Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Castilla la Mancha & Extremadura

7th - 15th March 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

7th March :- I picked everyone up from Alicante at lunchtime, drove the short distance to the Santa Pola Salinas and spent a while watching the birds before going for lunch.   Here we found Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Little Egret, 7 Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos, Shelduck, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Common Coot, Black winged Stilts, Avocets, Black tailed Godwits, Curlew, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Slender billed, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, White Wagtails and Jackdaws. We then went for lunch next to the Mediterranean Sea but unfortunately there were only a few gulls and Cormorants about.   After lunch we went to the El Pinet and spent an hour and a half finding Kentish Plovers, Redshanks, Slender billed Gulls, Hoopoes, Swallows, Sardinian Warblers, Chaffinch, Southern grey Shrikes, Spotless Starlings, Chiffchaff and Serins.  We then returned to the Salinas and another stop for a large group of waders produced Black winged Stilt, Avocet, Grey, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Black tailed Godwits, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Stints, Dunlin, Lesser Black backed Gulls, Kingfisher & a Black Redstart.   Now we headed north to Oliva and made a quick visit to the Marsh where we added Cattle Egrets, Little Ringed Plovers, Green Sandpipers, Crag Martins, House Martin, Red rumped Swallow, Water & Meadow Pipits, Zitting Cisticola, Bluethroats, Common Stonechats, Tree Sparrow and Reed Buntings to our growing list.  That night we enjoyed a lovely meal at the local Spanish restaurant discussing the week ahead

8th March :- After breakfast we loaded the mini-bus and set off inland soon finding our first Magpies and Crested Larks en-route.   We arrived at Bonete and left the main road to drive through to Coral Rubio which yielded our first major birds with 30+ Great Bustards, some of which were displaying, 13 Black bellied Sandgrouse, a 1st winter Golden Eagle being mobbed by Common Buzzards, 2 Short toed Eagles, Rock Sparrows, Red legged Partridges, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Corn Buntings, Linnets and Swallows. Beyond Coral Rubio, we visited a small shallow lagoon finding Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Eurasian Teal, another young Golden Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Black winged Stilts, Avocets, Lapwings, Little Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Common Snipe, Green Sandpipers, Ruff, Black headed Gulls, Water & Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Crested Larks. The drive through to Petrola was fruitful with lots more Great Bustards, a few more Black bellied Sandgrouse, Little Owl and a large flock of Calandra Larks. In Petrola we had our lunch and straight after we set off deeper into Castilla La Mancha, although as we left the Bodega we had fantastic views of a single Common Crane migrating north. Fairly soon we were nearing Mota del Cuevo and decided to make a visit to 'The Gigantes' (windmills) out of Cervantes famous novel Don Quixote. Next we drove the short distance to the excellent Manjavacas Lagoon where added yet more species including a Spanish rarity – Lesser Flamingo.  Here we also found Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Shelduck, 2 Garganey, Shoveler, Marsh & hen Harrier, Lesser Kestrels, Stilts, Avocets, 2 Stone Curlew, Lapwings, Stone Curlew, Dunlin, Lapwings, Redshanks, Ruff, Black headed & Yellow legged Gulls, Wood Pigeon, White Wagtails, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Linnets, Reed & Corn Buntings.   Finally, as we made our way back to Mota del Cuevo we got good views of another Hen Harrier which put to flight our first small flock of Pin tailed Sandgrouse, a great end to our first full day.

9th March :- After breakfast we loaded the mini-bus and headed towards the lagoon of Pedo Munoz. En-route we saw our first Black Kite of the week closely followed by several more.  We also disturbed another another small flock of Pin tailed Sandgrouse plus saw a few Black Redstarts, Serin and Chaffinches. At Pedo Munoz we scanned the lagoon, which was full of water birds and over the next hour we logged 30+ Black necked & Little Grebes, White Stork, Greater Flamingos, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, a Pintail Shoveler, Red Crested & Common Pochard, 60+ White headed Duck, more Black Kite, Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzard, Moorhen, Black tailed Godwits, Ruff, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, Hoopoe, Crested Larks, Swallows, House Martin, 4 Penduline Tits, several Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches, Goldfinches & Reed Buntings. Next we visited the lagoons at Alcazar de San Juan, en-route seeing a kettle of 200+ Black Kites that eventually headed off north. At the lagoon we again saw many species most of which were the same but also Wigeon, Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler and Sand Martin, plus plenty more Pintail, White Storks, Marsh Harriers, White headed Ducks, Garganey, Penduline Tits and Chiffchaff. Late morning we left San Juan and headed west stopping in Diamiel for lunch in a traditional bodega, which was enjoyed by all. After that we drove the short distance to Tablas de Diamiel, once one of Spain's premier reserves but now affected by the declining water table. We walked around the trails and boardwalks enjoying some brilliant views of a few of the target species including Moustached Warbler, Bearded Tits and Water Rail, plus Greenshank, Black winged Stilts, Greylag Geese, Red Crested Pochard, Red rumped Swallow, House & Sand Martins, Penduline Tit, Stock Doves and Reed Buntings. It was now time to leave and continue west to Alcoba in readiness for the 4x4 safari the next day, the journey was fairly quiet but did produce our first Black Vulture and a fly past Merlin, nice additions to our list.

10th March :- An early start saw us joining Juanma on the 4x4 safari around Los Cabaneros, yet another of Spain’s premier reserves. Mammals were our first targets and soon we had found a large male Wild Boar running alongside the vehicle, plus a large herd of Red Deer, which were mainly females. We started seeing birds including Griffon Vulture, Common Buzzard, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Corn Bunting and Wood Pigeon. We made a visit to a hillside and saw our first Black Vulture at the nest plus Dartford Warbler, Wren and Stonechat. Then we visited the premier location getting superb views of an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle sitting in a tree. Here we also managed to find a Sub-alpine Warbler, Hawfinches, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Jays, Magpies, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blue Tit & Great Tit. Next we drove through the reserve to another hillside and a quick scan and Juanma found a Golden Eagle sitting on the hillside, and a little later we found another adult amongst a group of Griffon & Black Vultures. As it was cold we moved on to lower ground and visited a lovely piece of woodland where we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Nuthatches, Short toed Treecreeper, Chaffinches & Song Thrushes. It was now time to make our way back to Alcoba so Juanma drove us back out a different way finding a couple of Ravens along with yet more Black & Griffon Vultures. Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes to Juanma and thanked him for an excellent morning, loaded the mini-bus and headed west stopping for lunch en-route. Shortly after we arrived at the Embalse de Garcia Sola but the weather was deteriorating however, we enjoyed a couple of hours seeing some fantastic raptor species including a female Bonelli’s Eagle, Short toed Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine, Griffon Vultures plus Black Storks, Crag Martins, Red billed Chough, Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants. Again we headed west into Extramadura stopping again at Vegas Atlas where we found our target species, Red Avadavat as well as Lesser Kestrels, Little Egrets, White Storks, Common Buzzard, Kingfisher, Hoopoes, Zitting Cisticolas, Cetti's Warbler, Spanish & Tree Sparrows. Finally we had to leave and made our way to the superb Casa Rural El Recuerdo where we were staying for the next four nights.

11th March :- Our first full day in Extramadura and as the weather wasn't too good we headed back to the Zorita area, and on the plains we soon found a small flock of Great Bustards plus Calandra & Crested Larks, Corn Buntings, Linnets and Goldfinches. Then we found our first few Little Bustards of the week but struggled for very good views as they fed amongst the vegetation. As it warmed up, so the raptors started to appear and we saw Black & Red Kites, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Griffon Vultures drifting over the area, eventually we left and drove the short distance to Madrigalejo. Here we slowly made our way along the tracks checking the Holm Oaks for our main target species, during this time we found Little & Cattle Egrets, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, more kites, (heard) a Quail, Southern Grey Shrikes, Little Owls, Stonechats, Zitting Cisticolas, White Storks, White Wagtails and Serins. I then found a bird in the distance and we quickly made our way towards it and from a safe distance it was confirmed as our first Black shouldered Kite and got fantastic scoped views of this rare raptor sat in a dead oak, then it was joined by a second bird before going off to hunt over the dehesa. Next we visited a nearby reservoir, which held very little water but we found quite a few waders including Black winged Stilt, Black tailed Godwit, Avocet, Green & Common Sandpipers, Little Stints, Dunlin, Ringed & Kentish Plovers plus a few Shovelers, Shelduck, Mallard, Cormorants and Marsh Harriers. A slow drive around the paddy fields produced better views of several Little Bustards, along with Common Snipe, Spanish Sparrows, Stonechats, Red Avadavats, Meadow & Water Pipits. After an excellent picnic lunch we continued to another set of paddy fields this time finding Common Waxbills, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers, more Spanish Sparrows, Cetti’s Warblers and a small flock of Common Cranes. Having now achieved all our target species for the day we decided to leave this area and make our way to Belen Plain near Torjillo, and enjoyed a superb couple of hours as we had a ‘raptor–feste’ which included a (1cy) Golden Eagle, 3 Short toed Eagles, Black & Red Kites, Common Buzzard, 10 Black Vultures, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vultures a female Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Lesser & Common Kestrels. We also found our first pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos plus 3 Black bellied Sandgrouse, flocks of Calandra Larks, Crested Larks, Corn Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Linnets. On the way back to our Casa Rural we stopped off at Trujillo and whilst enjoying a well-earned beverage in the main square we watched a few Pallid Swifts, House Martins, Lesser Kestrels, Jackdaws and White Storks, completing yet another brilliant days birdwatching.

12th March :- We all gathered for an early morning walk but unfortunately it was a little foggy, however we still managed to get good views of Red rumped & Barn Swallows sat on wires, Azure winged Magpies chasing each other, Song Thrushes, Great & Blue Tits, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcaps, Robins, Stonechat and Black Redstarts. After breakfast we headed north stopping a small heath near Jaraicejo where we spent an hour finding Black & Red Kites, Common Buzzard, Griffon Vultures, Kestrel, Red legged Partridge, Woodpigeons, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Crested, Thekla & Woodlarks, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Stonechats, Southern Grey Shrikes, Linnets and Serins. We then drove the short distance to the magnificent Monfrague National Park where we spent the rest of the day, visiting the Arroyo de la Vid, Monfrague Castle, Peña Falcon, the Tajo Bridge and Portilla de la Tietar. We were treated to the usual huge number of raptors with the highlights being a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles, 4 Bonelli’s Eagles, Short toed Eagles, Black & Red Kites, Common Buzzards, lots of Griffon, Black & Egyptian Vultures, 2 Sparrowhawks, Peregrine and Kestrel. We also found Little Ringed Plovers, Crag & House Martins, Red rumped Swallows, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackcaps, Black Redstarts, Short toed Treecreeper, Ravens, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Serins, Hawfinch & Corn Buntings. The biggest highlight of the day and of the trip for some was an hour spent watching the adult female Eagle Owl at Portilla tending to her two young Owlets. We watched as she fed them a couple of (presumably) Brown Rats and then disposing of their bodies by flying out of the nest in broad daylight and dropping the carcasses. This was an absolute treat. Back at the El Recuerdo we enjoyed yet another fantastic evening meal by Martin & Claudia before we ventured out into the starry night to listen to a singing Scops Owl near the Casa Rural.

13th March :- Another beautiful morning and a short pre-breakfast walk was enjoyed by most of us and we found a pair of Short toed Treecreepers, Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers, Song Thrushes and White Stork. This morning we were looking for steppe species around the plains of Santa Marta de Magasca and the drive out produced the usual roadside Red & Black Kites, Common Buzzard, White Storks and a Hoopoe. The first pull-in produced one of those ‘magic hour's’ in wildlife watching when things are constantly happening and you don't know where to look. An initial scan found several Little Bustards and a single Great Bustard on the hillside but the larger of the two species soon departed like a B-52 Bomber , leaving a flock of 50+ of it's smaller cousins. We got fantastic ‘scoped views’ of these charismatic birds as some of the males continued with their head-bobbing, raspberry-blowing display or just wander around feeding in the short grass. A Short toed Eagle drifted over making the flock put to flight and joining them were a smaller group of Pin tailed Sandgrouse, which all landed together in full view. Although a little distant, through the telescope most of the gaudy colours of the male sandgrouse could be seen and also an interesting size comparison with the larger Little Bustards. Later we got an opportunity to examine a Pin tailed Sandgrouse, which had been stuffed and we saw just how small these birds really are. During this time we were constantly hearing and seeing several Great Spotted Cuckoos as they chased each other and the resident Magpies their main host species. Griffon Vultures continually drifted over as did Black & Red Kites some of which caused 3 Black bellied Sandgrouse to appear from over the ridge and fly round giving their distinctive bubbling call. What a superb start to the day. Grudgingly we decided to move on but after only a kilometre we stopped again for a female Hen Harrier quartering the plain, and like so often happens we also found lots of Calandra Larks, a small flock of Great Bustards on the distant hillside and a few Lapwings close by. Amanda did really well as she picked out a Golden Plover from amongst the Lapwings and then Wendy spied a distant shape (that I thought was a stone) but after a look through the scope miraculously it turned into a Stone Curlew – at least I was half right! We had bagged most of the steppe species within two hours of arriving, but now we craved a coffee stop to just let the fantastic morning (so far) sink in. We sat outside of the Santa Marta cafe in the mid-March sunshine and discussed the plan for the rest of the day. I had been given a tip from Martin about a couple of Alpine Accentors seen a few days previously at the hill-top castle of Montanchez but wasn't sure if they were still around. It turned out it was a potential target species for most of the group so we decided to ‘go for it’ and we headed out towards Caceres. En-route Michael saw a small black & white woodpecker on a telegraph pole but once we managed to turn round it had unfortunately departed, however we did get good views of another Short toed Eagle, a Black Vulture and a few Spanish Sparrows. Once we reached our destination we unpacked the picnic and sat on the edge of the olive grove to eat our lunch with Short toed Treecreeper, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike and Chaffinches to keep us company. When we were ready we walked up through the village to the castle above and worked the perimeter finding several Blue Rock Thrushes, Pallid Swifts, Crag & House Martins, Black Redstart, Serins Greenfinch and Goldfinches, but not the hoped for Black Wheatear or accentors. We started to spread out and as I checked the rocks below the castle a male Black Wheatear hopped on to the wall below – bingo. I got the others and eventually had great views through the telescope, and while we were there 4 Ravens flew over with one mobbing a Short toed Eagle as it hunted for reptiles. At least we had one of the targets so we started to walk back but for some reason I checked the ruins within the walls of the castle and there on a grassy ledge was an Alpine Accentor. Fortunately Amanda had also come with me so I left her watching the bird while I ran off to inform everyone else of our find who had continued down the track. We all got very close views of this tame montane species as it fed quietly on the short grass and there were smiles all round. This time we all left but on the way down found one last good bird as a male Rock Bunting flew into view briefly before disappearing before everyone managed to see it. After a cold drink in Montanchez we got back to the minibus and returned to the El Recuerdo for a shower and another lovely evening meal from Claudia. As it was our last night I suggested another walk to see if we could locate the Scop’s heard the previous night and everyone jumped at the chance. We heard one almost immediately but it was in deep vegetation out of sight but stayed to see if would move position, which sadly it didn't. After looking at a few constellations we wandered back to the Casa Rural to find another Scop’s Owl singing in the trees right outside and this time we found it in the light, followed by a brief view of a Long eared Owl (our fourth owl species of the week) as it came in to investigate us. This rounded off a very special day and seeing Europe’s smallest owl for the first time was the highlight of the week for several people.

14th March :- We were leaving the El Recuerdo this morning and after breakfast we said our thanks and goodbyes to Martin, Claudia and Patrick for another wonderful stay. We were heading north to the hydro-electrical reservoir of Arrocampo, which has now been made into an excellent wetland area. We spent most of the morning there visiting many of the newly constructed hides which overlook the lagoons. Here we found Little & Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Purple & Grey Heron, Great White, Little & Cattle Egrets, a Spoonbill was a good find, White Storks, a Black Vulture flew over, as did 2 Short toed Eagles and 2 Marsh Harriers, Purple Gallinules, Black Winged Stilts, Lapwings, a Common Snipe, 2 Kingfishers, Hoopoes, Sand Martins, Zitting Cisticolas, an early Eurasian Reed, Cettis & Savi’s Warblers, Chiffchaff, Stonechats, Spanish Sparrows and Reed Buntings plus a bonus of Little Bitterns. We had our picnic sitting in the sun and watching the wetlands then afterwards, we set off east and out of Extramadura. Our journey to Toledo was a pleasant one with lots of birds seen from the roadside including Black & Red Kites, 14 Common Cranes were a good find and a Red rumped Swallow, a Raven, Southern Grey Shrikes plus Azure winged Magpies. We eventually arrived at one of Spain’s most historic cities and found our hotel which had great vistas overlooking it. As we had arrived late afternoon, we decided to just relax, have a drink on the terrace and discuss the previous week, our favourite birds and our favourite moments. It was a relaxing end to what had been another fantastic week in this excellent region.

15th March :- Today, we were travelling back to Alicante, which we did in very good time due to Spain’s much improved road system. I dropped Chris, Michael & Wendy, Roger & Amanda at the airport in good time for their flight back to Britain.


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