Spring has begun! 6 birding hotspots to check out in Tarifa

Spring has just begun! On this post we will tell you about 6 great birding hotspots when visiting Tarifa and the Strait of Gibraltar in this great season. To give you an idea of what’s possible we list some suggestions about what to do in a day, and what you should expect to see.

Adult Purple Heron at La Janda, one of the best birding hotspots in Tarifa
Adult Purple Heron at La Janda.

6 Birding Hotspots in Tarifa and the Strait of Gibraltar

1. Tarifa

An early start in Tarifa, where we are based, can be rewarded with the prominent song of the Common Bulbul, a common species in Africa that, however, can only be found in one location in Europe: Tarifa. Nearby, we’d probably hear the sharp calls of the Lesser Kestrels too. At a walking distance, a short session of seawatching from the pier can provide good views of migrant seabirds, like Northern Gannet, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) and the first Balearic Shearwaters coming out of the Mediterranean after their breeding season.

Western Yellow Wagtail, from subspecies iberiae, also known as Spanish Wagtail
Western Yellow Wagtail, from subspecies iberiae, also known as Spanish Wagtail

2. Los Lances

As you drive out of Tarifa, it might be a good idea to make a stop in Los Lances. This small nature reserve can be very productive, particularly in the morning. Mediterranean and Audouin’s Gulls are regular at this time of the year, same as Kentish Plovers. The migration of passerines can be visible here, with the first Western Yellow Wagtails and Greater Short-toed Larks showing up, while the last Meadow and Water Pipits abandon these latitudes in order to breed further north.

The Rock Bunting is an uncommon but regular species at Sierra de la Plata
The Rock Bunting is an uncommon but regular species at Sierra de la Plata

3. Sierra de la Plata

A visit to the lower limestone ridges around Tarifa, like Sierra de la Plata can be very good. Some species you should expect, and already singing in their breeding plumage, can be: Cirl and Rock Buntings, Iberian Green Woodpecker and the gorgeous Blue Rock Thrush. On top of that, the Eurasian Griffons will already be on their nests, some of the hatchlings already out of their shells. Surely, we will be looking for the first Black-eared Wheatears of the year, as well as the passing Northern Wheatears.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk as its arrival to the European Continent
Eurasian Sparrowhawk as its arrival to the European Continent

4. Punta Carnero

Depending on the winds, we will be sure to be well positioned in order to witness the raptor migration. This event that takes place, roughly, from March to May. Even though many raptors have already passed by the beginning of Spring, there are still thousands still waiting for their opportunity on African soil: Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Sparrowhawks, Egyptian Vultures as well as good numbers of White and Black Storks. One of the best hotspots to see these birds crossing the Strait would be Punta Carnero, not far from the city of Algeciras.

Northern Bald Ibis starting their breeding season at the colony
Northern Bald Ibis starting their breeding season at the colony

5. Barbate

After having lunch at one of the numerous excellent restaurants that serve homemade food in the area, we can visit the Northern Bald Ibis colony, a must-see species for every birder, and certainly a highlight for anyone traveling to the province of Cadiz. You can combine this with a short drive to the Barbate Marshes. This is one of the best birding hotspots, both for shorebirds and migrant passerines.

Corn Bunting: a common song in the fields of La Janda
Corn Bunting: a common song in the fields of La Janda

6. La Janda

An excursion to the southernmost region of Spain can not be complete without a drive through La Janda. This well-known birding hotspot is excellent throughout the year, but even more splendorous during the spring months. Hundreds of Garganeys, which can be seen flying along the shoreline, mark the beginning of the season. If the weather has been wet enough and some of the seasonal lagoons and rice paddies are flooded. Good numbers of these gorgeous dabbling ducks can be seen in La Janda.

Along with the ducks, Purple Herons start to arrive, and Hoopoes are easier to find while feeding along the tracks. Raptors are always abundant here. Among all of them the Spanish Imperial Eagle stands out, on average almost as large as a Golden Eagle.

All of this is possible in a day without needing to drive very long distances. While you enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Strait, you can experience the marvels of migration firsthand. With the possibility of including other bird-rich locations or adapt the itinerary for wildlife photographers, the combinations are endless! If you want us to arrange a private excursion for you to see  some of these sites and find some of the most sought after species of birds, contact us and let us know what your preferences are. You will find out, the Strait of Gibraltar never disappoints!