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Extremadura + Madrid : Trip report September 2014

John Muddeman
30/09/2014 09:00:07

A quick report on the observations during a 3-day tour from Madrid to Extremadura and back to look for some of the more iconic birds of Spain

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

Extremadura private trip report Juvenile male Iberian Green Woodpecker - Picus sharpei © John MuddemanJuvenile male Iberian Green Woodpecker
Picus sharpei
© John Muddeman

26-28 September 2014

Spainbirds Nature Tours trip : Madrid to Extremadura and back in 3 days.

After picking up John and Brian at Barajas airport we headed to the N of Madrid and started birding in an area of public dehesa close to a river. At least three Spanish Imperial Eagles, a high Cinereous and plenty of Griffon Vultures, the first of a few Common Redstarts, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, a passing Common Kingfisher and also the first of numerous Willow Warblers during the trip were an excellent start, with plenty of small birds in general. Lunch by the motorway was not only the first of the three days’ classic and quality Spanish food, but rewarded with a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle high over as we left!

A large pool was difficult to look at closely due to heat haze, but 7 Eurasian Spoonbills, several Northern Lapwing, a distant Little Ringed Plover, two Little Grebe, another Common Redstart and our first Common Stonechats –of dozens present widely– were all added to the rapidly growing list. The classic ‘steppe’ habitats were rapidly changing from their summer gold to a haze of brilliant green after the heavy recent rains, especially on overgrazed areas where the bulbous meadow-grass was regenerating and growing almost visibly as we watched!

Arrocampo Reservoir was a bit quiet given various fishermen and the hot breezy conditions, but in the end we heard a few Purple Swamphens and a Little Bittern, noted a few quartering Western Marsh Harriers, Western Yellow Wagtails hunting around cows’ feet, several Zitting Cisticolas and Corn Buntings, and in a small wet area opened up by grazing cattle, a very mobile male white-spotted Bluethroat, a Glossy Ibis, five Ruff, single Green and Wood Sandpipers and at least 40 Common Snipe. A Great Egret peered out from the reedmace where a Water Rail called and another group of Eurasian Spoonbills rested. Sardinian and Cetti’s Warblers gave us the run-around, as the latter did until the last morning, but at least a Eurasian Reed Warbler stayed still long enough for John.

We finally left before the mosquitoes got the better of us (well me!), noting the first of a few Short-toed Snake Eagles during the trip, perched high on a pylon, en route to our small hotel in historic Trujillo. A couple of Iberian Grey Shrikes on wires were just two of plenty noted during the trip.

An early start the next day saw us out on the plains, though arrival to the key sites was delayed first by a gorgeous singing Woodlark on the ground, Crested and Thekla Larks along the road, our first Calandra Larks passing over and two Meadow and one Tawny Pipit feeding in a roadside field. A series of bumps on the horizon were a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, most of which were still in eclipse plumage, while surprisingly, four waders just in front on a livestock drinking pool were young Common Ringed Plovers, well out of normal habitat here in the steppe!

Autumn Daffodil & Meredera - Narcissus & Merendera © John MuddemanAutumn Daffodil & Merendera
Narcissus & Merendera
© John Muddeman
A few Black-bellied Sandgrouse finally put in a show nearby, including hearing their lovely bubbling calls, along with more migrants in the form of Whinchats and Northern Wheatears, and we returned to pick up Brian before going to more steppe. A bump on some rocks was a hoped-for Little Owl, though two very large shapes in the grass were our first Great Bustards, the first of 30 or more during the day, and very welcome to see both on the ground and later in flight before rain set in.

A long drive ensued, taking us through some beautiful and ‘classic’ countryside, with the main prizes during the breaks in the occasionally heavy rain including 5 adult Black Storks, a Black-winged Kite and two male Red-crested Pochards, but with more Common and Green Sandpipers, a Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, a Common Kingfisher and a passing Peregrine amongst plenty of others!

Another fine lunch –with a particularly heavy downpour outside– was followed by generally finer conditions and we headed for some irrigated fields where male Red Avadavats showed off, though a flock of roosting Eurasian Thick-knees was another target species and watched well. More Bluethroats flew past as we traversed extensive rice fields, while a pale morph Booted Eagle was a good find and brief but good views of Great Reed Warbler in a small river a pleasant surprise (being quite late).

The steppes again failed to reveal our last goal, but more Great Bustards, a ringtail Hen Harrier, Common Ravens, Little Owls and small birds, including Calandra Larks, Whinchats and Northern Wheatears maintained the interest.

We finally returned to Trujillo with gloomy skies approaching, but John & I headed out for the last hour to nearby steppe, ‘just in case’, leaving Brian to explore the town. This proved to be an excellent move, and almost at our last stop a flock of Little Bustards wheeled around before dropping down into view. In the scope that is! A final walk to get closer gave us good last minute views before the light and weather deteriorated again, and we returned very satisfied having finally found the last of the ‘classic’ Spanish specialities wanted.

A dull and grey, but again still start for the final day, and we left in leisurely fashion. A stop near a river turned up a wealth of small birds, including Blackcap, Eurasian Crag Martin, and finally, single singing male Cetti’s Warbler and Cirl Bunting, which were all new for John.

Male Red Avadavat - Amandava amandava © John MuddemanBreeding male Red Avadavat
Amandava amandava
© John Muddeman
The Monfragüe mountains were shrouded in low cloud, so the views of ‘moping’ Griffon and Cinereous Vultures were terrific, though two calling Booted Eagles, two Peregrines, plenty of small birds in the bushes and trees, including a fine male Rock Bunting (another target bird) were all greatly enjoyed. Calling short-toed Treecreeper and Firecrest refused to show though, so we moved on to enjoy a lovely Crested Tit and two Firecrests together in a patch of pines, plus a Eurasian Jay flying over.

Our final stop before returning to Madrid was on the edge of the park where a large flock of Great Cormorants were involved in a remarkable cooperative feeding frenzy, driving fish downriver en masse, with a couple of Grey Herons and Little Egrets moving quickly along the shore to keep up and picking off stray fish forced o the edge. With more Griffon and Cinereous Vultures perched up, plus a Spanish Imperial Eagle in the dead top to an oak, it was a lovely finish. Well, almost!

The drive back, including lunch en route was fast and uneventful, but after dropping Brian at the airport we made one more quick stop on the city outskirts for a last try for a bird we’d only heard near there the first day. Indeed, an Iberian Green Woodpecker (recently split from those in the rest of Europe) was seen from the moving car, adorning the dead tip of a spruce before we’d been able to park! A short stroll beside a nice area of lawn paid off with a fine young male sitting in a tree, which then flew into a dead oak to give better views still! A brief Short-toed Treecreeper in trees by the car was the icing on the cake before we finally worked our way to John’s hotel in downtown Madrid and bade our farewells.


Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa.
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Gadwall Anas strepera.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos.
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca.
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra, 5 adults.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, 1.
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia.
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus Heard.
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea.
Great Egret Ardea alba, 1.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta.
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo.
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus, 1
Red Kite Milvus milvus.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus.
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus.
Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus.
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus.
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, 1 male ringtail.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus.
Western Buzzard Buteo buteo buteo.
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti.
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, 3.
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni Leader only.
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, 3.
Great Bustard Otis tarda.
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax, c. 20
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus Heard.
Western Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio porphyrio Heard.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra.
Eurasian Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus, c.20
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus.
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, 4
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Leader only.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, 40+
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus, 1.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola, 1 leader only.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos.
Ruff Philomachus pugnax, 5.
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis.
Rock Dove Columba livia.
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto.
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus.
Little Owl Athene noctua, 3.
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus, 1 leader-only.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis.
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops [epops-group].
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla Heard, leader-only.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Leader only.
Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis sharpei, 2.
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis.
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius.
Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica.
Western Jackdaw Coloeus monedula.
Northern Raven Corvus corax.
Coal Tit Periparus ater.
European Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus.
Great Tit Parus major.
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus.
Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus Heard; Leader only.
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata.
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae.
Woodlark Lullula arborea, 1.
Sand Martin Riparia riparia.
European Swallow Hirundo rustica rustica.
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris.
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum.
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica.
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti, 1.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus, Common.
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus.
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus, 2
Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus.
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis.
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla.
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis.
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata.
Western Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans, 1
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala.
Common Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla.
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes.
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla, 1.
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor.
Common Blackbird Turdus merula.
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus.
European Robin Erithacus rubecula.
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica.
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus.
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra.
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola.
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius Heard.
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata.
European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus.
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Heard.
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia Heard; leader only.
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild Heard.
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava.
Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba.
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, 2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, 2 + heard.
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs.
European Serin Serinus serinus.
European Greenfinch Chloris chloris.
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Heard, Leader only.
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra.
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia.
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus, 1.

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