It’s been a while since my fabulous trip to Extremadura courtesy of the great people at the Spanish Tourist Board. Only now did I realise that I left off half way through my exploits. Well, here it goes, a breif(ish) summary of part two.
When I concluded the last post I had just finished a a trip to the wonderful Extremadura bird fair. Well, following a great day here we set off for another location in Monfragüe National Park, this time with the intent of catching up with a true Iberian icon – the Spanish Imperial Eagle. Arriving at the Portilla del Tiétar things, at first, did not appear overly promising, the hoped for eagles nowhere in sight. This was of little consequence however with more than enough species on show to keep us entertained, among these a superb Blue Rock Thursh, a number of Griffon Vultures and, of course, heaps of Serin. As the time ticked by, the likelihood of catching up with the imposing raptors diminished though mere moments before we boarded the bus to depart an excited yell heralded the arrival of our target species. A stonking male Spanish Imperial Eagle which performed admirably for a good quarter of an hour, much to our delight. Said bird can be seen in the not so good image below. From here, and hoping to prolong our avian-centric high, another trip to the Salto del Gitano where Black Stork, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Vulture and Sardinian Warbler brought the day to a close with a welcome touch of glamour.
The next day found us venturing into another habitat entirely, the vast plains of Santa Marta de Magasca – an area unlike anywhere I have had the pleasure to visit previously, vast expanses of grassland rife with wildflowers making for a truly splendid day. Each and every stop here produced something new and exciting; Calandra Lark belting out song all day long and both Red and Black Kite proving more than abundant. The first highlight here came in the form of nice scope views of a flock of Great Bustard – their hulking frames easily picked out when scanning the surrounding hillsides. Next, not one but two fantastic Short-Toed Eagle followed by a flock of 20-30 Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse. The latter one of my personal “most sought after species” of the trip. Proceeding this, a pair of Black-Bellied Sandgrouse were expertly picked out by Godfried our guide, great views obtained as they foraged not overly far from the track. Next came Zitting Cristcola, hoards of Corn Bunting and three wonderful Lesser Kestrel which flaunted themselves for a good while by the roadside. Much daintier and arguably, more appealing than their larger cousins.
Before heading off to the picturesque surroundings of Merida, a finally stop on the plains yielded another surprise. A Great Spotted Cuckoo which lifted from the grass before me as I unceremoniously tried to find a secluded spot to relieve myself. Definitely a new addition to my “birding while peeing” list! Also here a smart pair of Spanish Sparrow fed nearby – another new bird for the trip and a Hoopoe was noted. These, alongside yet more Zitting Cristcola, Calandra Lark, Raven, Lesser Kestrel and another Short-Toed Eagle made the final pittstop a thoroughly enjoyable one. Onward to Merida..
Rendezvousing with the second group on the historic (and quite frankly, beautiful) roman bridge in Merida we now set about birding in a new, wetland setting. Though I missed Penduline Tit here the river held more than enough to mitigate my losses. First came an Osprey, passing directly overhead – no doubt on route back from its wintering quarters in Africa. Next, Purple Swamphen, two of which showed well beneath the bridge in the company of some much more familiar critters; Moorhen, Little Egret, Muscovy Duck and their like. Pottering further along the bridge, a Glossy Ibis was picked up feeding in the shallows perhaps a quarter of a mile up stream. This, of course, warranted further investigation thus off we went, aiming to get just a little closer to the bird.
Walking along the bank towards the Ibis, another Purple Swamphen proved enjoyable as did the addition of Great Crested Grebe to the proceedings though the real surprise came when a Little Bittern lifted out of the reeds a mere meter or so from where we stood on the bank. Wow – of course this was another “lifer” but what really stuck me was the sheer beauty of the bird itself. Definitely one of my all time favorites and perhaps the highlight of the whole trip, made even better by the constant singing of Cetti’s Warblers and good views of the Glossy Ibis – when we finally got there.
Following a day of urban birding in Zafra where Lesser Kestrel, Pallid Swift, Black Redstart and Blue Rock Thursh delighted – our next major outing found us heading for Alange. Our first stop here leaving me wrought with excitement; catching up with yet another sought after target – Eagle Owl. The bird in question showing reasonable well as it watched us from an outcrop not far from the town. Nearby, a colony of Alpine Swifts proved equally as delightful while Little Bittern, Bonelli’s Eagle and Black Wheatear comprised the other highlights. Later that day a brief stop at Alcollarín Reservoir yielded a drake Ferruginous Duck in the company of a good number of more common duck species alongside White Stork, Cattle Egret, Sardinian Warbler, Great White Egret and a pair of Egyptian Geese – they really are everywhere!
Concluding the trip in style, our journey back to Madrid was broken up somewhat with a fantastic stop at the Arrocampo Reservoir – perhaps the most productive hour of the whole trip! Here things started off well, Hoopoe, Iberian Grey Shrike, Crested Lark and Wheatear cropping up immediately after vacating the bus. Things soon got better however as we made our way to the wetlands and were straight away greeted by a rather nice Bluethroat. Not a male but a new bird for this novice nonetheless. Four Snipe were also seen here, as was a Black-Winged Stilt and more interesting, a Black-Winged Kite patrolling the distant margin. From here we set out for the hide, catching only the briefest glimpse of a likely Spotted Crake on route and enjoying the frantic squeals of innumerable Water Rail. The hide was marvelous, Spoonbill and Great White Egret noted upon arrival and after a short wait, a pair of Purple Heron – both of which landed only a few meters away. Heading back, a pair of Garganey showed well alongside yet another Little Bittern and two more Purple Swamphen. Not a bad stop eh?
So, that’s that. A relatively brief summary of the fantastic second half of our Extremadura venture. All in all the trip was sublime; great birds, wonderful company and outstanding food, what more can a boy want? I would advise anyone to visit. Those wishing to do so can contact the Spanish Tourist Office for more details using the link below. Thank you all involved in organizing what was, in truth, the greatest birding trip I’ve had the pleasure to embark on to date.
Wish to visit Extremadura? Contact the Spanish Tourist Office and visitspain.info