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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Spain, Sepulveda, Extremadura & Coto Donana, 18-26th May 2005,
(Special thanks are due to John Butler, of Donana Birdtours, for directions to the Corridor Verde)
The trip was made by Chris Johnson, Des Parkin, and Ray Thorneycroft. In 1986 we were members of a group of five that birded Andalusia and the Coto Donana. This time we flew into Madrid, starting in the north at Sepulveda, down to Extremadura, onwards to the Coto Donana, and returning to Madrid via Extremadura. We also had a target list of birds to aim for.
Flights: We flew by British Airways scheduled flights from Manchester to Madrid return. There are two scheduled flights per day. We took the first morning flight outwards and the last flight of the day homewards, thereby giving us an extra day birding. Flight costs were £95.40 each, booked in advance on the internet.
Car Hire: Again this was booked on the internet with Holiday Autos, cost of £209 for 9 days. We were upgraded by Eurocars on arrival in Madrid and were allocated a Volkswagen Touran. A six geared diesel. Very nice.
Accommodation: We never booked anywhere in advance, but did pick a couple of places out of the trip reports we looked at. We had no trouble finding places. The least we paid was €17.5 each per night, and the most was €20.
At Sepulveda we stayed at the Hostel “Villa De Sepulveda”, which is on the right, entering town, and is a few kilometres from the Dupont Lark site.
We spent two nights in the “Pension Monfrague”, Torrejon el Rubio. One of our nights happened to be Saturday night, and there was very loud music coming from a building across the road. This appeared to be on some kind of taped loop which was recurring at intervals throughout the night. Very disturbing.
On our final night, we decided to try the village of Monroy, in Monfrague. We met the village postman in the square and he actually took us to the “La Bogeda Del Herrador”. This was a fantastic place. Everything about it was good. I cannot speak too highly of this place, and if I was planning a trip to Monfrague National Park, I would base myself here the whole time. The cost: €20 each per night including breakfast, which started with freshly squeezed orange juice and included as much as you could eat. e-mail: email@example.com.
Research: We gleaned the internet for trip reports as to where we were going, and picked up some useful information. The field guide used was Collins “Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe”. Whilst in Extremadura we used John Muddeman’s book “A Birdwatching Guide to Extremadura”. This was very useful. Remember though, the maps are only line drawings, and sometimes there are considerable distances involved in their interpretation. We missed a turn to Monroy, where we had expected a metalled road, and actually finished up on the outskirts of Trujillo.
May 18 Madrid – Sepulveda – Ermita de San Frutos - Sepulveda
May 19 Sepulveda - Ermita de San Frutos – Sierra de Guadarrama (Navacerrada and Valdesqui - El Barcos)
May 20 El Barcos - Puerto de Tornavacos - Jerte – Plasencia – Villarreal - Monfrague (Penafalcon - Castillo – Portilla de la Tietar) – Torrejon el Rubio
May 21 Torrejon el Rubio - Monroy – Trujillo – Bustard Road – Belen Plains– Monroy Torejon el Rubio
May 22 Torrejon el Rubio – Belen Plains – Rio Gargaligas – Matalascanas
May 23 Matalascanas - Laguna Primera de Palos – El Portil – Odiel Marshes – El Rocio marismas - Matalascanas
May 24 Matalascanas - El Rocio (La Rocina) – Villamanrique – Corredor Verde – Valverde Centre – El Rocio marismas - Matalascanas
May 25 Matalascanas - El Rocio (La Rocina) – Aquafria – Caceres - Monroy
May 26 Monroy – Bustard Road – Santa Marta de Magasca – Sa Romana - Madrid
Sepulveda: Target birds: Dupont’s Lark, and Orphean Warbler.
On leaving Madrid Airport, we travelled north and came off the motorway at the junction to Sepulveda. We birded the trees and scrub around this junction picking up Melodious Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Serin, Firecrest, Crested Lark, Great Tit, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Nightingale and Corn Buntings, which were spaced at distances along the wires. Raptors seen were 3 Booted Eagles, 2 Common Buzzards, 1 Red Kite, and about 20 Griffon Vultures. Further along the road were five Turtle dove and also two Roe deer.
About a kilometre before reaching Sepulveda, we booked in at the “Hostel Villa de Sepulveda” and then hit the road for the Dupont Lark site.
Heading towards Sepulveda and about 500m from the hostel take a sharp right hand turn marked Uruenas, up hill, and follow the road until you see a left hand turn signposted Castillo de Sepulveda. Here take the left turn to Villaseca. Follow the road until you come to a small church on the right. Turn sharp right after the church toward Ermita de San Frutos and you are heading into the “Parc Natural de Hoces del Rio Duraton”. Stay on this track for about 2k until you come to a dip in the road. Some 2k from here is the car park. Just a short walk from here spectacular views were had over a large gorge. As it was too early to go looking for Dupont’s, we birded around the gorge area and the plains atop it although they were busy with visitors from tour and school buses. The air was full of Griffon Vultures, amongst them 2 Egyptian. We also saw 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Peregrine, 2 Kestrels, 3 Black Kite, 1 Red Kite, and 2 Raven and whilst heading back at night, 2 Montagu’s Harriers. A flock of Red-billed Choughs and Jackdaws were also dipping and soaring around the gorge. Other birds seen at this site around the car park were Black-eared Wheatear, Woodchat Shrikes, Black Redstart, Crested and Thekla Larks, Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Stonechat, Southern Grey Shrike, European Bee-eaters, Corn Buntings, Black Redstart, Barn Swallows, House Martins and Crag Martins.
After the buses had gone later in the evening, we motored back down the track about to 1 kilometre from the car park, switched off the engine, and started listening for the Dupont’s Larks. We had Crested Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Skylark and Tawny Pipit. Eventually, we heard the fluted song of a Dupont’s. We then heard another from the other side of the track. Eventually, after about 20 minutes Chris zeroed in on one. We watched the area, and after a short period, the Dupont’s Lark jumped on top of a small rock and started singing allowing excellent views with scope. Two heard, one seen.
We drove back down the track to where it dipped into the gully. Here there were a couple of Woodchat Shrikes sat up and as we birded amongst some small bushes the Shrikes moved in front of us. A warbler darted into a bush where one of the shrikes happened to be and this turned out to be a Western Orphean Warbler, of which we had pretty good views. As we climbed out of the gully two more were calling and so we returned back to the Hostel having seen two of our target birds.
The next morning we returned to the same area and saw at least 3 Western Orphean Warblers with the Woodchats still being there.
We then drove up to the car park again and having a further 3 Orpheans and again Woodchat Shrikes were in attendance. We wondered whether this was just coincidence, or maybe there was some kind of relationship between Woodchats and Orpheans. Around the car park area we also had Azure-winged Magpies, Dartford Warbler, Hoopoe, Black-eared Wheatear and a Woodlark. We moved back down the track to where we had seen the Dupont’s on the previous evening and after a short while heard 3 singing. Two were eventually seen very well, and one eventually rose in song flight. All the birds seen had first appeared to climb on a rock to start singing. We also had a Spectacled Warbler nearby before we headed off south to the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Puerto de Navacerrada: Target bird: Citril Finch.
Puerto de Navacerrada is a ski resort north of Madrid and in the village we easily found the site which entailed a sharp right turn at a crossroads to the base of a ski lift near a large Police building. We birded around the fringes of the pine trees around the ski lift, picking up Pied Flycatcher, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Serin, Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, White Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Rock Bunting, and a pair of Ravens. After about 30 minutes two finches flew into the pine trees which were identified as Citril Finches. I only got a good look at one. We drove back to the main road, turned right, and sharp right again into a small car park. From the car park we were able to look down a slope under some pine trees. Here we then had good views of two more Citril Finches feeding on the floor close by.
We left the car park and drove across the road and took a right turn for a place called Valdesqui. After about 5k we made a right turn and drove until we came to a large closed car park, again at the bottom of a ski lift. Birds seen here were White Wagtail, Coal Tit, Grey Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Rock Thrush (both male and female), Southern Grey Shrike, and 2 more Citril Finch.
We then headed south-west, picking up the N110, along the north side of the Sierra de Gredos and making for Extremadura, staying the night at the hostal “Los Pinadas” in El Barco de Avila.
Extremadura and Monfrague. Target birds: White-rumped Swift, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Black-shouldered Kite and Great Bustard.
Early next morning we continued down the N110, stopping at the Extremadura regional border, and birded a place called Puertos de Tornavacas (See Muddeman’s book, map 3, site 6). First birds seen were a pair of Golden Orioles flying across the road. On the high side of the road were several Woodlarks, Subalpine Warbler, Ortolan Buntings, Rock Buntings Spectacled Warbler, Linnet, Jay, Stonechat, Rock Bunting, Red-legged Partridge and Dunnock.
The next port of call was at Muddeman no. 4 on the same map near Jerte at Reserva de Los Infernos. This was off to the left of the road and down by the river. Birds seen here were Red-rumped Swallows, Crag Martin, Blackcaps, Greater-spotted Woodpecker, Golden Oriole, Serin, Cetti’s Warbler, Great Tit, White Wagtail and included a Spotless Starling doing the most amazing impressions.
We continued down the N110, turning south at Plasencia, and headed into the Monfrague National Park. (Muddeman’s map 5 site 4) The air was full of raptors, mostly Black Kites and Griffon Vultures with a couple of Black Vultures and two Egyptian Vultures amongst them. We quickly stopped the car near Villarreal when we spotted two eagles soaring. These turned out to be a pair of Bonelli’s which gave superb views circling low above us before one dived down to land in a pine tree under a rocky bluff.
We motored on to the “Penafalcon”, which is a large crag by the side of the river Tajo adjacent to the road. This is a nesting / roosting place for the Vultures and other raptors. The air was full of hirundines, including Alpine Swifts, but we couldn’t see any White-rumped. We drove up to the higher car park of the “Castillo” and started to walk towards the steps. These looked pretty daunting for a pair of knees that were past their sell by date. We spoke with a party of British birders on their way down and only one of them had seen a White-rumped. Fortified by an ice-cream we tackled the steps, and made it to the top. Chris had sorted Des and me a shady place to sit. As we were sorting ourselves out, I said to Des “there’s a Swift”. He said “yes and it’s got a white rump”. We shouted Chris back and we all had good views of two White-rumped Swifts. Twenty minutes later, they came round again, and, after another short period they came round again. Nineteen years previously we had tried for White-rumps on the southwest coast of Andalusia, near Zahara de los Atunes and failed.
We also saw 3 Blue Rock Thrush and had good views of a Spanish Imperial Eagle whilst we were up there.
After leaving the Castillo we drove to Torrejon el Rubio and booked into the Pension Monfrague for 2 nights. In the evening we motored to Portilla de la Tietar birding at Arroyo el Vid along the way. Here we had Kingfisher, Spanish Sparrow, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Rock Bunting and Short-toed Eagle over.
We then headed for the Eagle Owl site, which is on a large crag where the river makes a ninety degree right turn. There is a viewing platform by the side of the road, and you look across the river to the crag. Griffon Vultures were starting to come in to roost on the crag.
We found two Eagle Owl chicks in a cleft in the crag. These were nearly full grown. There were no sign of the adult birds.
A Spanish Imperial Eagle’s nest was nearby, to the right of the crag in some pine trees, although we could not see it very clearly. Both the birds were in the air, and we watched them circling for a while, giving good views. As we walked back to the car, one of them dived into the pines, followed by the other. On the way back we had to give way on a narrow bridge to a rather disgruntled looking fox which ambled slowly past.
The next morning we were out on the steppes. (Muddemans book map 10) We decided to drive from Monroy to Santa Marta de Magasca. However, we missed a right turn somehow and finished up near Trujillo. The birding was good, with Montagu’s Harriers everywhere, along with Common Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel, Little Owl, Red Kite and Black Kites by the score. We also had Great Bustards and Little Bustards.
We drove into Trujillo, and picked up the N-521, heading towards Caceres and came off it at Kilometre 31, picking up sites 5 to 10 to hit the CC-912 road. (see Muddeman map 10).
The rough track off to the left (the “Bustard Road”) was very productive and straight away we picked up 11 Great Bustards. Montagu’s and Black Kites were again everywhere. We stopped atop a small rise and saw a group of Sandgrouse land nearby. On scoping, we identified them as Pintailed before they flew giving us a total of 13. We then had 3 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying before they also landed to allow scoping and before the end of the track we had seen 20+ in all. Other birds seen were Calandra Larks, Southern Grey Shrike, Turtle Dove, Hoopoes, Crested Larks, Thekla Larks, Stonechats, Skylark and 2 Stone Curlew.
Before the end of the track, we came across a large number of Griffon Vultures and Black Kites on the ground in a field, less than 100m away from us. There were also 2 Black and 1 immature Egyptian Vulture with them. Two dogs were feeding on a sheep carcass. One dog wandered off dragging the sheep’s innards, and we waited 30 minutes before the other dog had his fill and reluctantly wandered off. The Griffons then piled in for the free for all. The Black Kites patiently waiting their turn in the pecking order.
Now feeling peckish ourselves, we then drove into Trujillo for a bite to eat and sat in the main square watching the Lesser Kestrels and the Pallid Swifts amongst the other hirundines flashing round the church. There was a statue of Pizzaro, “Conquistador of Peru”. This was his home town.
In the afternoon, we headed out to the Belen Plain. This is to the east of Trujillo, and not very far. Directions from Truillo are to be found in Muddemans book, chapter 12, “Trujillo town and the Belen Plains.” We had heard of a Black-shouldered Kite site here, and also we had been reading about a Bald Ibis on the Spanish RareBird’s website. We motored along the track with Black Kites and White Storks everywhere, picking up most of the birds that we’d had in the morning as well as Little Grebe, Bee-eaters and Zitting Cisticola. We came upon a small White Stork colony on the left in some trees. Around the bottom of the trees were a few Cattle Egrets and amongst them was the Bald Ibis, giving good views. We drove to the end of the track and over the crossroads at the end, but no sign of Black-shouldered Kite. We retraced our route back along the track. At the Stork colony the Bald Ibis was now in a dead tree giving even better views. Just after continuing, Des picked up a Black-shouldered Kite flying around and this did us the honours by landing on a fence post some fifty yards distance. He stayed there for quite a while giving “field guide views”.
During the evening we drove towards Monroy (regrettably running over a Montpelier Snake on the Way) to the well known Black-shouldered Kite site. This was an area of pine trees on either side of the road. There was also a colony of White Storks nesting in them. On the low side of the road was a row of pylons, and the Black-shouldered Kite is sometimes seen sitting on the power lines. A tour party of French birders were making their way to the pylons, so we went the opposite way. Birds seen were Azure-winged Magpies, Bee-eaters, Woodlarks, Barn Swallows, Corn Buntings, Stonechats, Black Vulture, and Griffon Vultures. Later we went back over the road towards the power lines, and sat watching a pair Booted Eagles gliding round the sky. A Short-toed Eagle came into view harassed by a Raven, with seven Hoopoe passing and then the French came by, having dipped out on the kite, and so did we.
The next morning, we covered the Belen Plain again, getting more or less the same birds as the day before. Only difference being a dark phase Booted Eagle and the Bald Ibis foraging on the other side of the track, giving even better views than the day before.
The next destination was south of Madrigalejo. This is on map 15 of the Muddemans book. The site is the old bridge over the Rio Gargaligas, which is at the side of the new road bridge. The target birds were Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill. Both are introduced species that now have thriving colonies in the Iberian Peninsular.
We picked up Red Avadavats pretty quickly, eventually seeing over thirty. It was very windy and birds were flitting about the reeds. Other birds included 2 Little Bitterns, Great Reed Warbler, Cettis Warbler, Red-rumped Swallow, Sand Martin, Golden Oriole, Eurasian Cuckoo, Barn Swallow and Common Swift. We thought we saw a couple of Waxbills but we couldn’t be sure. So we dipped out on the Waxbill, but had picked up the Bald Ibis.
We then started the long drive down to the “Coto Donana”, the place we last visited 19 years ago. It took us about 4 hours to get down there, but then we had to drive down to Matalascanas on the coast to find a hostal.
It was early Sunday evening and as we drove down the road from Almonte to El Rocio, the first thing we noticed was the amount of traffic coming the other way. It was nose to tail. We drove into El Rocio and the town was full of traffic and appeared to be ten times bigger than the last time we were here. The roads were the same…still all sand but this would now seem to be just maintained for traditional/tourism reasons. We tried the Bar Cristina, where we stayed last time. There was no joy there – not doing rooms! A hotel around the corner wanted about three times the amount we were prepared to pay. So it was back on the road and down to the coast. Trouble was, the road was solid with traffic and we had to make a left turn. We made it, with traffic stretching miles, practically back to Matalascalas. We thought the whole of Seville had been to the coast for the weekend. This was a far cry from yesteryear when a donkey cart would have been the only thing on the road.
We found a hostal “Los Tamarindos” near the seafront with rooms at €20 each per night. After getting our gear inside, we walked over to the seafront and did a seawatch for half an hour. This produced Yellow-legged Gulls, Northern Gannets and a flock of Common Terns.
The next morning we took the Matalascanas road to Huelva, heading for the Laguna Primera de Palos. This was on the right hand side of the road on the outskirts of Huelva in front of an oil refinery. We tried in vain to find an entrance to the reserve, but to no avail. We eventually parked up in some pine trees overlooking a railway track in front of the laguna. The target birds were Red-knobbed Coots. The shores and surface of the lake were covered with hundreds of Common Coots. This was exactly the same situation as we had at Laguna de Medina nineteen years ago, and we dipped there.
A party of birders appeared on the railway track by the left hand corner of the lake. These happened to be a party of American birders led by a Spaniard and this was obviously a stake out - so we joined them. Sure enough, two Red-knobbed Coots, resplendent with white collars were swimming around the piles of a jetty with a hide on the end of it. Later on after the party had left we had Red-knobbed Coot again with a white collar with the number 012 on it coming much nearer to the corner of the lake. We came to the conclusion that without the collars, at any distance there would be very little chance of separating these birds from the thousands of Common Coots that were there.
Other birds seen there were, Glossy Ibis, Red-crested Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard, Whiskered Terns, Purple Gallinule, Moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, Common Pochard, Purple Heron, Little-ringed Plover, Yellow-legged Gulls, Shoveller and Northern Lapwing.
Whilst talking to the Spanish leader he told us whereabouts of a pair of Ferruginous Ducks on the laguna at El Portil. We made this our next port of call.
To get there we had to go through Huelva city and pick up the road to Punta Umbria and then turn off right to El Portil. On entering the town the laguna is on the right off a service road as you come to the first buildings. There is a viewing platform by the side of the road that overlooks the lake.
The American party we saw earlier were already there and the Ferruginous Ducks were close in to the platform. One of the yanks sounded like Foghorn Leghorn, he was talking so loud. We just got onto the platform and the Ferruginous Ducks flew to the other side of the lake and disappeared into the reeds. So we saw more of them flying than sitting on the lake.
Other birds seen here included, Pallid Swift, Little Grebe (many of these including 2 adult albinos), Spoonbills, Great Reed Warbler, Spotless Starlings, Hoopoe, and Common Pochards.
Leaving here we motored to the River Odiel Marshes and stopped shortly before the La Catilla Visitor Centre at a pair of locked gates signed La Batusca. Chris nipped smartly over to scan the pools. After 5 minutes he’d found another Red-knobbed Coot, this time by the red knobs - before noticing another white collar low down on its neck. By the time we got to him it had disappeared. We got it on the way back, this time from the road. We drove on down the road scanning the salt marshes on the right, and the river on the left. By the time we got to the end of the road we had seen many waders and seabirds. Starting with Marsh Harrier, Sanderlings, Red Knot, Grey Plovers, Redshanks, Common Sandpiper, Spanish Wagtails, Ruddy Turnstones, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Purple Herons, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Yellow-legged Gulls, Little Terns, Common Shelduck, Caspian Terns and Great Reed Warbler
We drove back through Huelva and made our way to Palos de la Frontera, alongside the river, from where Christopher Columbus started his epic voyage to discover the New World. Unfortunately, after driving through many narrow streets, we couldn’t find the area that commemorates this event.
As we were heading back towards El Rocio we called in again at the Laguna Primera de Palos. We managed to see 012 again. Everything else was much the same, apart from an increase in the Spoonbills.
We carried on to El Rocio, and spent a couple of hours scoping the Marismas. Birds seen here included Collared Pratincoles, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Common Coots, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbills, Little Egrets, Black Kite, Red Kite, Greylag Goose, Black-winged Stilts, White Storks, Spotted Flycatcher and 3 Fallow Deer.
At the end of the first full day in the Coto area we had seen the target bird, Red-knobbed Coot, and had a bonus with the Ferruginous Ducks.
The next day, we started at La Rocina, which was on the left before the bridge at El Rocio. The bird we were interested in was Savi’s Warbler. A couple were heard, but not seen. Other birds seen were Eurasian Spoonbills, Reed Warblers, Purple Gallinule, Woodchat Shrike, Nightingale singing, Greenfinch, White Storks, Black Kite and Spotted Flycatcher.
We then were making our way to the Valverde Visitor Centre, which is in centre of the Marismas. To do this, we took the first right above El Rocio and travelled the new road to Villamanrique. From the roundabout north of the town we took a right turn, picking up a track that would eventually lead via the Corredor Verde to the Isla Mayor road. It turned out to be good. We started with 2 Booted Eagles being mobbed by a Raven and as usual numerous Black Kite. We came to a part where the river was on the left of the track behind the scrub, and cultivated fields were on the right. The first field had been turned over and no less than 35 Ravens were foraging in it. On the right, Chris pick up a Black-shouldered Kite, perched up giving good views. We stopped by a small bridge over the river and saw Night Heron, Melodious Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Goldfinch, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Kestrel, Bee-eaters, Barn Swallow, Cattle Egrets, Collared Pratincoles, Montagu’s Harrier, Spanish Wagtail, and Purple Gallinules.
We hit the Isla Mayor road by some rice fields. We followed the road awhile, and then took a right turn on a track into the Marismas that led to the Valverde Visitor Centre. The first thing that hit us was that the Marismas were bone dry. It was like a desert, with lots of Crested Larks flitting about. We passed a place which we think was Lucio del Lobo. This was virtually dried up. We arrived at the visitor centre, which was like an oasis. Inside it was nice and cool, and you could have a drink there. We had about 2 hours scoping the laguna from the cool atmosphere inside the building. Four Red Deer were grazing the perimeter. Birds seen were Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Collared Pratincole, Purple Heron, Common Coots, Purple Gallinue, Common Pochard, Spotless Starlings, and Mallard.
On leaving this place we decided to drive back across the Marismas to El Rocio. After about 5k we came up to a large gate, so we had to turn round and drive back up the track. Birding had been pretty good and we had several of both Lesser and Greater Short-toed Larks and Spanish Wagtails.
We took the first left at a pump house, and carried on, and on, and on. The signposts ran out, and we were virtually navigating by the sun. On we went and came across a couple of watered fields, where we had Little Tern, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Whiskered Tern, and a Spectacled Warbler.
On we motored, and at one point the track was blocked with bundles of dumped plastic sheeting and irrigation piping. We managed to get over and through this obstacle and eventually hit a metal road near Villamanrique. We had attempted to drive about 12k to El Rocio, by the time we hit the metal road we had done 40k.
We again drove into El Rocio for the evening, and scoped the Marismas for a couple of hours. At least there was water here, and the horses and their foals were making the most of it. What wasn’t here the night before were 30 Greater Flamingos. Apparently, because of the drought, the majority of the flamingos had gone back to Africa. Other birds here were Eurasian Spoonbills, Black Terns, Collared Pratincoles, Little Egret, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, a Greylag Goose and a Eurasian Wigeon. That was our last full day on the Coto.
The next morning we drove into La Rocina and finally nailed the Savi’s Warbler. Also, as we moved along a boardwalk a Wild Boar was disturbed from a muddy ditch. Other birds seen were Nightingale, (good views for a change), Great Tit, Spoonbills, Great Reed Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Reed Warblers, Woodchat Shrikes, Bee-eaters, Azure-winged Magpies, Purple Gallinule and two Melodious Warblers. From El Rocio bridge we had the traditional Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, and a Dunlin.
Before we left the Coto, we wanted to drive onto the Marismas from El Rocio to the place that gave us so much birding pleasure nineteen years ago. We got to the place where we had previously driven on and we were confronted with a tract of deep sand that stretched for about two hundred metres. Chris walked part of the way inspecting the sand, and decided it was a job for a 4 x 4. There was no way we could chance it, so that ended our time on the Coto.
We immediately started our long drive back to Extremadura. We would be flying home from Madrid tomorrow night, and we wanted to break the journey. Halfway through the journey we pulled off the road and made a comfort stop near Aquafria. The binos were out as a Honey Buzzard glided over. We walked a little way down track and Chris heard an unusual call, which turned out to be an Iberian Chiffchaff with two being eventually seen and heard. This was another bonus bird for us. Also seen here were Black Redstart, Blackbird, Robin, and a very dark Long-tailed Tit. We had intended to stop near Caceres to revisit the steppes so decided to see if there was any accommodation in Monroy, where we arrived in early evening. The village was quiet but we met the postman in the square and he took us to the best hostal we have ever stayed in. After showering and changing, we sat out in the garden, under the orange trees, with a cold beer, reminiscing about the trip. On the chimney pot on top of the hostel, a Spotless Starling was alternating between Golden Oriole and Bee-eater calls.
Later that night, after the excellent house meal, we sat in the lounge and had a few beers while watching Liverpool win the European cup. This is exactly what we did nineteen years ago in a Grazalema hostel on the last night of our trip, when it was Barcelona playing a Rumanian team
The last morning we decided to do one last trip onto the steppes, taking the reverse route along the “Bustard Road” where we had initially seen the Sandgrouse and Bustards, heading all the while towards Trujillo. Our flight time from Madrid was not until 20.00hrs, so we were ok till after lunchtime. We left Monroy, and headed down the road towards Caceres on the CC-912, then taking a left turn. (see Muddemans book map 10)
Plenty of birds were about. Four Great Bustards flew overhead, one shedding a flight feather near us, and while recovering this a flock of nearby sheep disturbed 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Birds seen were Black Kites, Common Buzzards, Hoopoe, Bee-eaters, Woodchat Shrikes, Eurasian Cuckoo, Little Owls, Great Bustards, Montagu’s Harriers, Southern Grey Shrikes, Calandra Larks, Booted Eagle, White Storks, Common Kestrel, 4 European Rollers, Red Kite, 3 Greater Spotted Cuckoos arguing amongst themselves, and lots of Lesser Kestrels, who appeared to be devouring large Grasshoppers.
We turned towards the town of Santa Marta de Magasca and stopped by the bridge on the river just before there. This was a nice little place and birds seen were Common Kingfisher, Little Ringed Plover, Cirl Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin and in the air above were 6 Black Storks.
This was the last birding of the trip. We then drove through Trujillo, picked up the motorway and headed towards Madrid. As we were well on time we stopped near Sa Romana for an hours break. Here in a small rest area we had Golden Oriole, Red-rumped Swallow, Sardinian Warbler and several other species seen regularly along with a Ladder Snake in a dry stream bottom. We then had a nightmarish thrash on Madrid’s endless ring roads to the Airport.
Summary: Altogether, we drove 2690km in 8 days. We set off with 10 target species between us and dipped out on only one, Common Waxbill, but picked up 3 extra with Bald Ibis, Ferruginous Duck and Iberian Chiffchaff. My memories of the Coto Donana will be 1986 and not 2005. Monfrague was fantastic. After reading so many reports of birders missing out on Dupont’s Lark and White-rumped Swift, I think we carried a certain element of luck, but remember we dipped on the White-rumped in 1986, and it took 19 years to sort out. We finished the trip with a total of 169.
Selected Species List
Little Bittern: 2 seen in reeds alongside the Rio Gargaligas.
Black Stork: 1 at Portilla de la Tietar and 6 seen to rise and circle overhead whilst watching from the bridge over the river near Santa Marta de Magasca.
Bald Ibis: The bird on the Belen Plains was first seen on 21st at the heronry and then again feeding in grassland further along the road on 22nd.
Greater Flamingo: 30 seen feeding on the marismas at El Rocio on 24th had gone the next morning.
Greylag Goose: 1 on the marismas at El Rocio.
Eurasian Wigeon: 1male on the marismas at El Rocio.
Ferruginous Duck: 2 at El Portil were quite close until spooked and they then flew into reeds at the far side of the laguna.
Black-shouldered Kite: Singles seen very well on the Belen Plain and along the Corredor Verde on the Coto Donana.
Egyptian Vulture: 2 at Ermita de Frutos, 2 at Monfrague and one at the dead sheep site on the Bustard Road.
Black Vulture: 1-2 seen regularly at most expected sites in Extremadura.
Honey Buzzard: Only one seen which flew over the N435 near Aquafria.
Spanish Imperial Eagle: 1 from the Castillo and 2 around the nest area at Portilla de la Tietar
Bonelli’s Eagle: A pair gave excellent close views from the roadside near Villareal
Red-knobbed Coot: 2 at Laguna Primera de Palos and one at La Batusca
Purple Gallinule: Regular in the Coto in much greater numbers than our previous visit.
Great Bustard: Several groups of 1-4 seen in the Monroy-Santa Marta - Bustard Road and Belen areas with 11 together being the maximum.
Little Bustard: 1-3 seen regularly in the same areas as Great Bustard
Stone Curlew: 2 along the Bustard Road
Collared Pratincole: 50+ at both the Valverde Centre and El Rocio
Little Ringed Plover: 1 on the river near Santa Marta de Magasca
Caspian Tern: 2 were flying offshore at the Odiel Marshes
Whiskered Tern: 50+ at Laguna Primera de Palos and 2 at El Rocio and the Valverde Centre.
Black Tern: 4 over the marismas at El Rocio
Black-bellied Sandgrouse: 25+ in total on the Bustard Road, with one party of c15 flying by. Other groups of 1-3 allowed good views with the scope.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse: 13 in total on the Bustard Road with a group of 4 allowing close views.
Turtle Dove: 5 near Sepulveda and 1 on the Bustard Road were the only ones seen.
Great Spotted Cuckoo: 3 raucous birds around the car along the Bustard Road
Eagle Owl: 2 young were sat outside the nest at Portilla de la Tietar
Little Owl: 1 near Monroy and 5 along the Bustard Road on the return visit.
White-rumped Swift: At least 2 over the Castillo at Monfrague
Roller: 4 around the nest boxes on the Bustard Road
Lesser Short-toed Lark: 10+ on the tracks around the Coto allowed good views.
Dupont’s Lark: 2 heard calling on the first evening near Sepulveda, with 1 being scoped. The next morning 3 were heard with 2 again giving excellent views and one then seen close up in song flight.
Northern Wheatear: Singles at Valdesqui and the Coto Donana
Rock Thrush: A pair seen very well at Valdesqui
Fan-tailed Warbler: Only 2 seen, these being at Belen near the heronry.
Savi’s Warbler: 2 heard at La Rocina with one eventually being seen at distance.
Western Olivaceous Warbler: 2 seen alongside the Rio Guadiamar
Spectacled Warbler: Seen at Sepulveda, Puerto de Tornavacas and near Valverde Centre.
Western Orphean Warbler: 3 at both the Ermita de Frutos and the nearby dry river bed.
Common Chiffchaff: 2 near Sepulveda and 1 at Navacerrada
Iberian Chiffchaff: 2 seen and heard alongside theN435 near Aquafria
Firecrest: Singles near Sepulveda and Aquafria
Spotted Flycatcher: Singles only at Navacerrada and La Rocina
Pied Flycatcher: A male by the Police building near the ski-lift at Navacerrada
Raven: 35 feeding together along the Corredor Verde were notable.
Rock Sparrow: 1 at Valdesqui
Ortolan Bunting: 4 at Puerto de Tornavacos
Red Avadavat: c30 at Rio Gargaligas
The following species were seen in numbers and at locations generally as and where they would be expected.
Great Crested Grebe
Grt Spotted Woodpecker
Blue Rock Thrush
Great Reed Warbler
Southern Grey Shrike