Extremadura 14 – 22 March 2017
Wild Central Spain
Extremadura is one of the few remaining truly wild areas of Spain and, indeed, Europe. The region is renowned for its amazing variety of birds of prey, especially in Monfragüe National Park, and special species such as the bustards and larks to be found on the rolling plains of the Spanish steppes.
The plains around Trujillo and Cáceres form part of the great Spanish steppes with their fascinating assemblage of birds. Here we will search for great bustards performing their incredible breeding display; if we are lucky, an astonishing ritual in which the male turns himself into the appearance of a huge white pom-pom of feathers. Other steppe birds in this area are little bustards, stone-curlews and both pin-tailed and black-bellied sandgrouse.
Crested and calandra larks are also found in the plains. Another speciality is Spanish sparrow, a rather local bird in Spain despite its name.
Calandra lark, above, and azure-winged magpie, left (Steve Fletcher).
We will visit Monfragüe National Park, some 25 miles north of Trujillo. This is one of the most outstanding areas for seeing birds of prey in a country which is itself probably the best for raptors in Europe. It has the core Spanish population of black vultures, which breed here along with griffon and Egyptian vultures. Eagles are well represented here with Spanish imperial, Bonelli's, golden, short-toed and booted. From the various viewpoints, which make fine vantage points for raptor-watching, other species that can be seen include black stork, chough and rock bunting.
Tozo River, with water crowfoot. Behind is open holm oak dehesa.
The lower valleys approaching Monfragüe hold good stands of holm oak woodland, the ‘dehesa’ or wood pasture that is such a distinctive feature of Extremadura. The dehesa is famous for the wintering cranes, most of which leave in February, but here also are azure-winged magpies, that amazing, colourful bird of the east with an outpost in Spain. One theory was that they originated from birds escaped during trade with China in earlier times, but proof that it is a relict population has recently come to light with the discovery of subfossil bones.
We stay at the charming Finca Santa Marta, a granite-built olive oil mill converted into a country inn, situated in the countryside south of Trujillo.
Great bustards (Steve Fletcher).
As well as those already mentioned, we should see a selection of the following: Montagu’s harrier, red, black and black-shouldered kites, peregrine, raven, hoopoe, blue rock thrush, little owl, southern grey shrike, red-rumped swallow, woodlark, Sardinian warbler, cirl and corn buntings, spotless starling and great spotted cuckoo.
Patches of white Spanish broom and pink storksbills bring colour to fields close to Trujillo. Miniature daffodils include hoop petticoat and angel’s tears narcissi. Early orchids, such as conical, champagne and naked man orchids, irises and lupins are flowering.
Mediterranean catchfly Silene colorata
Spain is western Europe’s stronghold for wild mammals, including genet, mongoose and lynx, but these are mainly secretive or nocturnal. Stripe-necked terrapins and Iberian wall lizards are more obvious.
Excursions will include visits to Monfragüe Natural Park, including places such as Peña Falcón and the Tiétar cliffs; the holm oak dehesa region; and exploration of the plains around Trujillo. We also spend a morning in the wonderful old town of Trujillo with its striking central square and breeding white storks and lesser kestrels.
Price: £1,550 per person in twin room for eight nights (Tuesday to Wednesday)
Single room supplement: £200
En suite facilities
Flights: Scheduled easyJet ﬂights Gatwick – Madrid or Liverpool – Madrid.
Maximum number (two leaders): 14
Traditional low intensity farming, especially non-irrigated arable farmland but also seasonal grazing, supports much of the special wildlife of Extremadura – and can never be protected just by nature reserves.
The conservation of the Spanish steppes and ‘dehesa’ wood pasture is a great priority for the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (Spanish Ornithological Society / BirdLife Spain).
Cork oak dehesa in Extremadura
Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes. He’s also a qualified soccer coach, for one son’s under 14 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.