Friday 15th March 2019
Our group met bright and early at London Luton airport for our flight down to Madrid which took off slightly later than scheduled but made some time up and touched down in a warm and sunny Madrid. Whilst waiting for our minibus we watched good numbers of BLACK KITES moving northwards before making our way onto the busy ring road.
Lots of EURASIAN MAGPIES were noted plus a single EURASIAN HOOPOE flew across the road in front of us. Once on the R-5 toll road we began seeing raptors and for the next thirty minutes or so, COMMON BUZZARDS and BLACK & RED KITES were extremely numerous.
The drive down to Extremadura took us through excellent looking habits which provided us with good views of several BLACK VULTURES, WESTERN MARSH HARRIERS, WHITE STORKS and WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS.
We stopped for refreshments in our favourite roadside restaurant and it was wonderful to sit in the hot sunshine watching GRIFFON VULTURES and BLACK KITES just drifting over, with a few BARN SWALLOWS thrown in for good measure!
Once suitably refreshed we headed to an area of steppe grassland which produced SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE, SPANISH SPARROWS, THEKLA’S LARKS, EUROPEAN STONECHATS, SPOTLESS STARLINGS and many, many CORN BUNTINGS.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring nearby tracks but despite a thorough search, we failed to locate any bustards. We did however have fantastic views of CALANDRA LARKS singing and displaying overhead whilst CLOUDED YELLOW, WESTERN DAPPLED WHITE, PAINTED LADY and SMALL HEATH BUTTERFLIES flitted in the warm sunshine.
Time just slipped away and we had to head to our base for the weekend where we were greeted by Jesus and his mother Angeles who showed us to our rooms. We had time to relax before meeting for a welcome drink and nibbles and several of the group explored the garden, noting singing EUROPEAN GREENFINCH, flyover RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS plus a few other common species.
Dinner was a fine affair with a chickpea starter followed by lentil meatballs or chicken cooked with figs. Dessert was a vanilla custard with sponge and chocolate, all washed down with a very nice red wine from the local area. After coffee and an obligatory Acorn liqueur we completed the bird-list in front of the open fire.
We retired for the evening after a very long day, looking forward to our coming days in Extremadura.
Saturday 16th March 2019
Some of the group met in the courtyard before breakfast where several SONG THRUSH, EURASIAN WREN, EUROPEAN SERIN and a PIPISTRELLE BAT sp. were noted.
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast which went down well with everyone and afterwards, we loaded up the van ready for the day ahead.
Our first port of call was the bullring in the historic town of Trujillo and it didn’t take long to locate several LESSER KESTRELS hawking over the fields before returning to the roof, where they joined good numbers of SPOTLESS STARLINGS and HOUSE SPARROWS.
BARN SWALLOWS and COMMON HOUSE MARTINS fed in the warm sunshine and two PALLID SWIFTS fed over the rooftops.
After a brief supermarket stop for supplies, we made our way northwards towards the Monfrague National Park where we stopped at the parks boundary at the bridge crossing the Rio Almonte. What was meant to be a brief stop took rather longer as there was so much to see!
EURASIAN CRAG MARTINS showed well as they fed low over the fields whilst GREY and WHITE WAGTAILS were seen down by the river, which happened to be alive with the sight and sounds of thousands of IBERIAN FROGS. CETTI’S and SARDINIAN WARBLERS were seen plus a couple of ZITTING CISTICOLA, CORN BUNTING, SPANISH SPARROW, COMMON CHIFFCHAFF, EUROPEAN STONECHAT and EUROPEAN SERINS.
We entered the park and drove around 10 kilometres when a large dark raptor appeared and at a quick glance, what was expected to be a Cinereous Vulture turned out to be a fine adult SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE! Luckily there was a parking place close-by so we quickly jumped out of the van and watched it in the scope as it circled a nearby ridge.
With such a good bird to see straight away we drove through the park and stopped at Villarreal de San Carlos for facilities and a coffee break which was very welcome. Good numbers of CINEREOUS VULTURES were seen and a SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE appeared briefly before drifting off.
BLACK REDSTART and lots of BARN SWALLOWS took our attention before it was time to move onwards towards our next watchpoint in the park. There were very few places to park so we had to walk a little way along the road and within a few minutes, we were enjoying superb views of two SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLES, one in flight and the other perched on top of a rock which gave delightful scope views.
Over the next hour we watched these sought-after birds as the female chased several GRIFFON VULTURES which had strayed into its territory.
Other species here included RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, BLACK REDSTART, BLUE ROCK THRUSH, SUBALPINE WARBLER and the hot sunshine had brought out LARGE TORTOISESHELL, CHAPMAN’S GREEN HAIRSTREAK, HOLLY BLUE and CLEOPATRA BUTTERFLIES on the wing.
With our stomachs rumbling we headed to a picnic site where a pair of BLACK STORKS were seen sitting on a nearby ridge. Lunch was delicious and very much needed after our morning session and whilst having lunch, we saw COMMON CHAFFINCH, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, heard a calling EUROPEAN NUTHATCH and had good views of a EUROPEAN CRESTED TIT.
It was then off to a site that had been very productive for us in recent years for Bonelli’s Eagle and within five minutes we spotted a pair high above us which drifted off towards the sun. This made viewing difficult but we tracked one to a distant ridge and on viewing it through the scopes we could see that it had joined the other, as the two birds were sitting close to each other.
They flew off at considerable speed and disappeared behind a ridge only to appear right in front of us a few minutes later at very close range. Over the next five minutes or so, we were treated to amazing views of this very scarce raptor circling and we could take in every plumage detail.
A few EGYPTIAN VULTURES drifted over and a single ALPINE SWIFT appeared briefly, as did a EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY.
Our last site in the National Park was the famous rock of Pena Falcon and the watch-point at Salto del Gitano which was very busy with people enjoying the sunshine, birds and scenery.
We enjoyed good views of several pairs of BLACK STORKS including a pair on a nest in a cave and other goodies included more BLUE ROCK THRUSH, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW and of course, vast numbers of GRIFFON VULTURES.
Our plan was to visit a site to the west but the sun was still relentlessly beating down, so we headed back to Trujillo where we called in to the local park.
Water levels were low which encouraged two pairs of BLACK-WINGED STILT and at least seven LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS to feed on the muddy margins.
EURASIAN COOT, COMMON MOORHEN and MALLARDS were the only water birds of note but it was great to have a break for a few minutes before heading back to base.
We arrived back and had time for a hot shower before meeting for a pre-dinner drink, before a lovely meal of green beans with smoked paprika for starter followed by Mijas Extremenas (Shepherds Breadcrumbs). As it was Steve’s birthday a cake appeared and Happy Birthday was played on the clarinet by Alejandro, the now grown up son of the previous owners of Vina las Torres, who Steve has known since he was 6 years old.
We retired to the lounge area where we did the bird-list before heading off for some well deserved rest after a bird-packed day in the Monfrague National Park.
Sunday 17th March 2019
We met for a pre-breakfast walk at 7.20 and took a stroll down the lane where it wasn’t long before the IBERIAN MAGPIES came out of roost and the air was full of the jingly song of CORN BUNTINGS.
CHAMPAGNE ORCHIDS were growing abundantly in the fields and a EURASIAN HOOPOE was seen in flight, but time soon ran away with us and it was time to head back for breakfast. Our return route produced a couple of CINEREOUS VULTURES drifting over plus a pair of RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS.
After yet again another good breakfast, we loaded up the van for the day and were about to leave when Ann noticed that she had left her walking boots behind.
What a good job she did as we had a flyover HAWFINCH and then with some patience, we watched a pair of HAWFINCHES feeding in the garden. Then we could hear a GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO calling and it appeared on a fence beside an IBERIAN MAGPIE which gave us good scope views. Eventually it was joined by another GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO and they flew off across the valley.
If we had left at the anticipated time, we would never have seen these great birds, well done Ann!
Our destination for the day were areas of steppe, rice-fields and reservoirs to the south of the hotel. We reached the steppe grassland and it only took a few minutes before spotting a group of nine GREAT BUSTARDS in the open fields. We drove closer and already there was a heat haze as we watched these magnificent birds in full ‘foam bath’ display mode.
It was great to catch up with this species after missing out on Friday afternoon and Dave D did well to pick out a small group of LITTLE BUSTARDS on the ridge in the distance, as well as six EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER which fed on the short turf.
CALANDRA LARKS sang all around us and raptors included BLACK and RED KITES, mating COMMON BUZZARDS, WESTERN MARSH HARRIER, LESSER KESTREL and a single EURASIAN GRIFFON VULTURE.
The sun was warm but the wind had a decidedly chilly bite to it so we headed off to a large reservoir hoping to get some shelter.
It wasn’t a lot better but with the sun on our backs it was bearable. NORTHERN SHOVELER, GREAT CRESTED GREBES and a lone EGYPTIAN GOOSE were on the open water and SPANISH SPARROWS and SARDINIAN WARBLERS called from the scrub around. A small group of SAWFLY ORCHIDS grew on limestone rocks before we headed south for a coffee break at the old railway station.
On our way there we stumbled across a group of GRIFFON and a single CINEREOUS VULTURE in a field and we quickly pulled over. Getting our scopes on them, it was soon apparent that there was a sheep carcass in the field which looked quite fresh.
It was good to see these scavengers on the ground as we had only seen them in flight during the tour. Coffee was then enjoyed whilst watching SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE, BARN SWALLOWS and lots of nesting COMMON HOUSE MARTINS which showed really well in the scopes.
With time getting on we visited an area of rice-fields but due to the recent lack of rain they were pretty much bone dry, but luckily we found a small group of RED AVADAVATS feeding in a drainage ditch. Although restricted viewing we had good views of this introduced species from Asia. EUROPEAN STONECHATS, EURASIAN BLACKCAP, COMMON CHIFFCHAFF and more SPANISH SPARROWS were seen, then we drove down the track finding more RED AVADAVATS which were much harder to see.
Our stomachs were now rumbling so we left and drove past the sheep carcass where a small group of GRIFFON VULTURES were still present and headed over to the Embalse de Alcollarin.
Water levels were incredibly low as we sat overlooking the reservoir and in the sunny, sheltered spots, Mo found a cracking SPANISH FESTOON BUTTERFLY plus PAINTED LADY, SMALL COPPER, CLOUDED YELLOW and a EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAIL.
A scan of the water yielded LITTLE and GREAT CRESTED GREBES, BLACK-HEADED GULLS, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, GREEN SANDPIPER, COMMON SNIPE and a very distant EURASIAN SPOONBILL.
After lunch we moved round to the northern part of the reservoir where thankfully water levels were much higher and here, LITTLE and GREAT EGRETS, EURASIAN SPOONBILLS and WHITE STORKS fed along the edges with COMMON SNIPE, GREEN SANDPIPER and COMMON GREENSHANK present on the muddy surrounds.
NORTHERN SHOVELER, MALLARD, EGYPTIAN GOOSE and a pair of GADWALL were present before we decided to move onwards. Sarah and Rachel were keen to explore the land behind Vina las Torres so we dropped them off in the lane and the remainder of the group headed back to the steppe which we had visited on Friday without much success.
We had only been there a minute or two when Steve located a feeding group of PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE on the ridge and although the light wasn’t the best, views were reasonable.
Luckily a short while later they flew off and right past us where all the diagnostic features could be seen. Overhead a RED KITE tussled with a BLACK KITE and several vultures were seen distantly. As out of nowhere, a small party of nine GREAT BUSTARDS appeared on the skyline and we watched them through the scopes as they displayed but the two females seemed to ignore them!
Just as we were about to leave, Dave D found a cracking adult SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE soaring over the hills before drifting off to the west.
It was then back to the accommodation for a hot shower before meeting for a pre-dinner drink which was served with olives from the garden.
Our evening meal started with a sort of dumpling soup followed by Pork in tomato sauce served with salad and Dauphinois potatoes with a tofu variation for the vegetarians.
Dessert was lemon cheesecake, all washed down with a lovely local Tempranillo which was delicious.
Afterwards we did the bird-list before retiring for the night after another good day in the field.
Monday 18th March 2019
Breakfast at 7.30am was very good indeed and afterwards we did some final packing before saying our goodbyes to Jesus, Christian and Angeles and loading up the van for our drive towards Madrid.
Our last birding destination was the Embalse de Arrocampo which is a large reed-fringed reservoir which cools the nuclear power station at Alamaraz.
As we drove along the road towards the reservoir, a stunning BLACK-WINGED KITE was spotted hovering beside the road but typically it was a position where we couldn’t stop! Turning around we headed back but there was no further sign.
At the reservoir we picked up a key to the hides as by the time we arrived, a cool brisk breeze had picked up and we would be glad of some shelter during our visit.
The first couple of hides produced good species including five BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS seen in flight and consisting of four adults and a first-year bird. This is the first time we have seen this species at the reservoir and hopefully numbers will increase in future years.
GREAT and LITTLE EGRETS frequented the reedy margins and a single PURPLE HERON was seen in flight before dropping down in the reed-bed, whilst up to five WESTERN SWAMPHENS called and were seen along the sheltered edges of the water.
Good numbers of SAND MARTINS and BARN SWALLOWS hawked insects low over the water and overhead, we watched both GRIFFON and CINEREOUS VULTURES drifting over.
The wind wasn’t abating so we drove round to the other side of the reservoir hoping to find shelter. Water levels were higher than previous years which yielded dividends with three BLACK-WINGED STILTS feeding in the shallows along with COMMON SNIPE, GREEN SANDPIPER and COMMON SANDPIPER.
EURASIAN TEAL, MALLARD, a pair of RED-CRESTED POCHARD and a pair of FERRUGINOUS DUCKS were seen and gave lovely views in the scope.
We checked out another viewpoint which was very quiet so we retraced our steps, heading into nearby Saucedilla for lunch. It was beautiful in the town plaza with LESSER KESTRELS overhead plus WESTERN JACKDAWS and feeding hirundines.
Unfortunately it was time to head towards Madrid so we stopped for a coffee break before heading northward. Bird-wise it was uneventful except for a dark-morph BOOTED EAGLE perched on a roadside post.
The ring road around was pretty busy but we arrived at the airport in good time and after dropping off the minibus, headed straight to check in to drop off our luggage.
We enjoyed some time airside where we had food and drink before boarding our flight back to the UK and although we took off a little later than scheduled, it was a good flight to Luton where passport control and baggage reclaim were very efficient.
It was time to say our goodbyes after what had been a superb tour with some great company, food, accommodation and quality birding throughout!