16-19 April : Extremadura

Having 'done' Fuente de Piedra, Dave, Gilly, Brian and Mary headed north in to Extremadura. Here is Dave's account of this area which has no coast at all but which will, I am sure, be of interest to many!

Having left Fuente de Piedra behind, Gilly and I in our truck and Brian and Mary following in their 4x4, we headed north towards Extremadura. Our bird list started at the "county line" but I thought I would mention a Collared Pratincole flying beside the Autovia before we took notes! Our first bird was a White Stork followed by the inevitable and numerous Black Kites. Lesser Kestrel was added before we had our first official birding stop ​at the Embalse de Guadiloba, due east of Cáceres. There were one or two Corn Buntings ....sorry, my mistake, one or two thousand Corn Buntings
Calandra Lark
Short-toed Lark
Also Calandra and Crested Lark. Nothing apart from Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls on the water. On the shore line were Cattle and Little Egret. We saw Cormorant, a posing Common Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilts. We also saw Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Short-toed Larks. Moving further east we came across a Short-toed Eagle perched on a pylon.
Turning towards Santa Marta de Magasca we checked out the power lines and poles where new nest boxes for Rollers had been placed. We saw at least twelve Rollers and two pairs of Lesser Kestrels on or near the boxes. Scanning the field to the right we spotted at least two Great Bustards, one a displaying male. Moving on we glimpsed a Booted Eagle flying into a tree to perch. In a small valley with a bridge over a brown-watered river we added Grey Wagtail and a Kingfisher. A male Spanish Sparrow sat in a nearby tree. We both heard and saw Common Cuckoo and Bee-eaters. Brian's dream was fulfilled when we saw numerous Azure-winged Magpies and a Red Kite finished our day's list.
After breakfast in our hostel in Trujillo, we headed towards Monfrague, stopping at the various bridges on the way. We added Crag Martin, Common Swift, Woodchat Shrike, Mistle Thrush and Wren. More Common Cuckoos were heard and seen. An Egyptian Vulture flew over. We then drove up and parked below the hermitage at Monfrague. Although the weather was not ideally suited for flying, it being cloudy, it didn't seem to bother the large numbers of vultures around the opposite cliff face. They were mostly Griffons, but there were one or two Black Vultures as well. Quite a few were passing below us beside the ridge. I then spotted a darker vulture, the size of a Griffon but obviously not one. It had mottled white across its back and wings and a later internet check proved it was a Ruppell's Vulture, a first for all of us! I saw a Nuthatch and a Short-toed Treecreeper whilst Mary had a Blue Rock Thrush and a Rock Bunting. As we left a calling Red-billed Chough flew over. In the car park, right at the bottom of the hill, we saw another Nuthatch which had a nest hole in a branch just above an information sign. 
Spanish Imperial Eagle
In the gorge, looking up the cliff face, we could see large numbers of Griffon Vultures on nests with chicks. Gilly spotted a flying Black Stork and Brian saw a Black Redstart. We travelled further on, next stopping at the ultimate viewing "station" where a few birders were homed in on something. It was the Spanish Imperial Eagles' nest. We'd only been there a few minutes when the female returned and landed there. The male then returned and perched on an exposed dead branch. It looked as though he'd just had a wash as he was preening and hanging his wings out to dry, cormorant-like. 
On our return journey we tried to entice Azure-winged Magpies to the picnic area by the dam with pieces of bread but failed dismally. At the second picnic area a mangy dog fox with an obvious eye injury was eating human food remains. Nearby, House Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were using a muddy puddle to pick up nest material. We stopped next to a bridge, where House Martins and a few Alpine Swifts were nesting. Down a leafy lane to the side we saw and heard Robin and Nightingale. That evening we walked up to Trujillo's main square where White Storks were nesting on the tall buildings and Lesser Kestrels were flying over.
religious Barn Swallow
The next morning we headed to the Arroycampo bird reserve near the Almaraz Nuclear Power Station. Note to self....Saturday's not a good day to visit due to the anglers! They walk chest deep along the reed line...not good for birding! We headed to the information Centre in Saucedilla where we obtained a key for all the hides. We walked the short distance to the first one behind the centre. We saw Purple Swamphen and the first of many Purple Herons. We checked out the area where Black-shouldered Kites were supposed to be most frequent but only saw Marsh Harriers and Montague's Harrier. We returned to the anglers area hearing and then glimpsed a Savi's Warbler. Upon information received from a Surfbird's guide we went to the newly opened Orchid Centre in Almaraz village. Brian and Mary being botanists were very impressed. We then did some of the marked Orchid walk. We saw five different species, but the silence was marred by two local idiots on mini-motorbikes screaming around. From there we headed to the Belen plain to the east of Trujillo. We came across a recent cow death. There were about seventy Griffon Vultures on the body or streaming in to enjoy the feast. There were a few Black Vultures as well.
'Only' saw 76 soecies this trip but had a great time! How can you ever complain if you see a lifer? We shall be returning there in about four weeks.

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