Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Castilla la Mancha & Extremadura

25th Feb - 4th March 2006

Report by Julian Sykes

25th February :- Whilst John, Geoff & Julia were having there breakfast at the guesthouse I picked up Paula at her friends villa near Pedreguer. We returned to the B & B packed the vehicle and set off on the first leg of the holiday inland to the steppe's around Albacete. Although the weather was fine there was a strong wind making viewing difficult but we still managed to find some very good species. The initial first two stops produced the usual Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Buntings, Linnets, Spotless Starlings, Carrion Crows & Magpies, but between Bonete and Coral Rubio we found our first group of 17 Great Bustards along with 2 Black bellied Sandgrouse. We continued towards Petrola finding another flock of 16 Great Bustards as well as large flocks of Calandra Larks, and also Lapwings, Crested Larks, Mistle Thrush, Kestrels, Buzzard and Red legged Partridge. Finally we arrived at Petrola lagoon where we added a lot of new species including 2 Common Cranes, 30+ Greater Flamingos, Shelducks, Red Crested & Common Pochards, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Ruff, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Water Pipit and a Raven. We left and went for our lunch at the local hostelry in the knowledge of a fine start to the holiday. Next we headed further inland stopping just outside Chinchilla where we had found a large flock of Rock Sparrows feeding at the side of the road, also here were Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and lots of Woodpigeon. As we were about to leave the first 'ringtail' Hen Harrier flew low over the adjacent fields creating havoc amongst the starlings, finches, and buntings. The journey to Pedro Munoz was pretty uneventful apart from a few Kestrels and Common Buzzards sat on roadside wires and posts. Just before Pedro Munoz a raptor crossed in front of us and a quick stop produced an early returning Black Kite then at Manjavacas Lagoons we saw some more close Black tailed Godwits, Ruff, and 5 Marsh Harriers in the air together, as well as distant Shoveler, Teal, Shelduck and Coot. We left and made the short journey to our hotel in Pedro Munoz, and after checking in John and I walked across the road to the lagoon but the rain had started and curtailed any further observation. We did manage to add Pintail, Black winged Stilt, Little Grebe, Hoopoe and Barn Swallow to our excellent first day total.

26th February :- We got out of bed and had a pre-breakfast walk along the side of Pedro Munoz lagoon. Unfortunately the weather was cold and grey making birdwatching very difficult however we all managed to see the species John and I had seen the previous evening plus Black necked Grebe, Robin, Blackcap and heard a Cetti's Warbler. After breakfast we packed the vehicle and drove the short distance to the front of the reserve but the gate was locked, yet it's possible to see most of the lagoon from over the fence. From here we found our first 2 White Storks, Black necked & Little Grebes, Pintail, Red Crested & Common Pochard, a Cattle Egret, Yellow legged Gulls, Black winged Stilts and Chiffchaffs. We left Pedro Munoz and headed west to another wetland just outside Alcazar de San Juan where we saw a lot of the same species, including many White Storks and some on nests. The other surprise was John finding a Mute Swan amongst the reeds at the back of the lagoon, a scarce bird throughout much of Spain. We continued on, this time heading straight for Toledo along the excellent new road system, arriving in very good time and allowing for a stop at the 'mirador' over this fine city. Photos were taken and we also managed to add a few species to the trip list including Jackdaw, Cormorant, and Black headed Gull. Between Toledo and Polan we started seeing some more of the steppe species with both Calandra & Thekla Larks found as were 3 Stone Curlews, male Hen Harrier, Corn Buntings, Southern Grey Shrikes, and Red legged Partridges. After lunch in Polan we made our way on minor roads towards Talavera de la Reina seeing Iberian Green Woodpecker, Golden Plovers, a Sparrowhawk, Meadow Pipits, Linnets, and a mixed flock of both Redwing and Song Thrush. From the main highway we then exited at Calera y Chozas and drove these minor roads back to the main highway, generally it was quiet but we see our first flock of Azure winged Magpies, Hawfinch flew over the car, and another Hen Harrier hunted over the fields, not a wasted detour. Back on the main road we now headed straight for Trujillo, (adding Griffon Vultures at the eastern edge of Monfrague) and to our base for the next four nights, the superb casa rural 'El Recuerdo'. Just outside Trujillo (on the Zorilla road) we stopped to contact our hosts and during this time Paula found our first three Spanish Sparrows, as well as a couple of Red Kites, Kestrel, Buzzards, lots of White Storks, Golden Plover and Lapwings. We arrived at the casa rural as dusk was falling and our hosts 'Martin, Claudia, & Patrick Kelsey' greeted us with some very welcome beer and wine. 

27th February :- At just after dawn John & I met for a pre-breakfast stroll, later to be joined by Paula, which was quite productive. We walked along the quiet country lane seeing Red legged Partridges, Hoopoes, 2 Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Thekla Larks, male Blue Rock Thrush, Song Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcaps, Stonechat, Blue & Great Tits, Azure winged & Eurasian Magpies, Chaffinches, Serins and a Wren. Due to our first day of fine and calm weather it was decided to spend it looking for raptors in Monfrague N.P., so after breakfast we headed out first stopping on the quiet connecting road between the highway and Torrejon del Rubio. This stop produced our first soaring Black Stork, 3 Black & Griffon Vultures, Red Kites, Buzzards, a calling Woodlark, Firecrest, Sardinian Warbler, and a Mistle Thrush. Totally enthused we carried on to Monfrague with it's ever present flying vultures, the first stop at the foot of the castle. Whilst climbing the steps I heard a familiar honking call and Geoff found 300+ Common Cranes flying over heading north to Julia's joy, this was then added too by the eyeball to eyeball views of Griffon & Black Vultures from the top. As we enjoyed the fantastic scenery and Crag Martins, from this high vantage point I picked up a smaller vulture heading in, and called 'Egyptian Vulture', and over the next five minutes we all enjoyed fantastic views of this adult bird overhead. We returned to the car finding a lovely Hawfinch feeding amongst the shrubbery. Unfortunately Julia missed the bird so she would hopefully have to wait for the next one!. It was now starting to warm up and we decided to head for 'Portilla de Tietar' and have a long lunch, however when we arrived most of the parking spaces had gone, but we got just off the road. As I got out I instinctively looked up and shouted " EAGLE", the car emptied in seconds, and we watched an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle fly & soar around for a couple of minutes before disappearing over the crags, wonderful. Since the parking spot wasn't ideal we moved on and had our picnic around the 'dehesa' on the parks outer limits, in relative peace. During lunch we saw a Short toed Treecreeper, Black Redstarts, nesting Common Buzzards, Crested Larks and a Jay, as well as another large flock of migrating Common Cranes. Back at Portilla we parked sensibly and unbelievably again I got out of the car and looked up to find an adult Bonelli's Eagle amongst the Griffon Vultures. Again we all managed to watch this fantastic eagle pointing out it's salient identification points compared to the Spanish Imperial Eagle seen earlier . We then walked to the watchpoint were we spent the next two hours, this time getting unrivalled flight views of 2 Spanish Imperial Eagles, a Black Stork (stood on a rock), Blue Rock Thrush, Crag & House Martins, Griffon Vultures, Grey Heron and 2 Ravens. Although the most fascinating part of the stop was finding the nesting Eagle Owls on the far crag, even with detailed information of it's whereabouts. I found what could have been the spot but no 'Buho Real', yet everything fitted, I watched and stared then suddenly the bush turned it's head, and like one of those 'magic pictures' I saw an adult Eagle Owl stretched out on the nest. Eventually everyone saw it through John's zoom lens (+ a nearby Spanish family much to their gratitude), but it had to move to be sure of it's actual existence. Sadly we left and continued back through the park stopping at a clearing amongst the pines and during this time another Spanish Imperial & 2 adult Bonelli's Eagles flew over. We didn't see much else apart from some curious Azure winged Magpies but only heard Coal & Crested Tits. The afternoon was drawing on so we left and quickly made our way back towards Trujillo to find we still had enough time to call in at Belen Plains before returning to the guesthouse. At Belen a couple of stops produce plenty of Golden Plover and Lapwing, but then from the side of road 3 birds alighted and flew a short distance back, our first Little Bustards, and a fantastic end to fantastic day. Again that evening a wonderful meal was provided by Martin & Claudia, and Patrick providing the entertainment with his 'Guess the Engine' game.

28th February :- How could we top the previous day?. This morning only John & I made the crisp morning walk but this time along the way from the house. The olive groves were alive with birds particularly Song Thrush but also a few Redwing and Blackbird, with Robins 'ticking', Goldfinches, Serins, Hoopoes, Stonechats and Woodpigeons. It was however finding 4 Hawfinches (John's favourite bird) feeding amongst the olives that provided the biggest thrill as we obtained excellent views of this cracking finch. Upon Martin's advice, after breakfast we headed out to the Trujillo to Santa Marta de Magasca road and a couple of productive pull-ins en-route. Driving to our first stop we saw the ever-present Red Kites, Buzzards, Lapwings and White Storks, and when we got to the site we were greeted with a flock of 150+ Little Bustards in the far fields. We watched as they fed amongst the short grass, then a Griffon Vulture flew over causing half to fly a short distance, which was a fantastic site. On the other side of the road I found a Great Spotted Cuckoo sat in a tree, something all the group particularly wanted to see, and as we 'scoped' it, another 3 joined it and gave a wonderful show as they flew around chasing each other and calling. Then a single Great Bustard flew over and a group of 11 Pin tailed Sandgrouse showed over the adjacent fields for a short while before unfortunately landing out of sight. As well as this lots of Golden Plover ran around the fields with Calandra & Thekla Larks calling from everywhere. Thoroughly elated we drove the short distance to the next stop, where Woodlarks were singing on the opposite side of the road. John wanted to get a good view of this species so we walked across and eventually got a close look at two birds feeding under a Holm Oak. Back at the car we scanned and Paula found a very pale bird sat on a far fence post, which, when scoped became a male Hen Harrier. The walk down the track was quiet generally with lots of the same species, then John saw two birds drop in that needed further investigation. We walked a short distance and set up the telescopes found the birds and identified them as a pair of Black bellied Sandgrouse, we edged closer eventually seeing them very well feeding in the short grass. We had spent a lot of time in this small area and was nearly lunch time so we drove back to Trujillo and walked up to the main square for something to eat. We had a fine lunch while enjoying the weather and ambience of the architecture and nesting White Storks, Crag Martins buzzed around and a Black Vulture flew low over the town. After lunch we drove out to the Belen Plains and a leisurely walk along one of it's tracks. During our time on the plain we found 51 Great Bustards some initially so close there was no need for binoculars!, a single Little Bustard in flight, 3 distant Great Spotted Cuckoos, Black Kite, Black Vulture, 8 Red Kites and a Common Buzzard in the air together, and again lots of larks, finches, Golden Plovers, Lapwings, and White Storks. We returned to the 'El Recuerdo' quite tired after a long day but very satisfied with what we had seen.

1st March :- John & I were joined for the walk this morning with Geoff & Julia, with Julia particularly wanting to see a Hawfinch well since my previous efforts to 'get her on to one' had failed. It was a cold morning with a good frost on the ground but also completely cloudless and things were slowly stirring, the Song Thrushes chased around the olive groves interspersed with a few Redwing, and a Swallow sat on a low overhead wire allowing very close approach. Geoff found a close Red legged Partridge, and John heard a now familiar Woodlark, then a distinctive bird flew into a dead tree just in front of us and we all whispered "Hawfinch", and Julia got her wish. Then a few other Hawfinches flew across our path and our bird joined them -, we continued on the lane getting a wonderful look at the countryside with Trujillo beyond. The return for breakfast was equally as excellent this time also producing a brief Short toed Treecreeper. Today we were going to head south around the plains and rice fields of Zorita and Madrigalejo, in the hope of finding some Common Cranes. A drive through the Zorita Plains produced more Great Bustards, a Marsh Harrier, and again plenty of Calandra Larks, Golden Plover and Lapwings. Next was a drive around the paddy fields but unfortunately most had been drained for planting so most of the waders had departed, however we did find a small flock of Common Cranes, Little & Cattle Egrets, Common Snipe, Tree Sparrows, Zitting Cisticola and a mixed flock of Spanish Sparrows, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. The road to Vegas Altas produced an adult Peregrine Falcon sat on a pylon, then at the junction we saw a small raptor sat on a telegraph wire. The position of the sun made viewing difficult but moving the car revealed it was our first Black shouldered Kite so we exited the car and enjoyed the bird dropping on insects in the field below. We eventually moved on to explore the rice fields of Vegas Altas and have our picnic lunch, the slow drive produced a couple of Hen Harriers, more Common Snipe and a flock of small finches. We pulled in and re-found the finches confirming our suspicions of winter plumage Red Avadavat with their distinctive 'thin' call. During lunch we enjoyed plenty of birds including a flock of 19 Great Bustards, a very showy Bluethroat, 2 male & female Hen Harriers, Black Vulture, Crested Larks & Skylarks, Hoopoe, Stonechat, Corn Buntings, and Black headed Gulls. After lunch we carried on around the tracks for a short while finding more of the same species plus a flock of Cattle Egrets amongst some sheep. We left and headed back towards Zorilla before turning off to Logrosan, driving along this mettled track we found about 50 Moorhens in a very small pond, lots more Cattle Egrets, Red Kites and Common Buzzards. We drove round to a small reservoir parked and walked to it's edge where we found lots of Mallard, but with smaller numbers of Teal, Shoveler, and a single Pintail. A Common Sandpiper flew from the edge of the reservoir and the Paula said " I think I've seen a Brambling", we checked the Chaffinches and then more flew out - nice find. Altogether we estimated over 100 Brambling must have been feeding in the bushes next to us, an excellent total. We left and headed back to the guesthouse to everyone a chance to get their things together before we had to depart the next morning. Once back and off-loaded I took the car into Trujillo to wash it's now dirty windows, and with still a little light left went on to Belen until dusk. Here I found a fantastic flock of 337 Little Bustards feeding on the slope of a field, then also 9 Great Bustards in another along the usual larks, plovers and Lapwings. That night Claudia made us a wonderful soup dish from her home country of Columbia, which was enjoyed immensely by all of the party, especially accompanied by plenty of the excellent local red wine.

2nd March :- Our final pre-breakfast walk involved all of us and much the same species were seen this morning as the previous ones, although a singing Blue Rock Thrush was a nice surprise. After breakfast we said our fond "goodbyes" to Martin & Claudia, thanking them for their incredible hospitality and very useful local information. Our first stop was to be Belen Plain to try and relocate the Little Bustards, which we did quite easily but there wasn't quite as many birds as the previous evening, counting was difficult but there were certainly in excess of 200 birds. At the crossroads we found the Great Bustard flock which had actually split into two with 9 in one and 8 in the other, as we watched they started to display, with a few birds turning themselves 'inside out' as part of their amazing courtship. This was a fitting look at these magnificent birds. we had met another party who told us of a Stone Curlew on the way back to Belen so we stopped to try and find it. Unfortunately we couldn't locate it but we did manage to find a Little Owl sat hidden in the rocks, a male Hen Harrier sat just beyond, and then from across the plain an adult Egyptian Vulture flew and landed near a farmhouse, finally as we got back into the car a hirundine cut across our path, creating a unified "Red rumped Swallow". We headed back to Trujillo town for a coffee and then a last look around the bullring and pond. At the pond we added Little Ringed Plovers, Black winged Stilts, and a Common Snipe, but the prize was finding an adult Lesser Kestrel flying around over the town, our wishes had been granted. Our next stop was at the Embalse de Sierra Brava, a huge body of water that really needed more time than we could allow. At the water's edge it was obvious there were wildfowl about and we quickly found Mallard, Shoveler and Coot, Black necked & Great Crested Grebes fished in various places, but the prize went to John who found a few Tufted Duck, something I really wanted to see. While we were there a skein of Grey Lag Geese flew over calling as did a large flock of Common Cranes. The return trip through the dehesa produced 2 Woodlark, Crested Larks, Mistle Thrush, and a House Martin. Back at the main road we were now heading towards Castilla la Mancha and the quiet roads made driving easy, however we did stop to stretch the legs at Embalse de Garcia Sola a known raptor watchpoint. Straight away we found plenty of Griffon Vultures loafing around and a Raven made nuisance of itself. Yet it was twenty minutes later when our target appeared over the high crags an adult Bonelli's Eagle, and as we watched another two birds joined it, one was a Red Kite, and the other was a 1st year Bonelli's Eagle giving a remarkable plumage comparison between the parent and young. Over the next five minutes these birds indulged in aerial acrobatics before the adult chased off the young bird out of sight over the hill. Now in very high spirits we continued on to Alcoba, a small town on the edge of Los Cabaneros nature reserve, enroute John and Julia saw a Merlin dash out of sight, and a Sparrowhawk was seen over the road. At Alcoba we checked into our basic hotel and regrouped for a quick look at Los Cabaneros from a specially constructed hide on the edge of the reserve. Over the next hour we logged 3 Great Spotted Cuckoos, White Stork, Common Buzzard, Corn Buntings, and a few Red Deer.

3rd March :- An early rise saw us waiting outside the hostal to be collected by our driver and guide Carlos in his adapted Jeep and then on into Los Cabaneros National Park. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse and with grey skies and a very cold wind we struggled to find a lot of the parks fauna & flora. However Carlos worked hard and we soon found some small parties of Red Deer (mostly females and young males), along with plenty of Corn Buntings, Lapwings, Red Kites, Common Buzzards, Azure winged Magpies, a couple of Jays and good numbers of Black & Griffon Vultures sat around on the floor. However this reserve seldom fails to produce something special and Carlos took us to a possible Spanish Imperial Eagle site, and found an a majestic adult sat right out in the open. We watched ( & photographed) this bird for a long time and while it was there a Black Vulture came in and settled near-by causing the eagle to call. It was a magical experience to see one of the world's rarest raptors so well and for such a long time, observing all it's plumage features. Julia had asked if Golden Eagle was possible so we headed off further into the hills to another possible stake-out, but unfortunately this bird wasn't as obliging. We did see two Black Vulture nests with adults sat upon them and as we were leaving I saw two aquilas drift low along the ridge and then out of sight. We had seen enough to be confident of them being eagles but to specify which type was impossible with the views obtained, we would have to wait for our 'Aguila Real'. The morning was ending and we continued around more tracks listening to Carlos as he tried to explain about certain fauna around the park, we added Southern Grey Shrike, Golden Plovers, Red legged Partridge and a single Great Spotted Cuckoo to our safari list. We were returned to Alcoba for midday were we said our "thank you & goodbyes" to Carlos before stopping en-route for a well-earned hot sausage bocadillo. We then drove the short journey to one of Castilla la Mancha's premier sites 'Tablas de Diamiel', a wetland on the edge of Diamiel town. We parked and walked along the yellow trail, which took you on a boardwalk through the reeds and lagoons, unfortunately the cold and wind weren't helping. Although very soon after starting John said " Bearded Tit", and two birds zipped around the reeds before heading off right in front of where we were stood. The waters were quiet with a few Mallard, Moorhen and Coot, but the familiar call of Common Crane heralded the arrival of about 200 birds. At one raised area we watched over the reeds were we saw 2 male Hen Harriers, a pair of Marsh Harriers and a small group of Spanish Sparrows, but it was another bird that caused a stir. A distance away a small raptor had been hovering over the reeds, which we assumed to be a Kestrel but I took a quick look through the scope to find it was in fact a Black shouldered Kite, quite a scarce bird here. We continued around this trail until we returned to the visitor centre so decided to try another, unfortunately this led to a pen full of captive ducks (of all species). Yet as usually happens Paula & Geoff found another new bird for the trip, a nice male Dartford Warbler who insisted on sitting out in full view calling. The final 'red trail' was to another lagoon with a great hide overlooking most of it, and as we sat down I re-found the Black shouldered Kite at it's far end. It gave reasonable views as it searched for prey before departing in the direction we had come from. Over the next hour and a half we were treated to fantastic views of an adult and 2 CY male Hen Harriers as they hunted right in front of the hide. A Merlin made a brief appearance, and a couple of Stock Doves flew in adding to the trip list, as well as Common Teal, 20+ Grey Lag Geese, 2 Common Ravens, Common Snipe, Black winged Stilts and Reed Buntings. Sadly we had to leave and made our way to Mota del Cuervo, where we were spending our final night.

4th March :-  Due to the weather, a joint decision was made to head to the coast as soon as we were ready after breakfast, we headed west as quickly as possible stopping for coffee, and then for lunch just outside Santa Pola. After lunch we went straight to the Salinas de Santa Pola where I knew we would probably find a few new birds, which included Slender billed, Audouin's, Mediterranean & Lesser Black backed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Dunlin, Kentish Plovers, Little Stints and Sanderlings. As time was short due to John needing to be at the airport we made a quick detour to the edge of El Hondo reserve, where we added our last new bird for the trip 12 Marbled Duck, amongst the Eurasian Teal and Coot. A suitable finale to an excellent trip.


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