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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
Southern and Western Spain (including Coto de Donana, Extremadura and Sepulveda), 16 - 25th May 2006,
Participants of this trip were Frank Franken, Jan Goedelt and Hannes Kiefer. We flew to Jerez de la Frontera and started our trip at Jerez, went on to the Coto de Donana, the Extremadura and drove finally north to Sepulveda.
Hannes Kiefer, Jan Goedelt and Frank Franken
Flights and Car Hire
We flew from Frankfurt-Hahn with RyanAir to Jerez de la Frontera, which was the best offer available on the internet, about 90 € each. We hired a Fiat Doblo Diesel (autoeurope), which cost 200 € for 9 days.
Altogether we drove 3100km in 9 days. We had a target list of species to aim for.
16th May: Flight from Frankfurt-Hahn to Jerez de la Frontera. Laguna de Medina and area southeast of Sevilla. Overnight stay at Matalascanas.
17th May: El Rocio, El Rocina, El Acebuche, Matalascanas. Overnight stay at Matalascanas.
18th May: Valverde and Isla Mayor, Coto del Rey, El Rocina-El Acebron-road. Overnight stay at Matalascanas.
19th May: El Rocio, El Rocio to Monroy (Extremadura), Monfrague. Overnight stay at Monroy.
20th May: Dehesas around Monroy and Santa Marta de Magasca, Rio Gargaligas near Madrigalejo. Overnight stay in the Bustard and Sandgrouse area.
21st May: Dehesas around Belen, Sierra de Viejas. Overnight stay at Monroy.
22nd May: Campillo de Deleitosa, Parc Natural de Hoces del Rio Duraton. Overnight stay in the car near the Park.
23rd May: Parc Natural de Hoces del Rio Duration, back to Monfrague. Overnight stay at Monroy.
24th May: Monroy to Los Palacios (south of Sevilla), west of Los Palacios. Overnight stay at Los Palacios.
25th May: Drive to Jerez Airport. Flight back to Frankfurt-Hahn.
Although we never booked anywhere in advance, we always managed to get a suitable accommodation. We paid between 17 and 20 € per person/night. One night we did some bushcamping in the Bustard and Sandgrouse area near Santa Marta de Magasca, another night we slept in the car (Parc Natural de Hoces del Rio Duration). Two hostals are highly recommended: One is called “Victoria Hostal” in Matalascanas near the Coto de Donana National Park (50 € for 3 persons/night), which had clean appartments with a refrigerator. When you drive into Matalascanas, you cannot miss the hostal, because it is well signposted within the village.
The other one lies in the Extremadura area in Monroy and is called “La Bodega del Herrador” (18 € each per night). Excellent breakfast with freshly squeezed orange-juice is served. Furthermore, the friendly couple, who runs the pension, fulfilled our request to have breakfast at 6.00 am (to be in the field as soon as possible) or at 11.00 am (after a successful birding morning)! This was perfect for our daily plans! Evening meals cooked by the owners are also available and very tasty.
We picked up some useful trip reports that are posted on the internet (birdtours.co.uk or surfbirds.com). In addition the book “Where to watch Birds in Southern and Western Spain” (Garcia and Patersson, 2001, Helm) was also helpful. The Michelin maps of Extremadura and Andalucia were the only maps we actually used. We can recommend to take a dictionary with you, because English is only rarely spoken or understood. Especially the owners of the “La Bodega del Herrador” were very patient when we were trying to explain something in Spanish.
Throughout our stay the weather was fabulous with sunny skies for nearly the whole nine days. Temperatures were between 26 and 32 °C. Sunrise started at about 6.45 am, sunset at around 9.30 pm. During midday bird activity was reduced probably due to the high temperatures, but we assume that May is still probably the best time to go birding in Southern and Western Spain.
We started birding early in the morning till sunset. The main target species for us were (not all of them lifers, but we were keen to see them): White-headed Duck, Marbled Duck, Black Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, Crested Coot, Great and Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Red-necked Nightjar, White-rumped Swift, Dupont’s Lark, Black Wheatear, Rufous Bush Robin, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill. Throughout the trip birding was focussed on getting good views of especially these species, so the itinerary was determined by these species. Unfortunately, we dipped two of these, Iberian Chiffchaff and Black Wheatear (no birds around at Campillo de Deleitosa).We finished the trip with a total of 184 species and flew home very satisfied with our observations, species list and pictures. Spain is really a fantastic place to go birding!
Daily highlights with site descriptions
In the following only the top species are mentioned.
We started birding at Laguna de Medina next to Jerez. The lake produced about 20 White-headed Ducks, 1 singing Moustached Warbler and 5 singing Melodious besides a lot of Great Reed Warblers. 4 Spoonbills were standing in the shallow water while 5 Griffon Vultures and 1 Short-toed Eagle were circling overhead.
Two main target birds were at the top of our target list: Rufous Bush Robin and Western Olivaceous Warbler. A guy, who birded in the area southeast of Sevilla for a few times this year, gave us very good instructions to see these two species. To visit these two places right at the beginning of our trip was obviously a wise choice. These two species were nowhere else seen or heard on our trip!
Rufous Bush Robin: From the A4 (Cadiz-Sevilla) take the exit to Utrera and head towards the A 92 (Sevilla-Granada). Drive eastwards and take the second exit at El Arahal (SE 435 to Moron). After a few kilometers you cannot see El Arahal any more in your back (because you drove up- and downhill). At the foot of that hill there is a small paved road going southwestwards (to the right). Follow this paved road for a few kilometers (the road goes almost straight after a left bench). This roads ends when an unpaved track starts. Park here and check the small olive trees on the right hand side. 2 Rufous Bush Robins were singing there! We tried to attract them by playing its song and just after a few minutes 2 males came close by and started singing. Additionally, 20 Honey Buzzards were circling while we were searching the orchards for Rufous Bush Robin.
Western Olivaceous Warbler: Take the A 92 again towards Sevilla. There is a small road heading towards Utrera in southwesterly direction (do not take the A 364!). After 2-3 kilometers you cross a small river. Park at the bridge and listen for its song. 1 Western Olivaceous Warbler was seen and heard here. There 1 Black-shouldered Kite and 5 Collared Pratincoles and 3 Red-rumped Swallows were added to our list.
After this satisfying observations we travelled to the Coto de Donana where we stayed in Matalacanas. Due to our late arrival we did not have enough time to look for a suitable hostal and checked in the very first one called “Los Tamarindos”, which looked a bit dilapidated, but it was okay.
We got up before sunrise and birded around El Rocio. After that we visited El Rocina and El Acebuche. The early birding at El Rocio revealed 50 Spoonbills, 60 Flamingos and hundreds of Whiskered and a few Black Terns. Little Bitterns, Purple Gallinules and close views of Booted and Short-toed Eagle and 2 Griffon Vultures constituted the highlights of El Rocina. A Green Woodpecker (subspecies sharpei) was also added. About 12 Savi’s Warblers were singing at El Rocina, 1 at El Acebuche and 4 Melodious Warblers at El Rocina. Firecrest and 2 Short-toed Treecreepers were present in the pine trees. At least 20 Azure-winged Magpies attracted our attention at the picknick-area at El Acebuche. We finished the day with some seawatching at Matalacanas. A reliable spot is the lighthouse to the west. In about two hours a few Cory’s and 1 Yelkouan Shearwater as well as about 20 Gannets (all immatures) came by. A flock of 17 Common Scoters and lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were moving westwards.
Azure-winged Magpie at El Acebuche on 17th May. Foto by Frank Franken.
The morning we drove to the eastern part of the Donana Park to the Valverde Visitor Center (Turn right after El Rocio and head towards Villamanrique. From here take the road to Isla Mayor). On the way to the Visitor Center we stopped at a lake on the right hand side that turned out to be a good place for Crested Coot (1 was seen among the hundreds of Coots), 2 Purple Gallinules, 5 male and 2 female White-headed Ducks and 7 Marbled Ducks. 1 Quail was calling. However, a second year Western Reef Heron (white phase with darks feathers in wings and on the back) was the best sighting of the day. A few Collared Pratincoles inhabited the dry plains. The area produced also 2 Stone Curlews, Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks and 1 Little Owl. A few raptors showed up: Short-toed and Booted Eagles as well as 6 Griffon Vultures. Additionally a few waders were present: Avocet, Knot, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ringed, Little Ringed, Kentish and Grey Plover as well as Godwits, Redshank and Common Sandpiper. The Visitor Center offers good views at a heronry, but it is only possible to watch the herons (Little Bittern, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Little Egret) and Glossy Ibis through a window. On our way back we stopped at a good site for Black-shouldered Kite (From Pilas drive to Aznacalzar and take the first roundabout and head south - Isla Mayor is signposted. After 4-5 kilometers you come to a pine forest. On the right hand side there is a small road leading to the Finca de Quemas, which you reach on the left hand side after about 3 kilometers. Carry on for about 500 meters till you come to a bridge. Park in front of the bridge and scan the area between the bridge and the Finca de Quemas). 1 Black-shouldered Kite was present. 1 Red-rumped Swallow hunted insects at a small river accompanied by other hirundines.
We took an evening walk from El Rocio to Coto del Rey (Pass the church on the left and drive through the town) A small sandy track leads into Coto del Rey. Except another Black-shouldered Kite for the day and 2 Booted Eagles nothing spectacular has to be mentioned.
After sunset we drove to the El Rocina Visitor Center again and took the road to El Acebron. 3 Red-necked Nightjars were heard and in the whole 6 were resting on the warm asphalt of the El Rocina-El Acebron-road. One bird could be approached for about five meters!
Stonechats were seen daily. Laguna de Medina on 16th May. Foto by Jan Goedelt
Another early start and a last look over El Rocio marsh for about three hours. 200 Spoonbills were standing in the shallow water, and we tried to get some good fotos of Whiskered Terns passing the bridge between El Rocio and El Rocina. At about 10 am we left the Donana Park travelling northwards to the Extremadura. It took us about five hours to get to Monroy. On the way from Truijllo to Monroy we enjoyed 8 Montagu’s Harriers hunting above the fields and 3 Great Grey Shrikes (subspecies meridionalis) perched on fencing posts. After having checked into the Pension “La Bodega del Herrador” in Monroy we drove further to Monfrague. For about 3 hours we stayed on the castle - it was really enjoyable to see Egyptian, Griffon and Black Vultures and Black Storks that close! Other raptors overhead and around were Booted and Short-toed Eagle. After an hour or so 1 White-rumped Swift showed up, and a few minutes later a second one was seen! We could not imagine to get this Swift so easily onto our list. It is honestly an excellent spot and proved to be one of our favourite sites! Of course all the other hirundines and swifts came by too. Don’t forget to take a look at the rocks next to the castle, where Blue Rock Thrush can be frequently observed. Afterwards we continued to Portilla de la Tietar (on the way 2 male Black-eared Wheatears sat next to the road and Black Storks were feeding their young). At Portilla de la Tietar one adult of a Spanish Imperial Eagle patrolled quite high above its nest, which held one chick. A Golden Eagle passed by too. After sunset an Eagle Owl started calling and we could discover two young sitting in the rock formation on the other side of the river. Finally 1 Rock Bunting was seen there.What a gorgeous day!
Because we managed to get a late breakfast (11 am) in our pension, we did some extensive birdwatching in the steppes for several hours just after sunrise. We took the road from Monroy to Santa Marta de Magasca, stopped at several places to scan the plains: Little Bustards were displaying, 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos showed up and Black-bellied Sandgrouse were calling but not seen at that time. The best area was the road from Santa Marta de Magasca to the N 521 (Caceres-Trujillo-road): on the left hand side (from Santa Marta de Magasca) there is a track leading into the plains. We parked here and scanned the steppe. Great and Little Bustards were both displaying, 6 Pin-tailed and 25 Black-bellied Sandgrouse and 2 Stone Curlews were calling and flying around. We counted 25 Great and 8 Little Bustards. 1 Roller was hunting, 3 Thekla Larks, a few Woodlarks and Calandra Larks were singing. 4 Rock Sparrows sat on a fence opposite the road, 1 Tawny Pipit was added and Short-toed, Booted Eagle and Common Buzzard started circling and a few Montagu’s Harriers started hunting above the fields. After having visited Trujillo with its Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts colony we drove to Madrigalejo (old bridge over the Rio Gargaligas), where the two target species (Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill) were picked up quickly. The only Kingfisher of the trip was seen here too, also a few Red-rumped Swallows as well as 2 singing Melodious Warblers. 2 Gull-billed Terns hunted over the ricefields and Spanish Sparrows nested as a tenent in the White Storks nest.
This night we decided to sleep outside in our sleeping bags next to the road where we observed the Bustards and Sandgrouses this morning. At night 1 Red-necked Nightjar, 2 Little Owls as well as 3 Woodlarks were calling. The temperatur was quite moderate so nobody felt cold in his sleeping bag during the night.
A Great Bustad is showing well at Belen on 21st May. Foto by Jan Goedelt
After a quick look at the Bustards and Sandgrouse we headed towards Belen. Pre breakfast views over the Belen plain revealed 1 Egyptian Vulture, 20 Great Bustards, 16 Little Bustards, 2 Stone Curlews, 1 Great Spotted Cuckoo, a lot of Calandra Larks and 2 Little Owls. We drove via Aldeacentenera, Berzocana and Molino into the Sierra de Viejas. The several stopps along the roadside produced 1 Egyptian Vulture, 2 Short-toed and 3 Booted Eagles, Common and Honey Buzzard, 1 Peregrine, several singing Woodlarks, 1 Grey Wagtail, singing Blackcaps, 1 female Spectacled Warbler, 3 singing Subalpine Warblers, 1 male and 1 female Dartford Warblers, lots of singing Melodious Warblers, 1 singing Bonelli’s Warbler, Golden Oriol, 10 Rock Sparrows, 1 male Rock Bunting and 1 singing Cirl Bunting.
This morning we got up pretty early again to drive to Campillo de Deleitosa. From the N5/E90 we took the exit 219 and drove eastwards on the EX 386 to Deleitosa. After a few kilometers we turned left to Campillo de Deleitosa. The road was in a bad condition, under construction and actually closed. However, we did not care about the signs and headed towards the small village Campillo de Deleitosa. Having passed the town after 3.2 kilometers the road descended and crossed a river. We parked beyond the bridge and walked the valley up- and downstream for Black Wheatear. Unfortunately, none was seen nor heard! Instead we observed a Western Orphean Warbler (downstream on the left side of the river) that was attacked by a Woodchat Shrike for a few times. Other birds at Campillo de Deleitosa were 1 Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Pallid Swift, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Grey Wagtail, 2 singing Spectacled and 3 singing Melodious Warblers, several Golden Oriols, a few Hawfinchs, nesting Spanish Sparrows as well as 1 Rock Bunting.
After this disappointment we travelled northwards to the Canon del Duraton near Sepulveda (north of Madrid). It took us about 5 hours to get there, but we had no trouble to make our way around Madrid. At about 5 pm we reached the Natural Park (Drive to Villaseca and follow the road until you come to a small church on the left. Turn sharp left in front of the church towards “Ermita de San Frutos”.) We drove the sandy track to the end (car park) and walked the way back for about 2 hours always listening for the characteristic song of the Dupont’s Lark. In deed one bird was singing, at first in flight and then on the ground, where we were able to find the bird sitting on a small stone for a few minutes. In addition we saw 2 Egyptian Vultures, 2 Booted Eagles, 1 Hobby, 1 Pegregine, lots of Larks (Skylark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Woodlark, Short-toed Lark, Calandras Lark), 6 Tawny Pipits, 5 Black-eared Wheatears, 2 Blue Rock Thrush, a few Chough as well as 6 Rock Sparrows at the car park. We slept in the car about 10 kilometers away from the canon. Beside the Woodlarks, 4 Nightjars and 1 Red-necked Nightjar were singing at night.
The morning we stayed in the park to see Dupont’s Lark again, but at this time we were not successful. Still, we had nice views of 7 Rock Sparrows and 1 Western Orphean Warbler at the car park. Like yesterday Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, Choughs and Black-eared Wheatears were around. Because of the nice observation of the Dupont’s Lark the day before, the long trip was really worth it!
We reached Monfrague at about 3pm and walked up the steps to the castle again to enjoy good views of the Vultures passing by. All the good ones showed up again: a few Black, 2 Egyptian and lots of Griffon Vultures, 1 Golden, 5 Short-toed, 4 Booted, 1 immat. and 1 adult Bonelli’s Eagles, 2 White-rumped Swifts among several Common, Pallid and Alpine Swifts. What a nice end!
Griffon Vulture at Monfrague on 23rd May. Foto by Frank Franken.
Again this was a 5 hour drive back to the south, and we reached Los Palacios (north of Jerez) in the early afternoon. So we had enough time to go birding on the east side of the Guadalquivir and west of Los Palacios. There is a sandy main road that crosses the cultivated area (for details and a map see “Where to watch Birds in Southern and Western Spain”), from where the ponds can be seen quite well. Only the lorry-traffic was really disturbing! Once we had built up our tripods, a lorry came by with more than 60 k’s causing a big cloud of dust. Maybe one should go birding on weekends when the traffic is not that bad. Ornithological compensations were: all the herons, 80 Spoonbills, 20 Marbled Ducks, about 70 (!) Purple Gallinules, 20 Avocets, 1 Stone Curlew, 1 Red Knot, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, a few Dunlins, 25 Collared Pratincoles, 2 Thekla Larks, Red-rumped Swallows and 2 singing Savi’s Warblers.