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Monday, 12 November 2012

Extremadura, Spain 12 - 19th November

Tour leaders Chris Mills & Ricardo Montero

Participants:- Mel Pond, Adie Haggett, Tony Parnell, Wendy Parnell,
Slobodan Jovanovic & Daphne Hayward

Our trip was arranged on a Self-catering basis with continental breakfast provided. We stay in a 3 storey white washed house in a small mountain settlement, there are 2 double rooms with en-suites, plus 2 Twin en-suite bedrooms & 1 single room. The house is a lovely traditional example set in a typical white walled, narrow streeted Spanish mountain village.

Evening meals were not included in the cost of the tour, but were arranged each evening at the local bar & on average a 3 course meal (simple Spanish food) with a couple of glasses of wine cost 16 euros per person.

Easyjet flight from Luton & Heathrow to Madrid are reasonably cheap.


I met up with the group in Madrid at the airport, unfortunately Soba called to say his flight had been cancelled & he would arrive much later, so after a bit of delay we headed south-west for the accommodation.

Ricardo Montero the accommodation owner & my good Spanish birding friend provided us with a minibus & undertook all the driving. He was keen to stop off en-route at a good Bustard site he had visited a week or so before.

We left the airport in lovely warm sunny conditions! As we drove along the highways we picked up off a few of large & obvious species, WHITE STORK, RED KITE, GRIFFON VULTURE, MARSH HARRIER & IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE – it got the juices flowing!

The Bustards site was just a short detour off the main highway & wow! We couldn’t believe our luck! We had around 2 hours & scored heavily, 25 GREAT BUSTARD, 1 LITTLE BUSTARD, 40+ BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE, 150+ CRANES overhead, 3+ HOOPOE, lots of CRESTED LARK, CORN BUNTING & BLACK REDSTART & 2+ IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE. Of less note to us English birders were a covey of 25 RED-L-PARTRIDGE!

We arrived in the dark at Cabezabellosa we offloaded into the accommodation. We then had our evening meal in the local bar; again typical Central Spanish fare, washed down with some of the local wine & beers, and finished off with a local lacquer.


The morning started bright with blue skies, we headed straight over to a lovely local area of pools & dehesa near Villar de Plascencia. The minibus made several short, sharp stops as everyone called the birds along the lanes. The first real stop produced great views of a small group of ROCK SPARROW a species which can sometimes be elusive! Also several CRANES were feeding below the cork oaks.

At the pools a good selection of birds were present, plus fantastic views of 2 OTTER! Birds of note were 2 GREAT WHITE EGRET, LITTLE EGRET, CATTLE EGRET 1 BLACK-WINGED KITE (our first but brief views  of this much sort after raptor), 12+ RED KITE, 20+ CRANE, GOLDEN PLOVER, groups of LAPWING, 2 GREENSHANK, 1 COMMON SANDPIPER, 1 GREEN SANDPIPER, 2 KINGFISHER, BLACK REDSTART, 2 WOODLARK, CRESTED LARK & a lovely group of 50+ ROCK SPARROW.

With such great weather it made perfect sense to head to explore the beautiful Monfrague NP & look for raptors & Vultures. We headed first for the famous Salto del Gitano – this famous cliff face hosts Europe’s largest vulture colony. We had good views of the 12+ BLACK, VULTURE, 100 GRIFFON VULTURE, 2 BLUE ROCK THRUSH, PEREGRINE, RED KITE, we also noted many CRAG MARTIN, the bushes held CHIFF-CHAFF, BLACKCAP & SARDINIAN WARBLER

We then headed back towards the Monfrague NP centre, but first of all a stop near the bridge. This is my most successful area to look for Bonelli’s Eagle. A couple of scans picked up more vultures, but a few minutes later we had everyone out of the van, scopes pointing skywards – 2 ADULT BONELLI’S EAGLE showing really well as they soared along the ridge. Eventually one bird flew off & the other came to rest in one of the trees, near the top of the crags. Everyone was then afforded perched view as the BONELLI’S EAGLE sat surveying its home range.

The views & vulture filled skies were a good chance to have our picnics.

Post lunch we headed for another eagle stake out. The first stop on the bridge to admire a GREY HERON incredibly produced the 3rd OTTER of the day!  Then another short stop in a wooded area, added some more target species – with first really good views of 20+ AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE, plus 2 cracking FIRECREST, several HAWFINCH & 2 CRESTED TIT.

On a role we headed for Portillo el Tietar & arrived perfectly on time as we scanned skywards. 100+ GRIFFONS filled the air, plus several BLACK VULTURE.

A SPARROWHAWK kept us entertained, then just a few minutes later we locked on to an eagle sp. As it drifted towards us we realised it was a cracking ADULT SPANINSH IMPERIAL EAGLE it provided good views as it drifted overhead & then started soaring before disappearing from view.
The cliffs also produced another BLUE ROCK THRUSH on the rock stack opposite.
We finished A highly succesful day with a drive along the tobacco fields, a nice roost of 160+ CRANE, 6+ GOLDEN PLOVER, SHRIKE, 4 GREAT WHITE EGRET, 4 GREENSHANK, GREEN SANDPIPER & 2 LITTLE OWL – 3+ IBERIAN GREY the latter eventually located calling from a cork oak.
We stopped off in Plasencia for an evening meal before heading back to Cabezabellosa.

We had breakfast around 7.30am before heading off on the long journey to the high level mountain area at Pena Franca.
As we drove through the “dehesa” we constantly stopped to admire groups of CRANES feeding on the ground, we also had very nice views of small groups of ROCK SPARROWS.
We stopped off halfway along the small mountain roads, as much to stretch our legs! A short foray along a track looking on to the mountain slopes produced a few birds – GRIFFON VULTURE, 2 BLACK VULTURES, 50+ RED KITE, ROCK BUNTING, CIRL BUNTING, WOODLARK & BLACKCAP, SARDINIAN WARBLER & SEVERAL DARTFORD WARBLER.
After the long steady ascending drive, we eventually reached the monastery at the top of the mountain area of Pena Franca, we stopped on the entrance road to admire several of the IBERIAN IBEX. Then almost immediately as we entered the car parking area an ALPINE ACCENTOR was found & showing very well, eventually 5-6 ALPINE ACCENTOR, were all showing very nicely affording everyone stunning views. Around the ridges we had several other good birds, lots of BLACK REDSTART, with a PEREGRINE putting in an appearance & amazing views looking down at GRIFFON VULTURE & BLACK VULTURE soaring below us!
The best was yet to come, incredibly Mel & Adie had found a SNOWFINCH! I knew instantly this was a rarity, the closest I had seen one to here was in the Pyrenees! I found Ricardo & he confirmed that this was a major find. We successfully stalked the bird down to a few metres securing some good images, everyone getting point blank views!!
We then headed down the hillside on the opposite side to the road we had arrived on & eventually found a picnic area to lunch at. Lunch was soon disrupted as an ADULT GOLDEN EAGLE majestically soared along the ridge, we found several more DARTFORD WARBLER.
We stopped off, but were unsuccessful in our search for Crossbill, it was a long drive down the mountain, but it had proven well worthwhile! We stopped off for coffees & headed back.
We finished the day with an evening meals & wine in the village of Cabezabellosa.


We had breakfast around 7.30am before heading off at 8.30am for a day of birding in the plains areas. We centred our birding at the westerly area of the plains exploring many of the minor unmade tracks, both by vehicle & on foot – it proved highly successful!! Our first stop & walk scored with many of the target birds -
All of the above species were seen perched on the ground, with very good views of GREAT BUSTARD & LITTLE BUSTARD.
We also had wonderful flocks of CALANDRA LARK (100+) & good flocks of pipits & finches. These of course attracted the attentions of a few raptors with SPARROWHAWK & 3 HEN HARRIER all noted. Lunch was taken overlooking a reservoir area, first 2 GREAT EGRETS were a distraction, but food was definitely secondary as 2 GOLDEN EAGLE flew overhead providing wonderful views.
Through the day we added a nice selection of other birds as well 2 BLACK, VULTURE, 12 GRIFFON VULTURE, 20 COMMON BUZZARD, 100+ CRANES, the fields were full of LAPWING, plus smaller no’s of GOLDEN PLOVER, 2 GREENSHANK, 1 GREEN SANDPIPER, 10 HOOPOE & lots of SPOTLESS STARLING, STONECHAT & BLACK REDSTART.
The hedges & overhead lines held good numbers of SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE we saw more AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE & we also noted SERIN & SPANISH SPARROW.
En-route back we stopped off firstly in an agricultural area of the plains & were quickly rewarded with by the far best views thus far of a BLACK-WINGED KITE. Then in Plascencia we stopped & searched around the town edges in some rural fields adjacent to the river – here we had great views of HAWFINCH & also added a scarce overwintering species RED-RUMPED SWALLOW.
We finished the day with an evening meal & wine in the village of Cabezabellosa.

We had breakfast around 7.45am before heading off at 9am for Arroyocampo.
We were quickly on to 2 BLACK-WINGED KITE before we had even reached the reserve. We had nice scope views of them perched in dead trees.
At the Arroyocampo reserve we had a slow start – no Penduline Tit & no Bluethroat, despite Ricardo having seen them a week ago! But we moved quickly on & soon we had located 4+ PURPLE SWAMPHEN, plus several MARSH HARRIER, WATER RAIL was heard, ZITTING CISTICOLA showed very well perched along the fenceline. A group of 17 COMMON SNIPE were nice to see, there were small numbers of other waders – GREEN SANDPIPER, COMMON SANDPIPER, GREENSHANK – all noted. SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE were numerous in this area & both GRIIFFON & BLACK VULTURE were noted overhead

We then headed for the area of Valcadenas Reservoir – this is a massive body of water surrounded by some large dehesia & plains. It certainly proved a worthwhile visit – 250+ COMMON CRANE, 11 GREAT BUSTARD, 7 BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE, many RED KITE – plus good numbers of wildfowl – 2 GREAT CRESTED GREBE, 200+ GREYLAG GEESE, that hosted a real Spanish rarity – PINK-FOOTED GOOSE, clearly Ricardo was a lot more excited about this than we were!! Also 40 TEAL, 50 GADWALL,  50+ WIGEON, 6 POCHARD, 30+ SHOVELER, 250+ COOT. Finally a screaming male MERLIN passed whizzing by in hot pursuit of pipits!

We finished off the day with Tapas, olives & wine in Plascencia

We started the day by exploring the rocky fields close to the accommodation at Cabezabellosa. We had good views of ROCK BUNTING, but the main species of interest were 3-4 THEKLA LARK. They showed very well & this enabled close scrutiny & a study of all the detail required to be sure of the ID. This species had proven confusing & difficult on previous visits! As we walked back down the hillside, we had brief views of 2 DARTFORD WARBLER, more obliging were a nice flock of 30 SERIN that sat along the roadside fences. Plus RAVEN, RED KITE & CHOUGH all passed overhead.
We then headed to the rural farmlands & gravel pits of the Gallisteo area.
On arrival we were treated to an amazing mixed flock of birds taking advantage of a maize crop 100’s of SPANISH SPARROW, lots of CHAFFINCH, SERIN, but the highlight was 500+ BRAMBLING! We then moved on & could hear LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER, but frustratingly we couldn’t locate it, several ROCK SPARROW were noted. A superb male HEN HARRIER also flew over hunting the masses of passerines.

We then checked out the gravel pit area, we scored really well here with good views of PENDULINE TIT, plus CETTIS WARBLER,  COMMON WAXBILL & RED AVADAVAT both eventually seen well. Plus SNIPE, WATER RAIL numerous REED BUNTING & another OTTER also in this area.
The pools added a good selection of wildfowl, SHOVELER, GADWALL, TEAL, MALLARD all expected species, plenty of LITTLE GREBE.
We drove on to a nearby area of rice-fields & from the minibus, we found  GREENSHANK, 50 SNIPE, 10 DUNLIN & 50+ WHITE STORK.
The first really poor weather of the trip arrived late afternoon & we arrived at Gabriel Y Galans Reservoir in the pouring rain, we managed to take some shelter, but in the poor light the Cranes appeared in small numbers around 200 CRANES roosted, but we did add STONE CURLEW a flock of around c30 present along the shoreline.

Having had a very successful trip & secured all of the main target species we decided to revisit the Monfrague NP area.
We arrived perfectly on time at the famous & beautiful rocks of Pena Falcon, looking upwards to bird filled blue skies!  300+ GRIFFONS filled the air, plus several BLACK VULTURE, the spectacle keeping us entertained for a couple of hours. But of course more birds came into view with BLUE ROCK THRUSH, SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, PEREGRINE & one last sought after species & the first time I had seen one at Monfrague – BLACK WHEATEAR. Ricardo picked them up first distantly on the top of the cliffs, but we were spoilt as eventually 2 BLACK WHEATEAR made there way over towards us & provided excellent views for everyone!
In the afternoon we took a short circular walk from the visitor centre & had great views of FIRECREST, ROCK BUNTING & HAWFINCH. Close views of several RED DEER as well.
Later despite staying until near dark we were unable to see or hear Eagle owl, which was surprising considering the three I noted here earlier in the year.
We finished the day with an evening meal on the outskirts of Plascencia before heading back to our accommodation.

Departed the accommodation & then had a brief visit to Villar de Plascencia pools where we had a lovely selection of birds were - 2 GREAT WHITE EGRET, LITTLE EGRET, CATTLE EGRET, 12+ RED KITE, 50+ CRANE, 2 GREENSHANK, 1 COMMON SANDPIPER, 1 GREEN SANDPIPER, 2 KINGFISHER, BLACK REDSTART, 2 WOODLARK, CRESTED LARK & one more new species for the trip 3 BLACK STORK!!.
The journey back to the airport wasn’t without birds – INCREDIBLY 10 GREAT BUSTARD were noted in fields adjacent to the dual carriageway & a juvenile SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE was noted during a coffee stop!
We eventually arrived back at Madrid airport we said our farewells & got on our flights back to the UK.

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