Extremadura and Donana – A Birdwatcher’s Delight 28 April – 5 May, 2012
Despite the recent drought and then rain while we were there, we had some amazing sightings and I would definitely visit the region again.
On our first day, in the Valle del Jerte, we walked beside extraordinary rock formations carved out by the rushing stream. This was also where we saw our first vultures – griffon and black – and flora, some of which are familiar as garden plants in the UK.
On the following day, in Monfruge Natural Park, we were treated to a fantastic display of Spanish broom and lavender as well as other, more discreet flowers amongst the rocks. In the afternoon we spotted one of the main highlights of the holiday – eagle owl chicks: enormous, startled balls of down hidden on a rocky ledge.
I think a number of us would have been happy to stay the night and wait for the parents to appear. Some other highlights were the black stork, Egyptian vulture, booted eagle and Spanish imperial eagle.
Next, the Steppes of Belen had large flocks of displaying great bustards. As they took off their flight seemed an aerodynamic absurdity.
Later we visited Trujillo with its many white storks and also saw the surprising ‘Stork’ hotel surrounded by numerous breeding platforms. The more we saw of the black and white red-legged birds, the fonder we became of them, admiring their opportunism amongst the trees, chimney stacks and electricity pylons.
Driving over the steppes we crossed fields of wild flowers – white, yellow, purple – colours associated with Spanish ceramics, and more birds: golden eagle, black shouldered kite (tiny compared to its cousins), little owl, and the jewel-coloured bee-eaters and rollers. The list grew longer as species after species were pointed out to us by our local guide.
Merida, a world heritage site, was a cultural contrast but nevertheless a walk along the Rio Guadiana produced sightings of squacco heron, glossy ibis, purple galinule and many others.
El Rocio, our final destination and a surprise, felt liked like stepping onto the film set of a Western. But the view from the hotel window was exquisite – a lake on which plentiful birds fed including flamingos, spoonbills, glossy ibis… the list goes on.
During our time in the Coto Donana we managed to get a very clear view of a hoopoe, looking clownish, displaying its ‘Mohican’ crest. In the visitor centre was a live link to the Lynx breeding programme and outside, azure-winged magpies began to seem commonplace.
We also managed to visit the coast, where once again the flora was as stunning as the birds.
My personal highlights would have to be the eagle owls, hoopoes, rollers, bee-eaters, great bustards, golden eagle, imperial eagle, the nightingale singing in full view a few feet from us… I don’t know where to stop!