Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Andalucía a wildlife paradise - Part 1

Andalucía boasts the broadest diversity of habitats in Europe. It’s difficult to find a destination that offers such an unique ecological diversity in Europe whilst at the same time unveiling to us the history of Western Europe. To birdwatch in White Villages, follow the footsteps of the Phoenicians, photograph unparalleled landscapes, taste local delicacies, traditional and contemporary, discover cities and locations that are World Heritage Sites or share experiences with true, authentic locals, is a true pleasure in life!

Approaching the region from the north you could be forgiven for thinking you are entering a giant olive plantation, as orchard upon orchard reaches as far as the eye can see in Jaén. Yet even here you get a glimpse of what might be, with high mountain ranges breaking through the skyline to reveal temptation to the travelling naturalist. Surprisingly there still remains some wonderful and ancient unspoilt refuges here and areas where the rarest feline in the world still finds a niche to survive in healthy and sustainable numbers, the beautiful Pardel Lynx or Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus. The province also holds an increasing population of Lammergeier that can be found in Spain's largest National Park Cazorla, Segura, Las Villas. Also Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black Vulture have strongholds here, so appearances are not all they seem and the whole province is worth exploring.

Jaén is one of 3 provinces that form the eastern bloc of the region, the others are Granada and Almería, if you were to travel south and east you would be struck by the sheer scale of contrast between these eastern provinces. Granada, as the southern and neighbouring province, is the first to be encountered and the scale of it's mountains, the Sierra Nevada, immediately make an impact with their tall peaks and high rolling mountain tops. The mountain range contains the highest point of continental Spain, in fact the mountain Mulhacén is also the third highest mountain in Europe at 3,479 metres above sea level. Here the area holds strongholds for such mountain species as Alpine Accentor and Citril Finch, raptors are another group of birds that brings visiting birders to these parts alongside other birds such as Common Rock Thrush. Of course the province is best known for the famous Alhambra, a hilltop fortress from the Nasrid Dynasty and a complex that comprises of royal palaces, peaceful terraces, reflecting pools and wonderful gardens, in fact a must visit heritage site if you are close to the province.

Go further south than Granada and you arrive to the province of Almería, the mountains here are less in altitude, but no less striking. The most famous aspect and attraction to the visitor here is the province holds Europe's only true desert and the fauna and flora reflects the arid conditions. Trumpeter Finch provides for the tastebuds of the avid birder and the inland areas, where low scrub blankets the plains, provides the chance to find Dupont's Lark, a real target bird for many who visit Spain, let alone the region of Andalucía. The coastal saltpans of Cabo de Gata, a Natural Park and the largest coastal protected area in the region, was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Park in 1997, it has a climate that is the driest in Europe with annual rainfall below 160 mm, thats 6.3 ins in old money! The whole area is a delight for the geologist with the Sierra del Cabo de Gata mountain range providing many points of interest, the highest peak is El Fraile and the volcanic rock formation is the largest in Spain. Almería also enjoys the distinction of being the first area on continental Europe where Cream-coloured Courser bred, although in more recent times they have successfully bred in Granada Province.

Returning to the north of the province and Jaén, we head westwards and arrive in the province of Cordoba.The Province of Cordoba presents a remarkable landscape, housing a good representation of our most unique and threatened fauna. The variety of habitats available and, many of them in good condition, make possible the coexistence between these geographical boundaries of species such as the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Wolf or the Spanish Imperial Eagle in the Sierras of Cardeña and Montoro, the Black Stork, the Golden Eagle or the Black Vulture in the Sierra of Honachuelos, the White-headed Duck or the Marsh Harrier in the humid areas of the south, the Peregrine Falcon and the Bonelli's Eagle in the Sierras Subbéticas and the Great Bustard, the Common Crane or the Black-Bellied Sandgrouse in the valleys of the Guadiato and the Pedroches. And of course you have for good measure the famous Mezquita Cathedral of Cordoba, a real cultural treasure and must visit site if you are in the area. The site is bordered by the Rio Guadalquivir a great place to do some birding and another incentive to visit.

Next up as we continue our journey westwards is the amazing province of Sevilla, culturally superb and home for one of Europe's best known birding hotspots the Doñana. But more of that later in part 2 of this lengthy blog.

Recommended for further information is the superb source of the Andalucía Bird Society's website. In fact if you are visiting the region why not consider joining them, you get all the perks including being able to attend a professionally led Field Meeting held each month.

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