Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Easter in Extremadura (Trujillo, Guadalupe & Arroyocampo, 22-23 April)

Tuesday 22 April.  We had not made it to Guadalupe on our first attempt, diverting to Merida on seeing the mountains covered in clouds.  A decent weather forecast for our last full day gave us a second chance but first I had 3 hours on the Magasca plains north of Trujillo, inadvertently arriving before dawn.  I was hoping for better view of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Great Spotted Cuckoo but failed to find either.  14 Great and a Little Bustard made it worthwhile although 10 of the Greats were very distant and the Little a flight view.  I also saw Egyptian Vulture, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, a pair of Stone Curlew, 2 Little Owls, 7 Bee-eaters, 10 Calandra Larks and 7 Azure-winged Magpies.   In the dehesa were 2 silent Iberian looking Chiffchaffs.  They came as a bit of a surprise and disappeared before I could find a recording.

Guadalupe was interesting with a walking trail around town that amongst the old buildings seemed to take in every city wall gate (3 of them), fountain (I lost count) and some very old streets.  We then drove up a rough road to the highest point in the range of mountains and a radar station.  We saw Wren, Robin and Rock Buntings near the top and I heard and glimpsed a Chough on getting out of the car at the summit but it disappeared.  A male Rock Thrush did a better flyby and a range of hirundines appeared to be finding some food.  driving back down to the main road we walked along a track through scrub and forest seeing Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper.

Back at Trujillo Megan wanted to do some final shopping and I dropped her at the supermarket before heading out onto the Belen plains.  I wasn't seeing much and the road deteriorated so I was decided to turn back but a final scan of a very large field revealed 17 Great Bustards. While watching these a Little Bustard flew over and I also saw 5 Bee-eaters and 2 Calandra Larks, the latter really are a very distinctive long-winged shape.

Stone Curlew north of Trujillo

distant Great Bustard north of Trujillo
Azure-winged Magpie, this one only stayed still enough for a couple of images

Southern Grey Shrike
this one was even worse
Booted Eagle

Megan in one of Guadalupe's oldest streets

Guadalupe monastery

a modern narrow street
view from the radar station
Guadalupe in the far distance
view north from near the sumit

scrub and forest on the lower slopes
Guadalupe from afar

Great Bustards on the Belen Plains

Bee-eater at Belen
stunning even with the light fading

Wednesday 23 April.  Our last day and we planned on leaving our apartment at about 10:00. This gave me a last chance to visit the grasslands north of Trujillo.  I timed it better, to arrive at dawn and saw a distant Great Bustard, closer male Little Bustard, Montagu's Harrier, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Calandra Lark and 11 Azure-winged Magpies.  A worthwhile couple of hours.  we left Apartmentos Aquillo and Trujillo with some sadness, it had been an excellent base for a thoroughly enjoyable week.  We drove north to Arroyocampo Reservoir where we walked to some hides. By now it was approaching mid-day and not a lot was showing although we did see Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, Gull-billed Tern and another Great Spotted Cuckoo.  We drove back to Madrid encountering no holdups at all.   I saw a monk Parakeet while filling the car with petrol prior to returning it.  We checked in an hour early and our easyJet flight left on time.  Two hours later we were back at Gatwick. I was surprised how nice Extremadura was, despite Paul James having told me a few years ago.  until then I'd not even heard of it.  It is hard to imagine a better place to go birding that is two hours flying and three hours driving from a UK airport, and Megan liked it a lot too.

Great Spotted Cuckoo north of Trujillo, a better view but still rather distant
Southern Grey Shrikes were no more obliging
Little Bustard north of Trujillo

Gull-billed Tern at Arroyocampo
Purple Heron, always turning its head at the wrong moment
finally a Southern Grey Shrike that behaved
a rather smart bird when it did
one of the hides at Arroyocampo.  This one had more birds on it than from it
although sometimes you can get too close!
Great Spotted Cuckoo at Arroyocampo
a nice bird to finish the trip with

Monday, 21 April 2014

Easter in Extremadura (Trujillo, Plasencia & Monfrague, 20-21 April)

Sunday 20 April.  Megan wanted to look around Trujillo so I went out just before dawn.  In Plaza Mayor I had to step my way around the masses of litter strewn everywhere from the previous night's party.  Some of it was within 5m of large bins that had been strategically placed around ther square and remained half empty, not that we would be any better here.  A clean up crew was arriving as I left and Megan told me when she went out a couple of hours later it was all gone.  I had the morning on the Santa Marta de Magasca road, stopping atr a couple of decent viewpoints to look out over the plains and driving a short distance down the Caceres Road to look again at the Lesser Kestrel nest boxes.  Scanning the grasslands was excellent with 8 Little and 12 Great Bustards.  Two flocks of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over (6 and 12) and I also saw Montagu's Harrier, Egyptian Vulture, Great Spotted Cuckoo, 7 Calandra Larks and 6 Azure-winged Magpies.  The afternoon and evening we walked around the town skirting the main party in the Plaza Mayor.

early morning Little Bustard doing its unimpressive 'raspberry' call
distant Great Bustard preening

Egyptian and Griffon Vultures about to be joined by a Black Kite
Zitting Cisticola

the section of road to the west of Santa Marta was the only place I saw Rollers

I didn't realise my camera was still on a setting giving a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second and very dark images.  Attempts to brighten them have only been partially successful

it was a good section of road for Lesser Kestrels too

Correcting the camera settings made quite a difference

most telegraph poles on a section of the road west of Santa Marta had green nest boxes.  Many appeared to be occupied by Lesser Kestrels

back in Trujillo the Plaza Mayor was filling up for the afternoon's party

many of the ladies were in traditional dress

come early evening the party was fizzling out, not helped by some heavy rain showers.  Enough rubbish had been discarded to keep next shift of cleaners ocupied

Megan by one of the old city gates on our regular evening walk soon after the showers had finished

Monday 21 April.  We decided to visit Plasencia, a sizeable town to the northwest with another old walled centre. This gave me the opportunity of return visit to Monfrague but as I had forgotten to fill the car with petrol it seemed best to drive through to Plasencia first where I was sure we could fill up rather than detour to Portilla del Tietar and risk running dry.  More narrow streets and old buildings in a busy centre, aspects of distinctive towns (Trujillo, Caceres, Merida and now Plasencia) were in danger of becoming a bit of a blur although Plasencia had an impressive Roman aquaduct.   It also had a completely normal sounding Chiffchaff which started singing near the aquaduct from the other side of a tall wall where it remained unseen.  It seemed far too late for a migrant so it was just as well that the Apuldram Bilge crew were not about as it would clearly be more relevant to their cause than inconvenient sonograms.  A checklist I had downloaded suggested that there was a breeding population of 100 pairs of Common Chiffchaff and 250 of Iberian Chiffchaff in Extremadura.  I'm not sure if that makes me feel happier about the latter as a good species or not but in my opinion it does little to help identifying mixed singers.

With a full tank of petrol we returned to Monfrague and Portilla del Tietar, briefly seeing a very smart male Black-eared Wheatear on the way.  There were no other birders present and at first no sign of any Spanish Imperial Eagles, until one in the nesting tree put its head up.  The only Turtle Dove of the trip was heard calling from across the river.  With lots of apparently suitable habitat I was disappointed not to see good numbers and hope they were yet to arrive rather than the catastrophic decline in the UK being matched there.  Back at Pena Falcon we saw about 150 Griffon and 3 Black Vultures.  During our evening walk Trujillo seemed almost deserted in comparison to earlier, and previous days.  This was more the normality.

approaching the main church in Plasencia
one of the narrow back streets

the Roman aquaduct
it appeared to have been heavily renovated in places
Megan confirming the identification of a normal sounding Chiffchaff, me speculating that at times the aquaduct carried bilge
White Stork in Plasencia being greeted back to the nest.  The clacking of their bills was a regular sound when walking around the taller buildings in all the old towns we visited 
Iberian Azure-winged Magpies in Monfrague
they were constantly on the move and quite difficult to get a good view of, let alone a decent image
Black-eared Wheatear in Monfrague National Park.  Nice bird, shame about the image 
Stonechat in Monfrague National Park

Spanish Imperial Eagle on nest at Portilla del Tietar.  It is not often that I've seen the eye of an Aquilla

Griffon Vultures over Pena Falcon in Monfrague National Park

Black Vulture over Pena Falcon 

White Stork with two chicks in Trujillo.  I'm not sure how impressed they had been with the various noisy parties and processions of the last few days but they doubtless appreciated the quiet as much as we did