Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Extremadura - 19th January (Day 4 of 4)

The final day and up at 07:00 for a 07:30 breakfast, packed the bags and headed towards Embalse de Arrocampo in the dark. A short way from La Aldea del Obispo we passed over the  Rio Marinejo and in the half light I spotted an Otter swimming upstream towards the road, we slammed on the breaks, turned and drove back but by the time we got back there was no sign, I wound down the window and heard the characteristic whistle of an Otter but we could not see it. We headed of to Arrocampo where a patchy fog hung over the ponds and wet fields. We first went to hide 2 and waited for the sun to rise, in the 45 minutes we spent here birds seen included Purple Gallinule, Bluethroat, Water Pipit and a heard only Penduline Tit. The view was quite spectacular with the snow covered Sierra de Gredos Mountains in the distance but rather unsightly factories and pylons in the foreground. We headed off to an area of fields and scattered Holm Oak where Black-winged Kite occurs but after 1.5 hours driving this area we had no luck, highlight was stunning views of a male Penduline Tit which showed down to 5m or so. Other birds here included Green Sandpiper and the usual field species such as Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, White Stork, Zitting CisticolaCattle Egret and Iberian (Southern) Grey Shrike. We decided to head for hide 5 where Bittern had recently been seen and Ricardo had also seen Black-winged Kite and as we approached the hide the in front of us hovering was a stunning Black-winged Kite, the bird hovered and then flew a wide circle around us before disappearing into the distance. A short watch at hide 5 produced the usual range of common wetland birds and then it was time to head for the airport. The final bird of the trip as we drove into Madrid was Monk Parakeet. I checked in for my 15:45 flight and relaxed in the airport lounge for a couple of hours and tallied the trip list, a total of 117 species and four lifers - Great Bustard, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Iberian Green Woodpecker and Iberian Azure-winged Magpie.

Spotless Starling, a singing bird at Embalse de Aracampo

Spotless Starling at Embalse de Aracampo

Cattle Egret at Embalse de Aracampo

Corn Bunting at Embalse de Aracampo

White Stork at Embalse de Aracampo

Male Penduline Tit at Embalse de Aracampo 

Male Penduline Tit at Embalse de Aracampo

Black-winged Kite at Embalse de Aracampo

Crested Lark at Embalse de Aracampo

Zitting Cisticola at Embalse de Aracampo

Here are the links to the other days of the trip:

Monday, 26 January 2015

Extremadura - 18th January (Day 3 of 4)

We awoke at 06:30 to rain as was forecast despite the doubts we had of the accuracy of the forecast of rain the evening before. After a quick breakfast we headed out and drove north back through Monfrague National Park to Navaconcejo where we stopped at the Rio Jerte for Dipper here in Extremadura of the race 'aquaticus'. After a bit of scanning we eventually picked up a bird feeding on rocks in the middle of the river, after driving parallel with the river a short way we eventually got good views as it sang and fed in the middle of the river although it was still a little dark and murky for a decent photograph. We then headed up over the pass through the Tras la Sierra (Extremaduran Gredos) towards the pass at Puerto de Honduras where Ricardo had a site for our main target, Iberian Green Woodpecker and also for Citril Finch, but as we climbed the snow became thicker until we decided that the road was not going to be passable so after reversing some distance back down the road as it was too narrow to turn we headed back through Navaconcejo and took the lower pass via Puerto de Cabezabellosa. We then drove up the highway to the forest at Hervas where eventually after almost three hours on the road we reached our destination. We parked at the end of a rough track and walked through the very English like landscape consisting of small pastures and woodland blocks. The woodland here was dominated by ash, poplar and oak and it was not long before we heard the familiar yet noticeably high pitched 'yaffle' call of Iberian Green Woodpecker. After much scanning and playback I eventually picked the bird up rather distantly feeding on the ground, it looked fairly similar to 'our' Green Woodpecker but with less black on the face, and seemingly more green washed underparts. We tried to get closer views but to no avail. Other birds here were Nuthatch, Cirl Bunting, Iberian Azure-winged Magpie, Rock Bunting, Long-tailed Tit of the race 'irbii' and Serin.

Dipper of the race 'aquaticus', one of the black-bellied races at Navaconcejo
Snow bound road on way to pass at Puerto de Honduras
Habitat at Hervas. Iberian Green Woodpecker was the target here and was seen foraging in the meadow and calling from the ivy clad Poplars at the left side of this image.
Long-tailed Tit of the race 'irbii' with grey rather than pinkish scapulars at Hervas
Male Cirl Bunting at Hervas

We then headed back south on the E-803 highway but cut off at La Granja and passed through Tierras de Granadilla. This was an area of arable fields and holm oak studded pasture which we simply drove through with occasional stops but which yielded several hundred Common Crane, many White Stork, a roost of nine Stone Curlew, Thekla Lark and many of the other now familiar roadside birds. 

Flock of Common Crane at Tierras de Granadilla
Common Crane at Tierras de Granadilla
A stop at a pool at Fresnedillas produced several Crag Martin, Wigeon, 
Shoveler and Great White Egret
Thekla Lark at Tierra de Granadilla
White Stork were by now a familiar site nesting on a range of elevated structures

We then headed for the rice fields at El Batan. This rather unattractive area, consisting of flooded fields used for rice production and seemingly derelict factory farm buildings, was nonetheless very birdy. Our first stop at a flooded rice field pool produced Ruff, Greenshank, many Snipe, Green Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs which showed well and has been present since November. A Bluethroat showed very well as it worked a feeding circuit around the pool and eventually approached to within 10m or so. A Water Pipit also gave similarly excellent views. We spent the rest of the day birding this area seeing many hundreds of White Stork, Sardinian WarblerDartford WarblerZitting Cisticola, Hen Harrier, Little Owl, another Bluethroat, Hoopoe, many Spanish Sparrow and small flocks of introduced Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill

Lesser Yellowlegs at El Batan. This adult bird has been present since November 2014
Green Sandpiper at El Batan
Bluethroat at El Batan
Little Egret at El Batan
Water Pipit at El Batan
White Wagtail at El Batan
Common Waxbill at El Batan. A flock of around 20 of these smart introduced birds was present
Red Avadavat at El Batan
Male Stonechat at El Batan
Spanish Sparrow at El Batan. This is an abundant species in Extremadura
Part of a flock of around 300 White Stork at El Batan
Little Owl at El Batan
Hoopoe at El Batan

We finished the day at the rocks of Salto del Gitano in Monfrague National Park where we watched the Griffon Vultures spiralling round the cliffs and watched large flocks of Wood Pigeon pass over head to roost. We waited until after dark when, just at the last embers of light, we heard the distinctive 'whoo' of an Eagle Owl, somehow, Richardo managed to pick the bird out sitting right at the very top of Pena Falcon and through the scope the ear tufts were just visible in the darkness and at considerable distance. We headed back to the accommodation for 19:30 after another full and productive day in the field.

These are the rocks at Salto del Gitano in the Monfrague National Park. Amazingly, Ricardo picked out an Eagle Owl in near darkness at the very top of Pena Falcon, the middle peak of rocks. The birds flying around this cliff face are Grffon Vulture
Flocks of Wood Pigeon are always an impressive site

Here are the links to the other days of the trip:

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Extremadura - 17th January (Day 2 of 4)

I was up at 07:30 for a 08:00 breakfast and out on the road 8:30 just as it was getting light. Ricardo de-iced the car while I watched Spotless Starling singing from the town aerials in the half light. We drove out of the village and into a landscape of grassland with scattered Holm Oak and areas grazed by sheep and cattle but frozen white by a hard overnight frost. 

Frozen steppe just outside La Aldea del Obispo

The car thermometer showed -4c as we drove at pace along a gravel track across the steppe heading for Richardo's main site occasionally screeching to a halt for the likes of Crested Lark, Hen Harrier and Iberian (Southern) Grey Shrike, large numbers of Meadow Pipit, Red Kite, Corn Bunting and Spanish Sparrow were seen with no stops.  We eventually met the EX 390 road and turned left. As we drove, to our right could be seen a large area of open steppe, an area known as Cuatro Lugares this was our target birding area. A flock of 30 Great Bustard and 20 Common Crane flashed by at 50 miles an hour but Ricardo assured me we would get better views of these species, we turned right on a track signed for Santiago del Campo and the pace of the drive slowed. There were many hundreds of lark in the fields with our first Calandra Lark with several flocks of 50+ encountered. We drove to a ridge top, the intention being to walk towards the flock of 30 Great Bustard we had seen from the road but the fog came in and we could see little more than 100m so back to the car and a slow drive across the steppe. A grating sound from the car caused a stop and while Richardo retrieved a piece of plastic wedged under the car I scanned the steppe,  a flock of birds on a ridge line, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, about 80 of them, a fantastic looking bird. After some digi-scoped pictures in the fog we decided to try and wander a little bit closer but didn't get far before the flock was up and circling the steppe looking for a less disturbed place to land. And then a flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse went over, about 20 in all. And then a group of three Common Crane. It was great birding. We spent the rest of the morning driving this area seeing large numbers of birds, new species for the list included a showy Dartford Warbler, Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Golden Plover, a selection of familiar ducks including Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler. The fog lifted so we decided to try for the Great Bustard once more and as we headed across the ridge top we could see the flock in the distance, we digi-scoped them although they were still at great distance but these wary birds took flight and flew across the landscape to settle in an area they clearly felt safer. We watched as they wandered around looking rather stately and occasionally breaking into half displays with wings and tails spread.

It was time to head towards Monfrague National Park, a drive of approximately 45 minutes, as we left a flock of 14 Little Bustard circled overhead and a Peregrine was new for the list while Common Crane and Black Redstart were common roadside birds.

Open expanse of the steppe habitat at Cuatro Lugares the open vistas resulted 
in many species being very wary of close approach

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Part of the flock of 80

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - The males are stunning birds

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse taking flight

Iberian (Southern) Grey Shrike - A common bird

Dartford Warbler

Black-bellied Sandgrouse - We didn't get good views of these on the ground

Calandra Lark - Abundant but wary

Calandra Lark - In song flight showing the distinctive black underwing

Common Crane

Great Bustard - 14 of the flock of 30 present

Great Bustard - Very wary birds, these flushed at a distance of 300m+

Black Redstart

We climbed and wound our way through the Holm Oak clad slopes of the approach to Monfrague National Park and eventually entered the park. Large areas of the park appeared to have been stripped bare and Ricardo explained that this was an attempt to clear the large amount of Eucalyptus that had been planted to serve a paper mill. We stopped for lunch at the pic-nic site at Los Saltos de Torrejon and Ricardo sacrificed some of his sandwiches to the Iberian Azure-winged Magpie and it was not long before at least 20 birds appeared and gave great views. Also here were a number of Hawfinch that could be heard 'ticking' away in the woodland but only one showed. We climbed up towards Portilla del Tietar where a Spanish Imperial Eagle sat atop the cliff showing well but distantly while tens of Griffon Vultures squabbled on the cliffs below, they looked far more graceful when soaring around the cliff face then their quarrelsome nature implies. We began a slow drive out of the park stopping at a few spots, new birds included Crested Tit and a fine pale Bonelli's Eagle perched distantly on a pylon. Finally, we spent the last hour of daylight at Monfrague Castle enjoying the stunning views across the landscape and very close views of Griffon Vultures. Also here were Rock Bunting, Firecrest, Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and Red-billed Chough. We headed back to the accommodation after a great days birding.

Iberian Azure-winged Magpie

Spanish Imperial Eagle - Views were fairly distant at Portilla del Tietar

View from Monfrague Castle across the Holm Oak dominated landscape

Griffon Vulture - These are early nesting birds and some were already incubating 
eggs, this bird is freshening the nest with Holm Oak leaves

Griffon Vulture - Good views were obtained at Monfrague Castle

Rock Bunting at Monfrague Castle

Black Redstart at Monfrague Castle

Here are the links to the other days of the trip: