Andalucía: a year-round paradise for birders

2016-03-24 08:00:00

As Andalucía taps into other tourism sectors than just the traditional sun, sea and sand offer that its name inspires, town halls and organisations across the region are jumping onto the bandwagon. The Andalusian Bird Society (ABS) is no exception. They describe it as “the caminito effect”, suggesting that alternative tourism has taken off since the reopening of the Caminito del Rey and believe it will be good for business.
Although it is clear that they are already on the case, as among their 2,400 members are people from all across Europe and even the world. ‘Birders’ come to visit the area from as far afield as Canada, at particular times of year and specifically to attend the ABS field trips.
“It’s good for birders; in one day you can get to see up to 100 different species,” says Derek Etherton, editor of ABS’s quarterly members’ magazine, Birds of Andalucía.
The Andalusian Bird Society was founded on 2008 by Peter Jones and his Dutch namesake, Pieter Vierheij. They were members of the Spanish Ornithological Society and found that many would-be birders living in the area were not going to meetings as they didn’t speak Spanish. And so in 2008 they set up an English-speaking version: the Andalucía Bird Society. Since then it has grown into possibly one of the region’s biggest foreign-language groups, with an excellent website, the aforementioned magazine and monthly field trips.
Around 75 per cent of ABS’s members are originally from the UK, with an even balance of permanent residents in Andalucía and those who spend part of the year here. The remaining 25 per cent are from other parts of Europe, including Spain, with a few people from outside the continent. In fact the current president, Alfredo Carrasco, is Spanish, as is the Luis Alberto Rodríguez, who is a full-time bird guide, accredited by the Junta de Andalucía.
In its mission statement, ABS is clear to point out that while its primary aim is to attract foreign residents and visitors who don’t speak the language, it also welcomes Spanish birders and cooperation with Spanish organisations and projects.
Local projects
In fact the ABS has recently officially adopted the ‘La Covacha’ conservation project; an old salt pan in the Bahía de Cádiz natural park, which is looking to recover and conserve the area’s biodiversity.
ABS holds at least one field meeting per month, although recently it has gone up to two due to the increasing popularity of meetings. Between 30 and 40 members attend each one and, as well as the bird-watching, committee members Derek Etherton and Jerry Laycock say that there is an important social side too.
“Everyone is welcome,” they say, adding that expert knowledge is less important than enthusiasm and a decent pair of binoculars. “There are always between two and five top birders to help,” says Derek.
Indigenous species
The field trips cover all corners of Andalucía, so the meetings provide the opportunity to see parts of the region that may not otherwise be included on the tourist trail. On a good day it is possible to spot up to 100 species, ranging from the 200 or more indigenous birds of Andalucía to the vast numbers of migratory birds that can be seen, particularly in spring and autumn.
At this time of year the society says that waders are a common sight at Cabo de Gata in Almeria and this is the only place on mainland Europe where the trumpeter, a small brown finch, with a bright red bill, can also be seen.
Vultures, eagles, harriers and white storks can all be spotted during the migratory seasons and Tarifa is the best place to see many of them, due to the short distance they have to fly between Europe and Africa.
This year in April Tarifa should provide spectacular sights, say Jerry and Derek, however 2016 apparently doesn’t look promising for flamingos at Fuente de Piedra due to the lack of rain this winter. They say that visitors may still be able to see common cranes (sometimes known as whooping cranes, due to the noise they make), which are normally in Fuente de Piedra until mid-March. They are best spotted during daylight hours at the opposite end of the lake from the visitors’ centre.
ABS suggests the Montes de Malaga as the best place to find owls and short-tailed eagles, while the Guadalhorce estuary boasts wintering ospreys. Other popular spots for ABSmembers are the Río Vélez, to the west of Vélez-Málaga, and Zafarraya. Although as Derek and Jerry say, “all you need is water and shrubbery and you’ll find birds.”
To attend field trips you must be a member of ABS. Membership costs 25 euros per person per year or joint membership is 30 euros.source surinenglish