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Trip report for my visit to Spain. Nov 29th to Dec 8th 2007.

Nov 29th. Laguna Dulce (bone Dry), Teba Gorge, Canete Vulture Feeding station.
Nov 30th. With Peter Jones &^ Pieter. Mountain track out of Montejaque.
Dec 1st. Belen Plains, Monfrague, Monroy to Trujillo.
Dec 2nd Zorida, to Madrigalejo then Vegas Altas and then had to divert to the Sierras around Guadalupe because of fog, before finishing on the Belen Plains.
Dec 3rd. The northern reaches above the Trujillo Caceras road.
Dec 4th. Huelva, then El Rocio
Dec 5th. Donana
Dec 6th Brazo DelEste then on to the Canete Vulture feeding station, plus a nearby track for Crossbills.
Dec 7th. Granada region. Huerta Tajar fields the Sierra Loja. Called into Teba Gorge on way back.

I flew from Coventry to Malaga and arrived slightly early at 10:40am. There was a queue for the cars so it was nearly mid-day before I left the airport.

I had intended to start at Guadalhorce but I had been told by a local (Andy Paterson) that it wasn’t too good at the moment so I changed my itinerary to take in a Vulture feeding station that I had been told about near Teba. My intention was to take the Campillo road from Malaga but somehow I couldn’t find it and ended up on the A45 to Antequera. A quick stop at a service station and after checking the map out I decided to keep going on this road and call into Laguna Dulce and the Teba Gorge then onto the feeder station.

Laguna Dulce was completely dry and the only birds seen were a flock of House Sparrows, a Pied Wagtail, a Chiffchaff and a male Blackcap. A Cettis’s was calling nearby but I couldn’t find him.

Time to move on and as I passed Campillo onto the road to Malaga I noticed a flooded field on my left. Thankfully there was a dirt track for me to use as a stopping point and I was soon looking at 4 Greater Flamingo, about 100+ Lapwing. Approx 50 Black-winged Stilts and Avocets & about a dozen Green Sandpiper + a lone Redshank. There were a few other birds around such as Mallard, White Wag, about 50+ Y L Gulls, Mipit, Linnet, Stonechat, Snipe, and my first Water Pipits of the year.

It was time to move on and as I turned into the Teba road I caught sight of a couple of Kestrels. I also caught sight of 6 Red-billed Choughs as well as about a dozen Crag Martin so that was a fortuitous short stop.

At the Teba Gorge I was hoping to get Black Wheatear but sadly it didn’t show. Birds seen here were Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Male & female Blackcap, Grey Wagtail, Crag Martin, Robin, Mistle Thrush, about a dozen Siskin, Goldfinch and Rock Dove. A little further down the road were a few Crested Lark.

It all went a bit pear shaped from here due to the road I was driving on suddenly disappeared into a mud road with no signs. It came to a “T” junction and of course I took the wrong turning and lost over an hour trying to find my way back. Thankfully I did and I arrived at the feeding station at 3pm. There were about 50 Griffons there but they were just standing and preening. I couldn’t see any other raptors amongst them but they were distant which allowed me to get out of the car on the blind side and go for a bit of Digiscoping. As I was taking a few photos one raptor suddenly flew from behind a ridge in the field. It was fairly distant but I grabbed my DSLR and managed one shot of a departing Black Vulture. Unfortunately it was quite warm and a heat haze had built up in the late afternoon so my shots are not as sharp as I would have like them to be.

I stayed for an hour and by then they had all but one flown off. Other birds at this site were loads of Wagtails and Sparrows, Stonechat, Black Redstart and a couple of Spotless Starling, which was new for the year.

It was time to go to my hotel and on the way there was a group of 6 Griffons and a couple of Ravens seen.

I had accommodation booked through Peter Jones and was staying at the Hotel Cotijo, near Ronda. If you are in the area and fancy a meal (or to stay a night or three), I can highly recommend the Pork dish on the Carnes menu. It is exceptional.

The day ended on a high note when I met up with Peter Jones (Black Wheatear on Birdforum) for a beer and a chat. What a knowledgeable and likeable person he is and I look forward to spending Friday with him and his Dutch friend Pieter. What they don’t know about this area of Spain isn’t worth knowing. We start near one of my favourite areas in Spain, around the village of Montejaque.

Nov 30th

I met up with Peter at 9am at the Hotel. With him was his Dutch friend, Pieter. We had a cup of coffee and a chat before setting off for Montejaque. Our plan was to stop at a Venda, where we were meeting another friend of Peters, Juan. I was leaving my car there and we all piled into Pieters Land Cruiser to go to a site that I was told I would enjoy visiting. On the way we passed a few areas near Montejaque that I knew well, especially around the dry reservoir where we saw four Black Wheatear and a lone Blue Rock Thrush. We also found four Ibex sunning themselves high up on the rocks.

The site Peter was eager to take me was a track that started from Montejaque that we have named the De Libar track and it certainly lived up to the hype that Peter had given me. Stunning scenery, cracking birds and a promise that if I go there in the Spring it would be even better.

Stars of the show here were a pair of Bonnelli’s Eagle as well as plenty of Griffons, an overwintering Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, at least 25+ Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush. Supporting cast was Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Thekla Lark, Spanish Sparrow, Little Owl, Sardinian Warbler, Loads of Black Redstart, Short-toed Treecreeper, Red-billed Chough, Southern Grey Shrike, 3 Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Jay, Mistle Thrush, Linnet, Great & Blue Tit and a flock of about 30 Spotless Starlings, quite a few of them riding bare back on the cows. having said that I missed both the Alpine accentors and Ring Ouzels as well as the Cirl Bunting. Oh well, you can't get them all.

It was now time to go back to the Venda where refreshments & a meal was served. Just before arriving at the Venda we were to witness at least three thermals of Griffons with possibly a couple of hundred birds in total.

It was now 16:20 and I was faced with a 400+ kilometre drive to Trujillo so we said our goodbyes but I told Peter that I might meet up with him again on Dec 7th. It6 all depends on how well I do on flying Raptor photos. If I haven’t done too well I will probably go back to that feeding station and spend a few hours there in the hope of some good flight shots.

On the way I added a couple of trip ticks when 4 Crows flew across the road near Ultera and over 50 White Storks flew over the Motorway south of Seville. There were Egrets amongst them but at the speed I was doing there was no way of telling which ones.

I finally arrived at the Hotel in Trujillo at 9pm only to find that they weren’t expecting me. My name wasn’t down but thankfully there was a vacant room.

Tomorrow the plan is to start at the Belen Plains and then move on to Monfrague and if there is any time left to try and have a look around the Monroy to Talavan area.

Dec 1st

Today was a big let down. I got plenty of species but none of the target birds. No Sandgrouse, Bustards, Stone Curlew. Monfrague was under a blanket of mist so the raptors were not flying around the castle until it was time for me to move on. Even then at 3pm it was still very misty as well as very cloudy.

It started ok. I went to Belen Plains, starting at 8am. It was just about dawn but I watched the sun come uo from the edge of Belen but with a couple of kilometres the land was blanketed by a rising mist so anything fround level I couldn’t see. All the small birds were very flighty so very little chance of any photos.

I did come across a huge raptor, that I caught a glimpse of sitting on a post. It must have been half a mile away and inbetween me and the sun. There was a track going towards the bird so I gently moved towards him but the sun was straight into my eyes. Also the mist had risen and the bird was now a hazy silhouette. I got to within two hundred yards of the bird and realised it was a Black Vulture. I managed some digiscoped shots but because of the haze they haven’t come out very well. I also managed some shots of a Red Kite as well.

Highlight on my way to Monfrague was driving under about 300 Crane.

Monfrague was a big disappointment. The Castillo was crouded and noisy. I was hoping for Rock Bunting and Hawfinch but nothing was showing. I called into most of the viewpoints but I was looking up through mist so I had no chance. I went as far as Portilla del Tietar. There were about thirty Griffons here but they weren’t flying. By now it was very cloudy and cold. I had searched the cliff face in case an Eagle Owl might have been present but didn’t turn up anything unusual. I came back to look at Pena falcon and the mist had lifted quite a bit, although the Griffons were flying very high. I managed the odd flight shot as well as a few of Griffons that were perched fairly close to us.

I went back to Trujillo via Monroy but upon leaving Monroy I took a wrong turning and so missed out on all the good spots. The compensation for doing that is that I came across a few fields with Crane in that gave me a chance to photograph them. Also a fairly obliging Hoopoe allowed me a few shots before it flew off.

I decided to give Belen Plains another go. It was just after 4pm and I thought I could have at least an hour looking for my target birds but by 4:30 it was pouring with rain. The clouds had gone inky black and I gave up after 30 minutes as it was pointless.

My species list for the three days so far has gone up to 76 but is missing quite a few birds I was hopeful of getting. I doubt I will get them tomorrow as I am not going into their areas but I have a last throw of the dice on Dec 3rd.

Dec 2nd

Today was a major disappointment. It was quite foggy when I set out to Zoritas then gradually got worse. The sun was shining but eventually the fog got so thick that the sun couldn’t penetrate it. It also got very cold and damp with the wet mist getting everywhere.

I was on the Campo Lugar road, from Zoritas. Thankfully the fog lifted slightly for ten minutes and in the distance was eleven Great Bustards. I could only just make them out through the mist but at least that was one of my target birds in the bag.

I had planned to do so much but the fog was getting worse and visibility at times was down to twenty yards. I came away from that road and was going to call into a nearby Embalse but there was no point as I could only just make out the road. The fog lessened slightly by some pits so I took one of the tracks but within a couple of hundred yards it came back in as heavy as before. Thankfully my main target bird of the day dropped into some nearby reeds. It was a Red Avadavat. There were about forty of them about twenty feet from me. If they had been further away I probably wouldn’t have seen them.

There was no point in going further but I thought I would give the paddyfields a try at Vegas Altas but it was just as bad. I could hear loads of Cranes calling and I did see ten fly over me. They were almost shadows as they drifted through the gloom of the fog.

It was now 1pm and I had had enough so decided to go to the Sierra de Villuercas near Guadalupe. At least up in the mountains I would be away from the fog.

Within 15 kilometres the road had gained height enough to come out of the fog and along this stretch of road I saw at least 500 Cranes in various fields by the roadside.

I took the road to Canamero and just before the turning to that town I came across two pools about 300 yards from the road with a dirt trck leading down to them. As I approached a White Stork, a Black Stork took to the air and joined four Griffons that were thermalling above the pool. Three Little Egret were in the first pool and a surprise Great White Egret was in the second amongst five Grey Heron. As soon as they saw me they were off. They left behind five Cormorants but they were soon off to.

The rest of it was pretty uneventful apart from calling in to the Embalse de Cancho Fresno, near Canamero were a stunning Firecrest was seen in a pine by the side of the dam wall.

The Sierras, stunning as they were, only turned up six Griffons but very little else apart from common birds like Blackbirds etc.

I decided to call it a day and go back to Trujillo via the Belen Plains again but yet again no Bustards or Sandgrouse showed. Neither did any Red Kite, which surprised me, as I thought there would be plenty there.

Because of all the disappointments so far I have changed my Itinerary for the Dec 3rd as I am hoping for good weather, which will allow me to look for the Steppe species I haven’t seen yet. If it starts of foggy I will drive straight down to Donana instead and see if there are any clear areas along the way that look promising.

Dec 3rd.

After the disappointments over the last two days I decided to change my itinerary for the last day in Extramadura in the hop I would catch up on the Steppe species I was missing. I decided to go to the area north of the N521 that connects Trujillo and Cacares. It is famed for its Steppe species and I was feeling confident in getting some, if not all of them.

My first port of call was the Trujillo Fish Ponds. It was only just getting light but I could still see that there wasn’t much on there. Coot, Little Grebe added to the trip list plus there were a few Moorhen and Mallard but that was all.

From there I went to the Turn off the N521 that connects through to Santa Marta de Magasca. First birds seen were a Chiffchaff, a Black Redstart, about twenty Serin, a couple of Hoopoe and a few Thekla Lark & loads of Spanish Sparrows so not a bad start. The first Steppe area I came to and there was a nice surprise as there were eleven Great Bustard in the distance standing proud on a Ridge. I managed a few Digiscoped shots before they disappeared to the other side. For the next few miles not a lot else was seen apart from a couple of Hen Harriers on posts and a Red Kite.

The road from Santa Marta de Magasca was very poor in relation to birds seen.Just a couple of Red Kite, a surprise five Lesser Black-backed gulls, that flew over me, plus a few Azure-winged Magpies was all I could muster from this section.

The last section is from a dodgy road, full of potholes, that goes from the latter road through to the CC912. A great start was had here. First of all eight Great Bustards were one side of the road, six on the other and a lone bird further over. There were also a couple of Black Vultures perched on some large rocks. Now that was a great start to this road. The road is about 22k long but unfortunately the rest of it didn’t live up to its reputation, until the last two miles, where I came across a field full of nettles (like many I had passed before) and found at least forty Great Bustards. Unfortunately I could find any other of the birds I was looking for.

I did have one area that was alive with Calandra Larks about five kilometres earlier but apart from that none of the Steppe areas turned anything up of note.

Just after the great bustards I came across quite a few Griffons drifting down towards a field. I moved further along the road and came across about thirty Griffons and two Black Vultures feeding on a carcass. Unfortunately they were quite distant from me so no chance of any good photos of them.

I had spent six hours in this area and ended up yet again disappointed on my sightings. The Great Bustards were a good compensation but in the end I missed out on both Sandgrouse, the Little Bustard, and because of the weather the previous two days I missed out on seeing Black-shouldered Kite.

I left there just after 14:30, face with a 300+ Kilometre journey down to Hinojas in Donana, arriving at the Hostel Pino Donana at 17:40. Hopefully my day around Huelva tomorrow will be a good one.

My trip list had crept up to 90, but it could have been so much more.

Dec 4th

Today was in an area I had never done any birding before, Huelva Marshes & Lagunas. I set out in the dark and arrived at El Portillo Laguna just after 08:30, as the sun was just rising. It was bitterly cold but straight away five new trip ticks went into the log book. Pochard, Shoveller, Black-necked Grebe, Greenshank & Cetti’s Warbler. Four Greater Flamingo were also on the water. Suddenly I thought I was onto a few hundred geese as there were about ten groups of birds (about a hundred in each group) flying just like geese in a “V” formation. I was surprised when they started to get closer as they were all Cormorants. There must have been over a thousand of them.

My next stop was the Central Causeway, which stretches about twenty kilometres to a lighthouse, with marshes both sides to start with then open sea on one side and the Huelva Port and refineries on the other. I spent the best part of five hours here and added sixteen birds to the trip list. Surprises were 7 Slender-billed Gulls ( I didn’t think they came here) plus a Booted Eagle being mobbed by Starlings. Another surprise was a Great Skua that briefly came in towards the port before going back out into open sea.

Even though I saw some good birds I was still a shade disappointed as I had hoped for Caspian Tern, plus possibly Bluethroat as well but neither showed.

It was on my return from the lighthouse where I had a major problem. I had only gone about five hundred yards when I hit a major pothole (the bright sunshine didn’t pick it out in the white concreted road). I went down with a bang and within seconds my tyre was flat. I got out to inspect it and the actual wheel had dented right in so a wheel change had to be done. For the next few days, and about eight hundred plus miles, I had to drive without a spare wheel so I was thankful when I reached the airport to fly back without any further problems.

From here I decided to call into the Lagunas over by the refineries. On the way I wanted to take a look at an area known as El Estero de Dominco Rubio. As soon as I arrived there I saw a Purple Gallinule. Unusually this bird was in reeds within five feet of a main road and just as I was watching him a Squacco Heron took flight nearby. I saw another five P.Gallinules in that area, one right out in the open mid water (I have never seen one like that before) but there was little else apart from five B W Stilts.

The Lagunas were next. The first one was the Laguna Primera da Palos and here I added Pintail and Wigeon to the list. There was little else apart from another four P Gallinules and a few gulls. The next laguna was virtually birdless and the third I couldn’t find. The last skirted the main road but you were taking your life in your hands if you tried to stop on this fast road so I decided to carry on to El Rocio instead.

On the way to El Rocio I decided to drop into El Acebuche to have some food and at the same time try and photograph the Azure Winged Magpies that are usually around the picnic tables. Thankfully I did manage a few shots.

It was time to move on to El Rocio. As you approach the huge lake you can stop by a bridge to view the western side of it. There must have been at least five hundred Flamingo, about three hundred Glossy Ibis plus huge numbers of Shoveller, Wigeon, Pintail etc and about fifty Grelaygs as well. I had planned to spend the last hour plus standing on the top of the old observation buiding and survey the birds from an elevated position but I got a shock when I got there as they had pulled the building down and there were a few men pile driving huge trunks of wood into the ground, where the building once was. I wonder if they are going to build another observatory.

There was no point trying to watch the birds from there with all the noise that was going on so I decided to pack up and go back to Hinojas.

Tomorrow is a day in Donana. I hope the weather is as good as it was today.

Dec 5th.

Typical of some of my luck on this holiday but as I approached my first site in the Corre Verde area of Donana it was engulfed in a heavy mist. So were my second and third sites also. The sun was coming out so I thought it best to revisit these sites later in the day when the mist had been burnt off.

I decided to go to the Jose Valverdis centre then work back. What a wasted journey that was. I didn’t see one solitary water bird there. In fact all I saw were two Stonechat. The areas preceding the centre were also devoid of birds and the sum total on that area was two Moorhen.

Thankfully leading up to that area I did see fifty five Cranes plus the largest flock of Calandra Lark I have ever seen. There must have been well in excess of one thousand of them.

A point I have to make here is that if whoever is responsible for the tracks leading to the Valverdi Centre don’t do something about repairing them then I can see after one more winter these tracks will be impassable by small cars. Some of the potholes were incredible, two to three foot deep in places and I only just got through some of them myself. It made the journey to the centre a not too enjoyable one in conjunction with the lack of birds.

I decided to head to the Abajo Centre to see what might be on the large lake there. I was not disappointed as there was the largest flock of Black-winged Stilts I have ever seen. Just like the Calandra Larks there must have been over a thousand of them. Also huge numbers of Pochard and Shoveller, Mallard and a couple of Shelduck as well as a wing tagged Marsh Harrier.

It was time to go to the Night Heron site, which was to be one of my morning sites. There were at least a hundred there but none were flying, and I was hoping for some flight shots. Whilst watching these a Booted Eagle drifted over my head then started to check out the fields below it. A Black Stork, followed by five White Stork also drifted over my head, albeit very high. I decided to go to the Black-shouldered Kite site, then call back to the Night Heron roost later to see if any were flying.

It didn’t take me long to find one of my target birds of the trip, The B.S.Kite as there were two of them standing proud on a distant tree. At least I clawed one back that I had missed in Extramadura. I moved about another kilometre and found another bird but this one was equally distant from me.

Moving on to Ranch El Rocio and it was all gulls and Lapwing, apart from two Flamingo. I checked some fields further along and apart from about fifty Black-tailed Godwits there was nothing.

I returned back to the Night Heron site, via the Abajo centre. Nothing different at the Centre’s lake but at least there were a few Night Heron flying when I got there. Thankfully I managed a few flight photos before moving back to the B.S.Kite site again. Straight away I found another bird, sitting on some wires, but again very distant. I sat for an hour to see if it would come any closer but it didn’t so I decided to pack in a little early tonight. Tomorrow I will try the Brazi Del Este before going back to Ronda to meet Pete again.

Dec 6th.

I started out early at 7am as I wanted to be at the Brazo Del Este at first light. I had never been there before so didn’t really know what to expect but I spent five hours on there and never found my way to the river. I tried many tracks, some of the only as wide as the car with water lapping either side of me only to find barriers at the other end, resulting in me having to reverse about half a kilometre very slowly. I don’t wish that upon anyone so beware if visiting that area, watch out what tracks you take.

Highlights were approx five hundred Glossy Ibis, four hundred in the air and a hundred on the ground.

I saw at least fifty Purple Gallinule (ten together in one small area). Well over one Hundred Marsh Harrier (one under attack by a Sparrowhawk). Four Squacco Herons. Twenty Spoonbill, four Great White Egret, at least fifty Green Sandpipers as well as at least one hundred Black Storks and two hundred White Storks and the most Cattle Egrets I have ever seen. There were thousands of them all over the place. The biggest surprise for me though was the area I found the four Squacco’s in. I could here two funny calls emanating from the reeds. It took a while to connect with them but there were a small party of five Common Waxbills and about ten birds that I didn’t recognise. I have some photos and I will e-mail them to Peter Jones. He thinks possibly female Golden Bishop but until he has a good look at them I won’t know for sure.

I decided to go across to Ronda early and arrived at the Vulture Feeding Station at 15:00. There wasn’t one Vulture present, although there was fresh offal and a whole pig laid out on the feeding area. There were a few distant Vultures in the air so I rang Peter to find out how late they can come down. He said they come down very late at times and suggested that I called into a site not far away that has Crossbills and the occasional Eagle Owl there. It took only fifteen minutes to get there. On the way I had a real shock when two Great Spotted Cuckoos flew past me and landed on the ground about fifty yards away. I started to lower the window to get a photo but they flew off straight away. I rang Peter to tell him of my find and he said that he has had them in December himself. That surprised me as I thought they would have been long gone by now.

At the mast area I could soon here the Crossbills and it wasn’t long before I was in Crossbill heaven. I must have seen over one hundred of them, with more calling around me. Above me were nearly one Hundred Griffons, and I managed some half decent flight shots of them, but the Crossbills were realy posing for me. They weren’t fazed at me being there and just looked at me whilst I took there photos. That was the highlight of the holiday for me as it is a bird I have always wanted to photograph.

I finished off the night by going back to the feeding station but there were only fifteen sitting in the field and the food remained untouched. I sat there for an hour in the car but they didn’t move so I packed in and went to the Hotel I stayed at last week.

Tomorrow I am following Peter to meet Mick Richardson. He has a guaranteed Little Bustard site in the Granada area, plus quite a few Stone Curlews as well, so hopefully I can get some photos of either, or both, of those species.

Dec 7th.

This was my last days birding as I was going straight to the airport on the 8th.

Today Peter and I met up with Mick Richardson in his local patch in the Granada area. We were to check out some Little Bustards that he knew of in the fields near to Huerta Tajar. It didn’t take long to find them and soon we were watching 57 of them, albeit distantly and through quite a bad heat haze. We moved on and soon I was watching 38 Stone Curlew but they were very flighty and soon flew too far away for any photography in this heat haze.

Out next port of call was the Sierra De Loja for Alpine Accentor and Ring Ouzel. Right on cue I saw at least a dozen Alpine Accentors flying high above us. I didn’t manage to find any on the rocks so no photos I’m afraid. No luck with the Ring Ouzels though as none showed.There were quite a few Jackdaw flying around and amongst them were a couple of Chough. Not long after a few more Chough came into view.

I followed Peter and Mick and their wives further up the mountain. We stopped and Mick explained the best spots to go to and as Peter and Mick had business to attend to they said their goodbyes. I was left to venture further up the mountain but I didn’t do too well. A couple of Black Wheatear, a Southern Grey Shrike, a few Black Redstarts and about twenty Red-legged Partridge is all I could muster.

I turned back and eased my way down the track, checking all the likely spots for the accentors but no luck. I reached the point where we first saw them and stayed for an hour but none showed this time. Two more Black Wheatears showed as did a Sparrowhawk but that was it.

I decided to drop by Teba Gorge on my way back. I reached it about 17:30. Straight away I saw two Blue Rock Thrush, about twenty Crag Martins, a couple of Chough, a few Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff. That was my vacation finale.

There were many disappointments along the way. Fog in Extramadura and also Donana. Quite a few target birds not seen. Also the bad roads around Donana have made me think twice about going there again. I didn’t enjoy a large part of my driving in Donana and that is unusual for me as I love the place.

My biggest disappointment though was my camera. Soehow it has picked up masses of dust on the sensor at a time when I hadn’t changed lens. I don’t know how it did that but it is so bad that I will have to send it away to be done when I get back home.

Good points were meeting Peter Jones and his wife Brenda. Also meeting his Dutch friend Pieter plus meeting Mick Richardson and his wife Jayne and the sites they introduced me to, especially Peter for that Crossbill site. An experience I won’t forget for a long time.