February 25th — March 4th 2007
Trip Report by Neil Glenn
Sunday, February 25th
A three course dinner is washed down with complementary wine and liqueurs
Eight Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers gather expectantly at the East Midlands Airport bright and early for the 0840 flight to Madrid. The pilot must be in a hurry as we land at Barajas thirty five minutes early!
After a snack at the airport, we are soon on our way west in the minibus ploughing through torrential rain (at least I think it is west. Either way, we are soon following signs for Badajoz and that is good enough for me!)
Birding is slow to start with (apart from Common Starling around the airport buildings) but as we leave the metropolis, the scenery changes and many Spotless Starlings begin to line the telegraph wires alongside the A5. Further on, Common Magpies become abundant and one or two of us glimpse a Black-shouldered Kite and a Hen Harrier. White Storks become more and more numerous as we progress to Extremadur.
On the way to our Casa Rural (rural guesthouse) we stop off at a reed-lined reservoir. The sun is now beaming down on us as we watch a delicate Lesser Kestrel make forays over our heads from its perch on the water tower.
Barn Swallows are ever-present but our attention is soon drawn to a couple of Marsh Harriers quartering the reeds. A Purple Swamp-hen puts in a brief (but colourful) appearance to send us on our way.
We reach San Clemente, our base for the next six nights, at 6.30pm and settle in to our spacious rooms. A three course dinner is washed down with complementary wine and liqueurs. We compile the day’s bird list nestled by the log fire before some of the hardier amongst us retire to the local taverna to sample the local brew(s).
Monday, February 26th
We can only wonder where the flock of thirteen Great Bustards have come from
The group convene in the garden of the casa at about 8.00am. The sun is shining and the birds are singing. Pre-breakfast species include Hawfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Serin, Spotless Starling, Black Redstart, Azure-winged Magpie, Hoopoe and House Sparrow all in or around the garden.
After breakfast, we explore the lanes of San Clemente further. A White Stork nest on the church also provides material for House Sparrows to build their homes in. The stork circles the spire but refuses to land for its photo to be taken
We stop to scan a field and are rewarded with views of Greater Short-toed & Crested Lark, Southern Grey Shrike, dust-bathing Spanish Sparrows and a Hoopoe perched on a farmhouse roof.
Back down the lane, the stork is now in residence and a few stop to take photos. The rest carry on to another field where Tony W finds a handsome male Blue Rock Thrush posing on telephone wires. What an introduction to Extremaduran bird life: and we haven’t walked more than 500 yards from our front door!
I decide to head south to look for the Common Crane flock before it disperses for the summer. Thousands spend the winter in the area but we will only see a tiny proportion of these, stragglers late in leaving for their breeding grounds in Russia and Scandinavia.
On the way, we are treated to stunning flight views of an Egyptian Vulture. A flock of about fifty cranes can be seen flying in the distance, so we set off again to catch them up. We are brought to a halt by some promising-looking rice fields. Surely there must be some passage waders on them? Alas, ‘just’ Northern Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls can be found
The track to the area the cranes favour produces a number of Crested Larks, Stonechats, Red Kites and White Wagtails. We find a small group of Cranes in stubble fields and a Zitting Cisticola (or Fan-tailed Warbler if you prefer) comes to investigate us.
We stop for a picnic lunch by a marshy area where we see more Zitters, Spanish Sparrows and a flock of ten Serins perched together in a twiggy tree.
After lunch, we pull off the main road to scan a lake that seems promising for ducks. Before the van has drawn to a halt a flock of around sixty Little Bustards fly over us and land in a field across the way!
The lake holds a few Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard and gulls and more Cranes are seen on the banks. A male Lesser Kestrel performs for us in perfect light before a Great Bustard is seen flying in the distance. It joins a group of others and lands in fields in the distance. What an inspired spur-of-the-moment stop this is proving to be!
While some of us are debating whether the white stone on the lake is a Tufted Duck or not (it moves and swims off so it certainly isn’t a rock!), Margaret suddenly declares, “what are those down by the fence?”
We can only wonder where the flock of thirteen Great Bustards have come from but however they sneaked in, they are much closer than the last group! One even manages a half-hearted ‘foam bath’ display before continuing feeding. Both bustard species are now ‘in the bag’ and we haven't even visited the right areas for them yet!!
On the way back, we detour up a wooded road to see what we can find. More Hawfinches flit by along with Chaffinches and Azure-winged Magpies. It is a happy bunch of birders that return to San Clemente for more food, wine and liqueurs.
Tuesday, February 27th
Many Griffon Vultures are overhead mixed with one or two Black and Egyptians
Pre-breakfast birding produces more of the same species as yesterday but it is good to blow the cobwebs away in the early morning sun. We are on our way north to the world-famous Monfragüe National Park at 9.20am.
A slow drive along a road through a Cork Oak wood produces over a hundred Cranes feeding on the acorns. One or two Crag Martins are flitting around a river bridge but I assure the group we will see them much closer in the park. We arrive at our stop and set up 'scopes to scan the surrounding hills
Many Griffon Vultures are overhead mixed with one or two Black and Egyptians. A distant Golden Eagle refuses to come closer so we concentrate on the Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting and Rock Bunting perched in the trees beside the van instead. A Red-rumped Swallow adds a dash of colour and we can't help but admire the aerobatic skills of the Crag Martins above us.
Margaret comes to our rescue once more when she spies a bird of prey drifting above us. Even though the raptor is heading directly away from us there is no doubt that it is a Bonelli's Eagle! It vanishes over the ridge and we settle down for a picnic lunch in the strong sunshine
As everyone is munching away, I notice that the Bonelli's is now directly above us! We get superb views as it drifts across the river to the peak opposite our lunch stop. Amazingly, the Bonelli's is soon joined by a Short-toed Eagle and a couple of Griffons. Does life get much better than this?
Well, yes: the Bonelli's reappears above our heads again, this time accompanied by its mate. We watch in awe as the two birds display for fifteen minutes, effortlessly soaring and stooping before our ecstatic group.
So how can we follow that?! We drive a couple of miles and reach the viewpoint at Peñafalcón. Griffon Vultures are squabbling over nesting material. At one point, we think a Griffon is going to land on the structure we are sheltering from the sun under but it chooses a rocky outcrop behind us instead. The huge size of this bird can now really be appreciated at such close range.
The regular Black Stork flies in and perches on its nest in a cave before spiralling away once more. Vultures are constantly in view over the crag and a lone Sparrowhawk seems almost mundane in comparison.
Further down the road, we stop at a river valley. There are no cranes or storks passing through on migration though we do manage superb views of Lesser Kestrel, Thekla Lark, Rock Bunting and Black Redstart. To celebrate a superb day's birding we indulge in an ice cream from the local garage!
One or two of the group hear a couple of Tawny Owls calling over the noise of the frogs on their way back from the taverna. Or is it just the effects of the local fortified wine?!
Wednesday, February 28th
No grouse but we do see a female Merlin put the fear of God into a flock of larks
The morning is bright once more but as we head out onto the famous Belén Plains the sky clouds over. The very first field we stop by produces stunning views of Calandra Larks. They are everywhere, along with Sky, Crested and Thekla Larks.
Further along the road, we stop and scan for bustards and sandgrouse, speciality birds of these plains. Lynne announces that she has found a Great Spotted Cuckoo and we all get distant telescope views of this target species.
I drive down the road to try and get better views of this stunning bird and we find one posing on a fence post by the road. What a corker! I glance to my left and notice a Hoopoe posing for photos on a rock a few yards away. One doesn't know where to look next!
A little further on, we find a Stone Curlew and five Great Bustards in the same field. Lunch is taken watching displaying Calandra Larks whilst scanning for sandgrouse. A few spots of rain force us into the van and we continue on our way.
I head for the town of Belén and soon realise it is a mistake. The main road through the village is narrow at the best of times but today they are concreting a section of it. I am diverted down a tiny side street and only manage to negotiate a bend a couple of inches wider than the van with the help of Frank and Tony B. I can feel everyone breathing in as the walls get closer and closer. At least we provide a bit of entertainment for some Old Timers who just happen to be following us through the side streets!
Once through, I head for another area noted for its sandgrouse. We stop to admire another flock of eighty-eight Little Bustards then head down another road overlooking some excellent sandgrouse habitat. No grouse but we do see a female Merlin put the fear of God into a flock of larks and a stunning male Hen Harrier quartering the fields. The rain sets in and we head for home for another evening indulging in wine, food and exotic liqueurs.
Thursday, March 1st
The drive across the plains produces many more Little Bustards and three to four hundred Calandra Larks (yes, I did say three to four hundred!)
Today sees us back in the Monfragüe National Park. The sun is gleaming down on us once more, an ideal day for more raptor-watching. I head straight for the nest site of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Eagle Owl. I find the eagles' nest tree and the favoured perch of the owl but neither is at home!
We content ourselves with stunning views of Griffon Vultures on the rock opposite us and in the air above us. A Black Stork joins the throng and a couple of flocks of cranes head up the valley. Five Red Kites and a Black Kite also look like they are heading northwards.
Suddenly, I scan the sky once more and find a Spanish Imperial Eagle flashing its goldy-coloured shoulders at me! We are all soon watching this magnificent bird as it spirals down to land on the crag opposite us. We watch as it tries to pull a branch from a bush, before another bird joins it on the ground. What an amazing sight!
One of the eagles manages to prise a twig from the bush and proceeds to fly off with it. Its partner joins it in the air and we are treated to a brief courtship stoop from the male before they disappear over the ridge.
Meanwhile, an immature Golden Eagle puts in an appearance overhead and a Black Kite lingers over the wood in front of us. After all this excitement, it's time for lunch!
While tucking into our ham baguettes, we keep one eye on the Eagle Owl's perch. Cliff declares that he can see some movement and sure enough, there are two fierce orange eyes scowling down at us. The owl proceeds to have a quick preen, flashes its ear tufts, has one more disdainful look at its admirers and then hunkers down out of sight again.
After a short and unsuccessful search for Short-toed Treecreeper, we head for the plains once more. This morning has gone so well that we now have time to divert to look for the elusive sandgrouse once more.
On the way, I stop at a track I know that is a regular spot for Black-shouldered Kite. The first thing we hear are the White Storks displaying on their nests by the van, closely followed by a Wood Lark trilling in the background.
After a brief scan, a Black-shouldered Kite is located in the distance. As we watch through our telescopes, a male kite appears and we witness the pair mating! The group stroll along the track for a closer view of these stunning birds taking time to appreciate the host of wild flowers surrounding us.
The drive across the plains produces many more Little Bustards and three to four hundred Calandra Larks (yes, I did say three to four hundred!). Corn Buntings sing from every available perch but we cannot find any sandgrouse.
On the way back to the Casa, I make a brief detour to the spot we scanned a couple of days ago. The Little Bustard flock is still in residence and Cliff soon announces that he's found some sandgrouse amongst them
We are soon admiring a small flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, some looking for all the world like sandy-coloured terrapins on the hillside! More Great Bustards and Great Spotted Cuckoos complete the picture and we contentedly head home for another wine and food fest.
Friday, March 2nd
We eat our picnic by a river accompanied by White and Grey Wagtails, Black and Griffon Vultures and a couple of Chiffchaffs
The day dawns bright and crisp. The usual suspects are ticked off in the garden before breakfast (Hawfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Azure-winged Magpie, etc).
We are heading for the hills by 9.15am and make good progress to Cabañas. The last time I was here the rain made the roads into rivers so I am anxiously keeping an eye on the clouds gathering above us.
We walk up to the church and soon locate a Black Wheatear on the rocks. This bird is very flighty, flitting from perch to perch often pursued by a Black Redstart. With patience, we are all able to admire this handsome bird through telescopes: what a beauty!
While trying to photograph the mobile wheatear, Lynne manages to find a Short-toed Treecreeper. The bird is feeding on the rock face so we christen him Rock Creeper! We lose sight of him before everyone has seen him but he is soon relocated at the top of the cliff singing his little heart out
Meanwhile, a Peregrine and a Blue Rock Thrush are vying for our attention on an adjacent crag. The Peregrine takes to the air and is soon mobbing a Short-toed Eagle that has wandered into the falcon's territory. The eagle beats a hasty retreat, leaving the Peregrine to perch in full view for us to line up our 'scopes
On the way to our lunch stop, we are diverted by several Hoopoes, Azure-winged Magpies, Spanish Sparrows and best of all, a Rock Sparrow. We eat our picnic by a river accompanied by White and Grey Wagtails, Black and Griffon Vultures and a couple of Chiffchaffs. As we are packing away, two Golden Eagles join the vultures in the air the latter dwarfing the former giving us an appreciation of how big the vultures really are!
We drive back to San Clemente via the Belén Plains. Only three Little Bustards and one Great Bustard are seen along with Calandra Larks and Golden Plovers but the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse will not give themselves up. We partake of an ice cream each to make up for the disappointment!
Saturday, March 3rd
Lynne spies a flock of birds to our right and we are soon counting thirty-two Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!
Now it's personal: we are not going to be beaten by Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (even though none of the other birdwatchers in the area have seen any for two weeks)! After breakfast we load the minibus with our cases and bid farewell to our excellent hosts, Claudia and Martin. We then head for the ‘lucky’ part of the plains, the area where we have seen Black-bellied Sandgrouse and both bustards.
It is a perfect morning. We are first brought to a halt by a wonderful scene of three species of vulture sat in a field together: two Griffons, and single Black and Egyptian pose nicely for us to take in the differences in size, shape and colour between them.
We then pull in further along the road and start to scan the now familiar hillside. The Little Bustards haven't moved and a Stone Curlew has joined them. Lynne spies a flock of birds to our right and we are soon counting thirty-two Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!
While the group edge closer to the flock, I stay with the luggage-laden van and scan the hillside. I find five more sandgrouse. They are stunning birds with the sun lighting up their neck colour beautifully. At one point, a Little Bustard has an argument with a sandgrouse. The latter raises its tail and flashes the pin-tail that gives the species its name.
After everyone has had their fill of these plains birds, we drive into the medieval town of Trujillo. We walk into the main square where we can appreciate close views of nesting White Storks, a perched Crag Martin, up to twelve Lesser Kestrels together in the air, and more importantly three or four Pallid Swifts zipping overhead. And it's not every town centre in the world where one can see Griffon Vultures soaring over the buildings!
It is now time to leave Extremadura and go back to Madrid. Before we do, we have one last stop at the reservoir. Word on the street is that Little Bitterns and Purple Herons have recently returned to the reedbed here and we scan the area thoroughly whilst eating our picnic lunch.
Marsh Harriers, Zitting Cisticolas, Spanish Sparrows and a Purple Swamp-hen show themselves and we are serenaded by a Cetti's Warbler or two but there is no sign of the two target species. What is strange is that there are no hirundines hawking for insects over the water.
The trip does have one more surprise in store for us. While scanning the reservoir for herons and hirundines, I see an Otter determinedly swimming towards the dam. At one point, it even swims right up to a fisherman before veering away to the far bank, where it disappears into the reeds. A fitting end to a wonderful trip!
The long drive to Madrid produces three newly-arrived Black-winged Stilts on roadside pools. The night is spent at a hotel near Barajas airport, handily placed for tomorrow's early flight home
The group compile the last day's bird list in the hotel lobby whilst supping strong coffee, beer and fine brandy. The final total is 118 plus Feral Pigeon and a leader-only heard tick (Kingfisher)
The vote for Bird-of-the-Trip produces a clear winner. Spanish Imperial Eagle races home with Bonelli's Eagle in second place and Great Spotted Cuckoo in third. One can tell the quality of bird species seen when I tell you that Eagle Owl and Golden Eagle don't even merit a mention
|Species positively identified|
|Little Grebe||~10 on small pools in dehasa|
|Great Crested Grebe||2, Arrocampo; 2 Embalse de Sierra Brava|
|Great Cormorant||Relatively common anywhere near water|
|Cattle Egret||Relatively common|
|Little Egret||1 or 2 on roadside pools|
|Great Egret||1 on roadside pool|
|Grey Heron||Relatively common|
|Black Stork||2, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Gadwall||Embalse de Sierra Brava|
|Common Teal||Embalse de Sierra Brava|
|Mallard||Ones and twos on most pools|
|Northern Shoveler||1 male, Belén Plains|
|Common Pochard||3 males, Cáceres Plains|
|Tufted Duck||1 male two females, Embalse de Sierra Brava|
|Eurasian Wigeon||Embalse de Sierra Brava|
|Black-shouldered Kite||Mating pair, ‘Stork Tree’ Track|
|Black Kite||A total of 4|
|Egyptian Vulture||Several, including one or two immatures|
|Eurasian Griffon Vulture||Common|
|Eurasian Black Vulture||Several|
|Short-toed Eagle||1, Parque Natural de Monfragüe; 1, Cabañas|
|Western Marsh Harrier||Pair, Arrocampo|
|Hen Harrier||A total of 4 males|
|Common Buzzard||Relatively common|
|Spanish Imperial Eagle||Displaying pair, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Golden Eagle||A total of 4|
|Bonelli's Eagle||Displaying pair, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Lesser Kestrel||Relatively common; 12 together in Trujillo|
|Common Kestrel||One or two by roadside|
|Merlin||1 female, Cáceres Plains|
|Red-legged Partridge||Relatively common in dehasa|
|Purple Swamp-hen||1, Arrocampo|
|Eurasian Coot||Arrocampo and Trujillo, a total of 4 birds|
|Common Crane||Up to 1,000 in total (in fields and on migration)|
|Little Bustard||Up to 350 on the plains (88, largest single flock)|
|Great Bustard||Just over 30 on the plains (13, largest single flock)|
|Black-winged Stilt||3 by the A5 to Madrid|
|Stone Curlew||A total of 3 birds on the plains|
|European Golden Plover||Relatively common on the plains|
|Northern Lapwing||Relatively common|
|Common Snipe||11, Vegas Atlas|
|Green Sandpiper||Up to 10 singles on roadside pools|
|Black-headed Gull||Relatively common|
|Lesser Black-backed Gull||Several on reservoirs and lakes|
|Yellow-legged Gull||A few on lakes and reservoirs|
|Black-bellied Sandgrouse||9, Cáceres Plains|
|Pin-tailed Sandgrouse||37, Cáceres Plains|
|(Feral Pigeon)||Common around towns and farms|
|Rock Dove||A total of 9 pure birds, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Collared Dove||Common in towns and villages|
|Great Spotted Cuckoo||A total of 18 on the plains|
|Eurasian Eagle Owl||1, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Little Owl||A total of 5 on the plains; heard 3, San Clemente|
|Tawny Owl||2 or 3 heard, San Clemente|
|Pallid Swift||3 or 4, Trujillo|
|Kingfisher||Heard by leader only, Rio Almonte bridge|
|Green Woodpecker||1 heard, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Great Spotted Woodpecker||1 female, San Clemente; 2, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Calandra Lark||Common on the plains|
|Crested Lark||Common around settlements|
|Thekla Lark||Common in dehasa and on the plains|
|Wood Lark||1 heard, ‘Stork Tree Track’|
|Sky Lark||Several on the plains|
|Greater Short-toed Lark||2, San Clemente|
|Crag Martin||Common in Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|House Martin||Relatively common, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Red-rumped Swallow||A total of 5 (inc. 1 collecting mud by road)|
|Meadow Pipit||Common on plains|
|Grey Wagtail||A total of 4, river valleys|
|White wagtail||Relatively common|
|Winter Wren||1, San Clemente|
|European Robin||A few|
|Black Redstart||Relatively common|
|Blue Rock Thrush||San Clemente, Parque Natural de Monfragüe, Cabañas|
|Common Blackbird||Relatively common|
|Black Wheatear||1 or 2, Cabañas|
|Dunnock||1, San Clemente|
|Cetti's Warbler||Heard, Parque Natural de Monfragüe & Arrocampo|
|Zitting Cisticola||Several; near any marsh|
|Sardinian Warbler||Several, mostly around San Clemente|
|Blackcap||Relatively common at San Clemente|
|Willow Warbler||1 or 2 on passage|
|Firecrest||Heard, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Long-tailed Tit||Several; race irbii|
|Short-toed Treecreeper||1 heard, Parque Natural de Monfragüe; 3, Cabañas|
|Southern Grey Shrike||Several|
|Eurasian Jay||2, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Red-billed Chough||1, Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Common Raven||A few|
|Common Starling||1 or 2, Madrid airport|
|Rock Sparrow||1, Cabañas|
|Common Chaffinch||Relatively common|
|European Greenfinch||A total of 2|
|European Goldfinch||Relatively common|
|Cirl Bunting||A few|
|Rock Bunting||Up to 7 males, mostly Parque Natural de Monfragüe|
|Corn Bunting||Commonest species seen!|
|Iberian Hare||1 or 2|
|Eurasian Rabbit||A few|
|European Otter||1, Arrocampo|
|Bat sp||Torrejon de Ardoz|
|Large Tortoishell||1 or 2|
|Cleopatra||Several (males and females)|
|Nettle-Tree Butterfly||4 or 5|
|Clouded Yellow sp||1|
|Reptiles & Amphibians|
|Spanish Terrapin||A total of 17|
|Iberian Pool Frog||1, San Clemente|
|Golden-striped Salamander||1, Cabañas|
|Hoop Petticoat Daffodil|
|Large-flowered Sand Crocus|
|Common Stork's Bill|
|Spanish White Broom|
|Dog's Tooth Violet|
|Sheep's Bit Scabius|
|Cork Oak Tree|
|Holm Oak Tree|
|Oryctes nasicornis (Rhinoceros Beetle)||San Clemente|
|Xylocopa violacea (Carpenter Bee)||San Clemente|