Birding in Costa Ballena

Ornithological Tourism Guide Doñana Surroundings

On the Cadiz bank of the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, in the northeast corner of the province, some of the most interesting places for birdwatching are found. Just opposite Doñana National Park, from the rocky coast and beaches of Rota to Trebujena’s marshes, a notable variety of ecosystems fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, reaching high values of biodiversity. A big part of the enclaves of Sanlúcar de Barrameda belong to Doñana Natural Park. Let´s start in Rota, where the residential development Costa Ballena (1) has recently emerged as a hotspot for birdwatching, particularly gulls. The principal pond and surrounding gardens, located just a few metres from the beach, are used as a rest zone for a big number of Gull species which migrate and mostly winter, in this area. From among a long list, the Common Gull is one of the regulars. However, more rare species such as the Ring-billed Gull, the Iceland Gull or the Franklin’s Gull tend to frequently appear, too.

Following the coast to the North, we reach Chipiona. An African specie, very rare in Europe, which is present the whole year, the Little Swift, has been found in the Fishing Harbour (2) building a place to breed creating the most important colony of our latitudes. On the adjacent beach and its rocky intertidal the key species are, once again, gulls, terns and waders. Curlews and Whimbrels, turnstones, sandpipers and plovers are abundant, together with a good representation of terns and gulls. The Caspian Tern and the Great Black-backed Gull, in winter, or the Lesser Crested Tern in migration periods, are the most wanted and, occasionally species such as the Glaucous Gull or the Caspian Gull can be seen.

In Sanlucar de Barrameda, the Salt Marshes of Bonanza (3) are a must-see. Thousands of waders use them both to feed and rest. The Slender-billed Gull, the Gull-billed Tern or the Little Tern are numerous in summer. The Greater Flamingo and the Pied Avocet are always present, while the Osprey is an habitual wintering. In spring, when many waders show their breeding plumage, it is quite a great spectacle to see the reddish tone of the Curlew Sandpipers or the Black-tailed Godwits, among others, together with some other visitor as special as the Red-necked Phalarope.

In the Lagoon of Tarelo (4), artificially made, we can watch some interesting species. It holds large populations of wildfowl in winter, among which we can look for the Ferruginous Duck or the Marbled Teal. The Red-crested Pochard and the White-headed Duck are abundant. Herons are the other important inhabitants and, with the exception of the Eurasian Bittern, it is possible to see all the European species, sometimes even on the same day. The small existing breeding colony, located in a small island just opposite the observatory, also hosts some pairs of the Eurasian Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis. The route continues through the Pinewood of Algaida (5) where it is possible to detect small forest passerines and several raptors such as the Red Kite and the Black Kite which live together there. Finally, the so-called Codo de la Esparraguera (6), puts the icing on the cake. Here the star is, undoubtedly, the Marbled Teal which has, in this wetland, one of its rare stable breeding populations in the western Mediterranean. Besides the omnipresent Greater Flamingos, we can also find a lot of wildfowl, herons and raptors. It is an excellent site to see all Chlidonias species in spring and, among passerines, the Spectacled Warbler and the la Lesser Short-toed Lark stand out, both present in the marshes.

This article is an excerpt from the Ornithological Tourism Guide of the Province of Cádiz published by the Patronato Provincial de Turismo de la Diputación de Cádiz