Finding Birds in Northern Spain – the Online Update

Buy the book   Based on contributions by: MH: Mrs Mary Hughes (June 2001)
GF: Geoff Flower (March/April 2002)
DD/ADH: Dave Dunford & Andy Hirst (May 2002), with additional information from John Muddeman (JM).

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Page 2

On the NA140 to Isaba, near the 24km sign, there was a large flock of Griffon Vultures circling over the roadside cliffs, and some were roosting (nesting?) in the trees on the rocktops.

Driving between Ayerbe and Sos del Rey Catolico we saw a few Bee-eaters, a Crested Lark and 2 Black Wheatears (MH).

Site 6

Unfortunately our trip to the Forêt d'Isseaux was on a very dull day with low cloud, but when we turned off the D132 at the Pic Soulaing we almost immediately saw Citril Finches. We had no luck with White-backed Woodpeckers (MH).

Additional site

There is an 'official' vulture observation point on the NA176. Turn off the N240 onto the NA176 about 4km northwest of Lledena, heading for Lumbier. After less than 1km on the right is a large patch of bare ground with a wooden shelter, with a bench and information panels. There were several hundred Griffon Vultures on grassland and surrounding hillsides there, a truly extraordinary sight (MH).

Photo: Mary Hughes

Page 26

The fishing ponds behind the bull-ring in Trujillo, mentioned in John Muddeman's A Birdwatching Guide to Extremadura (Helm), appear to be being developed and the water levels were very low despite recent rainfall. A pair of Little Ringed Plover were the only waders present (DD/ADH). GF apparently found the site quite productive, but also commented on its likely demise as a worthwhile birding site, suggesting the site may be earmarked for landfill.

Site 1

Approaching from the N521 to the south, the first 'track' is actually two tracks leading off to the right at different angles from the same point. Juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo was seen in flight here (our only sighting in a week). A short way further along the road, driving off on the next, wider, track to the right produced up to 14 Great Bustards, and also both Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse species, and many pairs of Montagu's Harriers. Early morning visits were most productive for bustards and sandgrouse (DD/ADH). GF also had both bustards, Great Spotted Cuckoo and a mixed flock of 36 sandgrouse here.

A narrow path to the right of the river (heading upstream from the bridge) in the 'promising little valley' west of Santa Marta de Magasca was found to be infested with sheep ticks so we beat a hasty retreat without seeing anything of note (DD/ADH). GF encountered a flock of over 50 Azure-winged Magpies at this site.

GF reports this whole area as 'very good value' and had 14 Little Bustards at the Caceres end of the Santa Marta road, though on the opposite side of the road to the spot marked 'check here for bustards' on the map on page 27. He also had Montagu's Harrier, Pallid Swift and Great Spotted Cuckoo in the same area. Two Spanish birders surveying the bustards considered the Caceres/Trujillo area to be the best site for these birds in Spain.

Site 2

This site produced Short-toed Lark and one distant Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, flushed by a hunting Montagu's Harrier. Pylons along this road have nestboxes which attract Rollers (DD/ADH).

Site 3

Although large numbers of fishermen were present on the Sunday when we visited we had brief views of male Black Wheatear here on the northern side of the northern arm of the Almonte, probably the male from a pair which were apparently seen displaying around the old bridge in March 2002 (per JM). Note that there are two former bridges (see map). Alpine Swift nest under the modern bridge and gave excellent views (DD/ADH). JM notes that Black Wheatear has continued to be seen intermittently at this site (pers comm., August 2002).

Site 4

We had no luck with Black-winged Kite here, but had good views of a single bird from the track opposite (north of the CC912) near a pair of white-painted gateposts. Mornings and evenings are said to be the best time – our sole sighting was at 19:30 (DD/ADH).

The CC912 Caceres–Torrejón del Rubio road was closed for resurfacing in April 2002 (GF) but work was virtually complete, and the road fully open, as of May 2002 (DD/ADH).

Site 6

A pull-in to the right just beyond Belén village gives a panoramic view and produced Roller, Little Bustard, Little Owl, good numbers of Black Kite and (probably rather fortunately) a passing Spanish Imperial Eagle. Further along, the first rise after crossing a stream was excellent for displaying Little Bustard in the early morning, and also produced Great Bustard, Stone Curlew and the odd sandgrouse in flight (DD/ADH).

At a crossroads a little further on it is possible to drive left on a wide track, which produced calling Little Bustard, flyby Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Montagu's Harrier. GF had 25 Great Bustards displaying, and numerous Calandra Larks, from the summit 'with a large rock' on 25th March 2002.

Turning right at the same crossroads on a better-surfaced track, then keeping right, produced Rock Sparrow and numerous Lesser Kestrel.

Additional sites

The following sites lie to the southeast of Trujillo and could be visited en route to La Serena.

The EX378 between Zorita and Madrigalejo produced two passing views of Roller on roadside wires, though stopping on this fast road would be difficult.

The rice-paddies near Madrigalejo were generally remarkably birdless but with persistence did produce plentiful Gull-billed Terns, several Whiskered Terns and a few Black-winged Stilt, Redshank and Collared Pratincole, and a single Yellow-legged Gull. The paddies just north of Madrigalejo village were more productive than those further north along the Arroyo Pizarro, but water levels (which presumably vary widely at different times of year) seem critical as most of the paddies were completely devoid of birds and the bulk of our sightings were around particular fields with relatively low water levels. The minor road bridge over the Río Ruecas (accessible by turning right (southwest) off the EX378 just north of the Arroyo Pizarro, passing under the large silver pipe and turning immediately left, then left again to pass under the pipe for a second time) produced Great Reed Warbler, Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler and Nightingale. Tree Sparrow, Tawny Pipit and Zitting Cisticola were also recorded in the area. Red Avadavat is said to be a possibility but we had no definite sightings. Other birders reported Black Tern, Green Sandpiper, Little Bittern and Night Heron in the Madrigalejo area in May 2002.

An excursion through Acedera to the Embalse de Orellana (south of the N430 beyond Madrigalejo) produced several sightings of Collared Pratincole flying over roadside fields but the reservoir itself was devoid of birds.

A section of the Río Alcollarin between Alcollarin and Campo Lugar (SW of Zorita) runs alongside the CC700 and produced Kingfisher and Golden Oriole near a Eucalyptus plantation to the right-hand side of the road just outside Alcollarin, and Cetti's Warbler further along in the direction of Campo Lugar. Scanning likely areas of steppe to the north and south of the road from Campo Lugar eastwards to the CC702 produced two reasonable sightings of Great Bustard and various passing raptors (DD/ADH).

Page 28

Additional sites

If approaching Montfragüe from the south, it's worth stopping at the point where the Trujillo–Torrejón del Rubio road (EX208) crosses the Río Almonte – there's a convenient pull-off just beyond the bridge by a derelict building that appears to have been used as an inn in the past. A short and pleasant walk upstream produced good views of Short-toed Eagle (on two out of two visits), Pallid Swift, Cirl Bunting, Little Ringed Plover, White Wagtail, Spotless Starling and Crag Martin (though this last species will be seen in better numbers in the National Park proper). Griffon Vulture and Black Kite can also be expected.

On the same road, a Red-necked Nightjar was calling very distantly at night 6.6km south of Torrejón del Rubio (just north of a large pond to the west of the road). The German birder who told us of this site had seen a bird in flight from the road. This road is being 'improved' so it may become busier or harder to park up in future.

We had superb views of two Spanish Imperial Eagles flying low over the EX208 mobbed by Ravens, just north of the turning to Jaraicejo (DD/ADH).

Site 2

A pair of Rock Buntings were breeding in the area around the steps to the Castle in May 2002. Black Redstart were seen in the car park at the bottom of the access track, and also on the large crag overlooking a right-hand hairpin bend in the track (where most visitors seem to park). It's worth scanning this crag carefully as it's surprisingly easy to overlook one or two pairs of nesting Griffon Vultures which, once spotted, give excellent views at close range. Red-billed Chough were nesting within the Castle building in May 2002, and Rock Sparrow was noted from the top of the steps on a couple of occasions. White-rumped Swift was elusive (we spent over 6 hours scanning before we finally succeeded - we first picked up two or three birds circling mainly to the south of the main ridge almost a mile to the east, but had one close encounter when a single flashed past the monastery area, never to return; others reported seeing them circling the castle tower for extended periods in the evenings). If you have a head for heights the unfenced parapet of the castle building provides eastward views over both sides of the ridge simultaneously, which are difficult to gain elsewhere in the monastery compound. The Castle area also produced sightings of the spectacular Two-tailed Pasha and Cleopatra butterflies (DD/ADH).

Site 3

Rock Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush also likely here (DD/ADH).

Page 30

Additional site

The disused bridge over the Río Tajo known as the Puenta del Cardenal (between the modern road bridge and the village of Villareal de San Carlos) is said to have been a former breeding site for White-rumped Swift; we saw none here, but had 2 Bonelli's Eagle and a Golden Eagle over (east–west), and Alpine Swift frequent the area (DD/ADH).

Site 6 (Mirador de la Bascula)

This site was disappointing in May 2002, producing nothing but distant vultures and kites in a short stop there (DD/ADH). This site was once considered a prime location for Spanish Imperial Eagle but the Portilla del Tiétar (see Site 9, below) is now considered a better bet for this species.

Update January 2003: JM reports that the eagles are in fact back at the Mirador and may be using the old nest. They were very intermittent in 2001, but according to the locals they were regular in 2002.

Site 9 (Portilla del Tiétar)

Two juvenile Eagle Owls showed well in mid-afternoon once located – we scanned the rocky crags at length without success but eventually found the birds in the scrubby wooded area between the areas of bare rock. An adult Spanish Imperial Eagle flew over while we were there, and a Subalpine Warbler was seen close to the viewpoint. Black Stork and Griffon Vulture were nesting here also (DD/ADH).

GF also found this site productive, with Eagle Owl present as promised and good views of Spanish Imperial, Booted and Short-toed Eagles – 9 raptor species in an hour!

Site 10

GF failed to see Bonelli's Eagle in 4 hours here in April 2002 but commented that the site was generally productive for birding.

For those seeking congenial accommodation with a real Spanish flavour we can recommend the Finca Santa Marta, 14km south of Trujillo on the Zorita road. The owner Henri speaks excellent English, the Finca is set in good habitat (nesting White Storks, Bee-eaters, Azure-winged Magpie, Woodlark, Golden Oriole, Scops Owl etc. in the immediate vicinity) and your fellow guests may well be birders. Bed and breakfast is available, with optional evening meal. See http://www.fincasantamarta.com for full details (DD/ADH).

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