Friday, 6 May 2016

Monfrague, Embalse de Almaraz-Arrocampo and Belen Plain, Extremadura.

Mountains, Lakes, Plains and Rain but that did not spoil the birding.
Donana and Extremadura tour Day Seven.

After looking at the weather reports we decided to head north in to the mountains instead of south out on to the plain and in general this turned out to be a very wise move as for most of the day the only rain we saw was whilst we were moving between sites but we did finish just slightly earlier than normal as the rain got quite bad out on the Belen Plain area at the end of the day.
W drove north and made our first stop by the bridge over the Rio Tozo and in the 30 minutes or so we were there we recorded 33 different species including Reed (Carricero Común / Acrocephalus scrpaceus), Great Reed (Carricero Tordal / Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Cetti's (Ruisenor Bastardo / Cettia cetti) and Sardinian Warblers (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala), Hoopoe (Abubilla / Upupa epops), Corn Bunting (Triguero / Emberiza calandra), Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs), Red-rumped Swallow (Golondrina Dáurica / Hirudo daurica), Grey (Garza Real / Ardea cinerea) and Purple Herons (Garza Imperial / Ardea purpurea), Gadwall (Anade Friso / Anas strepera), Kingfisher (Martin Pescador / Alcedo atthis), Golden Oriole (Oropéndola / Oriolus oriolus), European Bee-eater (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster), White Wagtail (Lavandera Blanca / Montacilla alba), Cirl Bunting (Escribano Soteno / Emberiza cirlus), Common Cuckoo (Cuco Común / Cuculus canorus), Zitting Cisticola (Buitrón / Cisticola juncidis), Spanish Sparrow (Gorrión Moruno / Passer hispaniolensis), House Martin (Avión Común / Delichon urbica), Woodchat Shrike (Alcaudón Común / Lanius senator), Iberian / Azure-winged Magpie (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus) and Common Swift (Vencejo Común / Apus apus). In the same area we hear lots of Perez's Frog (Rana Común / Pelophylax perezi) and saw a couple of fast moving Large Psammodromus (Lagartija colilarga / Psammodromus algirus).
We moved on along the road to the car park right at the bottom of the hill up to the Castillo of Monfrague, on the way there we saw a very smart pale phase Booted Eagle (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus), Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica) and several Crag Martins (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris).
From the car park six of us walked up to the next parking area just below the castillo whilst Pam got the paints out again near the van, on the way up we heard and saw Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), a singing Woodlark (Totovia / Lullula arborea), Long-tailed (Mito / Aegithalos caudatus), Great (Carbonera Común / Parus major) and Blue Tits (Herrerillo Común / Parus caeruleus), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Short-toed Treecreeper (Agateador Común / Certhia brachydactyla), Raven (Cuervo / Corvus corax), Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes), Jay (Arrendajo / Garrulus glandarius), Blackcap (Curruca Capirotada / Sylvia atricailla), a male Subalpine Warbler (Curruca Carrasquena / Sylvia cantillans) and near to the top of the walk Griffon (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus), European Black (Buitre Negro / Aegypius monachus) and Egyptian Vultures (Alimoche Común / Neophron percnopterus) and a singing male Blue-rock Thrush (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius).
Just after reaching the top we checked a small area of wildflowers and found several species including Common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum), Crown Daisy (Chrysanthemum carinatum), Brown Bluebell (Jacinto bastardo / Dipcadi serotinum), Borage (Borago officinalis), Common Snapdragon (Antirrhinum major), Great Mullein (Verbascum giganteum), Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), Purple Bugloss (Echium plantagineum), Rosy garlic (Allium roseum) and Star Clover (Trifolium stellatum) before starting to make our way back to the van. On the way down we felt a few spots of rain which quickly turned in to a real down pour, Mike L, Mike H, Judy, Linda and I sheltered under a rather porous Oak tree whilst John pushed on down to the van getting rather damp on the way. 
Once we were back at the van and had dried off a tad we moved on to Pena Falcon just down the road but we did not stay long as the place was heaving with a rather noisy crowd of coach trippers, but before we moved on we saw several more Griffon Vultures, some drying out after the rain, Peregrine Falcon (Halcón Peregrino / Falco peregrinus), Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros), Black Stork (Ciguena Negra / Ciconia nigra) and Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia).
Again we continued on a short way to the long bridge over the river where we again picked out Alpine Swifts (Vencejo Real / Apus melba) from amongst the hundreds of House Martins and up on a ridge a pair of Bonelli's Eagle (Aguila-azor / Hieraetus faciatus),one of which was sat in a dead tree and the other on a rock.
We made a brief stop near the next dam and saw quite a few more European Black Vultures amongst a large group of Griffons and an Egyptian Vulture sat on a nest. 
Our last stop before lunch was back at the last view point where we set the scopes up and watched the Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aguila Imperial Ibérica / Aguila adalberti) which was flying off to the right of the main crag, it was soon joined by the other bird of the pair and the both landed in a tree on the opposite side of the river. The one bird flew off and disappeared but the second bird flew up and landed on the crags and the flew up again and had a squabble with a Griffon before returning to the original tree. quite a show!!!! In the same area we had Turtle Dove (Tórtola Europea / Streptopelia turtur), Robin (Petirrojo Europeo / Erithacus rubecula), Nightingale (Ruisenor Común / Luscinia megarhynchos) and Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus). 
After getting such stunning views of the Eagle we were already for some lunch so stopped just a short way up the road at a bar and sat out side where we could still do some birding and whilst we ate our sandwiches and Potata Bravas we sa and heard Wryneck (Torcecuello / Jynx torquilla), Rock Sparrow (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia), White Stork (Ciguena Blanca / Ciconia ciconia) and what looked like an Italian Sparrow (the hybrid between House and Spanish which were both there) which were new for the day and another 22 species.
After Lunch we continued on along the same road northish and then jumped on to the motorway going east for a few Kms before coming off again and going south to the large area of water called the Embalse de Almaraz-Arrocampo where we had a look at the reed beds ear the first locked hide. On the way in we had a single and only Sand Martin (Avión Zapador / Riparia riparia) of the trip and over the reeds at least three Little Bittern (Avetorillo Común / Ixobrychus minutus) two females and a stunning male. In the same area we also had Little (Garceta Común / Egreeta garzetta), Cattle (Garcilla Bueyera / Bubulcus ibis) and Great White Egret (Garceta Grande / Egretta alba), Purple and Grey Herons, Spoonbill (Espátula Común / Platalea leucorodia), plenty of fighting Purple Swamp-hens (Calamon Común / Porphyrio porphyrio), Common Moorhen (Gallineta Común / Gallinulas chloropus) and Common Magpie (Urraca / Pica pica). After a while we got back into the van and drove around to the next hide getting more good views of a second male Little Bittern and from the ramp up to the hide where we joined a group of other birders we saw both Gull-billed (Pagaza Piconegra / Gelochelidon nilotica) and Little Terns (Charrancito Común / Sterna albifrons), Great Crested Grebe (Somormujo Lavanco / Podiceps cristatus), Great Cormorant (Cormorán Grande / Phalacrocroax carbo) another Great White Egret and a Squacco (Garcilla Cangrejera / Ardeola ralloides) which gave us an impressive list of herons for the site. We moved around the lake a little further but the rain started to get quite heavy and started to make the lake look like it was steaming as it got very heavy so we made a dash for it and headed back down to Trujillo and out on to the Belen Plain.
Out on the plain the visibility was not to good and we only saw Mallard (Anade Azulón / Anas platyrhynchos), Crested Lark (Cogujada / Galerida cristata), Corn Bunting and White Stork before we called it a day and went back to the hotel for a very nice meal there on our last night.

Photographs from the top: 2x Griffon Vulture (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus), Pams picture of Branched Asphodel, the group birding from the long bridge, House Martin (Avión Común / Delichon urbica) nest on the dam wall, 2x Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aguila Imperial Ibérica / Aguila adalberti), Sand Martin (Avión Zapador / Riparia riparia), House Sparrow (Gorrión Común / Passer domesticus), 2x Little Bittern (Avetorillo Común / Ixobrychus minutus) and the group taking a well earned break at lunch time.

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