Extremadura Round Up Part One

We’ve visited this beautiful part of Spain at this time of year for many years now, and we’ve experienced hot trips, wet trips and cool trips, but never has the weather been quite like this year. "Exceptional" was the only word for it!

Extremadura plains

The plains in Spain, where sometimes it rains!

It’s always nippy out on the plains first thing in the morning, but this year we were wearing everything we had, all in one go. The big plus though: the birds were very active and there was no heat haze!

Great Spotted Cuckoo close

Close looks at a Great Spotted Cuckoo

We enjoyed Little Bustards blowing raspberries amongst the wildflowers, gangs of Great Bustards strutting their stuff out on the open grassland, Black-bellied Sandgrouse feeding calmly on the ground, flocks of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flying overhead, Montagu’s Harriers including one unusual dark grey bird, Spanish Imperial Eagles, Short-toed Snake Eagles, Booted Eagles, a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles, Griffon Vultures on a carcase and Black Vultures cruising low overhead (look lively everyone!).

Poppy Extremadura

Wonderful wildflowers one of the joys of this unspoiled part of Spain

A Great Spotted Cuckoo perched on top of a bush for ages allowing us to get incredible looks at this normally shy bird, while Short-toed Larks pottered along the track at our feet and Calandra Larks serenaded us from on high. White Storks in pairs perched high on nests as they clattered their bills and practised stork multiplication, a pair of Bee-eaters swooped after what few insects were on the move, and one Roller looked as if he was wondering if he’d got the date wrong and arrived a month gtoo early. Brilliant birding, but so cold!

We called in at the famous bullring on our way home that night, and enjoyed watching Lesser Kestrels and Spotless Starlings, Serins and Stonechats there. That evening, the first Nightingale of the year arrived in the hotel garden and started tuning up; this was the last bird we heard as we retired to our rooms in the evening, and the first song we heard each morning.

Griffon Vultures Group 5

Griffon Vultures gathered by a sheep carcase, lovely!

The next day wasn’t a lot warmer so bundled up in plenty of layers, we birded around a couple of reservoirs and an area of mixed agriculture. Martin Kelsey, our great friend, welcoming host for our stay and local birding expert, joined us for the day and we shared lots of laughs along the way as well as exploring some new corners we’d not visited before. Great looks at a flock of Collared Pratincoles both on the ground in a ploughed field and hawking overhead, plus we caught up with a wonderful Black-winged Kite in an area of Dehesa woodland. We saw plenty of Chiffchaffs by a river, plus Common Waxbills and Cetti’s Warblers but not many other warblers showed, it seemed they hadn’t returned yet.

Lesser Kestrel female

Female Lesser Kestrel

However, what we missed in returning migrants on this day, we made up for with other species, with Garganey, Red-crested Pochard, Egyptian Goose, Black-necked Grebe going on the list. Crossing an area of plains, we saw more Great Bustards and a pair of Stone Curlew, both looking pretty fed up in the, by now, quite heavy rain. Undeterred we pressed on in our search for Thekla’s Lark which Ruth S (not Ruth M!) had decided she really wanted to see. Never before had so much attention been paid to this streaky little bird, but Ruth was extremely happy with the close views she got. Bird of the day though had to be the amazing Eagle Owl, perched out in full view on a cliff, allowing for fantastic views through the Leica scopes. What a bird!

Western Swamphen

Western (Purple) Swamphen

It’s not true about the rain in Spain staying mainly in the plain, as the following day we found it was just as wet when we headed south by the Rio Guadiana in Mérida. We followed a trail around a high rocky area and here we found Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush, both looking pretty soggy, though the Gull-billed Tern and Yellow-legged Gulls on the reservoir looked much more comfortable.

Roman Bridge by Noreen

We had the impressive 790m long Roman Bridge at Mérida all to ourselves! Photo taken by Noreen

In the town of Mérida itself, we walked across the Roman Bridge which we had all to ourselves (funny that!) but looking down from the bridge we had great looks at Western (Purple) Swamphen and more Cetti’s Warblers in the reeds and walking along by the river, we looked across at an island which held a busy heronry with Cattle Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons and Glossy Ibis.

Great Bustards distant

A gang of Great Bustards chilling between displays

By now it was raining cats and dogs, so we decided a tactical retreat for a hot lunch was in order. After a delicious if enormous set-menu lunch we staggered out to find the rain had eased slightly. Crossing the impressive Roman Bridge again, we were amazed to see two Alpine Swifts and a few Pallid Swifts who had decided it wasn’t too wet to hunt insects. Further downstream, we went for another wet walk and our persistence was rewarded with the fantastic sight of a pair of Penduline Tits building their nest, such a delicate work of art. But now it was time to head back to the hotel and dry out our sodden coats and boots.

However, despite the weather not being the best, there really was only one word to describe our birdwatching so far on this trip: "Exceptional"!


We stopped at the bullring to look for Lesser Kestrels and Spotless Starlings

More Extremadura birdwatching adventures to follow, so do check back soon


Just to prove the sun did shine!

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