Navasola Nature

Natural History of the Sierra de Aracena 2008

Spring flowers, birds and more in Western Andalucía
(including visits to Doñana and Portugal’s Alentejo)

Revised 26th January 2008.

Leaders: Nick Clark and Trevor Bending
2008 Dates: Sun 13 April - Sun 20 April +/- 1 day - revised (see below)
Price: from: £TBA per person, excluding flights (see below)

This week will be our second based in Fuenteheridos, for which we are delighted to be accompanied by guest leader Nick Clark.

Please note that this is a very different tour from that organised in 2007 and clients will be our 'guinea pigs' for this non-commercial research venture. Last year's tour was very successfully led for us by Teresa Farino but proved very demanding for the variety of clients with differing interests. The 2008 version will flexibly offer a number of half-day (3-4 hour) sessions, short evening get-togethers and some full days which in most cases will not exceed eight hours of accompanied time. The Spanish siesta will sometimes be observed and there will be plenty of free time including a free day. The price will cover only the logistics and wildlife guiding, though accommodation and evening meals can be reserved and some courtesy picnics and picnic lunches will be provided. On other days, clients will purchase their own 'pub' lunches as required. The tour is offered 'ex-Seville' and should prove a very inexpensive way to visit this beautiful Sierra with support from a locally resident naturalist.

Outline for the tour:

The Sierra de Aracena Natural Park lies at the extreme western end of the Sierra Morena Biosphere Reserve, abutting Portugal to the west and Extremadura to the north. It is a gentle landscape, the highest peaks barely reaching 1000 metres, while - unusually for southern Spain - rainfall is relatively high, giving rise to an exuberant vegetation characterised by rolling expanses of evergreen oak dehesa (wood-pasture), interspersed with pockets of primeval Mediterranean forest and lush groves of sweet chestnut and Pyrenean oak. Whitewashed villages dot the landscape, their inhabitants still following a centuries-old agricultural regime whose protagonist is the Iberian black pig.

In spring, the Sierra de Aracena literally bursts into life. The chestnut groves and dehesas are carpeted with drifts of western peony, pink, blue and yellow lupins, Spanish bluebell and Barbary nut iris, while rocky outcrops harbour dipcadi, Fritillaria hispanica, mirror ophrys and conical and naked man orchids. Colourful migrant birds have already arrived by April, with bee-eaters busy staking out their nest sites in roadside banks, and red-rumped swallows investigating the many stone bridges of the park. The chestnut groves are home to breeding lesser spotted woodpecker and the more easily seen Greater spotted and Green woodpeckers, turtle dove, woodlark, Iberian chiffchaff, redstart, black-redstart and rock sparrow, while the dehesa harbours black-eared wheatear, crested tit, short-toed treecreeper, woodchat shrike, Iberian azure-winged magpie and cirl bunting. Black storks feed in the marshy grasslands along the River Múrtiga, to the background accompaniment of myriad nightingales and Cetti’s warblers. The huge silhouettes of black vultures may be seen on foraging expeditions from their stronghold in the nearby Sierra Pelada. Griffon and Egyptian vultures, black and red kites and booted and short-toed eagles are also seen regularly, with other vertebrates in the park including Iberian hare, large psammodromus and Bosca’s newt. Butterflies on the wing at this time of year include the delightful Spanish festoon.

During our week in the Sierra de Aracena we will visit all the principal habitats of the park from our base in Fuenteheridos. An exploration of Trevor’s quietly secluded finca nearby will give us a good introduction to the flora and fauna of the chestnut groves and evergreen forest. We will be ranging further afield to take in the colourful limestone vegetation of the Peña de Arias Montano, the dehesas of the Sierra de las Contiendas and the riverside pastures of the Río Múrtiga and the Rivera de Huelva.

A trip to the Gruta de las Maravillas in Aracena itself is a must, where water trickling through the subterranean limestone cave system for millennia has given rise to spectacular crystalline deposits, stalagmites and stalactites, and we will also visit some of the more picturesque villages, hamlets and chapels of the park. As a complete contrast of habitat, one day will be spent in the internationally renowned Doñana National Park, where the bird-rich wetlands support spoonbill, glossy ibis, squacco and purple herons, purple gallinule and marsh harrier. We will also visit the the Portuguese Alentejo, in search of lesser kestrel, Montagu’s harrier, and great spotted cuckoo or, failing these, the secret Barrancos 'bullring'.

Price: TBA (estimated total cost pp ex-Seville including accommodation and meals approx. £450, €650, US$900), to include courtesy picnics and some lunches, transport throughout, all entry fees and the services of Nick Clark and Trevor Bending as leaders. En-suite bed and breakfast accommodation in Fuenteheridos and evening meals if required will be reserved on clients' behalf, to be paid for in euros (and probably cash) at the end of your stay .
This is a land-based tour ex-Seville. Flights and travel insurance (obligatory) are the responsibility of the client.
Pick-up details: The tour will effectively commence on Tuesday 15 April but Trevor will meet evening Ryanair flights from Liverpool and Stansted on Sunday 13th or Monday 14th April, subject to schedules (available in the autumn of 2007, in the case of Ryanair), which currently arrive in Seville between 20.40 and 21.00. It may also be possible to meet clients arriving on earlier flights, who would then spend the afternoon in Seville. ( may be offering low-cost flights from Gatwick). Please do not book flights until final course booking is confirmed in December/January. It may be possible to adjust arrival and departure dates by a day or so.
On the return trip on Sunday 20th or Monday 21st April, Trevor will drop clients at Seville airport in the evening, to connect with the return Ryanair flights to Stanstead (8364) and Liverpool (9207), currently scheduled to depart at 21.10 and 21.15 respectively. (Please enquire for further details once schedules are published and before booking your flights.) Find out about flights on the Ryanair, and Iberia websites.
Alternatively, those travelling to Fuenteheridos or Aracena independently can arrange to meet the group on the first evening.
Group size: maximum 7 persons.
Booking information: please contact Trevor Bending for further details and a booking form, or if you have any queries about this tour.

Office phone (UK): 0208 572 6790
Mobile phone (Spain): 00 34 690 747987

Address: 70 Westbrook Road, Heston,
London TW5 0NG  UK