Monfragüe National Park, Extremadura: PART 1

Monfragüe National Park PART 1 ~ 15-17th October 2016 ~ 

Back in October I was lucky enough to spend 5 days in the Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura. I had never been to Spain before, nor had I really birded Europe outside of the UK, so there were plenty of new experiences to be had!

Before I go any further I must say a massive thanks to David Lindo (@urbanbirder) for inviting me on the press trip, the good folks at Diputación de Cáceres (@Turismo_DipCC) for making the trip possible, Martin Kelsey (@casaelrecuerdo) for all his local knowledge and to the other trip participants, Sorrel Lyall, Emma-louise Cole, Niki Bloom and Miriam Darlington, for their great company! It really was a brilliant trip and I hope it won't be too long before I get to return to Extremadura to explore it some more...

Day 1 (15th): I arrived at Madrid Airport where I met David, Martin and Niki and had a beer or two to chill out while we waited for the others to arrive. A little while later Sorrel, Emma and Miriam arrived and we soon began the 3 hour drive to our accommodation. On the drive we saw 19 species, including a rather incredible juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle (the first of so many lifers)! On arrival at the accommodation it wasn't long before bins were donned and scopes unpacked. We were soon treated to brilliant scope views of hundreds of Griffon Vultures swirling around on the thermals and some Crag Martins whizzed over. A short walk with Sorrel produced Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticola, Grey Wagtail, Great White Egret, Crested Lark and a large roost of House Sparrows. The day ended with our first taste of traditional Spanish cuisine.
Beautiful Gothic (Leucochlaena oditis)

Day 2 (16th): After a traditional Spanish breakfast of meats, cheese and pastries we made our way to Castillo de Monfragüe. On the way we stopped to look at some geology where you could see ripples in a rock which used to form the seabed near Australia - pretty neat indeed! At Castillo de Monfragüe we saw lots more Vultures, both Griffon and Black, a Red-billed Chough, some Crag Martins and a stunning Hawfinch! The views were spectacular out over the River Tagus and the surrounding dehesa.

View from Monfragüe Castle overlooking the River Tagus
View from Monfragüe Castle overlooking dehesa
We then headed to Peña Falcón (aka Falcon Rock) where we were greeted with more vultures, some stunning Black Redstarts, Rock Bunting and the amazing Blue Rock Thrush! Blue Rock Thrush is a bird I have long admired in my Collins guide so to actually see one was awesome and it totally exceeded my expectations! For lunch, we headed to Villareal de San Carlos and added Red-rumped Swallow to our list. We also saw numerous butterflies and a Large Psammodromus Lizard which posed for photos. The afternoon was spent at Portilla del Tietar where we got insane views of a Spanish Imperial Eagle coming down to drink and rounded the day off with the eerie sounds of Eagle Owl!
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
Large Psammodromus Lizard (Psammodromus algirus)
Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti)
Day 3 (17th): After another delicious breakfast we headed to Arrocampo Reservoir, an impressive wetland site with a number of elevated bird hides for improved viewing. We spent most of the morning at the reservoir and saw an impressive array of species. The highlights for me were Squacco Heron, Bluethroat, Sardinian Warbler and hearing Penduline Tits. A local coffee shop in Almaraz beckoned, after which we headed to the Orchydarium for a special tour and introduction to the great work they do on Orchids. After the tour, we headed back to Arrocampo to explore a different part of the reserve. The species list was much the same as the morning except for an Iberian Grey Shrike, a small flock of Corn Buntings and a Dartford Warbler. To finish the day we headed to Toril, where we visited an information centre and learnt a lot more about the local area, its history and the environment.
View from the hide at Arrocampo
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
My Swarovski ATS 65HD and 25-50W eyepiece are an epic combo for birding!
Moorhen and Purple Swamphen
Inside the Orchydarium
Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis
The information centre in Toril

I have written about the rest of the trip in PART 2.

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