02/06/2008
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British Birds: Important Bird Areas: Extremadura

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The horizons of most birders have expanded in the past 20-30 years. As international travel opportunities have mushroomed, accompanied by increasingly easy access to information, so the geographical scope of our bird interests has widened. The term 'world birder' is no longer applied to a tiny minority; in fact, a majority of birders probably make one or more long-haul foreign trips each year. Seeing new families and genera of birds and other wildlife, as well as new environments and new countries, is both challenging and satisfying. The ease of travel and modern communications have also increased our awareness of the environmental problems and issues facing other parts of the world. Conservation is now very much a global, as well as a local or national, issue.

These factors were all significant in developing a series of articles for BB which looks at important bird areas of the world. This is an occasional series, with between two and four articles per year. Some of the articles describe places well beyond the Western Palearctic, which has traditionally defined BB's area of interest, but others will look at remarkable sites and areas closer to home. The article reproduced here, the latest in the series, covers Extremadura, an area of Spain which is extraordinarily rich in natural history and with which many British birders will have visited.

Roger Riddington, editor, British Birds

Abstract

The region of Extremadura, in west–central Spain, contains no fewer than 41 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), covering more than 3 million ha. The area supports rich communities of both breeding and wintering birds; raptors and steppe species in particular are closely associated with the area and significant breeding populations of five bird species of global conservation concern occur. Many other birds of international interest are present among an avifauna that is predominantly a legacy of the low-density human population combined with the extensive systems of agricultural management. Economic development, particularly in rural areas and where traditional systems of agricultural management are replaced with more modern ones, is posing a serious threat to the region's birdlife.

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Introduction

Extremadura, not to be confused with Estremadura in western Portugal, is a medium-sized, politically autonomous region of west–central Spain. About two hours west of Madrid by road, it is bordered by (clockwise from the north) Castilla y León, Castilla–La Mancha, Andalucía and the regions of Beira Baixa and Alto Alentejo in Portugal to the west (Fig. 1). Formed by Spain's two largest provinces, Cáceres in the north and the even larger Badajoz in the south, Extremadura has a total surface area of 41,633 km2, which is marginally greater than twice the size of Wales. With almost 1.1 million unevenly distributed inhabitants (Spanish Statistical Office data; www.ine.es), the province of Cáceres in particular has one of the lowest human population densities in the country (20.77 individuals/km2), less than a quarter of the national average. The long-standing coexistence of humans and wildlife in the region is highlighted by the population of 540,000 inhabitants recorded in the 1541 census, while the earliest evidence of human presence in prehistoric times comes from remains dating from the Lower Palaeolithic (more than 700,000 years BC). Numerous, mostly schematic rock paintings are also known, e.g. in the Cueva de Maltravieso in Cáceres (25,000 BC) and in Monfragüe National Park (4,000 BC).

Extremadura, especially when linked with the name of Monfragüe National Park, may be a familiar name to many but, compared with the international fame of Doñana, the area still receives less attention than it deserves. This may be a rash claim perhaps, but it is the geopolitical region with the highest surface area of Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Europe, containing (wholly or partially) no fewer than 41 IBAs, covering a little over 3 million ha—a staggering 74.1% of its total surface area and >85% of the Cáceres province (Viada 1998). Raptors and steppe species are those most closely associated with the area and significant breeding populations of five bird species of global conservation concern (BirdLife International 2004) are present. While the total number of species is not especially high, a host of other birds of international interest are present within the rich bird community, which is predominantly a legacy of the low-density human population combined with the extensive systems of agricultural management still used.

Geography and habitats

The region is fairly homogeneous in terms of climate, vegetation and altitude, with little in the way of high-mountain areas. Height above sea level varies between 175 and 2,401 m, though the vast majority of the region lies at an altitude of between 200 and 600 m. Most of the major geographical features lie on an east–west axis, with the area inclined to the west and rivers draining from the region flowing out through Portugal into the Atlantic.

The two provinces almost coincide with the catchments of the two main rivers in the region, the Tagus in Cáceres to the north and the Guadiana in Badajoz to the south. Cáceres is generally higher, more humid, forested and mountainous, with more livestock-rearing, whereas Badajoz is lower, flatter, drier and more agricultural (principally arable, vineyards and olive orchards).

The main features from north to south are: (1) the Sistema Central, with the largest mountains peaking at 2,401 m in the east and at 1,487 m in the west; (2) the River Tagus, the longest Iberian river, which snakes along a narrow course through small mountains (e.g. Monfragüe) in the region, eventually flowing out through Lisbon—its northern tributaries, the Tiétar and Alagón, have formed wide alluvial plains, while the Almonte and Salor to the south run through narrow, deeply cut valleys; (3) the chain of mountains running through southern Cáceres with, from east to west, the Villuercas range (1,601 m), Montánchez range (994 m) and Sierra de San Pedro (702 m), though the Villuercas range breaks the general rule since it has a curving north–south orientation, an important Appalachian formation in world terms; (4) the Guadiana river, which enters Extremadura through a mountainous area, but rapidly acquires a gentle and slow-flowing nature, passing through the largest area of river-valley plains in the region (with the highest population density) before turning south and flowing out into the Bay of Cádiz—its tributaries to the north are short, but the Zújar and Matachel to the south are more notable; and (5) the extensive complex of the Sierra Morena range in the south of Badajoz, with gentle mountains breaking the plains, and reaching moderate height only in the extreme south in the Sierra de Tentudía (1,104 m).

Geologically speaking, the region lies mostly over ancient substrates, fundamentally igneous rock (granite and quartzite) or metamorphic deposits (slates and shales) of an acidic nature. Small areas of basic substrate are found in Badajoz, while few rivers have formed valley plains, the exceptions being the Guadiana and to a lesser degree the Alagón and Tiétar.


Fig 1. Extremadura, in west-central Spain (map © Fluke Art).

The climate is characterised by marked seasonality, it being a predominantly Mediterranean one. Long, dry and hot summers, when temperatures peak at >40°C quite frequently, and relatively mild and humid winters are typical. More than 90% of the region is characterised by average temperatures of 25°C in summer and 7°C in winter, and an average rainfall of 400–800 mm per year. Rainfall is variable, however, and there are periodic cycles of drought and more humid phases. Mountainous areas are colder and much wetter, rainfall reaching >1,500 mm in the northeast (Devesa Alcaraz 1995). Persistent fog along major river courses is a notable feature in some winters.

Given the homogeneity of the region, except in the north and northeast, the vegetation cover ('potential vegetation') would naturally be rather uniform too. 'Western Holm Oak' Quercus ilex ballota forest would dominate, with areas of Cork Oak Q. suber in warmer and more humid areas, Pyrenean Oak Q. pyrenaica in cooler, damper areas and Lusitanian Oak Q. faginea in the areas of more continental climate. Riverine woodland, montane scrub (broom Cytisus oromediterraneus and Spanish Heath Erica australis) in the northeast, Maritime Pine Pinus pinaster woodlands on the Tiétar river and in west Badajoz, Wild Olive Olea europaea sylvestris stands on sunny slopes and floodplain areas, and 'mixed Mediterranean woodland' on shaded mid-mountain slopes would occur too. These last patches would be relicts of the Tertiary era, in Extremadura typically formed by Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo mixed with Tree Heath E. arborea, Lentisc/Mastic Tree Pistacia lentiscus, Terebinth P. terebinthus, Phillyrea angustifolia, P. latifolia and/or Laurustinus Viburnum tinus. Riverine woodland is naturally dominated by Alder Alnus glutinosa in the north and poplars Populus elsewhere, together with willows Salix spp., Small-leaved Elm Ulmus minor, Southern Nettle Tree Celtis australis and Narrow-leaved Ash Fraxinus angustifolia. In hotter, lower-lying areas where the streams habitually dry up, these are locally replaced by species such as Flueggea tinctoria, African Tamarisk Tamarix africana and Oleander Nerium oleander.


Dehesa, primarily of 'Western Holm Oak' Quercus ilex ballota, covers vast areas of the region. It is a mosaic habitat ('agricultural wood-pasture') with a unique triple-use (livestock and arable farming and forestry) in European agricultural terms and crucial for numerous bird species (photo: Javier Fernández Díaz).


Extensive agricultural pseudosteppes (here La Serena) are also of vital importance to numerous steppe species (e.g. bustards (Otididae), sandgrouse (Pteroclididae), larks (Alaudidae)) as well as foraging raptors and enormous numbers of wintering birds (photo: Manuel Calderón Carrasco).

In reality, the region's vegetation cover is quite different and almost completely anthropogenic; only in areas where access is difficult do small patches of the original vegetation remain. Nonetheless, the gradual rate of change combined with low intensity use has allowed ecosystems of high biodiversity (and importance for birds) to develop. The Western Holm Oak forests of the plains, and to a lesser degree other oak woodlands, were progressively thinned until they formed dehesa (wood-pasture, sometimes referred to as the 'Spanish savannah'); this process was apparently already underway in the fourteenth century and largely finished and slightly expanded by the end of the nineteenth century (Grove & Rackham 2001). These dehesas are used for animal grazing and foraging plus crop production, although biased towards the former, more especially in modern times. Because of fires and/or overgrazing, large areas of Holm Oak forest are now occupied by scrub, principally Gum Cistus Cistus ladanifer and Lygos Retama sphaerocarpa, but also other species. In extreme cases, these areas were completely deforested and are now agricultural 'pseudosteppes', a mosaic of grass pasture and cereal fields, which when not intensively managed are of huge value to birds. The more fertile river valley basins have been taken over almost completely by irrigated crops (rice, maize, tomatoes, sunflowers, tobacco, fruit trees and grass monocultures), while many areas of montane forest have been replaced by pine forest (mainly Maritime Pine) and Eucalyptus. Other Mediterranean crops have appeared in both lowland and mountainous areas: olive orchards and grapevines throughout the region, but especially in central Badajoz; and Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa and Wild Cherry Prunus avium orchards in the north, replacing oak forest. The region's hydrology has been dramatically altered, with the construction of numerous reservoirs for agricultural and hydroelectric use. Natural waterbodies were always small and scarce, yet hundreds of artificial ones have been created, ranging from innumerable small stock-drinking pools to the three largest reservoirs in Europe (Alqueva, lying mostly in Portugal; La Serena; and Alcántara, which at 95 km is the longest of the three). The wildlife interest of these waterbodies varies enormously, from the limited attraction of reservoirs with steep rocky banks and considerable drawdown within and between years, to sites which hold tens of thousands of birds in winter. Marsh vegetation such as Common Reed Phragmites australis, Giant Reed Arundo donax and bulrush Typha beds are restricted mainly to waterways in the Guadiana, Zújar and Alagón watersheds, though the extensive bulrush beds in the Arrocampo reservoir (cooling waters for the adjacent Almaraz nuclear power station) are a notable exception. A relatively new (since the mid-1900s) and rapidly increasing habitat is that of rice fields, also in the Guadiana river basin, which provides a modified wetland resource exploited by many bird species, including several not traditionally present in the area.


A male Great Bustard Otis tarda displaying in early-morning light. While still present in good numbers, given the continued changes to the pseudosteppe, numbers may be declining and threats, especially around the second-largest lek in Spain (c. 120 males), are still high (photo: Manuel Calderón Carrasco).

Economy

The region has a low population density, a markedly rural character and little industrial activity; only one city, Badajoz, exceeds 100,000 inhabitants with two others, Cáceres and Mérida, having around 50,000. Most jobs are in the service industries and manufacturing, and there is a growing tourism sector. Agriculture is also still important, however; the region supports the highest proportion of jobs in this sector in the country. Land ownership is characterised by the existence of large, private estates, medieval in origin, sometimes measuring thousands of hectares in size. These were created as the region was reconquered by Christian kings (from the Moors), and the land handed to local nobility. This socially unjust system led to Extremadura becoming the poorest region in Spain, although it also contributed to its excellent state of conservation. However, this process did not occur in upland areas nor in the most fertile river valleys and, during the latter part of the twentieth century, the latter were irrigated, divided up and distributed among small landowners.


The Sierra de las Villuercas represents a classic example of quartzitic ridges protruding above the plains, holding good numbers of raptors, woodland and crag birds as well as being highly attractive scenically (photo: Javier Fernández Díaz).


Monfragüe, recently declared a National Park, contains an outstanding assemblage of Mediterranean woodland and crag species, especially raptors, Black Stork Ciconia nigra and a selection of passerines. A classic location is at its southern entrance, shown here, where the River Tagus runs past the foot of the Peñafalcón rock outcrop (photo: Carlos Fernández Díaz).

At present, the majority of the region's land is used for agriculture, combining arable and livestock. The number of livestock continues to increase, with current figures of 791,000 cattle (for beef—there is virtually no milk production), 4.58 million sheep, 290,000 goats and 1.67 million pigs (December 2004 data; www.mapa.es). Nearly all of these live in the open air and provide much of the food for the region's healthy populations of carrion-feeding raptors.

Given the harshness of the climate, forestry is of limited importance and in those areas where pines and eucalyptus are grown, the combination of low growth rates and (human) fires have had a highly negative impact. Hunting is a common pastime in Extremadura, practised by almost 10% of the population, but the two most popular species, Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa and Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, are both in severe decline. Consequently, hunters shift their attention not only towards 'big game' hunting (see below), but also towards wintering birds such as Wood Pigeons Columba palumbus and thrushes (Turdidae). Fortunately, perhaps, there is no tradition of waterfowl hunting. For Red-legged Partridges, intensive-rearing estates are appearing, where reared birds are 'hunted'. The Rabbit situation is extremely worrying; Rabbits are a crucial link in the food chains of Iberian ecosystems and have suffered the onslaught of both introduced myxomatosis and RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease) in the last few decades. These have reduced its population to a bare minimum, with dramatic consequences for its specialised predators: the Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus, now extinct in Extremadura and only barely surviving in Andalucía (fewer than 160 individuals), and Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalbertii (216 pairs in Iberia). A growing sector is the number of 'big game' estates offering Red Deer Cervus elaphus and Wild Boar Sus scrofa hunting (16,000 Red Deer and 11,000 Wild Boar were shot during the 2003/04 season), generating an important industry. The endemic Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica is also managed for hunting, but the sport is extremely costly and very few animals are taken; the same is true of the very local Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus. On other estates, quarry species such as Mouflon Ovis gmelini, Fallow Deer Dama dama and Barbary Sheep Ammotragus lervia were introduced for trophy hunting.

Pseudosteppe and dehesa The great majority of Extremadura is characterised by extensive areas of rolling plains, covered either with pseudosteppe or by the characteristic dehesa. Pseudosteppe is heavily shaped by the human impact and formed after removal of the natural tree and scrub cover. It is characterised by a patchwork of grassland interspersed with cereal fields at different stages of their cycle, hence forming a mosaic ideal for steppe birds. The non-irrigated cereal fields are normally cropped on a three-year rotational basis, in which a cereal crop is followed by a year of rough fallow (when the fields are carpeted in an array of ephemeral flowers) followed by a further year of grassland, ideally with grazing. Dehesa is also highly managed, and essentially a thinned woodland habitat, requiring periodic grazing and/or ploughing to keep it from 'scrubbing-up' and eventually returning to woodland. Indeed, it was traditionally managed on a four-year cycle, in which a cereal crop one spring was followed by a legume crop the following year, then by two years of rest when it was grazed as pasture and foraged for acorns. Cyclical pruning of the oaks, to prevent them becoming top-heavy and to stimulate new growth and higher yields of acorns, is also necessary, the cut material being used for firewood. Holm Oaks produce sweet acorns foraged by the serrano ham pigs, plus Common Cranes Grus grus and Wood Pigeons, while the patchwork of cereals, legumes, pasture and scrub means that it is a haven for Rabbits, Red-legged Partridge, small mammals and numerous reptiles, and consequently crucial for raptors. Areas with bull-rearing are basically human-free and important breeding areas for larger raptors and storks (Ciconiidae), etc. Steeper areas with denser scrub and woodland under crags and along river valleys are typically grazed and browsed by sheep and, especially, goats, though free-ranging cattle are increasingly common.


Eurasian Black Vultures Aegypius monachus breed at several sites around the region and are easily seen, the main concentration at Monfragüe (339 pairs in 2006) probably being the largest colony in the world (photo: Javier Prieta Díaz).

The Avifauna

Breeding birds

The breeding birds are without doubt the key to the region's importance for birds in international terms and these include a good number of raptors and steppe species. While former breeders also include Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus (until the 1950s) and Demoiselle Crane Anthropoides virgo (until 1924), there are at present strong populations of numerous rare and threatened species, together with excellent populations of commoner species. Of species of unfavourable European conservation concern (SPEC categories 1–3; BirdLife International 2004), the region boasts a total of 79 regular breeders (see Appendix 1), plus four other species which have bred on just one occasion (Garganey Anas querquedula, Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa) and two of uncertain status (Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Western Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais opaca). Of SPEC 1 species, the region supports over one-fifth (21.8%) of the world's Spanish Imperial Eagles and, in European terms, more than 50% of Eurasian Black Vultures Aegypius monachus, about 15% of Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni, 15% of Little Bustards Tetrax tetrax and 11.4% of Great Bustards Otis tarda, though recent declines have been noted in the last three of these (Madroño et al. 1995).


High-altitude low scrub above the tree line at the Puerto de Honduras, Sierra de Gredos, habitat for montane breeding species such as Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis and Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana (photo: Javier Prieta Díaz).


Male Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana with orthopteran prey. This bunting is a common breeder in upper montane habitats with low scrub and rock outcrops (photo: Javier Prieta Díaz).

About 175 species breed regularly in the region, and Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis and Whiskered Terns Chlidonias hybrida breed irregularly. In addition, Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus has bred on three known occasions, Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon has bred at two sites for three years, five species have been recorded breeding on a single occasion (see above, plus Black Tern Chlidonias niger) and five more are of uncertain breeding status (see above, plus Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin and Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio).

It is the allure of steppe birds, raptors and other, often 'Mediterranean', species that attracts many visitors to the area, since there are few places in the world where there is a chance of seeing all of the following characteristic species at a single site: Black Ciconia nigra and White Storks C. ciconia, Black-shouldered Elanus caeruleus, Black Milvus migrans and Red Kites M. milvus, Egyptian Neophron percnopterus, Griffon Gyps fulvus and Eurasian Black Vultures, all five Spanish-breeding eagles Aquila/Circaetus, Eagle Owl Bubo bubo, Red-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis, White-rumped Swift Apus caffer, European Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Hoopoe Upupa epops, Thekla Lark Galerida theklae, Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, Orphean Sylvia hortensis, Spectacled S. conspicillata, Dartford S. undata, Subalpine S. cantillans and Sardinian Warblers S. melanocephala, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla, Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus, (Iberian) Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus cooki, Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia and Rock Bunting Emberiza cia.Within an hour's drive, prime areas of pseudosteppe contain Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus, Lesser Kestrel, Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola, Great and Little Bustards, Common Quail Coturnix coturnix, Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, Black-bellied Pterocles orientalis and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse P. alchata, Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius, European Roller Coracias garrulus, Calandra Melanocorypha calandra and Short-toed Larks Calandrella brachydactyla, Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, Black-eared Wheatear Oe. hispanica, Lanius meridionalis and Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis. As if this was not sufficient, a similar drive in another direction can bring breeding Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Squacco Ardeola ralloides and Purple Herons Ardea purpurea, Purple Swamp-hen Porphyrio porphyrio, Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis, Cetti's Cettia cetti, Savi's Locustella luscinioides and Great Reed Acrocephalus arundinaceus Warblers at a reservoir surrounded by a mixture of dehesa and pseudosteppe habitats, themselves supporting a further wide range of other species! It is no wonder that visitors to the region, even seasoned birdwatchers, are often amazed by the richness and sheer numbers of the birds present.

Indeed it is often the sheer numbers of many birds that catch the eye and, in addition to those species in table 1, considerable populations of Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis (9,000–25,700 pairs), Griffon Vulture (>1,500 pairs), Common Buzzard Buteo buteo, Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Great Spotted Cuckoo (20,000 pairs), Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, Red-necked Nightjar (30,000 pairs), Pallid Swift Apus pallidus, European Bee-eater (35,000 pairs), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor (1,000–2,000 pairs), Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris, Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica, Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos (500,000 pairs), Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Zitting Cisticola, Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta, Spectacled, Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers, Short-toed Treecreeper, Golden Oriole, Common Raven Corvus corax, Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor, Spanish and Rock Sparrows, European Serin Serinus serinus, Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes and Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus are all present. Other species of note (with <1,000 breeding="" pairs)="" include="">Montagu's Harrier (709–800 pairs), Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus (>49 pairs), Hobby F. subbuteo, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius, Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta, Dipper Cinclus cinclus, Bluethroat Luscinia svecica, Cetti's Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla, (Iberian) Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca iberiae and Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus.


With at least 47 pairs, the region holds an important concentration of Spanish Imperial Eagles Aquila adalbertii, and is one of the best places to see this extremely rare species (photo: Paul Hackett).

Endemic birds

There are no birds endemic to Extremadura, though Iberian endemic breeding species are represented by Spanish Imperial Eagle, Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus (250 pairs) and (Iberian) Azure-winged Magpie (200,000 pairs). Numerous distinctive Spanish endemic subspecies, especially passerines, are also present, e.g. 'Iberian Green Woodpecker' Picus viridis sharpei, 'Iberian Yellow Wagtail' Motacilla flava iberiae (<100 pairs),="" and="" the="" iberian="" subspecies="" of="" pied="" flycatcher="">F. h. iberiae (300 pairs) and Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus irbii (75,000 pairs).

Migrants

Although not coastal, Extremadura lies just west of a line running through central Spain which connects the northwest seaboard of Europe with the Strait of Gibraltar and northwest Africa. Broad-front migration, mainly of small passerines, but also of storks, raptors and waders, is seen widely through the region in both spring and autumn. In general, the species composition varies somewhat between these seasons and numbers are typically higher in autumn. Of particular note is the late winter/early spring passage of Black-tailed Godwits of the nominate race limosa; these pause to feed in the rice fields, and at least 120,000 are estimated to occur annually, virtually the entire west European population. A post-breeding concentration of Lesser Kestrels has been discovered recently in Badajoz, numbering up to 4,000 birds. In addition, given the relatively benign winter climate, huge numbers of birds winter in the region (see Appendix 2), Common Crane (c. 70,000 birds) being perhaps the most celebrated. There are important roosts of Red Kites (individual roosts of up to 500 birds, and up to 7,700 in total in the region, though worryingly numbers have declined by 35% over the last 10 years) and Wood Pigeons (numbers are highly variable but roosts of up to an estimated 1 million birds have been recorded). The recent discovery of huge numbers (>100,000) of wintering wildfowl (almost exclusively dabbling ducks, plus a few thousand Greylag Geese Anser anser and Common Coots Fulica atra) on the Sierra Brava reservoir, created for irrigation purposes in 1995, has further highlighted the region's importance; this now ranks as the second or third most important site in Spain for wintering wildfowl! South-west Spain is also a major wintering ground for millions of birds from northern and central Europe; for example, the pseudosteppes and dehesas are of particular importance for Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus (>250,000 birds), European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria (>25,000), and hold an estimated minima of a million Sky Larks Alauda arvensis, Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis, Song Thrushes, Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla and European Serins, >500,000 White Wagtails Motacilla alba and Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, >2 million Robins Erithacus rubecula and Common Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs, >600,000 Goldfinches and 500,000 Linnets.


In their main wintering concentration in western Europe, Common Cranes Grus grus sometimes gather in groups of up to 10,000 birds; in total, up to 70,000 are present throughout the winter (photo: Óscar Díez Martínez).


The Sierra Brava reservoir (with mostly Shoveler Anas clypeata visible) holds up to around 100,000 roosting wildfowl (>95% dabbling ducks) in winter, making it the second or third most important site for wintering wildfowl in Spain (photo: Óscar Díez Martínez).

Other important flora/fauna

Although the diversity of other groups found in Extremadura is also excellent, there are very few floral and no larger faunal species endemic to the region, reflecting the similarity and interconnectivity of almost all the existing habitats with similar adjacent areas. The vascular flora is actually relatively depauperate in Spanish terms, despite the fact that some 2,200 species are cited, including just six probably endemic taxa, comprising three species and three subspecies (including the orchid Ophrys clara and the shrub Adenocarpus desertorum). Mammals are well represented, with 67 species in total, including eight Iberian endemics, 23 bats (Chiroptera) (Cordero & Schreur 2005a,b) and three recent introductions, despite relatively recent losses of both Iberian Lynx and Wolf Canis lupus. Other vertebrates include 16 species of amphibians (six of these Iberian endemics), 27 reptiles (including eight endemics and one introduced species), and 22 native and nine introduced fish (including 15 endemics) (Prieta 2006; www.seocaceres.org). Insects are well represented too, including 49 (of the 77 mainland Spanish) dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) (Pérez-Bote & Ledesma 2006; www.iberianwildlife.com), and butterflies (Lepidoptera) are perhaps surprisingly diverse, with almost exactly half (125) of the species occurring in Spain recorded (Blázquez et al. 2003), though few are genuinely rare species and many are more northern species at the southern edge of their respective ranges and restricted to the range of habitats and microclimates found at higher altitudes in the mountains of the northeast.

Threats to species/populations

The region's birdlife is clearly outstanding. In addition, it is evenly spread across the region (as witnessed by the classification of 74% of its total surface area as IBAs) and there is a generally favourable state of conservation of the habitats present. However, a large number of these habitats, although currently still in adequate condition, depend on traditional agricultural management and low-density human population, plus minimal industrialisation/modernisation of the region. When an analysis of the current changes in progress and their causes is made, the outlook is far more gloomy and it is clear that the region is heading towards an imminent environmental crisis.


Modern intensive farming methods are causing great damage to the environment, from classic cases of conversion of dehesa into illegally irrigated crops (maize in this case), to the more low-key, but widespread and sinister, intensification of cereal crops in the pseudosteppe, or over-exploitation and thinning of the dehesa (photo: Marcelino Cardalliaguet Guerra).

Since Spain's entry into the European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has dictated the nature of rural development in Extremadura, with profound negative impacts on the birdlife, especially for steppe species. Although irrigated crops may have increased the number of species seen in the region, in particular ducks and waders, the CAP has had the opposite effect on many native species. The traditional agricultural system of 'dry' grain production has been all but destroyed; fallow fields have gone into intensive production to increase the cultivated area, while at the same time grassland has been ploughed to compensate and provide the obligatory areas of 'fallow' required by the CAP without reducing production; and large areas have been irrigated. In addition, a huge increase in the intensity of livestock grazing and browsing owing to the policy of subsidies per head of livestock has occurred. This has led to the elimination of rough banks and vegetation along minor streams and gullies, while other impacts include an increase in the areas of olive and cherry orchards, mostly at the expense of woodland and scrub. Madroño et al. (2005) identified habitat reduction because of land-use changes as the principal threat to steppe species (Great and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, etc.)—in particular the intensification of dry arable crops, transformation to irrigated crops and reforestation projects. A number of Spanish regions are feeling these impacts, and especially Extremadura, where, according to data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA), irrigated areas increased by 38.2% between 1989 and 2003 (signifying the loss of 68,000 ha of pseudosteppe and dehesa) and a further 23,000 ha are planned to be transformed over the next few years following the National Irrigation Plan. In addition, and also according to MAPA data, the area of fallow land in the region has decreased by a third since 1980 and this clearly coincides with the declines seen in steppe species over the past 20 years.


Given the extraordinarily high number of often huge reservoirs and their dams, natural river sections such as the upper Río Almonte are a rather rare habitat; indeed there is not a single river left in Extremadura which is not dammed along some part of its course (photo: John Muddeman).

At the same time, millions of euros have been invested in expanding the road network in the region, often with little or no justification in terms of traffic volume. For rural communities this has clearly been beneficial, but has also led to the creation of thousands of new agricultural and forest tracks, in many cases adjacent to breeding territories of protected raptors such as Eurasian Black Vultures or Bonelli's Eagles. This produces a highly fragmented landscape and, worse still, easy access for the growing numbers of four-wheel-drive and quad-bike enthusiasts. The problem of disturbance to breeding birds is now found throughout the entire region, and there is minimal or non-existent control by the environmental protection authorities/agencies. Plans are also underway to build a high-speed railway line crossing the region from northeast to southwest, which will not only cause physical damage to all those IBAs it passes through, but will also have other impacts (such as barrier effects) on the region's wildlife.

Reservoirs, rife in the region, also form linear barriers to many species, and though there is actually already little space for any more in the region, plans still appear and the threat to un-dammed sections of rivers such as the Almonte is still high. Indeed, the natural aquatic environments in the region are probably the habitats in the worst general state of all. In combination, the proliferation of dams and canalisation, pollution and the introduction of alien species (e.g. various fish, Red Swamp Crayfish Procambarus clarkii) is having a dramatic and catastrophic effect on the native fish fauna, while the introduction of American Mink Mustela vison has put the endemic race of Pyrenean Desman Galemys pyrenaicus rufula on the verge of extinction.

Dehesa is a semi-natural habitat, requiring management to maintain it. However, traditional management systems are being lost, and several changes are apparent. Intensification, especially due to the increase in numbers of grazing and foraging livestock, is affecting the habitat's productivity and, in particular, impeding regeneration; this, combined with senescence of the trees leads to a gradual thinning, while the appearance of one or two diseases of the Western Holm and Cork Oaks is accelerating this process. Conversely, abandonment sees the development of scrub and a decline in its productivity. The general lack of prey, given declines in Red-legged Partridge and Rabbit, two cornerstone species in the Mediterranean food chain, is also worrying and additional to this habitat degradation. Overhunting of these species is certainly not helping their recovery, while poaching of endangered species still occurs and use of poison baits, though in general at a lower level than in the rest of Spain, is locally a cause for concern.

While the continuing upsurge in numbers of people spending their free time in rural areas is probably causing most disturbance from the tourism sector, even supposedly 'eco-friendly' activities such as birdwatching and photography can have local impacts, as disturbance to breeding Spanish Imperial Eagles and lekking Great Bustards has shown on a few occasions. Visitors should consider carefully whether their actions could be detrimental to the birds they are watching.


Calandra Larks Melanocorypha calandra remain common and widespread in more open fields, and the song of several competing males is a feature of early mornings in late winter and spring (photo: Javier Prieta Díaz).

Power lines in Extremadura are a significant problem for numerous species, especially the larger eagles, vultures, storks and larger steppe species such as bustards (Otididae). Numerous black spots are known where birds are regularly found dead, either through collision with the wires or due to electrocution, though many remain undetected. Very slowly, the Extremaduran authorities, in conjunction with one of the electric companies, are investing money in finding a solution to the problem, but these measures tend to be localised and only for cases involving deaths of Spanish Imperial Eagles. Elsewhere, nothing is done and in particular, private electric lines running into most of the huge estates in the region have a completely unknown impact.

The latest threat comes in the form of wind-generated power. Of 116 proposed windfarms in the region, 28 have been given the provisional go-ahead, 41 have been rejected and a further 47 are pending assessment given that they lack Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Clearly, if these are located in an environmentally friendly way, then their impact could be minimised but, given that all the projects have presented an insufficient technical level of EIAs, the final impact may be severely damaging in such an important area for large birds. At present, seven will be in the Sierra de Gata (an area with breeding Eurasian Black Vultures), six in La Serena, six around Plasencia and six in the Zafra–Río Bodión area; so for example, one project is within 10 km of Monfragüe and two pairs of Bonelli's Eagles will be affected by others. When the results of monitoring at other windfarms in Spain are taken into account (e.g. mortality figures of 125 Griffon Vultures in nine months at just one windfarm in Castellón and 350 deaths in Sória; Álvaro Camiña pers. comm.), the implications are potentially frightening for a range of threatened species.

Illegal building developments are also to be rife in the region, and the recent case of building within the Llanos de Cáceres SPA, resulting in the loss of two important Great Bustard breeding and Lesser Kestrel feeding areas, but deemed to be legal by the regional high court, serves to highlight the difficulties at all levels regarding conservation in the region. Such illegal developments are now spreading into other parts of the region, especially adjacent to larger cities, beside reservoirs and in the northern mountains, while the regional authorities appear to take no interest in the fact and no action to halt it.

Indeed, possibly the greatest threat of all in Extremadura is the attitude of the public administrators towards these problems. Indifference and complicity are the words which best define the situation. There is even a certain degree of hostility among numerous civil servants and politicians towards wildlife and protected species, as the only impediment to their attempts to steamroller through grand development plans with impunity. Indeed, conservation ranks in fourth place within the region's administrative hierarchy, and the Ministry of the Environment is itself subordinated to that of Industry and Energy! Previously within the Ministry of Agriculture, it has been and is still clearly subject to the policies and politics which most seriously threaten the environment. There are currently plans for the region for the development of a refinery, and large-scale gas-power, wind-power and solar-power plants, some of which are planned to be located within currently protected areas. The money dedicated to conservation in the region is at best scarce, and often comes from European funds—and even then is occasionally siphoned off to other causes.


Male Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius in winter plumage. This species is a widespread resident of broken ground throughout the region, except for upland areas (photo: Luis Venancio).

Conservation

BirdLife International's 'Spanish Steppes Appeal' in 1992, especially at the British Birdwatching Fair, helped to raise the area's international profile, though even within Spain it remained in many ways fairly low on the agenda until relatively recently. Fortunately, one of the longest-standing conservation NGOs, ADENEX (Asociación para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y los Recursos de Extremadura) has been operating in the area since 1978 and SEO/BirdLife, the first conservation NGO in Spain (since 1954), has maintained a network of IBA caretakers (about 20) since 1998, has had a conservation officer working there since 2003, and, in spring 2006, finally established a regional office.

Extremaduran conservation NGOs are, however, still very weak. Despite a slight resurgence of activity with the planned decommissioning of nuclear power plants in Spain, ADENEX has lost a considerable part of the power it had 20 years ago, during the anti-nuclear age. In line with this decline, a large number of very small NGOs working at a local scale have appeared, especially in Badajoz, such as AMUS, GRUS, DEMA and others; these normally deal only with local issues or are specialised towards given projects or species. SEO/BirdLife has traditionally had little presence in Extremadura, especially since its members there were also members of the other NGOs operating in the region and undertook their conservation work within these bodies. In 2000, however, the dearth of bird conservation activity from these bodies finally prompted the members of SEO/BirdLife in Extremadura to begin pressurising head office to take a more active role in conservation matters there. As a result of this pressure, SEO/BirdLife now has an actively growing organisation in the region, which has enabled it to reactivate its BBS programme and individual species censuses. Nonetheless, owing to the low number of members in the region, which will increase only with great difficulty, combined with low financing, it is still too weak, as with the rest of the NGOs in the region, to effectively combat the numerous threats which loom over the wealth of protected species and habitats. This is particularly true of those problems deriving from powerful economic sectors such as agriculture, energy production or the construction industry.

The first Extremadura Birdwatching Fair was held in Monfragüe in March 2006 and the second was held in March 2007.While ornithological tourism is currently seen as being of great potential, it is actually dependent on conservation in the region, and not vice versa—given the relatively small impact that birdwatching and wildlife tourists have in the region compared with the size of the internal tourism market, and also given the high seasonality of the activity. Indeed, while Extremadura is investing heavily in promoting 'green' tourism, paradoxically it turns a blind eye to many flagrant breaches of environmental legislation, reducing the conservation value of this extraordinary region.

Protected areas Since a recent change in the law, three types of protected area now fall within the 'Network of Protected Areas of Extremadura': (1) Natural Protected Areas (formerly RENPEX); (2) Natura 2000 network sites (SPAs and Sites of Community Importance); and (3) other entities, including National Parks, areas protected under international conventions (e.g. Biosphere reserves), private protected areas and trans-border sites. (1) The Natural Protected Areas network covers a total of c. 290,000 ha (6.9% of the region), comprising just two Natural Parks, Special Conservation Areas (which correspond to the first four SPAs declared in Extremadura) and other inferior categories such as Natural Reserves, Greenbelt Parks, Ecological Corridors and even Singular Trees. (2) Natura 2000 network, which also covers all the RENPEX sites and increases the surface area of protected sites to c. 31% of the entire region. Particularly noteworthy is the increase in number of SPAs declared by the Extremaduran authorities since 2003 to date, without doubt in response to the European Commission ruling against Spain for its failure to declare sufficient SPAs, especially in certain Autonomous Communities, including Extremadura. Considerable pressure has also been exerted on the regional government by the conservation NGOs to increase the SPA network, especially given that the European Union used the IBA catalogue drawn up by BirdLife International's partner in Spain, the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO; www.seo.org), as its reference. Consequently, thanks to this pressure, SPAs have increased from 14 (covering c. 14.4% of the region) in 2003 to 69 (covering 26.2%) in 2006. Nevertheless, SEO/BirdLife is continuing with its programme in the IBAs not yet declared SPAs. Indeed, the SEO/BirdLife IBA programme received one of the most prestigious awards given to environmental conservation programmes in Spain in 2004: the BBVA award to the Conservation of Biodiversity in Spain. This recognition of the work undertaken on the protection and conservation of IBAs has a special meaning in Extremadura, where the high proportion of the territory declared as an IBA demands a concerted effort from the SEO/BirdLife team (staff and IBA caretakers).

Extremadura is one of the regions in Spain with least information about its wildlife and is possibly the worst in terms of sharing what information is collected; moreover, the methods of collecting data are often unscientific. No research centres exist and the universities dedicate little effort to biodiversity themes. The regional government also does little, and acceptable census data (extending back only 5&$150;10 years) exist for only eight species: Black Stork, the three vultures, Golden, Bonelli's and Spanish Imperial Eagles and Peregrine. These data are rarely published and indeed are sometimes deliberately withheld. Only when European funds are obtained are censuses of other species contracted out (e.g. egret colonies, Black-shouldered Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Red and Black Kites, Marsh Harrier, European Bee-eater, Sand Martin), though these are not always justified, and the results are sometimes dubious (e.g. Cattle Egret and Black-shouldered Kite). In addition, there is an annual campaign to save harrier nests and chicks during the harvest.


Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata are less widespread but perhaps more numerous overall than the larger Black-bellied Sandgrouse P. orientalis. Like many steppe species, both have suffered marked declines with intensification of the agricultural pseudosteppe habitats (photo: Manuel Calderón Carrasco).

A chronic lack of knowledge about steppe species is particularly evident. For example, despite a series of Great Bustard censuses, the data are not credible and serve neither to estimate the population size nor even to assess whether it is increasing or decreasing. The three censuses of Lesser Kestrel in the region were undertaken in different ways, making it all but impossible to interpret the results. Perhaps the worst case is the annual census of wintering wildfowl: poor censuses until 1995 were followed by seven years without any counts and then two years (2003 and 2005) with censuses funded by European monies and nothing subsequently. It is no surprise that virtually nothing is known about the remaining species, although things are starting to change. Since 1998, with the start of surveying for the Spanish Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) (Martí & Del Moral 2003), the first real data on the distribution and abundance of the commoner species have begun to appear, though a huge amount remains to be discovered. The BBA was a spur to attracting new individuals to take up birdwatching in the region, although the general level of knowledge is still rather low. SEO/BirdLife undertakes various censuses annually in Spain, primarily of threatened species; although Extremadura is a high-priority area, it is extremely difficult to cover owing to the large size of the bird populations, geographical restrictions to the coverage achieved and the scarcity of volunteer recorders. However, the 2004 White Stork survey saw a huge effort in order to cover the >11,000 pairs in the region. In 2005 it was the turn of Little Bustard and both sandgrouse species. After 10 years of the SACRE (Seguimiento de Aves Comunes Reproductoras en España [Monitoring of Common Breeding Birds in Spain]) programme, good coverage of Cáceres has finally been achieved, but Badajoz still has the second-worst provincial coverage in the country. ADENEX has been studying and undertaking censuses of the wintering cranes for over 10 years. All this means a huge, almost overwhelming effort by the few Extremaduran volunteer birdwatchers, who in addition are the only ones who actually publish anything about the region (see www.seocaceres.org, www.seo.org and www.adenex.org).

How can you help? Sadly, a significant number of records made by visitors simply disappear without trace. All (including old) records should be sent to seo.caceres@gmail.com for potential inclusion in the Anuario Ornitológico de Extremadura (Extremadura Bird Report), published periodically. A detailed list of all species which have occurred in the region, including local and national rarities, can be found on www.seocaceres.org, along with further information on the region's birds. Even if not visiting the region, do please consider joining SEO/BirdLife as a member for a year or two, since, as for so many environmental NGOs in Spain, the lack of members and funding makes their work extremely difficult.

When, where and how Like many winter visitors, Common Cranes are present in numbers from late October until mid February, before a gradual replacement with summer visitors; White Stork (January), Great Spotted Cuckoo and Lesser Kestrel (both February) are among the earliest to start returning. The peak influx of summer visitors is already underway by mid April. The latest incomers, White-rumped Swift Apus caffer and Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes, do not tend to reappear until about mid-May. Great Bustards display from February, peaking late March, and finish largely around mid April. Breeding activity typically starts and ends relatively early given the winter growing season and early food availability. Temperatures from mid May onwards (sometimes earlier in dryer springs) start peaking in the low 30°Cs and from mid June into August make it all but unbearable except in early morning. Autumn and winter birding is greatly underrated and often excellent, especially given flocks of the resident species. Spring weather is notoriously variable, including the chance of rain and cold winds well into April or early May, and if a visit to the higher mountains to the north is planned, then it should be borne in mind that poor weather can occur well into May (rarely June), and suitable clothing is essential. The peak period in Monfragüe is the Easter week, especially Easter weekend, and there is a local romería festival from Torrejón el Rubio to the park's castle on Easter Monday, which may be best avoided if time is short! Given the easy accessibility of pseudosteppe, dehesa, low mountain, riverine and reservoir habitats, the northeast of Cáceres province, especially around Trujillo/Monfragüe, is perhaps the best base for an all-round visit. However, many other areas are just as good in more specific terms: e.g. La Serena (pseudosteppe and low mountain), west of Cáceres (pseudosteppe and the Sierra de San Pedro), Mérida (riverine, low mountain and reservoir), Plasencia (easy access to Monfragüe and also the northern mountains). The area is readily reached by road, via Madrid (2.5 hours), Lisbon (3.5 hours) or Seville/Doñana (6+ hours to northeast Cáceres), as the A5/E90 (former NV) from Madrid to Badajoz passes from northeast to southwest through the region. A train service runs past the northern edge of Monfragüe, though given the distances that need to be covered to visit the different habitats, a vehicle is invaluable for a typical visit. Cycling would be extremely rewarding, but is really only recommended for fit and experienced cyclists. Vehicles can be hired easily from airports and there is plenty of accommodation from the smaller Casa Rural and Pension-types up to larger hotels and Paradors, though reserving in advance for a spring visit is recommended in smaller establishments. English-speaking guides are best contacted before visiting, though may possibly be hired locally in and around Monfragüe, while some Casa Rural owners guide. A few other individuals and most UK-based wildlife tourism companies also visit the region, but only a couple of guides are actually resident in the region since the work is very spring-biased.

Acknowledgments

We would particularly like to thank Martin G. Kelsey and Dave Langlois for their corrections to and suggestions for this article, and also thank all past and present members of the Cáceres Ornithological Group (GOCE) who have freely given of their time and information over the past few years since its formation. Indeed, all the money generated from the article will be donated to the recently formed Cáceres Local Group (SEO-Cáceres) of SEO/BirdLife, and we thank all the photographers in particular for this gesture.

References

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 12, Cambridge.
Blázquez Caselles, A., Nieto Manzano, M. A., & Hernández Roldán, J. L. 2003. Mariposas diurnas de la Provincia de Cáceres. Consejería de Agricultura y Medio Ambiente, Junta de Extremadura, Mérida.
Cordero, A. I., & Schreur, G. 2005a. Los murciélagos forestales de Extremadura. In: López Caballero, J. M. (ed.), Conservación de la Naturaleza en Extremadura. Comunicaciones en Jornadas y Congresos 2002-2004, 219-230.
Consejería de Agricultura y Medio Ambiente, Junta de Extremadura, Mérida.
—2005b. Inventario de refugios de murciélagos cavernícolas de Extremadura. In: López Caballero, J. M. (ed.), Conservación de la Naturaleza en Extremadura. Comunicaciones en Jornadas y Congresos 2002-2004, 231-236. Consejería de Agricultura y Medio Ambiente, Junta de Extremadura, Mérida.
Devesa Alcaraz, J. A. 1995. Vegetación y Flora de Extremadura. Universitas Editorial,
Badajoz. Grove, A.T., & Rackham,O. 2001. The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: an ecological history. Yale University Press,Yale.
Madroño, A., González, C., & Atienza, J. C. (eds.) 2005. Libro Rojo de las Aves de España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad, SEO/BirdLife, Madrid.
Martí, R., & Del Moral, J. C. (eds.) 2003. Atlas de las Aves Reproductores de España. Dirección General de Conservación de la Naturaleza, SEO, Madrid.
Pérez-Bote, J. L., & Ledesma Carpi, B. 2006. Odonatos. Claves para la identificación de la Fauna Extremeña, No. 4, Servicio de publicaciones, Universidad de Extremadura, Cáceres.
Prieta, J. 2006. Aves de Extremadura Vol. 3. Anuario Adenex 2001-2003. Adenex, Mérida. Viada, C. (ed.) 1998. Áreas Importantes para las Aves en España. 2nd edn. SEO/BirdLife Monografía No. 5, Madrid.

Selected bibliography

Farino,T., & Lockwood, M. 2003. Travellers Nature Guides: Spain. OUP, Oxford.
García, E., & Paterson, A. 2003. Where to Watch Birds: southern & western Spain. 2nd edn. Christopher Helm, London.
Hilbers, D. 2006. The Nature Guide to Extremadura. Crossbill Guides, Nijmegen.
López Gallego, A. 2000. Dónde ver aves y naturaleza en Extremadura. Editorial Albarragena, Monasterio (Badajoz).
Muddeman, J. 2000. A Birdwatching Guide to Extremadura. Arlequin Press, Colchester.


Always a stronghold for the species, the region boasts >11,000 pairs of White Storks Ciconia ciconia, and these are a great feature of both urban and rural habitats, the majority being in the province of Cáceres (photo: John Muddeman).

Appendix 1. Species of European Conservation Concern breeding in Extremadura.

English nameEstimated popn1SPEC category2
Gadwall Anas strepera50-150SPEC3
Shoveler Anas clypeata5-15SPEC3
Common Pochard Aythya ferina5-20SPEC3
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa300,000SPEC2
Common Quail Coturnix coturnix30,000-40,000SPEC3
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus200-300SPEC3
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax131-150SPEC3
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides5SPEC3
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea50SPEC3
Black Stork Ciconia nigra195-220SPEC2
White Stork Ciconia ciconia11,190-12,000SPEC2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia20-25SPEC2
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus199-300SPEC3
Black Kite Milvus migrans2,670-3,400SPEC3
Red Kite Milvus milvus250-314SPEC2
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus183-190SPEC3
Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus900SPEC1; Globally NT
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus300-500SPEC3
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus10SPEC3
Booted Eagle Aquila pennata>500SPEC3
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos124-130SPEC3
Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata97-105SPEC3
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalbertii47SPEC1; EN
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni3,750-5,000SPEC1; Globally VU
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus1,500-2,500SPEC3
Purple Swamp-hen Porphyrio porphyrio>50SPEC3
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax8,000-15,000 indiv.SPEC1; VU; Globally NT
Great Bustard Otis tarda5,500-6,500 indiv.SPEC1; Globally VU
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus5,000-7,500SPEC3
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola1,000-2,000SPEC3
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus50-75SPEC2
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica1,100SPEC3
Little Tern Sternula albifrons300SPEC3
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida0-100SPEC3
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis1,000-2,000 indiv.SPEC3
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata1,000-1,500 indiv.SPEC3
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur80,000SPEC3
Barn Owl Tyto alba2,000SPEC3
Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops10,000SPEC2
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo500-1,000SPEC3
Little Owl Athene noctua15,000SPEC3
European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus1,000SPEC2
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis1,500SPEC3
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster35,000SPEC3
European Roller Coracias garrulus1,000SPEC2
Hoopoe Upupa epops200,000SPEC3
Wryneck Jynx torquilla100SPEC3
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis5,000SPEC3
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra200,000SPEC3
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla100,000SPEC3
Crested Lark Galerida cristata300,000SPEC3
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae250,000SPEC3
Wood Lark Lullula arborea200,000SPEC2
Sky Lark Alauda arvensis1,000SPEC3
Sand Martin Riparia riparia7,010-9,000SPEC3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica400,000SPEC3
House Martin Delichon urbicum300,000SPEC3
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris100-1,000SPEC3
Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes10,000SPEC3
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus250-500SPEC2
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe500SPEC3
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica50,000SPEC2
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura500-1,000SPEC3
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis100SPEC3
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius5,000SPEC3
Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis2,500-5,000SPEC3
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata150,000SPEC2
Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli20,000SPEC23
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata2,000SPEC3
Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus20,000SPEC2
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis25,000SPEC34
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator200,000SPEC2
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax150-400SPEC3
House Sparrow Passer domesticus2,000,000SPEC3
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus25,000SPEC3
Linnet Carduelis cannabina200,000SPEC2
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia100,000SPEC3
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana5,000SPEC2
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra1,000,000SPEC2

1 population estimates refer to the number of pairs unless stated otherwise; figures in bold are census results and represent minimum confirmed numbers. Upper estimates are also given where appropriate. (From Prieta et al. 2006; www.seocaceres.org)
2 per BiE2 (BirdLife International 2004).
3 included within P. bonelli in BiE2.
4 included within L. excubitor in BiE2.

Appendix 2. Species of European Conservation Concern wintering in Extremadura.

English nameEstimated popn1SPEC category2
Gadwall Anas strepera4,750-7,000SPEC3
Pintail Anas acuta12,500-26,000SPEC3
Shoveler Anas clypeata38,200-50,000SPEC3
Common Pochard Aythya ferina2,160-3,190SPEC3
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula92-1,100SPEC3
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa>700,000SPEC2
Common Quail Coturnix coturnix>1,000SPEC3
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus<>SPEC3
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax<>SPEC3
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides<>SPEC3
Black Stork Ciconia nigra51-75SPEC2
White Stork Ciconia ciconia6,952-8,000SPEC2
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia10 (>1,000 migr.)SPEC2
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus>500SPEC3
Black Kite Milvus migrans<>SPEC3
Red Kite Milvus milvus7,700SPEC2
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus<>SPEC3
Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus900 pairsSPEC1; Globally NT
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus1 recordSPEC3
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus300-500SPEC3
Booted Eagle Aquila pennata<>SPEC3
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos124-130 pairsSPEC3
Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata97-105 pairsSPEC3
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalbertii47 pairsSPEC1; EN
Osprey Pandion haliaetus10-25SPEC3
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni>100SPEC1; Globally VU
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus6,000SPEC3
Purple Swamp-hen Porphyrio porphyrio>100SPEC3
Common Crane Grus grus70,000SPEC2
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax4,800-6,800SPEC1; VU; Globally NT
Great Bustard Otis tarda5,500-6,500SPEC1; Globally VU
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus10,000-20,000SPEC3
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus0-5SPEC3
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus>250,000SPEC2
Dunlin Calidris alpina964-2,000SPEC3
Ruff Philomachus pugnax25-150SPEC2
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus>100SPEC3
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago20,000SPEC3
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola2,500-5,000SPEC3
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa120,000 (migr.)SPEC2
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata100SPEC2
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus50SPEC3
Common Redshank Tringa totanus200-500SPEC2
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola0-25SPEC3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos500SPEC3
Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii>200 (migr.)SPEC1; Globally NT
Little Tern Sternula albifrons1 recordSPEC3
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida2 recordsSPEC3
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis1,000-2,000SPEC3
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata1,000-1,500SPEC3
Barn Owl Tyto alba2,000 pairsSPEC3
Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops>100SPEC2
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo500-1,000 pairsSPEC3
Little Owl Athene noctua15,000 pairsSPEC3
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus200SPEC3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis4,000SPEC3
Hoopoe Upupa epops25,000SPEC3
Wryneck Jynx torquilla>50SPEC3
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis5,000 pairsSPEC3
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra>500,000SPEC3
Crested Lark Galerida cristata>750,000SPEC3
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae>750,000SPEC3
Wood Lark Lullula arborea>500,000SPEC2
Sky Lark Alauda arvensis>1,000,000SPEC3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica25-100SPEC3
House Martin Delichon urbicum50-200SPEC3
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura500-1,000 pairsSPEC3
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius>10,000SPEC3
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata>300,000SPEC2
Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus20,000 pairsSPEC2
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis>50,000SPEC33
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax150-400 pairsSPEC3
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris50,000-200,000SPEC3
House Sparrow Passer domesticus2,000,000 pairsSPEC3
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus25,000 pairsSPEC3
Linnet Carduelis cannabina500,000SPEC2
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia>200,000 pairsSPEC3
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra>2,000,000SPEC2

1 Population estimates are of individuals unless stated otherwise; figures in bold are census results and are usually minimum numbers. Other estimates are given where appropriate. (From Prieta et al. 2006; www.seocaceres.org)
2 Per BiE2 (BirdLife International 2004).
3 Included within L. excubitor in BiE2.

John Muddeman is a freelance natural history tour guide, writer and translator, with a special interest in Extremadura and its wildlife.
Javier Prieta Diaz is a veterinarian, but in his 'spare' time is also the coordinator of the SEO-Cáceres provincial group, provincial co-ordinator for all the SEO/BirdLife census projects, author for the national birds Red Data Book and compiler and editor of the Extremadura Bird Report.
Marcelino Cardalliaguet Guerra, an economist, is the Regional Representative of the SEO/BirdLife delegation in Extremadura and directly responsible for most of the organisation's projects and conservation activities in the region.

Many of you will be aware that BirdGuides recently published the first 100 years of British Birds on interactive DVD-ROM. I am delighted to be able, over the course of the next few weeks, to bring webzine readers a selection of articles from British Birds with the kind consent of the board. I hope that each article will encourage you to subscribe to this informative journal; you can find details of how to do this at the British Birds website.

We also have a special offer of a year's subscription to British Birds and a copy of BBi for £132, a saving of £15. You can find more details here.

Each of the British Birds articles will be available to all for a week, and will then become "subscriber only".

Written by: John Muddeman, Javier Prieta Diaz and Marcelino Cardalliaguet Guerra