Jan 2nd - 5th - Somerset Levels

Jan 7th - 20th. - Sri Lanka. £1850

Feb 16th - March 3rd Costa Rica - full

Mar 20th - 30th Morocco - 10 nights. - full

April 2nd - 9th - Andalucia migration tour. - full

April 10th - 18th - Coto Donana & Extremadura - £950 - 2 places

April 19th - 27th - Coto Donana & Extremadura - £950 - full

April 28th - 5th May. - Lesvos - full

May 6th - 13th - Portugal - £950 - 4 places

May 15th - 22nd - Northern Greece - full

May 23rd - 30th Bulgaria - £850 - 4 places

May 23rd - 30th - Andalucia birds and butterflies - £850

May 31st - June 7th. - Extremadura and Sierra de Gredos - £950

June 12th - 20th - Pyrenees and Picos de Europa - full



E-mail: bobbuckler49@hotmail.com

Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Thursday, May 31, 2012

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 8 - MAY 29th 2012


Our last day had arrived and oh so quickly! It was another superb morning, a bright still sunny affair, perfect for bird watching. We all had alie and took breakfast at 8am, so it was at 9am that we left the hotel for a morning sortie. Most of the ghroup wanted to get better views of Citril Finch so we set off down toward the Gredos national Park in the valley adjacent to the hotel.  Near a camp site we stopped and walked the tarcks and lanes in search of the finch.

Rock Sparrow showing it's head pattern well

A Common Whitethroat wth an odd song puzzled us for a while until it showed from the top of a pine, we had good views of Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Black Redtsart, Rock Sparrow and a female Cirl Bunting beofre we found our first Citril Finches. Serins, Goldfinches and Linnets were joined on the list by Common Crossbills as a flock of some 20 birds 'chip-chipped' over us. We spent an hour os getting closer and closer to small parties of Citril Finches until everyone was happy with their views and with their photographs.

A few lizards were out on show, the magnificent Ocellated Lizard grabbed most of the group's attention wqhilst the dainty Wall Lizards took second spot.
Ocellated Lizard

Well it was soon time to return to hotel and to load us the buses for our return to Madrid Airport. We set off at noon and njot long after we saw a Hobby fly over the bus! 

We  made a scheduled stop for lunch, the temperaturte in these lower areas was much higher, 32C was recorded!1 During our picnic lunch we noted Booted Eagle, Honey buzzard and the 'forever-present' Black Kite, lotsof Azure-wingedf Magpies flitted from tree to tree.

the best of my bad pictures of Citrl Finch

Well the tour was over, we drove directly to the aiport arriving around 5pm in time for the evening flight. We had some great memories, we had had some super weather (though a little hot at times) and we had recorded nearly everyone of the expected birds!!
It was a great trip with lots of laughter and merriment! Well, I mean....... what group turns up with; a Morris Dancer, a Bell Ringer, a Little Old LADY OF 101 years old, and a guy who uses a hankerchief as a hat!!! 

It was like something out of a Peter Seller's Movie sometime

....even from a Monty Python Sketch......I rest my case!!!

The group voted for the bird of the trip: Great Spotted Cuckoo came out on top, but Roch Thrush came a close second. We recored 159 species, a great effort with many contirbutions from the group a tribute to their great endeavour, vigilance and untiring enthusiasm ( I nearly wrote euthanasia then - I can't think why!!!)

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 7 - MAY 28th 2012


This was our big day, our chance to see some of the special birds found in this mountain region and we certainly had a great time looking for them.

We started at 7am with a walk around the nearby pine woods, it was a lovely morning, bright blue sky and no wind. Over an hour we found most of the woodland species expected in this area: Coal Tit, Mistle Thrush, Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Jay, Serin, Robin, Wren, Blackcap and Bonelli's Warbler. We then walked deeper into the woods where fewer species were seen, many Chaffinches were singing, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming in the distance and more Coal Tits appeared. 

Woodlark with food
It was during the latter part of the walk that we found our first Crested Tits of the trip, two of them performed well. Then a small flock of Crossbills alighted in a row of pines on the edge of the hotel car park, they showed very well for us and included a few 'red' birds.

After breakfast we set off for the highlands on the route to the Platforma de Gredos, the route from Hoyos de Espino to the higher car is one of outstanding beauty. Lower down, lush green alpine meadows are surrounded by pine forest on gently sloping hillsides, flowers abound and the bright yellow of the Spanish Broom is truly amazing. Higher up, the forest gives way to open heathland, steep sided hills are covered in flowering broom, gorse and wild flowers. 

We stopped several times to admire this lovely scenery and added a few species to the day list: Common Whitethroat, Rock Bunting, brightly coloured Linnets, Goldfinches and our first Ortolan Buntings were seen. As we neared the top we found many Dunnocks on the heath, a surprising and unexpected find for the group, But it was a male Red-backed Shrike that stole the show, it was singing from on top of the broom, a little elusive at first but eventually it showed well, a beautiful bird. Whilst watching the shrike we found a Subalpine Warbler too! Rock Bunting became increasingly more common, overhead the few raptors seen included: Black kite, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and a single Red Kite.
Black Redstart a very common breeding species

From the top car we spent a couple of hours walking into the higher area towards the 'Cirque de Gredos', the steep pathway led us passed a high sided cliff face and this is where we found our prized biurd the Rock Thrush. A superb male was singing and performing its song flight, what a superb bird, we also found Black Redstart, more Ortolan Buntings, a Water Pipit and some superb Spanish Ibex.

As we neared the top the high cliff gave way to gorse covered hillsides with areas of rocks and small streams. We stopped to search this area and over a period of an hour we had several sightings of the much sought after Bluethroat. This fantastic little gem showed well on and off and it was interesting to note that all the 3 males on show didn't have a central spot (neither red or white) in their blue-throats!

The ubiquitous  Chaffinch
Well after that showing a victorious group marched back down to the car park along thje way we had much better views of Water Pipit, the Skylarks were still singing overhead and the Rock Thrush was still performing. 

We then drove into town to pick up lunch supplies and we ate our lunch back in the valley near a babbling brook where a Dipper was seen with both White and Grey Wagtails. Our afternoon walk along the open alpine meadows proved very productive. We found a Green Woodpecker that was calling from the top of the pines, we saw a couple of Firecrests, more flocks of Crossbills, Woodlarks, Mistle Thrushes and sveral sightings of another local speciality; the Citril Finch. These elusive little finches were feeding in the grass below the pines and it was difficult to get a close view of them so we had to make do with middle distant sightings.

An after dinner walk by just four of us gave us a surprising result, we heard at least 3 European Nightjars calling from the open forest glades near the hotel and as we walked along the lane we saw two of them in flight, a great unexpected result, we had better views of this species than of the Red-necked Nightjar back at Finca Santa Marta!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 6 - MAY 27th 2012


We took an early breakfast and we were no the road by 8am. Most of the morning was spent travelling but we did stop at 10:30am at a bridge over the Rio Jerte. We searched Dipper but we 'dipped', however we did see Grey Wagtail, Jay and Blackcap. A short while later we stopped for coffee and from the terrace of the roadside venta we found Black Kite, Black Redstart and Jay.
Black Redstart

Our next stop was on the wooded hillside of Valle de Jerte, we spent an hour or so watching several woodland species such as Long-tailed Tit, Cirl Bunting, Eurasian Nuthatch, Golden Oriloe and a surprising Rock Bunting. Our first Honey Buzzard was noted as it came over a nearby ridge.

Lunch was taken on a bridge on an old section of the main road just south of El Barco. It was quite entertaining as we found the elusive Dipper and more Grey Wagtails. Raptors found included more Honey Buzzards, Booted Eagles, Griffon Vultures and a lovely Hobby that circled above us. Some of the group walked along a neaby lane and came up with Bonelli's Warbler, Golden Oriole, Pied Flycatcher, Robin and Wren. Two more stops produced Woodchat Shrike, Carrion Crow, Woodlark and  some beautiful Red Kites.

We checked into the hotel at 2:30pm and after some confusion with rooms not being ready we got settled in and metagain at 3:30pm for our first birding outing in this beautiful mountain region. We drove
a short distance to some alpine meadows andstarted logging new birds for our list, thefollowing were recorded in quick succession: Rock Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail (Iberiae), Northern Wheatear,
Tree Sparrow, Carrion Crow, Linnet, Serin, Melodious Warbler, White Wagtail and another Hobby that was hawking insects on the wing over the meadow.
Queen of Spain Fritillary

We walked several times along a river and only added Common Whitethroat to our list, but a stop near
some willow trees produced some good species. It was nice to hear both blackcap and garden Warbler singing together inthe same area, we saw both of them too! Another addition was the Bonelli's WArbler, this little gem was nice find. 

Our last stop for the day was at a bridge in the next valley, we spent an hour or so just standing beneath some pine trees overlooking a grassy meadow. This spell produced a good number of species including: Firecrst, Coal Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Short-toed Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Jay and a couple of Honey Buzzards.

Well our introduction to the Gredos Mountains proved fruitful and we all looked forward to our visit to higher ground in the morning.

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 5 - MAY 26th 2012


We left the plains of Trujillo today and headed west for a large reservoir near Almarez in search of some water species missing from our list. But before breakfast most of the group went for a walk along ther tracks around the finca. Not too many species were seen during the walk but we did see, Golden Oriole, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, a flyover Hawfinch, and, a singing Woodland was a new addition to our list.

By 10am we at the reservoir, it was another lovely morning, a good temperature with a light breeze and plenty of susnshine. From the road-causeway we looked into the western arm of the reservoir and saw many Purple Herons, a single Squacco Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Mallard, Gadwall, Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe. A Great Reed Warbler sat high-up on a reed stem for all of us to admire but a 'reeling' Savi's Warbler was a liuttle more difficult to find but we eventually got to see it in the scope. A few sightings of Little Bittern were had as they flew across the reeds, a Night Heron was a good find but a Great White Egret was an excellent sighting. Several Gull-billed Terns hawked the water and neighbouring fields, a few Cormorants sat on a pier wall and lots of Cattle & Little Egrets joined Grey Herons onto our day list.

A short walk provided us with good views of Zitiing Cisticola, Reed Warbler and another Savi' s Warbler, this one showed better but was further away. Before lunch we toured this lovely nature reserve and visited several hides where we heard a couple of Purple Swamphens but failed to see them. We added Shoveler and some distant Little Terns to our list but nothing else of note. In the sky there was always something to look at: Black Kites, White Storks, Black Vultures, Giffon Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, all these were seen during the morning.

We ate our picnic lunch at another section of the reserve where to our great surprise we found a pair of Tufted Ducks, thses unusual winter visitors are normally long gone by April never mind May! We saw several more Booted Eagles and some lovely Red Kites.

For the last part of the day we went to Belen Plain, arriving about 4pm. A group of 6 Great Bustards in flight was a nice sighting and we saw Calandra, Crested & Thekla Larks well. As we turned onto one of the side tracks we began to search the roadside tamarisk for cuckoos and before long we found 3 Great Spotted Cuckoos sitting low in a bush. A superb find, we managed to get great views of them by silently creeping out of the mini-buses. This was a most wanted species by the group and we enjoyed our views of them immensely, what a find!

We went back to the finca for our last evening where we enjoyed an excellent meals with plenty of laughter and merriment at the table.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 4 - MAY 25th 2012


Monfrague is famous for its beauty, its bird life and especially its great variety of raptors, it certainly lived up to its reputation, the group loved their day out today!

We left the finca at 8am and drove straight to the park passing through Trujillo and Torrejon el Rubio before pulling into the top car park at the Castillo de Monfrague. We actually parked just below the car park and searched the cliff face on which the castle sits. The sky was, as usual full of hirundines, Crag Martins, House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, but no swifts. We spent some time watching Griffon Vultures on the ledges of the cliff and then in the sky with Black Vultures and our first Egyptain Vulture, all three could be seen at once, magical. They were joined by Black Storks and Black Kites and a Raven. We found Blue Rock Thrush on the pinnacles of the rock face and a coupole of Hawfinches flew over us. Just before we set off for our climb to the castle a White Rumped Swift flew over and circled for a while before dashing off, what a result, this was one of our main target species everyone had good views of it, smashing!

We climbed the steps to the castle and enjoyed the superb panoramic views from there, it was stunning,
we faced the rocky pinnacle called Salto de Gitano (Gypsie's leap) which was covered in birds, all three vultures, Black Storks and Black Kites. A little closer we watched Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart and a couple more White-rumped Swifts.

Next we drove down to the car park beneath the Salto de Gitano and watched from there, we had great views of Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Red-rumped Swallows and vultures. Then a shout went up "Golden Eagle" and sure enough a superb 1st year bird flew into view and circled the salto with the vultures, it was stunning and so pleasing for the group. Then a Peregrine Falcon did the same and showed brilliantly for us too!    

We made a couple more stops before we found some picnic tables where we ate our lunch in the shade of some trees. During lunch we saw Red Deer but not much else, especially in the bird world. Just after lunch we drove a little way, over a dam, and into some pine woods. A short walk there produced Coal Tit, Turtle Dove, Golden Oriole, Cirl Bunting. Serin, Blue and Great Tits.

At the Portilla  de Tieter (another rocky cliff-face similar to the Salto de Gitano) we had superb views of Spanish Imperial Eagle, both at the eyrie and in flight. We then went for a walk in some cork oak woodlands where we saw a good variety of species which included:Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove, Mistle Thrush, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Hoopoe, Bee-eater and many Azue-winged Magpies. But the best bird of all was the last one we saw, it was an Orphean Warbler, it was singing from the canopy and it took a short while to locate it. Its song is beautiful and the bird was a great addition to our tally.

We left for the finca at 5pm, well satisfied with our great day out in the superb Monfrague Park.

Friday, May 25, 2012

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 3 - MAY 24th 2012


An early breakfast at 7am was followed by a short day of birding just south of the finca. It was again, a beautiful sunny day but it got too hot for some of the group so we returned at 3pm.

We drove south passing through Zorita then down towards Madrigalejo. A few sightings along the way included at least 20 Lesser Kestrels, they sat along the telegraph wires and it looked as though they were using the nest boxes provided for the Rollers. We also saw a few Rollers and two Squacco Herons in flight was a bonus sighting.
At the Embalse Sierra Brava we had a bit of excitement as the people in leading bus saw a Great Spotted Cuckoo flying across the road in front of them. The cuckoo headed higher over the reservoir and was lost from sight as it rounded a headland. We immediately turned back to try to find but our efforts went unrewarded.  At the dam we scoped this huge body of water and found very little: about 500 Mallard sat in large rafts, we picked out one Shoveler amongst them, both Little and Cattle Egrets were dotted along the reservoir banks and several pairs of Great Crested Grebes floated around.

On the other side of the dam we could see for miles, the outflow fed a large holding pond and that fed in turn, a small stream. From the scrub and reds along this pond we could here Great Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler and a Common Nightingale, we did get fleeting glimpses of them from time to time. We also found Grey heron and as a nice bonus a Purple Heron put in an appearance, the two herons stood not too far apart. We also saw a distant Marsh Harrier, a small flock of Jackdaws and lots of White Storks.
From the dam we drove down onto the Rice Fields, we crawled along the services roads looking for birds on the flooded fields where the rice had just been planted. We found Zitting Cisticola, a Melodious Warbler in full song and 3 or 4 Collared Pratincoles that were hawking insects over the adjacent fields.

On the rice fields there lots of Spotless Starlings, a few Azure-winged Magpies and hundreds of Spanish & House Sparrows feeding on insects that were trying to escape from the soil as it was being flooded.
At a small bridge over a feeder stream that was overgrown with reeds we found Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Cetti’s Warbler, Golden Oriole, Tree Sparrow and small parties of the ‘exotic’ Common Waxbill. These waxbills are one of a number of 'escapes', species that were formerly caged birds and are now fully established wild breeding birds. On the way out of the rice fields we had prolonged views of a pair of Rollers that were perched on the telegraph wires above a nest box.

We then drove to some other rice fields a little closer to Madrigalejo where we spent some time watching another of the 'exotics' the Red Avadavat, we found a dozen of these delightful little gems along the hedgerows of the rice fields. We also had good views of Southern Grey Shrike, Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler and White Storks. 

For lunch we sat on a bridge west of the village of Vegas Altas where had great views of more Common Waxbills. We were hoping for a sighting of Penduline Tit but we never got one. However we get several views of Little Bittern, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler and Cetti's Warbler. Hoopoes and Golden Orioles flew around us and a female Marsh harrier took off from the reed bed.

After lunch we spent a couple of hours searching the rice fields around Vewgas Altas, most of the fields were now fully flooded and hence were devoid of life, but one or two we only partially flooded and those were the ones with birds in them. One filed held a dozen or so of Ringed Plover and as we scanned them we found Little Stint (2) and Dunlin (1). Across the road we found 4 Collared Pratincoles and several fields held Black-wiunged Stilts, the group on the second bus saw an Egyptian Mongoose run across a dry field.

It was very hot so we returned to the finca a little early so we could rest up and recharge before going out to dinner in the Plaza Major in the centre of Trujillo. Nevertheless it didn't stop some of the ventering down the tracks around the finca. A Wryneck was heard calling, Short-toed Treecreeper was added to the trip list and Marsh, Queen of Spain and Cardinal Frittileries were added to the butterfly list.

Dinner in the plaza was superb, we had agreat night out, the bird list in the square include: Common and Pallid Swifts, White Stork, Jackdaw, Black Kite, Spotless Starling, Serin and many Lesser Kestrels.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 2 - MAY 23rd 2012


A full today! We made a pre-breakfast visit to Belen Plain then we went out all day followed by a post dinner walk for nightjars and owls!

The weather was superb again, all day sunshine with a light breeze - a high temperature of 30C in the afternoon.

The trip to Belen Plain began at 7am, we arrived just as bright orange sun-light lit up the sky line and sent out rays of all shades, ranging from orange to pink! The dawn chorus was delightful as hundreds of larks, hoopoes, buntings and sparrows sang together in utter chaos. Our first stop produced: Crested lark, Thekla Larks, Calandra Lark, Corn Bunting, several Hoopoes, a perched Booted Eagle, a dozen or so Black Kites and many White Storks. Then we located a couple of Little Bustards, they were quite distant but they were males and they stood proud of the grass as they delivered their 'raspberry' calls.

Our second stop, deeper into the plains area, produced more Little Bustards and about 10 Great Bustards, these huge creatures strolled majestically over their grassy kingdom ocassionally looking up as if posing for our cameras. We drove along a bumpy track in search of cuckoos but failed to see one and whilst searching we found Southern Grey Shrike, Little Owl, Stonechat, Azure-wnged and Eurasian Magpies and a pond held Mallard and Black-winged Stilts.

After breakfast we drove into Trujillo to buy our picnic supplies before setting off in the direction of Casares. A short stop on an old bridge just west of Trujillo produced: Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler, Common Nightingale, Cirl Bunting, Lesser Kestrel, Spanish Sparrow and a Hoopoe calling from a pylon.

We turned off the main road towards Santa marta and made a couple stops on the open grassland to look for sandgrouse. The morning had really warmed up and heat haze became a problem, we didn't see or hear a Sandgrouse. We did enjoy close views of Tawny Pipit and fleeting views of Short-toed Lark. More Great Bustards were found before we decided to stop for lunch. We sat in the shade of an oak tree to eat our picnic and during lunch we saw Woodchat Shirke, Mistle Thrush, Azure-winged Magpie, Hoopoe and Black Kites.

Over the next couple of hours we stopped at bridges over the Rio Magasca and we paid a visit to the Embalse Talavan. The embalse (reservoir) held both Great-crested and Little Grebes, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Gadwall, Common Pochard, Black-winged Stilt, Little Egret and 4 Collared Pratincole.

The last brdige we stopped at was near Casares and spanned a valley over the Rio Almonte, it was alive with hirundines and Swifts. The main attraction for us was a samll colony of Alpine Swifts, they showed very well, but the shear numbers of House Martins, Swallows, Red-rumped Swallows and Crag Martins was amazing. On the rocky shoreline we found Little-ringed Plover and on an old birdge we found a single, male, Black Wheatear. Afternoon raptors seen included Short-toed Eagle, Red KIte, Black and Grffon Vultures.

Before we returned to our finca we made a diversion onto the Casares-Santa Marta road where a nest box scheme was proving very successful and many pairs of Rollers were now breeding there. These superbly colourful birds were sat on wires near their nest boxes which were mounted on every telegraph pole in sight. We had great views of up to 25 birds!

After dinner we took a stroll into the orchards behind the finca to look for nightjars. The air was perfectly still, it was warm and balmy, the setting sun reddened the sky, a perfecting setting for nightjar viewing. However, despite hearing 2 or 3 Red-necked Nightjars we only got a fleeting glimpse of one of them, furthermore, we never heard a single Scops Owl calling, a bit disappointing really, but nevertheless, a lovely evening stroll to finsh off a great day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012



It was changeover day today, I took my first group back to Madrid for their departure to the UK and I collected my new group for a repeat of last week's tour and so it DAY 8 for group 1 and DAY 1 for group 2.

But before all that there was a little birtding done at the Parador before breakfast, a nice list of species was amassed before we set off for Madrid. Black Redstart, Coal Tit, Jay, Rock Bunting, Raven, Long-tailed Tit, Common Crossbill, Serin, Short-toed Treecreeper, Blackcap & Blue Tit were all seen in the hotel grounds.

We set off at 9am and arrived at barajas Airport at 11:30am one group departed whilst I met up with Paul (our second driver) and together we drove to Barajas town to collect the second group, all from Cheltenham Bird Club, they had arrived the night before and were now waiting for us to collect them from their overnight hotel.

By 12 noon we were back on the road and heading for Extremadura. We noted White storks, Black Kites, Booted Eagles and lots of Spotless Starlings along the way. Our first was to refuel one of the buses, whilst there we found a pond that held Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall & Shoveler. Overhead we recorded Black Vulture, Booted Eagle and more White Storks.

The next stage took us to Jaraicejo heath where we ate our picnic lunch and spent some time looking for scrub warblers. We were not disappointed as found two very obliging Dartford Warblers, a Subalpine Warbler that sang fro the scrub and a couple of Spectacled Warblers also singing from the heath. We had brief views of Sardinian Warbler but good views of Crested Lark, Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting and a pair of Black Storks in the distant sky.

At the '3 brdiges' over the Rio Almonte we spent an hour so enjoying the lovely scenery, the flowers and the bird life. Woodchat Shrike, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Stonechat. Blue-rock Thrush, White Wagtail we all seen well, but Common Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler were only heard. As we pulled away from the brdiges we noticed two Short-toed Eagles in the sky, a Raven and several Magpies were logged as we approched Trujillo.

Finca Santa Marta was as lovely as ever, the tranquil setting and idyllic surroundings are just perfect for a bird-watching tour. A short walk before dinner produced Serin, Red-rumped Swallow, Golden Oriole,
Azure-winged Magpie and there were 5 Stork's nest in close proximity to our rooms.

We sat down at 8pm for dinner and during the log call we realised that we had recorded 59 species!! Not a bad start at all for our tour.

Monday, May 21, 2012

EXTREMADURA - 7 DAY TOUR - DAY 7 - MAY 21st 2012


Our last day started with great disappointment! We had arranged to meet in the hotel lobby at 7am for a walk around the gardens before breakfast but when we met we could see a thick mist outside, despite this we still went for a walk, the mist was patchy and cleared at times so we did see some birds: Black Redstart singing from the hotel roof was the first, Chaffinch, Rock Bunting, Serin, Jay and a single Crossbill were the grand total for our efforts.
Black Redstart on the hotel roof in bad light

After breakfast we set off for the Platforma de Gredos which meant a 12 kilometer drive, up to 2,000 meters, through a lush green valley of mountain streams, pine woods and alpine meadows. The mist had cleared and blue sky appeared but it was only 3C so gloves, hats and coats were necessary. We stopped at several places along the valley, the first of which was to look for a 'probable' Rock Thrush that was seen by some from the back of the bus but we failed to find the suspect during our search. However we did see Common Whitethroat, Linnet and several Dunnocks - this caused quite a surprise to the group as they never expected to see this species high up in the mountains, it is also quite a dark morph race of Dunnock too!
Common Crossbill - photo also taken in bad light

Further up we encountered lots of Rock Buntings, Ortolan Buntings, more Dunnocks, a few Ravens and the odd Black Kite. At the car park near the top we parked up and set off on foot for the climb towards the 'Cirque de Gredos'. The pathway took us up through a rocky valley with steep sides having cliff faces and large boulders, ideal habitat for Rock Thrushes. We failed to find one but saw many Black Redstarts, Rock Buntings, Ortolan Buntings, Black-eared Wheatears and the odd Griffon or Black Vulture would drift over. We saw a huge herd of Spainsh Ibex high up on the cliff top, some 70 individuals of the 'victoriae' sub-species, the males having spectacular, huge, horns.
Spanish Ibex

After an hour of walking the valley opened out and gorse and broom scrub appeared on the grassy slopes, this is the habitat of the Bluethroat our target species. Well, what a show, we saw two males and the closest one performed its song flight and sat out in the open for us, singing from the top of the gorse. The group loved this sighting it was a superb showing by this beautiful little gem. During this time we also saw several Northern Wheatears, Ortolan Buntings, Dunnocks, Water Pipits, a flock of some 50 Red-billed Chough and a couple more Ravens. The temperature rose to about 6C and we felt quite warm when the cold breeze stopped. 

A very poor record shot of the Bluethroat
 We descended back to the car park and drove down into the village of Hoyos de Espino to buy lunch and then headed back into the valley to eat it at a picnic spot near a camp site. As we sat at picnic tables in a pine wood adjacent to a babbling brook we saw several species: Grey Wagtail, lots of Chaffinches, Eurasian Nuthatch, White Wagtail and a small flock of Citril Finches were seen briefly by one of the group.

The next two hours were spent walking along the tarmac road back up the valley looking into copses of pine and open meadows, we had a great time. The first birds we encountered were a flock of Crossbills, they were coming down to a puddle to drink, as we watched them we also found a small party of Citril Finches doing the same. During this period we also saw lots of Black Redstarts, the males looking exquisite in their summer garb. A couple of Common Cuckoos provided some great enetertainment as the male sat on a post near the female and displayed to her by fanning out its wings and tails and issuing incessant 'cuckoo' calls, she didn't seem to be responsive but he kept on trying!

Next we found 3 or 4 Pied Flycatchers, which was another surprise for the group as they didn't expect to see Pied Flycatchers high up in the mountains breeding in pine woods. The birds were very obliging as they 'hunted' from fences and low branches. Many Mistle Thrushes were busy gathering food for chicks, some were in song too. Brightly coloured Yellow Wagtail littered the meadows and Carrion Crows, Jays, Common Magpies, Spotless Starlings appeared from time to time and Green Woodpeckers called from afar.

A series of photographs of both the male and female Pied  Flycatcher

Back in the pine woods we found Short-toed Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker (briefly) and more flycatchers, a few Robins, Serins and Coal Tits were added to the day list. But all in all the group really enjoyed this last birding session, the scenery was just spectacular and the weather superb (despite the cold). Our last birding effort was during the drive back to hotel, we stopped a couple times to watch a pair of Honey Buzzards on the ground feeding on a grassy slope, Red and Black Kites drifting over and more Serins. One of the group went for walk along this valley and found Sparowhawk and Hobby to add to our list. 
Rock Bunting - taken back at the hotel

The birding holiday was over as we arrived back at the hotel, we had to pack ready for a 9am departure for Madrid in the morning, but not before another delicious meal in the Parador!

Sunday, May 20, 2012



After an early breakfast we said goodbye to Finca Santa Marta and headed off towards Trujillo in dull overcast cloud. We travelled quickly and within an hour we had passed through Monfrague noting Griffon and Black Vultures, Black Kite, Booted Eagle and a new bird for our list a Sparrowhawk which was seen on the northern edge of the park.

We stopped at a bridge over the Rio Jerte north of Plasencia and found Grey Wagtail and Dipper, both new birds for our tally. A few kilometers further along the valley road we turned off and entered some oak woodland. We spent an hour or so searching for new species but only came up with brief views of Great Spotted woodpecker but better views of Garden Warbler, Golden Oriole, Robin, Long-tailed Tit, Cirl Bunting and lots of Chaffinches.

We drove a little higher up to the tree-line where the temperature had dropped to 5C and was a little chilly. We found a Pied Flycatcher along the way and Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush and 'snow in the air' at the top. A couple of Booted Eagles and a Griffon Vulture were noted above us. Our journey back down was uneventful and just before the town of El Barco we stopped for lunch on a bridge over a small river. The sun shone through hazy cloud but rain was not too far away so we hurried. Birds seen during our picnic were Golden Oriole, Bonelli's Warbler ( an extremely confiding little beauty which foraged just a couple of meters below us) we also saw Booted Eagle, our first Honey Buzzard, Red KIte and a Bonelli's Eagle, I'm sure Mr Bonelli must have been here!!

We checked into our hotel at 1:30 - the Parador de Gredos is situated on the edge of a huge pine forest and all the upper rooms have views over the forest and of the distant mountains. After an hour settling in we took walk around the grounds, our first bird was a superb male Black Redstart, it was singing from the roof. Next we saw Rock Bunting, Coal Tit and Serin. Our walk produced a few more species but it was very cold so we decided to drive to a nearby river.

At Navarredonda we parked near the concrete 'bull-ring' and viewed the open meadows. We listed Yellow Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Carrion Crow, Rock Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Linnet and we heard a Green Woodpecker. Further down the road we stopped to look for another Green Woodpecker that flew up into a pine copse, but instead we found some nice orchids. A short walk from there produced some really good species, we hit a small purple patch. Firstly a summer plummaged Water Pipit was seen then 3 Ortolan Buntings and beside them were two Citril Finches, well what excitement for the group.

Next we drove along a track for several kilometers which brought us to a bridge where we parked and took our last walk of the day. The sky had brightened a little and it wasn't long before we were watching a party of Crossbills, some 20+ birds were seen. We also found Long-tailed Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over us and lots of Chaffinches were in song.

At 5:30pm we called it a day and drove back to the Parador for a shower in readiness for dinner at 8pm.

Saturday, May 19, 2012



OH MY GOD - ITS RAINING. After a perfect day yesterday we awoke this morning to thick cloud and rain. This is not on!! We drove 60 kilomters north-east towards Madrid and stopped at the turning to Almarez, the rain had more or less stopped and we could see brighter patches in the sky. A short walk in an oak wood produced excellent views of our first Orphean Warbler as a pair showed well in the canopy. We  also saw Common Cuckoo, Bee-eater and Stonechat.

The drive to the Arrocampo nature reserve took 10 minutes from the wood. This reserve is centred around a huge man-made lake created adajcent to a nucler power station but the birds don't seem to mind!

We had a great time there, I had set a target of 12 new species for the list and we found 11 of them! We walked to the first pool and quickly found Purple Heron, Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern and Gull-billed Tern. Lots of Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets, Grey Herons and White Storks were also present. A single Eurasian Spoonbill dropped into the distant reed beds as we continued our walk. We spent half an hour looking for a 'reeling' Savi's Warbler, this delightful little fellow decided to show itself wonderfully just a few meters from us, everyone got great views of it in the scope.

A pair of of Kingfishers entertained us for a while whilst were watching the terns, Common Tern was a nice surprise, Whiskered Tern joined them and a couple of pairs of Little Terns were fishing nearby. Our next good sighting was of a Squacco Heron that flew over us and then we found a must-see species for this trip, Black Shouldered Kite. One was sitting on the top of a large oak in a field behind the pool, it looked cold, wet and miserable. We walked nearer as the rain subsided and the sky brightened, the Kite took off and began hunting low over the field, what a great sight, it was joined by a second bird, we watched for a good while before they disappeared into a tree.

Next we walked to another section of the lake where the Spoonbill landed, we failed to find it again but we had fun watching other species such as: Cetti's Warbler, Gadwall, Common Nightingale and we got lovely views of a pair of Zitting Cisticolas. many White Storks had built nests in the pylons, they were feeding chicks and we enjoyed watching their arrival at the nest, the Spanish Sparrows had built their nest inside the storks nest and it looked like one big happy community.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving along the lanes between Trujillo, Monroy and Santa Marta Magasca in search of Great Spotted Cuckoos and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. It took a couple hours but we found the cuckoo, in fact a pair of them were seen at the side of the road in broom bushes. What a great find we watched them for a while, then they flew off over the fields just as the sky opened up - we all got a soaking as we ran back to the bus!!

An hour later the sky cleared up, birds of prey were on view once more: griffon vultures, black Vultures, black kites, Red Kites and the odd marsh harrier were on show. We found a low flying Hobby as we searched for sandgrouse and many Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Calandra Larks, Crested larks, Corn Bunting joined huge flocks of painsh Sparrows out in the fields.

We concluded this part of the tour around 4pm which gave us time to pack ready for our depature in the morning to the Gredos Mountains! Different scenery, different habitats with hope of lots of new species!

Friday, May 18, 2012



This is always my favourite part of the tour, Monfrague is a truly wonderful place and a very special global area for raptors, we just had the most prefect weather for our day there. An early breakfast was followed by a 45 minute drive to the park, our first stop was the Castillo de Monfrague.
 We parked just below the Castillo and no sooner had we got out of the bus when a shout of 'White-rumped Swift' went up. Sure enough a couple of these rare breeding swifts were circling high above us! Well what a start to the day. On the cliffs just above us several Griffon Vultures were perched and a Blue Rock Thrush sang from on high and performed its display flight a few times.

The walk up to the Castillo produced more excellent views of up to 3 White-rumped Swifts and, at times, the sky was full of House Martins, Crag Martins, Barns and Red-rumped Swallows, Common Swifts and Pallid Swifts. From the top near the Castillo the views were absolutely amazing, the light was just fantastic and a lovely cool breeze wafted over us. You could see for miles over rolling hills and rivers, 'dehesa' stretched as far as the eye could see in several directions. The huge rocky outcrop called 'Salto del Gitano' (roughly translates to Gypsie's leap) was covered in Vultures. We watched many Griffon and Black Vultures drift over the cliff face, they were joined by the occasional Black Stork and Egyptian Vultures. It was hard to draw ourselves away fom this magical place but we did and we drove round to the car park at the base of Salto del Gitano. From there we found a Rock Bunting, more Blue Rock Thrushes and we could see into a few nests of the Griffon Vulture.

A couple more stops around the park before lunch produced Turtle Dove, Golden Oriole, lots of Azure-winged Magpies, Long-tailed Tits, but generally the woods were very quiet. But the lack of ground species was compensated for by raptors in the sky, everywhere you looked you could see birds over every hill. We often saw all three vultures with the ubiquitous Black Kite sometimes joined by Red Kites and the odd Booted Eagle. Twice we found Bonelli's Eagle saoring on high but never saw a falcon other than Common Kestrel.

We ate our lunch at Portilla del Tietar which is another similar rocky outcrop to that found at Salto del Gitano, however this area has been famous for hosting breeding Eagle owls and Spanish Imperial Eagles over the years. This year both were present, we had outstanding views of the Imperial Eagles visiting their nest to feed a well developed chick, they gave superb views as they drifted in and out of view.

We couldn't locate a roosting eagle owl so after we had eaten our picnic lunch we walked into some oak woods, it was now getting warm so the shelter of the trees was most welcomed. Our walk produced some good birds, Golxden Orioles, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrikes, Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Bonelli's Warbler, Blackcap and several common species.

Before we set off for the finca we decided to have another look for the owl, it was a good decision because one of the chicks was in view, it stood at the entance to a small cave and looked quite comical as it blinked at us, its grey and white downy feathers were falling off to reveal a deeper brown colour underneath, it looked a total mess! Whilst we watched the owl a Subalpine Warbler put on a superb display for us as it sang from an open perch, excellent!

Over drive back was interrupted by a stop at the bridge over the river Almonte, it was lovely in the late afternoon light to watch several species in and around the clear water. White Wagtail, Zitting Cisticola, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret and many Corn Bunting were seen there and along the route back to Trujillo.

We arrived back in the early evening and spent a relaxing time before dinner, some went for a short walk whilst other sat drinking tea outside their 'casitas' whilst others went swimming in the cool water of the finca's pool, a perfect end to a fantastic day.




We enjoyed another hot day with a nice breeze but it did begin chilly as we set off at 7am for a walk around the grounds of the finca.

We found many birds along the hedges and fields and added Linnet and Greenfinch to our tour list but we failed to find Hawfinch which is usually quite common in the area. Many Azure-winged Magpies, Woodchat Shrikes, Sardinian Warblers, Serins, Golden Orioles and Hoopoes were enjoyed by the group.

After breakfast we set off southward to the rice fields but first we stopped at the dam of the Reservoir Sierra Brava. Along the way to the dam we found Roller, Common Buzzard, Little Bustard, Calandra Lark and lots of Corn Buntings, a party of some 20+ Lesser Kestrels were seen along the telegraph poles.

At the dam we added Common Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Great Reed Warbler, Jackdaw, Marsh Harrier, 6 Hoopoes, Thekla Lark, hundreds of Mallards and a huge roost of Cattle Egrets.

A couple of hours were spent in the area of Madrigalejo, we drove along the tracks adjacent to the rice fileds. The rice had just been planted so the fields were in the process of being flooded. At a bridge we had a nice time watching Common Waxbills, Melodious, Cetti's, Reed and Great reed Warblers. A few Golden Orioles flitted in the trees, a Tree Sparrow sat obligingly on a dead branch and a lovely Little Bittern flew out of the reeds just below us. At another stop we watched a flock of Red Avadavats, some Collared Pratincoles and lots of White Storks. But the bird life was not as good as usual due to the fact that all the hedgerows had been burnt away.

We ate our picnic lunch on another bridge near Vegas Altas where we watched a superb male Penduline Tit feed on reed mace, we also saw Common Nightingale, many Reed and Great Reed Warblers, and some more Red Avadavats.

For the next hour or so we drove through the area south of Vegas Altas and at last found some flooded fields with some bird life. A Squacco Heron caught our attention and this led us to a little haven. We found Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Little Ringed Plovers, Greenshank, Little Egret and lots of Black-winged stilts.

It was now 4pm so we drove back to the finca and dropped half of the group off and the rest of us went out to Belen Plain to try to see Great-spotted Cuckoos. We failed again but had a lovely time watching many of the birds we saw last time including Little Bustards!



Another day of hot, sunny weather, again the mid-afternoon heat was a little too much but we kept out of the sun as much as we could.

Our first early morning excursion found us at the Belen Plain just as it was getting light at 7am. Our first stop produced Little Owl, Hoopoe and lots of larks. The air was full of bird song, Thekla Larks were very numerous as were Calandra Larks and Corn Buntings, Hoopoes seemed to call from all directions. Our second stop which was on a higher ridge gave us a good vantage point from which to scan the open grassland and it wasn’t long before we located pour target species the Little and then the Great Bustards. Several male Little Bustard were displaying,  giving their ‘raspberry’ call from all directions, some were even taking to the air and performing their flight display. The Greater Bustards just strolled around majestically, their displaying season was over by now, the largest find was a flock of twenty.
Black Kites, White Storks and Lesser Kestrels roamed the fields and several Southern Grey Shrikes, sitting on top of bushes and a single Stone Curlew was seen in flight. Soon it was time to leave this magical place and head off back to the finca for breakfast.

The rest of the morning was spent in the region of Trujillo, we visited the Llanos and the pool area where we found Black-winged Stilts and a Little Grebe, a short stop at an old bridge that spanned the old Casares road was quite productive. We all had great views of a Great Reed Warbler, it was singing from a large bush over the water. A Cetti’s Warbler was also quite showy and a pair of Kingfishers perched nicely for us, but it was a Lesser Kestrel that stole the show as it perched on a nearby pylon and gave us excellent views, what a little gem.

We then we drove towards Santa Marta and stopped to view the open fields there. Our best sightings included a flock of a dozen or so of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a couple of Montagu’s Harriers, Short-toed Larks and more Great Bustards.

The next couple of hours were spent visiting various bridges over the Rio Almonte and the reservoir at Talavan.  The river produced great views of Alpine Swifts visiting their nests under the bridge, a pair of Black Wheatears and a distant Rock Bunting. At Talavan we added a good assortment of birds to our list, all three grebes were found there as well as Collared Pratincole, Great Reed Warbler, Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, Black-Winged Stilts. a Lapwing and Gadwall. Many Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Crested  Larks and Black Kites made up the numbers.

We drove home via Casares and stopped on the Santa Marta road to view Rollers, there were many that had taken over the nest boxes put for them along a line of telegraph poles, super birds with superb colours. This concluded our first full day out so we set off back to the fince to prepare for another great dinner and local wine.

After dinner we took a short walk up through the olive groves and almond orchards to look for night birds. Just as it was getting dark we saw a Red-necked Nightjar flying around and we heard at least 4 Scops Owls and 1 Tawny Owl but we couldn't locate them in the trees.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012



What a great start to our 7 day tour of Extremadura, the weather was superb, bright and sunny with nice temperatures of around 25C

The group assembled at Madrid airport, Ken, Lilian and Peter came with me from Barajas whilst Bill, Rita, Ann and Barbara arrived at barajas airport, we all met up and were on the road by 11:30am.

A comfortable and eventful ride found us at Jaraicejo by 1pm. We had stopped for coffee and toilets and during the trip we had logged: Eurasian and Azure-winged Magpies, both Black and Red Kites, Griffon and Black Vultures. At the heathland near Jaraceijo we found Dartford Warbler and a very showy Spectacled Warbler. Other birds noted were Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Blackcap and Linnet.
On the heath looking for 'Spectacles'

Next we stopped at the "three bridges" where we spent a lot of time listing many good species. A Common Nightingale showed well as did Woodchat Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow, Kingfisher, White Stork, Grey Heron and Grey Wagtail. We heard a Cetti's Warbler and a Common Cuckoo and watched a lovely Short-toed Eagle circling above us. All in all, it was a great scenic place to visit.

Common Nightingale with its throat expanded as it is about to sing

We arrived at the Finca Santa Marta after a shopping trip to Trujillo, the grounds, ambiance and wild flowers of this secluded place make it something very special, this year it did not disappoint. We had a lovely warm welcome and arrival 'drinks on the house' were supplemented by a pep talk from the owner Henri, a really charming man and a wonderful experience for us all.
The three wise l;adies - butter would melt in their mouths -- 'not'

We could hear Golden Orioles from our rooms, a Hoopoe flew across the yard and Azure-winged Magpies flitted from olive tree to almond bush. Serins, Spotless Starlings and Sardinian Warblers joined the nesting White Storks on our 'Finca' list.

A superb dinner was taken at 8pm then we all retired after a long and exciting day, welcome to Extremadura.

Monday, May 14, 2012



Our last full day turned out to be perfect - the weather was fantastic, sunny all day not too hot with anice breeze - the birding was great too!

We decided not to travel too far after yesterday's major excursion, so we drove 300 meters out of the village and took a nice walk through the lovely cork woods just north of the village. We were sheltered from the sun and breeze most of the time so birding was exceptionally good, we could see any movement and hear many songs and calls. After 30minutes we had logged: Robin, Green Woodpecker, Common Cuckoo, Subalpine Warbler, Firecrest and Crested Tit - not a bad start.

Our first Bonelli's Warbler was in full song (if you can call a short trill a song) it showed very well, next we found a Short-toed Treecreeper and we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming.

 The most wanted bird for our list was Iberian Chiffchaff (see left), we found one singing away in the canopy showing very well in some dead sticks, nice bird. We then located a nest of Short-toed Treecreepers and watched Serin, Cirl Bunting, Jay and Wren before we finished the walk.

Our first singing Bonelli's Warbler was found next and it showed very well, we then saw Short-toed Treecreeper, more Crested Tits and we heard a Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming.

The latter part of the walk produced a Treecreeper's nest, Cirl Bunting, more Crested Tits a Common Chiffchaff singing and a few Griffon Vultures drifting over our heads.

For the afternoon we drove up to Ronda to visit the superb Sierras de las Nieves natural park, the scenery there is magnificent. We sat near the entrance at a picnic table to eat lunch and whilst eating we watched a pair of Woodlarks, Woodchat Shrike, Serin and a Green Woodpecker called several times from deep in the oak woodland.

Over the next two hours we drove deep into the park stopping at several places to view the gorse covered hillsides, the pine woods and the open mountain peaks, we listed many species, the best of which were: Dartford Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Black-eared Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Red-billed Chough, Short-toed Eagle and Griffon Vulture. A little higher up we found Coial Tit, Rock Bunting, Crag Martin and many Blue Rock Thrushes.

Our day concluded with a short watch from a mirador just south of Ronda where a nice passage of Honey Buzzards, Black Kites and Booted Eagles could be seen. On the rocky mountainside we found Black Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Linnet and lots of Blur Rock Thrushes but the sighting that sticks in the mind was that of over 60 Red-billed Chough spirraling up on thermals with the Honey Buzzards, smashing!

The tour concluded at 6pm as we reached Gaucin, we had logged 165 species, had some superb weather and found some special birds here in Southern Andalucia, a great effort from all of the group.

Woodcock Orchid, one of three species seen today along with 14 butterfly species.