Tag Archives: Nature


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.

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

Birdwatchers Paradise

Birds of the Serrania de Ronda, A Systematic List

Birds of the Serrania de Ronda, A Systematic List also subtitled “A Birdwatcher’s Paradise” produced by a collaboration of Peter Jones and the rural tourism authorities of the Serrania de Ronda is billed as the most complete list of birds commonly and uncommonly seen in the district, with every bird having been confirmed by a panel of experts.

Ronda and the surrounding district is a birdwatchers paradise, being a primarily rural area with three natural parks in the area; Grazalema, Sierra de las Nieves, and Los Alcornacales. As well as being mountainous (the penibaetic range and Sierra Nevada) lending a favourable environment to birds of prey, prevailing wind patterns make the district appealing to migratory birds who are able to rest or follow the wind over the mountains to the flat plains north of the district, or use strong gusts to propel them over the straits of Gibraltar toward Africa.

Terrain in the Serrania ranges from limestone peaks, sandstone outcrops, forests of pine, Spanish fir, cork, oak, as well as grasslands and scrub in the lower reaches. In addition several rivers and tributaries have carved gorges and valleys. With terrain like this it’s easy to see why the Serrania de Ronda is called a birdwatchers paradise.

Birdwatchers Paradise

Amongst the better known birds of the area are: Golden, Bonelli’s, Booted, and Short-toed Eagles; Peregrine Falcon; Lesser Kestrel; Eagle Owl; Griffon and Egyptian Vultures; White-rumped, Alpine, and Pallid Swifts; Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Thrush; Black Wheatear; Black Redstart; Chough; Rock Sparrow; Rock Bunting; and Crossbill.

“Birds of the Serrania de Ronda” lists all of these, and many more, in fact there are 209 birds listed as frequenting the Serrania at various times of the year. The only downside of the systematic list is that a seasonal calendar isn’t provided, with birdwatchers needing to cross reference against other birding books.

Sites of special interest are also listed all of which are reasonably accessible to any birdwatcher who has access to a car. These are the Sierra de Libar, Puerto de las Palomas, Rio Guadiaro, Ronda Tajo, Sierra Blanquilla, Sierra de las Nieves, Genal Valley.

Download “Birds of the Serrania de Ronda, A Systematic List“, and for further information about guided birdwatching tours we recommend Peter Jones of Spanish Nature, the most experienced guide in the district, and an internationally recognised expert.


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.

ABS Members near Osuna, Sevilla

Andalucia Bird Society hold their first AGM

The Andalucían Bird Society, based in Ronda, yesterday held their first Annual General Meeting, marking a club milestone, and demonstrating the founding members commitment to birding and the environment in Andalucía.

Yesterday’s AGM took place at El Saucejo in the Sevilla province after a successful morning of bird watching attended by more than 20 members from as far away as Marbella, with one member flying in from the UK for the field trip and AGM.

Birding in Spain generally comes under the auspices of the umbrella society, the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO/Birdlife) and the Andalucían Bird Society is loosely associated with the national organisation, though members prefer the less formal approach and emphasis on socialising that is a hallmark of the ABS.

Club President Juan Onate, and Chairman Peter Jones, long time biologists told Ronda Today the club is predominantly made up of foreign residents, but in recent times a number of Spaniards have joined who have very good working knowledge of the terrain in Andalucía.

Alfredo Carrasco, well known locally as the man responsible for promoting tourism in the Serranía de Ronda was voted secretary of the club, and Jesús Contreras, a biologist, elected conservation and education officer. David Hird was elected to a new position survey and projects officer, Pieter Verheij was re-elected treasurer, and Tony Bishop becomes press and public relations officer.

Membership of the society is open to anyone with an interest in birding or the environment, and with monthly field trips being organised across Andalucía (the three most recent have been in Málaga, Granada, and Sevilla provinces), Peter Jones, an internationally renowned birding expert told Ronda Today the club is a natural home for all birding enthusiasts throughout Andalucía.

For more information about membership, or to attend field trips, please visit the ABS website – www.andaluciabirdsociety.org.

Some pictures from the June field trip;