Tour of France and Spain
28th September - 18th October 2019
Greater Flamingos in the Camargue, southern France
In September I packed my new campervan and set off from Swansea for the south of Spain. Having crossed the channel, my first stop was the Camargue in southern France... a huge wetland nature reserve on the mediterranean coast. I first visited the Camargue as a child in the 1970's and was delighted to see that its still a haven for wetland birdlife. Greater Flamingos are the most celebrated but many more species either breed there or use it as a winter feeding ground.
From the Camargue I headed west, crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and then continued until I reached the Picos de Europa mountains. Probably the most wild and beautiful region of the Iberian Peninsula where wolves and bears still roam the steep mountain hillsides. Unfortunately I failed to find any bears and the sole wolf I saw was too far away for a decent photo... but I did spend a delightful day at Fuente De photographing rare Pyrenean Chamois.
Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) and...
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) in the Camargue
Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica) in the Picos de Europa
Next, I turned southwards through Spain to the Sierra de Gredos, another wild mountainous region just a few hours drive from the bustling city of Madrid. Camped in a beautiful pine forest at the foot of the mountains, I was immediately surrounded by birdlife including flocks of Coal and Crested Tits accompanied by Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreepers.
Above the tree-line the tit flocks were replaced by Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor with Golden Eagle and Griffon Vulture overhead but the highlight was the large herds of endemic Spanish Ibex grazing on sparse plantlife and nimbly traversing the rock faces.
Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)
Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus)
Spanish Ibex (Capra pyrenaica)
South again but this time angling toward the east I made my way to the Sierra de Andujar in search of the critically endangered Spanish Lynx. They are occasionally spotted roaming the arid holm oak forest but although I spent several days scouring the hills I failed to spot this rare, elusive predator.
I did however see lots of birdlife such as noisy, chattering Azure-winged Magpie, charming Hoopoe and huge Griffon and Cinereous Vultures. I also saw and heard rowdy Red Deer stags calling out to challenge their rivals ahead of the rapidly approaching rutting season.
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)
Red Deer stag (Cervus elaphus) roaring out its challenge
My final destination was all the way down on the south coast, the beautiful city of Granada and some of the internationally reknowned coastal wetland reserves in the area. My friend Matt Dowse leads running and trekking trips into the spainish mountains (www.trailrunninginspain.com)
and he took me to explore the region in search of wildlife.
Our main target was the UNESCO World Heritage site at Doñana National Park, but sadly it was completely dry and empty, a situation that is becomming more and more common with climate change and drainage for agriculture. Luckily, Matt new of a local nature reserve called Charca de Suárez that not only had plenty of water but was also teeming with bird life including the rare Red-knobbed Coot.
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) at Charca de Suárez
There followed a very long 2000km drive from Granda back home to Swansea, but I had an excellent trip and definitely plan to take the van back soon... maybe even extending the trip into north Africa next time and visiting Morocco!