|Extremadura 2007 Tour Report 2nd May -8th May|
The group boarded our luxury "movie star" bus to take our party to Liverpool airport. We arrived in good time and in style for our lunchtime flight to Madrid. After some refreshment we boarded the plane for the short flight to Madrid. Arriving on time we quickly gathered our luggage and collected our minibus for the 2.5 hour drive to Trujillo, our base for the 6 days. Unfortunately we had to battle with traffic and high oil pressure, but this eased as we traveled further SW, leaving the hustle & bustle of Madrid far behind. There was plenty to see from the vehicle as we journeyed to Trujillo. The miles rolled by as we saw large groups of Cattle Egret, and of course dozens of Black Kite. Although luckily we saw 3 Black-shouldered Kites, one hovering at low level over the central reservation- awesome. We also saw Black-winged Stilt, at least 30 White Stork, a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes and 2 Red- rumped Swallow. We arrived in the town of Trujillo, and drove out of town to our base for the week as dusk approached, a superbly converted 'Finca'. Checking in tour very pleasant rooms, we assembled in the dining room, for a sumptuous meal, and drinks- before heading off to bed for our first full day in Extremadura.
Our first full day in Spain, and a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of our farm, was worth the early start. One of he star birds, Azure-winged Magpie, made their presence felt, with 25 in total, with Cuckoo heard all around. Around the Olive groves of the Finca we saw Hoopoe and Hawfinch, plus several Bee-eaters on the wires. Also from the groves we saw and heard several Nightingale. Normally shy, as were 3 Golden Oriole, which actually showed well. Flying around the finca were several Red- rumped Swallow with Woodlark singing in the background. After breakfast we drove the short way to Trujillo, parking by the Bull Ring, here we saw and heard good numbers of Spotless Starling, plus excellent views of Lesser Kestrel. A nearby park produced Coot, and Little Grebe with Little Ringed Plover nearby. Moving into the town, we sat in the main square watching the swifts and White Storks, plus Lesser Kestrel all around. From Trujillo we headed north to several shallow valleys, cut by the Rio Almonte. Here we had lunch, as we explored the valley sides and scanned the hills. Vultures were evident, with at least 5 Black Vultures, although Griffon Vulture were by far the commoner with at least 50 seen. As well as 3 Booted Eagle and Common Buzzard as well as 3 Egyptian Vulture (2 adults and immature). Also overhead was a single Black Stork, no doubt from Monfrague. This area is also good for Short-toed Eagle, we weren't disappointed with 4 observed, although bird of the day was a cracking Spanish Imperial Eagle, high overhead, as it drifted away from us. By a roadside bridge were at least 4 Crag Martin. The river itself was worthy of attention with 2 Common Sandpiper & Kingfisher. Hawking over the water were at least 20 Pallid Swift, which were mixed in with Common Swift, allowing comparison between the two species. The journey back was enlivened by the endless Corn Bunting by the roadside. After our meal we sat in the grounds of the Finca, where we heard Red-necked Nightjar and Scops Owl,both with their distinctive calls. An excellent introduction to Extremadura.
A pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of the Finca was an excellent start to the day. Typically Azure-winged Magpies were abundant. Several Golden Oriole, Spanish Sparrow and Short-toed Treecreeper were found by the keen pre-breakfast birders. The day was spent entirely on the plains. Following a peasant breakfast we headed into Trujillo to pick up lunch, then headed out to the plains along a straight narrow road. It was a day of stopping and scanning, which revealed much. Our first stop over looked the plain. Moving on to a high point, we spent an hour scanning and looking. We saw a max. of 3 Black Vultures and several Booted Eagle, although 3 Great Bustard were the highlight. From the high point we saw lots of Calandra Lark, this big lark with dark underwings and white trailing edge, and a distinctive song. Although our goal were bustards, here we heard and saw Little Bustard, with a day total of 60. It was refreshing to see so many Corn Bunting, literally on every post- these along with Crested Lark, the commonest birds of the day. Although thorough searching produced 4 Thekla Lark, Short-toed Lark and 2 Stone Curlew. Lunch was taken down one of the rough tracks. This produced several Montagu's Harrier quartering over the fields and very confiding Great Spotted Cuckoo. In the afternoon we reached a wet area, with a few dead trees, colonised by Cattle Egret and White Stork, which passed back & forth. This also revealed 4 Little Egret. Throughout the day Griffon Vulture were overhead- with a day total of c200. Black Kite were also regular during the day, as were Lesser Kestrel. The extensive plain also produced a day total of 5 Quail, seen but not heard. 8 Southern Grey Shrike also added to the days tally. After a long day on the plains we returned for a welcome shower and change of clothes, a beer/ wine and another great meal back at the Finca.
Overnight both Nightjar and Red-necked Nightjar were heard, which again added to our tally. Today we headed north to one of the best areas in Spain for birding, the Monfrague National Park. Although before breakfast we headed west to an excellent spot. Here Azure-winged Magpie were seen, with the now familiar Calandra Lark in abundance. In the low grass we had many Little Bustard, which showed fairly well, although a Wild Boar was a surprise. But 14 Great Bustard showed extremely well. Although just a single Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was located. A Great Spotted Cuckoo was also observed. Back to the Finca we had a welcome breakfast and excellent coffee to kick start our day. Our first main stop after the drive north was the monastery above Pena Falcon, not before recording Honey Buzzard on the way there. Parking, we made the climb (& steps) to the top. The views were incredible, amid the dozens of Griffon & few Black Vultures, Alpine Swift chattered along the top at eye level. In the tower Chough circled noisily. Egyptian Vulture gave us the hat-trick of vultures. Checking the buntings we had Cirl as well as several Rock Bunting. We moved round the corner to the view point at Pena Falcon. At road level we had several Blue Rock Thrush, as well as several Black Redstart on the rocks. Black Stork nest here, and it wasn't too long before a nest was found. Above were many Crag Martin. After lunch we continued down the valley and turned off towards the dam wall of this flooded valley. Accompanying us were several Black-eared Wheatear On the way back we stopped at a Bonellis Eagle site, and true to form a pair showed fairly well, as they flew to the distant nest. At a well known view point we searched for Eagle Owl, spotting Cettis Warbler and Rock Bunting in the process. After a while we found a juv. in the nest, alas no adults were seen. Driving back Woodchat Shrikes were common by the road side. Again another exhilarating day, and time for a beer and sit down in the grounds before another meal!
We abandoned our pre breakfast jaunt in favour of an early breakfast, so we could get straight off for our big loop westwards, getting into the heart of Extremadura, where we would see lots of birds, and very few people in this wilderness. After breakfast it was into Trujillo to stock up on supplies for lunch. Heading west we stopped at the plains where we were at the previous day. Here we had 3 Black-eared Wheatear. This proved wise with 6 Great Bustard, although tantalisingly both Pin-tailed & Black-bellied Sandgrouse were heard, but not seen. Moving on we wound our way down a shallow valley, stopping at a bridge over the Rio Almonte, a river we would cross again. Here we had Little Ringed Plover and Red- rumped Swallow. From here we continued west towards Caceres, leaving the tarmac roads behind and venturing on rough tracks stopping whenever we saw anything. Straight away we had Black Vulture, ever present all day were Griffon Vulture. Other frequent raptors included Booted Eagle, many Black Kite and 2 Red Kite. Everywhere were Calandra Lark, which allowed all to become familiar with this big lark. Even more common was Corn Bunting, with 100's seen & heard. If possible, even more common were Crested Lark, with 1000's seen today. Also seen regularly were Short-toed Lark. In the middle of nowhere we ate lunch whilst watching larks and pipits. Disappointingly just a single Little Bustard in the wilds, although Montagu's Harrier very fairly regular, where we turned off the tarmac. A surprise was Black Stork, which must have strayed from Monfrague. On the electricity pylons by some roads, nest boxes had been erected, and many were occupied by Roller, which allowed great views of their crazy display, from the comfort of the car, as the pylons/ nest boxes were close to the road. Spotless Starling were also regular on our westward jaunt, as were Spanish Sparrow, although we had just a single Great Spotted Cuckoo. From here we approached Caceres, and almost back to civilisation. Stopping at the dammed Rio Almonte we stopped, scanning the dam sides, whilst Alpine Swift were constantly overhead, as were lots of Crag Martin. We had no Wheatears, but x2 Blue Rock Thrush, sang & showed well, with a brief Hawfinch over. Our final stop of the day, near Torrejon El Rubio, was a regular Black-shouldered Kite site, which today wasn't so regular, maybe we got the time wrong, as it was still warm and sunny, they tend to show, when the temperature drops slightly in the late afternoon. We completed our loop and back to the Finca for a much needed shower. Tonight it was a night in Trujillo and a charming restaurant , where we had plenty to east and drink. An early night followed our big day, not before a flyby view of a Red-necked Nightjar in the car park of the Finca and Scops Owl heard.
Our final full day in the Extremadura region. We returned to the plains for a pre-breakfast jaunt, and weren't disappointed Black-eared Wheatear greeted us, as did many Calandra Lark & 4 Montagu's Harrier, although the best bit were 36 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse that flew in, calling away, and landing in front of us, superbly lit by the morning sun, showing every detail, this topped by 9 Great Bustard. Following a deserved breakfast we went to the greener, more agricultural areas in the south. Although the plains to the south were worth a brief visit, with 500+ Corn Bunting, 2 Little Bustard and lots of very showy Roller. Continuing south we came to a wide, shallow, very green valley, which was used for growing rice, which also had a very useful open aqueduct and river, that was a draw for many birds. Azure-winged Magpies were in evidence, Many of the rice paddies had been drained, but the area is still attractive to birds. Here we had Black Redstart. Although the highlight were 21 Collared Pratincole, which showed very well as the noisily hawked insects over the fields, and gave great views. Many of the rice paddies held Cattle Egret, with 200 seen today, although just 2 Black-winged Stilt & 2 Marsh Harrier were seen & 2 Quail heard. There were plenty of Hoopoe feeding in the dry fields. Crested Lark were much in evidence, with 100's seen, and 11 Waxbill on the boundaries. Lunch was taken by the road bridge over the river, which was greatly over grown, providing cover for several Great Reed, Cetti's & Melodious Warbler, with Little Bittern & Purple Heron flying over the road. Golden Oriole were also seen & heard by the river, although zapping through were more Waxbill and single Red Avadavat. More migrants included a pair of Pied Flycatcher by the aqueduct. On the way back we stopped off at a very large reservoir, which was a challenge, as most birds were on the far side. Black-headed Gull were evident, as were Great Crested Grebe, both familiar birds. Less familiar were 5 Grey Plover, clearly moving through the area. Little Grebe & 200 Mallard were on the main body of water, plus Red-crested Pochard & Shoveler. Although the highlight were 50 Gull-billed Tern, which fished in front of us.
Our final day in Spain, following breakfast we packed & bid our farewells to the friendly staff at the Finca and made our way north back to Madrid, not before making one last stop at several roadside pools on the outskirts of Almaraz. Black Vulture were overhead, with Cetti's & Savi's Warbler evident. Fan-tailed Warbler zipped around. Scanning the ponds we found Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Purple Heron, and the highlight- 3 Purple Gallinule. We arrived back in Madrid, in time to drop of our vehicle and check-in, in time for our return flight back to Liverpool airport, where we were met buy our luxurious coach, that brought us all back to Sheffield. The end to another fab GB tour!
All photo's © Philip Ridsdale 2008