Sunday, 9 March 2014

The secret birding sites of Andalusia: Number 1 - Llanos de Libar

Southern Spain is not unknown to British birders, in fact its one of the most popular destinations in Europe for them. But hidden within striking distance of the world famous Donana is a series of sites that many in the UK may have never heard of. Here are my top 5 sites that may have escaped your attention when looking at a birding trip in Spain.

Llanos de Libar – Mountain birding at its best 

Llanos de Libar is your typical mountain valley. A flat, rocky floor with steep sides leading to high peaks that cast huge shadows over the surrounding area. Located just 20km from the town of Ronda and 75km from the coast makes Llanos de Libar very accessible.
Llanos de Libar also covers a wide range of habitats which give it a varied list of bird species.
Starting at the entrance to the valley, at its Northern end, is orchards and rocky small holdings. Steep cliffs line the south side close to the track and the fields spread away to steep mountain slopes to the west and north. This area is home to a pair of Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) and they can often be seen to the North of the track. Birds of prey are evident throughout the valley but from this spot in spring it is possible to see Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Short-Toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus),Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata), Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus), Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) and Little Owl (Athene noctua), while in Autumn and winter Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) has been seen here. Smaller birds are present to and Serin (Serinus serinus), Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris),Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba), Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) and winter visitors such as Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) and Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) can be found here.
After 500 metres or so the valley opens up on both sides of the track and it begins to climb up along one side of the valley. Here large rock laden grass fields stretch out to the north and rocky crags dominate the south side of the track. It is worth visiting this area after a cold or foggy night, especially in spring, where many birds will have been pushed down to these lower levels from the mountain tops. During these conditions in April 2012 the following were observed in one small field:
  • Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) (2 pairs)
  • Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) (2 males and 5 females)
  • Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (Numerous)
  • Black-Eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) (4 birds)
  • Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) (4 birds)
  • Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (2 birds)
  • Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) (at least a dozen)
  • Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) (Group of 5)
  • Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) (Single bird)
  • Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) (Multiple birds)
The track winds its way on through this rocky terrain, gaining in altitude once again., this area has held Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) and looks ideal for Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo). The next landmark is a noticeable kink in the track and the presence of a large tree on the corner. This area features woodland, rocky outcrops, grass pastures and trackside bushes and foliage that provide excellent habitats for birds. During the spring months this area holds at least one pair of Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis), which can be incredibly confiding with patience, and holds similar species to lower down in the valley. Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) are also a constant feature here as are Bee-Eater (Merops apiaster), Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) and Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) in Spring. 
The track continues and drops down gradually as the valley opens out into a large area of agricultural farmland. It is very surprisingly to suddenly find yourself in the middle of such a large area but once again the birdlife is varied and numerous, groups of 100-120 Rock Sparrow can be seen here as late as mid April in some years. Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) are also numerous here.
The final surprise is found a little further down the track. A stone wall with gates seperates the agricultural land with a large area of deciduous woodland. This area starts off flat and is the perfect home for WoodLark (Lullula arborea), Cirl BuntingMistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and Woodchat Shrike but soon starts to climb up and become an area of mountain forest. Here species such as Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans), Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata), Short-Toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla) and Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus sharpei) are abundant and in some areas Western Bonelli’s Warblers (Phylloscopus bonelli) seem to be in every tree.
The valley continues through this woodland until a small path climbs up the mountain side resulting in the end of the Llanos de Libar valley.
Regardless of the time of year Llanos de Libar offers some fantastic birding by either walking or driving along its valley floor. With reports of Alpine Accentor and even Wallcreeper(Tichodroma muraria) in cold winters this is a site that holds many surprises that are still yet to be uncovered.
The red line on the map below shows the route through the Llanos de Libar valley. The blue line is the nearest access road.

-Oliver Reville
Oliver is a 25 year old birder and photographer from North Norfolk. His passion is the wildlife of Spain and in particular its birds of prey. Oliver's other wildlife interests are Sylvia warblers, Wheatears, Reptiles and British orchids. His photographic inspiration is Markus Varesvuo and his book "Birds: Magic moments" first triggered his own interest in photography.

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