Sunday 14 July 2019

May 2019 - Extremadura and Sierra de Gredos

6 nights in Extremadura, Spain in mid May, 2019. This beautiful region in the centre of the Iberian peninsula offers a variety of habitat, be it plains of extensive grasslands and dehesa crossed by the occasional river carving out shallow valleys, a rocky ridge home to Monfragüe National Park plus scattered historic walled cities and towns. To the north the Sierra de Gredos mountain range on the border between Extremadura and Castile and León looks down on Monfragüe across a separating plain. These areas are well known for their birding opportunities, all are within a few hours reach of Madrid 250 km or so to the east of Trujillo. A summary of what this birding trip delivered in May 2019 follows.

For a full day by day trip report, please click here.

Trujillo and Cáceres Plains

Home to a regularly seen trio of Crested Larks, Corn Buntings and Calandra Larks found on this trip in decreasing intensity, with careful scrutiny revealing Short-toed Larks present. White Storks fed in good numbers out on the plains over which Black Kites, Booted and Short-toed Eagles hunted alongside patrolling Griffon Vultures. In lesser numbers, Eurasian Black/Monk/Cinereous Vultures, however you may know them, were seen. The song of Hoopoes provided the backdrop to most stops with the presence of Bee-eaters betrayed by their distinctive call. Spotless Starlings flocked throughout but Spanish Sparrows did so only towards the end of the trip. Rollers could be relied upon at a traditional site east of Cáceres where the only Great Bustards of the trip were seen. No Sandgrouse seen which was disappointing but Woodchat and Iberian Grey Shrikes could be counted upon perched along roadside fences, with packs of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies moving through the dehesa in quick succession. These were some of the many highlights but the lack of Montagu's Harrier compared to years past was worrying. Monty certainly got a raw deal, just one 1st summer male sighted, were they moved on because of early season harvesting?

 Great Bustards

                                                          Iberian Grey Shrike

The Río Almonte valley south of Monroy was very birdy, offering a nice variety be it nesting Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper along the riverbed, secretive Hawfinch and Golden Oriole hiding in the trees along the valley bottom, Black Storks or wandering Griffon and Egyptian Vultures overhead alongside the 2 Eagle species mentioned above.

                                                                Black Stork


So who would play second fiddle to the masters of this National Park, the Spanish Imperial Eagles? You could argue the sighting of a smart Honey Buzzard looking tiny alongside a Griffon Vulture, a Golden Oriole breaking cover to take a dislike to a Black Kite, displaying Blue Rock Thrush or the Alpine Swift giving Crag and House Martins a flying lesson over the Tagus. But what about the Nightingales trying to out sing each other or the six Black Storks circling the Peña Falcon, where a Short-toed Eagle hovered from a ridiculous vertigo inducing height? This area offered a great variety of bird species from the small to the very big, there was always something to look at. The natural beauty of the River Tagus carving out its path was not to be forgotten.

Spanish Imperial Eagle


Sierra de Gredos (over in Castile and León)

Offering Alpine habitat and a respite from the heat of the plains (24C on the only visit, compared with 36C on the same day in Trujillo). Following the Gosney Guide to Finding Birds in Extremadura a walk south west from the Platforms towards Laguna Grande across Alpine Meadows and into the broom scrub. After a picnic stop this area eventually gave up its 'no spot' Bluethroat. Also, Ortolan Bunting and elusive Water Pipit seen, plus a chance encounter of a displaying male Rock Thrush. The Iberian Ibex allowed for photos, a few seen close but also up high on the most precarious mountain top tracks. At the car park Rock Bunting looked for scraps from the visitors and could be 'ticked' on arrival before getting out of the car.

Rock Bunting

Rock Thrush

The walk out from the Plataforma reminded me of the walk out from Mortimer Road up to the Ewden Cabin on the South Yorkshire moorlands, surely you can see the similarities?

Sierra de Gredos

Up to the Ewden cabin

You may argue that only one of these upland locations holds Bluethroat, Ortolan and Rock Buntings, Griffon Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and Iberian Ibex in the summer, but both Skylarks, Dunnock, Raven and Northern Wheatear can be seen at both localities. Ok, the very studious / pedantic reader may note that the latter has a different subspecies at each location.

The drive up to the Sierra from Trujillo doing a zigzag along the motorways was over a couple of hours, not the most direct route but easy driving. The plains separating the Sierra from Monfragüe was home to an amazing density of Black Kites, many gliding low over the motorway. En route every pylon seemed to have a nesting pair of White Storks, a sight very much repeated throughout Extremadura.


The walled city perched above the southern Extremadura plains home to a beautiful square (Plaza Mayor) with its nesting White Storks, 'fluty' Spotless Starlings and Common and Pallid Swifts tearing above the historic rooftops. Crag Martins flew by at a slower pace. The aerial avian delights also included a wandering Lesser Kestrel or two from the nearby bullring colony and a Black Kite causing panic among the Feral Pigeons in the early mornings. The historic city with its picturesque square and its medieval churches and convents attracted visitors and locals alike to take in such sites, including enjoying an evening meal eating out at many of the restaurants about the square. The Lesser Kestrels showed well at the bullring a gentle 15 minutes walk down from the Plaza Mayor, where it wasn't a surprise to have flyby Bee-eaters, Swallows, displaying Spotless Starlings, singing Serins and a glimpse a Booted Eagle whilst waiting for a Lesser Kestrel to give that sought after flight photograph. The variety of bird species encountered within this urban area just shows how rich the bird life continues to be in Trujillo, whose relative ease of access by car from Madrid to the east or Seville to the south offers an excellent base for birders visiting Extremadura.

 Lesser Kestrel

For a full day by day trip report, please click here.