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Vultures and hoopoes in Grazalema Natural Park – South of Spain

A family holiday on the edge of Grazalema Natural Park for a friend's 50th birthday. A week of walking in the hills, tennis, swimming, tapas and rioja, and no work. We were staying a couple of kilometres from the "Pueblo Blanco" (White village) of El Gastor, itself set in a saddle between two rocky hills. It was to be a social week with no wildlife watching, no birds, no butterflies and no binoculars.

So on the first morning I am the first up, drinking a cup of tea, proper PG tips specially imported for the occasion, and looking out from the living room across a magnificent view that had been obscured by clouds when we arrived the night before. A flash of colour distracted me as it zipped across the edge of my vision, and settled on the ground if front of the windows. The unmistakeable colour and shape of a hoopoe hopped and probed the wet ground (If you have a drought wherever you live, invite me over.). After five minutes the hoopoe finished his buffet and departed stage left leaving the muddy patio to the humans. The sun is out and we are slowly working our way through a melon or two when a huge shadow passed overhead.

Wild flowers in Grazalema. Copyright Wildifeextra.com

Wild flowers in Grazalema. Copyright Wildifeextra.com

I didn't see it at first, but a few seconds later the unmistakeable silhouette of a Griffon vulture slid over us scanning the hillsides for a meal. The first was followed by a second, third and fourth and they headed out across the rocky valley riding the thermals. Half an hour later they came back, and settled on the cliffs above our breakfast table. It was suddenly obvious that the large white patches on the cliffs were the tell tale signs of large birds nesting. A pair of binoculars appeared and it became apparent that there were 10-12 pairs of vultures nesting just a few hundred feet above us. A close watch on the cliffs through the week also revealed a pair of nesting peregrines and regular visits from Bonelli's eagles.

Griffon vultures of Grazalema Natural Park
More than 300 pairs of Griffon vultures breed in and around Grazalema Natural Park, probably the largest population in Spain, if not the whole of Europe. The Griffon's mostly live in the ravines of the north of the park, notably the Garganta Verde and the Garganta Seca. However they can be seen in many places in and around the park, and Zahara, set on a hillside overlooking the lake, is good spot to watch them cruising over the lake or circling the village.

The wild flowers on the surrounding hillside and around the fringes of the olive groves were as colourful and varied as any I have seen anywhere (At the end of May), and there was a very common bird flitting around that I had not seen before and could not quite get a clear sight of for a positive ID. However fate took a hand as a couple of days later one of the unfortunate birds flew into a window and stunned itself. This allowed a closer inspection which showed a very distinctive red ring around its eye. A flick through the book revealed it to be a Sardinian warbler.

Coto Donana
After watching the hoopoe every morning, and the vultures coming and going on the cliffs above us (when they weren't shrouded in cloud and rain), we found ourselves with a day to kill somewhere around Seville, so we decided to make a quick trip to Coto Donana for some magical wildlife viewing, somewhere I have never been before, but always wanted to go. It takes about an hour to drive there from Seville, and the first real sight that you get of the park is a remarkable one. As you head through what can only be described as the cowboy town of El Rocio (Not because there are cowboys but because the roads have to tarmac, the houses have wooden posts for tying up horses and the magnificent church is straight out of a Mexican cowboy film set.) the town is bounded to the south by a magnificent lagoon teeming with flamingos, egrets, spoonbills, heron, wild horses and any number of birds.

Read more about Coto Donana.


it was off to Coto Donana for a day's magical wildlife viewing.