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Spain - Wildlife of Ronda

Iíve now had the pleasure of visiting Ronda in both spring and autumn, and itís still the only place I know where a dayís hill-walking ends with going uphill.

The town itself lies about 100 kilometres north-west of Malaga, between the coastal mountains of Marbella and the Rio Guadiaro, and was built in Roman times on an out-flung spur of the surrounding sierras. The Romans, with a good eye for a strategic site, were followed by the Moors and then later the Spanish themselves in making use of the natural fortifications. A town built on cliffs that tower 500 feet above the surrounding valley systems can mean some end-of-day exercise!

Itís these same natural features that provide a varied home for wildlife, with the broad-valley farmland to the east of the town giving way to the rougher terrain of the sierras to the west. But letís start with the town itself, and the El Tajo gorge.

The gorge divides Ronda into the old town and the new, and is spanned by two bridges providing excellent views of some of the local bird life.

In the centre of the town the high-arched 18th century bridge looks down on the roosting sites of a considerable population of Chough. During the day these birds frequent the surrounding farmland, possibly as far distant as the Libar Valley 15 kilometres to the south-west. In spring-time many of the birds roost on the open cliff-sides, but in autumn you should look down from the balcony of the parador into the communal roost on the north-west side. Itís also well worth following this balcony westwards along the top of the cliffs. In autumn the parkland here is frequented by dragonflies, as well as the occasional praying mantis and gecko. On one particularly memorable evening there were spectacular views from above of a party of Alpine Swift hawking for insects.

The east end of the gorge is spanned by the much lower Roman Bridge. This provides an easily accessible vantage point into the lower reaches of El Tajo, with a lack of traffic that makes the bridge a very pleasant spot in its own right. Itís probably the best place in Ronda for views of Crag Martin, and the hillside at its southern end is a frequent haunt of Blue Rock Thrush.

The Roman Bridge is also the starting point for a walk along the Arroyo de las Culebras. This gentle valley runs south beneath the Moorish walls of the old town, and, while it is farmland, it still provides a good place for birds. Look out for Woodchat Shrike, as well as the ubiquitous Sardinian Warbler, but perhaps the best indication of the health of the countryside is the number of Corn Buntings and Stonechats frequenting the field edges.

The Arroyo is also the location of the Alavera de los Banos, a delightful small hotel where we stayed in spring of this year. An east-facing room there provided out-of-the-window raptor watching during the more disturbed spring weather, as migrating buzzards and eagles made their way past the south end of the town.

A kilometre south of the San Francisco district on the Algeciras road is the start of the track that leads to the Arroyo Sijuela. The landscape here changes from cultivated olive trees to holm and gall oaks abounding with Nuthatches. The margins of the track are excellent for butterflies and grasshoppers in the autumn, and a longer walk on the path to Benaojan can produce Black-eared Wheatear.

The Rio Guadiaro and the valley systems running south through the mountains can be readily accessed by train from Ronda, although if youíre thinking of doing this you may find town centre accommodation at a hotel such as the Polo more convenient. Useful train stops on the way south are Benaojan, Jimera de Libar and Cortes de la Frontera, and in most cases it is possible to walk from station to station in time to get a return train. If you are a bit early at Jimera de Libar consider lunch at the restaurant by the railway station; it has a very good reputation. Another, more energetic, option is the walk from Cortes de la Frontera to Montejaque via the Libar Valley. The valley is an out-of-the-way place with dramatic limestone scenery, but if you do decide to do it take plenty of water.

Bird-wise, in the more mountainous parts you should see Black Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail and Griffon Vulture, with Cirl Bunting, Fan-tailed Warbler and Cettiiís Warbler on the margins.

Having left practicalities to last:

The Rough Guide to Andalucia. Getting there, accommodation, food and drink, and a reasonable map of the town.

Dogs. Perros Peligrosos. Fortunately they are normally on the other side of the barbed-wire fence.

Ronda: Naturaleza y Cultura. 10 Rutas para Senderistas Exigentes. This book is available from the Ronda Tourist Information office and it describes 10 walks in the immediate vicinity of Ronda. Route descriptions are in both Spanish and English.

Walking in Andalucia, by Guy Hunter-Watts. An essential guide to the Libar Valley and other walks in the Rio Guadiaro area.

Large-scale maps. You can buy military maps from ďComansurĒ in Ronda but theyíre out-of-date and in some cases frankly misleading. Better to stick to the guide books and follow your nose.

Private land and fences. Spanish landowners are not above fencing off rights-of-way. If they are well frequented by walkers youíll probably find that someone has either trodden the illegal fence down or taken a pair of wire cutters to it. This has been a problem at the south end of the Libar valley.

Water. Donít rely on finding any potable water in the mountains. The streams are usually dry or suspect.
Rhonda
Rhonda
Rhonda
Rhonda
Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Dragonfly
Dragonfly
Provencal Fritillary
Provencal Fritillary
Provencal Fritillary
Provencal Fritillary
Black-veined White
Black-veined White
Clouded Yellow
Clouded Yellow
Prickly Pear
Prickly Pear
Spanish Marbled White
Spanish Marbled White
Grizzled Skipper
Grizzled Skipper
Rhonda (by Lesley Cunningham)
Rhonda (by Lesley Cunningham)