Extremadura including Monfragüe and the steppes of Serena (8 days)
Tour leaders: Cristian Jensen Marcet & Iben Hove Sørensen
Group members: Amelia Almeida, Rui Vilar & Alberto Galofré
146 species recorded
Trip report written by Iben Hove Sørensen
We met Alberto in the centre of Madrid and headed straight for the nearest way out of the city. A coffee and a few hours driving later we arrived at our hotel in Serrejón where Amelia and Rui were waiting for us. We settled in to our rooms, picked up our picnics and went for an afternoon of birdwatching in the area around Serrejón. Our first stop was in a quiet dehesa area with the characteristic oak trees all around. In addition to the grazing cattle, the field held as diverse bird species as White Stork, Cattle Egret, Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie, Blackbird, and Common Redstart. While enjoying our lunch in the shade of the trees, we watched numerous Chaffinches foraging in the grass, and we also had several brief views of an Orphean Warbler carrying nest material.
As we continued our route through the dehesas, we kept hearing the Cuckoo call, and we decided to go for a walk along the fence of a promising piece of land. Instead of finding the Cuckoo we were looking for, we discovered a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoo and watched them as they came closer through the trees and bushes. They finally settled down on a low branch, the male passed a large caterpillar to the female, and to our surprise we then found ourselves watching a full mating ritual! Black Kite was by far the most common raptor around us, yet we also saw Common Buzzard, Kestrel, and Lesser Kestrel. A large group of Bee-eater kept us entertained for a while, although traffic made it difficult to spend too much time in the same spot.
Last stop on our short itinerary this day was a peaceful spot near a waterhole. A Sparrowhawk was hunting a group of swallows without much luck, and a couple of Mallards were calmly foraging in the still water. In the sunny afternoon several species of butterfly were taking the opportunity to forage in the great variety of wild flowers on display at this time of year, making it difficult to imagine the dryness of the area a few months from now. We took the opportunity to forage in the excellent restaurant at Hotel Alcaudon and went to bed with high hopes for the coming week.
After breakfast we headed for the heart of the nearby nature park of Monfragüe. The first bird of the day was a Cirl Bunting just outside the village, and approaching the park we were astonished by the number of Griffon Vultures circling the sky. Our first stop at Portilla de Tietar provided an amazing number of raptors, including superb views of a perched Spanish Imperial Eagle. Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, and Egyptian Vulture were soaring high above the mountains, and an Eagle Owl was sitting on its nest between the rocks - from time to time allowing the fluffy white chicks to catch a glimpse of the world (and us to catch a glimpse of them!). Whenever the Spanish Imperial Eagle took flight it was continuously followed by a group of Ravens, and several times it even had aerial battles with the vultures.
At our lunch stop at Puente del Cardenal, we had several vultures flying low above our heads in spectacular formations of 2-6 individuals, and we all forgot about our sandwiches when a Bonelli's Eagle passed overhead. The nearby House Martin colony was in full construction with birds collecting mud all around us, and Alpine Swifts were flying low mixed in with the martins.
We continued on to Salto del Gitano, where we had Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture and Black Stork very close. Two Black Storks were preparing their nest in a cavity on the cliff side, but this pair had not yet started incubating. We watched several individuals of Blue Rock Thrush, which had by now become Amelia's favourite bird, and were lucky to find both males and females in order to compare the sexes of this beautiful thrush. Blue Tit, Linnet and Rock Bunting were foraging in the vegetation close by, and Red-billed Chough were noisily skimming the mountain tops.
From Salto del Gitano we headed back towards Serrejón at leisurely speed, stopping several times to search the cliffs and trees along this slow-moving part of the Tajo River. We found a nest of Egyptian Vulture with two adults on the nest, and as we were watching it we all of a sudden found ourselves surrounded by finches. Hawfinch, Serin, Goldfinch, Siskin, and Greenfinch were all part of the group, and we all particularly enjoyed the close views of the Hawfinch. Our excitement drew other visitors to the spot, and we had to patiently wait for everyone to finish with the telescopes before we could move on. Further along the reservoir we found a Black Stork on the nest and were lucky enough to watch the incubating parents change shift.
On the way back to Serrejón we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a small riverine forest, and a group of Rock Sparrow were foraging in a field mixed in with House Sparrows and Collared Doves. Our dinner at Hotel Alcaudon was again superb, and we all ended up eating more than we thought possible.
We woke up to a bright and sunny day and headed east for a trip round the areas east and south of Monfragüe. On our route through the dehesas we saw several groups of Azure-winged Magpie as they were foraging (and apparently also socialising) under the oak trees, and we also had good views of Southern Grey Shrike. Our first stop was at a church with breeding White Stork, Lesser Kestrel, and Jackdaw, and from there we continued to Embalse de Arrocampo.
We found a little hill on the edge of the reservoir and decided to scan the area from there. Although the local sheep had left the place in a rather smelly state, we soon discovered that it was indeed an excellent site for birdwatching. Yellow Wagtails of the races flava, flavissima and iberiae were foraging in the fields, and Spoonbill, Great White Egret and Purple Heron were flying over the water. Great Crested Grebe and Moorhen were commonly seen at the edge of the reservoir, and White Stork and Common Sandpiper were strutting around on the dam. A Common Whitethroat flew from bush to bush and a beautiful Whiskered Tern crossed the water and continued over the fields. Just as we were leaving, a group of Meadow Pipit settled down in the field. Our lunch stop was on the other side of the reservoir, and singing around us were a number of Cetti's Warbler, Savi's Warbler, and Nightingale. We had great views of Stonechat and Penduline Tit, and another Whiskered Tern flew past to allow us a second glance of this elegant species.
A brief visit to a small waterhole resulted in Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, and Wood Sandpiper, and we also saw Sand Martin and Red-rumped Swallow here. Next stop was an old bridge with a small stream running below. Grey Wagtail, Spanish Sparrow, and Woodchat Shrike were seen in the area, and we also found a pair of Subalpine Warbler building their nest just next to the road. We enjoyed their activity for a while and then continued on towards the mountain top of Miravete. Near the top we saw Blue Tit and Blue Rock Thrush, and in the forested area we had good views of Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper.
As the narrow road was conveniently blocked by a large group of goats, we took the opportunity to turn around and return the way we came - with short stops underway to enjoy our favourite sites. After dinner we went on a small excursion out of town to search for owls, and we were rewarded with no less than four male Tawny Owls calling around us. Also, a group of Red Deer was seen in the dehesa area, and we cheered as a Hedgehog on a night walk made it to the opposite side of the road without being run over by a rapidly approaching car.
The morning started out with a visit to a promising dehesa area, where we hoped to find the Black-shouldered Kite. Our first bird of the day - apart from the omnipresent Woodchat Shrike and Corn Bunting - was Great Spotted Cuckoo. A pair landed on the fence next to the road and didn't seem to mind us watching them at very close range. Rui even took some great shots of them, only to realise later that the camera did not have a memory card inserted. His disappointment soon disappeared as we found a Black-shouldered Kite perched in a tree close to the road. It took off as we approached, only to begin an impressive show of courtship/territory display, and as we watched its aerial acrobatics several Quail began singing in the nearest field. Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon were frequent in the area, and Purple Heron, Little Grebe, and Shoveler were found in a little drinking pond.
The clouds refused to clear up, and we continued our quest of the day in a light drizzle. Fortunately it turned out to be showers instead of permanent rain, and we were lucky enough to be on the road during the worst ones. As we headed south, the landscape became more open, and some hundred metres down a dirt road we found ourselves in the middle of perfect warbler habitat. Soon several Dartford Warblers were heard and seen just next to the road, and a singing male Spectacled Warbler was perched on top of a small bush. Thekla Lark was frequent in the area, as well as the elusive Sardinian Warbler. Two Golden Eagles were seen perched in a nearby tree, and several of the electricity towers held a Short-toed Eagle on top.
As the sun suddenly appeared, the eagles took off, and we decided to have lunch in a quiet spot with scattered trees around. An Orphean Warbler and several Blackbirds were singing in the trees, and the first Montagu's Harrier of the trip was seen hunting over the fields.
In the afternoon we went to the old ruins of Castillo de Monfragüe. Although the weather had again changed back to grey and drizzly, the vultures of Salto del Gitano were still soaring in the sky, and several wet individuals flew past us just at just a few metres distance. Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Serin, and Chaffinch were the most numerous birds around the ruins, but we also saw Black Redstart and Rock Bunting there. As we were enjoying the view from the top, we were jumping with joy as we saw a couple of Bonelli's Eagle chasing a second year Spanish Imperial Eagle out of their territory. We had then seen all the Spanish eagles in just one day! On the way down from the castle we added Nuthatch to our list, and we had spectacular views of the vultures breeding on the rocks. We then slowly made our way back to Serrejón.
Time for a change of scenery. After breakfast we scrambled all our luggage down the stairs and headed south, towards Trujillo. Going along the smaller roads allowed us to stop frequently, which turned out to be highly successful. The first stop revealed a couple of Stone Curlew blending in with the background surprisingly well. Next stop was at a small farm house where a Little Owl flew from the fence and stopped out in the open for everyone to watch it. A scan of the fields from this vantage point revealed a dead sheep in a nearby enclosure, and we decided to sit down and wait for the vultures. The first birds to arrive were Raven, Black Kite and Red Kite, and soon after the Griffon Vultures began to land all around the carcass. A Black Vulture joined as well, and soon there was an impressive number of vultures in the little field. While watching the scene unfold, we spotted a male Little Bustard very close by, and also a group of 29 Black-bellied Sandgrouse feeding on the ground. As we left, several vultures were circling in, and we could easily have spent most of the day watching them squabble over the meal.
However, we left them to it and headed for the steppes of Belen where we had our picnic lunch. Our first group of Great Bustard was walking calmly around between the sheep, and only a few of the males were displaying in the midday sun. Trujillo itself was crowded with people, and we didn't spend much time there - just a brief visit to the main square to see the White Stork colony on the church. We also had great views of a Lesser Kestrel consuming a rather large cricket at the colony on the edge of town.
Continuing our route south, we passed the Embalse de Sierra Brava, where we enjoyed a group of Pallid and Common Swift hunting above us. Also, the reservoir held a large number of Great Crested Grebe, and also a few pairs of Black-necked Grebe. We also saw our first group of gulls here; a mixed flock of Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gull, and also a little group of Black-headed Gull. The colourful floral display around the reservoir was impressive, and seeing Great Bustards dotted in between the purple and yellow flowers was just amazing. We continued towards our final destination for the day, Hotel San Francisco in Quintana de la Serena, where we had dinner and went straight to bed.
After having breakfast (including Paco's own freshly squeezed orange juice...), we headed for the mountain chain of Sierra de Tiros. A walk up to the castle in Benquerencia de la Serena provided good views of Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting, and several Blue Rock Thrushes were also seen on the cliff tops. Alpine Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows were continuously flying around us, along with the many Crag Martins which were nesting on the cliffs. Further down the road we saw a large group of Raven (10-12 individuals together) and a Black Stork, and we had nice views of Serin and other small birds in an olive plantation.
As we turned of the road and headed for the areas of agriculture, we were suddenly surrounded by several pairs of Montagu's Harrier displaying over the fields, and a pair of Egyptian Vulture was perched on a nearby ruin. A short trip through the maze of farmland brought us to an old building housing Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, and Red-billed Chough. We also had great views of an amazingly calm Red-legged Partridge less than two metres from the car - a beautiful and obliging object for mass photography! We turned back and had lunch near a large colony of Spanish Sparrow.
After lunch we went to the steppes of Serena. We soon spotted the first Great Bustard which turned into many, many more as we came closer. Most were males, but several smaller groups of females were seen around the displaying males. In the fields around we saw several Little Owl, Greater Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, and Linnet. As several Great Bustards suddenly took flight at once, we discovered a young Golden Eagle flying low over the steppes thus disturbing their displays and courtship for a while. The eagle was being followed by a group of Lesser Kestrels keeping a close eye on the large raptor entering their hunting grounds.
As usual, a stop at a drinking hole was productive in terms of birds. Several Collared Pratincole were foraging in the fields around, and a group of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse landed in the tall grass. A couple of Stone Curlew were hiding in the grass, and Black Kites were flying overhead. A few males of Little Bustard began displaying, and a couple of them even had a big aerial 'discussion' about the rights to display in a particularly inviting piece of grassland. The nearby female watched with great interest from her patch of flowers - and we did the same from our patch of dirt track! Difficult as it was to leave the scenery and the birds, we went back to Quintana to have dinner and get a good night's sleep.
This morning we woke up to a beautiful, sunny day. As this was our last real birding day, we were all eager to get out and see some more of the area and its inhabitants. We started out with a short stop in the steppes to enjoy the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flying around in large groups close to one of their drinking places. The old buildings nearby held Tawny Pipit, Thekla Lark, Chough, and Jackdaw, and we also had the opportunity to compare Northern and Black-eared Wheatears as they were perched side by side on the stone wall.
We continued on to the Zujar River, where we saw White Stork, Purple and Grey Heron, Little Egret, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Red-crested Pochard, Common Sandpiper, and Greenshank. Great Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler and Nightingale were singing from the reedbeds, and numerous swallows and martins were nesting under the bridge. After having lunch we headed for the opposite side of the river where we saw lots of Bee-eaters perched in the sun. A pair of Booted Eagle was circling the sky, and a Scops Owl was calling from the riverine forest. We heard Melodious Warbler from the nearest shrub, but we were unable to catch more than just a glimpse of this species. A large number of vultures were seen overhead, seemingly heading for a feast somewhere in the pastures of sheep and cattle. Among them were a pair of Black Vulture, with the majority being Griffon Vultures.
Back in Serena we took a route going through prime sandgrouse fields and were rewarded with great views of several groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Just a few Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew past. We continued on to the area where we saw the Great Bustards the previous day, and we were rewarded with several males in full display all around us. It was astonishing to watch these huge birds perform their weird and wonderful courtship acts, and a lucky male attracted at least six females. There were also several Little Bustards around, and a couple of Stone Curlew as well. The beauty and uniqueness of the whole setting made it impossible for us to leave, and we stayed with the bustards until the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Only then did we return to Quintana for our last dinner in the Hotel San Francisco.
We departured from Quintana and headed towards Serrejón, where we had to say goodbye to Amelia and Rui. The trip there was fairly fast and birdwise quite uneventful, yet it was interesting to watch the change of scenery once more. The oak trees and green pastures of the dehesa land welcomed us, and we took the opportunity to take some group photos. From Serrejón we continued to Madrid, where Alberto had another night before heading home the next day.
We were all satisfied and happy with the trip, and it was sad to say goodbye. Hope we will meet again before long.
Best wishes - and good birding,
Cristian and Iben
The group - © Rui Vilar
Needless to say, I enjoyed this trip immensely. The combination of good birds, great organization, fantastic leaders, great company was simply amazing. I couldn't have asked for anything more.
- Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus
- Black-necked Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis
- Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis
- Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
- Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
- Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea
- Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
- Great Egret - Egretta alba
- Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
- Eurasian Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia
- White Stork - Ciconia ciconia
- Black Stork - Ciconia nigra
- Greylag Goose - Anser anser
- Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
- Gadwall - Anas strepera
- Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
- Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina
- Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus
- Black Vulture - Aegypius monachus
- Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
- Red Kite - Milvus milvus
- Black Kite - Milvus migrans
- Black shouldered Kite - Elanus caeruleus
- Bonelli's Eagle - Aquila fasciatus
- Booted Eagle - Aquila pennatus
- Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
- Spanish Imperial Eagle - Aquila adalberti
- Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
- Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
- Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
- Eurasian Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
- Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus
- Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
- Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
- Common Quail - Coturnix coturnix
- Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
- Common Coot - Fulica atra
- Purple Swamphen - Porphyrio porphyrio
- Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
- Water Rail - Rallus aquaticus
- Great Bustard - Otis tarda
- Little Bustard - Tetrax tetrax
- Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
- Common Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula
- Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
- Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
- Common Sandpiper - Tringa hypoleucos
- Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
- Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
- Stone Curlew - Burhinus oedicnemus
- Collared Pratincole - Glareola pratincola
- Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
- Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
- Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
- Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybridus
- Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Pterocles alchata
- Black-bellied Sandgrouse - Pterocles orientalis
- Feral Pigeon - Columba livia feral
- Common Wood Pigeon - Columba palumbus
- Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
- Great Spotted Cuckoo - Clamator glandarius
- Eurasian Cuckoo - Cuculus canorus
- Eurasian Eagle Owl - Bubo bubo
- Common Scops Owl - Otus scops
- Tawny Owl - Strix aluco
- Common Swift - Apus apus
- Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
- Alpine Swift - Apus melba
- Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis
- European Bee-eater - Merops apiaster
- European Roller - Coracias garrulus
- Hoopoe - Upupa epops
- Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis
- Calandra Lark - Melanocorypha calandra
- Woodlark - Lullula arborea
- Crested Lark - Galerida cristata
- Thekla Lark - Galerida theklae
- Greater Short-toed Lark - Calandrella brachydactyla
- Eurasian Crag Martin - Hirundo rupestris
- Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
- Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica
- Northern House Martin - Delichon urbica
- Sand Martin - Riparia riparia
- Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis
- Tawny Pipit - Anthus campestris
- White Wagtail - Motacilla alba
- Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava
- Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea
- Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator
- Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
- Savi's Warbler - Locustella luscinioides
- Great Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus arundinaceus
- Eurasian Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
- Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
- Melodious Warbler - Hippolais polyglotta
- Orphean Warbler - Sylvia hortensis
- Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
- Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
- Subalpine Warbler - Sylvia cantillans
- Spectacled Warbler - Sylvia conspicillata
- Common Whitethroat - Sylvia communis
- Dartford Warbler - Sylvia undata
- Willow Warbler - Phylloscopus trochilus
- Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
- Common Stonechat - Saxicola rubicola
- Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
- Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe
- Black-eared Wheatear - Oenanthe hispanica
- Black Wheatear - Oenanthe leucura
- Common Redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus
- Black Redstart - Phoenicurus ochruros
- European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
- Common Nightingale - Luscinia megarhynchos
- Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus
- Blackbird - Turdus merula
- Long-tailed Tit - Aegithalos caudatus
- Eurasian Penduline Tit - Remiz pendulinus
- Crested Tit - Parus cristatus
- European Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus
- Great Tit - Parus major
- Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europaea caesia
- Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
- Winter Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
- Eurasian Jay - Garrulus glandarius
- Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica
- Azure-winged Magpie - Cyanopica cyana
- Northern Raven - Corvus corax
- Carrion Crow - Corvus corone
- Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula
- Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
- House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
- Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis
- Rock Sparrow - Petronia petronia
- Common Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
- Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
- Common Waxbill - Estrilda astrild
- Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
- European Serin - Serinus serinus
- European Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
- European Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
- Eurasian Siskin - Carduelis spinus
- Eurasian Linnet - Carduelis cannabina
- Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes
- Corn Bunting - Emberiza calandra
- Cirl Bunting - Emberiza cirlus
- Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia
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