Our 2017 Spain Birding trip started in Madrid, Spain’s capital city. After meeting the clients in the central part of this beautiful city we made our way to Extremadura where we spent the next 3 days.
We decided to take a detour and bird a mountain pass and our first roadside stop produced Great Tit, Blackcap, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Melodious Warbler, Skylark, Eurasian Hoopoe, Yellow Wagtail and Iberian Grey Shrike.
A picnic lunch stop at a small river produced breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Eurasian Nuthatch with both Common Cuckoo and Eurasian Golden Oriole. Further along the pass we found Dunnock, Dartford and Subalpine Warbler and Ortolan Bunting.Our lodge was located just outside the spectacular Monfragüe National Park.
The next day we birded the plains around Trujillo and before long we had seen both targets – Great and Little Bustard. This gave us time to look for other grassland specials and we added Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu’s and Western Marsh Harrier while Iberian Magpie and Calandra Lark was frequently seen. Common species like European Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Linnet and European Serin was also added. We enjoyed lunch in the famous town of Trujillo where we enjoyed sightings of Lesser Kestrel and Pallid Swift.
Our second full day in Extremadura was spend in Monfragüe National Park. This park is a raptor paradise and we saw Black, Egyptian and Griffon Vulture, Red and Black Kite, Golden Eagle, Black Stork and the highlight a Spanish Imperial Eagle. This Imperial Eagle sighting was particularly rewarding as we had to work hard for this special bird. Other interesting birds that was seen in the park include Blue Rock Thrush, Short-toed Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Rock Bunting, Little Owl, Red-rumped Swallow, Eurasian Wren and Great Spotted Woodpecker.
From here we made our way to The Ebro Valley and the plains of Aragon where the main target was Dupont’s Lark. This sought-after special can only be found in a few known spots in Spain and we all had great views on our first early morning visit. This is a hotspot for larks and we also saw Greater and Lesser Short-toed, Calandra and Thekla Lark while Spectacled Warbler and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was seen as well. We saw our first Red-billed Choughs and a walk along the Ebro River produced European Penduline Tit, Common Cuckoo, Blackcap, Common Kingfisher, Sand Martin, Great and Eurasian Blue Tits, Chaffinch and Linnet. One particular walk in a gorge was one of the highlights of the trip with wonderful views of Subalpine, Sardinian and Western Orphean Warblers, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared and Black Wheatear, European Greenfinch, Rock Bunting and a pair of perched Egyptian Vultures.
The coffee in Spain is some of the best I have enjoyed on any birding trip but on a Sunday afternoon during siesta time the only coffee we could find was a small self-service machine (should have been our first clue) at a service station (keep in mind that this is a very rural part of Spain) and this will go down as the worst tasting coffee ever and became a standing joke for the rest of the trip. It was in the valley where we saw our only Northern Goshawk of the trip while several European Turtle Doves were found amongst the hundreds of Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons. A couple of European Hobbies made an appearance.
From here we made our way to the Pyrenees, my favourite birding spot in Spain and we were treated to a couple of days of wonderful weather, spectacular scenery and fantastic birding. The first morning we picked up Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting and European Bullfinch as we ascended up to the French border where our main targets was the alpine specials. Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Alpine accentor, Alpine Chough, Pine Grosbeak were seen pretty quickly and we enjoyed sightings of Chamois, Red Squirrel and Alpine Marmot.
We decided to descend into France to a well-known site for Black Woodpecker and barely 2 minutes into our post picnic lunch walk we saw the unmistakeable shape of a Black Woodpecker flying over. We added 42 species during the couple of hours we were in France and still had time for a quick stop at a coffee bar in a small French village. One of the main targets of the Pyrenees is the Lammergeier and we enjoyed 2 different sightings of this magnificent bird including an eye-level fly-by. We made a concerted effort to find White-backed Woodpecker which is rare in the Pyrenees and we were fortunate to see two birds. European Honey-Buzzard, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Marsh, Coal, Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits were seen while White-throated Dipper is always a highlight and worth stopping at any fast flowing mountain stream. This is also perfect habitat for Grey and White Wagtail and ended up with many sightings. We decided to do a short drive after dinner to look for nocturnal species and were not disappointed as we got Tawny Owl, Red Fox, Pine Martin, Roe Deer and European Badger.
Our last stop was the Ebro Delta and a stop at an inland wetland en route produced Bearded Reedling, Reed Bunting, Water Rail and Little Bittern. Another highlight was seeing a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles soaring above. The Ebro Delta was as always very productive and we enjoyed great views of Mediterranean, Audouin’s, Slender-billed, Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Little, Common, Sandwich, Gull-billed and breeding Whiskered Terns. Purple and Grey Heron, Glossy Ibis, Common Moorhen and Purple Swamphen was often seen and although Spain is not the best spot in Europe for waders we still saw Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling, Kentish Plover, Grey, Little Ringed and Coming Ringed Plover and Common Redshank. Mallard, Gadwall, Common Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, Little and Great Crested Grebe, European, Great Reed, Savi’s, Ceti’s Warblers and Greater Flamingo were seen as well. We stopped at a well-known spot for passing migrants and got Spotted Flycatcher, Isabilline Warbler, Common Redstart and Willow Warbler.
It was another thoroughly enjoyable birding trip with a great group and we ended up with over 200 species which is great for Spain including most of the key targets. Already looking forward to next year’s trip.