In October 2016, I was invited to Extremadura - one of Spain's best birding regions - on a 5 day press trip led by The Urban Birder, David Lindo (@urbanbirder). We stayed in the northern part of Extremadura, the province of Cáceres, birding in the Monfragüe National Park and surrounding Biosphere Reserve. I'd like to say a huge thank you to the Cáceres Tourist Board for facilitating this trip, it was truly brilliant!
Extremadura is a vast area in central Spain, covering over 40,000 square kilometres. Situated in the northern province of Extremadura, Cáceres, the Monfragüe Biosphere Reserve covers 1,150 square kilometres, of which 180 square kilometres make up the National Park itself. Monfragüe lies on the River Tagus (or Tajo in Spanish) and the River Tiétar, and is home to a plethora of stunning scenery, created by the mountainous ridges, rivers, wetlands and the network of dehesa habitat.
In our 3 full days of birding we got an excellent taste of the wildlife in this beautiful region, however there is so much more of Extremadura to discover - I'm sure I'll be back to visit the other parts in the future!
Unfortunately, my DSLR camera decided to stop working after a couple of hours of birding, so I had to make do with my phone for rest of the trip. Although with my Opticron phonescoping adapter and MM3 60 ED scope I managed to achieve phonescoped photos I was very happy with.
Day 1 - Saturday 15th October
I landed in Madrid at about 3pm, meeting David and the rest of the group - Josie Hewitt, Emma Cole, Niki Bloom and Miriam Darlington - as well as our guide Martin Kelsey (http://www.birdingextremadura.com/). It was then a 3 hour drive to our first accommodation, in Torrejón el Rubio. On the drive, we managed to see our first 19 species of the trip, including 3 lifers for me - IBERIAN (Azure-winged) MAGPIE, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE and a juvenile SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE that flew low over the vehicle! A few flocks of Common Cranes were spotted too, as well as our only Red-legged Partridge of the trip. On arrival at the accommodation, 2 more lifers were soon seen; CRAG MARTIN and a whirling cloud of GRIFFON VULTURES in the distance. A short walk nearby produced good views of Hoopoe, Grey Wagtail, Zitting Cisticola, Great Egret and Crested Lark. We finished the day with the first of many delicious traditional Spanish meals!
Day 2 - Sunday 16th October
After a breakfast of cheese, meats and traditional pastries, we headed to Castillo de Monfragüe, stopping en route to look at some geology. We stopped at a location where you could see ripples on the surface of the exposed rock-face next to the road - these ripples are evidence that this rock, now forming the Spanish countryside, once lay on the sea bed near Australia! We were surrounded by a beautiful dawn chorus of Robins, Cirl Buntings and Woodlarks, with Iberian Magpies flitting between the trees.
The views at Castillo de Monfragüe were breathtaking, it is possibly one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. Stood on the ridge we looked down on the River Tagus, the river that meets the sea in Lisbon, although here in Monfragüe it is more like a series of lakes, due to damming along its course. Walking up to and around the castle itself we saw Chough, Raven, Peregrine, Crag Martin, Black Redstart and heard a Pied Flycatcher. A couple of Hawfinches showed nicely - having only seen them once before in the UK it was great to see them so easily. However the vulture spectacle seen from here was an amazing sight. Looking along the ridge we saw Griffon Vultures perched on the rocks, and watched them as they stretched their 2.8m wingspan and took off, soaring into the valley below us. We also watched a couple of EURASIAN BLACK VULTURES on the ridge - another lifer for me. The park is home to the largest concentration of breeding Eurasian Black Vulture (or Cinereous Vulture) in the world, with over 400 pairs, and throughout the week we were treated to great views of this huge bird.
We then moved on to where the river crosses the ridge, about a kilometre west of the castle. Standing in the gorge, we looked across the river at an incredibly impressive rock face, known as Peñafalcón, or Falcon's Rock.
Here we saw several Black Redstarts, including some very striking males. As well as Grey Heron, White Wagtail, Song Thrush, more vultures and got closer views of Crag Martins as they perched briefly on the rock face. Here we also got brilliant views of a lovely male Blue Rock Thrush, and my first ROCK BUNTING. (Please click on the images below to see the full photos.)
A delicious lunch was enjoyed at a restaurant in the village where the Extremadura Birding Festival is held in spring, Villarreal de San Carlos. A short walk here produced some other non-bird lifers for me; Brown Argus and Bath White butterflies, and a Large Psammodromus lizard, as well as Dung Beetles and Vestal Moths. Linnets were also added to the list here, and we enjoyed nice views of Crested Larks.
After lunch we set up camp for the rest of the afternoon at Portilla del Tiétar, in the hope of seeing Spanish Imperial Eagle, and Eagle Owl later in the evening. After a short while watching the vultures and Blue Rock Thrushes on the rocks across the river, a Spanish Imperial Eagle was spotted flying high up. As we locked onto it with our bins and scopes, it suddenly swooped down into the gorge, landing on the other side of the river, just a hundred metres away or so! When then watched in awe as this beautiful eagle, an adult, drank from the river in front of us, dive-bombed by Iberian Magpies, before it flew to perch in the trees a little further away. An unforgettable encounter! Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Skylark, Kingfisher, streams of Cormorants flying upstream to roost and a high-up male Hen Harrier made up the supporting cast to this wonderful experience.
We then went for a short break to a nearby coffee shop before returning to the viewpoint at Portilla del Tiétar for the evening. At the coffee shop, we added another species to the list, and another lifer, SPANISH SPARROW.
When we returned to the viewpoint, we watched and waited for about 40 minutes before we heard the first monosyllabic hoot of the EAGLE OWL on the rock face in front of us. After 20 minutes of intensely scanning the hillside as the light faded rapidly, listening to its call, the bird was finally spotted flying up onto the top of the ridge. It gave great views for everyone, silhouetted against the navy sky, before flying off to the other side of the ridge a few minutes later. Another lifer, and another brilliant wildlife encounter. Walking back to the vehicle we saw Free-tailed Bats hawking over us, and had Red Deer cross the road ahead as we drove back. However best of all was a Wildcat that darted into the bushes in front of the vehicle! A great way to end such a brilliant day.
The first couple of days of this Spanish birding trip were brilliant, and a post on the rest of the trip will be coming soon!
I'm Sorrel, a young birder and wildlife artist based in the East Midlands - this is my blog all about my birding and wildlife adventures.