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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Central and Western Spain including Extremadura,
In May 2003 my father, Alan (AKM), and I were due to travel to Beidaihe, China, for a 3-week birding trip. Unfortunately this trip was cancelled with just over a weeks notice due to the spread of the SARS disease. With time booked off work, we both wanted to arrange an alternative birding trip. We identified the Extremadura area of Spain to provide a quick and easy-to-plan replacement with the opportunity of new birds.
An itinerary was drawn-up that specifically targeted all forms available in the Extremadura area that either AKM or I had not seen in the Western Palearctic. This produced a list of 24 forms, with the target list longer for AKM who has less Iberian birding experience than BAM.
Throughout the trip birding was focused on getting good views of these 24 forms, and the itinerary was based around these birds only. Equal attention was given to forms that some authorities currently recognised as subspecies (e.g. Western Orphean Warbler) as to those universally recorded at the specie level.
As these target birds determined the itinerary and birding, I have highlighted them throughout the report. Forms needed by BAM are shown in bold, those by AKM are underlined.
We enjoyed a very successful trip with great birding in good scenery and good weather. We saw 21 of our target forms, hearing one other. Extremadura is wonderfully underdeveloped, with current agricultural practices allow wildlife and wild flowers to flourish. We would highly recommend the area for a birding trip.
The main birding guide to the area is the Birdwatching Guide to Extremadura by John Muddeman (2000, Arlequin Press), and is highly recommended. Because of the detail covered in this book I have not included detailed site gen in this report; please refer to Muddeman. To enable quick cross-referencing for each site included in Muddeman I include the number of the site in Muddeman's book using the abbreviation (M1,1) for Muddeman site 1, area 1. Please note this book only covers the province of Extremadura and not the sites we visited north of Madrid.
We also took Where to Watch Birds in Southern and Western Spain (Garcia & Paterson, 2001, Helm). This covers a much wider geographical area, hence it does not give as much detail about Extremadura as Muddeman. It is, however, very well written and an enjoyable read.
We downloaded a large number of trip reports from the Internet to gain up-to-date gen, and to provide details of sites north of Madrid. We found these using www.google.co.uk searching on species and site names; and through www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/spain/index.htm. I can recommend the following two reports:
Extremadura - 2002 by Simon Goodwin. www.simongoodwin.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/extremadura2002.htm
The Magnificent Marshside Seven do Espana by John Bannon, for a very humorous account www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/spain/tour5/tour-april2002.htm
We took the Michelin Regional Map 576 (note: previously numbered map 444 - Espagne Centre) to Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Madrid at 1/400 000 scale. This covered all areas we visited in sufficient detail to be the only map needed.
For identification the only book required is the superb Collins Bird Guide (Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterstrom & Grant, 1999, Harper Collins).
We flew return from London Heathrow to Madrid Barajas using bmi. This cost £105 booking online with only one weeks notice. See www.flybmi.com
Car hire was arranged through Worldwide Cars for £181.71 for a Citroen Xsara, including 2 drivers. Air con is essential at this time of year. The Guardia maintained a high profile on the roads and speed traps were a common sight, on both motorways and more minor roads. You have been warned!
In Extremadura we stayed throughout at the charming Finca Santa Marta. This is located 14km south of Trujillo along the EX208. Previously an olive and grape farm, the finca has been converted into a charming rural inn. Surrounded by countryside away from the town, the Finca provided excellent morning and evening birding walks. We recorded 42 species around the farm. Henri, the consummate host, has aim the hotel towards birders and general naturalists and during our stay up to 20 birders at a time were staying in the finca, providing good opportunities to exchange gen. The finca is also used by a number of birding tour companies visiting Extremadura. Recommended.
Double and twin rooms are available for 85 Euros per room. Good, home cooked 4 course evening meals are also provided for 28 Euros (excluding Sundays), including complementary unlimited local red wine. See www.fincasantamarta.com for further details, or e-mail Henri at firstname.lastname@example.org. Throughout this report the finca is abbreviated to FSM.
North of Madrid we stayed one night at the basic but clean and tidy Hotel Restaurante Villa de Sepulveda. Twin rooms were just 38 Euros per room. This is easily found on the northern side of the SG 233, although note it is actually in the village of Santa Cruz, just east of Sepulveda
English was only very rarely spoken in the areas we visited (except Henri at FSM), so a good phrasebook and a basic knowledge of Spanish are recommended.
Dawn in Extremadura was 07:10, dusk at about 21:30. In Sepulveda, due to the distance travelled north, dawn broke at 06:15.
The weather in Extremadura in spring is changeable, before the heat of summer sets in. We encountered cold overcast conditions with occasional drizzle as fronts passed over during our first day and a half. After that the weather settled, and every day was clear, hot and sunny. During the middle of the day on hot days (1pm - 4pm) bird activity is greatly reduced and heat haze becomes a real problem. Try to tailor birding in recognition of this. The usual hot climate recommendations of covering up, a good sun block and drinking lots of water apply. Mornings could, however, still be cool.
In the Sierra de Guadarrama the air temperature was cooler but the sun still very strong.
Both AKM and I spent time digi-scoping during the trip. I used a Nikon Coolpix 995 on a Swarovski AT80 HD with 30x wide-angle eyepiece, an Eagle-eye adaptor and Nikon digital remote control. The light was fantastic for most of the trip giving very fast shutter speeds and some good pictures. All the shots in this report were taken by myself during the trip at the sites stated in the text.
Itinerary and site notes.
Tuesday 6th May 2003
We arrived at Madrid around midday, dispensed with the formalities then travelled southwest along the quiet and good quality NV E90. Note there is a great deal of EU-funded road development currently underway in Spain so consequently roadworks are frequent, although note much of a problem. Additionally, when a road has been upgraded its name is frequently changed. The map we took reflected the current status, but Muddeman and some trip reports are out of date. Also, motorways are dual named, including an N name given in roman numerals. The use of Kilometre markers on all roads is very useful, especially on motorways where kilometre markers are used as junction numbers.
Our first stop was Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1). This wetland site is just off the NV at K200. In the reed-bed east of the road we easily found 1 Purple Swamphen, and heard a Savi's Warbler singing. A group of Vultures overhead included 5 Black Vultures. Many other birds around this good site included 2 Gull-billed Terns, singing Cetti's and Reed Warblers, 1 Common Sandpiper and 3 Spanish Sparrows plus raptors over including Booted Eagle and Egyptian Vulture.
Embalse de Arroyocampo, east of the road
Purple Swamphen record shot
We then travelled a further 50km south to the town of Trujillo. The fishponds (M12) were quiet, but the Bull Ring provided excellent views of Lesser Kestrel.
We finally travelled 10mins south to Finca Santa Marta (FSM). An evening stroll produced our first 10 Azure-winged Magpies and common FSM birds including Short-toed Treecreeper, Sardinian Warbler, Nightingale, Serin, Woodlark plus Black Vulture and Crag Martin (!) over. At night 1 Scop's Owl was heard calling.
Finca Santa Marta
Spotless Starling at FSM
An early morning walk in disappointing drizzle round FSM produced the same birds are the previous evening, plus Golden Oriole.
We then headed out to the Belen Plains (M12). The weather was still overcast and cool with occasional drizzle, but as this meant no heat haze it provided excellent Bustard searching conditions. After dropping down onto the plain from the village, the road then rises again. From the crest of this rise we scanned and found 5 Great Bustards in a field to the south of the road, plus 4 Little Bustards in fields on both sides of the road. Calandra Lark were common in this area, said to be an indicator specie of good quality steppe.
Progressing slowly along this road we found a further 3 Little Bustards, 1 Great Bustard north of the road, Little Owl and Stone Curlew. At the first obvious crossroads we turned right onto a well-maintained and wide track. The track leads south, then round to the right before forking. Around the fork and in the scrubby hillside south of the track we easily found 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos. This has been a reliable site for this species this year.
The Belen Plains
Calling male Little Bustard, Belen Plains
After returning along the same road, we headed north of Trujillo, then west towards Monroy on the road described in Muddeman Site 11. Around areas M11, 1 and M11, 2 we found a Red Kite nest in a eucalyptus tree just right off the main road. The nest also held 10+ pairs of Spanish Sparrows, providing great views, with up to c.100 more pairs breeding in the area. Worth a stop. Our first Western Black-eared Wheatears were on roadside fences further along this road.
We then turned south towards the village of Santa Marta de Magasca (SMdM). Where the road crosses the rio Magasca (M10, 3) we had great views of Crag Martin. It was now the heat of the day so despite searching the road south of SMdM (M10, 1) we saw little. Montague's Harriers were particularly common in this area and other raptors, including Black & Griffon Vultures and Lesser Kestrels, were ever-present. Returning north, just beyond SMdM we saw our first Golden Eagle.
At M11, 8 we found 3 Rock Sparrows in the stony field just past the large farm, plus Thekla Lark. We then continued north of Monroy to the well-known Black-shouldered Kite site (M11, 10). This site is in use this year and we soon had excellent views of one Kite from the white gateposts at the end of the first section of track, looking across the dehesa to the right of the gates. It was c.16:30, and the weather had cleared out. It remained clear, dry, sunny and hot for the rest of the trip!
Monroy Black-shouldered Kite site
We returned along the EX390 towards Caceres then drove the track detailed in Muddeman site 10, 5-10 in reverse. Just before joining the track we saw our first 2 pairs of Rollers. At M11, 9 we had great views of sub-adult 2 Golden Eagles over then steppe, one being mobbed by a melanistic Montague's Harrier. I had distant views of a flock of probable Pin-tailed Sandgrouse that dropped near M11, 8. Despite searching we couldn't find these again, and much better views were needed for a lifer! Continuing along the track we found 6 Short-toed Larks and 2 further Western Black-eared Wheatears.
Thursday 8th May 2003
Another early morning walk at FSM added Dartford Warbler to the finca list, but the star birds were 4 Common Waxbill. If you stay at the Finca, follow the track downhill past the car park away from the entrance. The track bends right and then turns left. It is possible to continue walking straight on here, with a White Stork's nest on your right and bare trees with breeding Short-toed Treecreepers on your left. The Waxbill were breeding just beyond the bare trees on the left.
We travelled north to the Monfrague. There are currently major roadworks on the EX208 north of Trujillo, and it is closed on some places. Currently the best way to reach the Monfrague from Trujillo is to take the NV north to K227, then travel west through Jaraocejo on the EX385 until you reach the EX208, then travel north.
Our first stop was the Spanish Imperial Eagle site near Torrejon el Rubio. We found out that birders have recently encountered problems at this site, with local farmers claiming the track as private. For this reason I have refrained from publishing directions. Please only use this site if really needed; use La Bascula in the Monfrague first. We had distant views on one adult and one young Eagle plus 1 Melodious Warbler, 1 Great-spotted Cuckoo and 2 Thekla Larks here.
Our first stop in the Parque Natural de Monfrague (M4) was Arroyo de la Vid and produced good views of a pair of Rock Sparrow, breeding Spanish Sparrow and a fly-over adult Golden Eagle.
Pena Falcon had the expected hoard of Griffon Vultures and 6 Black Storks. The highlight was distant views of a displaying Bonelli's Eagle, seen over the second hillside back to the left of Pena Falcon. Iberian Black Redstart, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting all showed well behind the road.
The large road-bridge bridge by the picnic-site at Aparacamiento produced 3 pairs of Alpine Swifts with the many House Martin. In scrub behind the next viewpoint, Puente del Cardenal, AKM had views of Spectacled Warbler. This was eclipsed when a pair of Bonelli's Eagles flew low overhead providing fantastic views.
After a quick stop at Mirador de la Bascula, which produced no adult Eagles, we moved to the lookout point at Portilla del Tietar. Here we quickly located this year's 2 young Eagle Owls, large but still not fledged. They were surprisingly active for late afternoon and gave excellent views.
View from Mirador de la Bascula
Portilla del Tietar, with the area used by Eagle Owls almost centre of the picture.
We returned to La Bascula and explored the track that leads southwest from the car park. In an hour of exploring the different branches we were eventually rewarded with excellent views of 3 different singing male Western Subalpine Warblers, plus Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. Back in the car park an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle was on the nest, and Black Vultures were returning from their day in the plains, and provided excellent views overhead. We were then alerted to the fact that the adult Eagle Owl had appeared, and we quickly returned to Portilla del Tietar. We had excellent views of a fantastic bird.
We finally waited at Mirador de la Bascula and at c.21:30 saw our first Red-necked Nightjar over the small plantation behind the car park. We saw a further bird and heard 2 more calling. Returning to FSM we heard 4 different Scop's Owls, but failed to see any.
Friday 9th May 2003
A short walk at FSM produced Common Waxbill again, and our first 2 Cirl Bunting of the trip. We then headed to the track west of SMdM (M10, 5-10) to search for Sandgrouse. In the first field east of the track after turning off the SMdM road we saw a group of 8 Great Bustards and a pair of Roller were using the Roller nest box on the telegraph pylon next to the road where the first wires cross the road. A short distance further 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouse were feeding just 5 yards from the road.
As we drove north along the road we had good views of 3 Little Bustards, 3 Stone Curlew and 2 further Black-bellied Sandgrouse. We stopped at the area when two days earlier I thought I had seen Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Others had seen Pin-tails in this area 2 days earlier, so we were optimistic. As soon as we stopped the car 7 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over.
To find this area, when travelling north along the track the road turns 900 left after c.7km. At this point the field to the left is large, drops away from the road and is ploughed. To the right of the road is a brow. When the road turns a track that continues straight on, signed "Lomo de Hierro". We parked next to the sign and scanned the fields. In the field right of this track, over the brow, we found 6 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse which gave excellent perched views. A further 7 Pin-tails flew past.
We returned south along this track seeing the same steppe species, including Short-toed Lark, Western Black-eared Wheatear, Great-spotted Cuckoo and Red-legged Partridge. This is an excellent track for all Steppe species and is highly recommended. We saw all the above by 11:00am.
To bird through the heat of the day we first visited Embalse del Salor. This site is given in Garcia and Paterson (2001), but not Muddeman, and lies just south of Caceres. The feeder stream west of the reservoir produced singing Great Reed Warbler, 2 Cuckoo etc, while from the picnic area on the southern bank next to the eastern edge of the reservoir we relaxed and digi-scoped Cattle and Little Egrets, Common Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover while Azure-winged Magpies took crisps placed next to the car.
We next drove the minor road heading north from Torremocha (just east of Embalse del Salor) towards to village of Botija (M16) . The fields of wild flowers along this road were spectacular and worth the drive if time allows. Where the river comes close the road just west of Botija (M16, 5) we found a colony of Bee-eaters, which gave great close views.
Wild flowers west of Botija
Little Egret at Embalse del Salor
Returning to Trujillo we found the fishponds (M12) again quiet so crossed the EX208 to look round the buildings opposite the Bull Ring that Muddeman gives as a breeding site for Pallid Swift. We had fantastic close views of 6 birds there; recommended.
After dinner we again explored the grounds of the Finca, this time seeing 2 Scop's Owls.
Saturday 10th May 2003
The usual morning walk around FSM gave BAM a fly-over Hawfinch, the only one of the trip.
Today we headed south from Trujillo on the EX208 to bird the 'northern rice fields', an area of paddyfields around Madrigalejo (M17). The aim of the day was to see Red Avadavat, plus search for passage waders. This is a large area and during our May visit we found only very few paddyfields that held birds. Probably not recommended unless you want Red Avadavat (best at the old bridge over the rio Gargaligas, M17, 7) or have the time to spare.
Note that sites in this area change significance depending on the stage of rice cultivation in an area. We found some recommended areas completely dry. What is given here is a May 2003 update, but this may not be relevant in later years.
We stopped at Embalse de Sierra Brava (M17, 2). Birds here were incredibly distant, but we could make out a breeding colony of Gull-billed Terns (20+ birds) plus Gadwall and Black-winged Stilt. Not recommended.
We then took the track M17, 3. The paddyfields in this area were all dry and birdless. We did, however, find a flock of 6 Red Avadavat feeding in a crop field along this track. We continued past Palazuelo and Zurbaran (M17, 9 & 10) seeing very little of note.
Driving the Gargaligas / Los Guadalperales (M17, 8) loop-road turned up our first good field of birds including 22 Little-ringed Plover, 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 Dunlin, 5 Greenshank and 2 Redshank.
We then birded the old bridge over the rio Gargaligas (M17, 7). Looking down into reeds we found 20+ Red Avadavat breeding, plus had great views of 4+ Great Reed Warblers and Cetti's Warblers. We had over 25 species from the bridge in an hour.
We found the best site in the northern rice fields to be around Vegas Atlas (M17, 6). There is a road that leads due south from the village that then loops round and joins the EX355 next to the new bridge. This is shown on the Michelin map but is not in Muddeman. Paddyfields in this area produced some good birding, including Ringed and Little-ringed Plovers, 1 Dunlin, 5 more Greenshank and 1 Redshank, a colony of 20+ Black-winged Stilts, 20 more Gull-billed Terns and our only Black-headed Gulls of the trip. In a flock of 25 Black-headed Gulls we found a stunning adult summer Mediterranean Gull, according to Muddeman only a vagrant to Extremadura. We also found a flock of 10 Collared Pratincoles in a ploughed field that gave excellent views.
We returned north, driving the road to Campo Lugar (M17, 1). Probably due to the time of day (c.16:00) this road produced nothing. However, just north of Zorita on the EX208 (at Km post 100.5) we picked up a pair of raptors over the road and pulled very quickly into a track entrance. Amazingly they were Bonelli's Eagles, which gave crippling views just overhead, before drifting away east. The birds of the trip for BAM.
We returned to FSM when an evening stroll produced excellent views of Woodlark and later more calling Scop's Owls.
Sunday 11th May 2003
A morning walk round FSM was required more to clear my head from the night before than for any serious birding. The aim of the day was to travel back to the Monfrague to search for Western Orphean Warbler missed on the 8th, and to try our luck if any early White-rumped Swifts were in.
We first searched the road from Arroyo de la Vid to the Castillo car park in the Monfrague for Western Orphean Warbler. After an hours searching we had great views of a singing male. When travelling from the Arroyo de la Vid crossing you pass a obvious pair of white gate posts on the right just before the road bends left, then there is another pair of gateposts and a track entrance about 1km further on the left (the next set of posts). This is about 1km before the entrance of the Castillo car park. Parking here we had the Orphean in the trees south of the road.
We then parked in the upper car park at the Castillo (continue on the track through the lower car park for a much shorter walk!) and then climbed to the Castillo. This does provide fantastic views over the park, and can give close views of passing raptors, but not when we were there. This is the site for White-rumped Swift in Extremadura, but not unexpectedly we were just too early and failed to see any. In this area we had Rock Sparrow, 2 Cirl Buntings, many Rock Buntings and Blue Rock Thrushes.
Being a Sunday, the park was far busier than our first visit and, although perfectly acceptable, is worth avoiding if possible. We then birded the Pena Falcon and Puente del Cardenal (no more Bonelli's..!) before returning towards Trujillo.
At about 17:30 we decided to bird to Belen Plain road again (M12). From 18:00 onwards Little Bustards began calling again and we found Great Bustard in the same field as on our first visit. As we progressed along the road the heat and haze reduced and we got better and better views of both Bustard species. Our final totals were 9 Little Bustards and 17 Great Bustards, including 1 amazing displaying male.
Monday 12th May 2003
We left FSM and travelled North on the NV towards Madrid. We stopped again at Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1) this time getting excellent close views of a pair of Savi's Warblers nesting east of the road. 3 Purple Swamphen on both side of the road showed well and a Great Reed Warbler was heard singing.
We then travelled south of the NV following up some gen about Black Wheatear. From Km 197 just south of Almaraz take the road south towards Valdecanas de Tajo. The road runs round the west of this village, then continues south. Take the fork towards Campillo de Deleitosa. Follow this road into the valley, the road crosses a small bridge over a tributary then comes to a larger bridge over the main river. Park on the right just before the bridge, then cross the bridge and view back across the valley. A pair of Black Wheatears were present around the walled garden, and gave excellent views. Please view only from the road to prevent disturbance.
Black Wheatear site (AKM)
Female Black Wheatear
Dupont's Lark was a major target for the trip, which required us to leave Extremadura and travel 100km north of Madrid along the NI E5 to the Sepulveda area in Castilla-La Mancha. The Larks breed in the high plains of the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton. To find the site take the SG241 north from Santa Cruz (just east of Sepulveda) towards Uruenas. Take the left towards Castrillo de Sepulveda, then go through the village towards Villaseca. As you enter Villaseca take the wide sandy track that leads right, immediately past the church. The track is signed just before the church to 'Ermita de San Frutos'.
This track leads 3.5km to a car park, from which it is a short downhill walk to the edge of a spectacular gorge that the rio Duraton has cut through the area, and is the reason for the area being a designated natural park. A church (Ermita de San Frutos) is located overlooking the gorge further along the track, and is a popular tourist site.
In the scrub round the path shortly after the car park we found 3 Western Orphean Warblers, which gave excellent prolonged views. Recommended over the Monfrague for searching for this bird. The gorge holds important numbers of breeding cliff nesting birds, which give spectacular close views, often just overhead. We saw 60+ Chough (amazingly a new world bird for AKM, but we won't tell anyone about that.) and 100+ Griffon Vultures plus Egyptian Vulture and Raven. Blue Rock Thrush was present while Iberian Black Redstart and Crag Martin were common. The fantastic scenery and close views of the birds made this our favourite site of the whole trip, and we highly recommend it.
We then searched along the entrance track for Dupont's Lark, from 18:45 to dusk. We found most calling birds between 1km and 1.5km after the 'stream-less valley' that the track crosses, if approaching from the main road. Larks abound in this habitat (we say many Short-toed, plus Crested, Thekla, Sky, Wood and 1 Calandra) and we found 5 Western Black-eared Wheatears and 1 Tawny Pipit. However, we could only hear Dupont's Lark, with a maximum of 3 distant birds.
Gorge and the rio Duraton
Plains home to 'Dupont's Invisible Lark'
Tuesday 13th May 2003
We returned to the Dupont's Lark site just after dawn and searched until 09:30. Again Dupont's were calling, this time 5 frustratingly all round us, but we just could not see El Diablo (cf. Bannon 2002). We recorded the same birds as last night, with the Tawny Pipit count rising to 2 birds.
A brief look into the 'stream-less valley' produced another Western Orphean Warbler, while Spectacled Warbler was heard singing and a male Dartford Warbler showed well.
The final area of the trip we planned to visit was the Sierra de Guadarrama. Lying just 60km north of Madrid, and being accessible by car up to 1900 metres, it provides some quick and easy mountain birding and is a good site for Citril Finch. It took an hour and a quarter to reach Puerto de Navacerrada from Villaseca, via Segovia.
Puerto de Navacerrada is the high point of the mountain pass on the CL601 / M601. Travelling from the north, as you cross the summit there is a junction with the M604 on the left then immediately an uphill turn on the right, towards a ski lift. Then on the right are 2 bars with outside seating; the latter named 'Venta Arias'. Immediately after this bar there is a car park on the right. Park here, then look south towards a ski-pull. Here we had excellent close views of up to 8 Citril Finch.
Citril Finch site at Puerto de Navacerrada
Record shot of female Citril Finch
We then drove up the road past the ski-lift mentioned above. This eventually ends at some sort of military / air-force building. We parked just before this and explored the trails that start on the left just after a ski-pull, when coming from the main road. We walked to the start of the trails where you enter the coniferous woodland, then took the trails that led left. On a short walk we saw 2 Crested Tits, 1 Crossbill, 4 more Citril Finch and heard Great Spotted Woodpecker. Coal Tit and Goldcrest were common.
Returning to the car we then dropped to Puerto de Navacerrada and turned onto the M604, then took the first signed right turn to Valdesqui. This is a dead-end road that leads to a large car park for ski lifts, closed when we were there. The road to the car park climbs, allowing you to explore a fantastic open valley, getting above the tree line. Parking at the end of the road and walking back along the road we found another 4 Citril Finch, a stunning male Rock Thrush, 6+ Rock Bunting, 3 Northern Wheatear and 1 Grey Wagtail. Others have seen Water Pipit and Ortolan Bunting at this site.
Returning back to the M604 Valcotos is on your right, which has a very large car park overlooking a wooded valley. Birding round the car park produced 2 Citril Finch, 4+ Rock Buntings and 3 Firecrest.
We were ahead of our planned timings so we decided to have another walk along the wooded trails detailed above at Puerto de Navacerrada. Turning left after entering the woodland and following the trail, one crosses a cleared ski run and then a parallel area of cleared trees, home to a ski lift. Looking down the valley we had great views of a stunning male Iberian Pied Flycatcher singing from the cables of the ski lift.
A really distinctive bird, it's a shame that Saetre, Borge and Moum's (Ibis 143: 494-497) review of the black-and-white flycatcher group in Europe, that split the North African form speculigera as Atlas Flycatcher, did not clarify the position of iberiae.
We then returned south the Madrid Barajas airport for the flight home. This was much delayed due to a French air traffic controller's strike, eventually getting us into Heathrow at 02:00 on the 14th. After a kip we then headed to Dungeness RSPB reserve when a cracking male Little Bittern put on a good show, avenging the dip at Embalse de Arroyocampo!
As stated in the introduction we had a very successful trip, seeing 21 of our 24 target birds. We missed White-rumped Swift at the Castillo de Monfrague, but we expected to as we were just too early. We also failed to bump into Iberian Green Woodpecker anywhere, but I had no specific gen. The biggest disappointment, however, was not seeing Dupont's Lark. Always a difficult bird, some recent trip reports had increased out confidence about getting it at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton. So, they are not guaranteed there!
A lack of time and gen in the Sierra de Guadarrama meant we only scratched the surface of what looks like an excellent area for birding. Comparing our systematic list to other trip reports from Extremadura notable dips included no Little Bittern or Black-crowned Night-heron at Embalse de Arroyocampo, no Peregrine or Goshawk in the Monfrague, no Penduline Tit in the rice fields and no Western Bonelli's Warbler anywhere.
Thanks to Tom McJannet and Graham Cantley for gen before we left, David Cottridge for the Orphean gen and Paul Gale for getting us when the adult Eagle Owl appeared!
Thanks also to all the birders we met during our trip that we chatted to, saw birds with and exchanged gen with. We all saw more because of this.
For any further info please contact the author at email@example.com
The following is a full systematic list of birds recorded on the trip. For specific details on sites where the noteworthy birds were recorded, please refer to the Itinerary And Site Notes' section above.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
2 Birds as Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1), 5 at Embalse del Salor and 3 other individuals noted in Extremadura.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Seen at Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1) on both occasions and 5 at Embalse de Sierra Brava (M17, 2).
Continental Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis
2 flew over Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1) on the 12th.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Singles and pairs seen at most wetlands sites throughout Extremadura, often with flocks of Cattles. 18 recorded during the trip.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Occasionally noted in Extremadura, but only common at Embalse del Salor.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Only seen at Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1), 2 birds on both visits.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
A very common sight on the plains, often in large flocks. Between 200 and 300 seen daily.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Seen mainly the Monfrague (M4) with 8 recorded on the 8th, breeding pairs seen well at Pena Falcon and Portilla del Tietar. 2 singles seen in flight away from the park.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
A very common sight in Extremadura, away from the Monfrague. 100+ seen daily.
Gadwall Anas strepera
Only 2 seen at Embalse del Salor.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Seen frequently at all wetland sites. Most small pools in the plains held a pair.
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
1 adult bird showed well at the site near Monroy
Red Kite Milvus milvus
Frequently recorded throughout, but in much smaller numbers than Black Kite. Seen daily, trip total 31 birds.
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Seen daily, the most widespread raptor throughout.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Breeding birds seen in singles and pairs in the Monfrague. Also surprisingly frequently seen singly over the plains. Birds also seen in near the Black Wheatear site and in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton. 13 birds in total.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Very common throughout, Monfrague breeding birds range widely. Best views, however, in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton area.
Black Vulture Aegypius monachus
Seen surprisingly frequently at all sites visited in Extremadura. 32 birds recorded. One seen between Sepulveda and Segovia was a surprise.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
7 birds seen in Extremadura including good views of close birds at Punte del Cardenal and Portilla del Tietar in the Monfrague.
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Seen on both visits to Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1). One female also surprised us by flying over the Belen Plains (M12) on the evening of the 12th.
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Commonly seen at all plains sites visited. Best views were at a loose colony south east of SMdM (M10, 1).
Buzzard Buteo buteo
32 birds recorded during the trip. Mostly seen singularly in lowland dehesa habitat.
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti
1 adult bird watched circling the nest-site at Torrejon el Rubio with one young bird seen in the nest. An adult eventually seen on the nest from the Mirador de la Bascula in the Monfrague, again with a young bird on the nest.
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
5 birds seen. A single just north of SMdM, a sub-adult pair over the plains from the track west of SMdM (M10, 9), and adult over Arroyo de la Vid and an adult over the Black Wheatear site.
Bonelli's Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus
The highlight of the trip for me. A distant bird was seen displaying from the Pena Falcon viewpoint in the Monfrague was followed by good views of a pair from Punte del Cardenal, Monfrague. When I thought it couldn't get any better a crippling pair were seen low over the EX208 just north of Zorita.
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
18 birds seen, predominantly over dehesa habitat.
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
Frequently seen in the plains, but distant birds were not always identified beyond Kestrel sp. Best views were the breeding birds at Trujillo Bull Ring (M12).
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Seemed far less common than Lesser in Extremadura.
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
14 birds seen during the trip. Pairs occasionally noted in steppe areas visited, plus 3 calling birds seen when searching for the Dupont's Larks.
Quail Coturnix coturnix
Frequently heard from suitable habitat. Seemingly very common.
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
1 bird seen at Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1) east of the road on our first visit, 3 there on our second included one west of the road. Easy to get good views at this site.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Noted at most wetland sites visited, very common in the north eastern rice fields (M17, 6-10)
Coot Fulica atra
Only 2 birds seen at Embalse del Salor
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
Excellent views of birds on the Belen Plains (M12) and the steppe west of SMdM (M10, 5-8). 19 birds seen in total.
Great Bustard Otis tarda
31 birds seen in total during the trip, again on the Belen Plains (M12) and the steppe west of SMdM (M10, 5-8).
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Common in the northern rice fields, especially in the area south of the village of Vegas Atlas (M17, 6). Also seen at Embalse de Sierra Brava (M17, 2) and just south of Trujillo.
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Seen on both the Belen Plains (M12) and the steppe west of SMdM (M10, 5-8). 8 birds seen in total.
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
1 seen in flight from the old bridge over the rio Gargaligas south of Madrigalejo (M17, 7), then a flock of 10 gave excellent views in fields from the road we found south of Vegas Atlas (M17, 6).
Little-ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
The most frequent wader we recorded in Extremadura, with breeding pairs seen at many wetland sites visited. A flock of 22 in the paddy fields near Los Guadalaperales (M17, 8) were presumably migrants.
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
A flock of 9 were seen on a paddy field south of Vegas Atlas (M17, 6).
Dunlin Calidris alpina
2 seen in the northern rice fields. One with the flock of Little Ringed Plovers, one with the Ringed Plovers!
Redshank Tringa tetanus
3 migrants seen in the northern rice fields, one in Muddeman site 17 area 10, the other 2 on the Los Guadalaperales loop (M17, 8).
Greenshank Tringa nebularia
10 migrants seen while birding the northern rice fields.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
9 birds seen at various wetland sites; Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1), Embalse del Salor and the northern rice fields (M17).
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Only seen in the northern rice fields where 2 flocks totalling 50 birds were seen south of Vegas Atlas (M17, 6) and north of Madrigalejo (M17, 4)
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
One seen at Embalse del Salor was our only record.
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus
A cracking adult summer bird was with the flock of Black-headed Gulls we found on a paddy field south of Vegas Atlas (M17, 6). Only a vagrant in Extremadura.
Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica
Common in the northern rice fields, breeding at Embalse de Sierra Brava (M17, 2) and seen frequently at areas M16, 4 and M17, 6. Also two birds on one occasion at FSM.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata
Only seen from the track west of SMdM (M10, 5-10), as described above. 15 birds seen in total.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis
Only seen from the track west of SMdM (M10, 5-6). 7 birds in 2 groups.
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 'feral'
Common, not religiously recorded.
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
Frequently seen, 22 birds on 7 days.
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Reasonably common, 21 birds seen on 5 days.
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
4 birds seen. A pair showed very well sat on fence wires on the Belen Plains (M12), then fly-pasts at the Spanish Imperial Eagle site west of Torrejon el Rubio and on the steppe west of SMdM (M10, 6). Listen for their calls.
Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Frequently heard throughout, 3 birds seen.
Scop's Owl Otus scops
Heard nightly at FSM, with 4 birds simultaneously the high count. 2 birds seen on one occasion. Also heard calling from the gorge at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton in broad daylight.
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo
2 young, and eventually a fantastic adult, seen very well at Portilla del Tietar in the Monfrague.
Little Owl Athene noctua
5 birds seen at steppe sites visited.
Red-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis
2 birds seen and 1 more heard at Mirador de la Bascula in the Monfrague. Birds showed from 21:30 onwards.
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
Only seen in the Monfrague at Pena Falcon, La Bascula and breeding under the bridge before Punte de Cardenal. Seen in small groups, up to 6 birds at once.
Swift Apus apus
Commonly seen throughout. All Swift sp. recorded as this species, but when searching it did genuinely seemed far commoner than the Pallid.
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus
15 seen on 4 days. Best views in the evenings opposite the Bull Ring in Trujillo (M12)
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
3 birds seen.
Bee-eater Merops apiaster
A delightfully common sight throughout Extremadura.
Roller Coracias garrulous
2 birds seen roadside posts on the EX390 just before the start of the good steppe track west of SMdM from the western entry (M10, 10) then 2 more just after starting along the track. A pair were seen nesting at the start of this track (M10, 5), and a further 2 birds seen in the Vegas Atlas area of the northern rice fields (M17, 6).
Hoopoe Upupa epops
Seen daily, 36 birds seen. Best views were in steppe and dehesa areas.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
1 heard calling from the walks near the military building, Puerto de Navacerrada in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
Seen in steppe habitat where steppe was good quality. 56 recorded, excellent views at times.
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
In Extremadura 6 birds seen on the good steppe road west of SMdM, mainly between sites M10 7-9. A further pair in Extremadura seen south of Vegas Atlas in the northern rice fields (M17, 6) where we had the Collared Pratincoles. Commonly seen in the plains of the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton, while Dupont's searching.
Dupont's Lark Chersophilus duponti
A main target bird for the trip, and a disappointing dip. Up to 8 birds heard along the access track to the gorge at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton but none seen.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Neither searched for, nor rigorously identified. Recorded mainly in dehesa, and with excellent views while searching for the Dupont's Larks.
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Regularly heard from suitable habitat. Excellent views of birds at FSM and behind Mirador de la Bascula in the Monfrague (M4).
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Only seen and heard at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton while Dupont's searching (really is an excellent area of Larks!). 6 recorded.
Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris
Seen daily, even 3 birds on two occasions over FSM! Common in the Monfrague and at the gorge at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton
Barn Swallow Huirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
Quite common, especially in lowland habitats. Excellent views of pairs whenever roads cross small streams, as almost all small bridges on the plains seemed to have hold a breeding pair.
House Martin Delichon urbica
Very common, the most frequently recorded hirundine.
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
I thought we were going to dip after not seeing any in Extremadura (few and far between?) until we saw 3 birds well at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton while Dupont's searching.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba
Seen occasionally at wetland sites and near streams.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
One bird seen in the valley that runs parallel to the road to Valdesqui in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
9 birds seen and heard throughout.
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Only seen in the high Sierra de Guadarrama, mostly around Valdesqui.
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Again only seen in the high Sierra de Guadarrama, mostly around Valdesqui.
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Commonly heard in suitable habitat. Occasional birds showed. Most frequently recorded from areas of riverside vegetation.
Iberian Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros aterrimus
Seen in the Monfrague (with best views behind the parking area at Pena Falcon), in the gorge at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton and commonly in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Stonechat Saxicola torquata
Common in most habitats, especially steppe and cultivated areas.
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura
One pair seen very well at the site described above near Campillo de Deleitosa
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Only seen at Valdesqui in the Sierra de Guadarrama, where 4 were around the car park.
Western Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica hispanica
Seen in small numbers throughout, 15 birds recorded on 7 days. Birds seen around M11 3-7, M10 7-10, near the Black Wheatear site and commonly in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Excellent views of birds in the Monfrague (Pena Falcon and Castillo best) and in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton. 27 birds recorded on 5 days. Male display flights were great to look down on from the Castillo!
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis
One male bird showed really well in the valley that runs parallel to the road to Valdesqui in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Blackbird Turdus merula
Noted throughout, especially in dehesa.
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
Only 6 seen on 4 days. A bird of open wooded areas.
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
Frequently heard from riverside vegetation, excellent views at both Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1), and the old bridge over the rio Gargaligas (M17, 7) in the northern rice fields.
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Commonly heard in the plains. 38 birds recorded.
Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides
A bird was heard reeling on our first visit to Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1), from the reeds east of the road. On our second visit we watched a pair frequently visiting a nest in reeds close to the road.
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Only seen at Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1), max count 4 birds, and one in the northern rice fields.
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Single birds heard once at both Embalse de Arroyocampo (M Q1) and beyond the western end of Embalse del Salor. However, this species was common along the rio Gargaligas in the northern rice fields, with excellent views gained from the old bridge (M17, 7).
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta
A singing bird seen at the Spanish Imperial Eagle site west of Torrejon el Rubio was our only record.
Western Orphean Warbler Sylvia [hortensis] hortensis
After hard work on two visits we eventually found a singing bird between Arroyo de la Vid to the Castillo car park in the Monfrague. Things were much better in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton where we had excellent views of 3 birds between the car park and the gorge, and one in the stream-less valley'.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Common in Extremadura, though like all the Sylvia of the region hard to get a good views of.
Western Subalpine Warbler Sylvia [cantillans] cantillans
Only seen and heard in the Monfrague. Time and effort in suitable habitat brings rewards, suggesting they are commoner than initial feelings suggest. Best views were 3 singing males from the tracks leading southwest from the Mirador de la Bascula car park.
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata
1 bird heard singing from the stream-less valley' along the access track to Ermita de San Frutos' in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton, but wasn't seen. A theme from that morning. AKM only saw one in scrub behind Punte del Cardenal in the Monfrague.
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
First seen at once at FSM, then a bird seen just before Mirador de la Bascula in the Monfrague. Later two males seen well in the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton; one in scrub behind the gorge and then one in the stream-less valley'.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Only seen in the high Sierra de Guadarrama. Seen near Puerto de Navacerrada and along the road to Valdesqui.
Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
3 seen together behind the car park at Valcotos in the high Sierra de Guadarrama.
Iberian Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca iberiae
Excellent views of a singing male bird from the trails starting near the military building, Puerto de Navacerrada in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus irbii
Common in the Monfrague, especially around the Castillo. Also seen at FSM.
Coal Tit Parus ater britannicus
Only seen in the high Sierra de Guadarrama, where common and seen & heard throughout.
Crested Tit Parus cristatus
2 seen on the trails leading from the military building, Puerto de Navacerrada in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Great Tit Parus major
Seen in small numbers throughout.
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
Seen throughout, commoner than Great Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
Quite common in Extremadura, frequently heard from wooded areas. Very common and seen daily at FSM.
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
13 birds seen and heard on 8 days. Best views at FSM.
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
A common roadside bird in Steppe habitat. 29 birds seen on 6 days.
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Commonly seen in dehesa and scrub habitat. 45 birds seen on all 9 days.
Jay Garrulus glandarius
Only seen in the Monfrague, 8 birds seen.
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyana
Very common in Dehesa and scrub habitat.
Magpie Pica pica
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Only seen in the gorge at the Parque Natural de Hoces del rio Duraton, where c.70 birds gave a fantastic, close aerial display. None seen in the Monfrague, where others have reported them.
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
2 seen over the fishponds in Trujillo (M12), then the only other bird we saw was in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Raven Corvus corax
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Very common throughout
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
Frequently seen in steppe and scrub areas, best views where birds were breeding around stork and raptor nests.
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Only seen in the northern rice fields where 5 birds were seen across the area
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia
Our first 3 birds were found just south of Monroy at M11, 8. Then birds seen in the Monfrague (M4), one pair at Arroyo de la Vid and one pair on the rock face below the Castillo.
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
Only seen at FSM where two pairs were breeding.
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava
Seen at 3 sites in the northern rice fields. 6 were along track M17, 3 then 20+ were breeding in the reeds below the old bridge over the rio Gargaligas (M17, 7). Finally 10+ were feeding in a crop field east of Vegas Atlas (M17, 6). Red Avadavat breed late in the European season, not until the autumn. Consequently birds had not gained their red breeding plumage (as shown in the Collins Bird Guide) and had red limited to only their rump and upper tail-coverts.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Occasionally seen throughout in dehesa habitat.
Serin Serinus serinus
Citril Finch Serinus citrinella
Surprisingly common (!) in the high Sierra de Guadarrama. 18 birds seen; 8 around Puerto de Navacerrada town, 4 on the trails near the military building at Puerto de Navacerrada, 4 along the road to Valdesqui and 2 at Valcotos.
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Occasionally noted. 7 birds on 3 days.
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Occasionally noted. 14 birds on 5 days.
Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
One bird seen from the trails starting near the military building at Puerto de Navacerrada in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
One fly-over at FSM was our only record.
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
One pair seen at FSM, and one bird heard from the Black Wheatear site. Otherwise only seen and heard in the Monfrague; 2 birds round the Castillo, 1 at Arroyo de la Vid and 1 behind Punte del Cardenal.
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
Seen well around the Castillo and the Pena Falcon in the Monfrague, then excellent views of 10 birds in the high Sierra de Guadarrama.
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra