A day birding in Madrid with client Chris Duncan from Arizona on 15th December gave us excellent views of Great Bustards, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Hen Harrier, Rock Sparrow and Black Shouldered Kite at llanos del Jarama, Rock Bunting, Serin, Crag Martin and Sardinian Warbler near Patones de Arriba, and near the end of the day we enjoyed with superb Spanish Imperial Eagles (three different individuals in total), Black and Griffon Vultures, Azure-winged Magpies and a surprising record of a wintering Wryneck at El Pardo Nature Reserve.
Águilas imperiales, avutardas y elanio en Madrid
Spanish Eagle, Great Bustards and Black-shouldered Kite in Madrid
Entre bigotudos, pechiazules y moscones en La Mancha
Bearded and Penduline Tits, and Bluethroats at La Mancha
Comenzamos a las 6:45 en Plaza de Castilla y nos dirijos, no sin algunas dificultades causadas por las eternas obras de la ciudad, hacia la carretera de Andalucía. Nuestra primera parada la realizamos en la laguna de la Veguilla, junto a la localidad de Alcázar de San Juan. Aunque la temperatura era fresca la primera luz de la mañana invitaba a la fotografía y al disfrute con los contrastes de color entre los flamencos y las cigüeñas blancas. Varios aguiluchos laguneros, del orden de unos 15-20, comenzaban sus evoluciones matutinas en busca de su desayuno, mientras que entre las cerca de doscientas anátidas llegamos a identificar ánsares comunes, ánades rabudos, cercetas comunes, patos cuchara, ánades silbones, ánades frisos y ánades reales. Un par de banditos de bigotudos emitiendo sus característicos reclamos metálicos se dejaron ver muy bien durante cerca de una hora. Mientras seguíamos sus movimientos entre el espeso carrizo Eduardo detectó el primer pechiazul de la mañana, y más allá, posados en una rama seca al menos dos escribanos palustres. Después de unas dos horas escudriñando la laguna y de sacar bisbita alpino, mosquiteros comunes, gorriones morunos y nuevas observaciones de machos de pechiazul, localizamos una pareja de pájaro moscón... quizás estaban algo lejos para probar suerte con nuestras cámaras pero la luz de espaldas nos dejó en la retina unas imágenes maravillosas de aquellos dos pajarillos que no paraban de moverse. El cielo se cubrió entonces de unas nubes que no nos abandonarían el resto de la jornada.
Después de un merecido café nos dirigimos hacia la laguna de Salicor. Aunque ya sabíamos que se encontraba seca nuestros objetivos eran avutardas y gangas ibéricas. Pudimos observar únicamente la primera especie en un bando de unos 20 ejemplares, todos ellos machos.
Después de hacer un breve acercamiento a la laguna del Pueblo en Pedro Muñoz (ni gota de agua) marchamos hacia la laguna de Manjavacas, perteneciente a la provincia de Cuenca. Comimos entre el alboroto de varios cientos de grullas que se alimentaban en el polvoriento lecho de la laguna. En un pequeño charco de pocos metros cuadrados multitud de azulones compartían pitanza con un pequeño grupo de ánsares comunes. Aquí apareció nuestro primer alcaudón meridional del día.
El siguiente lugar que visitaríamos serían los Charcones de Miguel Esteban. Poco que destacar a excepción de un par de machos de gorrión moruno aún con buena parte del plumaje estival intacto y un rascón que dejó verse por unos segundos.
Nuestra visita la finalizamos en la laguna Larga de Villacañas donde añadimos a nuestra lista tarro blanco y curruca rabilarga. Entre los bandos de cucharas y azulones poco más. Mientras la noche caía sobre las aguas tranquilas de la laguna y la temperatura se tornaba sensiblemente más fría decidimos regresar a Madrid.
Last weekend took place the World Bird Festival. Amongst all the events organized by SEO/BirdLife a birding trip to the wetlands of La Mancha is worth to mention. Becuase the current serious draught in Souther Spain we decided to visit only the lagoons with some water which were still keeping some activity. In the Laguna Larga of Villacañas we found a flock of more than 800 Greater Flamingos (no sign of the two Lesser Flamingos here), a couple of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and a party of about 7 White-headed Ducks. In the surrounding filds we also saw Southern Grey Shrike, Spanish Sparrow and Crested Larks. Our second stop was in the lagoons of Villafranca de los Caballeros where we had a single Great White Egret, two Black-winged Stilts and about 20 Avocets. A Yellow-legged Gull was also found amongst a mixed flock of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We especially enjoyed our last stop at la Veguilla lagoon, at Alcázar de San Juan, where we found a good selections of waders including Wood Sanpiper, Little Stint, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Lapwing, Stilts, Avocets and Ruffs. A few nice Marsh Harriers flew over the river beds and good numbers of White Storks started to come into roost. We returned to Madrid by 21:20 h.
During our trip for SEO/BirdLife into the Strait of Gibraltar for seeing the raptor migration we had as a highlight several flocks of hundreds White Storks and Black Kites, White-headed Duck, Audouin's and Mediterranean Gulls, two Little Swifts at Sierra de la plata and good views of Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle and Short-toed eagles.
La segunda parte de mi viaje tuvo lugar entre el 5 y el 12 de septiembre guiando a un grupo local de Bristol de la RSPB. Tuvimos fuerte Levante durante los 6 primeros días de la excursión lo que hizo casi imposible visitar algunos de los mejores lugares para ver la migración. Así pues decidimos ser pacientes y viajar a las zonas circundantes para registrar otras especies de aves. De esta forma pudimos registrar vencejo moro cerca de la desembocadura del Guadalquivir, hasta 17 especies de limícolas en un sólo día, y un paso interesante de fumarel común.
Desde nuestro hotel en Zahara de los Atunes teníamos la oportunidad cada mañana de ver numerosos grupos de abejeros en migración activa. Fue curioso tener en la misma imagen pardela cenicienta y halcón abejero, ambos casi a ras de agua.
La playa de los Lances, bastante machacada en los últimos años por algunos aficionados al kite-surfing que no respentan las normas de acceso a este pareja natural, nos ofreció algunos de los mejores momentos de la excursión, incluyendo la observación de tres chorlitos carambolos, dos hembras adultas y un joven. También disfrutamos con los bandos mixtos de calandria y terrera común, y con las siempre aquí comunes gaviotas de Audouin.
Los dos últimos días fueron apoteósicos con conteos de más de 300 alimoches y 800 águilas culebreras. Águilas calzadas, halcones abejeros y milanos negros completaban un espectáculo difícil de describir, donde había pájaros en el cielo en cualquier punto donde mirásemos.
La última mañana en el observatorio de Cazalla tuvimos un grandioso final con observaciones de dos buitres de Rüppell, un águila imperial joven y un subadulto de águila Pomerana.
Visitamos entre otros lugares el Parque Nacional de las Cairgngorms, la colonia de aves de Troup Head, reserva de la RSPB, la bahía del río Spey, el Inner Moray Firth y las islas de Mull, Iona, Staffa y Lunga.
Between 25 June and 22 July I have been leading in Scotland to three different groups of birders from SEO/BirdLife, the Spanish version of the RSPB. During the first two the wheather was quite nice seeing most of our key birds including two divers, red-throated and black-throated, roseate tern, dotterel, ptarmigan, red grouse, twite, white-tailed eagle... and of course all the seabirds such as black guillemots, puffins, razorbills, fulmars, guillemots, kittiwakes and gannets.
After an overnight stay in Madrid, three members of BOC were collected Monday morning by our guide, Santiago Villa of Spainbirds who drove us northwards towards the Pyrenees. White Storks, Marsh Harrier, Red Kites and numerous Black Kites were noted before we stopped in Quara Natural Park. Here, in a mountainous area, with a ravine and scrub directly in front of us (plus an excellent packed lunch!) we had some superb close up views of Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, then a Lammergeier and a Golden Eagle were spotted and we also had good views of Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Short-toed Eagle. A Red-rumped Swallow plus an Alpine Swift were added to our list together with Bee-eaters, Turtle Dove, Woodchat Shrike, Melodious Warbler and Black Redstart.
Progressing northwards, we saw both dark and light morph Booted Eagles, a coffee stop yielded Crested Lark plus a Short-toed Lark in song and later, at one point, we passed close to a flock of 30+ Red Kites. We arrived in Hecho Valley at the edge of the Pyrenees with 49 species on our list including some really cracking birds - and we had only just arrived! Surely it couldn’t get much better – but it did!
The rural hotel we stayed at was just off a quiet road 7 km. from the village of Hecho, at a height of 1000 m. with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and a quick walk close to the hotel on Tuesday before breakfast gave views of Firecrests and Bonelli’s Warblers. We then drove up to the nearby Gabardito Refuge where a forest walk gave great views of mountain meadows, ravines, and steep cliffs which towered above us.
Crested Tits were in the trees as we set off, Short-toed Treecreepers called and sang from the forest edges while Red-billed Choughs circled and called overhead, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures cruised above them, and a couple of distant Lammergeiers were also spotted. Iberian Green Woodpeckers (picus sharpie) called, obviously in Spanish as their calls were different from English Green Woodies. Black Woodpeckers could also be heard and we were treated to a brief but close flypast of one bird, its pale bill showing clearly against its black head and body.
At the foot of a vertical cliff face we searched for a bird that nested in that location. The Wallcreeper is about the size of a Chaffinch and very hard to see - until it flew, when we could see the glorious red, black and white markings of its broad, rounded wings and then follow it more easily as it moved over the rock face.
So we watched the Wallcreeper (a male), with the vultures continuing to cruise overhead, Red-billed Choughs flying and calling along the edge of the cliff face together with Crag Martins and a party of some 15+ Alpine Swifts, which were giving their twittering calls as they rocketed around the ravine and cliffs. Not an unpleasant morning’s walk!
We moved then into another attractive valley where we walked gently upwards following a stream as it flowed down from its waterfall starting point at the foot of steep cliffs. A Dipper was seen on the stream and a Grey Wagtail flew nearby. A Garden Warbler came very close to us on the path, giving excellent views. The alarm calls of Marmots echoed across the quiet valley and we could see these mammals below us on the rocks. Frequent Griffon Vultures soared over the cliffs and they were briefly joined by a Golden Eagle.
Then suddenly a Lammergeier came into view, flying along the cliff face on the other side of the valley, which had narrowed at this stage. We had great views as it slowly cruised in front of us – then it landed, allowing us an excellent sight of its black wings, white face and rufous-buff head and breast. This latter colouring, Santiago explained, is acquired by bathing in mineral rich puddles in the higher mountains.
Driving back to our hotel, and noting on the way a Red-backed Shrike in the sunshine, it was difficult to decide a bird highlight of the day and in the end we had to settle for more than one!
On Wednesday, we drove up into the mountains and stopped at the Aztaparreta Forest on the road to the French border but, apart from some good views of Red Squirrel, this was fairly quiet except for the calls of Black Woodpecker and Marsh Tit. A search in a different area for the very rare White-backed Woodpecker, where breeding was suspected, proved unsuccessful but Santiago did manage to entice a Firecrest to come very close to us, giving excellent views. Moving to different valleys and missing most of the rain showers occurring that day, we had some good views of Egyptian Vulture, three Lammergeiers (2 adults and 1 juvenile), two Short-toed Eagles, several Ravens and a Common Buzzard. A couple of Chamois were spotted high on a mountainside, Griffon Vultures constantly appeared above us, a male and a juvenile Red-backed Shrike were on some wires, Cirl Buntings and Yellow Hammers showed their distinctive colours, Nightingales sang and Black Restarts seemed to pop up everywhere.
Thursday saw us heading eastwards up to one of the mountain Ski Resorts. Leaving the hotel, we noted a pair of Bullfinches, and then an Orphean Warbler in song plus a couple of Red-backed Shrikes on the telephone wires. Driving past fields, there were several Egyptian Vultures and Red Kites and, at one point, a series of Black Kites perched on telegraph poles close to the road giving us good views.
Candanchu Ski Resort was quiet and deserted in the absence of winter skiers but it was full of birds. Singing Water Pipits were numerous and, as we were probably walking near their nest sites, they came very close to us with their alarm calls.
Black Restarts continued to pop up everywhere and there were also a number of Yellow Hammers and Northern Wheatears. Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, a gently cruising Lammergeier, a Common Buzzard and a hovering Short-toed Eagle all gave great views, whilst 20+ Red-billed and 5 Alpine Choughs fed on the grass slopes. A Bee-eater was briefly seen, Alpine Marmots called and we had glimpses of Citril Finch as a small flock flew nearby calling. Moving on, we visited San Juan de la Peña with its monastery dating from the 10th Century and, from a viewpoint on the edge of the surrounding woods, we had great views of the plains and mountains that make up this region. We had some close-up views of Crested Tits, circling Egyptian and Griffon Vultures were flying sometimes below us, Great Spotted Woodpeckers were noted together with Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreepers.
On Friday we started in the lower Hecho valleys, where we watched singing Bonelli’s Warblers, had good views of Nightingales and Cirl Bunting, some really close views of a pair of Subalpine Warblers with the male in glorious colouring, and added Cetti’s Warbler to our lists. An Orphean Warbler was heard and, with a little encouragement from Santiago, then gave us some brief views.
We then drove up to the El Portelet mountain pass next to the French border where Booted and Short-toed Eagles showed well, Quail called, Ortolan Bunting were watched singing, and a Rufous–tailed Rock Thrush was briefly seen. Griffon Vultures together with Red and Black Kites continued to appear from time to time, as well as Red-billed Choughs, Water Pipits and Ravens.
Saturday was our last chance for views of Citril Finch and a very strong wind was a concern. However a fairly sheltered meadow by the Gabardito Refuge gave us some excellent views of several Citril Finches, plus a Sparrow Hawk which whizzed by as we were having our coffee.
Then off to one of Santiago’s favourite valleys where again we were sheltered from the wind. Over lunch by a quiet country road we had views of Red Kites and Griffon Vultures, whilst being serenaded by two competing Garden Warblers from either side of the narrow road. Walking along the road we had good views of Cirl Bunting and Bonelli’s Warbler, watched a Rock Bunting as it sang from a nearby tree, noted a Turtle Dove and then, to Santiago’s surprise, heard a Dartford Warbler’s song (first time in this valley, according to Santiago). A quick search revealed at least two birds, one carrying food so breeding seemed likely. A Rock Sparrow showed well, as did a Common Cuckoo, there were frequent Ortolan Buntings to be seen, whilst from a narrow ravine, the only slightly wooded area in this otherwise dry, rocky valley, we could hear a Golden Oriole. We admired several Bee-eaters, listened to a distant Woodlark and noted Stonechats and Woodchat Shrike as we returned to our car.
As we then worked our way back to the hotel, we located a Melodious Warbler by its song and managed some views, and we finished the day in a deep ravine watching Egyptian Vultures and a Lammergeier cruise overhead whilst several Griffon Vultures were coming down to land along the cliff face, presumably to their roosting sites.
In spite of the high winds during this day, Santiago had managed to pick out several sheltered places and a mention must be made of the range and colour of the many butterflies that we saw. These included Southern White Admirals, several types of Marbled White, Spanish Gatekeepers, different Heaths and Ringlets plus numerous Fritillaries both large and small.
Sunday was the day we left the Pyrenees and, as we walked out of our hotel, we were greeted by Crested Tits plus an Orphean Warbler in full song. Travelling southwards we stopped at Mallos de Riglos where a beautiful pale morph Booted Eagle greeted us as we neared the village. The dominating features here are the strange vertical rock columns that tower above the village, and it was from these that Rock Sparrows called as they flew to and from their nest sites, plus there were Black Redstarts everywhere. Crag Martin chicks could also be seen peering at us from ledges in these columns.
Circling above us were Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Red-billed Choughs and Alpine Swifts. A female Peregrine Falcon called as it soared in the blue sky, whilst in the scrub and almond groves below the rock columns there were Sardinian and Dartford Warblers flitting in and out of view, and an Orphean Warbler in song. As we were leaving to the songs of Nightingale and Garden Warbler, a Black Stork joined the Griffon Vultures circling above us.
Continuing our drive southwards we stopped at a large reservoir near Mezalocha. Strong winds made this a brief visit, but we did see a number of Rock Sparrows including one young bird sitting on the concrete steps leading down to the reservoir dam wall – we had to walk carefully to avoid treading on it! As we left, we saw two really beautiful Black-eared Wheatears, both males of the pale throated type.
Late afternoon we arrived at our next overnight stop just in time for a short visit to El Planeron, a nature reserve in the Belchite Steppes and owned by SEO Birdlife, the much smaller Spanish version of the RSPB. We quickly noted Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks as well as Skylarks. A Montagu’s Harrier was spotted plus a Great Reed Warbler in some reeds of a small muddy pool in the midst of these dry plains. A flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse completed our visit before we booked into our hotel for the night.
At 6.30 am Monday morning we were back in these Belchite Steppes hoping for sight or even just sound of the rare Dupont’s Lark. The Steppes were full of larks but unfortunately no sign of the elusive Dupont’s. However we did have good close views of numerous Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Crested and Skylarks.
The scenery in these Steppes seems straight out of a Western Film but, instead of smoke signals from the distant flat topped mountains and Apache Indians appearing from behind nearby mounds and gulleys, we had instead sudden appearances and close views of Black-bellied and, in particular, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. A Southern Grey Shrike showed well, a Short-toed Eagle drifted low over our car and a Marsh Harrier appeared nearby. The Great Reed Warbler was still in the ‘oasis’ and a Green Sandpiper flew up as we approached. A juvenile Montagu’s Harrier was spotted and a pair of Hoopoes flew up as we headed back to the hotel for our breakfast.
We then moved into the old town of Belchite, which was destroyed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The ruins of churches, houses and other buildings are preserved as a ‘live’ monument of war and are now a breeding area for Blue Rock Thrushes which we saw as we walked around.
Our tour almost over and our homeward flights beckoning, we stopped briefly just outside Madrid by the Henares River for some final packing of suitcases, plus some final birding. It was very hot now (around 37º C) and Santiago positioned us in the shade from where we saw Tree Sparrow, Golden Oriole, Reed, Great Reed and Cetti’s Warblers and, whilst noting Stock Dove, Jackdaw and Kestrel, we also could just pick out the fine whistled calls of a Penduline Tit.
8 days birding, wonderful scenery, and a total of 113 species including many splendid close-up views. A very enjoyable tour.
Today in Gredos we had a great day in spite of missing the Citril Finch... we will try it again tomorrow don't panic! Amongst the most exciting birds seen today were Pied Flycatcher, Bonelli's Warbler, Firecrest, Honey Buzzard, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Water Pipit, Ortolan Bunting, Rock Bunting, Northern Wheatear, Red-billed Chough and Bluethroat.
De Llanos de Cáceres a Gredos, cuatro días de resúmenes
From the plains to the Gredos Mountains, reports from four days
On 1st May, Lance Benner, an American birder from Los Angeles and me, travelled into the Gredos Mountains trying to see some of the especialities of the region. In the Lance's list were Alpine Accentor, Citril Finch, Pied Flycatcher, Bluethroat, Ortoland Bunting and Water Pipit. We managed to see the last four hearing the accentor while having our lunch near the Laguna Grande. This was a great birding and walking experience in spite of the crowded paths as it was a holiday in Madrid. We also had great views of at least three different Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes, Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtails, Red Kites, Red-billed Choughs and Northern Wheatears amongst the most interesting birds.
Entre las rapaces observadas destacó la presencia de varios cernícalos primillas y alguna que otra culebrera europea, también fueron comunes los aguiluchos cenizos. Otros bellos visitantes de la marisma son las canasteras y las pagazas piconegras, si hay algún sonido típico de este rincón del mundo ese es el de las llamadas de estas dos especies entremezclándose con el de los flamencos de fondo. Iba siendo hora de iniciar el regreso ya que aún nos tocaba parar en varios sitios, el primero en la Dehesa de Abajo, donde no conseguimos ver malvasía, aunque sí varios zampullines cuellinegros y varias docenas de milanos negros. Antes de regresar al hotel paramos en una zona de tarajes donde vimos al menos un zarcero pálido y un ruiseñor bastardo... varias canasteras pasaron cerca del vehículo para poner fin a un magnífico día de pájaros.