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A Report from

Extremadura (Spain), 24th March-April 1st 2005,

Lutz Lücker

You know, the Imperial Eagle breeds just opposite the car park!!!

First night camping rough , then Motorway Motel El Cruce, 10 kms north of Trujillo between la Aldea and Torrecillas. Had not booked anything in advance, so it was very difficult to find something else. 24 euros per night, noisy (24h service.), food quite expensive for what it was. But room, bathroom and bed ok, better than sleeping in a car on a rainy night. Excellent food (4-course dinner with wine, coffee etc. for 30 euros) in ****Melia Hotel /Trujillo during week-ends and holidays. A la carte slightly more expensive.


Guia Campsa 2000 (1: 300.000) has turned out to be the best. 20 euros for the whole of Spain is a good investment. Alas, the old 200.000 Firestone maps are out of print! But beware! There are (even yellow, numbered) roads on those maps that do either NOT exist, or else are only usable for jeeps, or which are private, fenced country tracks! Anyway, ALL species can be seen from asphalted roads; no need to trespass ! In the steppe areas many tracks that used to be feasible are in a rotten state, quite a few famous signs mentioned in old birders' guides (La Calderuela, La Encinilla.) have disappeared. But the Monfrague park road has just been entirely re-tarmaced.

Introductory remarks (same as in my report on 2001/03):

Having nothing special to "tick" off in the Extremadura area, my main aim was to get GOOD views of certain raptors and steppe birds. As 99% of the area is fenced in (NEVER cross a fence with cattle behind; bulls and sheepdogs can be VERY uncooperative!), many birds have a very short flight distance. Some Great bustards (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe) were only 200 m from the road, whereas in Hungary, they will fly off when they spot an unknown car 500 m away. Sitting unobtrusively in the county for hours is often more rewarding than zigzagging around for a new tick. (I DID see the eye colour of a Black-shouldered Kite (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) !)
I will not disclose precise locations when there is an accessible nest of an endangered species. One example: one day, there were some British birders picnicking beside their car in the Monroy area, virtually under a Black-shouldered Kite (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar)'s nest, the exact location of which had been unwisely published on the internet and a British guide book. Unfortunately, the bird had the bad idea to build its nest in the only unfenced area of the whole district, not far from an unsurfaced but driveable country road. SUCH SENSITIVE INFORMATION SHOULD BE WITHHELD ! There are plenty of other (fenced) places where one can see these birds ! Obviously, the birders had chased the Kite away at did not see it! Serves them right!
During this week, sunrise was at 7.55 - 7.45 h, sunset 20.35 - 20.45 h, so "noon" at about 14.25 h summer time. Few raptors fly before 10 a.m.

Weather and season:

During the first days, the weather was still a bit cool, quite sunny but with odd showers, cool with more persistent rain on 28th, then becoming much warmer, dry and less windy. There were still winter flocks of up to 170 Little Bustards (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), lots of Hawfinches (Grosbec casse-noyaux) (Kernbeißer) and roosts of up to 160 Azure-winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster). Nightingales (Rossignol philomèle) (Nachtigall) and Bee-Eaters (Guêpier d'Europe) (Bienenfresser) only arrived on 29th/30th March.

Highlights of the trip

Wed 23rd:
.arrived at 11pm in the El Planeron steppe reserve between Codo and Quinto/Belchite (E of Zaragoza), just after a thundery shower when the moon was coming out again. Found the place (about 1 mile after the FIRST "El Planeron" sign after Quinto) in the darkness, and, sure enough, when I stopped the engine, a Dupont's Lark (Sirli de Dupont) (Dupontlerche) was singing a few yards away. A Stone Curlew (Oedicnème criard) (Triel) kept me awake some time.

Thu 24th:
Nice looks of the lark on a heap of dry earth in the morning at 8h winter time. Heard a pair of Chough (Crave à bec rouge) (Alpenkrähe) and a few Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spiessflughuhn) + Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn).
Arriving in Extremadura after heavy Easter Thursday traffic, had the first Booted Eagle (Aigle botté) (Zwergadler) near Oropesa. Nice flocks of Spanish Sparrows (Moineau espagnol) (Weidensperling) near the hotel on the La Aldea road. Drove on to Monroy and had 21 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn) near km 14. First 2 Black Vultures (Vautour moine) (Mönchsgeier). Went back to Belen/NE Trujillo where I met my old friends Georg Sennert and Helmut Klein from Germany. Saw nearly 30 Great Bustard (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), a Black-shouldered Kite (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) and the first Great spotted Cuckoos (Coucou geai) (Häherkuckuck). My friends were to sleep at Melia Hotel/Trujillo. Luxurious but 85 euros pp!

Fri 25th :
Met again in Belen steppe, where we had 46 Great Bustard (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), some displaying, 3 flocks of up to 90 Little bustards (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), 2 Pallid Swifts (Martinet pâle) (Fahlsegler), a Booted Eagle (Aigle botté) (Zwergadler), the 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos.and discovered a Black-shouldered Kite's (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) nest in the Dehesa on the southern side. The birds were heavily disturbed by a pair of Raven (Grand Corbeau) (Kolkrabe) that tried to land on their tree. Then the vultures started to arrive. We counted about 100 Griffon Vultures (Vautour fauve) (Gänsegeier) + 15 Black Vultures (Vautour moine) (Mönchsgeier), all flying low over our heads to a place where they expected to be some food. Terrific sight!
Back to the La Aldea-Monroy road. Near km 14/15, we got 45 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn), 1 or 2 imm. Golden Eagles (Aigle royal) (Steinadler) - probably 2 different birds, 2 Booted Eagles (Aigle botté) (Zwergadler), a few Little bustards (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), 10+ Azure-winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster) in the Dehesa (where we heard Rock Sparrow (Moineau soulcie) (Steinsperling)), Southern Grey Shrike (Pie-grièche méridionale) (Raubwürger Unterart meridionalis), Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête rousse) (Rotkopfwürger), Red-rumped Swallow (Hirondelle rousseline) (Rötelschwalbe) and 1000+ Spotless Starlings (Étourneau unicolore) (Einfarbstar).

Sat 26th:
Went to the Monfrague National Park (too many people there at Easter, especially at the Penafalcon Rock car park, but we had no choice.). Had the usual Black Stork (Cigogne noire) (Schwarzstorch) nest there, Blue Rock Thrush (Monticole bleu) (Blaumerle), 2-3 Booted Eagle (Aigle botté) (Zwergadler), scores of Vultures, including 2 Egyptian Vultures (Vautour percnoptère) (Schmutzgeier), Rock Bunting (Bruant fou) (Zippammer), etc. During our drive through the park 7-8 Short-toed Eagles (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc) (Schlangenadler) and 25+ Azure-Winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster). A Black Vulture's (Vautour moine) (Mönchsgeier) nest near the Mirador de la Bascula. Just before the Portilla de Tietar, by the 2nd Black Stork (Cigogne noire) (Schwarzstorch)'s nest, Helmut spotted an Otter (Loutre). Big surprise at the Portilla: this year was THE big one: there was a Spanish Imperial Eagle's (Aigle ibérique) (Spanischer Kaiseradler) nest in a large Cork Oak tree, less than 100 yds. to the right of the Vulture colony! Magnificent views of both birds, especially some dog fights with several vultures AND a Golden eagle (Aigle royal) (Steinadler) that had dared to sit on one of the peaks. 1 Peregrine (Faucon pèlerin) (Wanderfalke) flew by, and the usual Eagle Owl (Grand-duc d'Europe) (Uhu) had 4 big chicks; the adult being very aggressive towards its Vulture neighbours! Subalpine Warblers (Fauvette passerinette) (Weißbart-Grasmücke) chatting in the shrubs. Flocks of Rock Doves (Pigeon biset) (Felsentaube) mixed with domestic pigeons fly by regularly. One Red-legged Partridge (Perdrix rouge) (Rothuhn) came up to me sitting by the road, making odd sounds for about 10 min., not minding me moving arms and legs. Just as if he wanted me to leave HIM alone.
Evening in the Belen steppes with 145 Little Bustards (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), 20 Great Bustards (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), both Black-shouldered Kites (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) and Great spotted Cuckoos (Coucou geai) (Häherkuckuck).

Sun 27th:
Before sunrise 160 Azure-winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster) in the Dehesa E of La Aldea. 3 Great spotted Cuckoos (Coucou geai) (Häherkuckuck) at km 10 of Monroy road. Great show around km 14/15: 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn), 28 pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn), 4 Great Bustard (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), 32 Little Bustard (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), 2 Little Owl (Chevêche d'Athéna) (Steinkauz), 1 Golden Eagle (Aigle royal) (Steinadler), 6 Rock Sparrow (Moineau soulcie) (Steinsperling) (on the small rocks in the grass), 1 Black-eared Wheatear (Traquet oreillard) (Mittelmeer-Steinschmätzer), 3 Booted Eagles (Aigle botté) (Zwergadler),
2-3 Short-toed Eagles (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc) (Schlangenadler), about 10 Montagu's Harriers (Busard cendré) (Wiesenweihe) at km 18. From there road to Sta.Marta de Magasca. Picnic 3 miles before the village in the Dehesa. 1 (or 2, maybe 3 ??) Bonelli's Eagles (Aigle de Bonelli) (Habichtsadler), 40 Hawfinches (Grosbec casse-noyaux) (Kernbeißer), 5-6 Azure-winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster), 1 Black Stork (Cigogne noire) (Schwarzstorch), Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête rousse) (Rotkopfwürger). 4 Red-rumped Swallow (Hirondelle rousseline) (Rötelschwalbe) by the creek with Kingfisher (Martin-pêcheur d'Europe) (Eisvogel) and 3 Little Ringed Plovers (Petit Gravelot) (Flußregenpfeifer), + another 2 (mating) Great Spotted Cuckoos (Coucou geai) (Häherkuckuck) when leaving the Dehesa N of Sta Marta. I've never seen so many; they find caterpillars on the ground at an incredible rate. Must be a bumper crop year for them!
25 Great Bustards (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe) 1 mile before the Trujillo-Caceres road. We take the pothole country lane towards Hocino de Arriba and count 7 Montagu's Harriers (Busard cendré) (Wiesenweihe), 6 Little Bustard (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn) + 13 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn). That's 50 Sandgrouse in 1 day. But more to come.
Back home , I got the news that there had been a juv. Northern Bald Ibis (Ibis chauve) (Waldrapp (Ibis chauve)) on Trujillo Castle during those last 4 days. I survived the frustration, having seen 100+ last April.

Mon 28th:
My friends leave me in the company of Henning and Manfred whom I met at their hotel the night before. They arrive just in time to see 16 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn) at km 14 of the Monroy road + 4 Great Bustard (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe) and 12 Montagu's Harriers (Busard cendré) (Wiesenweihe) at km 18 by the Sta Marta T-junction. In spite of persistent drizzle and rainy patches, we spot 9 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn) at km 21 of the Monroy road, as well as 3 (or even 5) Great-Spotted Cuckoos (Coucou gris) (Kuckuck). They are everywhere this year! 10 Great Bustards (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn) and another Great spotted Cuckoo (Coucou geai) (Häherkuckuck) on the Hocino de Arriba road.

Tue 29th:
I spend most of the day by the Spanish Imperial Eagle's (Aigle ibérique) (Spanischer Kaiseradler) nest at Portilla de Tietar. First Nightingale (Rossignol philomèle) (Nachtigall) singing, still the crazy Red-legged Partridge (Perdrix rouge) (Rothuhn) by the roadside. 2 Short-toed Eagles (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc) (Schlangenadler) (are they going to nest again near the vulture colony?), the ad. Eagle Owl (Grand-duc d'Europe) (Uhu) basking in the morning sun on a tree, more Subalpine Warblers (Fauvette passerinette) (Weißbart-Grasmücke), 2 Egyptian Vulture (Vautour percnoptère) (Schmutzgeier), 1 Black Vulture (Vautour moine) (Mönchsgeier), Red-rumped Swallows (Hirondelle rousseline) (Rötelschwalbe), 4 Azure-Winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster). The eagles still incubate, no sign of anything hatching. Lovely dogfights with Griffon Vultures (Vautour fauve) (Gänsegeier). I meet Bernard and Anne, two former school colleagues and teachers of my younger son! Small world! They see the Otter (Loutre), I miss it again! Later, they had Purple Gallinule (Talève sultane) (Purpurhuhn) in the marshes between Saucedilla and Almaraz. I had taken another route and missed those, too!
Evening in Belen/Trujillo. 3 groups of 31 Great Bustard (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), at least 30 Little Bustard (Outarde canepetière) (Zwergtrappe), both Black-Shouldered Kites (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) (mating --- did the Raven (Grand Corbeau) (Kolkrabe) finally get to their clutch???), 14+ Lesser Kestrels (Faucon crécerellette) (Rötelfalke) sitting on Oak trees + chasing insects, 3 more Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn), an uncommon sight in this place.

Wed 30th
Back to km 14 of the Monroy road at dawn. 31 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn) are sitting near the road in spite of a Golden eagle (Aigle royal) (Steinadler) passing not far away. I wait for Bernard and Anne for 1 hour, not daring to get back to the car and fetch my photo equipment. They arrive 20 min. before the birds leave, probably frightened by a Montagu's Harrier (Busard cendré) (Wiesenweihe). We see 3 Great Bustards (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe), a lifer for my colleagues, and 3 Stone Curlews (Oedicnème criard) (Triel) at km 15.
Then we cross to the Belen steppe. The first 5 Bee-Eaters (Guêpier d'Europe) (Bienenfresser) come along, 1 more imm.Golden Eagle (Aigle royal) (Steinadler) flies by, and we spot 5 groups of 37 Great Bustard (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe). One of 2 Short-toed Eagles (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc) (Schlangenadler) catches 2 small snakes within 5 minutes and gobbles them up like spaghetti in mid-air. I see another enormous (Montpellier's?) Snake cross the road. The sudden heat has made them come out of their hiding, it seems. 3 Lesser Kestrel (Faucon crécerellette) (Rötelfalke) in the Dehesa with both Black-Shouldered Kites (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar), and about 90 Griffon Vultures (Vautour fauve) (Gänsegeier) spiralling with a few Black Vultures (Vautour moine) (Mönchsgeier) above a place where farmers leave cattle carcasses.
About 40 Lesser Kestrels (Faucon crécerellette) (Rötelfalke) above Trujillo Old Town but no Bald Ibis.!
Evening starts SE of Sta.Marta (fork right 10 kms after Trujillo) with 2 Booted Eagles (Aigle botté) (Zwergadler) at km 2, a Great Spotted Cuckoo (Coucou geai) (Häherkuckuck) at km 4 with another "kettle" of 80+ Griffon Vultures (Vautour fauve) (Gänsegeier) behind.
NW of Sta Marta, at km 21 of the Monroy road, about 50 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn), a few of which were sitting close to the road, 2 Stone Curlew (Oedicnème criard) (Triel), as well as 9 Black-Bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn)+ 7 Pin-tailed at km 14. After sunset, 20+50 Azure-winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster) in the Dehesa just before La Aldea.

Thu 31st
Only 1 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn) at km 22 of Monroy road. In the Rio Almonte valley, just south of Monroy, I finally find my first Spanish Black Wheatear (Traquet rieur) (Trauersteinschmätzer) since 1980, about 200 yds. upstream, singing in the rocks on the northern side. Some Azure-winged Magpies (Pie bleue) (Blauelster) there, too. North of Monroy, the most publicized Black-shouldered Kite (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) in Spain is still doing surprisingly well. Strange enough, there was NOBODY at the car park! (I once failed to find any parking space because there were so/too many birders there.). Again, a flock of Spanish Sparrow (Moineau espagnol) (Weidensperling) there. Actually, I entirely forgot to note them all; they seemed to be prersent in high numbers in all adequate areas this year.
3 miles west of Torrejon I first spot 1 imm. Spanish imperial Eagle (Aigle ibérique) (Spanischer Kaiseradler) on a pylon, then 1 ad.+ 1 imm. a few pylons further east. At the Portilla de Tietar, the Spanish Imperial eagles (Aigle ibérique) (Spanischer Kaiseradler) were still present, the male bringing a small prey to the nest, but it is the female that ate it; no chicks yet! Good views of the ad. Eagle Owl (Grand-duc d'Europe) (Uhu) with 2 of its 4 chicks. Still 1 (or 2?) Black Stork (Cigogne noire) (Schwarzstorch) and 2 Short-toed Eagles (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc) (Schlangenadler). Lots of Alpine Swift (Martinet à ventre blanc) (Alpensegler) at the Tajo bridge.
Back to km 14 of Monroy road, I find several flocks of 64 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn), +32 more at kms 18 and 22, where I also get 10 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Ganga unibande) (Sandflughuhn). I hear the first Quail (Caille des blés) (Wachtel) (unless it was imitated by one of the innumerable big Calandra Larks (Alouette calandre) (Kalanderlerche).) A great day: more than 100 Sandgrouse!!! One may wonder why authors like John Muddeman virtually ignore this little but vast bit of birding Paradise..

Fri 1st April
Before heading home, another short look at Monroy Rd. km 14, since it is only a 20 min. drive from the hotel... I am not disappointed. In a thistle field, I discover 8 Great Bustards (Outarde barbue) (Großtrappe) AND 91 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Ganga cata) (Spießflughuhn)! Plus the usual Zitting Cisticolas (Cisticole des joncs) (Cistensänger) at kms 12 and 14.
Road north uneventful, no Black-winged Kites (Élanion blanc) (Gleitaar) north of Oropesa, just a few white storks (Cigogne blanche) (Weißstorch) with cattle egrets (Héron garde-boufs) (Kuhreiher) behind a tractor (and 5 Guardia Civil cars on one of the loneliest country roads one could imagine.). Arrive at 6 p.m. summer time in the El Planeron reserve east of Codo/Belchite. In spite of the strong winds, 1 Dupont's Lark (Sirli de Dupont) (Dupontlerche) is already singing. Obviously invisible..! Lesser short-toed Larks (Alouette pispolette) (Stummellerche) + Calandra Larks (Alouette calandre) (Kalanderlerche) common. 1 Black-winged Stilt (Échasse blanche) (Stelzenläufer) with 4 green sandpipers (Chevalier culblanc) (Waldwasserläufer) in the large pond. And I find 3 pairs of Chough (Crave à bec rouge) (Alpenkrähe), 1 in the old sheep stable 400 yds from the T-junction, one by the Lark spot and the third in a sand quarry a mile further east. At least 4 migrating Marsh Harriers (Busard des roseaux) (Rohrweihe) as well as a few Stock doves (Pigeon colombin) (Hohltaube) between Belchite and Gelsa. When driving through the flat Lomaza hills between Quinto and Gelsa, a juv. Golden Eagle (Aigle royal) (Steinadler), harassed by a Montagu's Harrier (Busard cendré) (Wiesenweihe), is the closing curtain of a 4600 km journey with no lifers but full of unforgettable moments. I'll be back!

P.S.: I forgot to write about a few common species like Hoopoe (Huppe fasciée) (Wiedehopf), Thekla Lark (Cochevis de Thékla) (Theklalerche), Crested Lark (Cochevis huppé) (Haubenlerche), Wood Lark (Alouette lulu) (Heidelerche), Crag Martin (Hirondelle de rochers) (Felsenschwalbe), Southern Grey Shrike (Pie-grièche méridionale) (Raubwürger Unterart meridionalis), Spotless Starlings (Étourneau unicolore) (Einfarbstar), Sardinian Warblers (Fauvette mélanocéphale) (Samtkopf-Grasmücke), Cirl Buntings (Bruant zizi) (Zaunammer) etc.; those birds can be encountered daily in a variety of habitats.

Sorry for my French and German speaking friends, but English was the obvious solution!

Lutz Lücker - 5, Fort-Ecluse - Ch-1213 Petit-Lancy/Geneva - Switzerland
Tel/fax 0041-22-792.84.62


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