuifmees - Lophophanes cristatus
74 Buidelmees - Remiz pendulinus
75 Kalanderleeuwerik - Melanocorypha calandra
76 Kortteenleeuwerik - Calandrella brachydactyla
77 Kleine Kortteenleeuwerik - Alaudala rufescens
78 Kuifleeuwerik - Galerida cristata
79 Oeverzwaluw - Riparia riparia
80 Boerenzwaluw - Hirundo rustica
81 Rotszwaluw - Ptyonoprogne rupestris
82 Huiszwaluw - Delichon urbicum
83 Roodstuitzwaluw - Cecropis daurica
84 Cetti's Zanger - Cettia cetti
85 Staartmees - Aegithalos caudatus
86 Tjiftjaf - Phylloscopus collybita
87 Iberische Tjiftjaf - Phylloscopus ibericus
88 Bergfluiter - Phylloscopus bonelli
89 Kleine Karekiet - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
90 Graszanger - Cisticola juncidis
91 Zwartkop - Sylvia atricapilla
92 Brilgrasmus - Sylvia conspicillata
93 Baardgrasmus - Sylvia cantillans
94 Kleine Zwartkop - Sylvia melanocephala
95 Goudhaan - Regulus regulus
96 Winterkoning - Troglodytes troglodytes
97 Boomklever - Sitta europaea
98 Boomkruiper - Certhia brachydactyla
99 Zwarte Spreeuw - Sturnus unicolor
100 Merel - Turdus merula
101 Grote Lijster - Turdus viscivorus
102 Roodborst - Erithacus rubecula
103 Zwarte Roodstaart - Phoenicurus ochruros
104 Westelijke Blonde Tapuit - Oenanthe hispanica hispanica
105 Zwarte Tapuit - Oenanthe leucura
106 Blauwe Rotslijster - Monticola solitarius
107 Waterspreeuw - Cinclus cinclus
108 Huismus - Passer domesticus
109 Iberische Kwikstaart - Motacilla flava iberiae
110 Grote Gele Kwikstaart - Motacilla cinerea
111 Witte Kwikstaart - Motacilla alba
112 Duinpieper - Anthus campestris
113 Graspieper - Anthus pratensis
114 Waterpieper - Anthus spinoletta
115 Vink - Fringilla coelebs
116 Europese Kanarie - Serinus serinus
117 Groenling - Chloris chloris
118 Putter - Carduelis carduelis
119 Kneu - Linaria cannabina
120 Woestijnvink - Bucanetes githagineus
121 Kruisbek - Loxia curvirostra
122 Grauwe Gors - Emberiza calandra