Extremadura Spain  Spring 2007


This trip report is a little different because we are fairly new to birdwatching and identification of the birds we see...We saw many other birds which we have not mentioned in this report, we didn’t know what they were. Sorry

The bird pictures were digiscoped using a Nikon ED82 scope with 30xDS eyepiece and a Fuji F30 camera attached to the scope with my own homemade fold up adaptor.

All other pictures taken with a Sony F717 camera

Saturday 24th March 2007

We flew out at 7.55 am from Gatwick on a British Airways scheduled flight to Madrid terminal 4S. No problems through security with two bags full of scope, carbon fibre tripod (dismantled the legs so they would fit in our flight bags) batteries, chargers, adaptors, head and all the other gear for digiscoping.

The terminal is only a year old, and is vast, after many escalators/lifts you take the automatic train from the satellite terminal to the main terminal, then more escalators to baggage reclaim. This and the trip last year, had us waiting a long time for cases to appear on the baggage reclaim conveyor. What it would be like in the busier summer months I dread to think.

No problems at Hertz car hire which we had booked through Expedia.

  This was the third time we had driven out of Madrid, but still managed to take a wrong turn shortly after leaving the airport. Fortunately we had our own Sat Nav on board, which corrected the mistake quickly, and we were back on the right road again..

We drove for three and a half hours to arrive at the Finca Al-Manzil near Montanchez, pretty well centre of a triangle drawn from Caceres to Trujillo to Merida. This was our third stay in The Barn just below the finca.

It was warm enough to have dinner on the terrace, then unpack and retire after a long journey.

The land around the Finca

The Barn

Sunday Clear and sunny, a cool wind.

  The morning dawned cool and clear, so we left as soon as we could, travelling to La Cumbre, and then taking the road towards Santa Marta de Magascar. The first part of the road was fairly unproductive, but after crossing the N521, where there were White Storks nesting, the road had many more stopping opportunities, and a good selection of birds on the fences. While looking at a White Stork colony in some trees on the right hand side of the road, behind us Lyn saw a Great Spotted Cuckoo. By the time I had the Digiscope trained on the top of the tree, it had flown over the road. The was the first Great Spotted we had ever seen, very big with a long tail.

White Stork

  We then passed through Santa Marta de Magascar, weaving our way through the local people, who seemed oblivious to us on the road. Further on we came upon what looked at first glance to be a small Ostrich, running through some bushes at the side of the road, it was in fact a Griffon Vulture, it couldn’t seem to fly, just managing to clear a fence on the other side of the road. We wondered if it was injured, but talking to another birder we met later, we were told that after feeding Vultures are reluctant to fly. Just before turning off to the Talavan dam, Lyn spotted a huge bird sitting on a pylon, again this turned out to be a Griffon Vulture.

  At the Talavan dam Lyn was mesmorised by a pair of Swallows entering the hide by the slotted windows, and either sitting on the window ledge or on a ledge inside the hide. We met another birder, John from Colchester, and had a good chat, receiving information about the birds we could not identify ourselves.

White Stork Talavan dam

We then drove up the Torrejon el Rubio road, stopping at a White Stork colony in fir trees on the left hand side of the road. We walked down the track to the first fenced field and then turned right for about 100 metres, to observe a Black Kite on a pylon, which gave good digiscoped pictures. We also saw Southern Grey Shrike and Azure winged Magpie.

Black Kite

Back at the car we watched the White Storks returning to their nests, clacking their beaks, while the local people were collecting firewood from under the trees, filling their car boots.

We returned to the Talavan Dam, and watched Little Grebe and Kestrel before returning back to The Barn via Caceres and the old Merida road. The bridges over the road had lots of people on, looking down at the road, we weren’t sure if they were waiting for a “Tour de Spain” type cycle race to come through.

Monday Heavy showers that stopped around midday, then started again early evening.

  We woke to showers of rain on the roof of the Barn, it was a bit misty out as well. So we decided not to venture too far away from the car today.

We headed for the Embalse Cornalvo, north of Merida, where we had visited in September 2006. At that time we thought it would be very productive in Spring.

It was not to be, lots of small birds in the cork oaks, very difficult to see, let alone digiscope. The water was mirror calm, and other than a Little Egret, we saw nothing. Another heavy shower was heading our way, so we beat a hasty retreat back to the car.

Heading north away from the dam, on a small road, we reached the Embalse de las Muellas, a very small dam with a couple of hides. In September 2006 it was almost dry with terrapins sunning themselves on the exposed rocks. So very different to what it is now, the water was high with new reed growth. After a short while several Black Winged Stilt arrived. Also a Grey Heron was stalking it’s prey, slowly it moved it’s neck nearer, then struck, a fine fish for dinner.

Black Winged Stilt

We left the two dams, and just before joining the main road, there is a picnic area on your left. We had seen Cattle Egret in the grass when we passed by earlier, they were still there. Pushing our luck we slowly drove in through the gate, using the car as a hide, slowly we got nearer to them. Suddenly we saw a Hoopoe feeding in the grass, only about six metres away. I had tried earlier to rig up the tripod inside the car over the passenger seat. It hadn’t worked, just not able to get the three legs on something solid. So in desperation of missing pictures from the car, I had taken the centre column off the tripod, and stood the end of the column either in the drinks holder near the handbrake in the centre of the car for shots out the passenger window. Or for the drivers side had stood it in a pocket in the door. I just hand the top of the column, and used the other hand for scope focus and cable release. I said it was in desperation, but it did work, there was enough light for 1/1000 sec shutter speed so that helped.

Anyway back to the Hoopoe still munching away, I was able to get some very good pictures, then turned my attention to the Cattle Egrets which weren’t so cooperative, moving around quite fast.


Cattle Egret

 Next stop the rice fields south of Campo Lugar, where we had visited several times in previous years, and seen lots of birds.

Just before entering Campo Lugar, on the right hand side of the road, on telegraph wires above a small olive grove, were two Little Owls sitting together. We watched them for a couple of minutes, Lyn observed their “grumpy faces”.

On through the village to the start of the rice fields, well all that was there were dry ploughed fields, not a bit of water in sight. Obviously the wrong time of year, So as we had seen the fields, with water attracting lots of  birds before, we decided not to go hunting, in the hope we may have found a field with water in. So it was off back through Campo Lugar, passing the Little owls again, to Zorita and on to the Belen plains.

We had heard about the Finca Santa Marta in many trip reports, so having to pass by, we took a nosy look, the most noticeable thing, was the chorus of birds around the finca. Looked a great place to stay.

  At Belen we just managed to squeeze down the “main road” through the village, the road was being repaired. And on reaching a junction just after the village, we took the left fork. Lots of birds on the fences and posts, and they were fairly undettered by us, and the heavy showers that were passing through. We at last managed to get good shots of a Thekla Lark standing on a rock.

Thekla Lark

 Suddenly we saw a Hoopoe, about a metre away from the lark. The Hoopoe was side on to us, and seemed fixed to the spot, the best ever pictures I have taken of Hoopoe, despite the raindrops falling.

Hoopoe in the rain

We learnt later that Hoopoe sometimes will freeze on the spot if taken by surprise. So intent on getting these pictures, I then realised that a car had stopped behind us unable to get past, I quickly pulled to one side to let the car get by. The car stopped at the side of us, and the window wound down “Have you seen any Bustards around”. I replied that if there were, we probably wouldn’t recognise them. “I am sure you would” was the reply, and they continued on, up the rise in the road. So might we see some Bustards?.

Rain on the Belen plain

Only about a hundred metres up the road, scanning the fields around distant farm buildings, guess what, Great Bustard. We waved at the car that had passed us, as it had now stopped, they had seen the Bustards as well. A quick exit out the car, centre column back in the tripod, and try to get some pictures.

Well I reckon they were at least half a mile away, and still looked big birds, we watched them for about twenty minutes, the males strutting about amongst the females. They never did get any nearer to us, so digiscoping was difficult, I even tried with the 25-75 zoom. The cloud and rain didn’t help either.

Great Bustards

It was getting late so we turned round and headed back to the barn, planning to continue the trip across the Belen plains the next day.


Tuesday Sun and some cloud, up to 19c

Off to Belen plains again to resume where we left off as it was so good yesterday evening. But what a difference, not so many birds around and they were less co operative.

We did see the Great Bustards again, but they were even further away.

Cattle Egret and White Stork

We stopped at the small lake with Cattle egret and White Stork colonies in dead trees, then on eventually to the T junction and made a left turn through Torrecillas de la Tiesa stopping further on at the Tozo River bridge, where there is space for a couple of cars to park at the end of the bridge on the right.

We then followed the track alongside the river, passing through small metal gates, till after about ¾ mile we came to the head of the Tozo dam, hiding behind the cork oaks we could observe many birds on the water, or on a small island. We had our packed lunch sitting on a fallen oak trunk, storks and raptors passing overhead.

Tozo Dam

Tozo River

On our way back to the car we stopped to admire the hooped narcissi growing in damp spots in the grass and along the river bank.

We also found twelve large claws of what must have been freshwater crabs on the riverbank, all within about six metres of each other. Other trip reports mention Otter and Mink along this river, although we did not see any.

Crab Claw

Just before reaching the car, we were treated to a pair of Stonechat that posed for the camera.

Female Stonechat

Next stop Almeraz causeway, where again trip reports had been very favourable. But on arrival we could see nothing other than a Cormorant and White Stork on the jetties. This may have been because it was quite windy, and the waves were quite high.

  It is amazing how the time goes, so we had one more stop for the day. Delietosa. We believe there is a vulture feeding station near the village, although we could not find out anything about it on the internet and postings we had made on forums, even sent an email to WWF in Spain.

We saw forty six Vultures flying, and thirteen perched on the cliff, none came to the ground, and we could find no feeding station. We tried both sides of Delietosa.


Wednesday  Sun and cloud. Warm in sun PM

  A little disheartened with the birdwatching, we decided to have a change and walked out from Montanchez village which is on the hilltop just above where we were staying. The area has many tracks between stone walled enclosures containing olive/fig and almond trees, some with horses or donkeys within. We didn’t take the digiscoping gear, just binoculars.

Needless to say, we missed out, as we had some good views of Serin and Yellowhammer. In total we walked about four miles, then returned to the Barn for lunch on the terrace.

Afterwards we wandered down the track to the barn, and took pictures of Sardinian Warbler, Great Grey Shrike and Crested Lark. The rest of the afternoon we sat in the sun on the terrace.
Having missed some good photos in the morning, we returned in late afternoon with the digiscoping gear, and got several good shots despite small fires that had been lit to burn off the undergrowth nearby. Not good for nesting birds.


Probably Thekla Lark

On the way back down we scavenged for firewood to fuel the heater in the barn, as it was still quite cool at night. During the evening the cloud built up and we had a small amount of rain.

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