|Extremadura 2012 Tour Report 3rd May -9th May|
The group assembled at Throapham, boarding the taxi to Liverpool airport. An uneventful journey saw us arrive at Liverpool and after checking in had coffees in the departure lounge. Our departure was delayed slightly, but we made up time arriving in Madrid. We quickly and successfully collected all the baggage. It was then out to the front of the airport to pick up our transport for the week, a Mercedes Vito people carrier, which easily swallowed our cases and birding gear. By 17:30 we were driving round the south side of Madrid and heading out of town, SW towards Trujillo and our base for the first five days of the tour. Traffic tailed off the further south west we went and the countryside became far less urban. We typically saw lots of Black Kite, with a smattering of Red Kite and Buzzard and several Black-winged Kite hunting by the main road as we sped south west. We also picked up several Griffon Vulture, some quite low as well as a Black Vulture and a few Booted Eagle. Slightly more obvious were many Cattle Egret feeding/ breeding in colonies by the roadside. Other notable species we picked up on the way included poor views of Azure-winged Magpie, several Black-winged Stilt, Bee-eater and an impressive spiral of c150 White Stork. After two and half hours we left the main road and turned off into Trujillo, here we picked up Southern Grey Shrike. It was only 10 mins to our base, a Finca (farm), which offer excellent accommodation and food and geared up for birding groups.
Approaching the Finca we had better views of Azure-winged Magpie and arriving at the Finca itself we heard 2 Nightingale in full song, with a back drop of Woodlark singing too, all from the car park- this was heaven. We unloaded the van, sorted our bags out and went straight into the evening meal, which was very welcome. A few glasses of wine and a good meal finished off our first day. Walking back to our rooms we could hear the distant repetitive call of a Red-necked Nightjar, a fitting end to our first day, with our first full day in Extremadura eagerly anticipated.
A pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of the Finca was an excellent start to the day. Typically Azure-winged Magpies were abundant, as were several Golden Oriole. Amid the more unusual sounds were familiar calls of home, such as Cuckoo. A Hobby shot through whilst walking around the grounds. Not so visible were several Nightingales some of which were seen in the gloom of dawn. Other dominant songs were several Wood Lark, heard from our rooms- a great sound to wake up to. Sardinian Warbler was the commonest sylvia warbler, not so common was a Wryneck, calling and eventually seen on a pylon. It was a bit damp and grey so breakfast was welcome, especially the hot tea and coffee. Replete with cold meats, fruit, yoghourt, jams & cereals we left for a days birding.
After breakfast we headed not too far from the Finca, to Belen Plain. The weather wasn't great. It was dull, grey, overcast with occasionally heavy showers. Undeterred we pressed on. It certainly didn't dampen the Calandra Larks or Corn Buntings which numbered in their hundreds. The former singing away and flying around- the distinctive long wings, with dark underwing and prominent white trailing edge very obvious. The rain kept the Egyptian Vultures on the deck, but Hoopoes were numerous, after the many insects forced out by the bad weather. Scanning the expansive grasslands the familiar raspberry call of Little Bustard was heard and before long we saw several individuals as they took short flights across the plains revealing their black and white wings. Despite the rain there were quite a few Black Kite too, some in flight, some sat on the ground- looking despondent. At the highest point of the plain we stopped and scanned 360 degrees, this produced 2 ringtail Montagu's Harriers quartering the cultivated fields. Other raptors included a fem Marsh Harrier.
A Great Spotted Cuckoo zapping through was a welcome addition to the days list. From the top of the plain we could see about half a dozen Great Bustard- driving further the track revealed a shallow hidden valley with a further 10 adults serenely feeding- a great sight and one of the reasons why we come to Extremadura. Passerines weren't over looked. Amid the many Calandra Larks & Crested Larks were 2 Short-toed Larks, picked up by their buzzier calls. We went into Trujillo for a late lunch, which was duly taken in the main square- great pork steak sandwiches and a cool beer with Pallid Swifts, Lesser Kestrel & White Stork overhead. Near the car park is a small park with a large pond which held 2 Common Sandpiper, several Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover and Little Grebe. The bullring produced excellent views of lots of Lesser Kestrel and Spotless Starling. After lunch we checked out the valleys to the north of Trujillo. Black Vultures were obvious- their size standing out amid the Griffon Vultures and Black Kites, Lots of Booted Eagles (pale and dark phases)and 2 Short-toed Eagle which showed very well indeed, were also seen. Looking down Crag Martin and Red-rumped Swallow were evident. Among the many Swift were a few Pallid Swift if you looked carefully. The river banks produced Woodchat Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler & Cettis Warbler. The familiar bubble of Bee-eaters was heard as flocks went >N at some altitude.
We returned to the Finca in time for a shower and change of clothes, plus the odd beer!. We ate a great evening meal in the old pressing room, with red wine and liqueurs. Retiring to the main block we held our log/ callover and reflected on a great day from the rain in the morning to the raptors in the afternoon. After the evening meal and before retiring some of the party listened for and were rewarded with a not too distant Red-necked Nightjar.
An early morning saw the group venture away from the Finca. We headed to the plains west of Trujillo. Cattle Egrets loomed out of the gloom, but soon the sun rose, although the highlight were 6 Black Vultures and lots of Griffon Vulture disturbed from a carcass. Scanning the plains we counted a total of 6 Montagu's Harrier, lots of Great Bustard showing well and Stone Curlew. Lots of Southern Grey Shrike by the roadside, vying for post space with Corn Bunting, including a road casualty- a juv. Southern Grey Shrike from a large nearby brood, which was picked up and placed by the roadside to recover. We also saw several Pintail Sandgrouse, including 7 on the ground which eventually showed, having landed/ walked just over the brow of the hill in front of us. Their striking plumage impressing all.
Returning for breakfast and around the Finca were Hawfinch, seen over the vineyards/ wires and several Scops Owl heard during the night/ early morning. After breakfast, with a poor weather forecast we headed to the the greener south with it's rivers and green fields. Along the way we called off at several plains to see what we could see. Almost immediately we had a small parties of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, their bubbling purring calls heard from afar. Slightly out of place were several Collared Pratincoles, no doubt from the nearby farmland looking for food. Little Bustard were also evident, some visible in the shorter cropped fields, grazed by sheep and cattle. Here we also heard the familiar call of several Quail. The track took us across the plain. Taking us away from our destination we retraced our steps. Not before watching half a dozen Roller displaying and disputing territories- lots of vivid flashing blue!- after being reprimanded by the local police for stopping on the track side. Apparently its bad to stop/ park on the edge/ verge of the road. Given how manic some of the drivers are we continued to pull as far off the road as we could, once the police were out of sight! Amongst the cattle were other black brutes- namely 4 Raven, with 2 Short-toed Eagle overhead. We probably dipped on Trumpeter Finch, as a distant dull bird with a red bill, seen by some, could only have been this species! Wonder where it came from? lots more Great Bustard here as well- giving a day total in excess of 60 birds!
Continuing further south through well irrigated, agricultural farmland we recorded lots of Azure-winged Magpie, but we never tired of watching them. Booted Eagle was the most common raptor after Black Kite, Marsh Harrier & Lesser Kestrel . We stopped and spent a lot of time by some old rice paddies, which produced more Collared Pratincole squawking away! Here Fan-tailed Warbler 'zipped' away. Black-winged Stilt were also seen at roadside pools and Waxbills were common by the roadside. In cover by a river were 4 Melodious Warbler, Garden Warbler, Serin, Golden Oriole and Great Reed Warbler. The old farm buildings holding lots of Azure-winged Magpie and Spotless Starling too. On our return journey we detoured to a large reservoir- here we had Gull-billed Tern, a brief fly through White-rumped Swift, c50 Great Crested Grebe, Red Kite, Coot and Shoveler. A nearby wooded track held hundreds, if not thousands of Spanish Sparrow! Wryneck and more Red Kite. It was a weary group that returned to the Finca was a wash and brush up with another excellent meal in the Finca- followed by a few welcome cold beers as we completed our log.
Today is the big day when we take a big loop out to the west before returning via the north- this route taking in some of the most wild areas of the regions, and some of the roughest roads! Having an early breakfast we headed straight out, not before recording at least 4 Scops Owls during the night, Barn Owl, Nightingale and Woodlark around the Finca. Heading west our first port of call were the plains near Santa Marta de Magasca, here we had 3 Little Bustard, the familiar call of Black-bellied Sandgrouse was heard as several small flocks flew right past us, lit by the morning sun. Back at the usual spot were 7 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Here were also c20 Great Bustard, 50 Cattle Egret, Raven and Great Spotted Cuckoo were also seen. Moving further west we hit a well vegetated valley, here we had a few Booted Eagle overhead, as well as Egyptian Vulture. Griffon Vultures which were constant companions, with a day total of 300 birds. During the day we had at least 12 Short-toed Eagle. Some quite low, affording great views.
Taking a right turn on a very rough road which took right us over the plains, we had a nice group of Booted Eagles, as well as Black Vulture, 2 ad Golden Eagle, and a very nice Montagu's Harrier, of which this was one of 15 seen during the day. The plains were lush and typically we had lots of Calandra Lark- we literally had 100's during the day, with almost as many Corn Bunting. We also had 4 Fan-tailed Warbler which seemed out of place in the dry, arid heat of the plains. The middle of the plains are very remote with grassland in all directions, and a few distant farms- here we had a nice Marsh Harrier over. As well as several hunting Lesser Kestrel and lots of Black Kite, and a few Red Kite. Towards the end of the road a line of wooden pylons held several nest boxes, these occupied by Rollers which gave a great tumbling display. On roadside posts were lots of Woodchat Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike and in and around farms- lots of Spanish Sparrow.
A short drive brought us to the dam on the Rio Almonte- this a regular stop. Immediately we heard the trill of several Alpine Swift among the Crag Martin and House Martin. A few Blue Rock Thrush showed and sang well. Our target was Black Wheatear, many eyes scanning the far side of the dam, scanning the rocks. After a long scan, feeling despondent, we were about to give up when we spotted a black & white bird disappear into a hole in some masonry- sure enough it was of a pair of Black Wheatear, this about as far north as they get. From here we drove back east, making several stops. On stop was a regular site for Black-shouldered Kite, sure enough after an anxious wait an adult flew into view, giving pretty good views as it flew up the valley. Whilst watching a Black Stork went over with 6 Quail calling from the long grass of the fields in front of us. Driving back past Trujillo we picked up Black-winged Stilt and Pallid Swift. A long day out, but well worth it for the species we had and the views we obtained.
Our final full day in the Extremadura region. We ventured around the tracks near the Finca- here we had several Sardinian Warbler, Short-toed Eagle, lots of Serin and a Hawfinch. After breakfast we decided to head north and into the magnificent Monfrague National Park. We called off at several valleys en-route. Alpine Swift was recorded at one such valley, amongst the many Crag Martin. We also had Fan-tailed Warbler and lots of Woodchat Shrike in the river valleys. Arriving in the park we first stopped at the monastery. Here we climbed the steps to the top, which was worth it, with great views over the surrounding countryside as well as Griffon Vultures and Black Vultures at eye level. Our target here were the raptors, but with a special eye open for White-rumped Swift- an expanding colony summers here. We scanned the skies around the monastery- sure enough we had several zoom past as they fed along the ridge, a new species for several in the group. Amongst the Swallows, House Martin and Swift were many Red-rumped Swallow. From the monastery we looked across to Pena Falcon, which held lots of nesting birds.
We dropped down to the road and the viewing area of the crag. Here we had several Blue Rock Thrush on the rock face, as well as Rock Bunting and Black Redstart. Bee-eaters were also evident as the moved north, calling as they flew over at altitude. Nesting at the foot of the crag were several Black Stork. At the top a Peregrine shot over and landed, the air constantly full of Griffon Vultures flying back and forth. Azure-winged Magpie are still common here, with 25-50 seen during the day. We had lunch at one view point over looking a dam. Lots of vultures over as well as a Bonellis Eagle and Subalpine Warbler in the bush by the van. We estimated at least 300 Griffon Vultures during the day as well as 5 Egyptian Vultures. Driving around the dams we headed east towards the valleys and view points. Here we had a Black-eared Wheatear perched on a twig- they do seem scarce this year. Here we also had several Thekla Lark, allowing us to compare plumage and songs with Crested Lark. Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting were much in evidence. Several Crested Tit were also found in the scrubby woodland.
From Teiter View point we scanned across and had great views of 3 juv. Eagle Owls, the ad's somewhere in attendance out of site. We also had Cetti's Warbler calling from cover, but without doubt the birds of the hour were a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagle, which nested nearby. The birds flew low and high, and even perched close by offering amazing views, much to the delight of all- this one of the star birds of the tour!
Driving back we called off at several more view points. At one we had a Great White Egret feeding on trapped fish in a receding pond in the valley bottom, this an unexpected extra. We also had an ad. Eagle Owl by the roadside at another viewpoint, with our first Orphean Warbler too singing away. Looking down the valley to a regular spot, we found a nest of Bonelli's Eagle, with both adults in attendance. From this spot we also had several Dartford Warbler. We headed back south to Trujillo having had an excellent day. Monfrague definitely living up to its reputation. We picked up more Cattle Egret and Black-winged Stilt on the journey back. At the Finca we enjoyed another sumptuous meal , closely followed by our callover and a few well deserved beers. Tomorrow we headed north.
Our final day in Extremadura. A final early morning at Belen Plain produced c50 Calandra Lark, loads of jangling Corn Bunting & 200 Cattle Egret. An Egyptian Vulture put in an early morning appearance as did c100 Griffon Vultures, c100 Black Kite, c25 Lesser Kestrel. 2 Little Bustard also showed well with just a single Great Bustard. Following breakfast we packed & bid our farewells to the friendly staff at the Finca and made our way north back to Madrid continuing further north to the Burgomillodo area, On our way north we called off at the water areas around Almaraz, a short drive from the motorway- this provided us with a different range of species from the Extremadura area. 2 Black Vultures soared over head as did c50 Bee-eater. Looking up also revealed a flock of c100 White Stork thermalling. In the reeds the explosive rattle of Cetti's Warbler. In nearby scrub 3 Fan-tailed Warbler zipped away. In the denser cover we had several Nightingale, some giving teasing views. The reedbed also produced 4 Savi's Warbler, allowing us to get to grips with the faster less buzzier call than Grasshopper Warbler. The areas of water were the main focus with 12 Heron and single Great White Egret seen plus 2 Night Heron, an adult and immature as well as 2 Squacco Heron, 2 Purple Heron. We also found several Black-winged Stilt but 4 Purple Gallinule were a star attraction. 3 Gull-billed Tern quartered the water. At lunchtime we continued north past Madrid to our stay at Burgomillodo. Our hotel offered some good birding within a few miles. Black Redstart on the hotel roof was a good start with Grey Wagtail & Common Sandpiper on the nearby stream.
Keen and eager for Dupont's Lark we quickly dropped our bags off and shortly after headed for the nearby plains. Stopping at likely spots we saw 2 Booted Eagle and a quarry with c60 Choughs calling and flying around. Reaching the plains we scanned the short scrub. Several Montagu's Harrier were seen, Crag Martin soared over head as did a close Short-toed Eagle. The scrub produced several Sardinian Warbler and a pair of Spectacled Warbler. After a few false starts of picking up Crested Lark and Short-toed Lark we heard the unmistakable call of a Dupont's Lark, then another. Nearby a perched bird was heard, and eventually picked up. Sat on a small rock, its head and back visible. The ';swinging gate' song heard clearly as we looked at this well patterned lark with a long decurved bill. He turned around and everyone in the group had a great view of this bird. In total we had 3 birds here, 2 of which were seen well. A great way to end the day. We returned to our hotel and our very comfortable rooms. We enjoyed a three course meal and a few beers. Heading for bed we dreamt of more Dupont's Lark tomorrow.
Our final day in Spain, but a memorable one. Some woke early and explored the area around the hotel. A rocky path lead to a ridge producing Rock Sparrow, Dartford Warbler and Booted Eagle plus 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker 5 Bonelli's Warbler, several Nightingale, Golden Oriole, 6 Rock Bunting, 9 Rock Sparrow, and Spotted Flycatcher. After breakfast we gathered our things and checked out, heading straight back to the Dupont's Lark site, before our short drive back to Madrid and the airport. Back at the Dupont's Lark site we parked up and walked along a track for about a mile. This produced 4 Black-eared Wheatear, 2 Booted Eagle, c40 Chough calling over head and an Egyptian Vulture. Then we heard Dupont's Lark again and picked up a bird song flighting- a great view. Another 2 birds were picked up. At the end of the track a huge canyon opened up, this produced a total of c30 Griffon Vulture flying around plus single Red Kite and lots of Black Kite. 20 Bee-eater went overhead. The scrubby area also produced more Orphean Warbler, as 2 birds had been recorded on the way in a shallow valley next to the road. This proved a good stop as we also had Wryneck and several Woodchat Shrike. Also in the scrub thepair of Spectacled Warbler were showed well, plus 2 Subalpine Warbler. On the headland a Tawny Pipit was found plus 2 Woodlark. Having had great views of Dupont's Lark again it was time to hit the road. We arrived in good time and boarded our flight back to the UK, reflecting on what had been a spectacular tour with all the target birds found, and seen well. Here's to the next tour here!
All photos © Gone Birding, Andy Hirst, Mick Clay & Duncan Bye 2013