For the rest of the trip we ventured out of the Monfragüe National Park and into the surrounding Biosphere Reserve. Without the biosphere reserve there wouldn't be the national park - here the wildlife interacts with human life, supporting the rich biodiversity in the park itself.
Day 3 - Monday 17th October
On our third day we visited Arrocampo Wetlands, to the east of the national park, to experience a different habitat to the previous day. Here we added lots of great wetland species to the trip list, including Snipe, Great-crested Grebe, Water Rail (heard only), Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, and the only Black-headed Gulls of the trip, as well as nice views of Purple Swamphen. I managed 2 lifers here as well - a SQUACCO HERON that gave good scope views as it flew over the back of the reeds and a glimpse of a BLUETHROAT - lifers 11 and 12 of the trip. We also managed to see a Bittern as it flew down into the reeds in front of us, which, despite a few being present throughout the winter, is a very rare sighting in Arrocampo! We were also treated to great views of Marsh Harriers throughout the day, and a fleeting view of a Merlin.
Some scrubby habitat adjacent to the wetland was full of Chiffchaffs, Zitting Cisticolas, Cetti's Warblers, Sardinian Warblers, and the odd Dartford Warbler, Hoopoe and Whinchat. As well as lots of beautiful Long Skimmer dragonflies. The males of this scarce dragonfly, found in Africa and now in Southern Europe, are a lovely slatey blue-grey colour, and the females a light green and blue. There were also a few Broad Scarlet dragonflies, and we found a stunning Wasp Spider in the long grass. Lifer 13 came in the form of a very smart IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE, feeding a little way in the distance, just before lunch.
After lunch we headed to some small ponds, where we saw Little Ringed Plover, Green and Common Sandpipers, Spanish Sparrow, Little Grebe, Little and Cattle Egrets and a few European Pond Terrapins in the water. A Clouded Yellow butterfly and Hummingbird Hawkmoth were also seen, as well as a fairly large shedded snake skin, thought to be from a Montpellier snake.
We then made our way to our accommodation for the last 2 nights, in the town of Malpartida de Plasencia, stopping en route in the small village of Toril, for a short tour of a museum about the local area. To finish the day, we found a huge European Mantis while walking back from dinner!
Day 4 - Tuesday 18th October
Before we set off for our last full day of birding, a little Moorish Gecko was found in our accommodation. It provided a good opportunity to try out my new clip-on macro lens for my phone, and I was very pleased with the results.
We spent the morning walking through farmland and dehesa habitat in the biosphere reserve, just east from the town of Serradilla. This land was very different to the barren farmland I'm used to in the UK - it was full of wildlife. The non-intensive, traditional farming of livestock, without the use of pesticides and monoculture and where the Cork and Holme Oak trees are left to flourish, allows the wildlife to thrive. It provides an excellent habitat for many passerine species; despite the drizzly weather we saw Goldfinch, Corn Bunting, Greenfinch, Crested Lark, Serin, Black Redstart, Meadow Pipit, Firecrest, Stonechat, Wheatear, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap and more. All around us Woodlarks were singing and we were treated to great views of a couple feeding in a field. Cetti's Warbler was also heard, as well as several Cirl Buntings, although despite our best efforts we couldn't see any. Here we also had good views of ROCK SPARROWS - lifer number 14 for me.
We walked west for about 3km, to where the path met the ridge at Garganta del Fraile, which was actually only less than 4km west along the ridge from where we were on the second day at Castillo de Monfragüe. At Garganta del Fraile, or 'Friar's Gorge', we had brilliant views of Griffon and Black Vultures, seeing them closer than we had done before on the trip.
We spent the rest of the day in the municipality of Mirabel, eating lunch at spot looking up at the beautiful Castillo de Mirabel. Here we saw more Griffon and Black Vultures, with one Black Vulture offering superb views as it flew very low overhead. In a pocket of scrub habitat we struggled for a while to see a male Cirl Bunting that we could hear singing, until suddenly it was spotted in a tree and finally we got great views of this striking little bird. We also found a couple of Large Psammodromus lizards, giving another opportunity to use my clip-on macro lens for my phone to get some close up photos.
In a nearby Cork Oak woodland we saw Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker and SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER, another lifer. We also saw a huge 400-year-old Cork Oak tree, the second-oldest tree in the region (if I remember correctly!).
Before heading to the town of Plasencia, we met with the Mayor of Mirabel to talk about ecotourism in the region. It was a very interesting conversation about how some areas of the biosphere reserve, like Mirabel, do not receive many visitors despite their brilliant wildlife, as we had experienced earlier in the day.
On a tour of the town of Plasencia, we saw the many beautiful buildings and churches, however we were slightly distracted by the occasional Red-rumped Swallow, Pallid Swift, Crag Martin and Spotless Starling that flew overhead! I also managed to spot a Redstart from the minibus on the way there - the only one of the trip.
Day 5 - Wednesday 19th October
With flights at 3pm, Emma and I set off for the airport mid morning, leaving the others to enjoy a few more hours of Spanish life. Although during the 3 hour taxi drive to Madrid we continued the birding, with close views of Cranes, Black-shouldered Kites, Lesser Black-backed Gull and WHITE STORKS, which were surprisingly the first of the trip and the final lifer for me. Emma got her flight back to the UK, whereas I was flying to Portugal to continue my Iberian birding adventure, joining my parents in Tavira in the Algarve.
It was a brilliant 5 days of birding, with absolutely stunning scenery. I saw 102 birds altogether, 16 of which were world lifers, as well as 8 lifers of other classes of animals. For me, the highlight was the Spanish Imperial Eagle drinking from the river, the Eagle Owl and seeing so many Griffon and Black Vultures amongst the beautiful mountain ridges and exposed rock faces. The dry, yellow-ochre grasslands of the dehesa dotted with Oaks and Olive trees was a new landscape for me, so it was very interesting to experience the wildlife here. Autumn is a brilliant time to visit this region, however in spring the dry dehesa is transformed into a carpet of green by the autumn and winter rains - something I would love to see. The traditional Spanish cuisine and Extremadura culinary specialities was also a part of the trip that won't easily be forgotten!
I would encourage all birders, wildlife lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to visit this amazing region of Spain. There is such a wealth of wildlife, offering brilliant views with a backdrop of impressive landscapes. I'd also like to again say a huge thank you to the Cáceres Tourist Board and David Lindo for inviting us on this trip, and to Martin Kelsey our guide, I think it's safe to say we all had a brilliant time!
I'm Sorrel, a young birder, wildlife photographer and artist based in the East Midlands - this is my blog all about my birding and wildlife adventures.