Extremadura 10 – 17 February 2015
Cranes and much more
Crane season in wild, central Spain runs from November to February. Some 100,000 cranes overwinter in the region, providing one of Europe’s great wildlife spectacles.
Cranes in Extremadura (Steve Fletcher)
The cranes feed on acorns in the ‘dehesa’ or wood pasture that is such a distinctive feature of Extremadura. They also feed in rice paddies and maize stubble fields, sometimes in groups, sometimes big flocks. And you can hear their evocative bugling: birds overhead or tucked out of sight in the holm oaks.
The cranes may be reason enough to travel to Extremadura in February, but there is much more. Other wintering birds include waterfowl and, on the steppes, flocks of golden plovers and lapwings, the latter avefría – cold bird – in Spanish.
Also on the steppes are impressive great bustards,
often in small parties as the breeding season
approaches. In the air, the sight of one of the world’s
heaviest flying birds is quite something. Other steppe
birds include 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 Nationall 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 vultures and both Spanish imperial and golden eagles. From the various crags, which make fine vantage points for raptor-watching, other species that can be seen include black stork, chough and rock bunting.
There are clear signs of spring, too, in February. White storks are bill-clapping on their huge nests. Lesser kestrels will be back along with other migrants such as great spotted cuckoo, martins and swallows.
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. It’s a great place to see 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 sub-fossil bones.
Great bustards (Steve Fletcher).
As well as those already mentioned, we should see a selection of the following: Bonelli’s eagle, red and black-shouldered kites, peregrine, raven, hoopoe, blue rock thrush, little owl, southern grey shrike, woodlark, Dartford and Sardinian warblers, hawfinch, cirl and corn buntings, Thekla lark, spotless starling and rock sparrow.
Ahead of Extremadura’s fierce summer, the countryside is green, with wayside flowers such as Iberian milk-vetch and field marigolds. We will look for miniature daffodils: hoop petticoat and angel’s tears narcissi.
Mediterranean catchfly Silene colorata
We will visit the Crane Information Centre, dehesa and rice paddies at Moheda Alta. Other excursions will include visits to Monfragüe Natural Park, including places such as Peña Falcón and the Tiétar cliffs; 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: £1,430 per person in twin room for a full week (Tuesday to Tuesday)
Single room supplement: £200
En suite facilities
Flights: Scheduled easyJet ﬂights Gatwick – 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 13 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.
Chris has regularly co-led Honeyguide's Extremadura holiday for many years.
Martin Kelsey OBE is our regular leader in Extremadura where he lives with his family, close to Finca Santa Marta. Diary uncertainties mean we are not sure if he'll be co-leading the Honeyguide group in 2015, at the moment.
Martin's background in ecology includes a three-year study on marsh warblers. After three years in the Amazon rain forest with the British Ornithologists' Union, where he met his wife Claudia, he worked for BirdLife International, before joining Save the Children.