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Andalucía lies at one of the world'sgreat crossroads, where Europemeets Africa and the Mediterraneanjoins the Atlantic. Here, across the Straitsof Gibraltar, a constant ebb and flow ofspecies has occurred over the Ice Ages toendow Andalucía with a great diversity offlora, fauna and human culture. Today, over2,300 vascular plant species representing140 families are found here, of which onethird are endemic to the region. EgyptianMongoose, Genet and several butterflyspecies, all with essentially Africandistributions, also occur. Further, theclimate of Andalucía during the late IceAge, being milder than in areas to thenorth, permitted the development of earlyhuman populations in the region. Indeedtoday many traces of their presenceremain, notably in some impressive cavepaintings. A succession of civilisations thenfollowed. The Phoenicians and Greeks setup trading colonies and were followed bythe Carthaginians, Romans and eventuallythe Moors, who brought with them highcivilisation and Islam, and left behind a richarchitectural legacy.Andalucía is further blessed by afascinating diversity of geology, landscapeand climate, from the gentle sun-drenchedsandstone hills above the narrow coastalplain to the dramatic, jagged limestonepeaks of the Serrania de Ronda. Deepriver valleys and spectacular gorgesdissect the area and, scattered aboutthem are characteristic Andalucianvillages, the dazzling whitewashed wallsof all their houses and the Arab designof their narrow winding streets reflectingthe long Muslim domination of the area.Best of all for the botanist, the landscapeis surprisingly green in this well-wateredpart of southern Spain and little influencedby modern farming practices.We begin our tour with a flight to Málaga.We then drive north, through orangegroves and vineyards, before climbingonto the scenic ridge-top route towardsRonda, with its constantly unfolding viewsof mountains and wooded valleys. Ourbase for the week is a traditionalfarmhouse, Finca la Guzmana, lovinglyconverted to provide comfortableaccommodation and a relaxed atmospherefor the exclusive benefit of small groups.Situated just east of Ronda, it is setamongst its own vineyards and olivegroves, and provides a perfect base forour week-long exploration of the area.We have timed our holiday to coincide withthe peak of the early spring flowers andwill make daily excursions to explore thewide variety of the region's habitats insearch of their special plants and birds. Close to Ronda lies Grazelema, arguablythe most perfect of the Pueblos Blancos(white mountain villages), whereHemingway wrote part of 'For Whom theBell Tolls' and Oleg Polunin based himselfwhilst writing 'Flowers of SouthwestEurope'. The Natural Park of Sierra deGrazelema is one of Andalucía's foremostprotected areas, and was declared a'Biosphere Reserve' by UNESCO in 1977.The largest stand of the rare Spanish Fir(Abies pinsapo) occurs here, on the highlimestone ridge of the Sierra del Pinar,whilst the grasslands, rocks and screessupport a diversity of orchids and localpopulations of daffodils, Narcissus spp.Shaded rocks and cliffs are home toseveral saxifrages, the spectacularendemic crucifer, Biscutella frutescens,and the endemic Centaurea clementei. Onother excursions, we will travel through thelargest woodlands of Cork Oak (Quercussuber) in Europe, watch Griffon Vulturessoaring overhead, and visit the Cueva dela Pileta with its stunning stalactites,stalagmites and perplexing Palaeolithicpaintings, leaving time to visit Ronda, in itsspectacular cliff-top setting, high above itsfamous gorge.The Sierra de las Nieves, alittle way to the south, offer acomplete contrast. Here, themaquis-covered lower slopes rise to openwoodland, where Paeonia broteroiandPaeonia coriaceaflourish. Higher up, wewill walk amongst the Spanish Firs where,in early spring, the ground is carpeted withthe large-flowered Narcissus hispanicus.Spanish Ibex range freely over thesummits and Golden Eagle, Chough,Alpine Accentor and Crossbill are amongstthe breeding birds of the park. From suchheights the views over the Straits ofGibraltar and the Rif Mountains inMorocco are quite tremendous. Further east, in the Baetic Cordillera, theforces of nature have created bizarrelandscapes of eroded rocks. Above ElChorro, the Rio Guadalhorce has carved adramatic defile through the sandstones,and today hosts a complex of hydro-electric dams. Around these the dense oakwoodland and deep valleys provide amosaic of habitats full of both plants and birds. Our final highlight of the holiday will be avisit to El Torcal de Antequera whichrepresents a dramatically eroded karstrising to over 1,300 metres. The flutedspires and bastions of gleaming whitelimestone that rise from the bright greenturf form a surreal landscape and are hometo such exciting endemic species as thepale blue toadflax, Linaria antequera, andthe deep blue bearded iris, Iris subbiflora.Spring Flowers ofWestern AndalucíaAn 8-day holiday of gentle walks and botanising in the mountains of western Andalucía.Wednesday 13th March - Wednesday 20th March Cost: £1,295Wednesday 20th March - Wednesday 27th March Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFRANCE PORTUGAL SEVILLE GRANADA RONDA GIBRALTAR MÁLAGAALGECIRAS FINCA LA GUZMANA CADIZ GUADALQUIVIR RIVER MADRIDATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEAN SEA SPAIN Outline itineraryDay 1Fly to Málaga andtransfer to Finca laGuzmana.Day 2/7Driving and walkingexcursions in search ofplants and other naturalhistory.Day 8Fly UK.Accommodation A charming, family-run convertedfarmhouse, all rooms with privatefacilities.Food All included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Easy/moderate daywalks only.Focus Plants, and other natural history.LeaderPaul Harmes.Single room supplement£165.Web quick search: ESP14125GrazelemaOphrys tenthrediniferaNarcissus assoanus

Mention the idea of a Spanishholiday and the mind seemsautomatically to fill with images ofvast hotel conurbations, over-crowdedbeaches, phoney flamenco dancers andfake bullfights, which have all long beenserved up to visitors as if they wererepresentative of Spain's authentic nationallife. Somehow, our impression of thecountry finds it hard to escape theseholiday-brochure cliches. Yet, ironically,most of this large country remainsunknown to foreigners. Even the Spanishthemselves live largely near its longcoastline, leaving the mountains and highrolling plateaux of the interior undevelopedand sparsely populated.Partly for these reasons, Spain has someof the last true wilderness in westernEurope and is the continent's mostimportant country for birds. It has, forexample, a third of its Red Kites andMontagu's Harriers; half of all its Black,Griffon and Egyptian Vultures;three-quarters of the Booted and Bonelli'sEagles and, not surprisingly, nearly all theworld's Spanish Imperial Eagles. Forgrassland birds it is outstanding, retainingmore Great and Little Bustards thanprobably any other single country inEurasia. Then there are a number ofMediterranean endemics - Red-neckedNightjar, Black Wheatear, MelodiousWarbler, and Spotless Starling to name buta few - of which Spain holds majorpopulations. And finally there are birds thathave just a toehold in western Europe -Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck,Crested Coot and Purple Gallinule - thatcan only be seen in this exceptionalcountry. This tour aims to find as wide aselection as possible of these many birdsand to experience some of the diversity ofIberia's magnificent scenery.We begin our holiday in the Spanishcapital of Madrid, from where we headsouth-west through rolling hills, olivegroves and Cork Oak woodland to thecentral plateau of Extremadura, where wefind extensive sheep-grazed grasslandsand Cork Oak forests known locally asdehasa. For the next four nights we will bebased near the beautiful medieval town ofTrujillo, an ideal spot from which to explorethe adjacent steppes and the magnificentMonfragüe National Park. Flocks of LesserKestrels and Pallid Swifts wheel aroundTrujillo's beautifully preserved ancientchurches, whilst White Storks peer downfrom their roof-top nests or clatter theirbills to greet a returning mate. Our maingoal, however, will be to witness one of themost exciting bird spectacles in Europe,the breeding display of the Great Bustard.During this, the males - the world'sheaviest flying birds - convertthemselves, by a series of bizarredistortions, into huge white balls offeathers that revolve slowly in an almostmilitary step. While they look stately anddignified, the nearby Little Bustardsperform an awkward, head-throwing actionaccompanied by a comical buzzing sound.The two species are certainly the starattractions of this region, but it offers farmore besides, including many othergrassland specialities such as Quail, StoneCurlew and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Inthe surrounding Cork Oak dehasawe willlook for Hoopoes, Azure-winged Magpies,Great-spotted Cuckoos, Woodchat Shrikesand Short-toed Treecreepers. Overhead wewill keep an eye out for 16 species ofraptor which, with luck, may include thelocalised Black-shouldered Kite.For the second part of our tour we head south, past Seville, and on through thecultivated lowlands of Andalucía, over thegreat Guadalquivir River and on to theCoto Doñana National Park, one of thefinest wetlands in Europe. From our basein the small village of El Rocío we willexplore the mosaic of marshes, Stone Pinewoodland, open heathland and sanddunes in search of the park's breedingand migrating birds. Flocks of Whiskeredand Black Terns pick for insects off thewater's surface, whilst Spoonbills, LittleEgrets and the occasional Glossy Ibis feedin the shallows. Reedbeds hold goodnumbers of Little Bitterns and PurpleHerons and we will have our secondopportunity to catch up with some ofsouthern Spain's specialities, in particularPurple Gallinule, Marbled Teal, CrestedCoot and the rare Spanish Imperial Eagle,together with our first chance of Red-necked Nightjar. We will also visit themarshes, saltpans and freshwater lagoonsalong the eastern bank of the GuadalquivirRiver. With a hot and sunny climate thispart of Andalucia is a major fruit growingarea and, while agriculture has intensifiedhere since Spain's inclusion in theEuropean Union, it remains rich in wildlife.Here such Andalucían specialities as therare White-headed Duck and PurpleGallinule can be seen and the Bonanzasaltpans are aptly named and well worth avisit, being a haven for vast numbers of waders and a noted site for the localisedSlender-billed Gull. The sheer numbers ofbirds in the Doñana never ceases toimpress even the most well travellednaturalist, helping to make this localityperhaps the highlight of our Spanish tour.Spain's Coto Doñana & ExtremaduraA 9-day birdwatching tour to Spain's southern wetlands and the bird-rich steppes of Extremadura.Thursday 18th April - Friday 26th April Cost: £1,395Monday 22nd April - Tuesday 30th April Cost: £1,395126Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryFRANCEPORTUGALTRUJILLOSEVILLESANLÚCAR DE BARRAMEDAEL ROCÍOGUADALQUIVIRRIVERMADRIDATLANTICOCEANMEDITERRANEAN SEASPAINCoto DoñanaAzure-winged MagpieOutline itineraryDay 1 Fly Madrid and transferto Extremadura.Day 2/4Monfragüe/steppes. Day 5/8 El Rocío. Day 9 Fly Seville to London. AccommodationPleasant family-run hotels in Trujillo and El Rocío, all withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. A traditional birding tour with limited amounts of easy walking.FocusBirds.LeaderPeter Dunn, David Morris or ByronPalacios.Single room supplement£165.ExtensionsArranged on request, with orwithout car rental. Extra nights inSeville are popular and worthwhile.Web quick search: ESP11