Saturday, 21 May 2016

Shedluck Tours 2016 – Extremadura

Monfrague vultures

Extremadura has been praised by many people I’ve come across in my birdwatching time and now I had the opportunity to go along with twelve of the group members.  On 24th April 2016 thirteen of us flew to Madrid arriving without hitch at about 8.30pm, and were met by our guides William Haworth and Juan Pablo Prieto Clemente who whisked us off to our hotel in the medieval town of Trujillo, a three hour drive away.  We went straight to bed after checking in anticipating what the next few days would bring.
Day 1
Trujillo tower
After breakfast there was a little time to walk to the castle at the top of the hill where our hotel was situated and survey the surrounding landscape.  White Stork nests were on many of the rooftops, Swift, Common and Pallid screeched around together with Swallows and a few Crag MartinsSpotless Starlings and House Sparrows sat on the roof tops, the former having a lovely repertoire of mimicry including Greenshank!  Our first Lesser Kestrels were spotted and we picked up the first of many Serins.
A coffee stop

The main trip today however was to the nearby plains of Trujillo and Caceres.  The habitat here is known as the Dehesa and is common in Extremadura.  The pasture is planted with Holm and Cork Oaks.  The Holm Oaks are pollarded for charcoal and the Cork Oaks stripped of their cork about every nine years. The pasture is grazed by livestock and in the autumn fallen acorns are eaten by pigs which then produce the most delicious hams.  Getting off the bus we could hear the call of the ubiquitous Corn Bunting.  We were to hear and see so many, it’s a pity that they are in such decline in the UK.
Gt spotted cuckoos
Various stops were made along the roadside and it soon became clear that singing Nightingales, Woodchat Shrikes, Cettis Warblers were common.  We also saw the first of many Hoopoes, although try as he might Neil was unable to catch them on his camera.  Sorry Neil. We were treated to a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos early on and the treats continued throughout the day, seeing our first Griffon and Black Vultures (but more of them tomorrow), Montagu’s Harriers, a Golden Eagle and Great and Little Bustards, Calandra and Short Toed Larks to name but a few.  Pairs of Rollers and Lesser Kestrels sat perched on the telegraph wires next to nest boxes erected especially for them.
By the end of the day our jaws were aching due to constant ‘grinning like Cheshire cats’.  We were elated and wondered how the coming days could possibly equal the first!

Day 2
Our next day was spent in the mountainous Monfrague National Park where the rivers ‘Tajo’ and ‘Tietar’ converge.  Only a small part of the park is open to the public but the open areas give you all the best birds.  After a brief comfort stop at Villa Real de San Carlos (the sight where the Extremadura Bird Festival is held) we headed up the valley to our first viewing spot.  The rocky cliff opposite held many Griffon, BlackEgyptian Vultures.
Black vulture
From this close range it was easy for the uninitiated to separate the different species with ease.  Eagles were also enjoying the thermals and we were able to see Short Toed, Iberian Imperial, Booted and Bonelli’s Eagles.  On our side of the valley close to us we also had amazing views of a Nightingale singing out in the open, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting.  A pair of Black Storks were nesting on the other side of the valley.

Black stork nest

Short toed eagle
Vulture nests

Rock bunting

Castillo lookout
Other stops were made at various viewing points but our final stop of the day was at Castillo de Monfrague.  At the start of the steep climb up the steps a pair of Chough called overhead.  At the top eye level viewing of Griffon and Black Vultures was possible and the views across the dehesas to the south were vast and stunning.

Day 3
Today we travelled south to the Roman city of Merida and capital of the Extremadura region. The River Guadiana divides the city and the old Roman Bridge which is closed to vehicles is a great place to observe the many herons and egrets which have made their nests here.  The river is flanked by parkland on either side and the Grey, Purple and Night Herons Glossy Ibis’s have their nests on small islands in the river.  A couple of small reed beds lay at either end of the bridge and here we saw Little Bittern flushed out of the reed bed by a Purple SwamphenWe also had views of Penduline TitMelodiousGarden and Cetti’s Warblers and an aerial display by Alpine Swifts which William told us didn’t usually happen until the evening.  Eventually we had to drag ourselves away via a more recent footbridge further up the river and closer to the heron nests.
Merida Guadiana riverside park
Roman bridge - view point

Night Heron

Little Bittern
Penduline tit
Purple Heron

Purple Swamphen

We spent the afternoon in the nearby Cornalvo National Park.  I haven’t mentioned the wild flowers before now but following a cold and wet spring the countryside was lush and green and carpets of wild flowers adorned the fields.  Spanish Lavender, Oxeye Daisies, Corn MarigoldsVipers bugloss, Poppies and Orchids were in abundance.  It was truly beautiful. After lunch we had a walk by a reservoir with a selection of birds including Azure Winged Magpies, Spanish Sparrows and Little Ringed Plovers.  We then moved on to the Ruta del Rigidero hide over-looking some wetlands and here we had great views of nine Spoonbills, Great White Egrets, a couple of Bee-eaters and Black Winged Stilts. Quails were also heard here.

Spanish Sparrow
~And hey something different not a bird lizards!!

Black winged Stilts

Day 4
Our day started in Trujillo at the town bullring and yes it is still used but according to William the bull fighting is dying out, less people attend and attitudes are changing. Here’s hoping!  I felt a little uneasy being here but we didn’t go inside.  The reason for coming here however, was to see the Lesser Kestrels for which nest boxes had been provided on the outside of the building.

Lesser kestrels

Moving on and heading for the Alcollarin reservoir we had a few stops, one by a small stream where we could hear Golden Orioles around but they were not being co-operative!  A Grey Wagtail was a new bird for us here.  The next stop was to the site of a Bonelli’s Eagles nest on a craggy hillside.  We did manage a sighting along with the many other raptors that we were becoming accustomed to.  Next a stop at a river for a Great Reed Warbler which gave great views and song ‘karra karra karra krie krie krie etc.  A little further along the road Lesser Kestrel nests had been built in to the roof space and walls of the local church and we watched them coming and going for a little while.

Gt reed warbler

Eventually we moved on to Alcollarin Reservoir and had a quick scan of the birds on the water from the boardwalk.  Common Sandpipers were playing along the dam wall and a family of Egyptian Geese swam in convoy across the water, eventually we dragged ourselves away for lunch at the adjacent picnic tables.

I should mention that every day except one, we were joined at lunchtime by William’s wife Ana and their almost one year old Golden Retriever Rasta.  Ana provided wonderful picnic lunches and we looked forward with anticipation to their visits.
Linda and Rasta

On this particular occasion though lunch lunchtime was going to be extra special.  Whilst eating our lunch Rhodie and I noticed what appeared to be a bird of prey fly in to the tree opposite causing panic amongst the Sparrows.  Sometime after I heard a noise and looked upwards into the tree above our picnic table.

Momentarily, I thought has someone placed a cuddly toy in the branches above? When realisation dawned on me my jaw dropped as we were being looked down on by a  Long Eared Owlet.  It was one of the parents that had flown into the tree opposite.  When William noticed that we had already seen ‘today’s surprise’ he came over and told us to carry on as normal and not to look at it too much.  Later we viewed the nest at a distance through a scope and there were two more owlets in the nest and possibly a fourth in the brood.  What can I say truly wonderful.  The day was not over yet though and we carried on to other parts of the reservoir having great views of a Bee-eater colony, Gull-Billed Terns, a Ruddy Shelduck and Black Necked Grebes.
Juan Pablo and farm dog friend

Day 5
All packed up and ready to go home later in the day, we said our goodbyes to Trujillo, the lovely town where we were staying and which was about to host a local cheese festival, including 500 cheeses over the next few days.  Unfortunately it did not open until 12pm.

Day break

Santa Maria la mayor church
View from castle

Trujillo castle : The castle is in the highest part of Trujillo. It was built in the 13th century on the site of an old Arab fortress from the 9th or 10th century. The square towers typical of Islamic military architecture are preserved. It is built of masonry and mortar and is made up of two parts, the Main Courtyard and the Albacara.

Our first stop was at Miravet on a hillside woodland to look for Firecrest, Woodlark and Crested Tit.  We all had good views of Woodlark, a few had a brief glimpse of Crested Tit but although  Firecrest was heard it could not be seen!
Miravet Monfrague 666 metres

Moving on to Saucedilla and the Arrocampo Reservoir we picked up our first Sand Martin of the trip on the wires at the entrance to the reserve.  The highlights here were more Little Bittern sightings, a pair of Red Crested Pochards, and a distant Black Winged Kite.
Booted Eagle
 During lunch back at the visitor centre a Booted Eagle came down low over our heads sending all the swallows into a frenzy.  A further couple of hours were spent here after lunch eventually catching up with a Savi’s Warbler which gave excellent views.  A great end to this trip which exceeded all our expectations.  At around 4pm we headed back to Madrid to catch the 9pm flight home but that is another story!!!
A long trip home -being taken to our overnight hotel after our flight was cancelled!

Ann Tomo

Pictures: Neil Prendergast & Laura Bimson

1 comment:

Algolthedemonstar On WikiAnswers said...

Great blog, Ann. Brought back the wonderful memories.
Chris D.