Category Archives: Nature

The natural world of the Serrania de Ronda, including the natural parks, fauna and flora, Ronda mountains, activities, and nature photos. Many of the visitors to Ronda will be here for a single day, or at most two days, and by reading our nature articles (frequently updated) we hope visitors will be able to fully enjoy the scenery of Andalucía.

Our most popular articles are the Griffon Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, and the Woodcock Orchid.

Birdwatching in Ronda’s El Tajo

The El Tajo gorge offers a wealth of bird species to watch, in fact many tourists book rooms in hotels overlooking the gorge specifically to setup their binoculars on hotel terraces away from the crowds.

The area between the Puente Nuevo and the Jardines del Cuenca is a deep almost enclosed part of the gorge that buzzes with life, from flying insects to spiders, lizards and geckos, and of course the many birds that nest in the gorge or hunt for food here.

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Book Review: Andalusian Sierras, from Malaga to Gibraltar (Crossbill Guides)

From the jacket, “At the Strait of Gibraltar, where Europe touches Africa, Spain shoes its rugged side. The jagged mountain chain that lies at the very southern end of the peninsula is one that harbours many delights. Dense, fern-draped forests alternate with unexpected bare mountaintops and dazzling steep cliffs. Flowery rock fields on windswept crests overlook picturesque white villages amidst green oak groves. These are the Sierra of Western Andalusia, an enchanting region with an incredible natural diversity.”

The first thing that stands out when picking up a copy of the Crossbill Guides Andalusian Sierras, is the heavy paper, and full colour photos and maps. The quality of the paper makes a huge difference to your enjoyment of this guide, which should accompany you in the car. Buy a second copy to keep on the coffee table, for easy reading at home.

At 208 pages, this is a meaty guide that is also only slightly wider than a paperback novel, and very easily fits in a daypack when you’re walking or hiking around the district. Though district might be too localised a description, since the area covered in Andalusian Sierras stretches from the Bay of Gibraltar, through the Alcornacales, Grazalema, Sierra de las Nieves, Torcal and Ardales-El Chorro parklands.

Visitors to the area are often struck by the contrasts between differing parts of Western Andalucia, that in such a small geographical area there can be so many ecosystems bordering each other. The terrain is unique in being the meeting ground where Africa is pushing into Europe, with high limestone mountains, rolling sandstone hills, and low fertile valleys.

Needless to say, the flora and fauna of the area can differ quite substantially. In Andalusian Sierras we are first introduced to the landscape, written in an appealing descriptive style, and heavy on facts. Climate and geology is discussed first, and includes schematics of the terrain explaining the various habitats to be found.

For the infrequent visitor to Andalucia, a book with 30 walks of the Serrania de Ronda is useless. Far batter to invest in Andalusian Sierras: From Malaga to Gibraltar (Crossbill Guides) with 14 excellent walks covering a wider area, that take in a broader variety of habitats. The majority of visitors to Andalusia are after all, only here for a week or two, and it would be a shame to not experience El Torcal, Grazalema, or the lowland walks of the Campo de Gibraltar near Tarifa.

Nature lovers who travel the world in search of new experiences will thoroughly enjoy the treatment of the the natural spaces in Andalusia by the Crossbill Guides Foundation. Whilst this guide only covers the nature of Malaga and Cadiz provinces, anyone familiar with the district would confirm that the native and migratory flora is amongst the richest in Europe.

Pages are colour-coded, and roughly divided into four sections, Landscape, Flora and Fauna, Walking Routes, and Tourist Information and Observation Tips.

The walking routes are graded, include a map, description of terrain, colour photos of highlights, and itinerary. The routes are; bird Migration along the Strait of Gibraltar, the Southern Alcornacales, the Northern Alcornacales, Climbing Aljibe Mountain, El Pinsapar Spanish Fir forest walk, Salto del Cabrero, La Garganta Verde, Along El Bosque river, the north slope of the Pinar mountains, the karst landscape of Villaluenga, the fir forest of Luis Ceballos, the hight mountains, El Chorro, and walking in the Torcal de Antequera.

The back of the book gives a species list for plants, mammals, birds, invertebrates, and reptiles. Curiously, the editors have decided to provide English, Latin, German, and Dutch, but not Spanish. This isn’t a huge oversight, but does mean when speaking to Spaniards about fauna and flora, you’ll need to use the latin name to find common ground.
andalusian-sierras-malage-to-gibraltar-crossbill-guides

Wildside Holidays Field Trips to Grazalema

The Sierra de Grazalema is one of the most scenically stunning areas in the whole of Spain. It is a diverse UNESCO Biosphere Park containing habitats ranging from mixed oak woodlands, pine forest and upland pastures to high mountains where life clings-on in the extremes of seasonal climate change. Temperatures are wide-ranging throughout the park influenced by altitudes from 400m to 1600m above sea level, as well as the eastern areas benefiting from the Mediterranean climate the western facing slopes are affected by the Atlantic climate. Unsurprisingly such a varied habitat and range of altitudes produces a great diversity in flora and fauna. Our ABS Field Meeting for December visited this important area and gave attending members a chance to marvel at the landscape and, as always, enjoy each others company.

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Nature Activities – Juzcar

Deep in the green Genal Valley, but only a few kilometres from Ronda, lies the tiny village of Júzcar, almost invisible as the valley roads twist and turn along the length of the Genal River. Juzcar is small, and easily walked around in less than 30 minutes, you could blink and miss this little inland Andalucia village, but don’t or you’ll really kick yourself later.

Known as Juzcareños, the population of the county is only a little over two hundred, but the history of Juzcar and the wealth of natural wonders located within her borders make a stay in Juzcar something to be recommended. The Hotel Bandolero is a small boutique hotel with 8 rooms in the village that is comfortable, charming, full of character, and has a great restaurant.

The Genal River snakes it’s way through the valley, with numerous tributaries meandering around the village and creating little pools, eddies, or waterfalls at regular intervals. It is the river that is the heart of the Genal Valley, and from which it takes it’s name. Juzcar is in the higher reaches of the valley, known in Spanish as the Alto Genal, and can be reached from both of the main highways running south from Ronda the Ronda-Jimena road via Alpandeire, or the Ronda-San Pedro highway via Cartajima.

Mountains, Caves, and Rivers near Juzcar

To the north of the village lies Jarastepar, a jurassic limestone peak with outcrops of Upper Cretaceous redbeds that rises 1427m into the heavens, all the more impressive in Juzcar because unlike many of the other Serranía villages, Juzcar is only 600m above sea level. The hills immediately around Juzcar village are green, and filled with chestnut trees, whilst to the south in the valley lie the olive tree orchards.

The road between Juzcar and Cartajima, which is the next village on the way into Ronda, is a terrifying road of narrow sections, tight bends, and fast cars; actually it isn’t that bad but it’s the impression many people have of the road. Take care when approaching traffic that you can stop quickly if the road suddenly narrows.

Limestone Mountains, Juzcar
Limestone Mountains, Juzcar

Looming above and around the road are the massive limestone mountains of the Alto Genal, with some of Andalucía’s most spectacular landscape. The limestone mountains to the north of Juzcar, are every bit as impressive as El Torcal over in the GuadalTeba, but much closer to Ronda, and only a short drive and walk from Juzcar.

One could almost imagine the hills are an alien landscape, they protrude in sharp angular outcrops, but are filled with caves and sinkholes, towering minarets, and other formations that make the Alto Genal a geologically fascinating district. Balancing rocks are found in abundance, and create some interesting shapes. Heavy rain in the distant past washed away all of the top soil and exposed the limestone, which is a soft rock easily sculpted by running water.

Just outside Juzcar village is a small cave entrance known as Cueva de Calderón, hinting at what might be underneath. In fact other than the Hundadero-Gato cave system between Montejaque and Benaojan, the caves in the Alto Genal specifically known as the Sierra del Oreganal between Alpandeire, Juzcar and Cartijima are the most well known and loved by cavers. Potholing is possible, though recommended only for experts, and numerous caves that may have been sanctuaries for paleolithic people surround the valley.

Abseiling and rugged adventure walks in the Genal River and other tributaries such as the Zua River are popular activities in these parts. River rappelling at the Sima del Diablo with 8m and 10m descents can be done with a qualified guide, or alone if you have the experience. Unlike other waterfalls and canyons in Málaga province, the Sima del Diablo is secluded with a thick canopy overhead. The location is dark and moody, more reminiscent of a rain forest than sunny Southern Spain. Further upstream you’ll also encounter the Cueva del Moro, the Moor’s Cave.

Legend tells that when the area was first settled a Moor discovered a cave with a natural spring with the sweetest tasting water in the world, and plugging the river in three places with trees and branches he was able to divert the water to each of the three villages where he had a girlfriend, Juzcar, Pandeire, and Baltasar. Later when he married, the village priest decreed that his dam should be destroyed so that only his bride could taste the beautiful water.

Walks From Juzcar

There are a number of countryside walks around Juzcar ranging from 45 minutes to 1hr 15mins, and most can be extended to several hours if that appeals. All of these walks are only suitable for people who can walk, and are comfortable on flights of steps because they require walking off-road on rocky terrain with occasional steeps slopes.

Starting with a walk to Farajan, a nearby village and the walk is only 45 minutes or 2.8kms, with a difficulty level of medium. The walk starts near Juzcar’s cemetery, and leads on the road to Faraján and Alpandeire for about 1km before going off-road to Faraján. Vegetation along the side of the road will be olive, holm oaks, and wild sumac. This walking route takes you past the Fuente de Trujillo, and the spring which marks the beginning of the River Zua.

The second walk from Juzcar goes to Cartajima, and is 2.85kms, and should take around an hour. This is described as a low difficulty walk, suitable for a relaxing day out in the countryside, perhaps enjoying lunch or tapas in Cartajima before returning to your hotel in Juzcar. You’ll pass Juzcar’s ruined tin factory, the el Romeral dolmen from neolithic times, a copse on ancient oaks, and the fuente de las calenturas, so named because the water is so cold people who drink from it often come down with a fever (calentura).

Our third walk from Juzcar goes to Pujerra, another of the Genal Valley villages. This walk is suitable for walking or cycling, and is 3.6kms or around 1hr 15mins, and is described as being a medium difficulty. The walk departs on the Cartajina road, but quickly goes off-road into a small forest of holm and oaks. At the bottom of the valley we cross the Genal river near a small chestnut forest, and then pass the old flour mills that until the mid 20th century provided most of the employment in Juzcar.

Juzcar Birdwatching

Bee-eater near Juzcar
Bee-eater near Juzcar

The entire Serranía de Ronda is a birdwatchers paradise, but Juzcar is special, not for the huge variety of birds to be seen, but for the range of terrain within the county. From the mountains descend the raptors, soaring high above looking for food, whilst down in the forest and riverbed smaller birds pick and fuss.

The forests surrounding Juzcar are filled with pine and chestnut trees, creating a leaf covered forest floor that teams with worms, grubs and insects. This is a bird’s heaven, plentiful food and cover from the watching eyes of birds of prey above. The trees and mountain cliffs provide wonderful nesting locations, one never has to walk very far during the nesting season if birdwatching is your passion.

Here’s our list of ten common birds you’ll see during the year in Juzcar;

English Name Latin Name Spanish Name
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Buitre Leonado
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus Culebrera Europea
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Busardo Ratonero
Booted Eagle Aquila pennata Aguililla Calzada
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa Perdiz Roja
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo Buho Real
Bee-eater Merops apiaster Abejaruco Europeo
Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius Roquero Solitario
Western Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli Mosquitero sombrío
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus Escribano Soteño