Steve Preddy and Martyn Hall
(Steve.Preddy at blueyonder.co.uk)
We had a really enjoyable week birding in this inland area of Spain - our first birding visit to the Spanish mainland. Half a dozen lifers and plenty of other good stuff too. In lieu of a full trip report, here are some notes that may be of help to anyone visiting the area.
We stayed in Madrid for two nights, then spent six nights in an apartment at the Hotel Carvajal in Torrejon el Rubio, just south of Monfrague Natural Park - which was ideally placed, comfortable and air-conditioned - visit www.monfrague.net for details. The nearest supermarket is the Eroski on the road leading into Trujillo town centre, or you can eat in the Hotel or Inn (the latter is worth a visit if only because of the entertaining resemblance of the proprietor to Madame Edith from 'Allo 'Allo). Ideally you'll need a good grasp of Spanish if staying in this area - we encountered few English speakers in that area - we got by, but weren't exactly a great advertisement for the ability of British people to learn the language of countries they visit.
For birding sites, John Muddeman's A Birdwatching Guide to Extremadura and the Dave Gosney Northern Spain booklet are recommended. A selection of trip reports collected from friends & from the web, plus responses to RFIs on the birding discussion groups gave us lots of useful gen.
Miscellaneous wise words 1. Beware 'Los Taxistas Unscrupulos' at Madrid airport - especially the one who took us to our hotel as he had a clever little button on his taxi-ometer that seemed to jumble up the displayed digits into an order that would give a higher fare. When we stopped it displayed 27.95 euros, a second later after a flick of a switch, it said 75.92. We clearly haven't quite mastered the art of not looking like gullible tourists yet. More practice required. Miscellaneous wise words 2. Vegetarians in Spain eat Tuna apparently.
And so to the birding...
Spanish Imperial Eagle - this world rarity headed a list of 15 raptor species seen during the week. We saw two adults and two full-grown young at the well-known (and not as distant as we'd feared) pylon nest near Torrejon el Rubio - we got there at 9.30am to see one adult just leaving the nest and giving prolonged flight views as it slowly circled up & away. Also we got close-up views of a subadult at Tietar cliffs during one evening visit; this has apparently been a regular site for this species in mornings & evenings this year. A perched-distantly-in-the-heat-haze Aquila eagle at Mirador de la Bascula may have been this species or Golden Eagle (which we didn't connect with).
Eagle Owl - one watched sat on the 'usual' ledge high up on the (very impressive) Penafalcon rock on our first evening, but not seen again despite visiting every night ... so very lucky with that one! The ledge is towards the top left of the rock, on an east-facing cliff, a little way down from the top, has a tree growing over it, and a large vertical gap in the cliff to the right.
White-rumped Swift - two to three seen at the Arroyo de la Vid between Torrejon el Rubio & Penafalcon every time we stopped, sometimes giving ridiculously close views. After that, we didn't really bother hanging around for them on our visit to the Castillo de Monfrague site which is where everyone else seems to see them, although perched Crag Martins there constituted a 'behaviour tick'.
Black-winged Kite - two pylon-squatting & hovering at the well-known Monroy dehesa site. Superb!
Red-necked Nightjar - one sat on the road in the car headlights in the park, about 1km northwest of the visitor centre.
Rock Bunting - seen in Monfrague, both at the Penafalcon pull-in and at Tietar. Blue Rock Thrush at both sites too.
Black Vulture - regular sightings in the park (surprisingly, looking for the pale feet was the best way to find them) among the huge numbers of Griffon Vultures and smaller numbers of Egyptian Vultures.
Booted Eagle - seen throughout Monfrague, and also out over the steppes northwest of Trujillo - all were pale morphs except for one dark morph at Tietar on our last evening; loads of Short-toed Eagles too
Western Subalpine Warbler - plenty of these - Tietar is a good spot to study them
Black Stork - a dozen plus sightings around the park
Other common birds in the park included: Black Kite, Red-rumped Swallow, Woodchat Shrike (incredible numbers) and Azure-winged Magpie (everywhere!).
On the mammal front, Wild Boar was a lifer - and narrowly escaped becoming bacon, standing as it was in the middle of the road as we rounded a corner near Penafalcon, and there were some amazingly tame foxes (made that way by tourist food no doubt) there and at Tietar.
Black Wheatear - after failing to see them at a number of other sites, they couldn't have been easier in "Ben Miller's valley" - this is a site in a valley on the road between Valdecanas de Tajo and Campilo de Deleitosa - an area accessed from the motorway NE of Monfrague - we saw a pair and one other bird feeding from roadside wires / posts. These were near a quarry entrance on the road leading from Valdecanas de Tajo down to the stone bridge at the valley bottom (about 1km before the bridge), rather than in the walled garden by the river which is the site which BM's trip report describes. Presumably after nesting birds range widely in the valley. Good views of a male Golden Oriole in the valley bottom too. Ben's report is at http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/spain/extra8/extre-may-03.htm.
Citril Finch - prolonged close views of an adult & a juv in the Sierra de Guadarrama (just N of Madrid) at Valdesqui - again Ben Miller's trip report came up trumps. These were in the small meadow with a stream on the left of the entrance to the main Valdesqui ski station car park (the entrance to this car park is fenced off at this time of year so if you can't drive any further you know you've reached the right spot). Also here Rock Sparrow and Iberian Black Redstart (and Serin so don't assume a nondescript streaky finch is a juv Citril Finch).
"Sharpe's" Green Woodpecker - two in the southwest corner of El Retiro park, Madrid, feeding on grass close to a path, not bothered by our presence (we didn't have bins as this was a sightseeing day, but didn't really need them ... ). Also one flew across the road near El Escorial monastery (well worth visiting - huge imposing building with lavish catacombs containing the dead kings & queens of Spain). Quite impressed by the differences between sharpei and nominate Green Woodpecker (as well as the head-pattern differences, upperparts seemed greyer and the birds seemed smaller).
Red Avadavat - a male & female at the Rio Gargaligas bridge (plus 2 Little Bitterns)
Great Bustard - two (including one in a field c.10m from the car!) in an otherwise disappointing visit to La Serena steppes (wrong time of year really - grass too long, so no Little Bustards or Sandgrouse ... something for another trip). Plenty of Montagu's Harriers though, as was the case for the Trujillo steppes too, and two Collared Pratincoles in a field on the northern boundary of La Serena.
Bonelli's Eagle - we had two adults in a kite kettle on the steppes near Santa Marga de Magasca - no reason to suppose they're more likely here than anywhere else though.
Pallid Swift - two flying around under the roof of the covered car rental return area outside Madrid rail station
Lesser Kestrel - fantastic show-offs at Trujillo bullring (also as good a place as any to see Spotless Starling well).
The Trujillo steppes are well worth doing - other good birds you won't have a problem catching up with there are: Red Kite (a good scattering among the much commoner Black Kites), White Stork and Cattle Egret which are everywhere on the steppes, Bee-eater, Southern Grey Shrike, Spanish Sparrow, Western Black-eared Wheatear.
Sites you might want to avoid are: Embalse de Arroyocampo - went there hoping for Swamphen, but didn't even get Moorhen; and Valdesalor steppes, although only because they've closed the bridge (using a concrete bollard) and the river is too deep to cross in a Fiat Punto. If you're on foot and fancy a walk, go for it, but in 35 degree + temperatures, no way...
Madrid was a wonderful city (giving Edinburgh, Steve's favourite city of all, a good run for its money) - loads to see but all close enough to do in a day.