Extremadura (Spain), 1-6 May 1998 PART 1
Birding trip report, John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl 

See sketchy map with places mentioned. This is part 1; for part 2 click here.


Extremadura in mid-West Spain was extreme for us mainly in the sense that the roads were nearly all extravagantly good, and that the birding was extremely interesting. With some short trip reports, personal advice and Garcia & Paterson's Where to watch birds in Southern Spain we set off in our cheap Avis rental car from Madrid airport in the late afternoon of 30 April. Via the Escorial monastery (photo below) we drove West through the scenic lower reaches of the Guadarrama and Gredos mountains to the town of Arenas.

Along the road (M505 and M501), almost without real stops, we ticked Stork, Magpie, Spotless Starling, Hoopoe, Booted Eagle, Chough (on the Escorial), Greenfinch, Carrion Crow, Serin, Swift, House Sparrow, Tree Lark, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Azure-winged Magpie, Wren, Robin, Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Raven, House Martin, Corn Bunting, Great Grey Shrike, Nightingale, Goldfinch, Buzzard. Fresh snow had fallen on the mountain tops, and although sunny the weather was still relatively cool, as it had been for weeks already. We had this pleasant weather nearly the whole trip, and it gave the advantage of clear (scope) views and active birds, but also maybe a delayed arrival of the final summer birds, we missed some of these. In Arenas we found a good hostal (Lumi), the 'real' hotel being fully booked because of a 'feria' coming up.

The next day (1 May) we first went up higher into the mountains before going down into Extremadura proper. From Arenas we drove up to a veritable mountain kettle called Domingo Fernando. Short stops along the narrow and winding roads produced Cetti's Warbler, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Jay, Stonechat, Chaffinch, and in the pine zone Crested Tit, another Booted Eagle, Green Woodpecker, Dipper (at the bridge of El Hornillo), Pied Flycatcher, Subalpine Warbler, Nuthatch, Goldcrest. From the end of the road we made a walk up into the mountain kettle (photo below). Additional species, mainly above the tree line, were Golden Eagle, Crag Martin, Grey Wagtail, Black Redstart, Peregrine, Black Kite and lots of Dunnock.

Driving down along Candeleda town (dinner at 15.30 h!, convenient time for birders, also in view of the very long evening light) to the lowland Tietar river we got Bee-eater, the first Stork nest (photo), with Spanish Sparrow as guests at the underside, more Great Grey Shrike and Azure-winged Magpie, lots of Corn Bunting, some Quails, Cuckoo, Hobby, Whitethroat, Red-legged Partridge, Blue Tit, lots of Crested Lark, the first Fan-tailed Warbler, Mallard, Grey Heron, White Wagtail, Linnet, Northern Wheatear. From the lovely and varied area around the Tietar bridge (first photo below) we drove on further South, first through more forested oak area (semi-open, second photo below): Woodchat Shrike, Thekla Lark, and then more open: Cattle Egret, Moorhen, Kestrel. Bee-eaters became a regular sighting from now on.

After a night in the rather expensive hotel Cañada Real in Malpartida de Plasencia (newly established on the site of the former motel Monfragüe), we drove South on 2 May to the famous Monfragüe Nature Park. Along the road we ticked Red Kite, Black-eared Wheatear, Skylark, Mistle Thrush. Just before the park border we met three Spanish birders along the road, and joined them in scoping out a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagle, sitting first on the tree tops, then flying around in display. There too we had the first Griffon Vultures. We followed the Spanish birders to several stake-outs along the only side road East in the park. The first stake-out, to be shared with several other birders and tourists, was a rock face just before the dam (photo above), with nice views on a nesting Egyptian Vulture amidst some ten Griffons nesting, and a Raven's nest too.
Then, a few km behind the dam, there is a rectangular concrete platform to the right, from where our hosts scoped out the nests of Spanish Imperial Eagle (two white young) and of Black Vulture. Further along the same road there is the long and narrow lake to the left, and across that lake, at about 300 m before the steepest rock face to be seen there (photo below), they pointed out a Black Stork's nest at eye level, with incredible scope views. At the same spot was also a splendid performance of two Short-toed Eagle, a well-lit Blue Rock Thrush, and the nests of Griffons equally at eye level.

We said goodbye to the Spanish hosts and went back to the main road, heading further South into the park, where the famous rock Peñafalcon shows Griffons and another Black Stork nest. There too we noted Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow. After a meal in Torrejon (mealtime generally 1 - 4 p.m., and then only again at 9 p.m.) we took the side road West to Serradilla in the hope of seeing Bonelli's Eagle, which we did not there but twice elsewhere later on. We discovered an easy stake-out for the rather uncommon Black Wheatear: having taken the unsurfaced side road to the right after Serradilla, there was a rocky crest to the left with a sort of small t.v. transmission pole on it after about 1 or 2 km. Here we scoped the Black Wheatear, together with the ubiquitous Stonechat and another Blue Rock Thrush. From the pass further on along this road we were told by a local to take a side road sharply to the left, this goes to a fabulous mirador (look-out point) on the hill crest, and apart from the enormous view (photo above) we saw several Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Griffon Vulture sailing by. The long and rather bad road further back to the North looked promising for a longer search (many old oaks, photo below), and driving we saw the now usual community of Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Corn Bunting, Goldfinch, Mistle Thrush, etc.

More in part 2