In Association with:
EXTREMADURA – Apr - 2005
141 Bird Species recorded
Leader: Cristian Jensen
Day 1 Sunday 17th April
The arrival to Madrid airport was problem free, and we started going towards Silos reservoir. The journey was smooth and without much traffic. On our way we stopped for views of some raptors, and we saw our first Griffon Vultures flying above the Evergreen Oak forests. At the Reservoir we had excellent views at close range of a Griffon Vulture nest while the parents were taking care of the chick. A Black Vulture flew above the valley at high altitude, while a Blue Rock Thrush and a Sardinian Warbler were singing at a close range. Crag Martins were flying non-stop by the wall of the reservoir, and a Crested Tit was singing in an Evergreen Oak. The Red-rumped Swallows were just above our heads mixed with Barn Swallows and House Martins; allowing for easy comparison of the species to the delight of the group. After this short and fructiferous stop we started our way towards Extremadura (Extreme and hard in Spanish), passing some of the best Umbrella Pine forests in Spain. We saw our first Short-toed eagle and Booted eagle, but unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to stop in the busy and narrow road. Our first sight of a Montagu’s Harrier was a male flying over a weed field close to the road. On the road towards Plasencia we saw numerous White Storks walking around the “dehesa” forests, and Black Kites patrolling the edge of the road looking for carrion. Along the beautiful and narrow road that goes to Serrejón, where our hotel was, we saw many Bee-eaters and Woodchat Shrikes perched on the fences. At the entrance of the village, Serins were doing their butterfly flights while singing. With a bit of time left for birding, we took another narrow road, where Josele had seen a pair of Black-shouldered Kites in a previous trip. At that road and still close to the village we got to see Black Kites and a Red Kite, but no trace of the Black-shouldered Kites. A bit further along the road, we took a dirt track from which we got gorgeous views of Bee-eaters fighting each other, and others digging nest holes. At this track we had several new species for the tour, such as the Great Spotted and Common Cuckoo, Southern Grey Shrike, Redshank, Crested Lark, and Woodlark. In the hotel we had the chance to meet Josele and the rest of the group while enjoying a good meal and wine that left us ready to go to bed after a good day.
Day 2 Monday 18th April
We awoke and had breakfast in a day that was threatening to deliver some rain. Luckily the sky cleared up, leaving a perfect day for birding. Towards Monfragüe’s Nature Park we did some stops by a couple of streams where we could appreciate some Otter foot prints on the shore and had good views of Nightingale, Red-rumped Swallow, Short-toed Tree-creeper, and a few Spanish Sparrows making their nest in a White Stork nest. A Lesser-spotted Woodpecker delighted everyone standing close by, and a group of Rock Sparrows were feeding just a few meters away on the ground. Upon entering the Park, we got the first sight of a group of Azure-winged Magpies. The first stop in the Nature Park was at “Portilla del Tietar”, where we saw a female Spanish Imperial Eagle incubating. While watching the eagle, a Subalpine Warbler showed up in the closest bushes, and Griffon Vultures and Black kites were flying around creating a situation where people couldn’t make up their mind what to watch. We kept walking until the observatory and by the road was a Rock Bunting feeding peacefully. Then we had an astonishing observation; I heard the Spanish imperial Eagle call, and there was the male showing off and chasing away one of the Griffon Vultures that was flying by the cliff. At the other side of the reservoir I had localized a nest of an Eagle Owl, unfortunately the chicks had fledged and the nest was empty, so we left to come back in the evening when the owls are more active. Before leaving we had good views of Blue Rock Thrushes, Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows.
The next stop at the “mirador de la Báscula” produced good and close views of a Woodlark feeding and walking on the ground, a Thekla Lark was singing on a wire and we were able to see all its characters and comparing them with the much more common Crested Lark that we had seen in many places. A family group of Azure-Winged Magpies was flying from bush to bush carrying food into a closer one, where the nest probably was, and while watching this show, a Short-toed eagle flew past and a Black Vulture showed itself at long distance. The next stop was at the wall of the Torrejón-Tietar Reservoir. There we saw the Black Vulture, this time much closer, another view of a Short-toed Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, Black Kites and adult male Bonelli’s Eagle flew just above our heads giving us astonishing views. As Julie said:” That was cracking!!!!!!” Next stop, for our picnic lunch, was at the “Mirador de la Tajarilla” where we saw an Egyptian Vulture and a Black Kite incubating. After sharing our picnic, we continued our way towards Villarreal de San Carlos. Before arriving to the village we saw Black-eared Wheatear, a male Red-legged Partridge singing on top of a pile of wood, a glimpse of Dartford Warbler and heard our first Orphean Warbler.
A short stop at the village provided us with coffee and ice-cream, and some bought wonderful bird postcards or the local bird book. A brief stop at the “Puente del Cardenal” produced good views of a male Sardinian Warbler singing on top of bush. Then we walked across the bridge where thousands of House Martin nests are hosted. When we reached the other end we kept walking along the side of the reservoir where we had excellent views of a possible Iberian Chiffchaff (unfortunately it didn’t sing so it could not be confirmed even though all the visual characters did match). Before starting our way back to the hotel, we visited and spent some time contemplating the famous “Salto del Gitano” (Gypsies’ leap) where we saw five Black Storks, including a nest from above, several hundred Griffon Vultures and a few Black Vultures flying majestically. Among the most remarkable sightings were both phases of Booted Eagles, Short-Toed eagles, Egyptian Vultures, Red-rumped Swallows, Crag Martins, Blue Rock Thrushes ...well, cracking!!! On our way back we stopped at “Portilla del Tietar” again to try and see the Eagle Owls. We met a German birdwatcher that had one of the chicks of the Eagle owl under control, but no adults. After a while searching at the wall I found an adult. It was so well camouflaged that it took a while for everyone to find it in the scope. After a complete birding day and feeling tired but satisfied we had a good dinner from the hotel’s expert chef.
Day 3 Tuesday 19th April
After breakfast we went to see a Spectacled Warbler that Josele found the day before. We had very good views of it, and also Great Spotted Cuckoo, Southern Grey Shrike, Bee-Eaters and Lesser Kestrel. Then we went towards the Almaraz reservoir, where we had our picnic. The site produced among the most representative species Purple Heron, three Spoonbills, two Savi’s Warblers, Little Egret, poor views of Purple Gallinule, Zitting cisticola, three Whimbrels, two Stone Curlews, White Stork, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, Quail (heard), Water Rail (heard), Skylark, Spanish Sparrow, and Sedge Warbler (heard).
After this stop we went to a view point called Puerto de Miravete where a group of Vultures of all three species was moving upwards. We kept our way and stopped to have close views of the Dartford Warbler and Thekla Lark, then went towards the famous Castle of Monfragüe where the Red-billed Choughs showed up very close. A pair of Golden Eagles passed over. After another successful day we went to the hotel to have dinner, after which we went on a short night incursion to see the Red-necked Nightjar and hear the Scops Owl. The cherry on the cake!!!
Day 4 Wednesday 20th April
Today we had to depart, and both groups left Monfragüe heading towards Belen, Trujillo and La Serena, where our hotel for the following days was situated. Before doing so, we visited Almaraz to try again for the Little Bittern. We saw a glimpse of a female and then a beautiful male, and while trying to see them a Spotted Crake flew off and landed in a reed bed where we could see it walking around looking for food. A Spoonbill and the Savi’s Warbler showed up again. In the Belén plains; Little Bustards showed up singing and displaying at the leks; Calandra Larks were singing everywhere; Lesser Kestrels were sitting on top of ruins, a Little Owl was perched on a stone wall at day time; and a Greater Short-toed Lark was walking in front of the mini-bus in one of the dirt tracks. We stopped at a small colony of Storks, Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets where I saw a Bald Ibis the week before; unfortunately it wasn’t there this time. After a while, we found a group of Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and a Black Vulture sitting on the ground waiting to eat a carcass. After meeting the other group we went towards Trujillo and in our way we saw a beautiful male Great Bustard. We visited the lovely city of Trujillo where we had lunch while watching the White Stork nests and the Pallid Swifts flying around. After lunch we met the bicycle tour ‘Tour de Extremadura’ crossing the city with life guards in front and behind, with all the spectators clapping and whistling as they passed by.
Then we went to the Sierra Brava reservoir where the sharp-eyed Josele found a group of Great Bustards, and bird watching around produced a Great Spotted Cuckoo really close and some Common Buzzards. On our way to Quintana de la Serena we saw Turtle Doves, Common and Black-rumped Waxbills, and a beautiful Roller sitting alone on a wire.
Day 5 Thursday 21st April
After an early breakfast, both minibuses went to some water ponds where the Pin-tailed Sandgrouses go to drink every day. Unfortunately the draught affecting Spain this year (the worst one in the last 50 years) had left the ponds without any water, yet we saw a Stone Curlew standing still, a Little Bustard dancing and jumping in its lek, Red-billed Choughs, and a dark- throated male Black-Eared Wheatear. Josele left with his minibus to explore La Serena and we went to Sierra de Tiros where we saw some Griffon Vultures and a pair of Egyptian Vultures. Afterwards we did a short walk where some of us enjoyed a Black Wheatear, Alpine Swifts, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, and Crag Martins picking up mud for their nests. Then we went to the other side of the mountain chain where we saw 3-4 pairs of Montagu’s Harriers doing nuptial flights above a field. After enjoying the show for a while we moved on in search of a good picnic spot in the shade. While sitting below the trees, we watched a shy Orphean Warbler, a colourful Golden Oriole, and a Melodious Warbler. After a coffee in the closest village we spent a couple of hot hours in a part of La Serena were a few birds showed up, among them a Black stork feeding in a small pond and a Great Spotted Cuckoo on wire at close range. A female Great Bustard flew shortly from a location close by to land only a hundred metres away, and we saw a dark morph Montagu’s Harrier. Later in the afternoon we moved to the heart of La Serena where some Great Bustards where flying away followed by a sub-adult Golden Eagle. We stopped there, and after a while some bustards returned. Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse were flying past and landing behind a hill to drink or roost. In a boom moment of activity of Sandgrouse and Bustards, nine Dotterels flew past very fast, and we heard several Collared Pratincoles. Against our wishes we had to go back to the hotel, where a delicious “Cochinillo” (traditional dish based on young piglet) was awaiting us.
Day 6 Friday 22nd April
After breakfast we made our way to a spot where Josele had found a Black-Shouldered Kite the previous day. When we arrived to the spot there was no kite, but instead we saw two Rollers and a Reed Bunting female (subsp. witherbyi, a taxon which is considered critically endangered) which made a good starter. So we kept our way and went towards Zujar River where we saw a pair of Red-Rumped Swallows (including their nest below the bridge), Nightingales, Great Reed Warblers, Cetti’s Warbler, a big egret roost, a Little Ringed Plover, and a Common Sandpiper. We had lunch there and while eating we were watching an Eagle Owl at the other site of the river and a shy Bonelli’s Warbler. We also heard Penduline Tits and a Golden Oriole :-) At this time of the day it was quite hot and without much bird activity, so we went to the hotel to have a siesta. After the nap and with more strength, we went to the Black-shouldered Kite place and the kite was indeed perched close to the two Rollers this time. Then we went again to the heart of La Serena, close to a water pond, where nine Collared Pratincoles were sitting completely camouflaged. We stood there for a while, and groups of Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse were flying around. Waiting and hoping to see them come down to drink, Julie found six Dotterels walking around in the fields. Astonishing! We kept waiting while watching the Greater Short-toed and Calandra Larks singing in the air; another male Little Bustard singing and a Great Bustard flying past - and then a couple of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse stopped at a good distance. They were quite alert so they kept feeding on the ground without approaching. Dinner time was getting closer so we had made our way back for tasty and delicious lamb.
Day 7 Saturday 23rd April
It was Saturday and the day to do the transfer to Cornalvo Nature Park, but before leaving we paid a visit to the displaying Great Bustards. They were standing in small groups or as single males, turning into white balls of fluff leaving us unable to say which end was the head and which was the tail. In some moments several were dancing and other ones came to bite them, which started a fight. While watching the Bustards, a Hobby passed over us, and several Pin-tailed Sandgrouse landed in a field with a couple of Stone Curlews. Having a few hours of journey left, we had to head back and say good bye to the Bustards. In our way we passed some flooded rice fields with several Gull-billed Terns flying around looking for food. We arrived to our hotel, after taking an alternative route because of some road work; we did the check-in and had a Siesta. In the Afternoon, when the heat was less intense, we went to Cornalvo Nature Park.
The high-lights here included 9 Waxbills flying from a bush to the ground, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Short-toed Tree-creeper, Azure-winged Magpie, Quail (calling), Booted Eagle, Griffon Vultures, Sardinian Warbler, Serin, and Scops Owl (calling). The Mikes found some orchids to admire and photograph before going to the old reservoir where some hides were being constructed. From these we could observe Greenshanks, Little Grebes, Striped-necked Terrapins and Little Egrets.
Day 8 Sunday 24th April
The last day, with the early flights for everyone (except me, since I had to drive back to Ebro’s Delta) didn’t leave much time for birding. So we returned to Madrid airport on time, to wave and hug each other goodbye. Sad because a great tour had just finished, I made my way home.
Many thanks to all of you for a cracking tour!!!