28 April to 2 May 2017
Early departure at 03:45 for a flight to Madrid from lovely Luton. Temperature on arrival a mere 3 degrees centigrade. Extremadura boasts a wide variety of habitat (Cork and Holm Oak forests (Dehesa), grass land, rivers, reservoirs, scrub, mountains) and low human population with the result that it supports a wealth of wild life. Having some insider ‘birding gen’ certainly is critical for the hard-to-find species, but quite frankly, it is amazing what a non-expert could spot along the quiet roads and byways without too much effort. The land scape was sweeping and colourful with a back drop of the Sierra de Gredos mountains, snow capped and rising to 2,591 at Pico Almanzor.
We dropped bags at Villar de Plasencia, a maze of a village where we got quite disoriented. This became the norm in most of the villages we travelled through. The road map was hopelessly lacking in detail but made for some exciting driving on incredibly narrow and sometimes steep streets, watched by bemused residents. We headed to Puerto de Tietar in Monfrague National Park and with patience were welcomed by a Spanish Imperial Eagle as well as Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures.
The following morning the weather was poor. We explored the Embalse de Arrocampo-Almaraz where there are a number of hides, ideal to escape the worst of the rain. These however proved a mixed blessing – one had a door that would not open, one had a door that once opened, would not close, forcing us to sit in a howling gale. The last had no seating, so it was impossible to see out of the hatches. Fortunately the weather cleared and hiding no longer a necessity. We saw, black shouldered kite, little bittern, swamp hen and purple heron, Spoon Bill, amongst much else.
Purple Heron, Swallows, Sand Martins and Swifts
Cattle Egrets and Black Winged Stilts
We drove to Salto del Gitano and the Monfrague Castillo in the heart of the National Park. The sun now high in the sky, Griffon, Black Vultures and Black Kites cruised, drying their wings after the rain. Also a wonderful sighting of Black Storks, far less prevalent elsewhere than their white counterpart.
We climbed the steps up to the castle and then up the tower. We followed the path down to the river. The walk made me realise that our planned hike up Breche de Roland later in the summer, was going to be more of a challenged than previously reckoned, cancer treatment through the winter having knocked me back.
That evening we supped on fried Dorade at Villar Real de San Carlos.
The following morning we were up for the dawn and out looking for Western Orphean Warbler. Alas it eluded us due to gale force winds and driving rain. Next stop Embalse de Talavan.
Then on to Rio Almonte to seek nesting Alpine Swifts. After a while we realised we were at the wrong river crossing. Eventually we found the correct bridge but no Alpine Swifts. However, we did get a rare sighting of a lovely Golden Eagle.
Old and new roads over the Rio Almonte
The roads were so empty we could reliably stop bang in the middle
That evening we landed at Casa Rual El Recuerdo, just south of Trujillo, home of Martin Kelsey whose knowledge of the bird populations is unsurpassed. The following morning armed with Martin’s clear directions we went in pursuit of Great and Little Bustards, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Rollers all of which we saw.
Trujillo in the morning haze
Roller boxes on electricity pylons
Scrub and grassland
At sun down, we walked 2/3rds up one of the village lanes and perched ourselves on a sun-warmed stone wall. Holding our breath, we listened for a Red-necked Nightjar. The weather was perfect, warm and still. Insects, particularly moths, in abundance. And then we heard it – a car alarm. That’s it! The bird soared right over our heads, circled, and came back over. A world tick for Andy.
Up and out early on our final morning to seek out more Bustards. We got them. A gaggle of males, females all hidden away egg sitting.
There’s a Cattle Egret in there somewhere!
Great Bustard in the scope
Then we took a slow route back to Madrid crossing a great plain between Belen and Deleitosa where we came across a Vulture fest in full swing!
Five Griffons crossing the road
Then on through Valdecanas de Tajo, Bee Eaters and Theckler Larks at close range.
A mad dash to the airport followed. No time to pick up petrol. Walked straight through on onto the plane, last on. Great trip!
(All logged en route on BirdTrack – never leave home without this fabulous app!)
Great White Egret
Great Crested Grebe
Birds of Prey:
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Little Ringed Plover
Common Sandpiper (dog place)
Stone Curlew (opposite side of road to track to first bustards, under trees)
Near passerine (perching birds)
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Great Reed Warbler
Blue Rock Thrush