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WEATHER: overcast and rain to start with, then clear sky with fluffy white clouds for the rest of the day. Temp 11-32C

An all-day visit to Monfrague National Park is always an exciting prospect and today was no exception, the scenery was magical and the birdlife prolific. It was raining heavily when we got up and as we left the hotel after breakfast the rain had eased off and blue sky patches could be seen.

Griffon Vulture drying out its wings - ALL PICTURES ON TODAY'S BLOG WERE TAKEN BY TONY MOORE

The short 7km drive into the park took no time at all and before we entered we stopped to look for Cirl Bunting in the oak ‘dehesa’ which covers the landscape as far as the eye could see. We saw Woodchat shrike, Corn Bunting, Hawfinch, Common Cuckoo, Iberian Magpie and several common species but not a Cirl bunting.

Our first stop once we were in the park was just below the Castillo de Monfrague, we park at the base of a steep cliff face on which the Castle sits. Within minutes we had found several pairs of Griffon Vultures, Black Redstarts, Blue Rock Thrushes, Crag Martins, Red-rumped Swallows, Serin, Goldfinches and perhaps a very brief glimpse of a Rock Bunting.

another shot of Griffon Vulture showing detailed feather configuartion

We then drove around to main car park at Peña Falcón where the spectacular limestone ridge is bisected at the (Salto de Gitano (gypsy’s leap ) by the Rio Tajo giving rise to steep cliffs which is home to hundreds of pairs of Vultures and many other species. The ledges of the cliffs were covered in Griffon Vultures all standing with their wings hanging out to dry after the very wet morning. E had great views of Black storks on the their nest, Rock Bunting high up on the cliff and we added both Black Vulture and Egyptian Vulture to the list. Black Kites were roaming around too. Before we left we searched a Nettle Tree by the car park for a specific butterfly. We found two of them, they were Nettle Tree Butterflies of course!

flight shots of all thre Vultures in the park - Griffon above

the smaller but more colourful Egyptian Vulture

the huge Black Vulture with its 3 meter wingspan!!

Near the main bridge over the Rio Tajo we stopped to search for Bonelli’s Eagle, by this time it was warming up and more butterflies were on the wing we found Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Small Copper and more Nettle Trees gave us more Nettle Tree Butterflies.

Nettle Tree Butterfly

The huge number of House Martins that nest under the bridge is mind boggling, there must be over 1000 pairs!! Along with dozens of pairs of Alpine Swifts the sky above was a swirling mass of life. We found a pair of Short-toed Eagles, more Black kites and the sky was dotted with Vultures at all times, but we never saw a Bonelli’s Eagle.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant/café in Villareal before moving onto to the dam area. Another roadside stop produced another Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Crested lark, Corn Bunting and perhaps a distant view of our first Imperial Eagle, but we couldn’t clinch it as the bird continued away from us with turning once.

wing-drying Griffon Vultures

At the Mirador Tadajilla we made a brief stop to look for more Egyptian Vultures but only came away with more Griffon Vultures but we did find a pair Bonelli’s Eagles. Guy found them, they we very high up, but scopes views revealed their identity without doubt. A pair of Booted eagles were also seen at this point.

A further stop at an open area of farmland and Dehesa produced a sighting of a singing Woodlark, another Common Cuckoo, more Woodchat Shrikes and a large Red Deer.

one of the dozens of Woodchat Shrikes seen today

We made a walk from the small car park to the Mirador de Portilla del Tiétar, where the famous rocky limestone cliffs have been home to Eurasian Eagle Owls for generations. We never saw the owls, but we enjoyed superb views of the vultures, Black Storks and the usual passerine species of the rock face, A very obliging Subalpine warbler showed very well in the scrubs, we heard Cetti’s warbler and Common Nightingale as we searched for the owls.

Spanish Festoon Butterfly 

From there we walked along the lane to the Cork Oak woodland, we found a lot more butterflies including Clouded Yellow, Holly Blue, Common Blue and we had great views of the most colourful Spanish Festoon Butterfly, what a beautiful creature.

Hoop-Petticoat Narsissus

The walk in the cork oak dehesa was very quiet we saw about ten species all of which we had noted earlier in the day except for Mistle Thrush and European Bee-eater. We found a couple more Orchids and we ended up in the café eating ice-cream at 5pm. A last look at the rock-face for Eagle Owl, back at the mirador, proved fruitless so we headed back to the hotel at 6pm.

as of yet - unamed orchid

The whole day had been a wonderful experience, the combination of the scenery, the colourful wild flowers, and the wild-life makes Monfrague a terrific place to visit and is a must-see for bird-watchers.