BIRD WATCHING FROM OUR RURAL RETREATS
Extremadura offers some superb bird-watching opportunities. It is huge, sparsely populated, and has great habitat diversity. It is located on one of the major European migration routes and has a wide range of species that may be observed at different seasons.
The region is larger than Switzerland and is made up of two large and sparsely-populated provinces - Cáceres and Badajoz (Badajoz being the largest province in Spain but with only a population of 700,000. Cáceres is the second largest). The population density of Extremadura is 26 inhabitants per square km (the province of Madrid, by comparison, has 626).
It has a range of habitats including irrigated plains, open woodland or dehesa, river valleys, man-made reservoirs, extensive Mediterranean scrub, rolling grassland or steppe, and mountains rising to over 1200m, the Sierra de Montanchez where FINCA AL-MANZIL is located rises to 1000m.
Some of the most interesting bird watching areas such as Monfrague are easily accessible from the finca on some of the best and quietest roads in Europe.
The Extremadura remains largely unknown even within Spain. There is virtually no industry and much of the agricultural activity is bird-friendly. The areas designated as IBA (Important Bird Areas) reach 74% - this is the highest of any region in Europe.
At Monfrague national park it is possible to enjoy truly outstanding raptor watching, with all five Spanish eagles, Bonelli's, Golden, Booted, Short-toed and the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle; three vultures, Black, Egyptian and Griffon. Black stork, Lesser Kestrel and Black-winged Kite are a delight and there should be regular sightings of Montague's Harrier, Azure-winged Magpie, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Spanish Sparrow, Savi´s, Sardinian, Bonelli's, Subalpine, Dartford, Spectacled, Orphean, Melodious, and perhaps the shy Olivaceous Warbler are in our sights too.
A brilliant experience brim full of birds!
The birding really is exceptional. During days in the steppes within 30kms of the rural retreats you can expect to see good numbers of Great Bustard (over 70 in 2006), and also look for the spectacular breeding display as males almost turn themselves inside out and look like huge white balls of feathers.
Other sought-after species here are Little Bustard, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.
Other birds likely in this tremendous area include the Bee-eaters which nest on the finca, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Southern Grey Shrike, Golden Oriole, Little Owl, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Calandra Lark, Woodlark, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Woodchat Shrike, Crested Tit, Melodious Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Hawfinch and Penduline ,both White and Black Stork.
Around rocky pinnacles of Finca al-manzil , Red-legged Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin and Alpine Swift are found, and the Eagle Owl can often be seen or heard at dusk. The woods of the finca also hold Hoopoe, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Azure-winged Magpie.
NEW!! Here is a great link about the Great Bustards and where you can hire a hide within two huge protected private fincas which have been paid subsidies to keep their land in perfect conditions for Great Bustard breeding. Link to Focusing on wildlife http://focusingonwildlife.com/news/great-bustard-the-great-show-in-the-plains/
INTERESTING MONTHS AROUND FINCA AL-MANZIL
SPECIES - FEBRUARY
The final week of the month is a transitional point. The winter populations are reducing and the spring incoming birds are well in evidence with the first wave of summer migrants.
Amongst the earliest to arrive are Lesser Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Common Swallow, Pallid Swift, House Martin, Black-winged Stilt.
Crane - migration north is well under way and many thousands of birds have already moved off. The numbers which may still be observed fluctuate between 850 - 2,500. During the course of the last week in February the population reduces sharply.
White Storks are occupying their nests, and the breeding rituals are under way.
This is a good time to observe Black-shouldered Kite which by now have moved into their breeding areas, as have Marsh Harrier. Black Kite usually arrive around the 20th of February.
Griffon Vultures are nesting with clutches already laid. The first of the Egyptian Vulture may be seen also.
Early Bonelli's Eagle are present in their breeding territories.
Male Great Bustard are starting to form groups close to the breeding areas. Little Bustard are still in large winter groups with up to 100-150 individuals.
Hen Harrier are observed in small numbers but with relative ease.
Other species which are frequent include: Azure-winged Magpie, Raven, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Hoopoe (the first birds singing), Great Grey Shrike, Red Avadavat, Kingfisher, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Golden Plover, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Black-necked Grebe, Pintail, Mallard, Shoveller, Great Cormorant, Teal, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Lapwing.
SPECIES - APRIL
Birds of the steppe are in full breeding activity. The male Little Bustard mark their territory by throwing their heads back and making a cry which may be heard at some distance. In some parts of La Serena 3 or 4 males may be seen at once within a small area. The breeding display of the male Great Bustard is called the "rueda" - the wheel. A number of males - varying from 15 up to 70 or 80 - come together in the lecking area to display. The bird pitches his head backwards, fluffs out his neck feathers, throws his wings outwards and turns them to show the white underwing so he appears like a large white fluffed-out ball looking a great deal larger than his natural size.
Montagu's Harrier have taken up their territories and, while display activity is still under way, some females are already sitting on the nest.
Lesser Kestrel are also in their breeding territories and mating activity is frequent. Groups of Black-bellied and Pintailed Sandgrouse may be seen in the steppe areas.
Larks are in full song. Calandra Lark may be seen in considerable densities on the steppe with a bird every 50 or 100 metres. Also Crested Lark are marking their territories.
Terrera may be seen in the steppe areas.
Stone Curlew may be heard at dusk and seen in pairs during the day.
Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Black Stork are now occupying nests on cliff sites and ledges. Black Kite are nesting in wooded areas, most commonly the dehesas.
SPECIES - OCTOBER
This is a transitional point in the calendar. Some birds which are clearly summer visitors will still be present - Booted Eagle, Swallow, Martins. This time of the year may well still be warm; it is a peaceful and tranquil period after the intense heat of the summer.
Crane - over the past 3 years there has already been a good number of cranes by the end of the month, ranging between 1,000 and 8,000 birds according to the weather patterns. The roosts are still fairly small; the birds tend to use the shallow reaches on the reservoirs. In 2004 two ringed cranes from Germany were observed.
Greylag goose - some present on maize fields, often in amongst the cranes Black Stork - small groups (we have seen up to 5 in a group; more often 2 or 3) usually close to water in undisturbed areas. This is a good time for observation.
White Stork - birds which do not migrate in winter can be seen in areas under irrigation. Roosts may comprise several dozen birds.
Aquatic birds - concentrations of between 2,000-3,000 birds may be seen on some reservoirs made up of Mallard, with Pochard, Great Cormorant, Little Grebe and perhaps Red-crested Pochard. Most of the over-wintering aquatic birds have not yet arrived.
Great Bustard and other steppe species - small groups of up to 10 individuals although the large winter groups have not yet come together. Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Little Bustard are also starting to form winter groups.
Black-shouldered Kite - frequently seen across habitual locations
Hen Harrier and Red Kite - both species have normally arrived by now and may be seen in the area, although their numbers will increase greatly as winter approaches. The same is true for Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk.
Griffon Vulture - may be seen in usual areas frequented by the colonies. The birds are sedentary throughout the year.
Golden Eagle - individuals or pairs may be seen close to Orellana.
Azure-winged Magpie are common residents.
Raven - last year a group of 40 adolescent birds was observed.
Red-billed Chough is less common but should be locatable.
Eagle Owl may possibly be seen by day. Also during the day the call of the Little Owl is often heard.
Other birds which may be seen during this week are White Wagtail, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Collared Dove, Zitting Cisticola, Red Avadavat, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Green Sandpiper, Crag Martin (in large numbers), Black Redstart, Wood Lark, Crested Lark, Chiffchaff, Red-legged Partridge, Green Woodpecker, Stonechat, Lapwing (large numbers have usually arrived), Linnet, Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler.
SPECIES - DECEMBER
Crane - this month normally sees the some of the highest numbers of cranes in the Extremadura, with between 15,000 - 30,000 birds. This area serves as a "collector" with incoming birds pausing here for several days before some move on to other parts of the region. They are found in groups of various sizes, from a single pair up to 5-6,000 in feeding areas. One of most exciting times of the day is when these large numbers of birds come in to the roosting areas at dusk.
Aquatic birds are also found in excellent numbers. For example, last year we saw several thousand Mallard and Shoveler, hundreds of Pintail, Teal, Widgeon, Tufted duck, and some Red-necked Pochard and Little Grebe.
In the steppe areas and the non-irrigated areas there are good concentrations of Great Bustard, with groups of up to 100 birds or more.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse are also seen in smallish groups of up to 15 or so birds. In irrigated areas some Little Bustard may be seen. The numbers in the groups are highly variable, running from a pair up to several hundred.
Birds of prey are also easy to observe at this time. Last year we had 6 separate sightings of Black-shouldered Kite. They are highly territorial and an individual bird may be seen regularly once a territory has been identified.
Marsh Harrier may be seen regularly throughout the day. At dusk they come together to roost in large numbers - up to 50 or 60. Red Kite also have communal roosts of up to 20 birds. Hen Harrier are also seen in small numbers. Sparrowhawk may be observed but are not common.
Griffon Vulture and Black Vulture are regularly seen.
White Stork may be seen in feeding in groups on the stubble fields. Small numbers of Black Stork are also to be seen in wet areas or irrigation areas.
Large numbers of Greylag Geese should be in the area. Last year a group of 2,000 were observed.
Spotless Starling and Spanish Sparrow are found in huge flocks. Several thousand Spanish Sparrow feeding in a single location is not unusual.
Azure winged magpie are gregarious birds and are seen in groups which may be composed of 100 individuals or more.
Raven are quite common and usually they are seen as single birds or in pairs, but occasionally at this time of the year large groups form.
Eagle Owl may be heard after nightfall as they start to mark out their territory. Little Owl are regularly seen by day on old walls or abandoned farm buildings.
Zitting cisticola (Fan-tailed warbler), Red Avadavat and Stonechat are seen frequently in areas near water. Other species that are likely to be seen at this time include Southern Grey Shrike, Green Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Crested Lark, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Dartford Warbler and Sardinian Warbler.