SECRET SPAIN - BIRDING IN EXTREMADURASaturday 14th March 2015
Saturday 14th - Tuesday 17th March 2015
The group met bright and early at Stansted Airport and once through the formalities of security we had some time to get breakfast before boarding our flight. There was a slight delay as a passenger wanted to leave the airport as his friend was waiting at the boarding gate and once off he wasn't allowed back on again!
The delay didn't matter too much as the pilot made good time, arriving in Madrid just before schedule. As we came in, Steve spotted several BLACK KITES at eye level with the plane, just before we landed.
Once through passport control and after picking up our brand new minibus with only 16km on the clock, we traversed the ring road and headed southwest towards Extremadura.
The journey produced good numbers of COMMON BUZZARDS, RED KITE, WHITE STORKS, CATTLE EGRETS and a couple of BLACK-WINGED STILTS on a roadside pool.
After a drive we stopped off for lunch at a motorway cafe and whilst tucking into our sandwiches we had great views of both BLACK & GRIFFON VULTURES overhead, with SWALLOWS and HOUSE MARTINS hawking high over us.
It was then down to the Embalse de Arrocampo where a small number of fisherman were taking advantage of the fine weather. After a few minutes we heard PURPLE SWAMPHEN and were treated to one in flight. We stood in one spot for quite a while noting many species. CATTLE EGRETS fed in nearby fields and in the reed beds were CHIFFCHAFFS, SEDGE WARBLER, a singing male SAVI'S WARBLER perched up reeling, plus a PENDULINE that we heard and BEARDED TITS.
PURPLE and GREY HERONS flew low over the reed beds and in bushes and scrub nearby we found SPANISH SPARROWS, BLACKCAP, GOLDFINCH, CHIFFCHAFF, FAN-TAILED WARBLER, CORN BUNTING, STONECHAT and a couple of CRESTED LARK.
Careful scrutinisation of the reed bed worked wonders with us finding at least three LITTLE BITTERNS, although they were quite elusive and only seen in flight. A SAWFLY ORCHID was in flower on the path and over the reed-fringed lake we found several LESSER EMPEROR DRAGONFLIES.
John picked out an IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE perched on a fence post and then Steve spotted a HOOPOE flying past the same area.
It was delightful to spend some time in the late afternoon sun and just watch birds passing through. SAND MARTINS and SWALLOWS made up the bulk of these as they headed north to their summering grounds in Northern Europe.
We were reluctant to make the 45 minute drive south to our accommodation but with a warm welcome by Juan Pedro, Belen and Marina we were glad to have arrived. After a tour of the house and gardens we were shown to our rooms with time to unpack and shower before meeting for drinks and local Spanish appetisers before dinner.
Dinner consisted of Chickpeas with Pistou for starter followed by Chicken cooked in wine with Figs from the garden and then we had Apple Tart with stewed Quince from the garden.
This was all washed down with a fine Rioja wine and Acorn Liqueur to finish, then we all went to bed, happy after what had been a long but good day!
Sunday 15th March 2015
We met at 7.30am for a pre-breakfast walk around the hotel grounds, which started with a singing CUCKOO in the distance and as the sun started to rise we noted BLACKCAP, BLUE & GREAT TITS, SERINS, BLACK REDSTART and a cacophony of HOUSE SPARROWS.
As we wandered out into the road, several SPOTLESS STARLINGS flew over, plus a pair of RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS drifted eastwards. CORN BUNTINGS jingled from the tops of trees and in a small copse we found a good group of CHAMPAGNE ORCHIDS.
We didn't get too far when it was time to head back for breakfast, but as usual we got delayed by a large group of AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES flying into the garden to take advantage of food put down for them, and we certainly had some good views of these delightful birds!
It was great to have a good breakfast as it was pretty cold outside with clear conditions. Afterwards we loaded up and headed into Trujillo where we spent some time at the bullring and it wasn't long before several LESSER KESTRELS came into view and performed over the rooftops, along with a good flock of SPOTLESS STARLING and a few HOUSE SPARROWS.
Up to 8 LESSER KESTRELS were seen, with some taking advantage of special nest holes built into the pantile roof. From here we continued westwards and made a stop at an area of steppe grassland, where we found a flock of around 250 SPANISH SPARROWS plus IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE and a perched up GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO.
We then took a walk through the area and were delighted to see three GREAT BUSTARDS fly over, before disappearing beyond a ridge and then we picked out a female LITTLE BUSTARD walking through the grass.
A flock of PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE flew over calling and the whole area was alive with the songs of CORN BUNTINGS, plus THEKLA and CALANDRA LARKS.
Several raptors were seen including BLACK KITE, RED KITE, BLACK VULTURE, EGYPTIAN VULTURE and COMMON BUZZARDS. Two BLACK STORKS circled in a valley before drifting off northwards and the warm weather encouraged several butterflies out, which included SMALL COPPER, SMALL HEATH, WESTERN DAPPLED WHITE and BROWN ARGUS.
We reached the top of the ridge and had some hazy scope views of around 14 PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE plus 4 GREAT BUSTARDS in the distance. The return walk gave us stunning views of a SHORT-TOED EAGLE that snuck in behind us before drifting off to the south.
It was great to get back to the van for a cold drink before heading back to Vina las Torres for lunch in the garden. Whilst we tucked into our packed lunches several GRIFFON VULTURES drifted over, plus a hovering SHORT-TOED EAGLE and a stunning male SERIN which sang from a nearby tree. WALL BROWN and HOLLY BLUE BUTTERFLIES took advantage of the sun, the latter attracting some attention from the family cat!
Afterwards we drove south to the new Embalse de Alcollarin Reservoir, which was built in 2014 and since opening has attracted many birds. Parking up and scanning across the water we saw a huge number of BLACK-HEADED GULLS numbering around 2000+ birds that were feeding on Chronomid midges that were hatching from the water. Many GREAT CRESTED GREBE, SHOVELER and COOT were seen and with a bit of scanning we found a single BLACK-NECKED GREBE.
A superb EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAIL basked in the sunshine allowing us to get some fine photos of this lovely butterfly. We then moved around the reservoir to another spot which was again alive with birds.
A GREY WAGTAIL showed briefly on the overflow plus around 30 LITTLE EGRETS roosted on the concrete bank. A pair of EGYPTIAN GEESE gave good views on a nearby island plus a good number of duck which included a pair of RED-CRESTED POCHARD, PINTAIL, GADWALL, SHOVELER, MALLARD, POCHARD and a pair of GARGANEY. GREAT EGRETS stalked around the edges and WHITE STORKS roosted in the trees nearby. We also discovered a COOT with a white neck collar that had possibly originated from a Polish ringing scheme.
Retracing our steps to get a better view of the main reservoir found us 6 more GARGANEY plus 5 SPOONBILL, WIGEON and a female MARSH HARRIER that caused havoc amongst the birds. Whilst standing above a grassy area we trained our eyes on a small spot through the scope that had 2 HOOPOE, IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE, THEKLA LARK and STONECHAT all in the same view!
With time getting on, we drove to another area of steppe which produced a flock of around 20 GREAT BUSTARD, which included one bird that landed in the middle of the road! These magnificent birds gave good views as they flew around before settling in the distant fields. Moving slowly along the road, Sue found a fine male NORTHERN WHEATEAR perched on a boulder whilst on the opposite side of the road yielded yet more GREAT BUSTARDS.
We then drove on to an area of rice fields where eventually with some patience we found a flock of around 50 RED AVADAVATS feeding in ditches and fields and these included some dapper raspberry red males! Just as were about to turn round, a wader was seen dropping into a field nearby and as we headed over a mound to investigate, a large wet field greeted us with lots of birds on it. Up to 12 WATER PIPITS in varying plumages were seen, including a smart summer plumage bird. WHITE WAGTAILS, LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS, COMMON SNIPE and three GREEN SANDPIPERS enjoyed the conditions before two noisy quad bikes came roaring through the area.
It was then off for a tea stop nearby before heading back to the steppe, and we found a superb male GREAT BUSTARD displaying whilst several females looked unconvinced! Around 20 GREAT BUSTARDS were seen in total and these gave lovely views in the early evening sun.
We then headed back to base noting a dead BEECH MARTEN close to the road. Arriving slightly later than scheduled we still had plenty of time for a hot shower before meeting to complete the birds list. Whilst halfway through, Juan Pedro came in to say that Alejandro had heard a SCOP'S OWL calling and we quickly gathered outside to hear the call of the owl across the fields. Once inside we carried on with the list before having yet another great meal consisting of Green beans cooked with smoked paprika, followed by Migas de Estremena which is fried breadcrumbs, lardons, chorizo, green pepper and a fried egg, which is all mixed together and served with a tomato and onion salad. We concluded the meal with a creamed rice, washed down with a lovely rose wine from the Leon region.
After dinner, Marina entertained us beautifully on the piano whilst we relaxed in the lounge after another good day.
Monday 16th March 2015
We met for breakfast at 7.30am and once finished, some of the group wandered down the lane to get some photos of the CHAMPAGNE ORCHIDS that were growing. A GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO called from the olive groves but remained unseen and HOOPOES, AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES and many CORN BUNTINGS were noted.
We then headed back to Trujillo bullring where we spent a little time watching the LESSER KESTRELS hawking insects above the fields and they gave really good views.
It was then off northwards for the day where we visited the Monfrague National Park. We made our first stop close to a river where CRAG MARTINS and RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS flew over our heads. We then enjoyed views of a BLACK STORK that circled overhead before dropping down on the river and began to eat IBERIAN WATER FROGS!
The breeze was a little chilly but despite this we began to see our first vultures of the day drifting over. The majority of the flock were GRIFFON VULTURES but on scrutiny, at least five BLACK VULTURES were seen, plus a SHORT-TOED EAGLE that flew right over us.
We then entered the park and stopped at the famous Salto del Gitano watch-point overlooking the Pena Falcon rock. GRIFFON VULTURES were very much in evidence, along with PEREGRINES and a few a BLACK VULTURES and BLACK KITES. A pair of BLUE ROCK THRUSH were seen and the scrubby hillsides attracted lots of SERINS, plus a pair of LINNETS and a cracking male ROCK BUNTING that was seen briefly before flying up the hillside.
We carried on through the park, making a stop at Villarreal San Carlos for facilities and whilst here we found lots of CRESTED LARKS, BLACK REDSTART, SONG THRUSH and SERINS whilst enjoying a hot drink in the carpark.
Moving slowly through the varied habitat gave us the chance to appreciate this fantastic place, from slopes covered in Gum-leaved Cistus through to pines forests and heather cladded glades.
We arrived at our main destination to find just a few people about and we set up position in the sunshine. Once again, GRIFFON VULTURES were the main species but during the next couple of hours we found some great birds that included EGYPTIAN and BLACK VULTURES, RED KITE, BLACK STORKS, SHORT-TOED EAGLE, a male GOSHAWK that drifted through and an almost certain BONELLI'S EAGLE that flew past, but unfortunately into the sun and views were not good, although the profile fitted this species.
The main highlight had to be a pair of SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLES that were nesting nearby and they certainly put on a show, with the male being particularly vicious to the GRIFFON VULTURES nearby. The pair showed really well before the female settled back down onto the nest to tend her eggs.
At least two to three pairs of BLUE ROCK THRUSH frequented the area and we had a brief view of another ROCK BUNTING. A male LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER called and a short while later he flew over us and down the road.
After tucking into our packed lunches we took a stroll back towards the van and didn't get far as Steve could hear a SUBALPINE WARBLER singing from the slopes and eventually the bird did several song flights before landing in the top of a bush where he carried on singing.
We retraced our steps through the park noting two RED DEER along the way, plus the usual vultures drifting over. It was then time for a coffee stop back in Villarreal de San Carlos, which went down very well indeed, especially with the lovely lemon-flavoured biscuits!
Another stop was made at a bridge that crossed the Rio Tajo but it was rather quiet. Leaving the park we headed to a site to the south where we had good views of nesting WHITE STORKS and then we took a walk around the area. Lots of CRESTED LARKS, CORN BUNTINGS, STONECHATS and MEADOW PIPITS were seen in the wildflower meadows and quite a way down the track we located a singing male SARDINIAN WARBLER plus two LONG-TAILED TITS of the race Irbii.
Steve decided to walk to the next ridge where we were delighted to see a BLACK-WINGED KITE although flying away from us. Over the next twenty minutes we found two of these delightful birds as they sat in the tops of trees surveying the area. A distant WOODCHAT SHRIKE was seen perched atop a Holm Oak and a COMMON BUZZARD circled over us.
We then had to drag ourselves away as we had quite a journey back to base, although we saw a few birds on the way including CALANDRA LARKS, IBERIAN GREY SHRIKES and a LITTLE OWL that was seen by Sue.
Arriving back slightly later than planned, we headed off to get ready for dinner which was very well received. We started the meal with a Tomato and Potato soup followed by Pork cooked with Prunes that was served with Mash Potato and a lovely salad. The lights then dimmed suddenly as Marina played Happy Birthday on the piano and a candle was placed in
Steve's dessert as it was his birthday! He received two lovely presents from the family which included a bird whistle and a model of a White Stork.
We then retired to the lounge where we completed the bird list before heading off to bed after what had been a fabulous day!
Tuesday 17th March 2015
We met for a slightly later breakfast to enable us to pack our things and get ready to leave. The weather was overcast and grey, a complete contrast to our previous days in Extremadura.
We said our goodbyes to Juan Pedro and Belen and made our way northwards. Soon we encountered heavy rain and this complicated things slightly. Arriving at the Embalse de Arrocampo we obtained a key to the hides that overlook the reservoir and from one of the hides we found a pair of BLACK-WINGED STILTS plus GREEN SANDPIPER and Steve had brief views of an OTTER.
Around 20 SONG THRUSH fed in a grassy field along with a mixed flock of MEADOW PIPITS and SPANISH SPARROWS.
Moving back to one of our favourite spots reaped benefits when we discovered a cracking male BLUETHROAT hopping around on the reeds, which could be seen at times with a CETTI'S WARBLER!
PURPLE SWAMPHENS were incredibly numerous plus we found two SQUACCO HERONS, three LITTLE BITTERNS, two KINGFISHER, PURPLE HERONS, MARSH HARRIER and a brief LITTLE CRAKE that was seen in flight.
The rain was intermittent now and with us feeling rather cold, we headed to a nearby cafe for a warming coffee. Once warmed up we packed our scopes away and began the journey north to Madrid.
The rain eased off by the time we had reached Talavera de la Reina and this encouraged a few raptors out including BLACK-WINGED KITE, RED KITE, MARSH HARRIER, COMMON BUZZARD and LESSER KESTREL.
We reached Madrid in good time and once we had dropped off the van we checked in and relaxed before catching our flight back home to the UK.
Arriving at Stansted to a huge queue in passport control was something we didn't expect but eventually we got through and picked up our luggage.
Just as we were leaving the airport there was a guy holding a card up with the name Steve Grimwade on it. When Steve went back to investigate we saw another Steve Grimwade who had similar glasses and looked almost identical! How strange!
We said our goodbyes after another fantastic tour in this amazing part of Spain, with a great bunch of customers!