Cazorla may not be on the list of top destinations for birdwatching in Spain, but if, like me, you’re more of a casual birder, then it´s certainly worth a visit. Also, Cazorla has so much more to offer than “just birds”: there’s spectacular mountain scenery, a huge diversity of plant life and great opportunities for wildlife watching. Add that to whitewashed villages, castles and folklore, and it´s the perfect place to escape to … and do some birdwatching too!
When I say “Cazorla”, I am actually referring to the Natural Park with a slightly longer name: “Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas”, in the north-east of Jaén province (Andalucia). Here we find a rich variety of habitats, such as pine forests, Mediterranean oak woodland, mountain peaks, river valleys and escarpments which make this mountainous area an important refuge for some 185 species of birds, some resident, some just passing through.
It is, perhaps, the birds of prey that have the most “wow-factor” (at least for me). If you fancy the idea of being able to look down on huge griffon vultures as they glide gently by or get a bird’s eye view into their nests on the rocky cliffs, this is the place to do it. There are two spectacular places to watch vultures: one is El Chorro, not far from the town of Cazorla. Here, in the spring, you can sit directly opposite the nests and watch how these impressive birds soar overhead and manoeuvre onto the rocky ledges to feed their chicks. But you´ll not only see vultures, there´ll be red-billed choughs, chattering noisily whilst performing group acrobatics, and many smaller birds hopping through the trees or popping up onto the rocks: woodpeckers (green and lesser spotted), short-toed tree-creepers and nuthatches, blue rock thrush, black redstart and rock bunting, to name but a few.
The Cerrada de Utrero gorge is another spectacular setting where you´ll find more vultures and possibly other birds of prey, along with crag martins, grey wagtails and dippers. On the way, you´ll go over the “Puerto de las Palomas” pass, which not only boasts spectacular views over the Guadalquivir Valley but is also an interesting spot to get your binoculars out to look for kestrels, short-toed and booted eagles and possibly even a peregrine falcon.
If you head down the Gualquivir Valley, shortly after passing Arroyo Frío, you´ll find El Cantalar, a renovated forest-warden’s house that now serves as rural accommodation and our nature centre. It´s surrounded by Mediterranean oak woodland on one side and mixed pine forest on the other, both of which provide refuge for a variety of smaller birds. Though sometimes difficult to identify because of their liking for flitting amongst the foliage, it´s common to see crested and long-tailed tits, as well as blue tits and great tits, chaffinches and some rather bold nuthatches. But we´ve also seen crossbills and firecrest here and, at night, tawny and Scops owls can be heard.
Then, after a hard-day´s birding, you can relax and enjoy the beautiful views over the Guadalquivir Valley, whilst observing wild boar and deer roaming nearby and red squirrels busily looking for food. Just perfect for nature lovers and casual birders!