Spain - 23rd - 29th March 2013

Published by Bob Swann (robert.swann AT

Participants: Bob Swann, Andrew Ramsay


For our annual spring jaunt this year we decided to visit the Extremadura area of Spain. In autumn 2012 we booked our flights from Edinburgh to Madrid with Easyjet. Prior to our visit we booked some accommodation and car hire.

23rd March. Left Edinburgh on 0800 flight and arrived in Madrid at 1045. Retrieved our bags and collected the car and were on our way by 1230, local time. From the airport we drove round the M40 ring road then NW up the A6. This proved to be a toll motorway (10.10Euro). At junction 82 we turned west down A51 towards Avila and then followed the N502. We stopped for lunch by the Rio Adaja. The fields held a nice flock of Linnet, along with Stonechat and our first Crested Larks. Walked down the river finding our first Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, as well as a pair of Mistle Thrush and a Stock Dove.

Continued SW then took the A941 west to Parador de Gredos. Parked by the hotel and walked through the pinewoods. Lots of Coal Tits, with Crested Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch and a few Long-tailed Tit. Good views of Firecrest and also a Goldcrest. Lots of Common Crossbills, mainly seen in flight. Good numbers of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and nice views of a yaffling Green Woodpecker.

After a couple of hours in the woods around the hotel headed further west to Hoyes del Espino. Walked through the very waterlogged meadows by a small stream. Had a flock of six Fieldfare feeding alongside Spotless Starlings and a White Wagtail. Returned to Navaredonda and checked into Hostal Almazor – it was very cloudy and starting to snow!

24th March. Headed out at first light to find there was a thin covering of snow. Returned to Parador de Gredos and walked down through the fields on the west side of the hotel. Nice flock of 10+ Rock Bunting, with a pair of Cirl Bunting and a few Song Thrush. By the old stables a pair of Rock Sparrow. Quite a few Black Redstarts, with many in song, despite the weather. Checked the pinewoods fairly thoroughly, though much as yesterday. Found a flock of c30 Siskin, but no sign of citril finch. Perhaps with the cold weather they had not arrived on their breeding grounds.

At midday left and headed south over Puerto del Pico, which was in thick cloud and it was raining. Joined the A5 near Talavera and headed west. At junction 190 turned off to Saucedella. Crossed over the main road at the first junction and followed a track down to the hides at the Arrocampo Reservoir. It was now dry but there was a very strong wind. Out on the water were a few Great Crested Grebes, a Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall and Coot. Along the water edge were lots of Little Egrets, Grey Herons, a few Great White Egrets, many Great Cormorants and three Common Sandpipers. Overhead a few Sand Martin and House Martin mingled with the Barn Swallows. In the adjacent fields flocks of Cattle Egrets and Jackdaws. Moved on to hide 2 which gave better views over the reedbeds and afforded good views of 8+ Purple Heron, 6+ Purple Swamphens, and we heard singing Savi’s Warbler and Cetti’s Warblers. By the edges were lots of Common Chiffchaff and pairs of Zitting Cisticolas. We moved on to hide 4, where extra birds included 2 Spoonbill and our first Marsh Harrier.

Continued south down the A5 cutting off towards Jaraicejo, then drove down old road to the bridge over Rio Almonte. Lots of raptor activity here with our first Black Vulture, 2 Booted Eagle and a pair of Short-toed Eagle. Amongst the hillside scrub found Thekla Lark, Serins and a Hawfinch.

Headed on towards Trujillo and then turned left for Belen. Navigated our way through the village out onto the plain and drove along a fairly rutted, rather muddy road. A flock of 35 birds wheeling over a field in a tight group turned out to be Little Bustards. The fields also contained good flocks of Calandra Lark, with a few Skylark, Thekla Lark and many Meadow Pipits. Along the field edges were flocks of Corn Bunting, Spanish Sparrows and a nice Woodchat Shrike. Heavy rain was threatening so we returned to Trujillo, checked in to Hostal Emelia and went out for a reasonable meal in Hostal Leon.

25th March. Up 0645 and after a basic breakfast headed back to the Belen Plain, seeing a couple of Common Swift at the edge of town. It was cloudy but dry. Found a male Little Bustard hunkered up in a wheat field. Many raptors, particularly Common Kestrel, Red Kites, Black Kites, a Short-toed Eagle as well as a Raven. Just before junction with C233 fantastic views of 2 Black Vulture and a Griffon Vulture perched together in a field. We then followed C233 west, crossed A5 and continued west. Just before junction with N630 stopped by a river. On the weir spotted a Green Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail, whilst a Common Cuckoo called from the adjacent trees.

It was now starting to rain heavily as we drove north up the N630. Stopped at the bridge over the Rio Almonte. By the river large numbers of hirundines, with 20+ Red-rumped Swallows and a few Crag Martins, many of former perched in a tree. Overhead a hunting Short-toed Eagle. Arrived at Monfrague to find a lot of low cloud. Drove up to the deserted top car park and walked up to the castle. As the cloud cleared large numbers of Griffon Vultures drifted close by, with a few Black Vulture and above them at least 6 Alpine Swift. The rain started again so we drove north over the bridge, through Villa de San Carlos then turned right on C911 heading east. Crossed a dam and stopped in the layby at Malavuelta. Nice photographable group of Azure-winged Magpies at picnic site along with Blue Tit and Chaffinch. Continued on to Mirador Tietar, where a roadside hide provided shelter from the rain. Good views of more GriffonVulture another Black Vulture and a couple of male Blue Rock Thrush.

Returned south and stopped at the layby opposite Penafalcon. The rain had stopped, so the crowds had appeared to admire the vultures. As well as 200+ Griffons, we had a few Blacks and 2 Egyptian Vultures, a Peregrine and fleeting views of a Bonelli’s Eagle. The local Black Stork sat high on a rocky pinnacle.

Returned to Trujillo and as we went out for a meal, hundreds of noisy Spotless Starlings were streaming in to roost in the town centre trees.

26th March. After an early breakfast we headed west on the N251, then turned right on C371. After a while a track went off to the right, by a nature reserve board. We drove along it a short distance, eventually getting good views of a group of 10 Great Bustard, three of which started displaying. Had a few Woodchat Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike and lots of singing Calandra Larks. The track soon became impassable so we returned to the N251 and continued west entering an area of scattered trees. Here we had a pair of Red-legged Partridge, a few Hoopoes and lots of Collared Doves. We skirted Santa Marta de Magasca and continued west. Just before the road joined the A58 another track went off to the right. By a large pool close to the start of the track we flushed 2 Common Snipe and saw 2 Northern Wheatear. We drove along the track seeing little new bar a Lapwing.

It had started to rain again so we decided to continue west round Caceres and on to Portugal. After two and a half hours we reached Vila Velha de Rodao. Lots of Griffon Vultures were on the cliff by the gorge, but no sign of the ruppell’s. Spells of heavy rain meant most vultures just sat on the cliff. Waited till 7pm then drove up to Castello Branco and checked in to the TRYP hotel.

27th March. Returned to Portas de Rodao after the low cloud had lifted off the hills. Griffons were sitting about drying their wings. Watched from observation platform till 5pm, it was a better day, quite warm with only a couple of showers. Raptors seen included a pair of Black Kite, a pair of Short-toed Eagle, an Egyptian Vulture and a Bonelli’s Eagle. Other birds seen included the pair of Black Stork, whilst the scrub held Jay, Sardinian Warbler, a Hawfinch and Greenfinch. With no sign of the ruppell’s retuned to Trujillo and checked into Nuevo Hostal Paulino.

28th March. Up early to find it was dry and bright! Headed west and returned to the first track off the C371 which we had visited on the 26th. Drove down it finding a group of 8 Great Bustard, then a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Good views of a male, then female Montagu’s Harrier and overhead had 5 Black Vultures. Returned to the junction with the C371 and noted a large raptor sitting on a post – a juvenile Golden Eagle. As we were watching it a group of c45 sandgrouse lifted out of the field behind and started to whiz about, some relanding in the field. They were Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

Drove up to Monroy seeing large flocks of Linnets, Goldfinch, and Spanish Sparrows with Corn Buntings in roadside fields. After Monroy drove NE a bit along EX290 for a few kilometres. Found another 2 pair of Montagu’s Harrier. Stopped by a flooded pool in the dehesas. Here we had 2 pair Little Ringed Plover, Grey Heron and a Great White Egret as well as lots of White Storks. Returned back down the EX290 and turned right on CC41 towards Talavan. Stopped at Embalse de Talavana. On the water were a few Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Coot, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and c20 Common Pochard. On the east side of the road in a clump of trees a Golden Eagle was sitting on a huge nest.

Drove back to the EX290 and continued south. Took road signed to Santa Marta de Magasca. This turned out to be very rutted and potholed so we abandoned it and returned to the EX290 having only seen Calandra and Thekla Larks and a large flock of Cattle Egrets. Bypassed Caceres and went east down A58, before turning off onto CC99 at junction 35. Just before we turned left down the track by the pool we located a nice flock of 29 Great Bustards. They were disturbed by a farmer and flew over the road just in front of us. Continued down the track and spotted a flock of c30 Black-bellied Sandgrouse. A bit further on located 3 male Little Bustard, which gave excellent close views. Then had great views of two Black and a Griffon Vulture perched in a field close to the track. Other raptors seen included Red Kite and another Montagu’s Harrier.

Returned to CC99 and continued west. In the dehesas spotted quite a few raptors including a Booted Eagle, Sparrow Hawk, Black Kite and Common Buzzard. Got back on to A58 and drove round Trujillo taking the EX208 north. At the junction of the CC128 explored some scrub by the roadside and found a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos and had another Booted Eagle overhead.

29th March. Up early to find the cloud and rain had returned. Headed south down EX208 and 355 to Vegas Altas. It was now raining very heavily. Drove around the flooded rice fields, but most were surprisingly birdless. One held 5 Black-winged Stilt, others Common Snipe, groups of Black-headed Gulls and small flocks of Water Pipits. A few Moorhens wandered about in the ditches, which also held Zitting Cisticolas. Along the field edges were small groups of Common Waxbills, with a few Stonechat, Southern Grey Shrikes and a Tree Sparrow. Despite the rain a Reed Warbler sang loudly from a small patch of reeds.

Returned north and stopped by the bridge on the north side of Madrigalejo. Due to high water levels, not much to be seen bar a few Blackcap and a Cetti’sWarbler singing right out in the open. Continued north and turned left on road to Campo Lugar where we found a Lesser Kestrel on a road side post, two roadside Northern Wheatear and two pairs of Stone Curlew having a bit of a dispute.

Returned to Trujillo and headed north up to Arrocampo Reservoir. Stopped by hide 1 – it was now dry, but very windy. Found a Penduline Tit and as we were driving round the now very slippy tracks came across a hunting Black-winged Kite. Time was beginning to run out so we continued on our journey to Madrid. Just west of Quisomundo a flock of c40 Little Bustards flew in front of us across the motorway.

Got to Madrid and after getting a little bit lost and ending up at terminal 4, we eventually managed to find terminal 1 and return our car, having done 1820km, then got our Easyjet flight back to Edinburgh. Despite the fairly awful weather we had enjoyed our trip seeing 124 species. Unfortunately we missed out on two of our key target species. The wet, cold weather also meant that many birds were still in winter flocks and even some of the early summer visitors had not yet arrived.