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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Spanish birding on the run – Part One Gibraltar to Seville.

Spanish birding on the run – Part One Gibraltar to Seville.

Gibraltar to Granada to Seville

From March 23-30, 2013 I had the pleasure of chaperoning 20 students from Henderson High School in West Chester, PA on a tour of Spain, along with my wife Sharon and my stepson Dan. This would be my second trip to Spain but radically different than my first. In June 2004, Sharon and I, along with our friend Bettina did a ten day birding tour starting in the mountains northwest of Madrid and working our way south through extensive grasslands and wetlands. We stayed mostly in rural areas, but did spend time in Toledo and Seville visiting cathedrals, mosques, and art museums and taking in the city life. 

This trip would be different, being educationally and culturally directed with a dedicated guide and being on the go from morning to night. I was also serving as the tour’s medical escort so I had a cool shoulder bag full of the students’ prescription meds as well as a small collection of wound care supplies, tons of Motrin and even a small extremity splint. I figured any birding that could be done would be either through a speeding tour bus window or during the times we visited some of the converted Moorish palaces that contained many native plantings.

Our itinerary began with an evening flight out of Philadelphia that connected with another through Heathrow Airport in London. We finally landed in Gibraltar on a very cool runway bordered on both sides by water with the city’s main highway passing through it. 

Figure 1 View of Gibraltar Airport with landing strip extending out into the water and main highway in the city crossing the runway. (Photo from Wikipedia).

While standing outside the terminal awaiting our tour bus, I had some good looks at numerous Yellow-legged Gulls (a life bird) that were continually passing by. The only other species I saw here was House Sparrow.

Figure 2 View of the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory 2.6 square miles with a population of about 30,000. The Rock is the main tourist attraction with cable car transit to the top.  A colony of about 300 Barbary Macaques (a small monkey) inhabit the summit. (Nick Pulcinella).

From Gibraltar we drove northeast along the Mediterranean coast to the town of Torremolinos, where we spent our first night.

Figure 3. View of "downtown" Torremolinos. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 4. Student Group in Torremolinos. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 5. Pallid Swift (left) and Common Swift (right) over Torremolinos. Notice the size difference especially in the wings. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 6. Gull-billed Tern feeding offshore Torremolinos. (Nick Pulcinella).

The following day took us north and inland to Granada. Here we visited the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex originally constructed as a fortress in 889 and later converted into a royal palace in 1333. The Alhambra is an extraordinary example of Arab-Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The park is overgrown with wildflowers, roses, oranges and myrtles planted by the Moors. There is also a dense wood of English elms brought by the Duke of Wellington in 1812. The park is filled with the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades and nearly continuous birdsong.

Figure 7. The Alhambra (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 8. The Alhambra's Court of Lions. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 9. One of the many buildings on the grounds. The row of eight arched brown windows served as harem rooms during Moorish times. The structures did not allow in any light so that the Muslim women could not be seen in public. Today, the rooms serve as reading rooms for monks. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 10. One of the many fountains interspersed throughout the Alhambra. The constant sound of flowing water together with the varied bird songs made this one of my favorite places. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 11. More of the Alhambra's plantings. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 12. Male Eurasian Blackbird. Not a blackbird but one of the Turdus thrushes similar to our American Robin. (Nick Pulcinella). 

Figure 13. Wood Pigeon. These were common throughout Granada. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 14. This is a road leading from the Alhambra down to the city of Granada. There was birdsong all through these woods. (Nick Pulcinella).

Granada was a fairly typical Spanish city with many outdoor cafes, the clash of old and new architecture and great people-watching opportunities. 

Figure 15. Street side Cafes, Granada. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 16. Eating on the go. Granada. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 17. Alleyway shopping, Granada. (Nick Pulcinella).

From Granada we trekked westward to Seville where we would spend two nights. 

On the way we drove through some nice wetlands, open fields and countless olive farms. I was able to identify a few species but I missed many, especially the raptors which seemed to be everywhere. Here are a few of the scenes taken through the bus window heading toward Seville.

Figure 18. There were many areas of old towns and open fields along the route. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 19. One of the many olive farms. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 20. Black Kites were frequently seen along this highway. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 21.  Hen Harrier cruising a field. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 22. White Storks were common both in these open areas and in the towns, especially nesting on church steeples. (Nick Pulcinella).

Figure 23.  Monk Vulture (Other names: Black or Cinereous Vulture). This is a huge unmistakable bird.  The adults are completely black, the wingspan is enormous and it holds the wings flat much like an eagle. (Nick Pulcinella).

A few of the other species I saw along this route were Cattle Egret, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-winged Stilt, Common Kestrel, Red-backed Shrike and a fly-by Cuckoo. 

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