Extremadura & Sierra de Gredos

The Magic of Spain's Little Known Wilderness

Join WINGSPAN on tour of this magical area of little known Spain. See the wonderful array of birds, butterflies and wild flowers that inhabit this unique region during the springtime or sample a wonderful array of winter visitors during February.

Explore the ‘dehesa’, a lattice of rich pasture and flower meadows, sheltered by an umbrella of finely spaced cork and holm oak. Up to 70 species of bird breed in this rare habitat and in winter vast flocks of Common Cranes feed in the leaf litter beneath the trees.

Search the wide-open grassland of the Spanish Steppe for Bustard, Sandgrouse, Larks and 

the Raptors that prey on them. During the winter many Steppe species form large flocks and can be easier to locate.

Scour the lush river valleys for scrub warblers, waders 

and other riverside species. Visit the reed fringed rice fields and lakes for gulls, terns, waders, warblers and one or two specialities. Many species of wildfowl invade the area during winter and large flocks of ducks may be found on the lakes and reservoirs.

During this late May tour there is an added bonus with two days being spent in the Gredos mountains north east of Extremadura where a whole new variety of species will be found. Including the spectacular Rock Thrush, the dazzling Bluethroat and the dainty Ortolan Bunting. Plus many more.

Your spring bird list will include between 130-150 species, ranging from the diminutive Firecrest to the magnificent Spanish Imperial Eagle. Up to 19 species of raptor may be recorded, and those, together with the colourful splendour of Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Golden Orioles and Iberian Magpies will make for a really exciting tour. Duringbour winter Tour the numbers of individual species seen will be less but numbers will be much higher and they can be just as spectacular. Hoopoes over-winter and early migrants include Lesser Kestrel and Great spotted Cuckoo.

Trip Itinerary May

Day 1. Arrive at Madrid, then transfer to Extremadura, birding along the way

Leaving the chilly English spring and arriving in a warm and sunny Madrid will lift your spirits and double your enthusiasm, and after quickly acquiring our vehicle and a hasty unpacking of telescopes we will soon be heading off on our dream tour of Extremadura. Once on the motorway the traffic thins out and we will begin to pick out one or two birds, such as Spotless Starlings, White Stork and perhaps Black Kites.

After a short while we will make a stop for birding around Jaraicejo.

Bee-eaters will be in evidence, almost everywhere, and along the road we should pick out more raptors, perhaps Black Kites and Common Buzzards in good numbers, as well as Red Kites, Short-toed Eagles, maybe a Booted Eagle, a few Kestrels and plenty of Cattle Egrets. Further on, in the dehesa we may find our first Iberian Magpies and our first Golden Orioles.

Leaving Jaraicejo we drive on the old A5 which runs parallel to the motorway and head for our finca near Trujillo. We eventually arrive at Finca Santa Marta, it is the most peaceful, tranquil haven you will ever stay in. You really have to make an effort to listen for noise (other than bird song) it is that quiet. The grounds hold 20-30 species and will keep us occupied for the rest of the day. Even as you go to bed, Scops Owls may be calling from the nearby olive grove and perhaps the strange call of a Red-necked Nightjar may also be heard.

Day 2. Dehesa and Steppe around Monroy

A pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of Finca Santa Marta will enable us to acquaint ourselves with the many species associated with the area, especially Iberian Magpies which will be ever present throughout our stay. We may also enjoy excellent views of Golden Oriole, the call of the Hoopoe will be a constant background sound, and the local Sardinian Warblers and Melodious Warblers will try their best to compete with Nightingales as they sing their hearts out in nearby hedgerows. The bill-clapping of the local Storks and the call of Bee-eaters will enhance a cacophony of new sounds to further excite your eardrums and increase your appetite for more.

After breakfast we head out towards Monroy keeping to the quiet tracks and little used roads across the rolling plains of the Steppes. There we will search for many specialised species that have adapted to this sometimes harsh, dry environment. We can enjoy the display flight of many Calandra and Thekla Larks trying separate them from the ubiquitous Crested Larks. There will also be Short-toed Larks, Woodlarks and Black-eared Wheatears to look for as well as Great Spotted Cuckoo and, of course, Little and Great Bustards. Shrikes will be represented by the Woodchat and Southern Grey varieties and everywhere the sky will hold raptors. On the steppes it will be mostly Black Kite, Griffon Vulture, Red Kite, occasional Black Vulture, with Montagu’s Harriers, Kestrels and Buzzards giving the closest encounters as they quarter the fields or sit on fence posts. We visit the Rio Magasca and Rio Almonte where we can watch Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows at close quarters as they dart around us. We can listen for Serins and Cirl Buntings singing from the valley slopes and watch for waders such as Little Ringed Plovers, Common and perhaps Green Sandpipers along the river. Black Wheatear are sometimes seen there, as well as Kingfisher and Grey Heron.

Just north of Monroy we will search for Black-winged Kite and other raptors such as, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard and Black Kite, a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles breed close by and with luck they will be in attendance at their nest site.

During the evening we will have dinner in the old town square in Trujillo where we can enjoy a traditional Spanish dinner as we look out over the square whilst hoards of Swifts scream above us.

Day 3. Belén Plain and Arroyo Campo

Today our early morning excursion will be a visit to the Belén Plain and after passing through the small village of Belén we drive out across the expansive grasslands, stopping at suitable high points to scan the area for Great and Little Bustards. The distinctive short “rasping” call of Little Bustard will be heard all around us, other birds attracting our attention with their calls will be Great Spotted Cuckoo often seen perched on fence post or wires and Quail, heard but rarely seen. Montagu’s Harriers glide effortlessly over the grassland and larks fill the air with their quality trills. After breakfast we head eastwards towards Jaraicejo, stopping at the Rio Almonte where three generations of bridges cross over the river and its flood plain providing a good look out platform for many species of birds.  From there we stop at a large area of scrub listening for Sylvia warblers such as Dartford Warbler, Subalpine, Orphean and perhaps Spectacled Warbler. We continue eastwards to the Arrocampo Reservoir, a good place to have our picnic lunch. There we may see several new birds, including Gull-billed Tern, Purple Herons and Purple Swamphens.

The reed fringe and dense vegetation host many Reed Warblers, Great Reed Warblers and we may hear the high-pitched reel of the Savi’s Warbler. After the excitement of a full day in the field we return to the Finca in need of wine and good hearty dinner.

Day 4. Monfragüe natural park

Today will be the highlight of the tour, a trip to the Montfrague (pronounced Mont-frag-way) National Park, this magical wilderness hosts a wide variety of birds, plants, butterflies and animals. After a beautiful drive north from Trujillo through several miles of dehesa, open plains and crossing over a number of rivers we eventually reach the park boundary, this trip can take 45 minutes or two hours, it depends on what we see en-route. Once into the park we will stop at the Arroyo de la Vid and look for Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Sardinian, Dartford and Subalpine Warbler, there are also one or two pairs of Spanish Sparrows that build their nests on nearby telegraph poles and Rock Sparrows are often encountered here.

We eventually arrive at the base of the Castillo de Montfrague our second stop in the park, from there we can walk to the Castillo which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area and close views of Vultures (they pass below you), Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows. Black Storks breed below us, giving an added a bit of variety. Moving on further into the Natural Park, we will stop to search the Pena Falcon (a huge pinnacle of rock) where Eagle have breed for the last few years. Various other places of interest will be visited including Puente del Cardena, Portilla del Tietar and our birdlist will be enhanced with the likes of Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Hawfinch, Crested Tit, Alpine Swift, Rock Sparrow, Chough, and possibly Black Wheatear and White-rumped Swift. But it the birds of prey that give Montfrague its fame, with several Eagle species on show, Vultures, Falcons, Buzzards and the possibility of a early evening Eagle Owl sitting on a rocky outcrop. After a full and exciting day we begin our journey back to Trujillo and on to Finca Santa Marta with ample time to reflect on a memorable day’s bird watching.

Day 5. Areas south of Finca Marta

This will be our last full day in the area of Trujillo, so an early morning visit to the plains will be planned, giving us an opportunity to search for species we may have missed or gain better views of our favourites. After breakfast, we head south towards Madrigalejo, going via the small town of Zorita. We will stop at a disused road bridge that crosses over the Rio Gargáligas, here there are areas of reeds along its banks. Great Reed, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers may be singing and we may get good views of Little Bitterns as they make occasional flights across the river and perch precariously on the tops of reeds. There are also mixed flocks of Common Waxbills and Red Avadavats to be found. We will continue south beyond Madrigalejo to the rice fields at Vegas Altas in the hope that some waders might be present such as Little-ringed Plover, Collared Pratincoles, Sandpipers, Greenshanks and we may catch up with Tree Sparrow.

Heading back northwards we will visit the Sierra Brava Reservoir where Great Crested Grebes breed and good numbers of Gull-billed Terns have a large breeding colony. Red-crested Pochards may also be found here.

Day 6. Sierra de Gredos

After an early breakfast on our last day at Finca Santa Marta we set off to the Southern part of the Province of Ávila. We head towards the highest points of the Sierra de Gredos, where the altitude will have a pleasant cooling effect on the temperature after the hot sunny days on the steppes. We will travel through the Monfragüe Natural Park once more and will make one or two stops to supplement our growing list of species. We will stop at Peña Falcón where we will reacquaint ourselves with the resident vultures and breeding Black Storks. We continue on towards the Sierra de Gredos, passing by Plasencia and then gaining altitude as we drive up the Valle del Jerte.  Soon we will turn off the main road and head towards El Barco de Ávila winding our way up into the upper slopes in search of Ortolan and Rock Buntings and maybe catch sight of the superb Rock Thrush. In the early evening we arrive at our hotel near Hoyos del Espino, travel weary, but full of anticipation as this new environment beckons.

Next morning, some pre-breakfast bird watching will be under taken, the change in temperature will be quite noticeable at that time of the day and we must don our fleeces, or freeze. Citril Finch will be a target species, but Firecrest, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Common Crossbill, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers may be added to our list.

After breakfast we will spend a full day scouring the high altitude slopes, pine woodlands, scrub and fast flowing streams and hopefully add a whole range of new species to our trip list. We will head up towards the Plataforma de Gredos, stopping to look at various birds on the way such as Common Whitethroat, Rock Buntings, Yellow Wagtails and Dunnock. Other birds to be seen will be Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Blackcap and Pied Flycatcher.  On reaching the top we will search for the elusive Bluethroat and other species common to the mountain-tops, such as Rock Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Water Pipit and Yellow Wagtail. Dipper can be found along the streams that flow from the top. Raptors will also be present and we must look for Honey Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Hobby, Short-toed and Booted Eagle. We return to the hotel for dinner after long but satisfying day in the field.

Day 8. Hoyos del Espino to Madrid

We will have a last chance for an early birding hour before breakfast but then we must bid a fond farewell to the Sierra de Gredos and head for the Airport in Madrid. During departure we can reflect on our never to be forgotten tour of the magical Extremadura.

The cost of the tour includes: 7 nights half board accommodation, wine is included with the 5 evening meals. (The accommodation is good quality in superb surroundings), transport throughout and the services of the guide.

Not included in the price: Return airfare to Madrid, travel insurance, lunches, drinks and other expenses of a personal nature. See full booking conditions.

Flights are best booked with budget airlines for this Tour, UK to Madrid. The release date for the summer 2018 timetable is usually mid-July, prices vary but on average a UK return flight will cost between £50 - £120 and sometimes quite a bit cheaper. I will inform all participants well in advance of the release date of the flights, the sooner the flight is booked the cheaper the seats are!

Tour price £950 - single supplement £150. (those willing to share a twin room please let me know). Please call for us for a booking form or download one from this site. A deposit of £200 will secure your place.

 

Latest Trip Reports

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