Spain - Extremadura 2008

...with Cristian Jensen

April 5th - 12th

April 5th: Madrid, Monfrague.

Weather: Sunny and warm, 25 C.

Rendezvous at Madrid Airport. Colin had already arrived from France; Peter, John and Dorothy arrived by plane from England, and Nina arrived accompanied by a friend. Once we were all there, we got in the minibus and headed west. On our way we stopped at a beautiful old town with a medieval castle with breeding Lesser Kestrels, White Storks, Jackdaws, and Crag Martins. From the castle we could enjoy the beautiful landscape of Extremadura. Our first Short-toed Eagle was spotted, together with Griffon Vultures and Black Kites. Barn Swallow, House Martin, Goldfinch, Spotless Starling and Common Swift were also spotted. After this short visit to town, we went down a dirt track where we saw two Black-shouldered Kites, Bee-eater, Corn Bunting, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Woodchat Shrike, Crested Lark, Common Buzzard, Cattle Egret, and flying Mallard and Black-winged Stilt. This was a very good start of a week’s birding, and realizing what a great week of birding we had in front of us made John feel very happy. When we arrived at our hotel in Monfragüe, we had some free time for birding, relaxing and showering. From our hotel, which was situated in the middle of the dehesas, we could hear Orphean Warbler, Hoopoe, Common Cuckoo, Mistle Thrush, Great and Blue Tits, Blackcaps, and other common birds of the area. We had a great local meal for dinner, with roasted chicken and salad accompanied by a nice wine.

April 6th: Monfrague National Park.

Weather: Sunny and warm, 25 C

We started our day with a complete breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon, pastries, juice, fruits, and bread. When we finished the meal, we went for a walk through the dehesas. This beautiful walk, not too long through the flat terrain, produced good views of Rock Sparrow, Black Kite, Common Cuckoo, and Azure-winged Magpie, and we heard Woodlark and Lesser and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. Peter also found a Tongue Orchid, Stork Bills, Asphodels, Lavender and Gum Rockrose, all surrounded by Ashes, Cork and Holm Oaks. Woodchat Shrike, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch and Nuthatch were showing very well, and a Black Stork flew past us. We kept walking, an Egyptian Vulture showed up, and suddenly an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle appeared mobbing a Griffon Vulture in the air. Once near the cliffs, Blue Rock Thrush, Short-toed Eagle, and Red-rumped Swallow came into our view. We managed to find an adult Eagle Owl, but only one of its ‘ears’ was visible. I decided to walk back to the hotel and pick up the minibus, meanwhile leaving the group with the scope focused on the Eagle Owl in case it moved. And eventually it did move; I missed it, but all the group members got to see it very well both sitting and flying, and when I arrived they were all jumping with happiness!!! Especially Colin and Peter were happy, and this was one of the best moments of the tour for them. What else we could ask for, in our first morning? Well, we went on to see the Black Stork at its nest, and both Dartford and Subalpine Warblers showed up. We kept on going towards a picnic area where we found several Little Ringed Plovers and a distant Grey Wagtail spotted by Nina. Siesta time was approaching, but instead of going to sleep we did a stop in a cafeteria to have a good cup of coffee, and some of the group members tried the local liqueurs and ice creams. When we were enjoying the sun outside the bar, a mega-beautiful Black-eared Wheatear was seen close up by all of us. We stopped again a little further inside the Monfragüe National Park where we saw an astonishing male Bonelli's Eagle doing his nuptial flights. Our next stop produced a Golden Eagle, which completed the list of Spanish eagles (Booted Eagle was seen the day before). Rock Bunting and Black Vulture were seen, and Red-billed Chough and Black Redstart were heard at one of the most famous rock faces of Monfragüe, where hundreds of raptors were flying around. We had a bit of time to visit the castle, where we had a breathtaking view of all the surrounding dehesas. A Rock Bunting was seen and photographed at very close range. Griffon Vultures were flying below us, giving good opportunities for taking marvellous pictures. Finally we went back to our hotel, stopping briefly on the way for a second look at the Eagle Owl and for taking photos of it. Once back at our hotel, we had some rest and a couple of drinks before going through the check list and having our dinner.

April 7th: Monfrague National Park.

Weather: Cloudy and rainy, 12 C

We woke up to a cloudy and rainy day. After breakfast we headed towards the nearby reservoir to do some birdwatching and see some aquatic birds. Here we saw our first Purple and Grey Herons, Little Bittern, Little and Cattle Egrets, and Little Grebes. We also saw some raptors: Black-shouldered Kite, Black and Griffon Vultures, Red and Black Kites, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, and Lesser and Common Kestrels. On the daily list, these birds were followed by Coot, Moorhen, and Great Reed and Savi's Warblers. It was still raining, so we decided to have lunch in one of the observatories where Purple Gallinules were walking around close to us. Black-winged Stilts were “beeping” around, and a Kingfisher perched on a reed stem. A Squacco Heron landed very close to us and a Great Egret was spotted at a long distance. A Spoonbill was feeding with its typical movements from side to side, and numerous Gadwalls, Mallards, and a Teal were swimming happily in the water. Great Spotted Cuckoos were chased by the Common Magpies, and Spanish Sparrows were nesting in the sides of the White Storks’ nests. We went to our hotel to rest a bit, but before we saw both Man and Bee Orchids. Our dinner was delicious, and we had a lovely Gazpacho for starter.

April 8th: Monfrague National Park.

Weather: Rain 3 C/11 C

Today we headed for the southern part of Monfragüe. Again, the day was rainy and rather cold for Spain. We stopped at a spot to watch a beautiful Cirl Bunting and then we moved on to a bush land where we recorded Whitethroat, Sardinian, Dartford, and Spectacled Warblers and Thekla Larks, and Red Deer. The landscape was very beautiful with the Western White Brooms in full flower. The Dartford Warbler was John’s favourite bird, and he loved the sightings we had of this species. The rain kept falling, and it was time for lunch, so we went to a local bar for hot soup and tapas. Coffee and local liqueurs were served again, but no one asked for ice cream today! In the afternoon we returned to the reservoir. We went back to the hotel, but we were still left with time for more birdwatching, and Peter, Dorothy and I went to have a last look at the Eagle Owls. This time we saw an adult and two chicks. Before dinner we had some drinks whilst doing the checklist. This time we were served some local specialities called “Migas”: A mix of bread crumbs, meat and beans.

April 9th: Monfrague, Serena.

Weather: Rain and wind, 7 C/17 C

Today we transferred to Serena, and the weather was still not improving. We drove down to Trujillo, and on the way we went through the plains near the town to get a first contact with the steppe birds. Great Spotted Cuckoo flew parallel to the van, and Calandra Larks made Nina very happy. A male Little Bustard was spotted while doing his “singing”, and a few hundred meters further on we spotted a group of displaying Great Bustards. Peter enjoyed the performance of these males near a group of six females. After the show we continued our route, stopping to scan the fields at different places. On our way back to Trujillo, Colin found a female ‘Monty’ sitting on the ground, very well camouflaged. This was our first Montagu’s Harrier of the tour, and it was seen at incredibly close range. After this we were surprised by a group of 16 Great Bustards; we enjoyed seeing their long whiskers and their magnificent elegance. Once inside Trujillo, we spent a little while in town enjoying the interesting architecture of the historical old town. At lunch time we went to a bar to have our meal. We later headed south and visited some reservoirs, but the wind was so strong that the telescope never stopped shaking! In spite of this, we managed to see Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed, and Black-headed Gulls, Great Crested Grebes, Turtle Dove and Great Cormorant. The Avadavat, that didn't allow us to see them well at this spot, deserve a special mention, because later - from inside the van - we had astonishing views of this species; one of the best moments for Dorothy and Colin. On our way we also saw a group of ten Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, along with Stone Curlews and several Montagu’s Harriers. We were running out of time, so we went to our hotel in Serena to relax a bit and have a shower before dinner.

April 10th: Serena.

Weather: Rain and wind, 7 C/17 C.

The morning was very windy, so we went to the river forest to try and see some migrant passerines. Once there, the wind made birdwatching very difficult, but lovely Bee-eaters and Sand Martins were seen building their nests in the sand banks. Garden Warbler was seen well, which made John very happy. In one of the channels we found several trapped animals: a Sharp-ribbed Newt, two Natterjack Toads and a Ladder Snake, so I decided to jump in and rescue them. The newt is an amphibian specialty from the southern and western areas of Spain. After having our picnic lunch in a sheltered place we went to la Serena steppes through a scenic route with lots of rock formations covered in beautiful bright green lichens that according to Peter are called Rhyzocarpon geographicum. Once in the Steppes, the wind was still blowing. But we spotted a Stone Curlew taking off, and later managed to see it. A Greater Short-toed Lark was spotted on the ground and allowed everybody to see it well. Later on we saw it in song flight over the fields. A group of six Pin-tailed Sandgrouse landed in a field nearby, so we all got out of the minibus and started walking towards them. Black-bellied Sandgrouse appeared and we saw them well in flight. Surprisingly, two flying Dotterels appeared quite close to us, allowing us brief views of this beautiful species.

April 11th: Serena.

Weather: Cloudy and rainy in the morning, sunny and warm in the afternoon, 6 C/25 C

We had an early start with the weather changing to weaker winds and scattered clouds. We went to the mountains, and before we had an appointment with the Roller, we enjoyed more Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and the jumping display of a Little Bustard. Dorothy was amazed with this behaviour, and every time the bird jumped it was nearly blown away by the wind. Red-billed Choughs were seen well. Once we arrived in the mountains, the clouds turned into a thick mist. The star bird of the area was the Black Wheatear, but the mist didn't allow us to see anything although a male was singing nearby. Just when it seemed that we were not going to see it, a miracle happened and the clouds went away letting the sun shine through - and there they were, a couple of beautiful Black Wheatears! The weather was getting a bit better, but we were a little tired and went to the hotel to wait for the clouds to clear up and have a short siesta. A few group members went for a walk in town. In the afternoon we went back to the river. Just as we were getting out of the minibus, a Great Reed Warbler was singing from the top of a reed. Meanwhile a Penduline Tit popped out from the willows, and Dorothy was very happy as she hadn't seen any for years!!! This little “zorro” was very busy moving around and probably in the process of building a nest somewhere. Later Peter spotted a Western Bonelli's Warbler in the river forest, and this bird was seen well by everyone. After this, we went back to our hotel to start packing and have our dinner.

April 12th: Serena, Madrid.

We had a very early start to do our transfer to Madrid Airport where Peter, Dorothy, and John had to take a plane. Nina and Colin were picked up by a friend of Nina, and they were going to spend the following days enjoying all the museums etc. in the city of Madrid.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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