waxwing

Outing Report

Extramedura, Spain - 22nd to 27th April 2012.

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South Dublin members observing Common Terns at Talavan Reservoir. Picture by Godefried Schreur.

South Dublin Members at Talavan Reservoir, 26th April 2012 (picture: Godefried Schreur)

On Sunday 22nd of April, twenty people gathered at Dublin Airport for a Birding trip to the Extramedura region of Spain. An eclectic mix of bird watchers complete with Bins, Telescopes and Cameras, and high expectations of sights one does not get in Ireland. On arrival at Madrid we were whisked off by coach to the city of Caceras, an almost four hour journey with one stop. It would prove to be well worth all the travel.


I awoke on the first morning, in fact each morning to the wonderful screaming sounds of Swifts, in a clear blue sky. They were swooping all around, Common and Pallid Swifts and lots of Swallows; it was just a taste of what was to come.


Lesser Kestrel occupying old building in Caceras. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

Lesser Kestrel, Caceras, 23th April 2012 (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

A tour of the old part of Caceras gave us great sights of Lesser Kestrel (above) which nest in the old buildings. Even where buildings have been restored suitable nest boxes are part of the plan and this is the case throughout the region. A short walk took us to an area with a small stream and some small vegetable gardens. This proved to be a rich area for bird life. White Storks were active sitting on rather ragged looking nests on various chimney pots and ledges and 'clacking' their bills. Here I heard my first live Nightingale in full song. A wonderful sound, heard many times in our short stay but alas never seen. Cetti's Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, and the ubiquitous Corn Bunting, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticola, Common Waxbill, Serin, Swallows, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martins, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch (a few familiars) and it was not even lunch time! I spotted my first Woodchat Shrike (below), one of my 70 ticks, a little bird (Starling size) with the most beautiful chestnut head and mainly white/beige body.


Woodchat Shrike at Caceras. Picture by Joe Geraty.

Woodchat Shrike, Caceras, 23th April 2012 (picture: Joe Geraty)

Godfreid Schreur, our guide proved to be a real treasure as he guided us from one area to another, always delivering on his 'what to expect'! The bus driver was equally accommodating, from doing a three-point turn at a junction to go back and spot a Black-eared Wheatear, seen from the bus by Niall sitting on a wire, to reversing into a reed bed area so we could observe from the bus on a very wet day.


A family of Purple Swamphens near the Roman bridge in Merida. Picture by Joe Geraty.

Purple Swamphen, Merida, 24th April 2012 (picture: Joe Geraty)

We visited the town of Merida to the south. Here at a riverside with a good amount of reed beds we saw among others, Night Heron, Purple Swamphen (above), Little Bittern, Little Egret, Purple and Grey Heron, Spoonbill on a nest and great views of a Marsh Harrier. A Melodious Warbler was heard and briefly seen. Most got good views of a Penduline Tit from the old Roman Bridge (below), now open to pedestrians and cyclists only. At every 'water' stop the air was buzzing with various Swifts and Swallows.


The old Roman bridge, Rio Guadiana, Merida. Picture by Patrick Twomey.

Rio Guadiana, Merida (picture: Patrick Twomey)

Never a dull moment or time for a nap, one might miss a really important sighting. On day two we went to Monfrague National Park, an area to the north-east of Caceras. It was a beautiful sunny, clear blue skies day, but with a vicious northerly wind which made me regret not packing my woolly hat and gloves. Here we got to grips with Eagles; Booted, Bonelli's, Short-toed and Golden. Vultures; Griffon (below), (amazingly large and very recognisable after the first encounters) Black and Egyptian. Kites; Red and Black as well as Kestrel & Buzzard. The sky was full of large birds, which we in Ireland are so unaccustomed to. We had an amazing view of an Egyptian Vulture sitting on a nest, so colourful, and not at all vulture like. Black Stork was another wonderful sight.


High rise Griffon Vultures at Monfrague National Park. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

Griffon Vultures, Monfrague National Park, 24th April 2012 (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

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We visited Reservoirs, Dams, Mediterranean Forest, and Dehases (areas composed mostly of Holm Oak, Cork Oaks and in the upper regions Deciduous Oak and it comprises 35% of the region). There is so much proactive work being done in the region to support a sustainable eco system, e.g. cultivated areas of oats for birds to breed in, nest boxes on telegraph poles which are used by Rollers, a brilliant blue bird, but also used by Jackdaws and Little Owls which we were privileged to see curtsey of our driver backing up the bus.


Day three we went out to see Great Bustards and Little Bustards and it was amazing. There they were when we got off the bus, just waiting for us. Huge birds, and so colourful and then they flew like large jumbo jets, though on first sight it looked like an impossible feat.


Running Red-legged Partridge from the coach! Picture by Joe Geraty.

Red-legged Partridge, 26th April 2012 (picture: Joe Geraty)

We saw great views of Montagu's Harrier, Common Kestrel, and every day overhead were Griffon Vultures, Black Kite, Black Vulture, Booted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and on one day Spanish Imperial Eagle - Majestic!. We saw Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a target on day three were seen very well and Red-legged Partridge (above). These partridges are farmed and released for commercial shoots, those we saw were survivors of these events.


We had picnics each day, usually eaten in scenic sites with birding opportunities. At riversides and lakes we saw Kingfishers, Crag Martins, Sand Martins, White Wagtails, Common Sandpiper and the wonderful Black-winged Stilt. At a wooded roadside we saw Azure-winged Magpie. A truly amazing shade of blue and beige, so delicate and beautiful to observe. House and Spanish Sparrows abounded in some areas and interestingly they have a completely different song and habitat. The Spanish Sparrow more prevalent in wooded areas, rather than residential areas. One day we got fleeting sights of a Golden Oriole, its colour as exotic as its song.


Crested Lark on the Santa Marta Steppes. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

Crested Lark, Santa Marta Steppes, 25th April 2012 (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

I have not yet mentioned the Larks, they were amazing, Crested (above), Callandra, Thekla's, Short-toed, Woodlark so many and so plentiful and all in splendid song. I must not forget the Cuckoo seen four days out of five and the Great Spotted Cuckoo three days. Turtle Doves were a special treat and Cattle Egret in areas with cattle and at lakes. We counted 62 sitting on the railing at a dam on one occasion (below). What have I omitted? Dartford Warbler, seen and heard on a rather wet day.


Cattle Egrets at Guadilova Reservoir. Picture by Patrick Twomey.

Cattle Egret, Guadilova Reservoir, 26th April 2012 (picture: Patrick Twomey)

We saw Whiskered, Black, Common, Little, and Gull-billed Tern at a large lake, again as a result of a dam. Access to all these lakes was relatively easy with our guide, and the amount of wildlife they support is staggering. On the way back to Madrid we visited an area where Black-winged Kite are known to inhabit and we got fleeting glimpses of one as it flew from a tree where it had been spotted by Godfreid. It was the briefest view of a target species he delivered in entire trip.


Corn Bunting from the Rio Guadiana, Merida. Picture by Joe Geraty.

Corn Bunting, Merida, 23rd April 2012 (picture: Joe Geraty)

Stephen had heard a Short-toed Treecreeper, every day I think, but we never got to see it. We did see every day the 'spiked' feathered Spotless Starling, a bird as common as our spotted Starling but with more attitude. Amazing what a feather style can do. I have not mentioned all I saw, just the highlights! However my abiding memory of the trip is the presence of birds in the skies. There were Eagles and Vultures, Swifts and Swallows, Harriers, Kestrel, the occasional Buzzard and many, many Corn Buntings (above).


Some More Pictures

Birds

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White Storks, Trujillo, 25 April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.

Some more pictures of birds encountered during the trip to Extramedura.
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White Stork, 26th April 2012. Picture by Joe Geraty.
Booted Eagle, Monfrague National Park, 25th April 2012. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.
Lesser Kestrels, Caceres, 23rd April 2012. Picture by Joe Geraty.
Cetti's Warbler, Caceres, 23rd April 2012. Picture by Joe Geraty.
White Wagtail, Villareal de San Carlos, Monfrague National Park, 24th April 2012. Picture by Joe Geraty.
Serin, Villareal de San Carlos, Monfrague National Park, 24th April 2012. Picture by Joe Geraty.
Serin, Villareal de San Carlos, Monfrague National Park, 24th April 2012. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

Places

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En route between Caceres and Merida, 23rd April 2012. Picture by Joe Gerety.

Some pictures of the locations visited during the trip to Extramedura.
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Villareal de San Carlo, Monfrague National Park, 24th April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.
View from Corillo de Monfrague National Park, 24th April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.
View over the Steppes, east of Caceres, 25th April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.
View over the Steppes, near Trujillo, 25th April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.
Doorway in Trujillo, 25th April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.

People

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The group on the streets of Ceceres, 23rd April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.

Some pictures of South Dublin branch members on the trip to Extramedura.
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The group on the streets of Ceceres, 23rd April 2012. Picture by Patrick Twomey.
South Dublin Members at Talavan Reservoir, 26th April 2012. Picture by Godefried Schreur.
South Dublin Members at Talavan Reservoir, 26th April 2012. Picture by Godefried Schreur.

I was really impressed by the efforts of local government in the area to improve, sustain, promote and encourage a sustainable eco-system as a basis for their tourism industry. We in Ireland could take note, as we have quite a bit in common, especially in the more remote and less inhabited parts of the country.


Eleanor Keane


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