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Segovia, Madrid, Extremadura, the Strait & Doñana

John Muddeman
24/03/2009 21:39:18

Comments & highlights from my recent tour (pt 1)

Posted in: Flora, Butterflies and Moths, Birds | Andalusia, Castile-Leon, Extremadura, Madrid | Spanish Mainland, Southern Spain, Western Spain, Central Spain

Day 1 of 12 of C & SW Spain.

Picking up Mick and John after their trans-Atlantic flights we left Madrid airport a little after 11 a.m.

Crested Lark  - Galerida cristata © John MuddemanCrested Lark
Galerida cristata
© John Muddeman
Close to Colmenar Viejo the skies were busy with birds and a short stop revealed Red & a few Black Kites, White Storks, thousands of gulls (primarily Lesser Black-backed), a Lesser Kestrel, 'cronking' Common Ravens, a few Griffon Vultures and a few small birds including Corn Buntings, a nice flock of Rock Sparrows and single Crested Lark and Common Stonechat amongst others.

An agricultural area near Valdetorres del Jarama produced a big surprise, but not in the form of the 13 Great Bustards, or immature Golden Eagle, or male Hen or female Montagu's Harriers which were present, as might be thought, but two Tree Pipits in some scrub - incredibly early! A large pool was busy with damselflies too (also very early), but there was unfortunately no time to try and work out what they were.

The slopes near Patones were hot in the sun, and the gorge sheltered large numbers of butterflies, including (Southern) Speckled Woods, Common Swallowtails, male Cleopatras and Brimstones, lots of Clouded Yellows (including several of the pale helice form) and a few lycaenids, including Panoptes Blue. More blue on the male Blue Rock Thrushes was great to see, as were the various colour forms of Black Redstart present, while the colouring of a pair of Rock Buntings drew a few complementary comments too! Lunch nearby produced the hoped-for Thekla Larks and a couple of Dartford Warblers, despite the continuing unseasonally hot conditions (22+ºC in the shade). A superb pale morph Booted Eagle just outside the village was an early bird too.

Sepúlveda Village © John MuddemanSepúlveda Village© John MuddemanThe Sepúlveda area later on was as good as expected, Hen Harrier, Southern Grey Shrike, Rock Sparrows, Calandra, Thekla, Wood and Skylarks, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and a fine group of Red-billed Choughs on the walk down towards a beautiful old chapel overlooking a gorge. Virtually no nesting Griffon Vultures was a very worrying sign of the food shortage these birds are experiencing however, with just three females on nests on ledges where some 15-20 were present just 7 or 8 years ago (see the former comment about carrion eaters in Madrid for the same thread). And the drive back produced my first male Black-eared Wheatear (followed shortly after by my first Northern Wheatear) of the year! male black-throated Black-eared Wheatear  - Oenanthe h. hispanicus © John Muddemanmale black-throated
Black-eared Wheatear
Oenanthe h. hispanicus
© John Muddeman

It was remarkably cold by the time we were back at our hotel on the edge of the village at dusk though, especially given a chill N breeze.

Just over 60 species for the day, not including a probable Pied Flycatcher (so early too!) was a fine tally.

Day 2 - Hoces del Duratón, Segovia, Puerto de Navacerrada, Hotel David, Embalse de Arrocampo, Aldea del Obispo

Another peerless day and thankfully with no sign of the chill wind of the previous evening. male Common Redstart  - Phoenicurus phoenicurus © John Muddemanmale Common Redstart
Phoenicurus phoenicurus
© John Muddeman

Remarkably different on the steppe with numerous birds visible: 5-6 singing male W Black-eared Wheatears, 2 Spectacled Warblers, a stunning male Common Redstart and a briefly singing, but invisible Dupont’s Lark. A male Montagu’s Harrier cruised past as we returned, with a singing Cirl Bunting by the hotel.

Segovia was gorgeous with the 1st Century Roman Aqueduct and the Alcazar as impressive as ever. Tree buds were bursting forth in the river valley gorges.

Not long after we were near the Puerto de Navacerrada, where a short walk revealed 3 fly-over Red Crossbills and a good number of flighty Citril Finches, including some singing males. Several Coal Tits and a very brief Eurasian Nuthatch to round off.

Headed SW via the outskirts of Madrid, where the massive stick Spotted Crake  - Porzana porzana © John MuddemanSpotted Crake Porzana porzana© John Muddeman
nest of Monk Parakeets was visible from the moving car, and two of its occupants overflew the road.

A pool near the main road en route held 3 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Green Sandpipers, a Common Sandpiper, Little Egret, Water pipit and 3 Spanish Terrapins.

A good hour at the Arrocampo Reservoir at hides 1 & 2 was superb in the late afternoon sun. 6-7 singing Savi’s, plus heard-only Cetti’s, Eurasian Reed and Sedge Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas, Spanish Sparrows, Purple Swamphens, a brief Little Bittern, 3 fly-over Great Spotted Cuckoos, 2 Squacco Herons, single Black-shouldered Kite and Western Marsh Harrier and a wonderful Spotted Crake were the highlights to round off a superb day! Almost 95 species for the day and some 110 species in total.

Day 3

Black Stork  - Ciconia nigra © John MuddemanBlack Stork Ciconia nigra© John MuddemanAn early start saw a roadside stop revealing a perched ‘damero’ Spanish Imperial Eagle. Two more adults during the day, plus 4 Short-toed toed, a pale morph Booted, a pair of adult Bonelli’s and a partially displaying Golden Eagle, all in Monfragüe, gave us the eagle five for the day! All three vultures, Black Stork and even a very hidden Eagle Owl adult plus chick there were good rewards, on top of a few smaller birds including a number of flighty Hawfinches.

Woodcock Ophrys  - Ophrys scolopax © John MuddemanWoodcock Ophrys Ophrys scolopax© John MuddemanVarious stops in the Valdecañas and Almaraz areas revealed a wealth of orchids, with Yellow Bee, Sawfly, Early Spider, Mirror and Woodcock Ophrys, plus Conical, Italian Man, Giant and Champagne Orchids in relative abundance, a surprising treat, especially when we also added a pair of Black Wheatears and another adult Eagle Owl plus chick, this time in full view, to the day’s tally.

The Arrocampo Reservoir once again turned up trumps, with a superb Eurasian Eagle-owl  - Bubo bubo © John MuddemanEurasian Eagle-owl Bubo bubo© John Muddemanmale Penduline Tit, lots of Savi’s Warblers, plus a female Little Bittern, and adult Spoonbill and Black-crowned Night Heron in flight. A freshly emerged Long Skimmer was remarkable to see so early in late March, a few Lesser Emperors being much more typical for the dates!

Day 4

An early exit and we stopped to scan steppe near Santa Marta de Magasca. A Wild Boar gave superb views, while male Montagu’s Harriers, a flock of Little Bustards, a pair of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and flying Great Bustards and noisy Great Spotted Cuckoos were the highlights. Nearby and Red and Black Kites lined fences, an Egyptian Vulture rose off a stillborn lamb and a good flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and a couple of Great Bustards topped the near horizon. The final stop revealed a superb pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse in perfect light on the ground, plus more flying Great Bustards and two male Hen Harriers in an aggressive interaction in flight! The long route back finally also produced a pair of Stone-curlews as well as plenty more Little Bustards, a distant hovering Black-shouldered Kite and a superb Montagu’s Harrier colony, including several resting on fence posts.

Spanish Imperial Eagle  - Aquila adalbertii © John MuddemanSpanish Imperial Eagle
Aquila adalbertii
© John Muddeman
After breakfast, we went S. The Trujillo pools produced Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers, a Viperine Snake and numerous Spanish Terrapins, with Lesser Kestrels over the bullring. The Emb. de Sierra Brava held two pairs of Red-crested Pochards, an early Collared Pratincole and a pair of Tufted Ducks of most note (with lots of Lesser Kestrels in the surroundings). A male Spectacled Warbler and white-throated Black-eared Wheatear were also of note.

After a quick look at Madrigalejo our lunch on a small bridge produced Sedge, Eurasian Reed and Great Reed Warblers, Common Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler and numerous Red Avadavats and several Common Waxbills.

Numerous Water Pipits in the only wet rice field near Vegas Altas were added, while later, Pallid Swifts began to appear low over Trujillo, among the numerous Lesser Kestrels to round off the day. A Barn Owl flew off the C.R. roof after dark!

Day 5

We bade our farewells to the excellent Casa Rural El Tenado and our host Marisol, and started the long transfer to the Strait of Gibraltar in cool and very cloudy conditions. A brief pause to look at C.R. El Recuerdo where Claudia and Martin welcomed us warmly as usual and also gave us a quick look round. It was also a bonus to meet Nigel Collar and his daughter!

The dramatic change in weather meant it dipped down to 11ºC at one point (at Monesterio), despite no rain before Seville, and it was only S of here that we noticed how wet it had been, with storm clouds frequently threatening, but thankfully not affecting us. The track to the Lagunas de Espera was impassable, so we made do with our first Common Whitethroat instead! The Laguna de Medina was great, with 30+ White-headed Ducks and a Red-knobbed Coot of most note, plus other duck, a few raptors, the first Common Swifts and also passerines, including our first iberiae Yellow Wagtails.

With a very high tide at Barbate we rounded off with almost an hour on the beach at Zahara de los Atunes, with numerous Atlantic Gannets, Audouin’s and lots of migrant adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, lots of Sandwich and a single superb Caspian Tern, plus distant Arctic and Great Skuas and on the beach a couple of Kentish Plovers among the Sanderling.

Day 6

Leaving just after 7:30 (but with the clock change) we reached our destination after light. With a very chilly breezy 12ºC it was poor at first, despite a few passerines in a coastal migrant trap, including Eurasian Reed Warbler, Common Redstart and high Pallid Swifts. After a quick reviving breakfast at 9 we were out again, and with the sun breaking out on the lee side, there were more birds, including 3 Wrynecks, 6+ Common Whitethroats and 5+ Subalpine Warblers of most note.

The Palmones Estuary was virtually bird free, despite single Greenshank and a small flock of Greater Ringed Plovers, while the area around Los Barrios was interesting, with numerous Lesser Kestrels and near the tip, numerous Griffon Vultures and Black Kites amongst others.

Lunch overlooking the Strait revealed very little passage in the clear conditions, mainly due to heavy cloud over Morocco and a stiff NW wind. However, single Western Marsh and a ‘pair’ of Montagu’s Harriers, two Egyptian Vultures and several Booted Eagles were seen crossing.

The edge of the Alcornocales Park showed how the deciduous ?Portuguese Oaks were just shedding the last of their leaves as the new buds were about to burst. This, plus the chilly conditions (down to just 11ºC as we left!) meant the Iberian Chiffchaffs remained all but silent, but a couple of Crested Tits, Short-toed Treecreepers and Firecrests gave excellent views. The group total approached 175 species.

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