Extremadura – in search of Cranes
With Guildford RSPB Group — Autumn 2018
Only five people had signed up for this trip to Extremadura, probably because the group had visited there just two years previously. I had heard about the huge flocks of wintering cranes that visit Extremadura and I didn’t want to miss seeing them. Simon, our NatureTrek guide, was really knowledgeable about the birds and the area, as well as being an all-round great guy.
This time we stayed at the lovely Hotel Viña las Torres near Trujillo. It was a beautiful place with a lovely host. Every evening we were presented with a fantastic home cooked meal made mostly from local ingredients by our host and cooked from a recipe book of traditional dishes from the area that she was compiling. The only slight downside to our stay there was the cold; unfortunately, our beautiful old rooms had rather inefficient heating. However, each evening there was a roaring great fire in the main sitting room.
This was a week of very intense birding, mostly exploring the neighbouring steppes. There were larks everywhere and plenty of raptors. We had several good sightings of Great Bustards and more distant views of Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. We had daily views of Hoopoes and often of an Iberian Grey Shrike, and we frequently came across flocks of Iberian (azure-winged) Magpies and Spotless Starlings.
We couldn’t be in Extremadura without making a visit to Monfragüe National Park. At the famous Salto de El Gitano (Gypsy Falls) we were surrounded by dozens of circling Vultures, Griffon and Cinereous, plus an Egyptian Vulture that had forgotten to migrate. The faint outline of the low moon behind the rocks was a visual bonus. There were the usual Black Redstart and Blue Rock Thrush to be seen and, when we moved on down the river, we had a great view of a Spanish Imperial Eagle right above us.
On our only wet day, we drove around the Alcollarin reservoir where there were plenty of birds including some Black-necked Grebes and a splendid Kingfisher. We spent the afternoon in Trujillo for some urban birding followed by a walk up to the castle, an old Arab fortress, where we watched huge flocks of starlings come in to roost on the rooftops below us.
The highlight of the trip for me were the Common Cranes and we made two trips to the rice fields where they feed. They were rather shy so they took-off as soon as we got near. The sky was then full of lines of Cranes, probably over 2,000 of them with a few White Storks and Cattle Egrets as well.
On our second morning in the rice fields we drove through thick mist. We could hear the Cranes calling but could not see them. Then, as we got closer, they started to appear through the mist. Quite an amazing experience.
Whilst in the rice fields we also enjoyed watching a family of Red Avadavats, two adults and three juveniles.
There were also interesting things to be found in the hotel gardens including a rare sighting of a Yellow-Browed Warbler.
John, one of our group, is a keen astronomer and, on a very clear evening devoid of light pollution, he took us out onto the hotel’s tennis court for an interesting evening of star-gazing using the birding telescopes and our ordinary binoculars.
There was a bit of excitement on our final day when Simon spotted a Wryneck on a stone wall but by the time we had stopped and parked the van it had disappeared. We then spent a lovely afternoon on the hillside above Madronera where we watched the sun descending, and the sunset colours became even more glorious as we made our way back to the hotel. It was a fitting end to the trip.