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WEATHER: all day sunshine, light breeze. Temp 12 – 28C

We had a glorious day out on the plains, the weather was perfect and the birding was both interesting and varied. We set off just after 7am with our breakfast in a bag, we drove to Trujillo in the dark, stopping for a hot a drink before driving round to the disused granary towers on the edge of town where we hoped to see Lesser Kestrels.

The thriving Lesser Kestrel colony was very active, we had great views of many birds and also enjoyed local Jackdaws, Spotless Starlings, a single Pallid Swift and a few Black Kites.

Lesser Kestrel in fligt takn by Tony Moore

the local Jackdaws have strong head markings, they are a lot more colourful than those found in the UK

We moved onto the plains along the Santa Marta road, stopping once along the road to view a small lake where we saw Black-winged Stilts, Mallards and an Iberian Shrike. Iberian Magpies flew across the road in front of us as we passed through oak Dehesa before emerging onto the open grassland.

the most common lark on the plains - the Calandra Lark, it is huge!  Taken by Tony Moore

We parked on the ridge of a hill, surrounded by wide open spaces of grassland stretching for miles ahead of us. Calandra Larks were everywhere, along with Corn Buntings, Thekla’s Larks and Crested Larks. Tony called out Sandgrouse, we saw a small flock of about 15 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse disappearing over a distant rise. Common Quail called as we ate some of our packed breakfast.

female Great Bustard - we saw several in flight this morning - taken by Tony Moore

Walking a short way to gain some height we scanned the immediate grassland in front of us and found three Great Bustards, a male was displaying to two females. A little later two Great Bustards flew across the field. We then watched a large flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flying to the far corner of the field behind us and drop down into the long grass, probably about 50 birds were in the flock.

Well pleased with our start we drove a little further and turned onto a wide dirt track and slowly moved along it. One of our main stops produced some great sightings, quality birds came thick and fast, we hit a little purple patch.

Scanning some distant eucalyptus trees we found an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle sitting loud and proud at the top of one of them, it was distant but in good light and easily identified. We then found 3 Little Bustards, one male was displaying and making its rude 'fart-like' call, when I first heard it I thought Guy Campbell had returned to the group!!

Short-toed Lark - by Tony Moore

So now all we needed to complete our ‘plains’ target birds was Montagu’s Harrier and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. We drove further along the wide track, stopping every now and again to scan the fields. Near some cattle we saw three Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight and over the next 30 minutes we had several more sightings of up to ten birds. Driving nearer to the grazing cattle we got fairly close to the Sandgrouse but never saw them on the ground, the grass was too long.

Montagu’s Harrier never turned up, we did see Eurpean Bee-eaters on a fence, Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, two more Imperial Eagles, lots of Griffon and Black Vultures, two Greater Short-toed Larks and several Northern Wheatears.

We left the area to drive into Santa Marta village for a coffee and to buy some lunch supplies. The Rio Santa Marta de Magasca was where we stopped next, we watched Crag Martins and a single White Wagtail.

Driving through more dehesa we broke out onto the Cásares plains to an area where each and every telegraph pole had a nest box installed on it. The boxes where provided for European Rollers but many other species had made use of them too. It is early in the migration season for the Rollers to arrives so we didn’t see too many of them, over the next hour we saw about 6 pairs, but interestingly a few boxes were occupied by Little Owls and we also saw Jackdaws, Spotless Starlings, Common Kestrel and even House Sparrows using the boxes.

two pictures of the stunning European Roller by Tony Moore

We stayed in the area for a while working our way along a wide track up to a hide on the brow of a hill. Raptors filled the sky wherever you looked we had a large expanse to scan from the track. Finally we had distant but brief views of male Montagu’s Harriers and then we found a female sitting on the ground not too far from the track.

Little Owl outside a nest box intended for Rollers! Taken by Tony Moore

During this later period on the plains we also saw more Great Bustards, Red Kites, Short-toed Larks, Northern Wheatear, Lesser Kestrels, Hoopoes on the low rocks and countless larks and Corn Buntings.

the female Montagu's Harrier, taken from the bus window by Tony Moore

Next, we drove through Cásares and onto the Torrejon el Rubio road where we saw more Rollers. We stopped off where a large modern bridge crossed the Rio Almonte, we parked at the head of side valley which was covered in carpet of very colourful flowers it was beautiful down there, We ate our lunch at this point.

Marbled White Butterfly - Tony Moore

Our target bird showed briefly at first, but later we had much better and prolonged views of the Black Wheatear, a lifer for most of the group. During our search we also found our first Cirl Bunting of the trip, some Linnets, Serins, White Wagtail, we heard Nightingale and we saw Alpine Swifts high above us with House & Crag Martins.

Our last two venues of the day were bodies of water near the town of Talavan. The embalse (reservoir) was flat calm and held a couple of pairs of Great Crested Grebes, a Grey heron and nothing much else. We parked by the dam and watched the local White Storks and a beautiful male Marsh Harrier performed its sky-diving courtship display to a female that watched from much higher up.

the flowered-valley where we saw the Black Wheatear

At Talavan lake we saw Common Coot, Great Cormorant, Black-winged Stilt and on a small pool we saw up to four Little Ringed Plovers. It was now 5pm, it had been a very long, hot and exhausting day so we finished there and drove back to the hotel.

We met up at 8pm for our bird log and dinner just afterwards.