Sunday 9 June 2013

Five days in Extremadura

Red Kite Milvus milvus (PHOTO: David Jefferson)
What a five days!  The weather was perfect as we drove up to Trujillo on Monday 3 June and it remained that way for the following two days.  Thursday turned out a little on the cloudy and cool side but did, eventually warm up by mid-afternoon.. Some justification, therefore, for turning out in shorts and no jumper to put on!  By contrast, Friday was promised to be cloudy but, having already packed the cases, etc and loaded the car, I did not expect the heavy rain showers during the morning!

Great Bustard Otis tarda
The week started with a total of five cars making their way up through Cordoba Province to meet up at the convent just inside the Extremadura boundary for a midday lunch and the opportunity to watch the good number of Montagu's Harriers as we waited for each other.  Needless to say, on this occasion my car was the last to arrive so only a limited time to eat our packed lunches before setting off to try and find the Rollers and Great Bustards before our early arrival in Trujillo itself.  I think we all managed to record a number of Black Kites on the way up through Andalucia but Marcus and Liz, I think, were the only ones to see a Black-winged Kite.  All the more disappointing as this was one expected bird that did not reappear for the whole week.  Lots of Iberian Grey and Woodchat Shrikes and, for our car, the close sighting of a Golden Oriole as it passed immediately in front of the windscreen and circled to our right before disappearing into the neighbouring trees.

Roller Coracias garrulus
What a disappointment in terms of the targeted birds; no Great Bustards and we were up at the old railway station before we found our first Roller, and then late on n the afternoon.  The close sightings of about three individuals cam so suddenly as we started the last leg of the outward journey that they were unable to be photographed.  On the other hand, we did have lots of Azure-winged Magpies, Spanish Sparrows, a Short-toed Eagle and the sight of our first Little Bustard.

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Tuesday saw us off to the Arrocampo Reservoir to the north-est of Trujillo and, again, no Black-winged Kite but we did have loads of Purple Herons and a Little Bittern. Raptors included Black and Red Kites plus the first of very many Lesser Kestrels.  The water produced a few Cormorants and our only ducks; Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall.  Near to the hides we had very good views of Little Egret, both Little and Great Crested Grebes, Great White Heron and a couple of Purple Swamphens.  Both Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns were hunting over the water but , for me, the sound and then fleeting views of a Savi's Warbler was a particular joy.  The journey out to the reservoir also produced a Nightingale and the sound of our first Common Cuckoo.  In addition, both Great and (common) Reed Warblers were also seen.

Little Owl Athena noctua (PHOTO: David Jefferson)
Wednesday was the day of the Griffon Vultures as we drove over and through the Monfrague National Park.  Not only Griffons but a small number of Black (Monk) and a single Egyptian Vulture.  Raptors also included numerous Black Kites, Buzzards and Lesser Kestrels with the occasional Common Kestrel.  Whilst at the Mirador we also enjoyed the spectacle of a Peregrine Falcon trying to chase off the Griffon Vultures whilst, at the bottom of the cliff face there were two Black Stork nests, both with young albeit probably at least a week's difference in the ages of the respective youngsters.  Here also we recorded Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart and Short-toed Treecreeper.  meanwhile, at the long river bridge, there were scores of nesting House Martins; most feeding over the water along with both Barn and Red-rumped Swallow and also in the company of all three larger Swifts, Common, Alpine and Pallid.

Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius (PHOTO: David Jefferson)
With it being much cooler (cold?) on the Thursday we had made an earlier start and arranged to return to the apartments in the early afternoon.  This was the day to try and find both Great Bustards and Great Spotted Cuckoo.  We were successful with the former and a group of six mainly males but it was left to David and Ann, who stayed out all day, to find not only a Great Spotted Cuckoo but a pair of Common Cuckoos.  A Booted Eagle was an added bonus and, for some of us, a gathering of well in excess of an hundred Black Kites was somewhat spectacular, even if by then we had grown tired of seeing so many at the expensive of other raptors.  Lots of Calandra Larks, Hoopoes and Bee-eaters about and then an over-flying Little Bustard was a special delight.  Of course, we could not forget the quick sight of a Little Owl, though David and Ann were able to get a better sighting later on, and who would say no to the Pintail Sandgrouse that passed overhead.

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus (PHOTO: David Jefferson)
So we came to the last day and our individual return journeys.  With David and Ann having found the Cuckoos it would appear that at least two cars had another tour of this area before setting off south, in our case not leaving until gone 1pm.  Yes, we found the Common Cuckoos along with loads of Rollers between the showers - but not a many or as near as David and Ann had the previous afternoon.  Strange to say, we even came across a flock of over thirty Ravens (collectively "an unkindness of Ravens") which was rather unexpected.

Roller Coracias garrulus (PHOTO: David Jefferson)
So, we all duly arrived back in Malaga Province, all bar Ellie, Janet and David in the Axarquia.  Totting up the lists for each day and comparing with additional birds seen by the other cars, it would seem that the dozen of us eventually recorded 103 species for the five days.  Amazing when you think that the high water levels reduced wader species to less than a handful and only three ducks were recorded.  But what a great introduction to the wonders and potential of Extremadura for this making their first visit to the region and such lovely company.  Even the apartments were a joy to behold and so very reasonably priced considering wee were staying in the centre of the town.

Birds seen during the five days:
Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Red-legged partridge, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Bittern, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Black Stork, White Stork, Black-winged Kite, Red Kite, Black Kite, Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Little Bustard, Great Bustard, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, Pintail Sandgrouse, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Common Cuckoo, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Little Owl,  Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Roller, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Pied Wagtail, White Wagtail, Wren, Nightingale, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Savi's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Tree-creeper, Golden Oriole, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting.

A selection of pictures form the visit:

Tree-nesting White Storks Ciconia ciconia
But Black Stork Ciconia nigra on the cliff base immediately below the Griffon Vulture nests

Great White Egret Egretta alba
Black (Monk) Vulture  Aegypius monachus
Egyptian Vulture  Neophron percnopterus

Record shot of a distant Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus following his battles with the local vultures
Little Ringed Plover  Charadrius dubius
Short-toed Treecreeper  Certhia brachydactyla

Blue Rock Thrush  Monticola solitarius

Calandra Lark  Melanocorypha calandra
Yet another departing Roller Coracias garrulus
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus on the prowl

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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