EXTREMADURA - CRANES & CORK OAKSFriday 11th November 2016
Friday 11th - Monday 14th November 2016
The group met bright and early at Stansted Airport and once we had dropped off our luggage and traversed security, we had time before the flight for a spot of breakfast.
We boarded one of Ryanair's newest aircraft, a brand new Boeing 737-800 series, but due to fog and other delays we were about an hour late taking off. Nevertheless once in the air, we made up lots of time and only landed 15 minutes late.
After picking up luggage and the van we were soon on our way out of the car-park but we did spent some time going round in circles as the exit had been changed since our last visit!
We headed around the ring road and took the toll road southwest towards Extremadura. One of the first birds noted around the outskirts of Madrid was a fine BLACK VULTURE that was seen quite close over the open hillsides plus our first of many RED KITES.
COMMON KESTRELS and COMMON BUZZARDS were in smaller numbers along with the usual suspects of WOOD and FERAL PIGEONS.
As we drove south, GRIFFON VULTURES, SPOTLESS STARLINGS along with WHITE STORKS and CATTLE EGRETS were spotted.
We stopped off for lunch along the way and it was great to sit outside in the warmth in November. A sheltered area held up to six CHIFFCHAFF which fed on a number of small flying insects whilst a CRESTED LARK was confiding in the car-park.
Other species here included WHITE WAGTAIL and our first COMMON CRANES of the tour with three birds circling the distant fields.
A short drive later we pulled off the motorway and took a smaller road to a nearby reservoir although we didn't get far because a IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE was perched up close to the road. Unfortunately it flew off so we moved on to the reservoir.
On parking we soon had flight views of a PURPLE SWAMPHEN that flew across the top of the reeds with its bubble-gum pink legs trailing behind. Due to the flight delays we didn't have long here but during our stay we really kicked off the tour well with many exciting species.
A PURPLE HERON was seen in flight with quite a few GREY HERON and KINGFISHERS zipped past showing their aquamarine rumps as they did so. A SQUACCO HERON was also spotted in flight and a male LITTLE BITTERN gave reasonable views before being disturbed by a PURPLE SWAMPHEN.
PENDULINE TITS called from the reeds but despite our efforts we couldn't see any, but we did find a small colony of SPANISH SPARROWS plus a few winter migrants such as ROBIN, BLACKBIRD, SONG THRUSH and COMMON SNIPE.
CORN BUNTINGS, MEADOW PIPIT and STONECHATS were noted before it was time to head towards our hotel.
We hadn't got too far along the road when Steve found a superb BLACK-WINGED KITE close by and after parking up we had reasonable views of it hunting a rough area.
It was just getting dark when we arrived at Vina las Torres and we were greeted by our hosts Juan Pedro and Belen who showed us to our rooms.
A little later we met for a welcome drink which included a selection of salami and cheese that went down well with a cold beer!
Dinner was up to the usual standards with Chickpeas in a tomato and courgette sauce followed by Chicken cooked with wine and figs for main course. Dessert was a delicious Apple tart that rounded off the meal nicely. Juan Pedro explained about our Rioja wine that we had enjoyed during our meal and several of the group rounded things off with an Acorn liqueur, a local speciality.
After dinner we completed the bird list after what had been a long but productive day.
Saturday 12th November 2016
We met for breakfast at 8.00am which went down well and a short while later we loaded up the van. As we did this, small parties of AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES flew over uttering their trilling call. A pair of IBERIAN GREY SHRIKES displayed down in one of the fields and several BLACKCAPS were seen in the scrub.
Our first port of call were the rolling plains close by where on first glance it was rather quiet. Up to five THEKLA LARKS showed well with a single CRESTED LARK for superb ID comparison and flocks of SPANISH SPARROWS were in adjacent fields.
A female MERLIN was found by Steve but it disappeared from view and then appeared over our heads where it accelerated off to no doubt hunt the small flocks of passerines. A single GRIFFON VULTURE flew in to join a BLACK VULTURE on the ground for what was presumably a carcass.
Changing location proved successful with us locating four GREAT BUSTARDS on the ridge above and they gave good views from the van although a little distant for photography. Whilst watching these magnificent birds, a flock of four STOCK DOVES flew past with a paler bird amongst them which turned out to be a BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE!
Heading to a different viewpoint gave us the opportunity to view a wider area and from here we found another 49 GREAT BUSTARDS in the surrounding fields.
A small drinking hole attracted several groups of BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE and we had good scope views. We could hear the unmistakable sound of PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE and eventually we picked up a flock of around 40 birds as they flew around. Eventually some dropped down onto the ground and landed amongst the many LAPWINGS that scattered the area.
Good numbers of both RED KITE and COMMON BUZZARD were in the area as were reasonably sized flocks of CALANDRA LARKS plus a single SKYLARK which flew over.
After a welcome hot drink in our picnic which was accompanied by cakes and biscuits we headed back to base before travelling to a different habitat for the afternoon.
Whilst at the van a SPARROWHAWK flew through, plus more AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES were seen although they were quite wary and difficult to get close to.
Our lunch stop was at a nearby reservoir where we had lunch at the picnic tables. The warmth had encouraged a SPECKLED WOOD and RED ADMIRAL BUTTERFLY to fly and the woods surrounding us were alive with CHIFFCHAFF, BLUE TIT, CHAFFINCH and HOUSE SPARROWS.
We spent time checking out the wetland areas and the muddy fringes held LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, GREEN & COMMON SANDPIPERS, DUNLIN, COMMON SNIPE and more LAPWING.
Up to three KINGFISHERS were seen and wildfowl included large numbers of SHOVELER, MALLARD and GADWALL plus a few TEAL and PINTAIL thrown in for good measure. Both GREAT CRESTED & LITTLE GREBES were seen but the majority of the birds were very distant.
A few HOOPOE fed on the grassy margins and passerines included GREY WAGTAIL, BLACK REDSTART, MEADOW PIPIT, WHITE WAGTAIL and SPANISH SPARROWS.
A GREAT EGRET was feeding in a shallow area and further round we came across a lone SPOONBILL. The scrub here gave us good views of a male SARDINIAN WARBLER as it flitted around in an old Olive tree before flying off.
We dropped down to the large area of rice fields and came across our first significant numbers of COMMON CRANES of the tour. Taking a track into this area produced many COMMON SNIPE plus a single BLACK-WINGED STILT.
With time and patience we managed good views of both COMMON WAXBILLS and RED AVADAVATS of which two of the group were lucky to see a raspberry red-coloured adult in breeding plumage!
Several of the rice fields were being harvested and this attracted a large number of CATTLE EGRETS plus a few WHITE STORKS, LITTLE EGRETS and GREY HERONS in to feed on insects or amphibians that had been disturbed.
More COMMON CRANES flew over and with time slipping away, we drove further south to search for the big flocks.
It didn't take long to find more COMMON CRANES feeding by the roadside and as we slowed down to take a look, a male HEN HARRIER was seen hunting in front of us before it vanished.
By the time we had reached our destination, we had seen several thousand COMMON CRANES and we hoped to see them coming in to roost. Unfortunately, some of the area had been turned over to Olive and fruit tree production and there were not too many birds around in their old preferred roosting areas.
We did check out a small irrigation reservoir which held singles of TUFTED DUCK and WIGEON plus 53 EGYPTIAN GEESE, a species whose number is slowly increasing in the area.
With the light going, we drove back to a harvested maize field where up to 500 COMMON CRANES fed before flying off north.
It was then time to head back to base and have a shower before dinner. Our evening meal was fantastic with a warm bean salad followed by the Extremaduran speciality, Migas Extremenas (Shepherds breadcrumbs). This was served with an easy drinking local red wine from the area. Dessert was a rice pudding which rounded off the meal perfectly.
We completed the bird list after dinner and headed off to bed after what had been an action packed day!
Sunday 13th November 2016
The day dawned with bright, sunny conditions with no wind, so after breakfast we headed off north to spend the day exploring the Monfrague National Park.
As we drove northwards we noted quite a few COMMON BUZZARDS and RED KITES with the odd IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE perched on roadside wires.
Our first stop was at the bridge that crosses the Rio Almonte and here we found our first CRAG MARTINS of the tour plus small numbers of SISKINS, CORN BUNTINGS, GOLDFINCHES and STONECHATS along with a SARDINIAN WARBLER & ZITTING CISTICOLA.
With the weather warming up nicely, we continued onwards and made another stop at the famous Salto del Gitano watch-point which produced lots of GRIFFON VULTURES plus a male PEREGRINE that appeared to be carrying prey.
Our next port of call was the small village of Villarreal de San Carlos. This tiny hamlet was established by Charles III to protect travellers from bandits whilst on their way from Plasencia to Trujillo.
The rough grassy areas held BLACK REDSTARTS, LINNETS, HOUSE & SPANISH SPARROWS but best of all was a male BLUE ROCK THRUSH that perched on tops of trees and aerials.
We were quite keen to head to the northern end of the park and to the watch-point at Portilla del Tietar. This is probably the best place to see Spanish Imperial Eagle but despite spending well over three hours there we just couldn't manage to find one.
There was however many other birds that were great to see including three GREAT EGRETS that flew south plus several flocks of COMMON CRANES which flew over.
The rocky outcrops held BLACK REDSTARTS, BLUE ROCK THRUSHES and CRAG MARTINS whilst the riverside scrub gave us good views of a CETTI'S WARBLER, LONG-TAILED TITS of the race irbii, SARDINIAN WARBLER, CHIFFCHAFF and JAY and AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE.
We enjoyed lunch in the now scorching weather and it was great to feel the sun on our backs! It was with trepidation that we left the site and headed south towards an area of woodland that we intended to give a five minute look.
Typically this lasted around thirty minutes as we found a CRESTED TIT plus SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, FIRECREST and two GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS. Here we also found a Large Psammodromus and RED-VEINED DARTER DRAGONFLY.
We then tried one last place where Steve had previously seen Bonelli's Eagle, but despite picking up ROCK DOVE, RED KITE and lots of BLACK VULTURES we could not locate one.
Just as we were about to leave, Steve picked up a superb adult BONELLI'S EAGLE as it flew over our heads and started circling over the ridge where we could pick out all the salient identification features.
Eventually the bird drifted off so with time knocking on, we drove back northwards. We had only got a few hundred metres when the van came to a screeching halt as the eagle was circling right above us! Although the light wasn't fantastic, we had some of the best ever views of this nowadays scarce eagle which made up slightly for missing the Spanish Imperial Eagle.
Quite a few RED DEER were seen as the afternoon progressed including several stags with one close to the road that had attracted quite a crowd.
We spent the remainder of the day at the Portilla del Tietar watch-point where we hoped to see or hear Eagle Owl but despite the seemingly perfect conditions, it failed to appear. We did however see a couple of BLACK VULTURES perch up in hillside trees before disappearing over the ridge.
The route back to base took us through some rolling countryside and we arrived back thirty minutes later than planned and had some time to get changed before our evening meal.
It was lovely to sit in the lounge area with a roaring log fire before enjoying our evening meal which began with rice, mushrooms and walnuts followed by Pork and prunes with mash potato and a lovely salad.
As we waited for dessert, the lights dimmed and Belen bought in dessert with a candle in it for Mark as he was celebrating his birthday the following day.
Alejandro played Happy Birthday on the clarinet before we tucked into a lovely chocolate cake with chocolate mousse.
Afterwards we did the birdlist whilst sat by the fire before heading off to bed to get some well-deserved rest.
Monday 14th November 2016
Our last day in Extremadura started with breakfast and as we looked out over the rolling hills towards Trujillo we could see a layer of mist which created a lovely atmosphere.
After loading up our luggage in the van, we said our goodbyes to Belen, Juan Pedro and Alejandro and began our journey north back to the Embalse de Arrocampo.
As time was limited on Friday, we wanted to visit a few new areas as well as some old ones and at our first stop we had good views of at least two male LITTLE BITTERNS, one of which showed at the end of a ditch.
PURPLE SWAMPHENS called from the dense Typhus beds and several KINGFISHERS flew past. The fields behind us held a hunting BLACK-WINGED KITE which hovered over the rough grassland before flying to a pylon where we had reasonable scope views.
We then moved to another area and located up to three PENDULINE TITS which fed in the reed-mace. In a reed-fringed pool we found a female/immature BLUETHROAT that fed in an open area and was joined briefly by a winter-plumaged WATER PIPIT.
Other species here included ZITTING CISTICOLA, GREAT EGRET, MARSH HARRIER, BLACK VULTURE, RED KITES and a couple of RED AVADAVATS which flew over.
With a little time spare we tried an area of small pools which held a couple of SHOVELER and TEAL plus DUNLIN and COMMON SANDPIPER before visiting a new area which produced great views of two BLACK VULTURES overhead.
It was with sadness that we left and headed to nearby services for coffee and lunch before making the two hour journey back to Madrid. Luck was with us during the journey, as we saw an adult SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE flying north over open scrub which was totally unexpected!
We arrived back in Madrid in good time and although the roads were busy with traffic, we dropped the van off at the airport and checked in with plenty of time to spare.
The flight was unfortunately delayed by around 40 minutes due to air traffic congestion of U.K. airspace but once airborne we had a good flight and landed at a chilly and damp Stansted Airport.
We said our goodbyes after a superb tour with lots of birding highlights, brilliant weather, lovely food and accommodation but most of all, a great bunch of customers!