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Madrid tailor-made birding trip observations

John Muddeman
29/06/2009 22:10:15

Observations of birds in Madrid during a few recent 1/2 and full-day birdwatching trips

Posted in: Birds | Madrid | Spanish Mainland, Central Spain

29th May : 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Both the main 'target' species were seen well, along with 60+ others! Indeed, one of the very first -a lovely group of several male Great Bustards Otis tarda- was the first of these! Male Montagu's Circus pygargus and Hen Harriers C. cyaneus -the latter at one of their southernmost breeding sites always being a surprise for the unwary-, plus a pair of Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus were ideal complements here! A nearby agricultural site was unfortunately only reached after a significant detour due to a road accident, but this unexpected route yielded singing Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, a pair of roadside Subalpine Warblers Sylvia cantillans and a few very smart Spanish Sparrows Passer hispaniolensis among their House brethren... At least a single male Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax was in a field with a Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis and singing Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla, despite no hoped-for sandgrouse (too hot and too late!).

With Eurasian Tree P. montanus and Rock Sparrows Petronia petronia also well seen, the latter especially at a small gorge, four sparrow species in a day is always good! The same gorge and slopes also provided fine views of European Bee-eater Merops apiaster, [Western] Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe h. hispanica, Thekla Lark Galerida theklae, Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia and Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta of most note.

After a refreshing drink and ordering take-away filled rolls, 'Spanish-style', we rounded off in some quite different habitat, where a couple of singing Western Orphean Warblers Sylvia hortensis showed excellently, a Woodlark Lullula arborea called adn flew past, a fine Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti also drifted over and then hung in the breeze long enough for us to actually look away and consider finding one of the purring Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur in the area!

We rounded off an excellent day with looks at an immature Black Stork Ciconia nigra and a few Wild Boar Sus scrofa down in the river below us, plus a fly past Stock Dove Columba oenas.
Eurasian Black Vulture  Aegypius monachus © John MuddemanEurasian Black Vulture
Aegypius monachus
© John Muddeman


6th June : 7 a.m. - 1 p.m.

All the target species were found well: Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki, Thekla Lark Galerida theklae, Western Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis, 'despite' only finding a superb pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles Aquila adalberti literally as we were about to have to rush back into the centre of Madrid (so we were consequently late!)!

A nice range of other species included Griffon Gyps fulvus and Eurasian Black Vultures Aegypius monachus, Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus, European Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops, Blue Rock Thrush (singing) Monticola solitarius, Southern Grey Lanius meridionalis and Woodchat Shrikes Lanius senator, Crested Lark Galerida cristata, Cetti's (singing) Cettia cetti, Western Bonelli's (singing) Phylloscopus bonelli, Sardinian Sylvia melanocephala and Dartford Warblers S. undata, Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia and a couple of fine Wild Boar Sus scrofa!


1st July : 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The two main species, Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti (4 adults from the same spot!) and a small flock of Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki, plus two 'extras', Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli -4 individuals plus others heard- and two birds (but particularly an adult female) of the Iberian race Picus viridis sharpei of Green Woodpecker were all seen very well.

Despite intense heat in the sunny conditions, a fine range of other species included numerous Griffon Gyps fulvus and 12+ Eurasian Black Vultures Aegypius monachus, 2 Booted Eagles Hieraeetus pennatus, European Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops, Kingfisher (heard) Alcedo atthis, several Golden Orioles Oriolus oriolus, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, numerous Woodchat Shrikes Lanius senator (including juveniles and first-winters), Red-rumped Swallow Hirunda daurica, Eurasian Crag Ptyonoprogne rupestris and Sand Martins Riparia riparia, Crested Lark Galerida cristata, Cetti's (singing) Cettia cetti and Dartford Warblers Sylvia undata.

A couple of large groups of White Storks Ciconia ciconia also included a mix of adults and recently fledged young, though nearly all in the region are now on the brink of leaving. White Stork, in complete contrast to Black Stork C. nigra is one of the earliest migrants to leave Spain, with the vast majority leaving in late June - end July.


24th July - 8:45 - 17:30 h

The changeable weather of the previous few days, including strong winds the day before, had fortunately given way to a (relatively) cool start and fine conditions, and a maximum of 30ºC forecast. The request was for a good day's birding out, especially of the local specialities.

Our first stop revealed a couple of secretive Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax in a weedy field, plus a fly-by immature male Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus and a large family of Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa. Other fields and an olive orchard nearby produced a minimum of 30 Great Bustards Otis tarda, 5 fly-by Greater Short-toed Larks Calandrella brachydactyla, two distant Montagu's Harriers, a wandering Red Fox Vulpes vulpes and a superb pair of resting Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus of most note.

Moving N we stopped below a ridge when a fine Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos circled up from beside the road, only to be joined by its mate as we pulled off the road, but we were then also distracted by a close mixed flock of adult and juvenile Crested and Thekla Larks Galerida cristata / theklae and a 'follow-up pale morph Booted Eagle Aquila pennata. The slopes themselves produced our first female Western Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe h. hispanica, plus lots of adult and juvenile Woodchat Lanius senator and two Southern Grey Shrikes L. meridionalis, while an orange-bellied bird on a twig on the skyline turned out to be the first real surprise of the day - a male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis - here well below its normal altitudinal range, and a lifer for Martin! A brief male Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis and fly-by Rock Sparrows Petronia petronia meant it was a four-sparrow day again, even before 11 a.m.

The next stop and walk around the corner revealed a good selection of new birds, from Crag Martins Hirundo rupestris and Rock Buntings Emberiza cia, to Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie Cyanopica cyana, two extremely close Melodious Warblers Hippolais polyglotta, lots of noisy Eurasian Bee-eaters Merops apiaster around their nest holes and a superb male Blue Rock Thrush M. solitarius on a rooftop.

After a short stop for a drink and to buy a filled roll for lunch, we headed off again, this time via a reservoir in the mountains, where a few more surprises were waiting. Passing Red and Black Kites Milvus milvus / migrans, Booted Eagle and Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus kept us looking skywards, but a group of waders in the water, here sheltering from a stiff NW wind was unusual. 47 Common Redshank Tringa totanus is a very good count here, with single Green Tringa ochropus and Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleuca and a Little Ringed Plover present as well. A few iberiae Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava were also present at one of the few breednig sites in the region I know of. But the biggest surprise was still in store for when we got closer to the shore, with an immature Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis looking normal, but a juvenile gull which flew past causing confusion. Until it returned later, and then settled, allowing us to confirm it as a superb juvenile-plumaged Audouin's Gull L. audouinii, a rare (but regular) visitor to the region, and my first for C Spain! Even the road out produced good sightings of Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli, with two males counter-singing despite the early afternoon sun and heat.

While the high tops were cooler, the Scot's Pine forest was very quiet, despite a few Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus among a small mixed-species flock, though passing Griffon vultures Gyps fulvus and a very high-flying Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo were welcome distractions. There was sadly insufficient time to look closer at the Aeshna hawker darting among the trees, though a superb Common Golden-ring Cordulegaster boltonii cruised past a couple of times and several butterflies were present, including both Silver-washed and Cardinal Fritillaries Argynnis paphia / pandora. Another stop en route down revealed numerous butterflies, with a profusion of Scarce Coppers Lycaena vigaureae almost hiding a superb male of the C Spanish race of Sooty Copper L. tityrus.

There was just time for one more stop, close to Madrid. Several over-flying Griffon and Eurasian Black Vultures as we approached were a good sign, but it wasn't until I'd given a definitive call -almost an hour later- that we needed to leave in five minutes, that spurred a superb adult Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti out from its territory, to rise up, display a few times and then spiral up rapidly to enormous height before drifting slowly back across its teritory, giving great views in the scopes! Magic! This was the culmination of a great day's birding, including female Eurasian Hobby carrying prey, a juvenile Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, several Red-rumped Swallows Hirundo daurica and lots of high-flying White Storks Ciconia ciconia - the only ones seen all day, with the vast majority now having left for Africa - at the final site.

85 bird species recorded in total, despite the less than ideal time of year!

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