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WEATHER: dull and overcast with rain showers until mid-afternoon then sunshine and clouds. Very windy in the pm.

Temp 9 – 18C

Our visit to the plains was overshadowed somewhat by the weather, it started dull and wet, and finished sunny and very windy, both conditions were not conducive to enjoyable birding. However we plodded on and achieved a reasonable tally of species and we had a couple of 'purple patches' during the day.

We took our breakfast in a bag from reception as we left the hotel at 7am, it was raining and very dark. We drove directly to Trujillo and stopped in town for a hot drink before visiting the huge Lesser Kestrel colony at the disused granary buildings.

It was cold standing there whilst watching the antics of a huge thriving colony of Kestrels. Many took to the air at once on several occasions which was spectacular. We noted that Jackdaws and Spotless Starlings had ‘stolen’ some of the nest boxes for their own use. We also saw White Storks, a group of five Black-winged Stilts, Black Kite and lots of Common Swifts.

a pair of Lesser Kestrels at the colony in Trujillo

a male Lesser Kestrel on a nest box, you can see the diagnostic grey wing patch on this bird

a male (above) and a female (below)  Lesser Kestrels in flight - you can just see the extended middle tail feather - pictures by Tony Moore

We set off for the plains at St Marta de Magasca, stopping once at the Rio Magasca. Like everywhere else in Extremadura the river was full to the brim and flowing fast, not much was happening there. We heard Hoopoe calling and saw a Cetti’s Warbler and not much else. A brief roadside stop at a large pool produced Egyptian Geese, Black-winged Stilts, Little Grebe, Gadwall and some Mallards.

if we saw a thousand Corn Buntings today it wouldn't suprise me - picture, thankfully taken by Tony Moore

We finaaly made it to the Santa Marta Plains where we parked the bus on a raised hump and scanned the surrounding fields. As expected the grass was much too long to see anything on the ground, recent rains had this negative effect on ‘plains birding’. We saw dozens of Corn Buntings, Spanish Sparrows, Calandra Larks, Crested Larks and a few Black Kites. Our star bird at this point was a male Montagu’s Harrier which drifted in the distance and landed on a fence post. We ate our picnic breakfast at this point before moving on further along the road to Santa Marta.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - by Tony Moore

At the brow of a hill we parked the bus and walked to a hill top so we could scan open grassland on both sides of the road. We quickly found 6 Great Bustards!! One male was strutting his way around the girls, with tail cocked, wings turned and head protruding showing off his ‘beard’. Over the next 20 minutes we also saw a flock of 30+ Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, 6 Black-bellied Sandgrouse and another two Montagu’s Harriers, phew!!

a distant Great Bustard - photo-bombed by a Calandra Lark - Tony Moore

The larks were ascending and Corn Bunting rattling, Quails called from the long grass, we hadn’t a hope of seeing one of those! Our next stop was along a dirt track about 500 meters further on. As we entered the track we noted a Tawny Pipit on the side of the track and a male Montagu’s Harrier was sitting on a rock not far from the track. We had noted this harrier from afar, now it just sat in front of us. A ring-tailed (female) harrier flew around this male, he seemed disinterested, perhaps he was ill?

moribund? Montagu's Harrier - or he could be a depressed Aston Villa fan?  - picture by Tony Moore

Along the track we drove quite some distance, the wind began to pick up and it felt really quite cold. We saw more Great Bustards and a small party of Bee-eaters and it wasn’t until our return journey that we got some good sightings. It happened when stopped near a pool, we were all out of the bus and scanning the area. Guy soon became elevated to Guru Birder of the day when he called Great Bustards in flight, quickly followed by Little Bustards in flight (four of them landed in sight), he then went on to find a couple of Imperial Eagles (an adult and a first year bird).

fermale Great Bustard - taken by Tony Moore

juvenile - 1cy - Spanish Imperial Eagle - digi-scoped, heavily cropped, record shot

Whilst watching the Eagles we also saw a Golden Oriole in flight and the Little Bustards (3 males and 1 female) continued to show, off and on. One male in particular sat in the grass and performed his display culminating in the production of a ‘farting’ call which we all thought was made by Guy (and very often is!!).

a beautiful male Montagu's Harrier taken by Tony Moore

The cold wind eventually drove us off, a nice cup of hot chocolate was called for and that is exactly what we did next. In the centre of the Santa Marta village we found a café and a shop where we bought hot drinks and our lunch supplies. It started to rain as we drove out of the village and our lunch stop, at a picturesque site above the river, was under a deluge, so we ate our lunch sitting inside the bus.

Spainish Sparrow - well! we are in Spain? - Tony Moore

The afternoon went down hill from there, we drove to the plains of Cásares looking for a Roller, we checked hundreds of nest boxes but never saw a single one, perhaps they are late this year! We drove along the 20km bumpy track towards Cásares and hardly got out of the bus because of the wind and rain. We did add a couple of species to the list, Greater Short-toed lark and Whinchat were seen.

European Bee-eater - by Tony Moore

The sunshine returned and we did have a lovely time in the sheltered valley at the large bridge over the Rio Almonte, it was glorious there, the flowers were just wonderful. We added Black Wheatear to the list and enjoyed an hour watching Hoopoe, Serins, White Wagtails, our Birding Guru found a Rock Bunting and a Short-toed Eagle, the sky was always dotted with vultures and Black Kites.

A few butterflies went onto the list, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Common Blue, Small Heath, Wall Brown and a couple more Spanish Festoons were seen.

flower pictures by Tony Moore

The relentless wind caught up with us again at the Talavan Reservoir where we saw very little, White Storks and Spanish Sparrows, we did add Great Crested Grebe to the list but the wind spoilt our visit. At the Talavan lake we stood on the roadside and scoped the water, we added Common Coot, Egyptian Goose, Black-winged Stilt and we saw two Greenshanks there.

a view from my balcony, looking towards Monfrague national Park 

We were back at the hotel just before 6pm, it had been a long day out and the wind had spoilt some of it.