Extremadura & Donana – a Birdwatcher’s Delight – 19th March – 27th March 2011
Walking, wildlife and some history; the recipe for a perfect holiday for us, and we weren’t disappointed.
We drove past snowy mountaintops, through the rural heart of Spain, to Plasencia and the extraordinary sight of white storks nesting in many of the chimneys. We were to see storks nearly everywhere we went – there were even special nesting areas atop poles for them in some areas! Breakfast was served in the rooftop restaurant, from where we could see lesser kestrels around the Cathedral parapet.
We enjoyed undulating, pleasant walking in Monfrague Natural Park, led by our able Leader, Keith, up to the castle ruins. Here, we ate our lunch in the sunshine, accompanied by Swallowtail butterflies and overlooking the beautiful surrounding countryside. Here, we had a good view of many birds, notably Egyptian vultures, booted eagle and rock thrush, and hundreds of house martins nesting on a bridge.
Then, at the Salto de Gitano we had an excellent view of dozens of griffon vultures nesting on these massive crags, plus short-toed eagle and sparrowhawk. This was an amazing spot, alive with birds above and around us in the sunshine. There were many spring flowers, too – Spanish heather, asphodel, yellow trumpet flower, rock roses, Spanish bluebells, jonquil …
An early morning, and a complete change of scene at Trujillo, on the breezy Spanish Steppes, where our keen Dutch guide, Gottfried, introduced us to lekking Great Bustards, Little Bustards, Calandra Larks, Thekla Larks, Black-bellied and Pintailed Sandgrouse, and Black-winged Stilts. Then he took us to the Bullring in Montanchez to see Lesser Kestrels nesting under the roof tiles– and also a Hoopoe which stopped by.
On to Merida, where we enjoyed a lovely dawn walk over the Roman bridge to see the birds waking up. We saw Purple Gallinule, Cetti’s Warbler, Cattle Egrets, a Little Egret roost and some Squacco herons – to name but a few. Merida has a good selection of Roman ruins – the Temple of Diana, the Amphitheatre, etc, which are well worth a visit.
We travelled south to the Coto Donana, where the landscape changed yet again. Here were coastal plains, woods, lakes, and sandy roads in our Ranch-style village accommodation where the horse was king; and ponies ran wild in the meadows.
The vast lake had spoonbills and flocks of flamingo and we were fortunate to see a flight of these, their pink plumage illuminated in the sunlight.
There was an Olivaceous Warbler skulking by the Visitor Centre. We went on safari in the Natural and National Parks, in search of the Red-Knobbed Coot – which was waiting for us on one of the lakes, and we also saw glossy ibis in breeding plumage.
We enjoyed a lovely picnic at an isolated cabin, from where we could see an Imperial Eagle on a pylon. The landscape here was arable, with vast areas of grape vines, orange and olive groves, and strawberries under polytunnels(!) to feed a demanding public. We were impressed by the food here, and on our last night the kitchen delighted us by providing desserts in the form of Swans!