Southern Spain July 2016
We had decided to combine an Iron Maiden gig in Seville with a short trip to the Andalusian ‘campo’ to see if any wildlife was active in the summer heat. Knowing that herping wouldn’t really be possible we packed our bins and hoped to spot some eagles or vultures instead.
Landing in Malaga and taking an age to pick up our hire car, we eventually made it to the Guadalhorce estuary by early afternoon where we were immediately greeted by our first bee-eaters (Merops apiaster), Moorish geckos (Tarentola mauritanica) and terrapins (Mauremys leprosa) of the trip. Around the wetland areas we also found many black-winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and some white-headed ducks (Oxyura leucocephala). En route back to the car Jill spotted an adult Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) in pursuit of a rat, but unfortunately it was long gone before I could even get a glimpse – this would be our only snake encounter of the trip.
From here we made our way northwards to our villa just outside of El Gastor, arriving with just enough daylight remaining to spot the resident wall lizards (Podarcis hispanica sp) and large racers (Psammodromus algirus) hunting around the pool and flower beds. After a classy evening meal of pot noodles and rice smuggled in our hand luggage, the first session of night searching provided some interesting crickets, spiders and a bunch of Turkish geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus).
After picking up supplies in Ronda the next morning, we were enjoying lunch on the terrace when Neil shouted “incoming” as a large shadow passed nearby. Looking upwards we were delighted to get our first views of a griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) as it floated overhead. Over the coming week this would become a regular occurrence, with various raptors leaving the thermals of the cliffs and mountains nearby and drifting across over our villa. The booted eagles (Hieraaetus pennatus) were particularly awesome as they would suddenly plummet, talons outstretched, towards unsuspecting prey below. We also had good views of a short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus), which I assume was having a lot more luck than we were in our search for snakes.
Over the next few nights we turned up some interesting wolf spiders, Andalusian funnel-web spiders (Macrothele Calpeiana), a resting skink (Chalcides bedriagai) and even stumbled upon nesting white-rumped swifts (Apus caffer) in an old swallow nest.
Daytime excursions around Grazalema added black vultures (Aegypius monachus), pallid and alpine swifts, wall lizards (Podarcis vaucheri), a Spanish ibex and some more terrapins to the species list. Back around the villa some of the birds included Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), crested lark, spotted flycatcher and some fledgling woodchat shrikes (Lanius senator) being fed by parents.
During the last few daylight hours on our final day, Paul and I found a trail meandering up towards the ‘vulture cliffs’ lined by stone walls (and a frustratingly fresh Montpellier snake slough). This would have given us some delightful views of the raptors but it had arrived too late in our trip, and instead we could only watch the sun sinking behind the distant white villages and hills, painting the horizon pink and staining the cliff face orange before the night took over.
Despite the hot and dry conditions, we managed to find quite a few interesting critters and would have surely had more luck had it been spring or autumn. Maybe Iron Maiden’s touring schedule will be more herp-friendly next time…