Tag Archives: Nature

Little owl on the tajo bridge, Ronda

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.
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Spanish Fir

The Spanish Fir, Abies pinsapo

Dotted around the mountains of Grazalema and the Sierra de las Nieves, and also in the city of Ronda itself, the observant visitor will occasionally run across a type of evergreen fir that looks different from others.

This is Abies pinsapo, the national tree of Andalucía, and one of a very few species that survived through the last major ice age into the modern era. That alone gives the tree special significance, and sadly Abies pinsapo is endangered. Reforestation efforts seem to be working, but the tree is often found in zones that have a high risk of fire.

In their natural environment the Spanish Fir tree is most comfortable at higher altitudes, typically above 900m, which means that in most cases you’re going to have to get out of Ronda and the valleys to see the tree. Driving from Ronda to El Burgo, or from Zahara de la Sierra though Benamahoma to Grazalema are where they are easily seen without stopping. Of course, I prefer to avoid a car, and simply walk over the mountains :)

A fully grown Spanish Fir will be tall and upright, tapering to a point at the top, though it isn’t unusual for older trees to become irregular in shape. The leaves of the Spanish Fir are my favourite aspect of them. They are glaucous (blue-green in colour), tubular, only 2cm long, and waxy to touch. The colour of the leaves can in fact give the entire tree a distinctly blueish look from a distance.

Abies pinsapo’ seeds are cone-like, and can grow to nearly 20cm. Typically the tree will seed in the summer, and by October the cones are mature and falling to the ground. They are pink and green, and can be quite attractive.

There are two varieties of Abies pinsapo, the one known to us in Andalucía, and another that is very similar but finds its home in the Rif mountains of Morocco.

Spanish Fir

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Dar Gabriel Riad Hotel in Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen in Morocco has many historical links with Ronda and is known as the Pearl of the North. Its only a short trip across the Straits of Gibraltar yet you will be transported into a world apart, and is well worth a visit if you are looking for something a little bit different and extra special. We were lucky enough to pay a visit to this beautiful town and stayed at the lovingly restored Riad hotel Dar Gabriel. An oasis of tranquility from which to discover this interesting area.

The hotel has seven beautifully decorated bedrooms all of which are ensuite, with the added luxury of a comfortable sitting room,  heated in winter by a wood burning stove, an intimate dining room where you can also enjoy traditional home cooked meals by your hosts Ben Salam and Izza- amongst the delights on offer are tajines; a moroccan traditional dish cooked in a conical clay pot on hot coals, this method of cooking leaves all the flavours intact and the meat succulent. We particularly enjoyed the chicken, almonds and apricots accompanied by a fresh Moroccan style salad. Izza explained that all the ingredients she uses are bought locally and are mainly homegrown. After our meal we just went up onto the spacious roof terrace to enjoy the views, sights and sounds of this magical city. By day we explored the myriad of tiny streets, lined with all sorts of merchants selling local handicrafts for which the town is famous. Relaxing in the main square with a glass of Moroccan mint tea was a favorite past time after a long days shopping.

It wasnt long before we decided to venture a little further than the town itself. Chefchaouen  is surrounded by beautiful, unspoilt countryside, so we decided to take advantage of one of the walking routes that the hotel has to offer. It was a bit of a difficult choice as there were four trails to choose from, but we opted for the Bouhachem Barbary Macaque Conservation trail, where we hoped to see the Barbary Macaque monkeys ( the same as can be seen on the Rock of Gibraltar) in their natural habitat. Guided by a local naturalist, we were treated to an interesting trek, highlighted by the monkey sightings, wild flowers, and bird watching. If you are at all interested in wildlife this is definately the trail for you. Our hosts Izza and Ben Salem, explained that there were also trails to cristal clear waterfalls, that were a must in the hot summer months, and a visit with an overnight stay to the natural park of Tallasemtane where the luggage is carried by a mule and one can also cool off in the refreshing rock pools at the end of a long days trekking.

To book a visit at Dar Gabriel visit www.dargabriel.com or contact Kit or Penny Hogg direct on 0034 952 11 74 86 or mobile 0034 686 888 409 or email on penny@dargabriel.com.

The Bonellis Eagle, Sierra de Grazalema

Bonelli’s Eagle, Icon of the Serranía

Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) master of our skies.

If you were to search for an emblematic species which would define the importance of the Serranía de Ronda  and the Sierra de Grazalema for wildlife, then the Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) would be the definitive and unequivocal choice.

Among the rarest species of raptor in Europe, the Bonelli’s Eagle has perhaps, for the moment, its highest breeding density in the world right here in the Serranía de Ronda!

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Autumn Mandrake near Ronda

The Autumn Mandrake

The mandragora autumnalis is an autumn and winter flowering beauty here in Andalucia and is a plant totally surrounded in myth and folklore. The mandrake belongs to the Solanaceae or Potato family and has been mentioned over the centuries many times, even in the Bible it was noted as an aphrodisiac.

From September to March it can be seen in olive groves, in fields or even along the verges growing as a large clump of enormous dark green leaves. If you take a closer look you will see the wonderful lilac-pink crocus like flowers, often 10-30 on a single plant and after flowering there are enormous yellow/orange seedpods.

It has a taproot of 90cm-1.20m (3-4 feet) long, often forked and said to resemble a woman with an enormous hairdo. If you are a Harry Potter fan you will recognise the mandrake from the Herbology classes at Hogwarts! You’ll find the plant in numerous sites, from Sierra de Grazalema, Canete La Real to Olvera, you just need to get out there and have a look.

It is said that in Medieval England it grew beneath the gallows of murderers and sprang up from their sperm, but woe betide anyone who tried to dig up the plant. It was said that the taproot would scream, driving mad the person trying to excavate it so, eventually, they learnt to tie dogs to the roots to pull them out. Of course it didn’t matter if the poor dogs died mad.

In the Harry Potter book the young magicians have to wear ear-mufflers to protect their ears and to stop them from going mad. The root itself is highly toxic, it is rich in alkaloids, for example scopolamine and atropine and therefore anyone playing around with it could very likely kill himself or someone else! It is probably best appreciated through the lens of a camera.

Manuals of Magic say that the root of the mandrake wrapped in silk and kept in a chest will ensure that you are never short of money (I must get around to trying this one day). There is also a saying in some parts of England that if you manage to keep a mandrake plant for 7 years it will turn into a child! This child will follow you everywhere and do your bidding! I don’t think I will give it a try thank you very much.

For more information on the wildlife of our area please see www.spanishnature.com

Andalucían Alpacas in the Snow

Andalucían Alpacas in the Snow

Nigel and Ginny Cobb, a local couple who pioneered Alpaca breeding in Andalucía sent us this photo of their Alpacas sitting under a tree when the first snow arrived in Ronda a few days ago.

Their fibre keeps them warm and so long as they can get food (Nigel and Ginny go round with avena every day) they are quite happy.

Alpacas are originally found in South America but seem to thrive in Spanish conditions and their hair makes an excellent wool. Apart from Nigel and Ginny Cobb between Arriate and Setenil, there are also other breeders near Arriate and two breeders near Gaucín.

Nigel and Ginny are quite happy to meet people who might be interested in seeing their Alpacas, meetings can be arranged on their property near Ronda, and they often exhibit their Alpacas at local agricultural shows.

Too learn more, visit the Andalucían Alpaca website.

Griffon Vulture Soaring

Griffon Vulture of the Serranía

A colossus in our mountains! With a wingspan of 2.8 metres and weighing 8 kilos, that’s 9 foot and 17lbs in old money, Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus is our largest resident raptor here in the Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema.

Essentially a specialist carrion eater, this enormous bird is spectacular and the most easily seen raptor in our mountains. Throughout Spain, this species has increased steadily over the past 15 years by the provision of feeding stations, the last official census carried out to ascertain the number of breeding birds put the population at 17,000 pairs.

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