E X T R E M A D U R A
23-30 March 2002
Leaders: Darren Rees & Dave Pullan
& Robin Mace, Margaret Rishbeth, Trevor Mann, Mike Baker, Daphne
& David Knight, Barbara & Pat Waddington, Mike Balding, John
Ellis, Stan Kenyon
Our flight from Gatwick is on time and we land
in a sunny Madrid at 6.20am local time. The Spanish warmth greets us
as we disembark. We pick up the two minibuses and take the three-hour
drive south and west chasing the setting sun.
Our host Henri is at the Finca Santa Marta to greet
us with a welcoming drink and meal, while the local Scops Owl greets
us, calling from close by.
The pre-breakfast stroll around the grounds reveals
the Finca Santa Marta in all its glory. With a clear sky we amble along
the tracks between the almond and olive groves noting the common birds
that are calling, these include Serin, Corn Bunting, Short-toed Treecreeper,
Azure-winged Magpies and Hoopoe. The track winds its way through the
olive groves towards the umbrella pines on the hill and Stan’s keen
ears pick up a fluting Woodlark. We later get great looks at two neatly
marked birds on the ground. We also enjoy fine views of Sardinian Warbler,
Red-rumped Swallow, Serin and Corn Bunting. There is also a delightful
group of Siskin in the top field and we finally get our first views
of the handsomely marked Azure-winged Magpies. Adrianne picks up a
Short-toed Treecreeper that has been calling from the Cork Oaks and
David finds the Hoopoe that has been tempting us with its ‘Hoo-hoo’
call all morning. And so to breakfast.
We leave the Finca at 10.15 and drive towards Trujillo,
noting the many Corn Buntings that are regularly dotted along the wires
and are destined to be a constant feature of the holiday. We stop at
the boulder field to the south of Trujillo for our first scan. This
is our first chance to look at the raptors who are now on the wing.
Kites are dotted around the skyline and we get some passes overhead
by both Red and Black Kites, giving good comparison views. A Harrier
drifts by that looks heavy winged and suggests a late Hen Harrier rather
than the expected Montagu’s Harrier. A Southern Grey Shrike is on the
wires and a nearby pool attracts Little Grebe, Coot, Black-winged Stilt
and Lapwing. Crested Larks are calling and several Lesser Kestrels
are flying around. There is also an Egyptian Vulture soaring in the
||Trujillo square – Ron MacIntyre
We drive through Trujillo noting more White Storks
and Lesser Kestrels milling around the old buildings - there will be
time for those tomorrow. We push west of Trujillo, passing first through
open country and then through Holm Oak dehesa. Taking the minor road
to Santa Marta de Magasca we drive slowly along, pausing for our first
Spanish Sparrows and Great Spotted Cuckoo. We get out at one corner
where the dehesa gives way to scrubby fields and rolling open country.
The air is thick with the song of Calandra and Crested Lark. Our first
male Montagu’s Harrier drifts by giving us excellent views. The first
groups of large vultures drift over and we can pick out Griffon and
Black Vultures. We drive to a slightly raised area where some Holm
Oak trees provide a shady place to have lunch, before we park we note
a Red-Legged Partridge and nearby Montagu’s Harriers. We disturb a
Little Owl which gives us a brief look as it lands in a nearby tree.
From our lunch spot we are serenaded by Thekla Larks in song flight
but the stars of the show are the many Montagu’s Harriers that are displaying
with plunging flight over a green cereal field. David is on fine form
finding us a difficult to see Little Bustard in a nearby field. Other
species include Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Black Kite, Red Kite,
Raven and a singing Southern Grey Shrike. The next site visit is the
narrow ravine at the Rio Magasca. Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow,
Blue Rock Thrush, Kingfisher, White Wagtail, Hawfinch, Red Kite, Black
Kite, Black Vulture and Griffon Vultures are all seen. As we leave
we see our first two Black Storks.
We travel towards the village of Monroy and stop
at a stand of umbrella pines to the north of the village set amongst
a mixture of farmland and dehesa. Dave finds our target bird which
is the beautifully marked Black-shouldered Kite. We walk down the path
for a better look and soon see a second bird. We can even compare the
difference between the sexes as they perch alongside each other and
we see them mate. Other species include Red-legged Partridge, Woodchat
Shrike, Short-toed Eagle, Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture,
Red Kite and our first Booted Eagle.
And so back to the Finca which is just over an hours
drive away, through dehesa and open fields. In one such field Daphne
finds a Little Bustard close to the road, it’s been a great first day
in the field. All the birding is not over however as, after our evening
meal, we try luring in the Scop’s Owls that are calling quite close
to the Finca and with a little bit of coaxing, first by imitation and
then by the CD player, we are rewarded with fantastic views of the bird
in a large tree overhead.
Another perfect day greets us as we go for our pre-breakfast
walk. Already the Woodlarks are calling and we walk the track to the
main road. The Spotless Starling that has been giving us impressions
of Wryneck now throws in Golden Oriole just to keep us on our toes.
A Stonechat sings from his perch and the Short-toed Treecreeper is calling
from the twisted olives. It eventually gives us fine views as it flies
to a dead tree. The Swifts flying around the Stork’s nests are catching
the bright light and showing the two-tone wing with pale bases and dark
tips, suggesting Pallid Swift. The tall trees where the Storks are
nesting are attracting other birds. For a short period we see Raven
being mobbed by Azure-winged Magpies, Common Kestrel, Spotless Starling,
House Sparrows and well marked Rock Sparrows.
After breakfast we drive north to the village of
Belen and beyond, the road takes us through a series of stone-walled
fields with small trees either side. In one damp field there are rich
red cattle and a large group of egrets – Cattle Egrets no less! We
stop and take a good look. A couple of Sardinian Warblers are nest
building and a Great Spotted Cuckoo calls out, Stonechats are singing
and displaying and a Pale Booted Eagle joins the raptors overhead.
These include Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Red Kite, Black Vulture and
Griffon Vulture. Other species include Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike.
Further along the road the countryside opens to rolling short pasture,
and at a rise in the road we scan the panorama, where we are in luck
with a female Great Bustard close to the road. We get good looks at
a bird that raises from its crouched position (perhaps a nest) and walks
about, seemingly unconcerned. Further on, Dave finds a large group
of nine Great Bustards strutting across the plain and we can clearly
see the whiskers on the mature males.
Our lunch stop is on a slight rise with all around
views over a mixture of ploughed cereal and rough pasture fields. A
Southern Grey Shrike is close on the wires and a Short-toed Eagle soars
over us to take a look. Two Fan-tailed Warblers are displaying over
the green cereal field, jinking up and down as they fly. All the while,
kites, buzzards and vultures soar around. After lunch we briefly look
at a pool surrounded by dead trees marked with Stork nests, while birds
are bill clattering and going to and from their large, untidy nests.
On the water are some Mallard and Little Grebes, with two Teal and two
Gadwall. The sun is at its strongest and it seems a good time to head
for Trujillo and the shady cafes in the Plaza Mayor. We spend an hour
and three quarters watching the ‘goings on’ in the delightful medieval
town square and even this is birdy with White Storks going to and from
the nests on the clock tower and Pallid Swifts chasing around the air.
Most numerous are the groups of Lesser Kestrels, squawking and milling
After a refreshing break we visit the bullring to
get closer views of the Lesser Kestrels, as they nest in the roof of
the building and alight frequently, if briefly, on the red tiles. We
get fine views of both male and female birds. Nearby, the lagoon that
we have visited in past years, has been filled in or largely dried up.
There is still a small amount of water though and we do see nest-building
Little Grebe, Coot, Black-winged Stilt and Little Ringed Plover. Green
Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper add to the climbing species list.
We return early to the Finca for some rest – after
all, tomorrow is going to be a long day.
Breakfast is at 8.30am and we leave at 9.30am, heading
north to Monfrague National Park and after an hour or so of driving
through extensive dehesa, we see the rocky ridge that marks the southern
boundary of Monfrague. The National Park here is an area of deep gorges,
forest scrub and wooded slopes that provide ideal territory for a large
number of breeding raptors. The rivers Torrejon and Tajo carve through
a series of wooded ridges and at three of four points have produced
breathtaking cliff formations. As we approach Pena Falcon Rock, which
marks the southern entrance to the reserve, we cannot help notice the
squadrons of Griffon Vultures in the air. We park, set up telescopes
and watch the scores of birds that wheel around the rock, noting many
sat on the skyline like groups of elderly men. Some birds can be seen
on nesting ledges and several of these are feeding fluffy young. Other
vultures are around and Daphne spots two yellow headed Egyptian Vultures
on the hillside.
||Black Stork – Dave Kjaer
A couple of Chough bound over and there are some
Black Storks gliding around, dangling their red legs. Small birds are
singing with Blue Rock Thrush males claiming their territories from
the rocky skyline. An Iberian Black Redstart is showing well, below
where we are parked and even closer are two Rock Buntings that give
us delightful views, however, we cannot manage to find the Cirl Bunting
that Stan points out singing in the nearby trees. The small birds are
a wonderful addition, but it is the large birds of prey that really
catch the eye. Amongst the milling vultures are lots of Black Kite
and we also see two Peregrines soaring above Pena Falcon Rock.
After an hour or so, we walk the short distance to
view the rock at a different angle. Normally from here we can see Black
Storks on their shady nests, tucked into the rocky crevices, but today
the nests are empty. Still we enjoy great views of Crag Martins collecting
mud. Finally we move from Pena Falcon Rock to the nearby river and
our lunch spot amongst the trees, where we have more kites overhead,
with Great Tit and House Martin. After lunch we stop at the old bridge
and get our closest views of Griffons on the ledge. There is a dark
eagle flying low over the near ridge, which proves to be an adult Golden
Eagle. Adrianne points out a beautiful Short-toed Eagle hovering close
by, and then a Bonelli’s Eagle soars in from the left, giving good views
of its top and underside with their distinctive pale markings. There
are more Black Storks soaring overhead.
We drive to the unofficial centre of Monfrague
Park at Villa Real for a much needed ice-cream stop. After a brief
rest we drive to the northern perimeter of the reserve where a shallow
valley has always provided us with good views of Subalpine Warbler.
We park and notice a male singing straight away and we enjoy fine views
of it moving back and forth from the bushes below.
We drive further into the national park and at one
roadside spot, where there is extensive replanting of the Holm Oak after
clearly large tracks of Eucalyptus, we see a stunning male Black-eared
Wheatear. Further along at a viewpoint where we can scan over the series
of gorges, we see more raptors including Buzzard, Short-Toed Eagle,
Black and Griffon Vulture, Black and Red Kite. There are also Cetti’s
Warbler and Robin singing as well as Thekla Lark.
Our next viewpoint is at La Bascula, which is a traditional
nest site for Spanish Imperial Eagle, all be it a very distant nest
site. As we approach, we notice groups of finches in the Wytch Elms,
we get great views of Siskin, Goldfinch and a stunning Hawfinch in the
treetops. Dave has his zoom contact lenses in place and picks up a
dark eagle perched in a tree some 2 kilometres away! Through the high
resolution optics we can just make out the pale cap and light shoulders
of an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle but although we wait and wait, hoping
to get a glimpse of the bird in flight, we can only manage views of
other raptors. These include Black Vulture, Griffon, Short-toed Eagle
and Black Kite. Other birds include Long-tailed Tit, Sardinian Warbler
and Dartford Warbler.
So onto our last viewpoint for the day – the cliff
face at Portilla del Tietar. Here another steep rockface provides another
ideal site for a group of Griffons and it has been home for a pair of
Eagle Owls for a number of years. We are in luck as there are a group
of birdwatchers here already and they have found an Eagle Owl during
it’s daytime roost. We are soon training our telescopes on a beautifully
marked owl sat on the cliffs. Wow! We enjoy fantastic views of an
adult bird, twisting its head this way and that and having the odd scratch.
As the evening progresses, another bird flies across the cliff face,
landing close by, and later our original bird flies high onto the skyline
giving us wonderful views of its tufted profile.
It’s a wonderful end to another fantastic day in Monfrague.
And so to our final evening meal at the Monfrague restaurant, but what’s
this … there’s only two English language menus … this provides us with
endless fun choosing our meals!
There is a more relaxing pace to the day after yesterday’s
rigours with breakfast at 9.00am, and we leave at 10.00am, bound for
the expanse of dehesa near Jaraceijo. From our raptor viewpoint we
can look north over a series of wooded ridges to some cliffs. There
are a few Griffons soaring around and a couple of Black Kites. The
air is full of Thekla Lark song and we watch them perched upon on the
Holm Oak, giving display flights and walking on the stony floor. Some
Azure-winged Magpies are darting through the trees and Corn Buntings
chip in with their ‘wheezes’. We start our raptor vigil, as we have
on several occasions seen the rare Spanish Imperial Eagle from this
very spot. For over an hour we scan the skies, enjoying views of hovering
Short-toed Eagles and Buzzards as well as soaring Griffons and Black
Vultures close by. Black Kite, Red Kite and Kestrel complete the bird
of prey list. Sadly we see no Imperial Eagle, but do enjoy views of
a beautiful Woodchat Shrike.
We move onto our lunch spot some 10 kilometres further
into the dehesa. Starting our sandwiches, we are destined for an interrupted
picnic as raptors and a dark Eagle are soaring overhead. Dave yells
out “Spanish Imperial Eagle” and everyone reaches for their telescopes,
leaving their bread rolls behind. For the next 30 minutes we watch
through telescopes at an adult bird patrolling its territory, and even
enjoy the sight of a plunge diving display routine. We can clearly
see, when it approaches nearer to us, the white shoulder patches and
leading edges on the wing. Everyone is thrilled with views of one
of the world’s rarest birds – we can at last finish lunch.
The rest of the afternoon is spent walking a trail
along a ridge above the village of Madroñera. There is a variety of
taller Holm Oak trees and small Broom bushes, very attractive for breeding
Scrub Warblers. From where we park we can hear Sardinian Warblers and
then enjoy fine views of a smart male and further along Dartford Warblers
are singing and one by one, we all get good telescope views. Other
birds include Thekla Lark, Woodlark, Southern Grey Shrike, Magpie, Red
Kite, Kestrel, Spanish Sparrow and Corn Bunting.
And so to the Finca Santa Marta and more relaxation
time before our evening meal. The fridge is stocked with beer and the
afternoon tea is ready.
Leaving the Finca after breakfast at 9.30am, we drive
south, descending from the dehesa to more mixed farming country. Our
destination for today is the relic steppeland of La Sereña, which provides
a breeding ground for some of these difficult to see species such as
Bustard and Sandgrouse. The road crosses two major rivers, the Rio
Guadiana and the Rio Zujar. Birds en route include a single flying
Great Bustard and a female Marsh Harrier close to the road and we also
see our first gulls at one of the embalses, or dams. These are Black-headed
and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with a single young
Our first stop in Sereña is at a pool alongside the
road where we have seen migrant waders. There are Greenshank, Green
Sandpiper and Snipe present as well as many Swallows, Martins and a
few Mallard. On the ridge to the left is a small group of Little Bustard
in a ploughed field. We stop at various points alongside the road,
to scan similar ploughed and rough pasture fields. One to the left
has another group of Little Bustards, this time much closer and another
to the right gives us the chance to look at one of the many Calandra
Larks that are singing and filling the air with their rich vocabulary.
Close to the road at a farm entrance, are a trio of sandy coloured Short-toed
Larks and further along we find our first Great Bustards in a field,
there are eight walking around so we set up telescopes. Mike finds
a Little Bustard in the same field giving good size comparisons. Behind
us, vying for attention, is a Fan-tailed Warbler, giving us excellent
views of its fan-tail no less. We drive on noting Northern Wheatear
and more groups of Great Bustard before taking a dirt road off to the
right to explore the
interior further. We drive carefully along the track, noting more Great
Bustards right and left. We stop at an elevated position where an old
stone barn gives us some shelter from the wind. It’s an ideal site
for lunch and we enjoy views of bustards in the far fields as we eat.
At one point, one male starts to display – wonderful! Also on a nearby
stone coral are two Little Owls. Other species seen include Black Vulture,
Common Swift, Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle (Pale), Little Bustard and
Driving back towards the tarmac road, Mike picks
up another Little Owl next to the path. We take another track into
the interior and as we drop into a shallow depression, we notice a large
group of bustards to the right and left of the track. Together there
are 40+ Great Bustards and we stop for over half and hour to watch the
show. Several males are displaying in the largest group and it attracts
other males from the area and, strutting like the aristocrats they are,
they move towards the large white powder puffballs of the displaying
grand males. A truly remarkable sight. Other birds are here too –
Dave finds two Stone Curlews in the rocks and at one time we get a flight
of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse moving rapidly overhead. Calandra Larks are
everywhere and a Montagu’s Harrier mobs a migrant Osprey. Black Vulture
and Booted Eagle are also seen.
We start to leave La Sereña, noting another Marsh
Harrier by the roadside and we retrace our steps. There’s time to check
the wader pool once more and we are in luck – two Collared Pratincoles
are flying low over the water back and forth. There are also Little
Ringed Plover and the same group of Little Bustard we saw this morning.
We drop down from the plateau to the Rio Zujar to
explore the thin corridor or riverine habitat. As we park we notice
a wealth of new bird sound. Common Waxbills are trumpeting and Nightingales
are calling. We get good views of both birds and Robin even gets a
photograph of the latter. Stan is on fine form and notes the slurred
call of a Penduline Tit. With a little coaxing it hops into the bushes
close by and we enjoy fine views. At one point we watch it gather reed
mace, possibly nest building material. There is also a pale grey leaf
warbler giving tantalising views, which eventually reveals itself and
we add Bonelli’s Warbler to the list. Other species include Little
Egret, Purple Heron, Moorhen, Goldfinch, Serin, Kingfisher. The final
stop is just south of Zorita, where there are 13 Great Bustards in the
fields alongside the road. They even display in the fading evening
light and it’s a fitting end to a bustard filled day.
Our destination for this morning’s birdwatching is
the new wetland adjacent to Almaraz Power Station. This offers a change
of species to the woodland and steppeland birds, and as we park, we
immediately notice Purple Heron flying around and Savi’s Warbler reeling.
We walk to where we can view the reed bed and search for the small,
brown bird. There’s a stiff breeze, but incredibly the Savi’s Warbler
obliges and we all get best ever views of a bird singing atop the reed
stems. There are other sounds coming for the reed beds too – a Water
Rail calls and some peculiar squawks emanate from the right. We walk
and peer into some patches of reeds. There, in one clearing we can
glimpse a large, black, fluffy chick. It’s even larger, ungainly parent
wades by – a Purple Swamp Hen family. As we watch both adults pick
back and forth, giving stunning views of this peculiar bird. There
are also plenty of Purple Herons in the reeds, giving us ample opportunities
to watch these elegant birds. Other species include Little Egret, Marsh
Harrier, Black and Red Kite, Black and Griffon Vulture, Great Crested
Grebe, Yellow Wagtail and Crested Lark.
From Almaraz we drive 20 minutes to the Sierra Guadalupe,
close to the Cabañas del Castillo. From our lunch spot we can view
the surrounding dehesa and rocky ridges, where we see raptors soaring,
include Griffon, Egyptian and Black Vulture, Short-toed Eagles and many
kites. We see our first Crested Tit which looks out of place in the
Cork Oaks and also see our first Nuthatches hunting for food along the
rough Cork Oak trunks. We walk the path from the village to the viewpoint
that looks over the next beautiful valley. From here we see a female
Black Wheatear on the rocks below and from the sheer rock face from
the right, two Peregrines fly out and do a circuit over the valley.
Raptors around include Black, Egyptian and Griffon Vulture and Short-toed
Eagle, but sadly no Bonelli’s Eagle. Other species include Sardinian
Warbler, Great and Blue Tit, Rock Bunting, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow
and Blue Rock Thrush. When we descend from Cabañas del Castillo, we
drive through some more oaks set amongst stony fields. This is ideal
Rock Sparrow habitat and we see one in a tree close to the road. At
the river below, we add a few more new species to the list – Great Spotted
Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail and Alpine Swift. It’s a lovely way to end
the week’s birding – and so back to the Finca.
Today is our transfer day back to Madrid airport.
The drive to the airport is largely uneventful along the new Extremadura
Autovia and we eventually arrive on time at 12.00pm. It’s been another
great Extremadura week with many highlights for us to recall. The Bird
of the Week goes to the incomparable Great Bustard. Place of
the Trip is Pena Falcon Rock, Monfrague and the Magic Moment
is the Great Bustards displaying at La Sereña.
Great Crested Grebe
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Water Rail (Heard only)
Purple Gallinule/Swamp Hen
Little Ringed Plover
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Feral Rock Dove
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Great Spotted Woodpecker
‘Spanish’ Yellow Wagtail
Blue Rock Thrush
Reed Warbler (Heard only)
Southern Grey Shrike
Emperor Moth sp