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A Report from

Extremadura   July/August 2006,

Michael Binns

Ok is it just me or does anyone else hate these guides that say birding in July and August is useless? Isn’t this the only time to go for people who are tied to school holidays?

I hope this report from a self confessed very sporadic birder with no contacts will be compared those of more clued up people who can go  more traditional times.

I got a cheap Easyjet flight from Liverpool to Madrid. The “book it about 3 months in advance” rule seemed to work again. Picked up a car and headed west….Now I’ve read contradictory advice about Madrid road signs. I did find it confusing…Valencia or else…Drove all the way round with little traffic. An advantage of mid summer?

After a few hours and with the treat of it getting dark before I’d seen anything I pulled off the A5 at Km171. Immediately a Gull-billed Tern flew right over the car. Then just   before the village of Peraleda de la Mata I had stunning views of a Black-shouldered Kite. The Emblase de Valdecanas had Yellow legged Gulls and Great crested Grebes. I stopped off in the deep valley of Rio de Ibor. Azure-winged Magpies everwhere. Many Golden Orioles and huge flocks of sparrows and Spotless Starlings. Also wonderful view of a Southern Grey Shrike and a Melodious Warbler.

Day Two

Decided to have my one night in the car so drove to between Trujillo and Caceres. Actually a small road between Torremocha and Plasenzuela. Woke up to hear the strange calls of Stone Curlews and then Red-necked Nightjars who moments later kindly flew around the car. An amazing sight. Two gliding and flapping together only a few metres away from my head. The plains were alive with larks but no Bustards or Sandgrouse. There was the first of many Green Sandpipers on the remains of the river.

Moved on to the area just east of Santa Marta for the usual 11am raptor watch. Wasn’t disappointed. Huge numbers rose up. Counted 20+ in the air at once which included 5 different species. Both Kites, Booted and Short-toed Eagle and Black Vulture. Oh and a frustrating 30 minutes was wasted trying to get a good view of a Bonelli’s Warbler. I’ve always found this an annoying bird and spent many hours in France following its piercing call.

The plains to the west of Santa Marta had the obvious birds Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Roller and Woodchat Shrike everwhere. One Black-eared Wheatear was found A Kingfisher was on the river. A surprisingly common sight I found.

Crashed out at a beautiful swimming pool by the Embalse de Caceres. Here you can swim with vultures overhead and look out over the reservoir. Here there were many Egrets, both Cattle and Little, Herons, both Grey and Purple and Gulls, Black-headed and Lesser blacked. Along with a few Cormorants and Grebes.

Day Three

Slept in nice hotel in Caceres but still up early for the trip to Montfrague. Stopped at a pool near Monroy which had huge numbers of Larks and spent time identifying them.

Calandra, Short-toed, Thekla and Crested were all eventually seen coming to drink along with Corn Buntings. No Black-shouldered Kites but was amused at the sight of Griffon Vultures roosting on a row of pylons.

At Monfrague climbed to the Castillo. No White-rumped Swifts but Alpines and great views of 2 Black Storks, Blue rock Thrush and Nuthatch in the car park. Penafalcon had the usual huge numbers of Griffons but lacked the friendly local birders to point out stuff.

The heat was building. Forecasting 40. So headed for the mountains. Many Booted eagles soared over the foot hills of the Sierra de Gredos. Decided to climd to the Puerto de Honduras. Stunning views and driving. Once again almost traffic-less.

Did also appear bird-less at first but eventually Stonechat and Dartford Warbler appeared. Also a mystery bird. Behaved like a Wheatear, looked like a unstreaked female Stonechat with a distinct white rump?? Song bursts from bushes next to a stream must have been a Bluethroat but no clear views.

Returned to Monfrague in the cool (37 degrees) of the evening. Nothing new apart from some excellent views of Egyptian Vultures. I did spend a happy 30 minutes watching woodland birds come to a small stream on the south side of the reservior.

A huge range of small birds included Common UK ones like Jay, Blue Tit and Long-tailed Tit (clearly a different race though) through to Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Rock Bunting, and Melodious and Subalpine Warblers. Has anyone else noticed the almost symbiotic link between Subalpine Warblers and Blackberries in Spain? See a Sylvia Warbler in a bramble bush and it has to be one!!

Day Four

Travelled west towards Portugal. More for cultural interest than ornithological I have to say. Malpartida looked uninspiring and proved to be so apart from huge flcks of sparrows. I eventually identified a Spanish Sparrow. Throughout Extremadura there were huge flocks of Sparrows but they seemed to be the most timid birds and rarely gave good enough views to separate them out.

The plains to the south of Brozas on the CC62 were a different story. Calandra larks were everywhere. Eventually  5 Great Bustards were seen. Still no Sandgrouse!!!

A pool just to the east of the town held 100’s of Little Grebes and Egrets and many waders. Common and Green Sandpipers. Little Stint and Dunlin. Lapwing, Redshank and Black-winged Stilt. Other pools around the area held similar species and once again the sky was alive with raptors. Mainly Black Kites and Booted Eagles between Brozas and Alcantara. Here under the Roman bridge there were more waders and Grey and White Wagtail. Stopped off at a bridge over the Rio Salor on the Ex117. The usual river species but this time two pairs of Black Wheatear.

Crossed into Portugal. Much of the Serra de Sao Mamede has been burnt! Did manage to see Crested Tit in the remains of the forest and Cirl Bunting in the area which looks much more like central France than Iberia. With Common Buzzards being the main raptor

Day Five

Visited the area around Elvas and once again was extremely disappointed. It seems much of the area has been irrigated so no steppe birds at all. Montgue’s Harriers were quite common but I soon decided to return to Spain and headed for La Serena.

I stayed in Cabeza del Buey and tried an evening visit. The BA161 looks an interesting road on the map and it proved to be so…..Just a dusty track! I have to admit I did find the area quite un-nerving. A dusty wilderness, apparently devoid of all life. Apart from Great Bustards!  At least 11 were seen off the track but little else. However eventually Sandgrouse began to appear. Two pairs of Black-bellied  and later two groups of Pin-tailed. The BA 35 was fortunately only two kms west of this area as I wasn’t looking forward to long drive in the dark on a dirt road. There was a large roost of Montagu’s Harriers off this road at the southern end

Day Six

Decide on an early morning visit  along the BA35. Once again both Sandgrouse were seen and heard flying over a long with Stone Curlew and more Great Bustards. However compared with the area around Caceres the quantity and variety of birds was very poor. By this time I was craving for some greenery so moved onto the area just below The Embalse del Zujar. The usual birds were in the scrub surrounding it. Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes, Hoopoes and Bee-eaters but the marshy bits just had huge flocks of Sparrows and Cetti’s warbler. Clearly the other marsh warblers were quiet in August. Stopped off at the rice fields around Vegas Altas. A walk around the small tracks to the east of the EX355. Storks and Egrets were everywhere, as were Zitting Cisticola. A Marsh Harrier was seen along with Short-toed Eagle. One muddy field was found but the heat haze made identification of waders difficult apart from the obvious Black-winged Stilts and Lapwings     

Day Seven

Back in the Caceres/Trujillo area. Generally a day of relaxed birding with nothing new to report. Went to the Belen Plains in the evening where both Sandgrouse were heard and seen  


I found it to be a very successful trip considering it was the “wrong” time of year. All target species were seen apart from Great Spotted Cuckoo and Rufous Bush Chat. The final species count lacked some relatively common birds, especially warblers and that was almost certainly due to the timing. Perhaps a greater concentration on pools and marshes could have led to compensation in the form of more waders.

So to all you family birders or teachers. You can go in the summer holidays and see loads.


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