Saturday 25th November 2017
EXTREMADURA – CRANES AND CORK OAKS
Saturday 25th – Tuesday 28th November 2017
The group met at a very early hour at Stansted airport for our 6.45am flight down to Madrid. Once the plane had been de-iced as it was minus two degrees, we headed off a little later than scheduled but touched down in a moderately warm Madrid around 10 minutes early.
Baggage reclaim and passport control was simple and once van hire was sorted we were on our way out of the airport.
As we headed round the ring road we noted three MONK PARAKEETS flying over the road whilst a few WHITE WAGTAILS and COMMON WOOD PIGEONS were commonly seen
Once in the open areas RED KITES were numerous and on the motorway heading southwestwards a few WHITE STORKS were recorded. After a couple of hours we stopped off for lunch at a motorway service area which served really good coffee and was pretty good for birds too!
Small numbers of COMMON CRANES flew over and a couple of birds were seen feeding in a weedy field nearby. A cracking male BLACK REDSTART showed well adjacent to the carpark and some scrub yielded good numbers of COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS, ZITTING CISTICOLA, GREY WAGTAIL, EUROPEAN ROBIN and a fine SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE.
Once suitably refreshed from our food and drink, we made the ten minute journey south to the Embalse de Arrocampo. This reservoir feeds cold water to the nearby nuclear power station at Almaraz and has great habitat for many wetland species.
A pair of EUROPEAN SERINS fed in rough pasture and close-by were lots of MEADOW PIPITS, WHITE WAGTAILS and a few CRESTED LARKS. Bird of the afternoon had to go to a stunning BLUETHROAT that ignored all the field guides by parading brazenly in the open, much to the groups delight!
After watching the BLUETHROAT, we spent time checking out the surrounding areas. A pair of SARDINIAN WARBLERS showed well, as did two male CETTI’S WARBLERS indulging in territorial disputes. COMMON KINGFISHERS were seen in the reed-beds and a few WESTERN SWAMPHENS were heard but not seen.
WESTERN MARSH HARRIERS were constantly in view, along with a couple of COMMON KESTRELS but these were eclipsed by both GRIFFON and CINEREROUS VULTURES that were circling nearby.
Other goodies here included a small flock of COMMON WAXBILLS, EUROPEAN STONECHATS, EURASIAN HOOPOE, COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS, SPANISH SPARROWS, BLACK REDSTARTS and a perched LITTLE OWL on a dilapidated building.
WESTERN CATTLE and LITTLE EGRETS flew over, plus a few GREY HERONS and GREAT CORMORANTS were scattered around the site.
With time edging away, we headed slowly along the road and it didn’t take long before we found our quarry, a fine BLACK-WINGED KITE. This sought-after raptor was seen circling over an area of solar panels and although seen well, it moved off until it was lost from sight.
It was then time to drive the forty minutes to Vina las Torres, situated in the Logrosan hills. After a warm welcome from Juan Pedro, Belen and Alejandro we were shown to our rooms where we had time to relax after a long day of travelling.
We met up for a welcome drink and nibbles before sitting down for our evening meal which was fantastic as ever. With cream of pumpkin soup to start followed by olive tapenade on toast and small shot glasses of lettuce and ginger soup, whilst waiting for our main course.
The main event was chicken cooked with figs, served with rice and salad and concluded with apple tart and stewed quince. This was all washed down with a very nice red wine from Murcia and most of the group partook in an acorn liqueur before we completed the bird-list.
It was great to get some rest after a really successful birding day!
Sunday 26th November 2017
We met for breakfast at 8am and once finished we started to gather by the van. Small numbers of IBERIAN MAGPIES flew past as they came out of their roosts and a couple of HAWFINCHES were seen in a nearby tree. SONG THRUSHES were noted as they flew past at great speed and a CIRL BUNTING sang from down the lane.
Once all gathered we drove to the west of the mediaeval town of Trujillo and onto the vast plains. A new road had been built in the last year which made stopping more difficult if birds were spotted. We explored the area noting a few hunters with dogs, but at our first stop a small party of GREAT BUSTARDS were seen in the mid distance which gave reasonable scope views. A few CALANDRA LARKS sang in the warm morning sunshine and some THEKLA LARKS fed in the weedy fields.
Moving positions proved productive when we spotted around seven PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE in a field which soon flew off calling. We needn’t have worried though as a little later, we were treated to around 40 birds flying right over our heads!
With a little perseverance, we also picked out small numbers of BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE including a pair that were quite close. RED KITES were very numerous and as it warmed up, a few GRIFFON VULTURES drifted over with some CINEREOUS VULTURE thrown in for good measure.
A female MERLIN terrorised NORTHERN LAPWING and EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER flocks and along the fence line were several SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE and CORN BUNTINGS. Further along, we chanced upon another gathering of GREAT BUSTARDS.
A couple of distant raptors were scoped and we were all delighted to find they were adult SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLES! All the diagnostic features were noted of these scarce birds as they circled in the sunshine.
They eventually drifted northwards and this was our cue to leave and visit some areas to the south. After making a quick facilities stop back at base we headed to the Embalse de Alcollarin for lunch. Three WOODLARK fed around picnic tables and a shock was to hear a calling EURASIAN WRYNECK in the nearby woods, a species that should really be wintering in Africa!
LONG-TAILED TITS of the Spanish race irbii were seen in Holm Oaks and in the scrub and reeds were incredible numbers of COMMON CHIFFCHAFF. A look at the northern lagoon yielded a few waders and ducks including LITTLE STINT, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON GREENSHANK, BLACK-WINGED STILT, COMMON and GREEN SANDPIPERS plus COMMON SNIPE. In the wildfowl department were a few EGYPTIAN GEESE, EURASIAN WIGEON, COMMON TEAL, NORTHERN SHOVELER and both COMMON POCHARD and TUFTED DUCKS.
With lots still to do, we left the site and checked out a nearby area of steppe which was rather quiet except for five GREAT BUSTARDS and two BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE.
It was then down to the rice fields where we watched good numbers of both COMMON WAXBILLS and RED AVADAVATS in the reed-filled ditches, the latter species resplendent in their raspberry red breeding colours. COMMON SNIPE fed on the paddy fields and a female/immature BLUETHROAT was spotted in a channel on one of the rice-fields.
Other notable species included WESTERN CATTLE EGRET, WHITE STORK, COMMON KINGFISHER, SPANISH SPARROWS, EURASIAN HOOPOE and plenty of MEADOW PIPITS.
They day concluded in the south where thousands of COMMON CRANES fed in surrounding fields before taking flight as dusk set in. We made a stop to photograph a large flock of COMMON CRANES and creeping along the edge of a field was a fine WILDCAT! We gave the cat plenty of scrutiny as it stalked the field edge and it looked rather good for a pure animal.
Our final site of the day was at a small reservoir where amongst many MALLARDS, NORTHERN PINTAIL and COMMON TEAL was a juvenile GREATER FLAMINGO! A SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE showed really well above us and as the light faded, we were treated to vast numbers of COMMON CRANES flying past. This amazing sight and sound rounded off a superb day!
We arrived back a little later than planned and met for our evening meal at 8pm. The starter was mixed vegetables cooked in smoked paprika with a main course being the Extremaduran speciality, Migas Extremenas (Shepherds breadcrumbs). Dessert was creamed rice with a lemon jam.
This was all washed down with a very easy drinking red followed by the obligatory Acorn liqueur and whilst having coffee, Alejandro gave us an impressive performance on the clarinet. After completing the bird-list, we headed off to the bed for a well deserved rest.
Monday 27th November 2017
Breakfast was at the usual time and we spent some time birding at the front of the hotel. A few HAWFINCH were noted along with the usual IBERIAN MAGPIES, SONG THRUSHES, BLACK REDSTARTS and COMMON BLACKBIRDS.
Our destination for the day was the popular Monfragüe National Park and we set off in anticipation of what the day would hold. The bridge over the Rio Almonte was our first port of call and outside the van it was absolutely freezing so we didn’t hang around for long. Several RED KITE, NORTHERN RAVEN and GRIFFON VULTURES were seen over the near ridge. Passerines included CORN BUNTING, CRESTED LARK and EUROPEAN STONECHATS.
We drove through the park and stopped for toilets in 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.
A few CIRL BUNTINGS fed along with a few EUROPEAN SERINS in a weedy garden whilst we had good sightings of a few feeding THEKLA LARKS in the carpark. COMMON LINNETS, HOUSE SPARROWS and COMMON CHAFFINCHES fed on the ground whilst a male RED DEER complete with full set of antlers grazed the nearby grass.
With the high cloud clearing we drove to the northernmost part of the park which is traditionally a great place to look for Spanish Imperial Eagle and spent the next couple of hours scanning the skies and hillsides. Good numbers of GRIFFON VULTURES were seen with a few distant CINEREROUS VULTURES moving along the ridges.
EURASIAN CRAG MARTINS hawked overhead and other species seen here included COMMON KINGFISHER, RED KITE, COMMON BUZZARD, EURASIAN JAY, IBERIAN MAGPIE and a couple of flyover ROCK BUNTINGS.
Despite a through search of the area, we did not pick up any eagles and with our stomachs starting to rumble, drove to an area in the woods where it was sheltered. After our excellent packed lunch, we birded the surrounding woods and had good views of a pair of SHORT-TOED TREECREEPERS and a very showy HAWFINCH eating olives.
A GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER was seen plus a couple of RED DEER wandered up the road. We popped into Villareal de San Carlos for toilets and then spent time nearby where Bonelli’s Eagle is regularly seen.
It seemed rather quiet apart from the usual ROCK DOVES, EURASIAN CRAG MARTINS and GRIFFON VULTURES although a close CINEREOUS VULTURE livened things up.
John and Graham wandered down the road and returned to say an eagle was perched in a tree just out of our view. We quickly hurried down and there in full view was a superb adult BONELLI’S EAGLE! Over the next fifteen minutes we had really good scope views of this sought-after eagle!
Suddenly it disappeared and flew up above us, being mobbed by what appeared to be a Griffon Vulture, which on closer inspection turned out to be a juvenile SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE! The BONELLI’S EAGLE wasn’t at all happy with the intruder and soon moved it on with a show of talons.
Eventually they both drifted off and we stood there amazed at such good views of these two scarce species!
As the light started to fade, we ended the day at Salto del Gitano which is known as Gypsy’s leap. SARDINIAN WARBLERS, BLACK REDSTARTS, BLUE ROCK THRUSHES plus a couple of PEREGRINE FALCONS were seen in the last hour of light.
We headed back to base and met a short while later for a pre-dinner drink. Once again, Belen did us proud with a lovely Chickpea starter followed by pork with prunes with a crunchy salad and a dessert of Chocolate cake in chocolate custard which went down extremely well, especially with Yvonne.
We had coffee and liqueur whilst Alejandro played the clarinet for us and we then completed the bird-list before retiring for the evening.
Tuesday 28th November 2017
We awoke to find persistent rain and after breakfast said our goodbyes to Juan Pedro, Belen and Alejandro and loaded up the van with our luggage.
With just a few hours of birding time today we opted to revisit the Embalse de Arrocampo to bird some areas we didn’t reach on Saturday.
Rain was still falling as we arrived at the reservoir and although there are hides, they could not fit us all in! As we approached the first hide, Jenny struck gold by finding a hovering BLACK-WINGED KITE which quickly dropped from view. Quickly we all got into the van and lo and behold, with a short drive found it again.
It was located on power lines and it showed really well through the scope, much to the delight of the group. After a while it flew once again so we moved to another area. By now the rain was getting mildly annoying as when we drove it eased off but as soon as we got out, it began getting heavier.
Despite this we stopped and checked out a nearby pool which held not one, but two BLUETHROATS plus a feeding EURASIAN OTTER that was seen several times. Other species included GREEN and COMMON SANDPIPERS, COMMON TEAL, IBERIAN MAGPIES and EURASIAN CRAG MARTINS feeding low over the water.
We tried another area but it was rather quiet so retraced our steps to another spot and there was a fine WESTERN SWAMPHEN sitting up in full view on the typhus reeds. It was great to catch up with this species as previously we had only heard them call.
A few COMMON WAXBILLS were seen along with COMMON KINGFISHER, CETTI’S WARBLER, SPANISH SPARROWS and SPOTLESS STARLINGS.
With the damp and cold setting in, we headed to a cafe for a warming drink and to pack our optics before making our way back to Madrid. Arriving at the airport in good time enabled us to check in early and after completing the bird-list, we had time to relax before our flight.
The flight took off pretty much on time and landed twenty minutes early at Stansted and after the usual wait at passport control and baggage reclaim, we all said our goodbyes after a wonderful trip to Extremadura, with superb food, accommodation, weather (mostly!), great birding and a lovely group of customers to share the experience with!