Extremadura and Sierra de Gredos, 1/6 - 6/6, 2000
Ian Reid

With possibly my last work trip to Madrid for some time due by end of May at the latest, I decided to tack a few days on to the end in order to try to relive the excellent birding that mate Steve and I had enjoyed in Extremadura in May 1999. Work constraints forced me to visit later than I had hoped, but early June was potentially still a good time.

This time around I had the benefit of John Muddeman's site-guide and as well as visiting the sites I knew from two previous trips to the area, I wanted to check out a few alternatives mentioned in his book.

Three full days birding (3/6-5/6), plus bits here and there yielded a tidy, though not enormous list. It included two of my three most wanted: Ortolan Bunting and Rock Thrush (the third, Bonelli's Eagle, was once again to elude me), my best views of Spanish Imperial and Short-toed Eagles, my best ever views of both Sandgrouse species, and Squacco Heron, which subsequent communication with JM determined was a significant find for the area. Notable omissions from the local specialties were Eagle Owl (seen twice previously in March and May '99), Black-shouldered Kite (seen in March, but not May '99), Great Spotted Cuckoo (March and May '99), Stone Curlew (March '99), Golden Eagle (May '99). I have also yet to see Orphean Warbler, Rufous Bush Chat (apparently very difficult), and Scops Owl (couldn't get motivated to go out spotlighting alone after my one effort on 3/6). These will have to wait until - with any luck - next spring.

The first week in June turned out to be a very good time. Birds were still active and singing, and the days were very long allowing lots of time; light at approx 6am and sunset at around 9.30-10pm. The weather was uniformly fine, although quite hot during the day. The one exception was Saturday night in Montfrague campsite when a thunderstorm threatened to blow my tent away, but this had cleared by 9am Sunday morning. Almost everything we had seen in May was (or should have been) just as easily seen, although perhaps with the exception of Eagle Owl. In the second week of May we had seen fledging chicks flying about the rock-face at Mirador Portadilla de Tietar, but an hour's vigil (with several other birders) between 9.15 and 10.15 yielded no owls; perhaps they had dispersed in the extra few weeks.

Wednesday 31st May, Madrid

On Tuesday I had been amazed and delighted to hear a Nightingale (Ruisenor) singing in a tree next to the car park below Luis' laboratory mid afternoon as we arrived back to work after lunch. During a short break from work in the afternoon I walked out to try to see and possibly photograph it and ultimately discovered that the scrubby area below the Facultad was alive with both Nightingales and Serin (at least 5 of the former!).

Highlights: Nightingale, Serin

Thursday 1st June, Sierra de Gredos

Lourdes and I left Madrid at around 12, reaching Avila by 1pm. After lunch we drove into the S. de Gredos and to La Plataforma. The drive up was incredibly scenic, and the clean, fresh mountain air was beautifully scented by the brooms which covered the slopes, especially on the road up to La Plataforma.

We did not have time to walk up to La Laguna Grande, but noted Rock Bunting in the car park (as predicted in JM's book - I snapped a couple of cracking pictures), and walked up the trail about 20mins towards the rescue hut. This area seemed to be dominated by colder climate species such as Dunnock and Wheatear. We also came across a few of the wild mountain goats prevalent in the area.

Driving back down we stopped on a few occasions as and when I heard unfamiliar calls/songs, and were rewarded with great views of my two most wanted species here, Ortolan and Rock Thrush.

At around 5pm we left and drove to Caceres via the Valle del Jerte, a scenic drive but very tiring, since we arrived in Caceres at about 10pm, just as the sun had set.

Highlights: Ortolan Bunting, Rock Thrush

Friday 2nd June, Extremadura

This was a work day, but after giving a talk at U. de Extremadura, we adjourned to the old town in Caceres where I picked up Pallid Swift en route to a restaurant for lunch, and then later on I made some time in the evening for a spot of birding, driving from Caceres to Embalse de Salor (Spanish Sparrow, various warblers), and Salor plains hoping for Bustards and Sandgrouse, although these were disappointingly scarce.

Highlights: Pallid Swift, Great Reed and Cetti's Warbler, 4 BB Sandgrouse, 2 Little and a single Great Bustard

Saturday 3rd June, Extremadura

This was my first full day birding, beginning quite early with a drive back to the old puente near Valdesalor, then to Embalse de Salor (and beyond), effectively retracing my steps of the previous evening.

The old bridge over the Rio Salor near Valdesalor yielded Great Reed Warbler, Little Bittern and Red-rumped Swallow, while Embalse de Salor held impressive numbers of Grey Heron, a couple of Little Egret and, briefly, a pair of Black-winged Stilt.

Next to Trujillo for lunch via the plains near Torremocha, Botija and Plazenzuela (Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel en route). After lunch headed into Montfrague, ultimately to the campsite (Azure-winged Magpie) after a brief stop at Arroyo de la Vid (Black Stork, Subalpine Warbler).

After setting up the tent, I drove the 40km or so to Embalse de Arrocampo (Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Cetti's Warbler, Great Reed and Reed Warblers, Savi's heard only) returning in time for dusk at Mirador Portilla de Tietar (Black Stork, but dipped on Eagle Owl). Stopped at Mirador de Bascula after dark en route back to campsite (RN Nightjar heard, 2 birds seen in flight in torch-light, but no positive id from the views obtained).

Highlights: Little Bittern, Spanish Imperial Eagle (2 juveniles), Squacco Heron, Booted Eagle, poss RN Nightjar

Sunday 4th June, Extremadura

Drove back into Montfrague from campsite (slightly delayed by heavy overnight thunderstorms, just clearing by 9am) and walked along reservoir (not much about, only Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits), climbed up to the Castillo and after about 20 minutes of scanning, and inspecting every House Martin and Swift, finally latched onto W-R Swift.

Then drove to Monroy, Rio Almonte and Santa Marta de Magasca, though rather unproductively (although Roller near SMdM was nice). Consequently, as I scanned fruitlessly for bustards on one of the tracks a few miles east of SMdM, I was beginning to feel very jaded. Just as I moved to get back into the car and go for lunch, a gorgeous male Montagu's Harrier appeared from the wheat field next to me, no more than 50m away. Soon after two ring-tails appeared, and a short distance away another family of 3-4 birds came into view. Drove on to Trujillo for lunch, my enthusiasm restored.

After lunch drove up the N5 to Deilitosa, and into the S. de Villuercas, which were both beautiful and very productive for birds - Black and Egyptian Vultures, Black Wheatear and Golden Oriole among others - although sadly, my most wanted, Bonelli's Eagle, continued to elude me.

Highlights: Cirl Bunting, SIE (adult + juvenile), Montagu's Harrier, Black Vulture, Black Wheatear, Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Golden Oriole, White-rumped Swift

Monday 5th June, Extremadura

Struck camp early and drove south to Penafalcon and Castillo de Monfrague where I sat in the early morning sun chatting w/ some Belgian birders. More excellent view of WR Swift. Next stop at Arroyo de la Vid, before heading back towards Caceres.

Lots of interesting stuff on the wires between the Talavan turnoff and Caceres (road now considerably improved and much faster), including Roller (several), Lesser Kestrel and Little Owl.

Through Caceres to Embalse de Guadilobe, following a tip from the Belgians (Collared Pratincole, Little Tern and B-W Stilt), then lunch at Pablo's.

Afternoon and evening raptor watching in the S. de San Pedro (road from Aliseda) quite productive; all 3 Vulture spp. and SIE, although still no Bonelli's Eagle. Explored unsealed road north from Aliseda road at 17.8km. No new birds but many deer.

Highlights: Blue Rock Thrush, W-R Swift, Black Redstart, Collared Pratincole, Little Tern, Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, SIE (adult + juvenile) plus ad. SIE in S. de San Pedro

Tuesday 6th June, Extremadura

An early start to try and catch up with some of the steppe specialties which had proved very elusive up to now. Decided to drive the minor road that connects the SMdM road with the Caceres-Torrejon road which had been very productive for me and Steve last May.

Fantastic 2 hours, connecting with all four "majors", including finding a field with 22 PT Sandgrouse and at least 7-8 BB Sandgrouse on the deck. Cut short by my realisation on checking my plane ticket, that my flight was at 14.30, not 4.30 as I had been assuming - it would now be a straight flog up the N5 with no diversions just to make the flight.

Highlights: 6 Great Bustard, calling Quail, 3 Little Bustard, RL Partridge, 36 PT Sandgrouse, 12 BB Sandgrouse, Montagu's Harrier


Little Grebe pond outside Trujillo
Little Bittern cracking views of 2 (inc at least 1 male) at the old bridge near Valdesalor (3/6) 5 (2 male) at Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6)
Cattle Egret a few here and there, but 100-200 at Embalse de Guadiloba (5/6)
Squacco Heron As I searched for a singing Cetti's Warbler at the north-western edge of the causeway (on 3/6), I noticed a Heron perched on bushes. On inspection with bins and then scope, I was slightly surprised to find a adult Squacco Heron in breeding plumage. I quickly found two more on nearby bushes and had excellent scoped views for 10mins or so until they flew down into the reed-bed on the western side of the causeway. A while later as I scanned that reed-bed for a Savi's Warbler which gave a few tantalising bursts of "song" but no more, I noted 6 Squacco flying low, east over the causeway, presumably settling in the reeds on the eastern side. A subsequent exchange of email with JM suggests that this is a significant record for Extremadura.
Little Egret 2 at Embalse de Salor (3/6)
Grey Heron many at Embalse de Salor (2 and 3/6), and a few at Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6)
Purple Heron several at Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6)
White Stork common
Black Stork one located in flight at Arroyo de la Vid (3/6), another in flight at MPdT (3/6), and one at the nest site at Penafalcon (4/6)
Mallard a few here and there
Griffon Vulture common
Black Vulture old bird seen fairly early am near Pablo's house (2/6), one seen well in the Sierra de Villuercas (4/6), and several in Sierra de San Pedro (5/6)
Egyptian Vulture 2 at bridge over Rio Almonte in S. de Villuercas (4/6), and another two (ad. + immature) in S. de San Pedro (5/6)
Spanish Imperial Eagle 2 juveniles (3/6) and 1 juvenile and 1 adult (4/6) at the Torrejon site. 1 adult (5/6) in S. de San Pedro at km15.
Short-toed Eagle 2 in S. de Villuercas (4/6, my best views to date) and 1 perched on a pylon near Monroy (5/6)
Booted Eagle 2 South of the Caceres-Trujillo Rd (3/6) and another shortly afterwards
Red Kite common
Black Kite common
Montagu's Harrier first seen 4/6 near SMdM, 6 birds, inc 2 pairs. Several more seen on morning of 6/6 on plains NE of Caceres.
Common Buzzard a few here and there
Kestrel a few
Lesser Kestrel several on wires outside Trujillo (4/6), over field N of Saucedilla (3/6) and in Malpartida de Caceres
Red-legged Partridge One seen on "sandgrouse" road, early morning 6/6
[Quail] Heard calling early am 6/6 in field with Great Bustards
Moorhen E. de Arrocampo (3/6)
Purple Swamphen a few at E. Arrocampo (3/6)
Great Bustard A single bird in flight on the Salor plains (evening, 2/6) was rather disappointing. The morning of 6/6 was more productive with a single in flight over the "sandgrouse" road landing with a group of five others in a field also containing a calling Quail.
Little Bustard Poor distant views of two males on the Salor plains (2/6) were disappointing. Three calling (farting!) males on morning of 6/6 gave much better views.
Black-winged Stilt 2-3 on a small dam in the Salor plains (2/6), two at E. de Salor (3/6) and several at E. de Guadilobe (5/6).
Collared Pratincole As I drove along the track to Embalse de Guadiloba a brown bird with a tern-like flight flew across me, and for some reason I was not concentrating, and only realised after I had driven on a little, looking for the Pratincoles, that I'd already seen one! Stopped and scanned and noted 20-30 roosting on and flying around near their little peninsula into the reservoir.
Little Tern A colony of perhaps a dozen birds at Embalse de Guadiloba (5/6)
Black-bellied Sandgrouse The characteristic bubbling call, distant but approaching, alerted me to a flock of 4 birds on the Salor plains (2/6). Tossing up whether to go for a photo and miss potentially cracking views, I opted for an early photo (turned out poorly) as they approached, switching over to bins as they flew by at c. 20m range; fantastic!

On the morning of 6/6 I stopped by a freshly cut field to scan (6.8km from the turn-off), and heard a Little Bustard. I was on the point of checking out a blob in the field near a hay-bale to see if it was the perpetrator of the little farts, when the characteristic call of BB Sandgrouse distracted me and I noted several Black-bellied taking to the air from the very field I was about to scan. Although I'd now had both sandgrouse within a few minutes of one-another, my first feeling was of disappointment; this could have been a great chance to catch them on the deck. However scoping the blob I had first seen I realised that not all of the BBs had flown, and I was now onto one in the scope! For the first time ever I could make out all the detail; the orange throat, beautifully scalloped feathers on the back and wing coverts.

Scanning across I located a few more here and there, and then a group (quite distant) of at least 12 birds. As I watched these moving through the stubble at quite a range I suddenly realised that I could see pin-tails! After a few minutes of ambling about they came into some shorter stubble and I now saw the black throat bands. They took to the air about 20 minutes later - I counted 22 in all - and their departure was my cue to make my way back to Caceres to bid farewell to Pablo.

I stopped twice on the drive back (at 4.7km and 0.8km) and on both occasions picked up a pair of Black-bellied.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse At 3.8km along the minor road linking the SMsM road to the CC-912 I stopped by a thistley field thinking this must be about the place Steve and I had had in excess of 30 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in May '99. Immediately I located a male Little Bustard which provided good views, especially as it rattled its neck and jumped slightly while making its curious call. Just as I packed up the scope to move on in the car I heard the diagnostic quacking of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a few hundred metres down the road. Locking on with bins I immediately realised that a flock of 17 was heading directly towards me and I was now torn - as I had been with the BB at the Salor plains on Saturday - between excellent binocular views, or the chance of a photograph. Since Steve and I had missed photographing PT on our May '99 trip, I decided to go for the shot, and whipped out my camera. There followed a frustrating few seconds as they approached and I frantically tried to focus, just managing it as they arrived in suitable range; a moderately presentable "record shot" was the reward for my "efforts". At 6.8km a further 22 were seen, including several birds on the ground (see Black-bellied above).
Rock Dove a couple of flocks in Montfrague might have been the genuine article, and of course lots of feral pigeons were seen in the towns as well.
Wood Pigeon common
Collared Dove relatively common
Turtle Dove heard in several places, but only one bird seen (9pm, 3/6), on a wire on the CC-911 into Montfrague.
Cuckoo heard in several places, one seen briefly
Little Owl various places, including Trujillo to Torrejon road, Talavan to Caceres (CC-912) road, and at the low white building on the western edge of Malpartida de Caceres (also good for Lesser Kestrel)
Red-necked Nightjar One bird heard at a great distance at Mirador de Bascula at 10.30pm on 3/6. I few minutes later another began calling much closer. Venturing into the scrub torch in hand I rapidly locked on to two birds flying about but was unable to get views with bins simultaneously, which would have clinched a completely unambiguous sighting. They flew together over the road towards the car, one of them apparently clapping wings as they disappeared from view. I waited for a few more minutes, but there was no more calling apart from the distant one I'd heard initially.
Swift common
Pallid Swift a few birds in Caceres were noticably paler and showed the "saddle" created by darker back than wings, as well as primary/secondary contrast.
Alpine Swift brief views of two birds at the bridge over the Tajo in Montfrague.
White-rumped Swift Having rather inexplicably missed this rare Extremaduran breeder in May last year, despite spending time at the Castillo in Montfrague, I was determined to connect this time around. I had endured a relatively birdless walk on Sunday morning (4/6) and headed up towards the castle mid-late morning. Sitting on the edge facing south I scanned and checked out every swift/hirundine I saw but with no joy, until after about 20 minutes I locked onto my first ever White-rumped Swift. I had relatively good views intermittently over the next quarter of an hour.

The following morning, this time slightly earlier, I visited the Castillo again. While chatting to some Belgian birders I mentioned I'd had White-rumped here the previous day, wondered out loud if they were about again, and almost casually picked up the first Swift I saw which turned out to White-rumped, and it proceeded to put on quite a show about our heads.

Hoopoe common
Bee-eater common
Roller 1 near SMdM (3/6), 3-4 on wires next to CC-912 near Caceres (5/6).
Crested Lark relatively common
Thekla Lark Only two identified with certainty, on rocks near Pablo's house in Malpartida de Caceres (2/6)
Woodlark Seen and heard in various places (relatively common)
Short-toed Lark Several at the Salor plains (2/6)
Calandra Lark relatively common in the right habitat. Best views on the Salor plains (2/6)
Crag Martin common in Montfrague on the rck faces below the castle and one surprisingly bold individual perched on the ground at Arroyo de la Vid allowed an excellent close-range photo.
Barn Swallow Here and there. A nest site in Pablo's back porch was beautiful to see.
Red-rumped Swallow relatively common. A nest in Pablo's front porch (!) was fabulous, as they came and went regularly to/from Pablo's bedroom window (as in May '99).
Water Pipit A few seen on the slopes high up in Gredos at La Plataforma. I must admit to being slightly perplexed by this one, since of the pipits I saw (about 3-4), all had streaked white/off-white - none sported the pink I was expected from breeding adult Water Pipit. The streaking ruled out Tawny, so they had to be Water. Are the Gredos birds such a pale pink as to appear white?
White Wagtail various sites
Yellow Wagtail One in Gredos would, given the habitat, have seemed to be a likely candidate for Grey, but I noted the contrast between grey head and olivey mantle characteristic of Iberian Race Yellow Wag.
[Wren] heard singing on a few occasions but never seen
Dunnock Quite common near La Plataforma
Nightingale I had made special trips to a couple of local Oxon sites (Brasenose Wood, Burgess Field) to hear Nightingale in the week before I flew to Spain. I was therefore surprised and delighted to hear one singing outside Luis' laboratory on the outskirts of Madrid on Tuesday afternoon. The following day I brought bins and camera into the lab, and in my exploration of the scrub located at least five territories, as well as several Serin.
Black Redstart One female in S. de Gredos near La Plataforma (1/6), and a singing male at Castillo in Montfrague (5/6)
Wheatear common at La Plataforma
Black-eared Wheatear Since last May there has been a massive clearing exercise in Montfrague, in an attempt to remove the Eucalypt plantations (a Franco legacy?) and ultimately regenerate the land with more natural flora. As I drove through one of these areas, en route from campsite to the Castillo (3/6), a cracking Black-eared Wheatear darted across the road in front of the car. I stopped and easily located the beauty. Sadly, this was the only one seen on the trip.
Black Wheatear One seen on rocks at the (very scenic) bridge over the Almonte in the S. de Villuercas near Retamosa.
Stonechat various sites
Rock Thrush Km10 on the road up to La Plataforma was excellent for both this cracker (2 males seen) and Ortolan Bunting, my two most wanted species up here.
Blue Rock Thrush Seen well on 5/6, at Penafalcon (where two birds sang to each other, opne from the roks behind me and one from wires near the little car-park. Also excellent views at the Castillo.
Mistlethrush S. de Villuercas, 3/6
Blackbird common
[Blackcap] Heard in the car-park at our work lunch restaurant at the Politecnica.
Sardinian Warbler Heard at various sites including Pablo's garden. One bird near at Embalse de Salor was the only one seen.
Subapline Warbler Good views at Arroyo de la Vid (3/6), Rio Almonte in S. de Villuercas (3/7), and at the Puente de Cardenal in Montfrague (5/6)
[Savi's Warbler] Searched in vain for a long time for a bird at Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6) which tanatalisingly gave a few short bursts of song but no more.
Cetti's Warbler Heard near Presa de Salor (2/6) and seen well at Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6)
Reed Warbler Several pairs at Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6)
Great Reed Warbler Near Presa de Salor (2/6), the old puente near Valdesalor (2 and 3/6), Embalse de Arrocampo (3/6)
Melodious Warbler S. de Villuercas, near Navezuelas, 3/6
Great Tit Montfrague
Blue Tit Montfrague
Long-tailed Tit Montfrague
Nuthatch S. de San Pedro
Short-toed Treecreeper Embalse de Salor (3/6) and a family of 6 birds at Penafalcon
Woodchat Shrike common
Southern Grey Shrike not as common expected but seen at various sites. Best views at E. de Guadilobe (5/6)
Azure-winged Magpie common
Magpie common
Jay Montfrague, S. de San Pedro
Jackdaw various sites
Carrion Crow various sites
Raven various sites
Spotless Starling common
Golden Oriole Heard in S. de Gredos (nr Navacepeda, 1/6), at E. de Salor (2/6), Arroyo de la Vid (5/6) and at several sites in S. de Villuercas, esp near Navazuelas, where a fabulous male flew in front of the car.
House Sparrow common
Spanish Sparrow various sites
Rock Sparrow one bird seen brielfy in Pablo's garden could have been Rock, and - curiously - one at E. de Arrocampo
Chaffinch Montfrague
Linnet S. de Gredos
Goldfinch common
Serin good views at the Politecnica, also at Penafalcon
Ortolan Bunting An unfamiliar song caused Loou and I to stop on the way back from La Plataforma at about Km10/Km11. I was delighted to find that the perpetrator was on a fence post metres from the car, and was one of my two most wanted for this part of the trip. The other, Rock Thrush, turned up less than 10 minutes later in the same area.
Cirl Bunting Montfrague and S. de Villuercas (Rio Almonte).
Corn Bunting common on the steppe.
Rock Bunting Cracking views and photos of remarkably tame birds in the carpark at La Plataforma. Seen at various other sites as well, esp. Penafalcon.