Anser Birding Extremadura April 6-11 April 2009 trip report

Anser Birding Extremadura 6-11 April 2009 trip report



Black Wheatear, Cabanas del Castillo MJM


The following trip report was solely written by Chris Birdge who is one of the youngest and keenest birders to ever attend an Anser trip. He has captured the trip well in his write up and many thanks go to him for his great effort. I hope to add to the gallery so check back again. Graham and I enjoyed spending time with such an enthusiastic group of birders and hope to see everyone again in future. Enjoy reading Chris’s report as I have, I will never forget Grahams NW accent when referring to ‘young bridgey thurr’.

Martin McGill


Guides: Martin McGill and Graham Clarkson


Images by Martin J McGill, Steve Sweetnam and Chris Bridge




Blue Rock Thrush at Salto de Gitano MJM

Members: Christopher Bridge, Martin Bridge , Laurie Bridge, Bettie Sloane, Chris Oldershaw, Mick Brummage, Steve Sweetnam.


Monday 6th April


After everyone had met up at Bristol Airport outside Terminal one at around 3pm and we had all introduced ourselves to everyone within the group, we checked in our bags and caught an early evening flight to Madrid. After a stress-free flight, we found our 9-seater minibus and headed off to our hotel in Jaraicejo called Hotel Rural Montefragoso. Raul runs the hotel. Our room keys were then given to us and we all retired to our rooms after a hard days travelling. We agreed on a time for breakfast and everyone could not wait to get out birding the next morning. 


Tuesday 7th April


An early 7am breakfast was decided so to make the most of the coming day. Breakfast consisted of ‘coffee con leche’ or ‘coffee sin leche’ small slices of toast and a variety of sweet tasting buns and cakes. We then headed off into the bird- rich extramaduran landscape.


The first major bird we saw was a Roller spotted by Martin McGill on a distant fence line on the way to Zorita and we all enjoyed lovely views of this bird even though a heat-haze was present. I took a few photos of the Roller but they were too blurry to put on the report. Around us, Calandra and Crested Larks sang from every available perch.  Before we reached Campo Lugar, we stopped off along the way on a dirt track and found a small flock of Red Avadavats, a singing Nightingale and a Short-Toed Eagle flew over.



Black Vuture, Campo Lugar MJM


Our first stop was to Campo Lugar and as soon as we pulled off the road into the first available lay-by Martin McGill spotted a group of eight Great Bustards feeding on the edge on a fence line only 300 metres or so away from us. A flock of about 15 Black-bellied Sandgrouse then flew over with their bubbling calls being heard. 


These birds were the first of the trip and were enjoyed by all and a few members of the group did a bit of digi-scoping on the bustards. A pair of Red-Rumped Swallows sat on a fence behind us. A few minutes later, a superb Griffon Vulture floated straight over our heads followed shortly after by a Black Vulture. Over the far fields across the road, Graham spotted a male Montagu’s Harrier, which elegantly floated over and disappeared over the next line of fields. On the fence lines around us; Corn Bunting, Woodchat Shrikes and Crested Larks sang and flew up and down enjoying themselves in the morning’s sunshine. Shortly after Graham picked out two Stone Curlews that were lying down under the nearby Cork oaks and as if this couldn’t get any better, a couple of Azure-winged magpies hopped around on the floor behind them. A dozen Bee-eaters flew through over our heads and everyone enjoyed these spectacular birds. A Zitting Cisticola took flight from a stretch of reeds right next to us and flew off further down. A couple of Southern Grey Shrikes were also seen throughout the day as well as some Woodchat Shrikes. 


After a superb start, we then moved onto our next site, which was to be Madrigalejo in search of one of the prized extramaduran birds, the Black-Shouldered Kite. As soon as we arrived at the site Graham Clarkson spotted a Black-shouldered Kite and we all enjoyed a couple of minutes with this bird as it hovered effortlessly just like a kestrel with sharp wings and beautiful markings on its face, it then flew over to other fields and disappeared over the horizon.


Our next stop was to Embalse de Sierra Brava, which is a large reservoir. At this site, four Red- crested Pochard, Great-crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Cormorant, a Shoveler and quite a few Yellow-Legged Gulls and Lesser-Black Backed gulls were seen. A few Lesser Kestrels hovered over the hillside and I found two flocks of Spoonbills; a flock of six and four which were clearly on their migration flying extremely high over. It was now early afternoon so we headed off back on the road to Campo Lugar and then through the town of Trujillo, which has a large population of Lesser Kestrels breeding and on to Embalse de Caceres. At the site we had; 360 Cattle Egrets, 4 individual Great-Spotted Cuckoo, Booted eagle, our first Red Kite, Black kites were everywhere, Sand and Crag Martins, Swallows and a few Common Swifts.


Great Spotted Cuckoo, Embalse de Guadiloba Steve Sweetnam


It was now around 6pm, so we headed back to Jaraicejo driving towards Talavan where we had a dead Genet on the side of the road and a superb Stag Red Deer near to Monfrague. On the drive home, four individual Rollers were seen, two different pairs. Our meal in the evening was very nice and afterwards a few us enjoyed a couple of with ‘una cervecas’.


Wednesday 8th April


Breakfast was the same time this morning at 7am and we were out of the hotel before 8:15. The targeted destination for today was the Monfrague Nacional Parque. Along the way, Spotless Starlings and Woodchat Shrikes were seen on several fence lines. Our first stop was Sanctuario de Monfrague where we had some fantastic birding. A pair of Cirl Buntings sang from nearby telegraph wires, Serins sang in the surrounding trees with their characteristic song resembling the jangling of keys and a couple of Hawfinch flew over, a Short-toed Treecreeper sang from a tree and a male Rock Bunting sang and hopped around below us, not more than 5ft away. Graham Clarkson then spotted two Otters that were running along the shoreline below us and everyone enjoyed views of these animals even though they were albeit distant. A few Griffon Vultures glided effortlessly over us. I spotted a pair of Black Wheatear but they were too distant for anyone else to get on to.





Serin and Red-rumped Swallow, Salto de Gitano, Chris Bridge


Our next stop was to Penafalcon or otherwise called Gypsy’s Leap. Here there were loads of Griffon Vultures soaring around the cliffs accompanied by the odd Egyptian and Black Vulture. A couple of Peregrine Falcons glided around the edge of the cliff faces calling to one another and numerous Black kites floated through the valley. The rare breeding Black Stork was apparent with one nest that was spotted by a member of the group. 



Black Stork at Salto de Gitano MJM


Crag Martins flew around the cliffs and us, whilst a few Bee-eaters flew over. Then all of a sudden Graham Clarkson spotted a Spanish Imperial Eagle, which flew over one of the ridges, everyone was able to get on to the bird and good views were obtained. Throughout the day Spanish Imperial eagles were seen and we had about 6 individuals with one bird during the day that was spotted by myself which gave us a bark, presumed calling to its mate somewhere on a nearby nest site and brilliant views were obtained of this bird.




Imperial Eagle in Monfrague MJM

We then moved onto the bridge over the Rio Tajo where we had two Green Sandpipers calling and bobbing around on the rocks below us. Graham spotted a Golden Eagle and this bird looked to be an immature. The bird showed for a few minutes and disappeared over a nearby ridge. As we looked up to the skies, a flock of 15 or so Alpine Swifts called and flew around us whilst Crag Martins, Swallows and Red-Rumped Swallows zoomed around the neighbouring bridge and over the river. House martins were aplenty.


After a superb mornings birding, we headed off to Villarreal de San Carlos for a lunch stop. A few of the group had Jamon and Queso bocadillos, {Ham and cheese sandwich}, a few people went and had their lunch sat in the nearby orchard. Whilst enjoying our lunch a few Griffon Vultures drifted over and a Short-toed Eagle flew through. A pair of probable Bonelli’s eagles were spotted by Graham but were very distant; ‘we would have to pray for better views than that’. In the tree outside the café, a pair of Goldfinch had built a nest and the female was now sat on the nest incubating the eggs. After about an hour’s lunch stop, we then headed off around the corner to a site where Martin McGill had seen Black-eared Wheatears on previous trips. Driving further on still in the parque, we came to the designated site and sure enough as soon as we stepped out of the minibus, there was a male Black-eared Wheatear sat on top of a tree guard singing its little heart out. We watched this bird for a good fifteen minutes before it disappeared over into the surrounding dehesa. A couple of Crested Larks sang and Martin McGill picked out the song of Woodlark and Short-toed Lark, good views were had of both species.



Griffon Vuture, Penafalcon MJM


We slowly moved on to the dam where we hoped to see Rock Sparrow but we could not find any. We did have fantastic views of Black Kite and a very close light-phase Booted Eagle flew over. A Green Sandpiper pottered around on the rocks below us. After not seeing much here, we moved on to Tietar Cliffs where we had some more memorable birding experiences. A male Subalpine Warbler flitted among the bushes below us and gave brief views. Serins, Red-Rumped Swallows, Crag Martins, Blue Rock thrushes and a couple of Blue Tits flitted around the cliffs below and behind us. In addition, at Tietar Cliffs a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles floated over the ridge and gave fantastic views of their white flashes on their shoulders.


Amazingly, Martin Mcgill had found an Eagle Owl nest and called us over one by one so not to attract the attention of the other birders and to decrease the risk of nest disturbance. This nest was extremely hard to find because a tree was obscuring it. Sat on the nest was a fluffy youngster and a short, but clear movement just to the right signalled that the adult was sat just to the right of the nest but she was also obscured.


Griffon, Egyptian and Black Vultures were aplenty on the cliffs and Black Kite flew through in small numbers. On the way back to Gypsy’s leap a pair of Red-legged Partridge were seen by the side of the road. Other birds seen throughout the day included: two Chough, calling Common Cuckoo, plenty of Black Redstarts, a few Ravens, the odd Meadow Pipit and lots of White Storks.


Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a lovely meal with ‘una cervecas’ and another great days birding in extramadura!


Thursday 9th April


Today, we were going to target the steppe species of Extramadura. We had our breakfast at the usual time, got all our stuff ready and met everyone outside the hotel and piled into the minibus with the excitement of seeing some fantastic steppe species. We followed the road to Santiago del Campo and the first bird that was spotted was a superb male Little Bustard. We watched this bird for a couple of minutes before it took off into the surrounding steppe fields and never to be seen again, but before it took off it displayed for a couple of minutes and was showing us its characteristic ‘farting’ display noise. Throughout the day there were more Little Bustards seen and by the end of the day we had seen about five.



Little Bustard, Cuartro Lugares Chris Bridge


As well as little bustards, we also saw good numbers of Great Bustards throughout the day and some birds were really quite close to the minibus.


Thekla Lark, Cuartro Lugares Chris Bridge

Throughout the area, there were numerous lark calls and we were able to pick out all species, except Woodlark. Crested, Thekla, Calandra and Short-toed larks were abundant. A couple of Montagu’s Harrier floated over the fields with the odd Griffon Vulture moving through. The odd Black and Egyptian Vulture were also seen.



Female Montagu’s Harrier MJM

As for the sand grouse, well……………. We were lucky enough to find a pool that the sheep were using as their drinking pool and coincidently so were the sand grouse but unfortunately, they were just out of view for us. At this watering hole, as it were we saw small numbers of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, with their bubbling calls giving them away when they took flight. Throughout the day, we kept on seeing the Black-bellied Sandgrouse but no Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Not until later on that is when we all went for a walk along the road and Martin McGill was able to pick out the call and 4 Pin-tiled Sandgrouse flew over calling, unfortunately that was the only sighting of that bird throughout the whole day! 15 Cormorants were also spotted by Martin Bridge in the far distance, presumed on their migration because they were flying considerably high.


Short-toed Eagles and Booted Eagles were in the skies as well as quite a few Common Kestrels and Black Kites. White storks flew over regularly and Southern Grey Shrikes and Woodchat Shrikes were apparent on the surrounding fences and small bushes.


Short toed Eagle, Monfrague NP MJM


Pale phase Booted Eagle, Embalse de Guadiloba MJM


We then moved off onto another site and carried on along the road towards Hinojal and Talavan and then on towards Embalse de Talavan. At this site, we had our first two Black-winged Stilts of the trip and a couple of pairs of Great-crested Grebes plus the odd Little Grebe. A couple of Grey Herons were sat around the edge of the lake and Mallard and Gadwall were aplenty. Graham Clarkson then spotted two Teal, {only birds of the trip}. Two Little-ringed Plovers were also on the mud next to the small reed bed on our left, which are always nice to see. Coot and Moorhen were also abundant here.


A large party of Spanish Sparrows were present on the surrounding fields and Eucalyptus trees. A Few Spotless Starlings were about and White Storks sat on their nests, a member of the group Chris Oldershaw was photographing the storks on their nests and got some good, close-up shots.


Before getting to our next site, we stopped off on the road to have a scan for Bonelli’s eagle and sure enough, Graham Clarkson spotted two birds on the far side cruising along the ridge. They slowly climbed higher and higher into the sky, they then dropped slightly and slowly made their way over to our side from where we were watching them and soon disappeared over the ridge and never to be seen again. All members of the group saw the birds and we were all happy with seeing good views of a now critically endangered species. 


We then grabbed some lunch and drove past Jaraicejo to Retamosa and on to Cabanas del Castillo. This site was to prove very productive.

Blue rock Thrushes, Serins, Black Redstarts and all manner of hirundines were aplenty. Blue tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird and a few Long-tailed Tits were about with the odd Wheatear and Black-eared Wheatear. A single Mistle thrush was seen in a field below us.


However, the other good part of this location was the two Black wheatears that we found hiding out in a stony sheep field below one of the crags. We had found a pair and enjoyed watching them for a good fifteen minutes before they disappeared over the wall. Some of the group tried to digiscope them including myself, but the light was all wrong so we moved on. A Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk were then spotted from the minibus.


Throughout the day, about 30 Bee-eaters were seen and about eight Hoopoes. Two Choughs were also seen up on the crags.


We then headed back to our hotel in Jaraicejo and on the way we saw a Mongoose run across the road and as we approached the site where it had crossed we saw it again right by the side of the minibus where it ran back into the bushes.

We all had a lovely meal in the evening which consisted of pork and chips, a reminder of the food we could look forward to when we get back home and of course a few of the group stayed at the bar and had a few ‘cervecas’. At about 8pm, the regular procession took place in the square, which involved the birth of Christ because it was Easter and some members of the group gathered outside to watch it, camera in one hand and a pint in the other. What an end to another superb day!


Friday 10th April


Today was our last day in extramadura so we had our breakfast at the usual time and met downstairs quite quickly. We said our goodbyes and thankyou’s to Raul who looked after us for the whole 5 days; so many thanks go to him. We then piled into the minibus and headed off back towards Hinojal and Talavan in search of more Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and the chance of seeing them but to no avail. However, we did see about 15 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, which were very nice being abit closer in flight than the other birds we had observed during the week. We also saw about 8 Little Bustards which were all males and a few more Great Bustards, these birds were thoroughly enjoyed by all the group and the last birds we saw being the best yet because there were only a couple of hundred metres from us.


As we had another scan around, I found two Collard Pratincoles zooming over a nearby field. They soon came lower and lower and headed towards us and came right in front of the vehicle, soon after we had witnessed abit of migration as about 30 or so birds were now sat on this field to our left feeding on the insects and having a long awaited rest.


Corn Buntings sang from every available perch with the odd Linnet flying over, a couple of Ravens flew over and a few Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes were perched on the fences. A Little Owl was perched on the side of a building, which was spotted by Mick so very well done to you.

We then headed off and drove through Monfrague and saw Mistle Thrush, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Wheatears, White wagtails, Hoopoe’s, Bee-eaters, 3 Stock Dove, 1 Turtle Dove, Red-legged Partridge, Kestrels and a few Griffons.


Scanning around for Bonelli’s Eagles again, I just happened to look up and immediately shouted ‘Bonelli’s Eagle up there, 2 of them’ and sure enough I was not wrong and we watched these birds for about ten minutes whilst they glided over our heads and headed over to the other side of the valley. These birds were clearly identified by myself stating the long tails and long wings and the diagnostic white patch on the back as well as the white on the under belly. There you have it two Bonelli’s Eagles, a critically endangered species these days due to the disturbance of rock climbers at or near their nest sites right over our heads. Mega!!!


After having a great mornings birding we headed off for the exciting aspect of what we would see at Embalse de Arrocampo Almaraz. As we arrived a Zitting Cisticola took flight out of the reed bed and numerous Corn Buntings and Stonechats made their presence clear. On the lake, Little and Great crested Grebes could be seen, Little egrets and a beautiful Great White egret on the Far side. Purple Herons were obvious with several seen first thing and after half an hours birding, we had seen about five of these beautiful herons. This site is very good for these herons and every bird we saw was taking full advantage of the reed beds searching for small fish within them. Two Spoonbills, numerous Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and four Black-winged stilts were also nice to see.


Savi’s warblers soon started to sing with their buzzing sound instead of reeling and we must have had about five altogether singing in different places. Mick spotted a Great Reed Warbler on top of a reed but it soon disappeared back into the reeds due to the strong wind that had blown up over night and was causing the birding to become more difficult. Cettis’s Warblers burst out as if to scare you from the bushes with their loud and penetrating song. Three or so Spanish Wagtail’s were a nice find feeding with several White wagtails on a dirt track on the far side of Almaraz. A male Marsh Harrier floated over the back of one of the reed beds and 6 pure white marsh terns were spotted by Graham in the distance but there was no way of getting to them for a better look. {Presumed Gull-billed Terns}


Graham also spotted two Purple Swamphens on the far side but they were not very good views so we tried back round the other side and there, walking along the side of one of the ditches was Purple Swamphen spotted by Martin Bridge and it slowly disappeared into the thick, green reeds. Brief, but well worth the wait!


The time was now getting on for 3pm so we started to drive towards Madrid airport and on the way I spotted another Black-Shouldered Kite hovering in the centre of a field, then it was gone. We then stopped off at a café on the way, got something to eat or drink, and finally got to Madrid airport. We said thank you to Martin McGill for such a lovely holiday and hope to see him soon and made our way to Terminal 1. Just what we did not want a 24-hour delay, instead of flying on Friday night at 6pm, our flight was now re-scheduled for Saturday night at 6pm, so we were all abit miffed. This was due to planes air pressure system not working. We then had to find out from the easy jet desk where we were going to be staying that night and how to get there so thankfully easy jet had booked us into the largest hotel in Europe; The Hotel Auditorium! We caught taxis to the hotel and enjoyed a free meal in the evening and fantastic rooms all for free. 


A free breakfast and lunch as well, fantastic. As we all had the day to occupy ourselves, some members of the group went into Madrid to explore and see some of the sites, however myself, Martin and Laurie Bridge did abit of birding round the local area and reaped the rewards that were waiting outside for us.


Birds seen on a short walk around the surrounding area were:

White Stork, Black Kite, Red-legged Partridge, 3 Green Woodpeckers of the {sharpie race}, Crested Lark, Woodchat Shrike, a pair of Blackcaps, a Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, several Coal tits. The best bird that was found was by my dad which was a splendid male Penduline Tit. We came across this bird in a patch of wasteground, sat at the top of a small tree; it then sang its little heart out for about fifteen minutes. Luckily, this was long enough for myself to get a picture; {remember I just had my scope and my dads shoulder to take the picture with} it then flew to a neighbouring poplar tree where we presumed it had a nest!


A fantastic Extramaduran trip with many thanks to Martin McGill and Graham Clarkson for all their hard work and especially all the driving that was done.


One hundred and forty species of birds were recorded and for some people like myself got 21 Lifers out of it. A lovely and friendly group made it an extremely rewarding trip so thank you everyone and I hope to see you all on future trips.

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