Extremadura (Spain), 1-6 May 1998 PART 2
Birding trip report, John van der Woude, www.jvanderw.nl 
See sketchy map with places mentioned.
See also part 1.

The next day (3 May) we left the hotel at Malpartida de Plasencia at 7.30 a.m. (at about sunrise!) and took the fast N630 to the SW in order to take the C522 West to Garrovillas and Brozas, but before that we had to drive on a a few km on the N630 for getting petrol (which we might have got in Brozas as well), and this detour produced our first Rollers, at the electricity pole nest boxes. The road to Brozas goes into a steppe-like habitat, and here we noted the first Montagu's Harrier, and lots of Great Grey Shrike and Stonechat again. Unexpectedly we got a small lake a few km before Brozas, with Coot, Moorhen, Great Crested Grebe, Little Ringed Plover, and on the other (left-hand) side of the road a Black-winged Kite! At just 500 m before Brozas is a high point to have a look at the plains to the left, and we immediately got three Great Bustards in our scope. Bordering Brozas town to the right is another small lake, with Little Grebe, lots of Cattle Egret and our first Calandra Larks. Driving South from Brozas to Herreruela we had after 1 km to the right a very nice farm/church/monastery ruin, now only cattle barn, and its roofs and towers were fully occupied by Stork nests, Lesser Kestrel, Spanish Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Jackdaw and a pair of Rollers.

Going down this road across the rolling steppe plains to Herreruela, we noted several species typical of this habitat, like Black-eared Wheatear, Quail, Fan-tailed Warbler, lots of Calandra Lark, Skylark, a dark phase Booted Eagle, Short-toed Lark, Little Owl on a stone wall, but no more bustards alas, although we scoped many square kms. Maybe this area has been treated too heavily with insecticides, as we saw practised on another steppe area a few days later. Again we discovered a small lake (photo above), about half way this road, to the left, with Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Little Egret, Little Grebe; the speckles on the photo are Storks. Nearby we had our first of only two flights of eight Black-bellied Sandgrouse.
After a meal at Aliseda, on the road from Herreruela to Caceres, at the now usual 3 p.m. and for the usual moderate price (about 1200 ptas mostly), we drove there South into a very scenic valley with rather natural semi-open mediterranean vegetation, and were eager to see more warblers but only got the Subalpine Warbler again. Then, towards Caceres, we inspected the small steppe area South of Malpartida de Caceres, where bustards should occur, but again none were seen despite careful examination (more insecticides?). We did see Montagu's Harrier and Black-eared Wheatear, however.
We passed the busy Caceres and drove on to Trujillo, where we found a room in the hotel Peru, named in honour of the local hero Pizarro. This is a rather good and not expensive (4500 ptas) hotel with a nice bar for our usual late-evening beer with tapas/snacks (in stead of another meal), and located just before the good (birdwise) side road through Belen village.
On 4 May we drove from the hotel Peru in Trujillo just 200 m further East and took the side road right to the village of Belen. Through Belen we stayed on the surfaced road, and came in another steppe-like area of rolling grass plains with some fields. Immediately after Belen, standing on a hill, we had Great Spotted Cuckoo (a pair mating), and 3 Rollers, and saw the Hoopoes calling 'from their neck'. Going down this hill until about 1 km after the village we had the first Little Bustards of the trip (photo right), two calling to each other, near the road. There too was a Little Owl again, and some Lesser Kestrel. Before having driven another km, we had counted some ten other Little Bustard., calling or flying, and a Black Stork at a small pool. Then after another 1.5 km or so there was a group of 12 Great Bustard, quite some distance from the road, on the left, in front of an old oak orchard (the only one in the surrounding). Calandra Lark and Quail were everywhere, the latter heard only.
At the end of the morning we came back to the old centre of Trujillo for some shopping and for a fantastic view of the wide surroundings from the castillo at the top of this hill city (you can drive all the way up to this fort, and find ample parking place there). From the fort you also have a nice look down into the old centre, with Lesser Kestrel, Swift, Stork nests. There was even a Hoopoe on the fort.

Then we headed for the famous Serena plains further South in Extremadura, and drove along the C524 to the SE, in the direction of Zorita. We made a stop along the side road to Garciaz, at a nicely wooded pass after 6 km along this road. Here we noted the usual birds of the semi-open mediterrean vegetation (photo), like Tree Lark, Azure-winged Magpie, Woodchat Shrike, colonies of Bee-eater, displaying Serin, etc. and as a trip tick a Golden Oriole. Then further after Zorita to the SE along the CC702, where we were surprised by inundated (rice) fields just before the village of Madrigalejo. Here we had Garganey, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Gull-billed Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-headed Gull, Cetti's Warbler. Further Southeast, at the Embalse de Zujar, we ticked Collared Dove, and there was a large House Martin colony along the rim of the dam (at least 100).

Finally, at the beginning of the evening, we were entering La Serena, an enormous steppe (photo), undulating till the far horizon of mountain ranges on all sides. We birded the long and straight road going SE towards Cabeza del Buey, and saw and heard many Little Bustard, and several groups of Spanish Sparrow in the fields. A male Great Bustard crossed the road, flying heavily, and made a nice show of his white tail feathers after landing. While looking at this bird we were surprised by a nearby flight of five Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and right after that a group of four Collared Pratincole. Then about halfway this road we took the famous side road (unsurfaced) to the East at the sign for the farm La Calduerela. Right at the start we ticked Stone-curlew, standing like a statue, and hence giving good scope views. Two Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew up from near this bird. Driving down this side road we saw two groups of Great Bustard (of 25 and 10 birds). Several Collared Pratincoles flew around all the time now. By 8.15 p.m. we got a rain shower (the only one of the trip), and we decided to try the only hotel at Cabeza de Buey, as indicated in the booklet of the Spanish Tourist Service. The hotel, called Polideportivo, was just OK, and anyway 30 km closer to our birding road than the hotels in Castuera, in the SW of the Serena plains - yet it is that big, and impressive!
Well today we had seen lots of the real steppe birds, in the morning as well as in the evening, so the reason that we had mostly missed them at the sites near Caceres might not have been the time of the day, but intensified land use indeed. I hope I am wrong.
On 5 May in the early morning we went back to the same Calduerela side road on the Serena plains, and along the main road already saw several Colared Pratincoles and three Stone-curlews. Along the side road, from 8 a.m., we saw several Great Bustards in display, and just some Little too. At 9.30 a.m. we were back at the start of the side road and counted a group of 44 Great Bustard! At least as impressive was a group of 8 Collared Pratincoles close by (photo), walking and chasing for insects, probably of the same type (crickets?) that we had seen sprayed with insecticides a km further on … Other birds around were Montagu's Harrier, Quail, and a lone Black Stork.

From the Serena we went far to the NE, to the Cigara Nature Park, just across the N430. We birded a bit along the small and scenic road from the N430 to Villarta de los Montes, and saw several Sardinian Warbler, a Golden Oriole, and in the pine forest Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Tit, Pied Flycatcher, etc. At this point, still just inside Extremadura, we drove to Guadalupe where we had our midday meal served in a quiet open court inside the famous and huge monastery that dominates this small city (photo right).
In the late evening we drove further to the N, and had nice scope views on a large Bee-eater colony (40?) at a roadside cut just N of Navalvillar de Ibor. From Castañor de Ibor we crossed Westward through a lush valley (saw several trails). There, at a steep rock just above a new and plastic covered troutery we saw Griffon Vulture again, and were happy to tick the Bonelli's Eagle. On we drove to our final destination of today, Torrejon at the South rim of Monfragüe Nature Park again. The only hotel was full, but we found a place in pension Monfragüe, with very clean and new rooms (but shared bathrooms) for 3200 ptas. Later that evening we went out for some owling inside the park, and discovered a Scops Owl just upstream from the bridge of the Arroyo de la Vid, a sort of gorge in the mediterranean open vegetation.
This arroyo was the first thing we went to up North the next morning (6 May), for a last try to see more warbler species, but again the usual stuff here, although plenty of them. Then further North, towards the centre of the park, at the bridge over the river Tajo (Tagus). There is a House Martin colony plus some Crag Martin and Alpine Swift, and Red-legged Partridge at the parking place. After this we went again on the side road of the first day in Monfragüe, to the concrete platform for viewing at the nests of the Spanish Imperial Eagle. We were relieved that we could find them back ourselves. Splendid scope views we had of the adult eagles in flight, once together with a Peregrine, and other raptors were Egyptian Vulture and Short-toed Eagle. This was typically our last birding day, and we revisited the very impressive site of the Black Stork nest a bit further to the left, below the Griffon Vultures.The four young were being preened. The steep rock face 300 m further on to the East did not produce the hoped for Eagle Owl, but did produce two Bonelli's Eagle, circling around it, and another Golden Oriole.

Leaving the Monfragüe park to the East we passed by a promising lowland stretch with large solitary oaks, but we went on further East, towards the village of Almaraz about 15 km SW of Navalmoral (for a Cirl Bunting stake-out that we had just heard of). However, before entering Almaraz from the North (from Saucedilla) to our surprise we passed a nice marsh area of open water with broad borders of mainly reed-mace. Here we got witin a few minutes seven trip ticks: Great Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, Cormorant, Kingfisher, Purple Heron! Other birds there were Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen, Cetti's Warbler, etc. After a good meal in the busy restaurant Portugal in Almaraz, we returned at 4.30 p.m. to this marsh and met three other birders, who had just seen Purple Gallinule, and indeed it reappeared for us, in full view. The other bird they hoped for was Little Bittern, and we scanned the far reaches of the marsh intensively with the scope and found one, and after that several others, some also nearby.
Adding that Cirl Bunting as the last trip tick was not difficult. It is found just 50 m after the bridge over the river Tajo 8 km SE of Almaraz, to the right, where it was singing in bushes between two old road stretches. A last male Golden Oriole flew overhead. The bridge itself is old and beautiful and harbours House Martin, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow and Blue Rock Thrush. The latter was singing a long while against its own echo.
At 7 p.m. we finally left this place and Extremadura, and drove on the highway to Torrijos to have a hotel near Toledo which we visited (cathedral on photo) on the last morning before our afternoon flight back home from Madrid.

 

Looking back on this marvelous trip I would like to make some comments:
* The wetlands that we encountered, especially the one at Almaraz, were a complete surprise to us, and there we found several breeding bird species that are not indicated in the newly published European Breeding Bird Atlas, not even in the far surroundings.
* I am afraid that the number of good steppe areas is shrinking (if true, would it be due to insecticide spraying?). La Serena in Southern Extremadura was by far the best, although Belen East of Trujillo was good also.
* The mediterranean semi-open forests were nice and interesting enough, but nearly all showed the same array of species, whereas some of the expected warblers were (still?) lacking.
* It is still worthwhile to try and find on your own the real specialties, like Black-winged Kite, Bonelli's Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black Wheatear, in stead of only going along specific sites for these that are described by others.
* Spain, or anyway Extremadura, is also logistically an ideal birding trip destination: fine weather, good roads, cheap (and good) rental cars, practical meal time (1 - 4 p.m.) plus long evening light, lots of hotels in all sorts. Moreover, we never had any feeling of unsafety.
* Unforgettable is the sheer numbers of birds of species that are so special for birders from NW Europe, like Hoopoe, Roller, Woodchat Shrike, Stork, vultures, raptors in general, and many more.
back to part 1