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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Into Extramadura... Great Bustards, Great Scenery and the Vultures of Monfrague

Extramadura bound!
Long past Extramadura now of course, in fact I'm now back in France, but as ever blogging on the road involves lots of catch up and the last few of my posts will be me looking back and reflecting on what has been a truly memorable trip. Not without its problems ... my vehicle for instance is now making some horrendous noises and I suspect a gearbox problem that I may need to get fixed here before I travel back.... eek, French repair costs are not cheap! Still, that's vehicles for you and that's life!

Lets forget about it and return to Extramadura!

I passed the Rio Tinto en route and was pretty impressed, gobstruck in fact, by how red it really did look, tainted with the abundance of mineral deposits hereabouts. Shame I couldn't stop and take a pic but it would have been a hard shoulder on a motorway jobbie and I just don't like that these days.

Rio Odiel

Nearly as reddish in hue is the Rio Odiel, a sister river to the Tinto ... and a pull off place.

Great Bustard, Extramadura

Destination reached by nightfall and I'm now a good 300k further North. far I've grabbed 5 'lifers' (birds I've never seen before) and although the pics are very indistinct here's one of them, my first Great Bustard .... it's nearly a kilometre away!!

So these were taken at a smallish local reserve nr the village of Nuevo Villanova and the Embalse de Cuncas, just a few kilometres from the Portuguese border. I kinda stumbled upon it as it was where I left the van the night before!

No better pic but if you look closely there are other birds there too which through the scope didn't look like females (which can be up to a third smaller than the giant, turkey sized males) ... they looked like Little Bustards to me.

As luck would have it, a chap called Alphonso drove up and in our respective woeful grasps of each other's languages he confirmed this for me. A wildlife photographer too and some kind of park ranger to boot he was such an enthusiast and we found a common language in our pictures of birds .... who needs Esperanto!

Ok, feel duty bound now after those pictures of fields with dots on, to post some kind of pic to show you the Great Bustard in all its glory... here's one in full breeding plumage lifted from google images.
Great Bustard in full breeding plumage

In retrospect this was a cracking little place, I had both Black Bellied and Pin Tailed Sandgrouse plus Calandra Lark,  none of which I saw again on the trip, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, and a ridiculous number of Cormorants there but such was my eagerness to spend a wedge of time at Monfrague I saw that little haul as riches enough and pressed on.
Cormorant, Embalse de Cuncas
On the margins of the Embalse de Cuncas

Monfrague bound!

En route I stopped around Hornachos and picked up a solitary Ring Ouzel plus Lesser Kestrel, Dartford Warbler and en route I was seeing small flocks of Golden Plover along with bigger flocks of Lapwing, many Red Kites (just like travelling up and down the motorways in the UK!), and many big flocks of larks, finches and StarlingsGrey Partridge, several Southern Grey Shrikes, Marsh Harriers, Common Cranes, White Storks and Griffon Vultures and the occasional Hen Harrier.


Stacks of birds in other words and who knows what one could pick up if you had the luxury of stopping and scanning every time you come across such gatherings.

The Spanish love to get out and walk in such places, especially of a weekend, and of course they flock to their beloved Monfrague! Not complaining, not really ... I just cocked up my timings and, early mornings aside, really struggled to find the kind of tranquil environment in which this beautiful place and it's wildlife could reveal itself .... (sounds so much better than what I automatically wrote ... 'in which to pick up birds'!)

Castillo de Monfrague
The scenery there was stunning, really stunning, especially from the top of the Castillo de Monfrague, where I found myself on a cold and frosty morning on the 7th Dec.

Its high ... the car park here on the pic is already 1500m up! I had to walk to the top, 'by gum it wer cold though, but some of the early morning vistas were breath-taking ..... too cold to be swapping lenses all the time so most of this is me having fun with the Samsung!

Views from Castillo de Monfrague

Thank God for Health & Safety ... where would I have been without this helpful notice!
Views from Castillo de Monfrague ... yep that's frost on the boardwalks!
Views from Castillo de Monfrague

Views from Castillo de Monfrague

Views from Castillo de Monfrague
Views from Castillo de Monfrague

..... and as the mist began to clear over the damned rivers of the Tajo & Tietar

Views from Castillo de Monfrague

...... the Vultures that had previously been mysterious and slightly eerie shadows in the sky showed themselves in some majesty!

Griffons at dawn, Monfrague

Griffons at dawn, Monfrague

I'd noticed them swooping into the cliffs at a certain point and coming in quite close, so set myself up for one 'coming in' .... could have done with a tad more light but I like the sunrise effect!
Here's a few of the 30 or Griffon Vultures I was looking down on from the top of the Castillo... bit distant but smashing light and atmos!!

Griffon landing!

Black Vulture, Monfrague

Later on in the morning I managed a few reasonable shots of the half a dozen or so Black Vultures that were knocking about ..... flying beds they've been described as, and you can kinda see why!

Black Vultures with Griffons, Monfrague

Hawfinch, Monfrague

.... bagged the first Hawfinch of the trip here too, typically reclusive and never sitting proud, this was my best effort of an always tricky bird to photograph.

Rio Tietar

So I spent the best part of a week end from there on driving around trying to track down good birding possibilities but not really succeeding... if it wasn't walkers it was shooters and there was just as many of the latter! Not for one minute though am I suggesting that this isn't a haven for wildlife and countryside lovers (and ramblers!), it surely is... many a flora n for a tour bears testament to that and if you get the chance go go go! Just click on any of the Extramadura links for more info

I have a few more pics from here that I may get around to later, but for now .... its wine time in France and my guitar is calling me!!!!


  1. I hope the van makes it back ok, my fingers are crossed. I liked the views from Castillo de Monfrague especially with the low clouds covering the base of the mountains.

  2. cheers Doug, Monfrague was a super place at 8.00 in the morning! The van made it back to my sisters place in France and thence to a ford garage in Chauvigny, a diagnosed bearing issue on the driveshaft .... cost me 280 euros but was fixed the next day!