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EXTREMADURA & GREDOS
13th - 20 MAY 2009

Leaders: Dave Read & Andy Shooter.
Participants: Andrew Przeslak, Tim Roberts, Dickie & Doreen Bird, Jim Boot, Paul Bateman and Michael Howes.

 

WEDNESDAY 13 TH MAY
Our trip began with a direct flight to Madrid, where we landed safely and were soon out of the airport, and out of Madrid without delay, but not before two Monk Parakeet flew over the motorway in front of us. Besides the parakeets the first part of the journey was pretty quiet with about 30 minutes passing before spotting our first raptor, a pale phase Booted Eagle. Next came a few Black Kites, but no one could of guessed what was to follow when a large raptor was seen briefly as it dipped behind a motorway bridge embankment. Once at the other side we looked back and was surprised to see an immature Golden Eagle with its large white panels in the wing and white tail.

Our first stop was at a small farm on the approach to Saucedilla, where we enjoyed our first views of Spanish Sparrow and Bee-eater. Next we moved to the Embalse de Arroyocampo, where we were soon enjoying the many White Storks and Black Kites that nest here. Highlights here included Purple Heron, up to 3 Little Bittern, 8 Gull-billed Terns and a distant Purple Gallinule. While Cetti's, Savi's, and Great Reed Warbler were all heard singing, although only the latter showed itself.

We then continued on to Trujillo where we were based for the next five nights, checking into our rooms before gathering in the restaurant for our evening meal. The meals here were of a good standard and the menus had English names making ordering a lot easier.


THURSDAY 14 TH MAY
After breakfast we headed straight to Monfragüe National Park, stopping first at Pena Falcon, a steep pinnacle of rock formed by the Rio Tajo and home to some 200 Griffon Vultures, which gave excellent views as they soared overhead. In addition to the Griffons, Black and Egyptian Vultures were also noted, as was a female Peregrine.  Around the car park we added Black Redstart, Red-rumped Swallow, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush.   A Black Stork on the nest, containing a single small chick was also much appreciated.

Moving to the castle car park we walked up the steps to the Castillo to view over a larger area to scan for raptors, though the views were fantastic we couldn't add to the raptors already seen, although Rock Bunting, Alpine Swift, Short-toed Treecreeper and Red-billed Chough were all added.  We then continued to a known site for Bonelli's Eagle, and sure enough after about 30 minutes a single bird flew over, although sadly it didn't hang around. Other highlights here included a Nightingale perched in the open, a family of Stonechats and a very obliging Melodious Warbler.

At our next stop we shared our packed lunches with up to a dozen hungry Azure-winged Magpies, before visiting Portilla del Tietar, the famous Eagle Owl site. As with all the crags in the area Griffon Vultures and Black Kites were common while other raptors included more Egyptian and Black Vultures and a Short-toed Eagle, however the highlight was without doubt an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, which gave good flight views. Sadly though no Eagle Owls could be found. Next we decided to have a quick drink in a nearby café, before heading back towards Trujillo via Monroy where up to 7 Montagu's Harriers were added.


FRIDAY 15 TH MAY
The day started with a morning visit to the plains east of Trujillo, where up to 25 Great Bustards were seen,. Up to 10 Little Bustards also showed well, with several males displaying. Larks were abundant and included our first Calandra's of the trip. On the way back to the hotel for breakfast two Little Owls were noted.

After breakfast we headed south to an area of paddy fields near Madrigalejo. Our first stop was at a large reservoir where on arrival 2 Gull-billed Tern flew over. A quick scan of the reservoir revealed only Coot and Great Crested Grebe, so we set off to walk to the southern bay, which is always the most productive. On the way a splendid male Black-eared Wheatear was found and up to 4 Thekla Larks were identified. Once at the bay a pair of Red-crested Pochard was the only birds of note other than an all-dark immature Egyptian Vulture, which flew low overhead.

Continuing on towards Madrigalejo our first stop came when a Roller was found on the roadside wires, which gave good views. Next we pulled up at a small pool on the edge of town, which in previous years had always been reliable for Red Avadavat, though sadly this was now largely fenced off and access to the best area could not be gained, as a result we failed to find this species. We did however find a roosting Squacco Heron, and a Little Egret flew over. We then moved to the Rio Ruecas, where we had our packed lunches. While here a family party of Cetti's Warbler was found deep in cover and a pair of Common Waxbill went some way towards compensating for missing Red Avadavat.  Penduline Tit was also heard calling, but could not be located.  Moving a short distance, we checked an area of rice fields, which held 2 Black-winged Stilt, 2 Redshank, a single Lapwing and a flock of c30 Little Ringed Plover. Meanwhile 5 Gull-billed Terns hawked low over the water.

We then returned to Trujillo, for a short rest and a break from the midday sun, before going out onto the pains west of Trujillo in the evening. This provided us with more sighting of Roller, Montagu's Harrier and Calandra Larks. We made a stop over the Rio Tamuja where excellent views of Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Martin were enjoyed and a Kingfisher hunted from rocks.  Also here were several small snakes later identified as Viperines.


SATURDAY 16 TH MAY
After breakfast we walked up to Trujillo Castle where Lesser Kestrel showed much better than the few Pallid Swifts that were also noted there. Serin also showed well here but it was the castle itself and the fantastic views from it that made this a worthwhile stop. We then headed to the Sierras de Villuercas, an area of high mountain ridges to the northeast of Trujillo. Several Rock Bunting, Black Redstart and Sardinian Warblers were present and this Blue Rock Thrush gave excellent views. However it took a little time before we found our target, the impressive Black Wheatear, which once located gave reasonable scope views, with both male and female present.

Next we moved back down the valley and stopped for lunch at what appears to be a small stream, though in fact this is the start of the Rio Almonte. Crested Tit was soon added, (though views were all too brief) along with Grey Wagtail and various raptors. With temperatures now soaring, we again decided to head back to Trujillo for a short break, and let the heat of day pass before revisiting the Embalse de Arroyocampo in the evening.

Once at the marshes Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Cattle Egret were all seen, along with at least 3 Night Herons. Gull-billed Tern and Savi's Warbler were again present, though thankfully this time the latter was singing in full view. One of the highlights here was when a Great Spotted Cuckoo flew low over the reeds and was forcefully mobbed by a Great Reed Warbler.  Nearby the discovery of no less than 4 Black-winged Kites perched on a pylon was another of the days highlights.

With time pushing on we relocated ourselves to Portilla del Tietar for another attempt at the Eagle Owl. On arrival the crowd of assembled birders all had their scopes trained the same way (always a good sign.) But to our surprise the majority were actually watching an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle perched in the nearby Oaks. The rest of course, as predicted, were on one of the owl chicks, a near fully-grown, though still very downy individual.  After a short while the second owl chick was discovered nearby, and eventually one of the adults was found, with all 3 giving prolonged scope views. Meanwhile nobody had noticed the eagle had left its perch and was soaring over the crags. It then flew over the valley and disappeared over the ridge behind us, luckily it re-emerged some time later and gave excellent views.

Next we moved a short distance to look for Red-necked Nightjar, noting several Red Deer on the way. After some time we were just about to give up and try at another site when Andy glimpsed our target.  A few bursts from the tape, it soon started singing back and eventually showed, albeit briefly allowing most of the group good enough views to note its larger size compared to European Nightjar.  With an excellent bird filled day behind us, we returned to Trujillo exiting the park to the north and straight back down the motorway. However our day wasn't over yet, as not far beyond Portilla del Tietar a large shape was spotted in the headlights crossing the road. Obviously not another deer, as we got closer we were all amazed to see not one but three large Wild Boar, the third accompanied by 8 small piglets. A fitting end to what had been an excellent day.


SUNDAY 17 TH MAY
With this our last full day in the Extremadura region, we decided to concentrate on the plains as we were still missing both Sandgrouse, breaking this up with a number of stops at various river valleys on the way. With this plan in mind we headed straight to the plains west of Trujillo, to a site that had always provided Pin-tailed in the past.  Sure enough soon after arrival the flight call of this species was heard and 4 birds spotted in flight.   Heading further west we pulled up and scanned an area of short steppe, several Crested and Calandra Larks were present as was a single Short-toed. The highlight however was 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouse which flew directly over us, allowing everyone to see how distinctive this bird is, even in flight.

Heading further west towards Cáceres more of the plains were explored, before reaching a dirt track across what is described as some of the best areas of open grassland in the region. The start of the track held several Montagu's Harriers, 2 Roller and adistant flock of 7 Great Bustard along with a gathering of Griffon & Black Vultures. Further along the track little of interest was recorded until the last stretch, where Great Spotted Cuckoo and Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola) showed well at the side of the road, several Southern Grey Shrikes were also noted.

Next we headed for Monroy stopping first at the bridge that crosses the Rio Almonte, where we had our lunch. As with many of the bridges of the area it held several pairs of Crag Martin and Red-rumped Swallow, but unlike most it also houses a colony of Alpine Swift, which always give breathtaking views. Sub-alpine Warbler was also noted.  Continuing to Monroy we turned off and headed to Trujillo, again stopping at the Rio Almonte, and although little of note was added here, further on we had another encounter with an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle circling over the plains. We then decided to retreat to Trujillo and cool off in one of the local bars with a few drinks and have an early night ready for an early start in the morning.


MONDAY 18 TH MAY
We started the day with another pre breakfast visit to the Belen Plains, where once again we were treated to excellent views of Little Bustard, although Great Bustard didn't show as well as on our first visit. One of the highlights was a very obliging Hoopoe, which showed exceptionally well in the early morning sun.

After breakfast we packed up the minibus and made a start on our journey north to the Gredos, passing through Monfrague on route, where we couldn't resist one last stop. As normal Griffon Vultures dominated the skies, with smaller number of both Black and Egyptian noted. Probably the highlight here was when Andy, after much searching managed to locate a pair of White-rumped Swift, which although distant, showed on and off for 20 minutes or more. Up to 5 Blacks Storks were also noted, .

We then continued through Plasencia and up the Valley del Jerte, one of the main routes into the Gredos. This road climbs into the mountains following the course of the Rio Jerte, although little of note was seen until we turned off on to the Puerto de Honduras road. Almost immediately this road winds through an area of Oak woodland, where we stopped for lunch by the side of a small river, Golden Oriole was seen on several occasions flying though the woodland and Grey Wagtail was noted on the river. The striking Southern White Admiral butterfly was also noted here. The road then continued to climb above the tree line, with low sub-alpine scrub now dominating the hillsides. A number of stops were made between here and the pass, adding Blackcap, Dartford Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Northern Wheatear and eventually a pair of Ortolan Bunting to the list, the latter in particular showed very well.  Back on the main road we continued towards the hotel, leaving Extremadura behind as we crossed into the Province of Avila.  As always raptors were never far away, with Red Kites replacing Black as the commoner of the two at this altitude, two Honey Buzzards were also noted circling low over the road.

Once at the hotel ‘The Parador de Gredos' we checked in and had some time to ourselves, either to relax after the journey or bird around the hotel grounds before dinner. Many of the group opted for the latter, with a good selection of woodland birds found nearby including Western Bonelli's Warbler, Crested Tit, Coal Tit and Pied Flycatcher, though the star bird for those who saw it was Citril Finch, with at least two birds (male and female) present. Meanwhile Red & Black Kite, Goshawk, and both Short-toed & Booted Eagle were all seen from the hotel.


TUESDAY 19 TH MAY
The day started with another walk around the woodlands surrounding the hotel, with the aim of making sure the entire group had seen the above-mentioned species seen the previous evening. This was done without too much trouble, although the main target of Citril Finch eluded us at first. Goldcrest was added to the list as were three very obliging Firecrest.

We then moved up the valley and into the Reserva Nacional de Gredos, where we walked into the mountains in search of our targets. Dunnock and Water Pipit were soon added, as were our first Spanish Ibex with several females and young high up on the mountaintop. It wasn't long before we managed to locate our next target species, Rock Thrush, with a single male singing and displaying just over the valley, which although a little distant gave reasonable scope views.

Climbing higher still we were treated to an incredible encounter with this fearless male Spanish Ibex, which approached us inquisitively down to just a few metres.  Birds included more Dunnock and Water Pipits, as well as Northern Wheatear, Skylark and a few Yellow Wagtails of the race iberiae (Spanish Wagtail). Overhead both Black and Griffon Vultures passed over along with a Short-toed Eagle. The group then split again with Andrew and Paul opting to continue to walk to the very top, while the others went back down to the car park for lunch. On the way down our next target bird, Bluethroat was located and gave good views, though it proved rather elusive at first. Once back at the van we drove down the valley for lunch by the side of a river. Afterwards we went further down the valley to the start of the pinewoods to have some time looking for raptors. Both Kites were present but the main species here was Honey Buzzard with at least 6 birds present.

We then returned to the car park to pick up Andrew and Paul, who had also seen Bluethroat higher up.  With the group now reunited we headed back to the hotel for a much-deserved rest before our evening meal.


WEDNESDAY 20 TH MAY
With our journey back to Madrid ahead of us we had little time for birding today so opted for one last walk around the pinewoods close to the Parador. With the exception of Citril Finch, which we could not locate, all of the species recorded here previously were noted, with particularly good views of Firecrest again.

This brought the trip total to a very respectable 144 species of birds recorded.

We would like to thank all the group for your participation in this tour, which has proved to be our most successful to date in this region. We hoped you enjoyed it as much as we did and hope you might join us on another sometime in future.

 

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