Extremadura and the Sierra de Gredos - May 26th - June 1st 2008

Published by Bob Buckler (bobbuckler49 AT hotmail.com)


Leader: Bob Buckler Wingspan Bird Tours


Overcast skies and frequent showers dominated the whole week, at times the clouds cleared, the temperature rose and we had pleasant spells of bird-watching. The last two days were spent in the mountains where it was a few degrees cooler and the rain returned with a vengeance we lost a lot of birding time due to very dull overcast conditions.

Itinerary: Monday 26th May

After a short delay, whilst we all met up, we eventually left Madrid airport and headed Southwest for Trujillo. Our first birds were Common Swifts hawking the terminal buildings quickly followed by Spotless Starling, we stopped for a picnic lunch about halfway to Trujillo where we had good views of Crested Lark, White Stork, Black Kite and a distant Booted Eagle. As we approached Trujillo bird sightings became more frequent and we added Cattle Egret and Azure-winged Magpie to our list.

We drove through a number of rain showers during the latter part of the journey eventually arriving at our hotel late afternoon. After settling into our rooms at Finca Santa Marta we toured the wonderful court yards and annexes and then onto the gardens. When we met in the car park the weather had improved and we had bouts of warm sunshine as we set off for a stroll along one of the many tracks. We quickly became acquainted with the sight and sound of the Azure-winged Magpie and after a short while we found Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Sardinian Warbler and heard several Golden Oriole before catching a brief glimpse of one in flight. Dinner was taken at the Finca, which is a converted olive mill, we were served dinner in the wonderful olive-crushing room where the 19th century olive presses are still installed.

Tuesday 27th May

Cloudy and overcast for most of the day with outbreaks of heavy showers.

An early walk around the Grounds of Finca Santa Marta produced some very interesting sightings, a large group of Hawfinches was the highlight and fortunately they showed well enough for all the group to have good views of them. We heard more Golden Orioles and a Common Cuckoo, we had good sightings of Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet and Stonechat. A Melodious Warbler sang from a tree-top for all of us to enjoy, whilst family parties of both Blue and Great Tits moved along the hedgerows. Towards the end of the walk a curious sighting was had of a Little-ringed Plover in a ploughed vineyard and at the same time a brilliant male Golden Oriole showed briefly.

After being fed and watered we toured the steppe around Santa Marta de Magasca travelling via Trujillo. Our first stop produced a good sighting of a Great spotted Cuckoo calling, in flight, then perched on the traditional fence wire. We had excellent close views of Thekla lark and Calandra Lark, several Hoopoes and Black Kites before we set off for our next destination. We parked on a high ridge overlooking many acres of grassland where hundreds of Spanish Sparrows were feeding and as we edged our way down a dirt track we sighted our first Great Bustard. Although the bird looked soaked it stood very stately and walked slowly and elegantly as it went about its business. An extraordinary piece of raptor-action went on above us as we watched a Montagu’s Harrier being harassed by two Black Kites. The Harrier was carrying a small kill and it climbed higher and higher to escape the bombardment of the kites, but eventually it dropped its meal and one of the kites caught it mid-air and flew off. In the meantime the other kite continued to mob the Harrier.

Other birds of note were Short-toed Larks, Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Common Buzzard and dozens of White Storks. Moving on we drove around Santa Marta and stopped at a bridge overlooking the Rio Magasca on the road to Monroy. It was fairly quiet but we did get great views of Crag Martins as they hawked below us showing off there white tail markings as they turned. At the next bridge, that also crossed the river Magasca, we saw more Crag Martins, Red-rumped Swallows, Cirl Bunting, White Wagtail and a pair of Booted Eagles. We ate lunch there hoping to stay dry during our meal.

The next bridge we stopped at was on the Monroy-Casares road and proved quite productive for us. The usual Crag Martins and House Martins were visiting their nests under the bridge but they were joined by Alpine Swifts which we saw after about ten minutes of waiting. We then searched the rocky river banks for Black Wheatear which again proved elusive but was eventually seen well by all the group. Another highlight was the discovery of a Short-toed Eagle perched on a rock in the near distance, we had great views.

Our last port of call was a nest site of the Spainsh Imperial Eagle which was located some 2km down a bumpy track. An adult female stood proud and regal over their chick at the nest which was watched from some distance but we still had enjoyable views. We then spent a good half an hour tracking down an Orphean Warbler that flitted from tree to tree giving us short excerpts of its wonderful song. We soon realized that the bird was collecting food and was visiting a single tree to deliver its catch. Well we staked out the tree for a while getting some incredible close views of this usually shy bird. Other birds that we found nearby were Woodlark, Bee-eater, Turtle Dove and the very common Hoopoe.

Wednesday 28th May

Very cold first thing but a brighter day with some sunshine and the odd shower later.

Another early start found us driving across the dehesa west of Trujillo towards Casares, we stopped just after the Santa Marta turning and began searching the open plains for anything that moved. There were hundreds of Calandra Larks, Crested Larks, Thekla Larks and Corn Buntings all making an effort to be heard above each other. Hoopoes were very common, we saw one group of five and many pairs, also Montagu’s Harriers seemed to be everywhere. A line of telegraph pole supported nest boxes that were taken up by Rollers, Jackdaws and Common Kestrels. A little further along a bumpy track we found Red-legged Partridge, a Black Vulture in the middle of a ploughed field, two stunning male Black-eared Wheatears and a Spanish Imperial Eagle sitting on top of a domed brick storehouse! After about hour we finally found a Little Bustard, well just its head protruded above the tall grass, it was making its raspberry blowing noise but could hardly be heard because of the cold breeze and all the Quail that were calling.

We were late for breakfast but enjoyed it all the more after a cold start to the day. After our well appreciated repaste we set off south of the Finca passing through Zorita and stopping on the plains near Campo Lugar. There were many birds in the sky including a distant Black-winged Kite which unfortunately disappeared far too quickly. We also saw Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, an Egyptian Vulture, many Black Kites, several Lesser Kestrels and a Great Bustard in flight. The local Bee-eaters looked resplendent in the bright sunlight and the very common Hoopoe showed off its crest to us. Heading back towards the Zorita road we saw several Collared Pratincoles in flight so we stopped to admire these unusual gems, they landed not far off and posed for us.

We made a short stop at the dam of the Sierra Brava reservoir where we watched Gull-billed Terns, Black-headed Gulls and Red-crested Pochard on a distant island. There were several pairs of Great-crested Grebes and a couple of Great Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds on the river-side of the dam. From the dam we could see vast tract of land that were flooded in preparation for rice growing which is now a thriving industry in this part of Spain and it was there that headed for next.

We sat and ate our picnic lunch at the disused railway station at Madirgalejo, the rail-track has been converted to a cycle track and nature conservation area. Form the picnic benches we saw many Spotless Starlings some of which were making all kinds of strange mimicry and some well known calls such as Bee-eater and Golden Oriole! We also had much better sightings of Roller and Souther-grey Shrike which both sat beautifully on a telephone wire.

We then ventured through the town of Madrigalejo and onto the rice paddies proper, first we stopped at a disused bridge over the Rio Gargaligas where short glimpses were had of Common Waxbill and good views were had of Great Reed and Reed Warblers, also Cetti’s Warbler, Nightingale, Little Bittern and Kingfisher.

Driving deep into the rice fields near Vegas Altas we got closer views of Gull-billed Terns and Black-headed Gulls and we eventually found a very good area with lots of birds. A rice paddies recently flooded held a good flock of both Dunlin and Ringed Plover whilst just beyond them were many Gull-billed Terns, Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls, a single Whiskered Tern and six Black Terns. The latter two species were hawking over the water in characteristic marsh tern fashion. Moving on we found more Whiskered Terns much closer to the track and several sightings of Tree Sparrow were had.
We eventually left that area of the rice field and finished off the day in an area adjacent to the Rio Ruecas just north of Madrigalejo, we saw more Collared Pratincoles, Bee-eaters and Hoopoes and on a bridge overlooking the river we had exceptionally close views of Kingfisher. Other birds of note were Long-tailed Tit, Melodious Warbler, Golden Oriole, Zitting Cisticola and Sardinian Warbler.

Friday 30th May

We met in the car park at 6:45am with the intention of visiting the Belen Plains, the sky was full of dull cloud and it was absolutely windless but with no threat of rain, this boded well for plains-watching. Our arrival at 7:10am was perfect as the light was good enough to ‘scope’ the area, soon we were onto our target bird, the Little Bustard and what a performance he gave us. He stood proud and issued his ‘raspberry-like’ call many times, suddenly he got really excited when another ‘raspberry’ call came from across the track. This heighten his activity, he would stamp his feet as though running on the spot leading up to a climax when he completed left the floor outstretching his wings to stop himself from falling flat on his face, much to our amusement.

Several other birds were brought to our attention, especially the now, ubiquitous, Hoopoe, but also a small group of Great Bustards (14) and many Calandra Larks. Lots of White Storks stalked their prey in the long grass and hundreds of Cattle Egrets followed Cattle across the plain looking like white litter scattered far and wide.

This was to our last breakfast at Finca Santa Marta so we took our time, we packed our things and loaded up the bus and we were on our way by 10am. We passed through Trujillo and onto Monfrague Nat. Park heading for Plascencia. At Monfrague we stopped at Penafalcon and found White-rumped Swift (3), many Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite, Blue-rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and several other species. We also stopped in a lay-bye just above Villareal where we logged Woodlark, Orphean Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Nightingale and Corn Bunting.

Our next stop was alongside a babbling brook in the Valle de Jerte on the road to Huertas, we ate our picnic lunch watching Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush and listened to Blackcaps. After eating we walked a short way up a track and had fantastic views of a male Golden Oriole. It began to rain but we continued our drive up the mountainside and spent a couple of hours stopping and watching from various watch-points. We noted Red-legged Partridge, Rock Bunting and one of our target species Ortolan Bunting. The rain increased which defeated us, so we retreated back down the hillside and continued our journey to El Barco. One other stop was taken at the car park of the nature reserve at Garganta del los infiernos, we only watched the river from a bridge because steady rain was falling, we watched Blackcaps ‘flycatching’ over the fast flowing water and a family of Robins spent sometime just below us.

We arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of El Barco around 5pm where we quickly notched up Northern Wheatear, Crested lark, Black Redstart and Carrion Crow all in the hotel grounds. There was still time for a quick hour in the field so we set off driving through El Barco towards Avila, we stopped after a short drive at a large open tract of water meadows. We were soon watching Spanish (Yellow) Wagtail and a distant Nightingale which was mobbing a Weasel that was hunting along a stone wall. The rain increased again so beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel.

Saturday 31st May

We met in the hotel reception for an early morning walk which took us up the driveway and onto a lane leading out of town. In the grounds we saw Northern Wheatear, Raven, Carrion Crow, Crested Lark, Black Redstart, Stonechat and Spotless Starling. We also heard Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, Golden Oriole and Blackcap. Walking along the lane we found Woodchat and Red-backed Shirkes, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Corn Bunting, we had excellent views of Golden Oriole. Other birds of note were Black Kite and more Carrion Crows.

We departed the hotel at 9:15 and headed west towards the Sierra de Gredos parque national, passing through several villages along the way. We turned off the main road and headed for the ‘Platforma de Gredos’ at Hoys del Espino. A bridge stop was made first where we had brief views of Coal Tit and even less views of a fly-passed Dipper. Walking in nearby pine woods we saw a Red Squirrel and a pair of Pied Flycatchers that were collecting food and delivering it to a nest box close-by. We spent another hour walking the woods and not seeing much, but the cloud cover broke and the sun shone for a short while, this gave the raptors a chance to show. In a short time we saw Booted and Short-toed Eagles, our first Honey Buzzards (3), Griffon Vultures and a Red Kite.

Working our way up the valley we stopped several times to scan the hillsides, at a stream we saw another Dipper, briefly and notched our first Common Whitethroat. At the next stop we made quite an intensive search of the scrub covered hillside, we found Dunnock, Whitethroat and Dartford Warbler. After about an hour the clouds parted for a short while so we decided to eat our lunch and soon after, with the skies brighter, our target bird came out to sing, a beautiful male Bluethroat appeared not far below us on top of a bush and delivered its tuneful song. What a gem, we watched it for five minutes before it disappeared as quickly as it arrived. We then drove to the top of the valley and parked in the car park, we scanned the steep rocky slopes and produced only Rock Bunting, Spanish Wagtail and a small flock of Linnets, high up on the mountain top we saw Spanish Ibex and more Griffon and Black Vultures.

We then headed down the valley to find our last hotel of the trip, just a few kilometers further along the main road was the Parador de Gredos, a tremendous building on the edge of the pine forest and our home for a night. We checked into our rooms and met in the car park for an afternoon sortie. However the rain increased and put paid to most of the afternoon. We drove aimlessly for a couple of hours trying to find shelter and perhaps an area where the rain was lightest. We saw several species which included Melodious Warbler, Rock Bunting, Nightingale (heard), Tree Sparrow, Serin and Black Redstart but we gave up and returned to the Parador for an early shower.

Sunday 1st June

Our last day was well spent, the weather improved as giving a parting gift to a weary group. We met at 6:45am in the car park and set off for the short journey to the Platforma de Gredos, fifteen minutes later we were disembarking in the car park at the base of the trail to the Platforma. The weather improved by the minute, the low cloud drifted away and tiny breaks appeared giving us glimpses of blue sky. Our first sightings were of mammals, Spanish Ibex fed high up on a ridge, next we saw Rock Bunting and then Dunnock. As we walked the stone pathway we made frequent stops to look and listen and after half an hour we found a glorious Rock Thrush singing its heart out for us. A great sighting and this was quickly followed by a number of high altitude species such as Bluethroat, Ortolan Bunting, Northern Wheatear, Spanish wagtail and Dunnock. A Water Pipit gave us the run around for a while before we all got views of it. Now the sky cleared of cloud and we had glorious sunshine, the first of the whole week! The birds came out to salute it and we enjoyed watching all the above mentioned birds for another hour before we set of back down the mountainside.

We finished breakfast, packed our belongings and met in the car park at 10:30am for our final couple of hour birding in the hotel grounds. The hotel is surrounded by pine woods with pen glades of grass and wildflowers, we walked the glades and notched up an enviable list of species that would whet most birders appetites and would outshine most hotels in Europe. Close to the hotel and nesting in the walls and the main building were Black Redstart, Crag Martin, White Wagtail and Coal Tit, in the pines we saw Goldcrest, Crested Tit, Cirl Bunting, Citril Finch, Serin and Goldfinch. Passing overhead we saw Hobby, Red Kite, Black Kite and Griffon Vulture. A couple of birds heard and not seen were Green Woodpecker and Blackcap.

Finally we had to leave and after loading up the bus we set off for Madrid, our scopes were packed and our list complete so no birding was done on the return journey. We recorded a few fly-overs during the journey which included Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard, Griffon Vulture and Crested lark. We reached the airport in good time for our return flight to London, passing through several bouts of rain along the way, just as we had on the outward journey, we were sad to leave such a wonder place for birding but happy, maybe, to see the back of the wet weather.

Species Lists

1. Great Crested Grebe
2. Great Cormorant
3. Little Egret
4. Cattle Egret
5. Grey Heron
7. Purple Heron
8. Squacco Heron
9. Black-crowned Night-Heron
10. Little Bittern
11. Black Stork
12. White Stork
13. Mallard
14. Gadwall
15. Red-crested Pochard
16. Egyptian Vulture
17. Eurasian Griffon Vulture
18. Black or Monk Vulture
19. European Honey-Buzzard
20. Red Kite
21. Black Kite
22. Black-winged Kite
23. Booted Eagle
24. Spanish Imperial Eagle
25. Short-toed Snake-Eagle
26. Common Buzzard
27. Western Marsh Harrier
28. Montagu's Harrier
29. Eurasian Hobby
30. Common Kestrel
31. Lesser Kestrel
32. Peregrine Falcon
33. Common Quail
34. Red-legged Partridge
35. Common Moorhen
36. Eurasian Coot
37. Purple Swamphen
38. Great Bustard
39. Little Bustard
40. Black-winged Stilt
41. Stone Curlew
42. Collared Pratincole
43. Common Ringed Plover
44. Little Ringed Plover
45. Dunlin
46. Yellow-legged Gull
47. Black-headed Gull
48. Little Tern
49. Gull-billed Tern
50. Black Tern
51. Whiskered Tern
52. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
53. Black-bellied Sandgrouse
54. Rock Dove /Feral Pigeon
55. Eurasian Collared Dove
57. 56. European Turtle-Dove
58. Common Wood-Pigeon
59. Great Spotted Cuckoo
60. Common Cuckoo
61. Eurasian Eagle-Owl
62. Little Owl
63. Red-necked Nightjar
64. Common Swift
65. Pallid Swift
66. White-rumped Swift
67. Alpine Swift
68. Common or River Kingfisher
69. European Roller
70. European Bee-eater
71. Eurasian Hoopoe
72. Great Spotted Woodpecker
73. Eurasian Green Woodpecker
74. Calandra Lark
75. Skylark
76. Woodlark
77. Crested Lark
78. Thekla Lark
79. Greater Short-toed Lark
80. Eurasian Crag Martin
81. Barn Swallow
82. Red-rumped Swallow
83. House Martin
84. Water Pipit
85. White Wagtail
86. (Spanish)Yellow Wagtail
87. Grey Wagtail
88. Dunnock
89. Cetti's Warbler
90. Savi's Warbler
91. Great Reed-Warbler
92. Eurasian Reed-Warbler
93. Zitting Cisticola
94. Melodious Warbler
95. Western Orphean Warbler
96. Garden Warbler
97. Blackcap
98. Sardinian Warbler
99. Subalpine Warbler
100. Spectacled Warbler
101. Common Whitethroat
102. Dartford Warbler
103. Western Bonelli's Warbler
104. Common Chiffchaff
105. Goldcrest
106. Firecrest
107. European Pied-Flycatcher
108. European Stonechat
109. Northern Wheatear
110. Black-eared Wheatear
111. Black Wheatear
112. Common Redstart
113. Black Redstart
114. European Robin
115. Bluethroat
116. Common Nightingale
117. Mistle Thrush
118. Eurasian Blackbird
119. Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush
120. Blue Rock-Thrush
121. Long-tailed Tit
122. Eurasian Penduline-Tit
123. Crested Tit
124. Eurasian Blue Tit
125. Coal Tit
126. Great Tit
127. Eurasian or Wood Nuthatch
128. Short-toed Treecreeper
129. White-throated Dipper
130. Winter Wren
131. Eurasian Jay
132. Eurasian Magpie
134. Azure-winged Magpie
135. Common or Northern Raven
136. Carrion Crow
137. Eurasian Jackdaw
138. Woodchat Shrike
139. Southern Grey Shrike
140. House Sparrow
141. Spanish Sparrow
142. Eurasian Tree-Sparrow
143. Spotless Starling
144. Eurasian Golden-Oriole
145. Chaffinch
146. European Serin
147. Citril Finch
148. European Greenfinch
149. European Goldfinch
150. Hawfinch
151. Eurasian Linnet
153. Corn Bunting
154. Cirl Bunting
155. Ortolan Bunting
156. Rock Bunting