Category Archives: Other protected areas

Ten of the best natural parks to observe birds and wildlife in Spain

Spain has to rate as one of the best countries in in Europe for bird and wildlife watching. A destination with over 15 million hectares of protected areas and natural parks plus Spain is a strategic location on the avian migratory routes between Europe to Africa

Spain hosts huge forests and rocky mountain peaks where large birds of prey soar freely. There are wetlands where waterfowl find their home. Hundreds of nature parks and nature reserves teeming with birds and other wildlife.

If you need a bucket list for Spain then here is my top 10 for bird and wildlife watching in Spain. I have visited them all and would gladly return many times to all of them!

Just click the name of the park to find out much more information.

Cabañeros National Park, Ciudad Real (Castilla la Mancha)

The Cabañeros National Park (in Spanish: Parque Nacional de Cabañeros) is a NATIONAL park and is located within the two provinces of Ciudad Real andToledo
The Cabañeros National Park (in Spanish: Parque Nacional de Cabañeros) is a NATIONAL park and is located within the two provinces of Ciudad Real andToledo

Cabañeros is considered a Special Protection Area for Birds and is protected within the framework of the Natura 2000 Network. Famous for black vulture, griffon vulture, Iberian imperial eagle, Bonnelli’s eagle and black stork. With summer residents this park teems with birdlife.


Monfragüe National Park, Cáceres (Extremadura)

The area of Monfragüe National Park is noted for its importance as a breeding area for a selection of rare and protected birds,
The area of Monfragüe National Park is noted for its importance as a breeding area for a selection of rare and protected birds,

Monfragüe is, without a doubt, one of the best places in Spain for bird watching and especially for birds of prey. Every year this area also hosts the International Ornithological Tourism Fair, which attracts bird lovers from all over the world. Top of the list here is black stork, griffon vulture, imperial eagle, eagle owl, Egyptian vulture and short-toed eagle.


Atlantic Islands National Park (Galicia)

The Islas Atlánticas National Park are known in English as the Galician Atlantic Islands Maritime-Terrestrial National Park.
The Islas Atlánticas National Park are known in English as the Galician Atlantic Islands Maritime-Terrestrial National Park.

A Special Protection Area for birds. And, although there are many species, this national park can boast of being home to the largest colonies of shag and yellow-legged gull in the entire country. The park has strategically located hides.


Doñana National Park, Huelva and Seville (Andalucia)

The Doñana National and Natural Parks occupy the northern area of the Guadalquivir river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean
The Doñana National and Natural Parks occupy the northern area of the Guadalquivir river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean

The Doñana National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are more than 300 species listed. Some are sedentary and others migratory so the time of year greatly influences what species you will see. In spring there are organized visits and every year the International Bird Fair of Doñana is held. The ecosystems are varied between dunes and marshes and it is home to black storks, flamingos, purple herons, coots, bee-eaters and a seemingly endless number of different birds.


The Gallocanta Lagoon, Zaragoza and Teruel (Aragon)

Gallocanta laguna in Aragon, Spain
De Secretaria – http://www.xiloca.com/xilocapedia/index.php/Imagen:Atardecer_6_Gallocanta.jpg, CC BY 3.0 es, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19561884

The Gallocanta Lagoon is around 1,000 meters above sea level and is one of the most important saline lakes in Western Europe. This lake is on the migratory route for the common crane. October / November and February / March are the best times to visit this area. Guided tours of the nature reserve are also organized from the Gallocanta Lagoon Interpretation Center.


Hoces del Duratón Natural Park, Segovia (Castille y Leon)

Hoces del Rio Duratón Natural Park Parque Natural de las Hoces del Río Duratón is a natural park close to the town of Sepúlveda in the province of Segovia
Hoces del Rio Duratón Natural Park Parque Natural de las Hoces del Río Duratón is a natural park close to the town of Sepúlveda in the province of Segovia

The gorges of the Duratón river are home to one of the largest population of griffon vultures in Europe. Canoe trips here are a great way to get a bit closer to the wildlife of the area.


Ebro Delta Natural Park, Tarragona (Catalonia)

The Parque natural del Delta del Ebro holds a great importance internationally as more than 300 species of birds
The Parque natural del Delta del Ebro holds a great importance internationally as more than 300 species of birds

An absolute biological jewel and the most important wetland in Catalonia. Famous for its large and permanent colony of flamingos plus an excellent number of aquatic birds totaling more than 325 species


Marismas de Santoña, Victoria and Joyel Natural Park (Cantabria)

Marismas de Santoña, Victoria y Joyel Natural Park
Marismas de Santoña, Victoria y Joyel Natural Park

This Cantabrian natural park is considered one of the places with a huge biological diversity containing around 120 different species including grebes, cormorants, herons, loons, terns, ospreys, coots and white storks.


Lagunas de Villafáfila Nature Reserve, Zamora (Castille y Leon)

Reserva Natural de Lagunas de Villafáfila
Reserva Natural de Lagunas de Villafáfila

The best time to visit the Villafáfila Lagoons is in winter or spring. This is an area of ​​special protection for birds that make their home in the wetlands amongst the arable farmland. There are several viewpoints and hides. Grebe, white stork an cranes can be seen but the area is famous for the geese that use the area as a rest stop during their winter migration.


L’Albufera Natural Park (Valencia)

Albufera natural park - Valencia
Albufera natural park – Valencia

L’Albufera holds a great variety of aquatic birds. Its shores are protected for nesting and shelter for birds and the best months to find them are May, June, July, November, December and January. Look out for European rail, Purple galinule, common tern and black-footed tern.


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The Laguna de Gallocanta

Without a doubt, one of the most distinctive living elements of the Laguna de Gallocanta are the birds, especially the striking flocks of common cranes that rest and feed here during the course of their migratory trips.

Above image wikipedia (De Secretaria – http://www.xiloca.com/xilocapedia/index.php/Imagen:Atardecer_6_Gallocanta.jpg, CC BY 3.0 es, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19561884

The vast majority of the European population moving on the western migratory route use Gallocanta as a resting area and over 100,000 cranes have been counted in a single day (02/24/2011) .

Flocks of common cranes arrive en masse at dusk. This has to be one of the most impressive visual and sound spectacles of nature.

Best times to visiting the area is during the months of November to February.

The protected area covers1.924 hectares of natural reserve (the wetland itself) and 4.553 hectares of peripheral protection zone (the surrounding farmland sometimes also wetland dependin on rainfall)

Where is Gallocanta?

The Gallocanta Lake (Spanish: Laguna de Gallocanta) is an endorheic lake in the province of Aragon. It is within the boundaries of two provinces, Teruel and Zaragoza, and is located just to the south of Gallocanta village, between the Aragonese comarcas of Campo de Daroca and Comarca del Jiloca. This lake is situated on a high continental plain at an altitude of almost 1,000 m

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The Interpretation Center of the Gallocanta Lagoon (Obligatory visit to get the best out of the area)

Location: in an old road laborer’s house located on the A-1507 road, between the villages of Tornos and Bello. 120 km from Zaragoza and 95 km from Teruel.

The Interpretation Center of the Gallocanta Lagoon
The Interpretation Center of the
Gallocanta Lagoon

The main content of the interpretation centre is the natural history ​​of the lagoon, its history and formation and the uniqueness of the species it provides a home for with special emphasis on the common crane. There is also an audiovisual projection and an interactive exhibition covering the geology of the lagoon, the habitat and human existence in the area.

Opening times Spring-Summer (from March 21 to September 20)

Mornings: 10:00 to 14:00
Afternoons: 15:00 to 18:00

Opening times Autumn-Winter (from January 24 to March 15 and from September 26 to December 20)

Mornings: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Afternoons: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Telephone: 978 734 031
Telephone (central offices): 976 07 00 00
Website: https://www.aragon.es/-/reserva-natural-de-la-laguna-de-gallocanta (In Spanish language)

Places to visit and parking

  • Centro de Interpretación de la Reserva Natural de la Laguna de Gallocanta.(see above info about the intepretation centre)
  • Mirador de la Ermita de la Virgen del Buen Acuerdo.
  • Observatorio de Gallocanta.
  • Centro de visitantes de Gallocanta, con mirador (fuera de la Reserva y de su zona periférica de protección).

Parking

  • Centro de interpretación de la Reserva Natural Dirigida de la Laguna de Gallocanta) (Bello).
  • Ermita Nuestra Señora del Buen Acuerdo (Gallocanta).
  • Centro de visitantes y museo de las Aves (Gallocanta).

Walking Trails

Path PR-Z 33 La Laguna de Gallocanta and los Lagunazos. (32 Km – 9 hours – Circular)

This footpath is circular and goes completely around the lagoon passing by the 5 observation hides and the Ermita de la Virgen del Buen Acuerdo from where there is also an excellen view of the Lagoon. This path can also be made by bike. Its not obligatory to do the whole footpath, just walk as far as you want then turn around.

Berrueco trail (1km – 30 mins – Linear

This is a Linear path, which starts from the town of Berrueco and ascends to its Castle, from where you can see a magnificent panoramic view of the Gallocanta Lagoon.

Observation hides

  • Torre-observatorio del Cañizar.
  • Observatorio de los Aguanares.
  • Observatorio de la Ermita.
  • Observatorio de los Ojos.
  • Torre-observatorio de La Reguera.
  • Obvervatorio del Centro de Interpretación de la Reserva Natural de la Laguna de Gallocanta.
  • Observatorio accesible de Gallocanta.

Recreation and picnic sites

  • Fuente de los Haces.
  • Fuente Sancho.
  • Church of the Ermita de la Virgen del Buen Acuerdo.
  • La Serna.
  • Gallocanta swimming pool.

Museums

  • Gallocanta avian museum (Inside the Gallocanta visitor centre).

Other lagunas in the area

  • Laguna de La Zaida.
  • Laguna de Guialguerrero.

Renting hides at the Laguna de Gallocanta

Request processing is carried out by Servicio Provincial en Teruel del
Departamento de Agricultura, Ganadería y Medio Ambiente, Subdirección de Medio Ambiente, placed in C/ San Francisco, 27 de Teruel (44071).

Telephone +34 978 64 11 45
Email adress: hidesgallocanta@aragon.es.

Dowload the full guide to renting a hide here
https://www.aragon.es/documents/20127/12362674/How+to+book+hides+-+Reserva+Natural+Dirigida+de+la+Laguna+de+Gallocanta+-+2020.pdf/2925f255-4585-6d6e-6691-9ac7ab57cedf?t=1597824000140


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http://wildsideholidays.co.uk/

El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey

El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey, an impressive gorge formed by river erosion through the limestone mountain. In Spanish it is called El Desfiladero de los Gaitanes and is a well known natural attraction as the towering cliffs are around 200m high while only 10m wide at some points. The river below has been dammed, the Embalse Gaitanejo is one of the smaller reservoirs of five in this area. Alongside this reservoir sits the small village of El Chorro, built in the shadow of the mountain around the railway station.

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The area is probably most famous for ‘El Caminito del Rey’ or the ‘King’s Way’ which is a built, narrow path that clings to the cliffs 100m above the river Once hanging in ruins, the walkway has been repaired and is now listied among the top 10 tourist attractions of Andalucia.

This path was created between 1901 and 1905 as the service access for a canal. Its name came about as King Alfonso XIII walked the path in 1921 to view the dammed river at its inauguration. The walkway, created from a metal structure attached to the cliff supporting a concrete narrow path, had been gradually disintegrating to a point where large stretches were missing. It was closed to the public for years but was still popular forclimbers and adrenalin junkies.

Click here to find out more about the Caminito del Rey

The Desfiladero de Gaitanes is slightly separated from the Desfiladero de Gaitanejo by the more open area named La Hoya. As there are three rivers that feed into these gorges El Chorro would have been a frightening place to witness times of heavy rain and flooding as there would have been a tremendous pressure of water crashing through. These dams have not only calmed this natural phenomenon but also supply electricity, drinking and irrigation water to the more heavily populated areas to the south.

The railway line from Cordoba to Malaga which is still in use weaves its way through this gorge in an impressive feat of engineering, via 12 tunnels and 6 bridges. (Closed to walkers for obvious safety reasons).

These amazing, vertical cliffs are home to Griffon Vultures, Golden and Bonelli’s eagles, Peregrine falcon as well as Alpine swifts, Crag martins and Blue rock thrush.

Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only included the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada), that make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.
Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only included the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada), that make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.

The drive from the gorge northwards towards Ardales village and the Guadalhorce lakes takes you through contrasting, rounded sandstone terrain with Aleppo pine forest and Mediterranean scrub. A small diversion takes you up to another small reservoir, sign posted for Bobastro. This high reservoir is filled at night when electricity consumption is low, then released back down huge tubes to turbines so creating power at peak times.

Half way up the mountain is the unique Bobastro church carved out of a single rock and village that now lays derelict and abandoned. It was the fortified base of a major revolt by “Umar ibn Hafsun” against the Moors Caliph based in Cordoba. For the first and last time in history, Hafsun managed to assemble and unite an army of Moslems and Christians under his command. In the later part of his life Umar ibn Hafsun converted to Christianity and commissioned the amazing church.

Paying respect to followers of both faiths, Bobastro church was deliberately built facing Mecca, enabling all soldiers of his army to pray in the same place. After his death, his 30-year rebellion was finally put down by the Caliph of Cordoba and his body was dug up and hanged for his crimes against the Caliphate and conversion from Islam.

Read more about Bobastro and Umar Ibm Hafsun here.

Returning to the main road and continuing northwards leads you to the first of the three large reservoirs ‘Embalse del Conde del Guadalhorce’ which is very popular for beach side picnics, fishing and water sports.

Heading next towards the dams of the rivers Guadalhorce, Teba, and Turón takes you through more pine woods where the blueness of the water adds to the lushness of the setting.

You will pass by several bars and restaurants (and the car parks for the Caminito del Rey) close to the lakes before reaching the first dam.

The scrub birds include Sardinian warbler and Rock bunting while the woodland species include Crossbills, Short-toed tree creeper, Coal and Crested tit, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Nuthatches.

The Mediterranean scrub plants include Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus), Grey-leaved rock rose (Cistus albidus), Prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), Anthyllis cytisoides, the silver –leaved bugloss Echium albicans, culinary Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) a selection of Thymes and the unusual climbing Andalusian birthwort (Aristolochia baetica).

Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only includes the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the other river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada.) these make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.


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El Torcal protected area

  • Andalucia – Malaga province – Near Antequera

The dramatic and fascinating landscape of the El Torcal protected area is entrancing. Natural erosion has cut valleys and pathways through this enormous rock garden and created erratic sculptures in the process. Thin layers of rock stacked like pancakes are pinned down by massive blocks and this seemingly inhospitable terrain is host to many specialist rock loving plants.

This ‘Paraje Natural’ covers some 20 square kilometres of protected area and was first recognised for its singularity in 1929. The highest point in El Torcal is Camorro Alto at 1.378m above sea level.


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The dramatic and fascinating landscape of the El Torcal protected area.
The dramatic and fascinating landscape of El Torcal.

This mountain was actually a sea bed during the Jurassic period and underwent great upheaval during the Tertiary period. Unusually the bedrock remained level whilst being elevated, creating an upland plateaux that is unique in southern Spain. Natural erosion over centuries concentrates on weaker areas with wind, frost action and dissolution by rain water constantly shaping it anew. Silt is released during this erosion and deposits in the valleys as a clay base, forming seasonally damp meadows that contrast with the jagged cliffs of limestone. These grassy areas hold a mixture of plant life such as celandines, narcissi, peonies, orchids, bluebells and thistles.

Flora

Trees that take hold in the more soil rich parts are: Evergreen oak (Quercus rotundifolia) and Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Gall Oak (Quercus faginea), Wild Olive (Olea europaea sylvestris), Sorbus (Sorbus aria) and two forms of Acer (Acer monspessulanum, A. granatense). Climbing Ivy (Hedera helix) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera implexa) blanket some of the white cliffs in rich greenery.

Two rock dwelling plants have taken their names from this area, they are Linaria anticaria and Dianthus anticarius, both are limited to a small area in the Baetic mountain range. Anticaria as part of the name refers to the old Roman name for Antequera in whose municipality the parkland lies.

Linaria and Dianthus at El Torcal near antequera
Linaria and Dianthus at El Torcal near antequera
Linaria antecaria at El Torcal
Linaria antecaria at El Torcal

There are some plants within the park that are on the Red List of endangered species: Atropa baetica and Sarcocapnos baetica subsp. baetica are in danger of extinction, whilst listed as vulnerable are: Saxifraga biternata, Acer opalus subsp granatense, Acer monspessulanum and Sorbus aria.

Mediterranean plants mix with more common European plants such as: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and shrubby wild roses Rosa pimpinellifolia and Rosa sicula along with Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus), Turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus), Dwarf European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) and Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

Fauna

The roughness of the terrain allows for many reptiles to go virtually undetected Ocellated Lizard (Lacerta lepida), Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus) and Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanica) you may see. Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei), Montpelier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) and Ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris) are more timid.

The Spanish Ibex (Capra hispanica pyrenaica) has become quite used to visitors here and may pose beautifully for you on a prominent rock.

Birds to look out for among the rocks are: Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart and Little Owl with wintering Alpine Accentors. Griffon Vulture, Eagles and Kestrels may be seen in the open skies while Eagle Owls find refuge amongst the cliffs.

Access

There is only one road that leads into the parkland, it is accessed on the southern side of the mountain on the road between Antequera and Villanueva de la Concepción. This mountain road terminates at the visitors centre, Mirador (viewpoint) and car park from where the signposted walks begin. It is recommended not to wander away from the path as it can be very easily to get lost amongst the rock formations.

Also in the area

The Antequera Dolmens Archaeological Site, included in the List of World Heritage Sites of te Unesco, is made up of the Dolmens of Menga, Viera and El Romeral in Antequera, Malaga, and is considered one of the best and best-known examples of European megalithic complexes. Megaliths were the first forms of monumental architecture in European prehistory and were developed, according to data currently available, from the beginning of the 5th millennium BC, the Neolithic period, about 6,500 years ago.

“El Caminito del Rey”, in English, “The King’s little pathway”) was initially built as an access route. It enabled workers at the hydroelectric power plants of El Chorro Gorge and Gaitanes Gorge with an easier way to transport materials, maintain and inspect the workings of the two power plants. Construction of the “walkway” began in 1901 and was finished in 1905 and in 1921 King Alfonso XIII visited and walked along the path for the inauguration of the Conde del Guadalhorce dam and since that time it became known as the “Kings path”

More information here: http://www.caminodelrey.es/

Information centre at El Torcal protected area

Access to the “Torcal Alto Visitor Center” is free. The center has an interpretive area, multipurpose room, guide service, observatory, souvenir shop, restaurant, toilets and parking.

http://www.torcaldeantequera.com/en/

Getting there.

The most recommended access is through the city of Antequera. Once in Antequera, follow the signs to “El Torcal” or “Villanueva de la Concepción”, until you reach the A-7075 mountain road. After passing the sharp curves of the “Boca del Asno”, near kilometer 42, turn towards the “Centro de Visitantes Torcal Alto“. At the end of this narrow road, there is the destination.

The access road from Málaga is the A-45, towards Cordoba-Seville-Granada up to Casabermeja exit. Take this exit and go on by A-7075 until “Villanueva de la Concepción”. When you arrive to this small town, you should continue in direction of “Antequera” until you get to the detour the “Centro de Visitantes Torcal Alto”.


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, Wildside Holidays, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/