Richard Smart - Nature Photography


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      Extremadura, Spain, April/May2014


 
 

Halfway down Spain getting close to the Portuguese border is Extremadura. 
The region is quite diverse having mountains, valleys, plains and lakes with rather unproductive farmland resulting from poor soil in between.   This is a sparsely populated area but man has significantly influenced the landscape by attempting to scratch a living from the impoverished soil. Crop rotation time is extended to allow sufficient nutrients to be built up by grazing animals and periods of lying fallow resulting in the thin crops of cereals. There are still vast areas of "Dehasa", parkland with holm and cork oaks with beautiful flowers underlying. The oak trees provide welcome shade for grazing animals, summer temperatures can reach 40 deg. Celsius. Within this region are some very interesting sites for bird watching and these pages concentrate on the triangle defined by Placencia to the north, Trujillo to the east and Cacares to the west.
The wildlife in this area is spectacular not only because of its choice species but the density of it too. Look to the sky, trees, lakes or plains and something will catch your eye.  Finches to vultures, terrapins to deer, snakes to eagles - they are all there.

Statue of Francisco Pizarro in Trujillo - leader of the conquistadores  that conquered Peru and wiped out the Inca empire. Pizarro came from this area.

Dehasa

The plains of Extremadura make a stark contrast to the mountain ranges and hold good populations of Great and Little Bustard. This farmstead has long been abandoned but makes a great nesting site for white storks.
All the time you traverse this type of area you hear corn buntings and see crested larks.

   

The more mountainous areas hold very good populations of Griffon Vulture but if you look carefully at this picture you can see that in one accidental shot I have Black Vulcture (my targeted subject), many Griffons, an Egyptian Vulture and at the top a Peregrine.  Black stork were nesting lower down as well.
   

An old power station that used the flow from a small river, now just another nesting site for white storks. The region has many dams built to provide water for the bigger towns so many villages have been inundated and streams cut off.
 

Monfrague National Park

Penafalcon and the Castle

Griffon vulture

Griffon with youngster

Blue rock thrush

Rock bunting

Well known spotting points are the castle at Monfrague and the Penafalcon rock face.  Here griffon vultures can be seen raising young whilst black vultures fly by.  The two do not always see eye to eye. Lower on the rock faces black stork breed and blue rock thrush and rock buntings make regular appearances.
My eagle eyed wife found a Hawfinch right below us and the many photographers and spotters missed it completely.
Black kite, Egyptian vulture are regular, and the day before we were there a young lammergeyer appeared - very very unusual.

Black stork

Black vulture

There are good walks around Villarreal, some just strolls others all day hikes. Villarreal is the only village within the national park but it offers accommodation and food, an excellent place to stay but a little crowded.  It is being turned into a main tourist centre and may be in danger of becoming a little too busy. Down in the valley we found golden oriole, turtle dove, and nightingales.
 
 
Olive groves and general areas with trees more often than not hold azure winged magpies which look beautiful when the sun catches their feathers.

 

The Plains between Trujillo and Cacares

Roller

We went to look for bustards, rollers, lesser kestrels, callandra larks and found them all.  Between Trujillo and Cacares nest boxes have been placed on the electricity posts and are well used.  They were intended to help rollers nest but little owls, lesser kestrels and jackdaws have helped themselves too.
Montagues harriers patrol the area in good numbers and crested larks are everywhere along with the very numerous corn buntings. Callandra larks are less numerous and more local but can be found easily.
Thekla larks can be found in the lower mountainous areas but distinguishing them is a very difficult job.  I have pictures which I think are all crested.

Corn buntings are everywhere but few let you get this close for a really good photo.

I would like to be able to put some bustard pictures here but whilst I saw a few great bustards I did not manage to get anything decent.  I ducked out on little bustards altogether but I need a reason to go back and that will do fine.

Roller in one of the specially erected nest boxes.

This one is definitely a crested lark.

   
Towns and villages

White stork will breed on any tall structure town or country.

 

We were told that the bull ring in Trujillo was a hot spot for breeding lesser kestrels. This proved to be true and we got a good number of photos. They were nesting under the roof tiles and were catching some fearsome looking insects and millipedes.

 

 

Whilst it is true to say Hoopes are to be found almost anywhere it was pleasant to wake up to the sound of them calling from vantage points in the town where we stayed - Torrejon el Rubio.
Photographing them was another challenge all together, they are shy.

Swallows house martins and crag martins are to be found in large numbers as are spotless starlings.  Move closer to the rivers and red rumped swallows are quite numerous.

 
Arrocampo wetlands near Saucedilla
These lakes with extensive reed beds and scrubby waterside bushes provide an excellent habitat for many species of heron and warbler etc.  My fellow photographer after much searching and some local knowledge found a pair of nesting penduline tits.

Purple heron

Purple gallinule
 

       

Swallows and stonechats

This zitting cisticola made us smile with its bouncy flight and perky posture.

A day at Arrocampo is a memorable experience. All the herons are there and such exotics as purple gallinule can be seen with ease.

Black winged stilt.

   
Streams, ponds and farmland  
Leave the Monfague park and a few miles to the east you enter a more pastoral area where the famous black pigs are reared for Iberico ham and crops appear to grow rather more vigorously.  Streams here are interesting especially where there are sandy banks suitable for nesting.  We found a particularly good spot to stop where we were surrounded by bee-eaters, they were nesting very conveniently close to the road and provided a good opportunity for photographs.

Keeping track of these in flight was exhausting and I can only admit that a good number of the photos I have were obtained with a great deal of luck.

   

Common birds of this type of habitat included Spanish sparrows, serins and nightingales. We think of nightingales as very unusual in the UK but in Spain you are constantly bombarded by their loud song.  Seeing them is much more rare, just a dash between bushes is the usual view but the character to the right spent 30 minutes or so singing for us in full view.

Booted eagle

Booted eagles can turn up anywhere and are quite common, less so are short toed eagles but they too can be found on a daily basis.
There are sites where Spanish imperial eagles breed and the local guides can tell you where to go to see them.  At one site there was also an eagle owl but this was definitely a telescope job and repeated instruction was needed to find it.  "See that crack in the rock face......just left of the brown tree... about 1/3 of the way down.........etc. etc."  Having eventually found it one could see a streaky breast and a pair of eyes.
Golden eagles breed too but only in very small numbers.  Other than griffon vultures and black kites the most common bird of prey was the Montague's harrier.
 

 

 

Egyptian vulture

   
Summary  
For us this holiday was superb.  Great people, great landscape, and great wildlife, what more could you want?  Coupled with sunshine and good food this will be a destination we shall visit again.
 
Click to see species list seen