SPAIN
 

8th - 13th APRIL 2012
EXTREMADURA

Trujillo

I’d fancied doing this trip for the last few years. Steve Fletcher’s excellent Extremadura Diary updates and photos on Birdguides, plus Martin Kelsey’s very well written Birding Extremadura blog give an insight and feel for an area with superb birds, which also appeared to offer excellent photographic opportunities in a great setting.

In mid-March booked the flight, followed by a few sessions scanning the internet for trip reports, gleaning as much background info as possible. A big thanks to those individuals who made the effort of posting their reports, which proved invaluable in putting an itinery together.

Extremadura is less than a three hour drive west of Madrid, and with the Spanish capital well served from UK airports, it is reasonably straightforward to get to.

Madrid to Monfragüe

This was going to be a very short visit – arriving in Madrid late evening on the Sunday, then flying back to Manchester on the Friday evening. Given the commute to Extremadura, weather permitting at best I had around four and a half days in the field - in a sense it was more of a recce than a real birding trip.

At this time of year, before the very hot and dry summer arrives, the weather can be variable with rain a definite possibility, and the forecasts on the run up to the visit were pretty indifferent – it was unlikely to be wall to wall sunshine, and the potential was there to loose a day or so due to the weather, which would have made things difficult.

Travelling alone I had total flexibility in what I did from day to day, in the sense of what areas to visit or birds to aim for. The emphasis was always going to be on photography, with the effort put into getting quality views and shots of what was on offer, rather than trying to see as many species as possible.

There’s a few ways of getting to Extremadura, including flying to Portugal, but the popular route I took is via Madrid, which offers a very good road link to the region via the A5-E90 motorway.

A VW Polo from Europcar was great on mileage, and did everything I asked of it, including a few fairly rough tracks, but I can’t remember driving a car with such a narrow windscreen and therefore limited field of view.

DehesasDehesas

Dehesa with the Sierra de Gredos mountains in the background

I bought ‘Where to Watch Birds in Southern & Western Spain’ by Garcia and Paterson (which I’ll probably use in the future), but with a large number of detailed trip reports covering early spring readily available on the internet, it wasn’t used a great deal. Sites in John Muddeman’s book were referred to in numerous of those reports, but it’s out of print and my attempts to find a copy failed.

As far as the weather allowed it, basically birded from dawn to dusk (roughly 08.00am to about 20.15pm from a photography point of view), and crammed in as much active time as possible. Relied on supermarkets for food and drink, to give total flexibility - meals were generally al fresco affairs.

No detailed itinerary as such - basic plan was to cover Monfragüe on the first day, the plains around Monroy and Caceres on the second, the area near Belen on the third, and the final day given over to either trying to find species I'd missed or else revisiting places I'd enjoyed most. Decided against going to the Sierra de Gredos mountains, just wasn't the time available, besides which some of the target species there I'd seen last year in Catalonia. 

 

Day 1 – Sunday 8th April 2012

A travel day.

After a 4.35pm departure from Manchester with Easyjet, arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport at 8.20pm, so just under a three hour flight with the one hour time difference. Clearing arrivals and getting the hire car sorted out with Europcar was a bit slow, and I was away from the terminal for about 9.15pm - it was just past twilight by now. Wasn't looking forward to driving around the capital (the airport is on the east side of Madrid), but once I'd passed the main urban area, more by luck rather than judgement as it took time for the Satnav to kick in, it was virtually a case of heading west on just the one road to get to Extremadura, which also included my first experience of toll roads in Spain. With the bulk of the traffic heading in the direction of Madrid following the Easter holidays, it was a relatively easy journey to Torrejon el Rubio, a village on the EX-208 and just ten minutes drive to the south of Monfragüe National Park.

Arrived at the Hospederia Parque de Monfragüe hotel after midnight - with a 24 hour desk that was no problem, as I'd already forewarned them as to my arrival time, and as a bonus the receptionist spoke English. A decent size double room just for myself, en suite, with TV and Wi-Fi, and this would be my base for the trip. Location wise, for birding Monfragüe, it was spot on. With the outward leg of travel now sorted, I could be out in the field from first light tomorrow.

 

Day 2 - Monday 9th April 2012

The early morning view from the room balcony gave a great vista overlooking the dehesa (grazing holm & cork oak woodland), with the mountains of the national park as a fitting backdrop. Given clear skies and the sun rising over the horizon, it was going to be a decent day, absolutely ideal conditions. A surprisingly late start compared to the UK, with the light not getting good enough for birding until 8.00am.

Torrejon el Rubio, Extremadura - April 2012Torrejon el Rubio, Extremadura - April 2012First village to the south of Monfrague, and the location of the hotel.

First village to the south of Monfrague, and the location of the hotel

Just after leaving the hotel for Monfragüe I picked up three chasing Cuckoo, with one landing on wires to pose for photos - just the bog standard variety as opposed to Great Spotted Cuckoo, but nice to get good views of a tricky bird to photograph locally in the UK.

Pena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012Pena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Pena Falcon, as viewed from The Castillo, Monfragüe

Moving onto the impressive rocky outcrop of Pena Falcon, a quick look had most vultures still sat on rocks waiting for the temperature to rise and thermals to kick in, so relocated to the upper carpark at The Castillo nearby around 9.00am before the crowds started to arrive. The Castillo itself is an old ruined fortress and with its elevated position, it does offer fantastic views of the national park. Birds seen here included a mobile Blue Rock Thrush (a lifer, and a bird I'd hoped to see last year in Els Ports), Black Redstart and Red-rumped Swallow - too early in the year for White-rumped Swift.

Griffon vultureGriffon vulturePena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Griffon Vulture - Pena Falcon, Monfragüe

Views of vultures were supposed be very good here as they fly along the Monfragüe Ridge, but it proved disappointing, with just a few Griffon Vulture and the odd Egyptian Vulture drifting past at anything like close range - maybe it partly depends on the time of day or the wind direction, as to how good it is. Became increasingly frustrating as by this stage I could see numbers of Griffon Vulture lifting off in the distance around Pena Falcon, including the occasional Black Vulture, which was also a new bird. It became obvious that I was in the wrong place, so at 10.00am I decided to give up and return to Pena Falcon viewpoint.

Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012Looking north-west from the Castillo, with the Rivers Tajo and Tietar in the shot.

 Looking north-west from the Castillo, with the Rivers Tajo and Tietar in the shot

Back in the gorge, some decent views over the next couple of hours of Griffon Vulture circling, plus the odd Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork, but not good enough for anything other than reasonable record shots. I'd left it too late, and by this point most of the larger birds had left the area - a bit of a cock-up with hindsight, and not the best of starts. Sought some consolation with the passerines on offer, and the star here was a male Blue Rock Thrush, one of two or three birds present, which unlike the earlier bird on The Castillo, gave superb views for the camera. Additional species here included Rock Bunting, Serin, Subalpine Warbler and more Red-rumped Swallow.

Black storkBlack storkPena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Black Stork - Pena Falcon, Monfragüe

Decided at midday to move on. Not a huge variation in what you can do as such in the national park, as most of the area is out of bounds, so it's pretty much a case of following the road that runs alongside the River Tajo and the Rio Tietar, taking in the various designated viewpoints en route. Distance wise, between the Pena Falcon viewpoint in the west and the Portilla del Tietar viewpoint in the east, ie: the two extremes, you're maybe looking at only ten miles, so it's a very compact area to cover.

Had a stop off at Villareal de San Carlos, the only village in the park, for a much appreciated cold drink, before continuing east. Also had my only Hobby of the trip here.

Azure-winged magpieAzure-winged magpieMirador La Malavuelta, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Azure-winged Magpie - Mirador La Malavuelta, Monfragüe

One of the birds I was really keen on photographing on this trip was Azure-winged Magpie. Fairly nervous and wary birds, but a site that appeared to give a decent chance of photography was the Mirador La Malavuelta. Parked up the car, and baited a couple of spots around the picnic area, then settled down to have lunch. A few marauding flocks worked their way through the trees, and with patience the odd individuals gave very good views on the ground.

Also interesting to watch the Black Kites in this area dropping down to catch fish from the river.

Pushed on towards the Portilla del Tietar viewpoint, arriving at 3.30pm - fairly busy but managed to park off road, then started to scan the rocky outcrop. Similar birds to those of Pena Falcon, though in lesser numbers, and a bit of luck as a birder gave directions for the Eagle Owl ledge, with an adult and single youngster visible. Another bird I'd hoped to see, and by dropping on it now, meant I didn't have to try again at dusk which was the alternative.

This viewpoint is also probably the main site in Monfragüe to view for Spanish Imperial Eagle, one of the rarest raptors in the world, with a pair nesting close by. Gave it an hour and a half, and with no sign, decided to drift back towards Pena Falcon - still plenty of time to pick one up later in the trip.

Black vultureBlack vulturePena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Black Vulture - Pena Falcon, Monfragüe

Additional birds seen in this area included Great White Egret, the only one I saw in Monfragüe. Scanned a few of the viewpoints as well hoping for Bonelli's Eagle without any joy.

Griffon vultureGriffon vulturePena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Griffon Vulture in formation - Pena Falcon, Monfragüe

Arrived back at Pena Flacon at around 6.00pm and a total contrast to the more distant views earlier in the morning. A beautiful evening, warm with blue skies, and the returning large raptors were swirling around in numbers, some of the views were astonishing low, giving terrific photo opportunities. Gave a chance to appreciate just how huge vultures are with their nine and ten foot wing-spans - really impressive at close range. Thought before the trip I'd do well to get record shots of Black Vulture, but the views were so good in great light, it wasn't a problem at all getting decent quality images.
 

Griffon vultureGriffon vulturePena Falcon viewpoint (looking east), Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Griffon Vultures - Pena Falcon, Monfragüe

Couldn't have been a better day to start the trip, and as hoped for Monfragüe had been excellent.

 

Day 3 - Tuesday 10th April 2012

Away from the mountains of Monfragüe today, with the intention of concentrating on the steppe type grasslands, basically driving south-west towards the areas of Monroy and Caceres. Set off  at dawn, and the first stop was Monroy. Headed along the roads to the east and then the west, scanning the various fields gave some decent views of Short-toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Rock Sparrow and Spotless Starling.

Rock sparrowRock sparrowMonroy, Extremadura - April 2012

Rock Sparrow - Monroy

Was struggling to pick up any sandgrouse, bustards or harriers, and the vast area of fields to scan didn't make it easy. Should have been a bit more committed searching, but generally I tend to focus on what's at fairly close range, anything too distant, I'm not going to get shots of anyway.
 

Gradually drifted south-west on the EX-390, over the Rio Almonte, towards Caceres. By now it was mid-morning, and I'd had a relatively quiet hour or so, before all of a sudden, things started to change. First piece of luck was picking up a Great Bustard in flight - parked up to scan where it had landed, to discover an additional two. Pretty distant, but a relief to see them all the same, being a new bird. Just further on, the first Roller of the trip gave great views on the deck - not surprising to see them in the area, with numerous nest boxes attached to telegraph poles on this stretch of road.
 

Great bustardGreat bustardTorreorgaz, Extremadura - April 2012

Great Bustard - Torreorgaz
 

A small flock of Spanish Sparrow was a bonus - another lifer.

Crossed over the A58, and headed for the village of Torreorgaz, where I turned left opposite the building with a bustard painted on the side of it, taking the track heading north. A bit bumpy, but not too bad, and a few birds along here including Black-winged Stilt and White Stork. Drove as far along the track as possible, then scanned the fields at the end - picked up a small group of four Great Bustard to the east, at much closer range than the earlier birds, and well within range for decent record shots. By this point it was midday, and there was a reasonable amount of heat haze.

From here retraced my route back north, again along the EX-390, up to the junction with the CC-122. Initially I picked up a single Montagu's Harrier in flight over a crop field, pulled over, and over the next hour or so was entertained by four or five birds showing on a regular basis, and at times gives very close flybys - surprised I'd missed them earlier this morning. A real shame the light wasn't as good as yesterday - after a decent start to the day it was becoming increasingly cloudy and cool. Elegance personified, and having only seen the odd ones in the UK and Spain before, with these kind of views, definitely one of my favourite birds of the trip.

Montagu's harrierMontagu's harrierCaceres, Extremadura - April 2012

Montagu's Harrier - Caceres area (junction of the EX-390 and CC-122)

By now it was heading towards late afternoon, and wasn't too sure as to where to head next. The original plan was tomorrow I'd have a look at the plains around Belen, just to the east of Trujillo, but with a few hours to spare, thought it was probably worth having a look now, so that I'd be more prepared for in the morning. With the A58 being such a fast road connecting the two sites, it didn't take long at all to get there.

Took the CC-23.1 east towards and past Torrecillas de la Tiesa, then took the track south west towards Belen.

Belen, Extremadura - April 2012Belen, Extremadura - April 2012

Belen Plains

Was looking forward to visiting Belen prior to going to Spain, and it didn't disappoint. Started off well enough with a close range Southern Grey Shrike, and further along the road a few White Stork. By this stage it had started to rain heavily (the only rain of the trip), and I was unlucky for this to coincide with picking up an adult Great Spotted Cuckoo, which was showing really well in bushes right next to the road. Though confiding, I just had to do the best I could in the squall and associated poor light, with the camera kit getting wet.

Carried on scanning for bustards, and picked up a flock of maybe fifteen Great Bustard, including males in display mode. A bit distant, but excellent views in the scope.

I could hear Little Bustard as well at closer range, but virtually a waste of time trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from - it was just a case of scanning an area in the right field. I eventually managed to pick them up, but they were never as close as you thought they where, very frustrating.

Was worthwhile visiting Belen this evening - hadn't photographed much, but it does look good, and hopefully tomorrow will yield better results.

Getting fairly late now, so started to head back towards Torrejon el Rubio via the EX-208. Stopped off briefly by the bridge over the Rio Almonte, and had some nice views of low flying Crag Martin. Looked an interesting area to investigate, and merited more time, but never did get the chance to give it another bash.

An excellent day again, with great views of a number of birds.

 

Day 3 - Wednesday 11th April 2012

A bright morning again and set off from Torrejon el Rubio just after 8.00am. White Storks were circling around the village (they breed on the high tower) and Alpine Swifts were whizzing around.

Headed straight down to Belen for another day on the plains, retracing the same route as yesterday. A good start with a couple of Short-toed Eagles sat on a pylon - thought I would have come across these before now, but this was my first sighting of the species on this trip. Then it was just a case of driving along the road slowly, and every now and again stopping for a scan of the fields. Had an Iberian Hare, the only one I saw, then generally it was the usual larks, including good views of Calandra Lark, Northern Wheatear, Hoopoe, White Stork, and a variety of raptors including Griffon and Black Vulture.

Little bustardLittle bustardBelen, Extremadura - April 2012

Little Bustard - Belen

Stopped off at the same spot I'd had the bustards the previous evening, and they were still present. The Great Bustards again too far for anything other than records shots, considerably more distant than the views I had at Torreorgaz. Little Bustards were still teasing, but at least I managed a few images today. Difficult to photograph them shooting over significant distances and being hindered by heat haze, so very much record shots only. If you have the time to devote to a single species, you can arrange a day in a hide with various companies to photograph Little Bustard (as for others species), where you've got a decent opportunity of getting full frame photos.

By now it had just gone 10.00am, and for the next hour or so, some superb views in good light of Bee-eater, Short-toed Eagle and a couple of Great Spotted Cuckoo (a 1st year bird offering a caterpillar to and then trying to mate with an adult). A brilliant session, and all very easy so far.

Bee-eaterBee-eaterBelen, Extremadura - April 2012

Bee-eater - Belen

Short-toed eagleShort-toed eagleBelen, Extremadura - April 2012

Short-toed Eagle - Belen

Great Spotted Cuckoo - Belen

Headed towards Trujillo at midday to the bullring, which dates back to 1848, and it was found without any problem - this was the well known location to photograph Lesser Kestrel. Part of Spanish culture, it's still difficult to think of bull fighting going on in the modern day - appears to be popular activity throughout this part of Spain.
 

The Bullring, Trujillo

It seemed like evenings were best for photography as the Lesser Kestrels return from feeding in the surrounding fields, but there were enough around to justify a session with the camera now. This was a downside of staying in Torrejon el Rubio as opposed to Trujillo - would have been a drag having to make an evening journey solely to target them, whereas staying locally in Trujillo you could have had a session most evenings (swings and roundabouts, as the hotel was much better placed for the national park).

Trujillo's main claim to fame is being the birthplace  of Franciso Pizarro, one of the Spanish conquistadors who conquered the Inca Empire/Peru and founded the city of Lima. 

Lesser kestrelLesser kestrelTrujillo, Extremadura - April 2012

  Lesser Kestrel - Trujillo

Mid-afternoon moved on to the Montagu's Harrier site again, in what was better light conditions, but a rerun of yesterday in that the blue skies and scattered clouds, were gradually replaced by increasing cloud cover, so I couldn't improve on the photos taken yesterday. An hour or so watching the harriers was pleasant nevertheless, then I started to drift slowly along the EX-390 in the direction of the hotel. Yet again on the stretch of road where every telegraph pole had a nest box, Roller was present - this was the only place I saw them over the five days. Not sure if Lesser Kestrel use the nest boxes as well, but there was a couple of birds sat on wires.

RollerRollerCaceres, Extremadura - April 2012

Roller - Caceres area (road EX-390)

All fairly confiding, but like a lot of photos taken in Extremadura, birds are quite likely to be sat on barbed or other types of wire, as opposed to natural perches.

A bit of a lull in the heat of the afternoon, with things relatively quiet. Stopped off at both the Rio Almonte (great views of Crag Martin perched on a rocky outcrop) and Rio Magasca (decent flight views of Red-rumped Swallow), but generally I wasn't picking up anything new. One bird I was hoping to drop on was Black-shouldered Kite, and spent time regularly scanning for them, but without any specific site info, it was always going to be a struggle and require some luck.

Fighting bullsFighting bulls

Fighting bulls - Monfragüe

Arrived at Torrejon el Rubio just after six o'clock - would have been on the go for about ten hours at this stage, but rather than head to the hotel, decided to spend the last hour or so of light in Monfragüe. Hadn't driven far into the national park, having just crossed the bridge over the Arroyo de la Vid when I picked up a Golden Eagle circling low above. Quickly pulled over, grabbed the camera from the passenger seat, and fortunately it was still there. A brilliant unexpected bonus, especially considering the usually fairly distant views you tend to get in Scotland.

Golden eagleGolden eagleMonfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Golden Eagle - Monfragüe

At Pena Falcon it was busy but I just about found a parking space, and again very good views of the vultures. A  superb way to end what had been a great day on the photography front.

Back to the hotel a bit of a bonus from the usual Spanish programmes on TV, with Real Madrid playing Atletico Madrid, a Ronaldo hat-trick the difference between the two teams.

 

Day 4 - Thursday 12th April 2012

A change of scene today, and decided to try a couple of different locations.

Started the morning in Jaraicejo, which was a good spot for warblers. On such a tight schedule, I had to take whatever weather conditions I was given, and some bad luck in the timing of this visit in the sense of it being heavily overcast, windy and feeling cold - any of the other mornings of the trip would have been better for visiting this location. Main reason for coming here was for Spectacled Warbler, but with the warblers keeping in cover, it was difficult - highlight ended up being Dartford Warbler.

Dartford warblerDartford warblerJaraicejo, Extremadura - April 2012

Dartford Warbler - Jaraicejo

Didn't take long to get frustrated, and decided to move on to the reservoir at Arrocampo instead. Hadn't been 100% sure whether it was worthwhile giving this location a bash - having visited the Ebro Delta last year, I would have seen the species of heron available, but it was supposed to be a good site for Black-shouldered Kite, and that swung it. Starting to run out of time now, and I was becoming increasingly conscious of what I hadn't seen yet.

It was actually an excellent reserve, with a totally different feel compared to the other sites visited so far - considering it owed its existence to cooling the Almaraz nuclear power station, it was a pleasant experience. Had to pick up a key for the hides from the visitor centre in Saucedilla, but that was straightforward enough - didn't need the keys anyway, as most of the areas could be viewed better from the ramps leading up to the hides.

Started off from the main road (CCV-17.1) and new birds for the trip included Marsh Harrier, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Penduline Tit, Fan-tailed Warbler, Savi's Warbler and Cetti's Warbler. Also picked up additional Great White Egrets.

Cattle egretCattle egretArrocampo, Extremadura - April 2012

Cattle Egret - Arrocampo

There's five hides in total, and by now I was pretty much focussed by now on finding Black-shouldered Kite. Seemed like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and didn't have any joy at all. Managed to pick up a Collared Pratincole in flight, plus Woodlark, but also missed Gull-billed Tern.

Gave it a couple of hours, before deciding around two o'clock to head back to Monfragüe via Serrejon, approaching from a north-easterly direction. This should have given another chance of Black-shouldered Kite en route (but still drew a blank), and once back in the national park, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli's Eagle should be a possibility.

Portilla del Tietar, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012Portilla del Tietar, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012Eastern entrance to the National Park - Portilla del Tietar in the distance.

Eastern entrance to the National Park - Portilla del Tietar in the distance

A stop off at the various viewpoints, but still didn't have any luck in locating either of the two target eagles - should have given it longer with hindsight. A quick pit stop at the Hospederia Parque de Monfragüe, then instead of heading back into Monfragüe which would have been the correct decision, headed off to Belen for the final time. Didn't find anything new, just the same as in the earlier visits, and didn't manage anything on the photography front better than I already had.

 

Day 5 - Friday 13th April 2012

Virtually at the end of the trip now - needed to leave Extremadura by late afternoon at the latest to safely give enough time to offload the hire car, check in and catch the 22.15pm flight from Madrid for Manchester. The plan was to bird around Monfragüe and then end up at Arrocampo Reservoir, which was well placed for the E-90 - the target species for the day were Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle and Black-shouldered Kite.

Set off from the Hospederia Parque de Monfragüe hotel for the last time just after 8.00am - a decent place to stay, and I'd happily return if I ever got the chance to come back. Hadn't used the dining facilities (not really much point being on my own), so can't comment on that side of things, but location wise being so close to Monfragüe, it was spot on. In addition there was plenty of parking spaces outside, the room was a bit tired but comfortable and clean, and I could come and go as I pleased without disturbing any of the other guests.

Griffon vultureGriffon vulturePena Falcon, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Griffon Vulture - Pena Falcon, Monfragüe

Started off at Pena Falcon (where else!), and such a superb place to get point blank views of large raptors. Gave it until around 9.15am, and with no sign of any of the target species, left fairly smartish to the Portilla del Tietar viewpoint. Very much a case of patience now, with some careful scanning of the skyline required. Thought I could be in for a long vigil, then all of a sudden just after 10.00am an eagle drifted in from the left of the viewpoint flashing the all important white leading edge to the wings - job done, Spanish Imperial Eagle at last.

Portilla del Tietar, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012Portilla del Tietar, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Portilla del Tietar viewpoint, Monfragüe

It dropped down into the trees to the right of the rocky outcrop of Portilla del Tietar, and after a few minutes it crossed over the gorge in the direction of the viewpoint. Wasn't best placed to photograph it from where I was stood, but decided to move a bit further east (maybe 40m meters or so) along the road, which was slightly better elevated, in case it was a regular flight path. Took a bit of faith but at 11.15am, it did exactly the same thing - ended up flying virtually over my head, and at it's closest I couldn't fit the bird in the frame, at least sharply.

Spanish imperial eagleSpanish imperial eaglePortilla del Tietar, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Spanish Imperial Eagle - Portilla del Tietar, Monfragüe

Never imagined I'd get these kind of views - simply stunning.

The Eagle Owl was still showing, and with time pressing another decision had to be made. I could either stick it out around Monfragüe in the hope of connecting with Bonelli's Eagle, or else head to Arrocampo for a possible Black-shouldered Kite - in the end I opted for the latter.

Eagle owl with youngEagle owl with youngPortilla del Tietar, Monfrague, Extremadura - April 2012

Huge crop, shot taken from the public viewpoint.

Eagle Owl with young - Portilla del Tietar, Monfragüe

Back at Arrocampo, a good start with a Purple Heron flying low over a reedbed. It quickly became apparent it was agitated, the reason for which soon materialised, as a  Booted Eagle flushed giving great views and photo opportunities as it circled around. With no sign of Black-shouldered Kite on the main reserve, moved onto peripheral hide 5 at 2.00pm - saw the Cattle Egrets flying around as I arrived, and chatting to some French birders, the cause of the commotion was that I'd literally just missed a kite having a spat with a Booted Eagle. Bad luck timing wise, so it was now a case of staking out the area. So followed a couple of hours of constantly scanning the scattered woodland, and at the same time checked my watch to see how far I could push things.

Booted eagleBooted eagleArrocampo, Extremadura - April 2012

Booted Eagle - Arrocampo

Wasn't looking great, then about 4.15pm, finally picked up a Black-shouldered Kite perched on a tree. Fairly distant, but good enough, and also managed a few flight views. Huge relief, in part because I'd actually found one, and secondly because I could now set off for the airport on the first leg of the journey home.

Black-shouldered kiteBlack-shouldered kiteArrocampo, Extremadura - April 2012

Black-shouldered Kite - Arrocampo

Two out of the three target species on the final day wasn't a bad return at all - Bonelli's Eagle remains as a bird  I still need to pick up, but hopefully one day I'll manage to achieve that. Can't complain, the trip was based around raptors and with up to 18 species seen, including three lifers (Black Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black-shouldered Kite), many of which gave tremendous views, it was success.

Arrived back in Manchester around midnight, then an easy drive on the M62 and A64 back to North Yorkshire.

 

Summary

A great place to visit, steeped in history, ticked all of my boxes and I'd love to return. Being unspoilt, it's just like stepping back in time, pretty enough landscapes, nothing hugely dramatic other than the impressive river valleys, but what is here is perfectly formed.

Organising a trip you have a reasonable idea as to what species you're liable to see, what's much harder to determine is how likely you are to be able to photograph them. You've definitely got to put the effort in, but even over a short period of just over four days, the views were so good there was plenty of opportunities on offer.

One downside, having been such a dry winter, I never did get the chance to see the dehesa in flower, which was a shame.

Was pretty lucky with the weather though, which away from cooler periods of dawn and dusk was warm, the light was generally excellent for photography, and apart from the one heavy shower, it was dry.

Extremadura is a well trodden path by birders from the UK and beyond, and having now been there, it's not surprising why.

A full set of photos from the trip is here - http://www.eastaytonbirding.com/p349210717.

 

Maps

Michelin 576 regional map for Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Madrid.

At times I would have struggled using just the map – it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find the right road out of even some small villages, where road signs are a bit on the non-existent or limited side, and the Sat Nav came into its own on these occasions.

 

Links

Accommodation - http://www.hospederiasdeextremadura.es/hotel/hospederia-parque-de-monfrague

Birdguides articles - http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=3186
Extremadura Birding - http://www.extremadurabirding.co.uk/ 
Martin Kelsey's blog - http://birdingextremadura.blogspot.co.uk/