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Extremadura - Winter birding bonanza! : Jan 2014 Trip Report

John Muddeman
11/02/2014 10:09:24

Highlights of some of the long list of sightings on an 8-day tour to the bird-rich plains, mountains and wetlands of Extremadura in January 2014

Posted in: Butterflies and Moths, Birds, Mammals, Endangered Wildlife and Habitats | Extremadura, Madrid | Mainland Spain, Western Spain, Central Spain

With Chris 'on hold' waiting for Purple Swamphen - Porphyrio porphyrio © John MuddemanPurple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio© John Muddeman a winter trip to Extremadura, and a different last-minute request in early January by Angela and Trevor for a near-imminent trip to the region, it seemed more than logical to combine them to make a small group. And so it was that after shenanigans finding adequate flights and changes even in final length of the trip, just a couple of days before it was due to start, in late January we finally started out on an 8-day trip. This was principally to concentrate on the abundant common cranes wintering in WC Spain (over 100,000 birds come annually to the region!), but also to enjoy the general wealth of wintering birdlife in this usually ice-free region.

Having been extraordinarily warm and dry until Christmas, the weather had changed and threw rather a mixed bag of conditions at us, including beautiful first and last days, cold driving rain on the second, and then a mixture of mainly dry, sunny and cloudy conditions, albeit in windier -and therefore much chillier- than usual conditions for the rest. Challenging!

Adult Spanish Imperial Eagle  - Aquila adalberti © John MuddemanAdult Spanish Imperial Eagle
Aquila adalberti
© John Muddeman
However, with a finally tally of 130 bird species seen and another 4 heard only, this was an excellent result, and more importantly, we saw most of the specialities not only very well, but also repeatedly. OK, so this also included a couple of important stops close to Madrid for our first and last birdwatching of the tour, so it's not 'just' Extremadura, but simply emphasises the remarkable numbers and diversity of species present.

Spanish imperial eagles are generally on the increase in the Iberian Peninsula, and with >40 pairs now in Madrid alone, it was no surprise (but still very gratifying!) to be watching 4 less than an hour after leaving the airport! Add to these views of a pair of adult Bonelli's eagles, one of only 2 pairs in the Province, plus numerous cinereous & griffon vultures, and clearly we were off to a flying start! Mid January sees the largely unobserved mass exodus of wintering wildfowl from SW Spain, but two groups of (noisy) migrant greylag geese passing high over the extensive surrounding dehesa with the back-drop of the snow-capped Guadarrama mountains behind, were a fine example of 'viz mig' (=visible migration).

Further stops en route at different wetlands rapidly increased the species count for the day, including our first common cranes, and our only squacco heron of the trip, though a particularly large flock of common starlings was almost overlooked, and a concentration of over 400 Eurasian magpies going to roost at the Arrocampo reservoir a remarkable sight!

The following days were spent at a range of sites as far apart as Hinojal in the NW, N Monfragüe National Park, Almaraz in the NE, Moheda Alta in the SE and Orellana la Vieja in the S. In particular, the rice fields near Alcollarín were worked hard, since a vagrant lesser yellowlegs had been present in an area with a good density of other waders and 'rice fields birds', and although we didn't find it (and it's only just been refound c. 3 weeks following the last sighting), foul weather on our first day meant a return in decent conditions was good!

The vast areas of rice fields in C Extremadura X-egrets-&-gulls-feeding-ri © John MuddemanCattle & Little Egrets & gulls feeding in rice fields© John Muddeman are now the principal wintering grounds for the abundant common cranes, but also house another rich community of birds at this time. This includes black-winged stilt, little stint and Kentish plover among plenty of other waders. Flocks of Spanish sparrows, exotic red avadavat and common waxbill, and plenty of secretive bluethroats are present in the fields fringed by dense bulrush. After notable effort, we saw them all, while on nearby reservoirs, large numbers of northern shoveler, gadwall and Eurasian teal in different sites were complemented by a single male northern pintail, a few smart Eurasian wigeon, and two male and a female red-crested pochard, plus a group of black-necked grebes and even a gorgeous first winter little gull flickering across the water. Another adult little gull over a small irrigation pond was a surprise find, though insects were rising and also attracted a small group of barn swallows, which we also noted elsewhere, plus plenty of house and crag martins.

Eurasian Dotterel - Charadrius morinellus © John MuddemanThree of the Eurasian Dotterel flock
Charadrius morinellus
© John Muddeman
At one site, dry fields are being transformed into rice paddies, providing a remarkable contrast given a fine group of strutting male great bustards and shuffling black-bellied sandgrouse on one side, and calling common cranes up to their ‘ankles’ in water below wheeling western marsh harriers on the other! A return visit here saw us admiring a superb group of stone curlews roosting in a very young olive orchard, having failed to find them at two other normal sites, possibly due to the very wet conditions.

Finding a few winter flocks of steppic birds in the vast grassy plains can be a tough task, but a bit of local knowledge and persistence on the first day gave fine, albeit slightly long distance views of a couple of groups of little bustards and pin-tailed sandgrouse, plus as a bonus cinereous and griffon vultures on the ground too! Another area was rich in calandra larks and provided a real treat in the form of six wintering Eurasian dotterels, which performed beautifully despite the strong wind. Both bustard and both sandgrouse species were all seen from just one spot on another day, with a pair of calling little owls a bonus their for our persistence!

Raptors are also one of the key Distant-Great-Bustards - Otis © John MuddemanDistant Great Bustard males Otis tarda© John Muddeman features of the region. While the diversity may be less than in spring, the numbers are still impressive in winter, and with numerous regular red kites, 6 different adult male hen harriers, four merlins and a few golden eagles, one might have been excused for thinking they were in Scotland! But more Spanish imperial eagles, a couple of pairs of delightful black-winged kites and a fine adult Bonelli’s eagle, apart from the extraordinary numbers of larger vultures in Monfragüe, made it more than evident that this was real Spain!

The beautiful weather on the last day called for a change of plan, so we headed across to a tiny mountain village, perched between crags. The surrounding woodland and orchards were full of noisy small passerines, plus particularly large numbers of black redstarts on the rocks and roofs. An Alpine accentor escaped the group, but not so a fine pair of peregrines, nor the only wren or drumming great spotted woodpecker of the trip! We finally pulled ourselves away and headed Angel's Tears - Narcissus triandrus © John MuddemanAngel's Tears Narcissus triandrus© John Muddeman for Arrocampo. A gorgeous little bittern posed immediately, and after a bit of searching a superb male Eurasian Penduline tit fed in full view. A lovely dark common kingfisher delighted, and once again the remarkably good video taken by an iPhone attached to Angela's scope via an adapter left me astounded. But the airport beckoned...

A short lunch stop was followed by views of a young Spanish imperial eagle being mobbed by a red kite off to one side, while we finished once again on the outskirts of Madrid. This was again very rewarding, with an adult Spanish imperial eagle, a single rock sparrow which flew in to perch on the top of a bare tree for over 40 minutes, the first long-tailed tits for the majority of the group, flocks of noisy, colourful Iberian magpies and monk parakeets, and best of all an Iberian green woodpecker! Only very recently recognised as a separate species, this has finally become the latest addition to the growing list of Iberian endemics (as many have been saying for years...) and a terrific finale for the tour!

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa : noted on 4 days; max 6. CM Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus © John MuddemanCM wing-tagged Griffon Vulture
Gyps fulvus
© John Muddeman

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix : 4 heard on 31st.
Greylag Goose Anser anser : noted on 3 days; max 39.
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca : 38 on 30th.
Gadwall Anas strepera : noted on 4 days; max 75.
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope : 2 days.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos : noted daily.
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata : noted on 5 days; max 2000+.
Northern Pintail Anas acuta : 1 male.
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca : noted on 5 days; max 2000.
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina : 2 males + 1 female.
Common Pochard Aythya ferina : noted on 3 days; max c.30.
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula : noted on 2 days; max. 44.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis : noted on 6 days.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus : noted on 3 days.
Black-necked/Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis : 36 on 30th.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra : 3 on 30th.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia : abundant and noted daily.
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia : 1 on 31st.
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus : singles on 2 days.
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides : 1 on 26th.
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis : common : noted on 6 days.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea : common : noted daily.
Great [White] Egret Ardea alba : total of 7 on 5 days.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta : common: noted on 7 days.
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo : common: noted on 7 days.
Black-winged/-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus : Pair on 29th, 4 on 31st.
Red Kite Milvus milvus : common: noted on 8 days, max. 25+.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus : noted on 6 days; max. c.1000 on 29th.
Cinereous/Monk/Black Vulture Aegypius monachus : noted on 6 days; max. 25+ on 29th.
[Western] Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus : noted on 6 days.
Hen/Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus : total 6 adult males noted on 4 days. SIE attacking GE - Aquila adalbertiAquila chrysaetos © John MuddemanSpanish Imperial attacking Golden Eagle
Aquila adalberti vs Aquila chrysaetos
© John Muddeman

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus : singles on 5 days.
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo : common: noted on 8 days.
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti : 3 days: 4 on 26th, pair on 29th, 2 on 2nd.
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos : 3 days : 2 on 27th, 2 on 29th, 1 on 1st.
Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata : 3 days : Pair on 26th, pair on 29th, 1 on 1st.
Common/Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus : 8 days.
Merlin Falco columbarius : total 4 on 3 days.
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus : 2 days: 1 on 29th, 2 on 2nd.
Great Bustard Otis tarda : 5 days : 13 on 27th, 3 on 28th, 20 on 30th, 20 on 31st, 21+ on 1st.
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax : 3 days : 31 on 27th, 60 on 30th, 4 on 1st.
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus : Heard on 2nd.
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio : 2 days at one site.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus : 5 days.
Eurasian/Common Coot Fulica atra : 5 days max. 100+ on 28th.
Common Crane Grus grus : abundant; 8 days with max. 5k+ on 30th & 31st.
Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus : 50+ on 31st.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus : 2 days; max. 35+ on 31st.
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus : abundant; 8 days.
European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria : 4 days; max. 40+ on 31st. Common Cranes - Grus grus © John MuddemanCommon Crane pair Grus grus© John Muddeman
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula : 20+ on 31st.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius : 2 days; c.20 on 28th, 3 on 31st.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus : 2 days; c.20 on 28th, 22 on 31st.
Eurasian Dotterel Charadrius morinellus : 6 on 27th.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago : abundant; 6 days.
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata : 2 days; 2 on 28th, 5 on 31st.
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus : 1 on 26th.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia : 3 days: max. 3 on 28th.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus : common; 6 days, max. 10+ on 28th.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos : 3 on 30th.
Little Stint Calidris minuta : 2 days: 100+ on 28th, 200+ on 31st.
Dunlin Calidris alpina : 2 days: 250+ on 28th, 500+ on 31st.
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus : common; 8 days.
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus : 2 on 30th.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus : common; 8 days.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata : 2 days: 75+ on 27th, c.15 on 1st.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis : 3 days: 8 on 30th, 18 on 31st, 15 on 1st.
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia : common, inc. wild-type birds.
[Common] Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus : 4 days.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto : abundant; 8 days.
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus : 2 days: sev. on 26th, 15+ on 2nd. Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia © John MuddemanMale Rock Bunting Emberiza cia© John Muddeman
Little Owl Athene noctua : 2 days: 1 on 27th, 2 on 1st.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis : total 5 on 4 days.
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops : common; 7 days.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major : Heard on 2nd.
Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus sharpei : 1 on 2nd.
Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis : common; 8 days, max. 18+ on 1st.
Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki : common; 7 days.
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica : abundant; 8 days.
Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula : common; 6 days.
Northern/Common Raven Corvus corax : frequent; 8 days, max. 50+ on 2nd.
[European] Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus : 1 on 26th is our only record.
Great Tit Parus major : frequent; 5 days.
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus : 3 days.
Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus : 1 male on 2nd.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica : total 10+ on 4 days.
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris : common, 6 days.
[Common] House Martin Delichon urbicum : frequent; 5 days, max. 14+ on 27th.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus : 2 days: 1 on 29th, 6+ on 2nd.
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra : common; 4 days.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata : common; 8 days.
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae : 1 on 27th.
Woodlark Lullula arborea : 3 days: 1 on 29th, 3 on 1st, heard on 2nd.
Eurasian/Common Skylark Alauda arvensis : abundant; 7 days.
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis : 3 days: 2 on 28th, 1 on 29th, few on 2nd.
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti : 3 days: heard on 26th, 1 on 28th, heard on 2nd.
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita : abundant; 8 days.
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla : 5 days.
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata : 4 days: 2 on 27th, 1 on 30th, 1 on 31st, 3 on 1st.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala : common; 5 days.
[Winter] Wren Troglodytes troglodytes : 1 on 2nd is our only record. Spanish Sparrows - Passer hispaniolensis © John MuddemanSpanish Sparrows Passer hispaniolensis© John Muddeman
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea : h on 29th is our only record.
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla : 2 on 29th is our only record.
Common/European Starling Sturnus vulgaris : frequent; 3 days, max. 1000s on 26th.
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor : abundant; 8 days.
Common Blackbird Turdus merula : common; 8 days.
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos : common; 6 days.
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus : frequent; 6 days.
European Robin Erithacus rubecula : common; 5 days.
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica : 3 on 31st.
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros : abundant; 8 days.
European/Common Stonechat Saxicola rubicola : common; 8 days.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius : scarce; total 6 on 3 days.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus : common; 8 days.
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis : abundant; 8 days.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus : 2 days: 3 on 28th, 1 on 31st.
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia : 2 days: 1 on 27th, 1 on 2nd.
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild : c.20 on 28th.
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava : 3 days: c.20 on 28th, c.12 on 30th, plenty on 31st.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea : frequent; total 8+ on 5 days.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba : abundant; 8 days. One yarrellii on 28th.
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis : abundant; 7 days. Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta © John MuddemanWater Pipit Anthus spinoletta© John Muddeman
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta : frequent; total 8+ on 4 days.
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs : common, 7 days.
European Serin Serinus serinus : common; 8 days.
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris : frequent; 4 days.
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis : abundant; 8 days.
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina : common; 5 days.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes : 1 on 28th.
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra : abundant; 8 days.
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia : 2 on 29th.
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus : 1 on 29th.
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus : 2 days: 4+ on 31st, 3+ on 2nd.

Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis : 2 on 31st.
Egyptian/Large Grey Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon : 1 on 30th.
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra : 1 on 1st.
Red Deer Cervus elaphus : 2 days: 1 on 27th, 2 on 30th.

Stripeless/Mediterranean Tree Frog Hyla meridionalis : Heard on 26th.
Iberian Water Frog Pelophylax perezi : Heard on 26th.

Western Dappled White Euchloe crameri : probably this sp.: 1 on 30th, 2 on 1st.
Clouded Yellow Colias crocea : 3 days: 1 on 30th, 2 on 1st, 2 e.r. on 2nd.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta : 2 days: 1 on 1st, 1 on 2nd.
Wall Brown Lasiommata megera : 2 on 2nd.

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