El Geco Verde offers bird watchers a glorious opportunity to explore uncharted territories in southern Spain.
Our small eco friendly hotel is situated in open countryside in the astonishingly diverse Altiplano region of northern Granada where, within a 20 mile radius, you may find lakes, mountains, deserts, steppes, pine forests and open farmland, plus extensive olive and almond groves.
The hotel is at 900m above sea level at the base of the Sierra de Castril mountain range, which rises to around 2,000m.
With no roads or other disturbances, just sitting on the terrace or on a short stroll from the hotel you will be able to see some of the amazing birds of this area; in particular, squadrons of Griffon Vultures sweeping past on the thermal air rising to the top of the valley, where the hotel is situated.
In high summer Bee-eaters often descend on the hotel to take wasps and bees on the wing from their base in the branches of an old dead tree in a nearby field.
The same tree has also been playing host to a Little owl which likes the look of the nest box we put there.
A visitor to the hotel in May also saw Bee-eaters, Woodchat shrikes, Booted and Short-toed eagles and Hoopoes and heard Quail in the fields plus a Tawny owl at night. In the spring and summer the distinctive call of the Scops owl is nearly always heard at night.
El Geco Verde commands 360 degree views across open farmland on one side, a pine forest on the other and the almond and olive groves which encircle the building. The hotel is 3km from the nearest village, ensuring peace, privacy and plenty of wildlife! Our proximity to the Natural Park of the Sierra de Castril offers guests the rare opportunity to spot Lammergeiers (AKA Bearded Vulture, Quebrantahuesos), huge bone eating vultures which have been successfully reintroduced here after disappearing from the local mountains in 1986. A breeding programme run by the Fundacion Gypaetus (www.gypaetus.org) near Cazorla released its first examples in 2006, and most of the 19 birds released to date have made their home in the Sierra de Castril. The movement of the birds is monitored so it is possible to have some idea of where they are at any given time. Some of the volunteers from the project also work as guides for interested and respectful birdwatchers, thus offering the best chance of seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat without jeopardising nesting sites.
During the summer it is also possible to visit the Fundacion Gypaetus´ breeding project in the Natural Park of Cazorla. The Fundacion also organises events such as the rally held in Castril in 2010, where members of the public were invited to meet several juvenile birds prior to their release.
A volunteer monitoring the reintroduction of the Quebrantahuesos spotted the following birds in and around the Natural Park of the Sierra de Castril (the list has been translated below, with English names followed by Spanish, then Latin. Here is the link to the original list);
We have added our own research and sightings to the list as follows. It is not exhaustive and we ask all our guests to let us know what they see so we can add to it and keep it up to date.:
Barn swallow, Golondrina común (Hirundo rustica)
Bee-eater, Abejaruco (Merops apiaster)
Blackcap, Curruca capirotada (Sylvia atricapilla)
Black-billed magpie, Urraca (Pica pica)
Black kite, Milano negro (Milvus migrans)
Black redstart, Colirrojo tizón (Phoenicopterus ochruros)
Black wheatear, Collalba negra (Oenanthe leucura)
Black-winged kite, Elanio comun (Elanus caeruleos)
Blue rock thrush, Roquero solitario (Monticola solitarius)
Blue tit, Herrerillo común (Parus caeruleus)
Bonelli´s eagle, Aguila perdicera (Aquila fasciata)
Bonelli's warbler, Mosquitero papialbo (Phylloscopus bonelli)
Booted eagle, Aguila calzada (Aquila pennata)
Buzzard, Ratonero común (Buteo buteo)
Carrion crow, Corneja negra (Corvus corone corone)
Cetti's warbler, Ruiseñor cettia (Cettia cetti)
Chaffinch, Pinzón vulgar (Fringilla coelebs)
Chough, Chova piquirroja (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Cirl bunting, Escribano soteño (Emberiza cirlus)
Collared pratincole, Canastera común (Glareola pratincola)
Common blackbird, Zorzal charlo (Turdus viscivorus)
Common house martin, Avión común (Delichon urbicum)
Common kestrel, Cernícalo vulgar (Falco tinnunculus)
Common moorhen, Gallineta común(Gallinula chloropus)
Common raven, Cuervo (Corvux corax)
Common starling, Estornino pinto (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common swift, Vencejo común (Apus apus)
Common wood pigeon, Paloma torcaz (Columba palumbus)
Dipper, Mirlo acuático (Cinclus cinclus)
Eurasian blackbird, Mirlo común (Turdus merula)
Eurasian collared dove, Tórtola turca (Streptopelia decaocto)
Eurasian crag martin, Avión roquero (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Eurasian golden oriole, Oropéndola (Oriolus oriolus)
Eurasian jay, Arrendajo (Garrulus glandarius)
Eurasian nuthatch, Trepador azul (Sitta europea)
Eurasian (or Northern) sparrowhawk, Gavilán (Accipiter nisus)
European goldfinch, Jilguero (Carduelis carduelis)
European greenfinch, Pardillo común (Carduelis cannabina)
European nightjar, Chotacabras gris (Caprimulgus europaeus)
European robin, Petirrojo (Erithacus rubecula)
European serin, Verdecillo (Serinus serinus)
Great spotted woodpecker, Pico picapinos (Dendrocopus major)
Great tit, Carbonero común (Parus mayor)
Goshawk, Azor común (Accipiter gentilis)
Golden eagle, Aguila real (Aquila chrysaetos)
Goldfinch, Jilguero (Carduelis carduelis)
Green woodpecker, Pito real (Picus viridis)
Green-winged pytilia, Vencejo real (Tachymanptis melba)
Griffon vulture, Buitre Leonardo (Gyps fulvus)
House sparrow, Gorrion moruno (Passer domesticus)
Kingfisher, Martin pescador (Aceldo atthis)
Lammergeier, Quebrantahuesos (Gypaetus barbatus)
Little owl, Mochuelo comun (Athene noctua)
Long-tailed bushtit, Mito (Aegithalos caudatus)
Nightingale, Ruiseñor común (Luscinia megarhynchos)
Northern wheatear, Collalba gris (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Peregrine falcon, Halcón peregrino (Falco peregrinus)
Pied flycatcher, Papamoscas cerrojillo (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Red kite, Milano real (Milvus milvus)
Red-legged partridge, Perdiz roja (Alectoris rufa)
Robin, Alzarola (Erithacus rubecula)
Rock bunting, Escribano montesino (Emberiza cia)
Rock dove, Paloma bravía (Columba livia & C.livia domést.)
Rock sparrow, Gorrión chillón (Petronia petronia)
Scops owl, Autillo (Otus scops)
Short toed treecreeper, Agateador común (Certhia brachydactyla)
Short-toed snake eagle, Culebrera europea (Circaetus gallicus)
Spotted flycatcher, Papamoscas gris (Muscicapa striata)
Spotless starling, Estornino negro (Sturnus unicolor)
Spanish imperial eagle, Aguila imperial ibérica (Aquila adalberti)
Tawny owl, Cárabo (Strix aluco)
Thekla lark, Cogujada montesina (Galerida thleklae)
White wagtail, Lavandera blanca (Motacilla alba)
Woodchat shrike, Alcaudón común (Lanius senator)
Woodpecker, Pajaro carpintero (Picus sharpei)
Wren, Cochin (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Amongst the Altiplano´s favourite birds are:
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) AKA Bearded Vulture or Quebrantahuesos (means “bone breaker” in Spanish). A huge bone eating vulture. It is the only bird to feed on bones, which it first breaks open by dropping them from the air or from high ridges onto rocks and stones. It is present all year around.
Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) Large concentrations nest in the plentiful caves and rocky crags of the natural parks, often feeding on fallen sheep or wild boar which are abundant in the vicinity. Permanent residents, they are commonly seen around El Geco Verde, where they take advantage of thermal currents to glide past the house, often at eye level.
Black winged kite (Elanus caeruleos); diurnal birds of prey, best known for their habit of hovering over open grasslands in the manner of the much smaller kestrels. Mostly seen early morning and evening.
Woodchat shrike, Alcaudón común (Lanius senator); cunning predator which impales unfortunate victims on thorns, hence also referred to as the “butcher bird”.
Bee-eaters, Abejaruco europeo (Merops apiaster); masters of flight often seen around El Geco Verde in summer taking bees and wasps on the wing. Flies in groups and is commonly sighted in open areas with dispersed trees (visible May to September)
Hoopoes, Abubilla (Upupa epops); distinctive “woop woop woop” call, crest and plumage makes the Abubilla an instant favourite. We often spot them on the track to the house, just an easy stroll away. Seen and heard April to September.
Short-toed snake eagle, Booted eagle, Bonelli´s eagle, Tawny owl and Scops owl; all these birds have been seen and heard from the terrace of the hotel.
Woodpecker; heard almost daily in the pine forest beside the hotel.
Raven; a very common sight around the hotel, and their distinctive cry makes them easy to recognise. We have seen them flying among a large group of Griffon Vultures, even in one case provoking a mid-air collision!
Chough, Chova (Pyrrocorax pyrrhocorax) during the mating season the couples engage in acrobatic arial dances; beautiful to watch.
Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicemus) living all year round in the steppe areas of the region; not an easy bird to spot as its plumage blends perfectly into the colours of the ground, and it can be active at night.
European Roller, Carraca Europea (Coracias garrulous), summer bird with colourful plumage and distinctive call during mating season. Its mating show is well worth seeing.
Black Wheatear, Collalba negra (Oenanthe leucura) nests in holes in the side of mountains or in caves, which are abundant in the Sierra de Castril. It is present all year round.
Spectacled warbler, Curruca tomillera o Chillera (Sylvia conspicillata) likes arid scrub land and marsh edges.
Tawny pipit, Bisbita campestre (Anthus Campestris) summer bird with long legs. Likes flat lands, steppe and pasture land. It is present in the area in summer.
Trumpeter finch, Camachuelo Trompetero (Rhodopechys githagineus) typical steppa bird, has colonised Spain in recent years, coming from Morocco.
Little bustard, Sison comun (Otis tetrax) likes open spaces, cereal fields. The grouping of the males during mating seasons to perform displays for the females is of particular interest. Tend to group up in particular in the winter months.
Montagu’s harrier, Aguilucho Cenizo (Circus pygargus). Rare migratory bird, comes in summer to breed and raise young. Locally has been badly affected by changes in harvesting practices, which have destroyed nests in cereal pastures.
Spanish imperial eagle, Aguila imperial iberica (Aquila adalberti) a threatened species of eagle present only in central and south-west Spain. The species is classified as vulnerable by BirdLife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). N.B: There are very few examples in the province of Granada and although a sighting has been reported in the Sierra de Castril, it is unlikely to be spotted here.
www.elgecoverde.com is the most complete English language website about the Altiplano de Granada, an area fast gaining fame as the “Spanish Lake District”. Come and discover it for yourself!
Photo credits; Tom Bedford, Eva M Bratek, Oskars Šmeliņs