Extremadura and
the Coto Doñana

11th-20th April 2003

See photo page here

Friday 11th April

The (predictably) delayed flight arrived in Madrid at about 1400, and we were soon off and away in our silver Fiesta. Well, the Madrid M25 held us up for about an hour - though driving in near stationary traffic is actually quite a good way to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road...Finally, we got clear of the city, and were whizzing along the N-V to the west. En route, we picked up our first Spotless Starlings and Cattle Egrets, plus a few Crested Larks and a Marsh Harrier. We stopped for half an hour at Oropesa - a lovely little hilltop town overlooking the Sierra dos Gredos. The Lesser Kestrel colony on and around the Parador was in full swing - lots of displaying and calling birds, accompanied by a White Stork. Also here were our first Serins, a Crag Martin and a few Barn Swallows.Onwards to Trujillo - via a few Black Kites, a Griffon Vulture and what looked from a moving car like a Black Vulture - and while we shopped for provisions, the heavens opened! We avoided actually getting wet, and arrived in a still damp but wonderfully familiar Plaza Mayor - more Lesser Kestrels and White Storks, plus Common Swifts for company. The Plaza has been cleared of parked cars - mildly inconvenient, but it now looks still more wonderful - apart from the crane on the far side! I predict some serious Photoshop work to do...

Saturday 12th April

We got up for our one and only really early start of the trip - 5.30am! Given that Spain is an hour ahead even of the UK, this was early indeed. It was pitch dark, and chucking it down. We ummed and ahhed for about a minute, then decided to go for it! Things got worse - our 'usual' road north from Trujillo was closed off for improvements, meaning the addition of at least 20km to the run! And still it rained... We eventually negotiated the twisty roads of Monfragüe NP in the dark (and wet), and reached Tietar cliffs just as the sky was brightening - and we were not more than five minutes too soon. A silhouette flying above some roosting Griffons was 'it' - the much hoped for Eagle Owl! Like a huge, thick-winged Short-eared Owl, and truly massive, it circled about a few times, then landed up in full view, in poor but improving light (lighter rain now!). Brief, but excellent views - the early start justified!

Being honest, we have to report that it was a genuinely miserable morning weather-wise, but there were several avian highlights. Top of the list has to be a stunning adult Bonelli's Eagle over the cliffs, and then perched on the very highest point for well over an hour - waiting for the rain to stop, like us! Around the car, we had Rock Bunting, a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes, singing Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler, plus Jays, a fly by Black Stork and various hirundines, including Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Martin. Further on, at a site we had previously visited for Black-shouldered Kite, the (still heavier) rain put us off any attempt at rare raptors, but we did connect with our first Azure-winged Magpies (a party of 17), several Common Cuckoos, Red Kite and Stonechat. Back in the NP, the Mirador de Bascula was miserable - no raptors at all, although a singing male Subalpine Warbler and further Common Cuckoos showed well. We hardly even bothered with the 'classic' Monfragüe sites of the dam, bridge and Penafalcon, although we did have good views of Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper at the first, Crag Martin at the second, and Black Stork on the traditional nest at the third.

By now, we were very, very fed up (spoilt!), and headed off into the dehesa west of Torrejon el Rubio for a picnic. We were acting on some 2002 gen, and I was secretly a bit hopeful, though not utterly confident. On arrival at the prescribed spot, all I could find were five Griffon Vultures looking miserable on a pylon. Lunch cheered us up a bit, and the skies brightened as the rain stopped - a walk was called for! Just half an hour in the open, unfenced dehesa produced lots of goodies - another flyover Black Stork, several Woodchat Shrikes, Hoopoes and Woodlarks, plus two Cirl Buntings, many Azure-winged Magpies, upwards of ten Rock Sparrows, and then, atop a huge nest on a pylon just over the second hill, the big one - Spanish Imperial Eagle! Distant but excellent views were had of the sitting bird, the vast, untidy nest amusingly full of nesting Spotless Starlings and Spanish Sparrows. A cracker indeed.

The mood on the drive back to the road was much lighter, and produced a couple of very dark grey / vinous Southern Grey Shrikes, and some Corn Buntings. The drive home, again via unexpectedly small roads, turned up yet another Black Stork (aren't they supposed to be rare?), rather more Red and Black Kites out and about than earlier, and a lovely party of five Bee-eaters, photographed on roadside fences, swiftly followed by a dozen more over the road. Certainly enough to brighten up a dull afternoon!

After a short break and freshen up at the hotel, we headed out onto the ever-fantastic Belen steppe, just south-east of town. As always, it produced - in a big way! We saw 29 Great and 7 Little Bustards, many of them displaying males, 5 Stone Curlews, Little Owl, Whinchat, 2 Hoopoes, 2 Southern Grey Shrikes, 7 Montagu's Harriers, including a distant but utterly fantastic melanistic bird, numerous Calandra Larks, single Black and Egyptian Vultures, Red and Black Kites. Super stuff - and as always, wild, ancient and exciting.

Returned home exhausted!

Sunday 13th April

A later start, largely clear skies, and we were back on the Belen steppe just as the sun rose. Despite a chilly wind, we again saw a virtually complete range of species, although there were far fewer bustards in evidence. The Black Vulture had obviously spent the night stuck on the steppe after yesterday's rain, but it eventually lifted off and circled away. Rather more Woodchat Shrikes about, and several Calandra Larks much closer to the road, too. New birds were 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos being chased about by Magpies, a Green Sandpiper, Northern Wheatear, about three Little Egrets, and more prosaically a Cormorant (!), a Greenfinch, a Sand Martin and a few Coots. Best of all, the black Montagu's Harrier showed up again, much closer this morning, and seemed to follow us about as we cruised about the steppe. A really beautiful, once in a lifetime bird (?) - and already a strong contender for Bird of the Trip!

We also conspired to bump into Tomek Kulakowski and his partner, with whom I'd corresponded by email - I had a sneaking suspicion that in the vastness of birders' Spain, we'd manage to cross paths! The coolest part was that we mutually recognised each other based on the briefest of descriptions ("we're a birding couple" - "me too, only we're not married yet")!

After a superb al fresco lunch, the drive home capped off a good morning when we found a Black-shouldered Kite quartering the fields very near to the village of Belen. Highly unexpected and very welcome! Another new raptor was a pale-phase Booted Eagle soaring over Trujillo on our return.

After a non-birding couple of hours in town, dodging light showers, we headed off west of town onto the steppe and dehesa around Santa Marta de Magasca. The weather soon grew poor, then simply grim, but we battled on, and did see some genuine goodies - Roller topped the bill (very early - not usually in until late April or early May), plus a marginally sub-adult Golden Eagle, about a dozen Montagu's Harriers, a pair of Black-eared Wheatears, a few Stone Curlews, three Great and 3 Little Bustards, a handful of Crag Martins and many Calandra and other larks.

Monday 14th April

We awoke again to rain - so rolled over and stuffed it for an hour or two - this was meant to be a holiday, after all! After a late breakfast, and with the skies apparently clearing up, we set off for Monfragüe at about 10am. Penafalcon, as usual, was fantastic. Scores of Griffons, several Black and Egyptian Vultures, a couple of Booted and a Short-toed Eagle, two Peregrines of the local brownish cast variety (brookei), Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, many Crag Martins, and two Black Storks attending the nest. Very interesting to watch and photograph one of the Storks apparently showing a white uppertail, apart from the central tail feathers! Ever more bizarre...

Next, it was up to Villareal de San Carlos, and our 'traditional' and excellent walk on the green trail. This loop is quite hilly and absolutely beautiful, the slopes much greener than last time, and full of fragrant flowers. We really took our time, and had a brilliant walk - much needed after too much car-based birding! Bird highlights were a Black Vulture on the nest from the Cerro Gimio lookout, plus at least another 10 birds flying around, an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, a pair of Bonelli's Eagles, another Short-toed Eagle, several Subalpine and (at last) a couple of Sardinian Warblers, Cirl Bunting, Nightingale showing in the open, the first Robin of the trip, and best of all, right at the very end as we came within sight of the village at the end, a singing male (Western) Orphean Warbler in stunted oaks by the trail! A perfect way to end a superb walk.

After a quick pit stop at the café, the heavens opened, with a huge but brief hailstorm with thunder & lightning! Luckily, we could just enjoy it from the car...but had we been half an hour later on our walk....

We drove on up to the Mirador de Bascula, and had a very enjoyable hour with some Spanish families, and Belgian and Norwegian birding crews. We found the Black Vulture nest OK, but relied on others' eyes to find the Spanish Imperial Eagle nest on the furthest ridge. We were trying to convince ourselves that there really was a juvenile in the huge pile of sticks, when we both simultaneously picked up an adult flying in with a prey item, which it proceeded to dismember, presumably for an unseen youngster in the nest. The distance was pretty huge, but the light was excellent, with no heat haze, so we could see full plumage detail on the bird. Brilliant! With Woodlarks singing and Black Vultures almost constantly in view overhead, this made for an excellent finish to the day.

Well, not quite the finish! I gave our Norwegian friends the gen for the Orphean Warbler, and when we drove back south, we passed their car at the wrong spot! So I hiked quickly up the hill, and thankfully found them - although they had independently relocated the bird singing about 200m from where it had been earlier. So all was well that ended well…

A final stop at dusk at Arroyo de la Vid did produce the hoped for Scops Owls (2 duetting), but sadly they were quite distant and on the wrong side of the river to try and hunt down - another 'heard only' record for Julia! One day……

Tuesday 15th April

Dubious weather at dawn today, but at least not actually raining! We headed off into the steppe to the west of town, towards Santa Marta de Magasca once again. It really did threaten to pour, but miraculously, we saw just a few drops as Trujillo got a soaking just a mile or two up the road! At our first stop, a Scops Owl continued to tease by singing in virtually broad daylight... Still more frustrating was the distant whinny of Black-bellied Sandgrouse - but no sightings were had! More positively (and visibly), numerous Little Bustards were displaying in the fields, and a Great Bustard flew over. But the stars of the show today were undoubtedly Montagu's Harriers - at least 15, mostly males, displaying and hunting over the fields and steppe, often landing just a few metres away. Outstanding. Add in a Marsh Harrier, a Short-toed Lark (probably a migrant?), three Great Spotted Cuckoos (including an adult apparently copulating with a first-summer bird), 2 each of Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, calling Stone Curlew and the usual larks, and ever bluer skies, and it was a great way to end the Extremaduran leg of the trip.

After a late breakfast and check out in Trujillo, we headed fast south on the N-V - great, fast new roads as far south as Zafra, then a bit slower but still OK. A lunch stop in the Sierra Morena produced a singing Subalpine Warbler, Red-rumped Swallow and many Serins. Grim stormy weather in Seville, but clearer again by the time we reached the Coto Doñana - journey time four hours, including two quite generous stops - 3 hours 20 minutes on the road? Once checked in at the Aldea camping and ensconced in our little cabin (shades of Swedish stugbys), we had a breather, then headed just down the road to El Rocio. What immediately struck us was how much water there was - no big surprise given all the rain and the green state of the dehesa further north, really.

A big surprise by the 'seafront' was a male Subalpine Warbler (only a migrant here), but more expected were numerous Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Greater Flamingos, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, and several Common Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Spoonbills, Little Egrets, Shelduck, and Collared Pratincoles overhead. Really impressive were the numbers of marsh terns - about a dozen Blacks and at least 150 Whiskered! Fantastic stuff. 35 Bee-eaters cruised over, a Squacco Heron flew past, and extra waders appeared in the shape of Greenshank, Ruff, Common Sandpiper and a distant Grey Plover.

I dutifully started checking a herd of about 30 Coots - crisis! A Crested Coot within a minute of looking! And in the same herd, another, neck-ringed bird - number 013. Great views in wonderful light, showing the bluish, thicker and drooping bill, the lack of a black feather intrusion onto the shield, and the shrivelled redcurrants on the top of the shield too! Fantastic stuff.

Tired out and happy, we headed for home and a bottle of wine - saving a few specials for tomorrow morning, we hope!

Wednesday 16th April

After a rather cold night, we woke to clear skies (at last!). Half an hour in the lovely morning light photographing Whiskered and Black Terns was the perfect start, and we then drove the short distance to La Rocina. As ever, it produced lots of birds (though rather fewer herons than previously - are they more spread out due to the wetter conditions?). Highly photogenic Nightingales and Savi's Warblers stole the show, but we also had brief views of Cetti's Warblers, found a singing Iberian Chiffchaff, and heard (but could not see) a singing Melodious Warbler. Purple Swamphens crashed about in the sedges, and there were Red-crested Pochards, Little Grebes, many Whiskered Terns and a few Little Egrets and Spoonbills on the marsh. The dry area turned up Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, and Black Kites and Booted Eagles were overhead. The Tree Sparrow colony in the pines seems to be thriving now that nestboxes have been provided.

After a leisurely lunch, and a quick refill of both food reserves and petrol, we headed off with no little trepidation towards the Jose Antonio Valverde / Cerrado Garrido centre - with trepidation because, last time we were here, the journey was complex, time consuming, uncomfortable and relatively bird free, apart from the Centre itself. But we had high hopes, since this was obviously a much wetter year. Things got off to a great start with a very pale and ragged Short-toed Eagle right over the car, but the first half of the journey suggested we were right - we got lost in Villamanrique, the roads were still diabolical, and there weren't many birds to look at in the intensively farmed fields.

But, eventually, we started seeing Calandra and both Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks, (Spanish) Yellow Wagtails (iberiae), two superb Spoonbills in a ploughed field, a large gathering of Collared Pratincoles and several Bee-eaters. When Marsh Harriers started to show up, we knew water was nearby, and sure enough, we turned a corner and found a huge flooded sedge marisma! Hooray!

Quickly we were seeing Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Gull-billed Tern, Purple Swamphen and various ducks including Northern Pintail - a Little Ringed Plover even flew over. As we approached the Centre, the number of birds increased, and it was clear that egret and heron breeding activity was in full swing - a large mixed colony of Squacco, Purple and Night Herons, mixed in with many Glossy Ibises, Cattle Egrets and a few Little Egrets commanded all attention just feet from the road. But the excitement level was rising when we were given recent gen by some British birders that Marbled Duck had been seen here. Immediately on going into the Centre, we checked with the woman on the front desk, and she confirmed that yes, four had been frequenting the lagoons right outside the plate glass windows! Excited, we went over, only for one of the British guys to tell me that he'd just had them, and they'd flown off! Disaster! So much for getting good gen first... we spent an agonising 10 minutes (not unlike the half hour when Julia had seen a White's Thrush and Simon hadn't...), and at last the three birds flew back in again, giving good flight views before landing off to the left. Relieved, we hurried off to the observation blinds, and had excellent views of them (in the end four birds). At last! Add in a male Little Bittern (we saw at least two more a bit later), and the first of at least four Great Reed Warblers, and we were guaranteed happy!

We enjoyed the heronry in a thoroughly relaxed frame of mind, watched the Flamingos flying to roost, and picked up a few list padders, such as Lapwing, Black-headed Gull and Little Tern. As the light failed, we headed off home - by a slightly less circuitous route!

Thursday 17th April

We awoke to dense fog, and so made it a gentle start today. La Rocina was eerily beautiful, and this time we had it completely to ourselves as the sun burned off the mist. Whiskered Terns hawked the marsh like opalescent sprites, Little Grebes fed their young in the sedge beds, and a wholly silly-looking Purple Swamphen munched on roots, all accompanied by the fantastic cacophony of Cetti's & Savi's Warblers and Nightingales. This is what relaxing enjoyment of birds should be like! We even added a new species (Tree Pipit) before heading off to the Acebuche centre further south.

As before at Acebuche, the numbers of birds here were low - but we did score with a very brief snatch of song from, and an even briefer sighting of, a male Golden Oriole. Frustratingly, only UTVs for Julia! At least we got to try our hand at photographing Azure-winged Magpies - they were nest-building in the nearest tree to the car-park! A Peregrine even showed up briefly. All in all, a leisurely morning.

And the afternoon wasn't that active either! A quick recce along the Coto del Rey track produced few birds in the heat (Nightingales, calling Quail, flyover Booted Eagle and Griffon Vulture), and we spent the last hour or two of the day at El Rocio bridge once more - the water levels had risen considerably, and there were fewer birds than before. But still, the two Crested Coots remained, and the usual selection of species frequented the marisma.

The 'traditional' Red-necked Nightjar dip was re-enacted at nightfall - still too early? Compensation came in the form of five Night Herons, calling Stone Curlew, and distant Tawny and Eagle Owls hooting in the night.

Friday 18th April

Today was our 'leave it to the expert' day - we had hired John Butler to show us around some of the harder to find corners of the northern Doñana marshes. He picked us up just after nine, and we joined three other UK birders for our day out and about. The first stop was at a small reservoir - not a lot there apart from some Tree Sparrows, but round the back, we quickly located two Black-shouldered Kites, a breeding pair who had succeeded in raising the first chick in Doñana for nine years. We watched one hunting, and then returning with a Corn Bunting, and proceeding to pluck it, still alive! Nearby, two singing Melodious Warblers showed off from the tops of small trees.

Next it was out onto the open marshes, where we stopped by a flooded and very weedy field, out of which Little Egrets and Spoonbills occasionally emerged. This, we were assured, was a key site! And sure enough, on cue, a Marsh Harrier flushed about 25 egrets, including one dark slaty blue bird with a white chin - Western Reef Egret! An outrageous European rarity. Great Reed Warblers in the ditches and many Gull-billed Terns provided further entertainment.

Onwards to some more flooded fields, these ones muddy and insecty enough to hold many migrant waders. The star bird was probably a single Temminck's Stint, but there were also a Wood Sandpiper, about 20 Curlew Sandpipers, many coming into summer plumage, several Kentish Plovers, Dunlin, Ruff and Grey Plovers, at least 20 Common Sandpipers, and numerous Little Stints. A really good mixed bag!

Lunch was the next item, and we were well fed at Dehesa de Abajo, a flower-covered sandy place right beside a large, shallow lagoon. Right by the road here, we had the (failed) breeding pair of Crested Coots, these two both neck-ringed birds - one apparently captive bred, but the other a wild bred and marked bird. Also on the lagoon were two Black-necked Grebes in all their finery, a similarly superb Ruff, numerous Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets, Flamingos and Whiskered Terns. Bee-eaters and Black Kites were constantly in the air overhead. A fantastic and peaceful spot to recharge for the afternoon.

So, onwards! Out onto the marshes once more, and an attempt at another gross Euro-rare, a Yellow-billed Stork that had been present for some months. Sadly, we could find no sign of it - and there are a lot of marshes out there! But a massive flock of over 200 Gull-billed Terns was no small compensation. The tracks had plenty of Crested, Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks, and a few Calandra Larks were out over the fields - many Spanish Wagtails were along the roadside, and a single Blue-headed Wagtail provided some variety. Near the Cerrado Garrido centre, we found another (unringed) Crested Coot, and the same marshland birds as two days ago (apart from Little Bittern!). Two of the Marbled Ducks were much closer to the blinds this time - better photos, we hope! John told us that Señor José Valverde, after whom the Centre is named (sometimes!), the man who effectively saved the Coto Doñana in the 1960s, had sadly died just three days earlier. I think everyone present said a silent 'thank you'.

A hugely impressive flock of perhaps 200 Black-winged Stilts got up, and we soon saw why - a Peregrine was harrying one unfortunate bird that had been left behind - it couldn't decide whether to try and 'fly for it', or duck down in the water with a splash every time the predator made a pass. It ended up as stalemate, and eventually the Peregrine gave up and went off elsewhere! During the drama, an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle cruised by, then drifted off towards the Coto del Rey. Also, a 'dusky' Spotted Redshank cranked the trip list up by another one! Shortly afterwards, a very worn ringtail harrier appeared by the road. On structure alone this was not the expected Montagu's - it was a very late Hen Harrier. Four Turtle Doves were also new, and a female Black-eared Wheatear shared a tree with three Northern Wheatears.

We tried once more (in vain) for the Yellow-billed Stork, but received some compensation in the form of a Great White Egret in the sedge beds. Finally, a large group of Collared Pratincoles grounded in some sandy fields caped off a very full and satisfying day. We had learned a lot about the seasonal rhythms of the Doñana, and about some of the pressures and hopes for the future which attend to it. It was very well worth making use of John's services!

Saturday 19th April

Today was almost completely written off to travelling. We drove over 500km from El Rocio to Arenas de San Pedro in the Sierra de Gredos, halfway between Trujillo and Madrid.

After the usual roadside birds all the way, the rain set in again, and it was chucking it down by the time we checked into a hotel in Arenas. We managed to salvage a couple of hours car-based birding in the evening, and as I write this, the clouds do appear to be lifting, so there is hope for the morning!

All was not doom - a drive into the hills NW of town produced four trip ticks : Carrion Crow, Sparrowhawk, Firecrest, and best of all, a singing Dipper (apparently black-bellied, but the light was poor). Also Coal Tit, a silent Chiffchaff sp., and a few Robins and other passerines saved the day from being a total washout!

Sunday 20th April

As we had hoped, the skies looked a bit brighter when we got up and left the hotel at 0730 - and 12 Cormorants unexpectedly flew over. We headed north over the Puerto de Pico pass in dense cloud however! Oh dear… But conditions were much better on the northern flank of the Sierra - cloud base at about 2500m, just cloaking the tops of the snowy peaks. We stopped first at the Parador de Gredos - no Citril Finches, but a couple of Crossbills were a surprise. Breakfast was taken at the Puente del Duque, just along the Plataforma road, and we scored heavily with a Western Bonelli's Warbler right by the car park, along with two Crested Tits and more Crossbills.

Fuelled up, we headed for the top of the road, and worked the path uphill while conditions allowed - there had been plenty of snow overnight, and the path was treacherously slippery with ice - we really weren't in the right kit to attempt the cirque! The Rock Buntings in the car park were ridiculously tame, and also seen there were two male Black Redstarts, several Water Pipits, and numerous Dunnocks, trying their best to look like Alpine Accentors, but failing! A mournful fluting song from the cliffs above was undoubtedly a Monticola species, but we could not see it, unfortunately. Skylarks and a Kestrel were in flight over the snowy wastes, and several Barn Swallows migrated through. Perhaps best of all, a herd of about 10 Ibexes adorned the skyline.

The snow started to fall again, so we retreated a little downhill, and checked some of the broomy areas at the roadside - success! A singing male Bluethroat showed brilliantly, along with several Northern Wheatears and yet more Water Pipits. Further back downhill, we picked up various species we'd seen little of so far - Mistle Thrush, Carrion Crow and Coal Tit. A pair of Booted Eagles displayed while we ate lunch, and a further walk from the Puente del Duque was very productive - another Western Bonelli's Warbler, a cracking first-summer male Pied Flycatcher of the iberiae form (showing an extremely pied appearance apart from brown cast primaries, with masses of white in the wing and a large primary patch, a huge white spot over the bill, and even a greyish lower back / upper rump - all more like a Collared Flycatcher, really!), and two last trip ticks - Goldcrest and Nuthatch! We had largely dodged the bad weather today, and as the clouds descended, we called it a day, and headed off back to Madrid.

The journey was not bird free - four more Southern Grey Shrikes, several Buzzards and Azure-winged Magpies, and even a last Griffon Vulture. Birded out, we returned the hire car, and checked in to an airport hotel, where the final reckoning recorded us as having seen or heard 183 species. Abiding memories : Marbled Duck, Montagu's Harriers, Bluethroat in the hills - let's hope we forget the wet weather!

PLEASE contact us if there are glaring errors, or if you'd like further information, or if I can help in any other way.

Systematic list

Little Grebe

Three near Trujillo (one nest), plus a further 30 or so in the Coto Donana

Great Crested Grebe

Three in the Coto Donana

Black-necked Grebe

Two in the Coto Donana

Great Cormorant

One looking very out of place in amongst a stork/egret colony by a pond on the Belen steppe, and a further 12 overhead at dawn at Arenas de San Pedro, Sierra de Gredos

Glossy Ibis

Well over 100 in the Coto Donana, all around the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana, where a recently established colony was in full swing

Grey Heron

Scattered singles at various localities, and 30+ in the Coto Donana

Purple Heron

Well over 50 in the northern marshes of the Coto Donana

Great White Egret

A rare species here, one was located in the northern marshes of the Coto Donana

Little Egret

Three at Belen, and then perhaps 50 in the Coto Donana, where much outnumbered by the next species

Western Reef Egret

The long staying individual at Entremuros, Coto Donana, was seen amongst over 20 Little Egrets, all conveniently flushed by a Marsh Harrier

Cattle Egret

The commonest heron by some margin - up to 250 seen daily

Squacco Heron

About a dozen in the Coto Donana

Little Bittern

Three (2 males and a female) at the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana

Black-crowned Night Heron

20+ at the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana, and a further five overhead at dusk near El Rocio

Black Stork

Seven sightings at Monfrague Natural Park, probably only involving four birds. Much fun had with at least one bird showing an apparently largely white uppertail!

White Stork

Abundant throughout, though most frequent in the uncultivated areas around Trujillo and the Coto Donana. Many nests seen. Numerous loafing birds (many stained desert brown) in the Coto Donana were apparently newly arrived migrants, and not local resident birds

Eurasian Spoonbill

About 100 in the Coto Donana

Greater Flamingo

Several hundred in the Coto Donana, but mostly quite distant, so no accurate counts made

Greylag Goose

Seven noted in the Coto Donana

Common Shelduck

Four from El Rocio bridge in the Coto Donana

Marbled Duck

A big highlight of the trip was the presence of up to four at the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana - watched on two occasions


About 40 noted in the Coto Donana

Common Teal

Two from El Rocio bridge, Coto Donana


A few at scattered inland locations, notably Belen, but the vast majority (over 100) in the Coto Donana

Northern Pintail

Seven in the Coto Donana

Northern Shoveler

About 40 in the Coto Donana

Red-crested Pochard

50+ in the Coto Donana

Common Pochard

Present in similar numbers to the previous species in the Coto Donana

Black-shouldered Kite

One quite distantly at Belen steppe, and then both members of a breeding pair in the Coto Donana, one of them plucking alive a Corn Bunting

Black Kite

Numerous throughout

Red Kite

Only seen in Extremadura and around Madrid - 18 sightings logged

Monk (Black) Vulture+A69

Over 20 sightings in the Monfrague and Belen areas

Griffon Vulture

Abundant around Monfrague Natural Park, and a very few in the Coto Donana

Egyptian Vulture

Eight noted at Monfrague Natural Park, and one over the Coto Donana

Short-toed Eagle

Two at Monfrague Natural Park, and a very pale and ragged individual in the Coto Donana

Montagu's Harrier

About 25 near Trujillo (Belen and Santa Marta steppes), including one utterly superb melanistic bird. A further four in the Coto Donana

Hen Harrier

A late and very worn ringtail in the Coto Donana

Marsh Harrier

One near Madrid, one at the Santa Marta steppe, and perhaps 20 in the Coto Donana


One at Sierra de Gredos


Fourteen noted, most commonly between Sierra de Gredos and Madrid

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Two nests seen in and around Monfrague Natural Park, with adults attending each, and single flying adults elsewhere in Monfrague Natural Park and over the Coto Donana

Golden Eagle

One sub-adult low over the steppe near Santa Marta, Trujillo

Bonelli's Eagle

One at dawn over, and then perched on Tietar Cliffs, Monfrague Natural Park, then two adults displaying elsewhere in the Park

Booted Eagle

Fourteen sightings in various areas, of both pale and dark phase birds. Interestingly, in all three apparent pairs seen, one bird was of each colour phase!

Lesser Kestrel

Common around Oropesa, Trujillo and the surrounding steppes, and very vocal and obvious

Common Kestrel

A few seen on every day bar one, max. 10 in the Coto Donana

Peregrine Falcon

Two over the Penafalcon cliffs, Monfrague Natural Park, and two singles in the Coto Donana, one of the latter hunting but failing to kill a Black-winged Stilt, repeatedly dive-bombing the terrified wader. All of the form brookei

Red-legged Partridge

About a dozen noted at scattered localities


Eight heard calling on the Belen and Santa Marta steppes, and in the Coto Donana

Common Moorhen

Five near Trujillo, and then 30+ in the Coto Donana

Purple Swamphen

About 40 in the Coto Donana, most commonly at La Rocina and the Jose Valverde Centre

Common Coot

Two at Belen steppe, and many hundreds in the Coto Donana

Red-knobbed Coot

Five in the Coto Donana, three of them neck-collared individuals. Seen at El Rocio, Dehesa de Abajo lagoon and the Jose Valverde Centre

Little Bustard

35 logged. Most common around Santa Marta near Trujillo, but also present on the Belen steppe

Great Bustard

About 40 seen, with the maximum of 29 on the Belen steppe. One flew low over the N-V motorway near Zafra

Black-winged Stilt

Abundant in the Coto Donana, where one flock, panicked by a Peregrine, numbered over 300 birds

Pied Avocet

200+ in the Coto Donana

Stone Curlew

About a dozen on steppe around Trujillo, and heard twice in the Coto Donana at dusk

Collared Pratincole

About 140 in several flocks in the Coto Donana

Northern Lapwing

A territorial pair near the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana

Grey Plover

One from El Rocio bridge, Coto Donana

Great Ringed Plover

40 on flooded fields in the Coto Donana

Little Ringed Plover

Just one seen - a flyover in the Coto Donana

Kentish Plover

Five in the Coto Donana

Black-tailed Godwit

About 100 in the Coto Donana

Eurasian Whimbrel

A flock of 5 flew over near the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana

Spotted Redshank

A single 'dusky' bird near the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana

Common Redshank

13 in the Coto Donana

Common Greenshank

About 30 in the Coto Donana

Green Sandpiper

Singles at a pool on the Belen steppe and in the Coto Donana

Wood Sandpiper

One in the Coto Donana

Common Sandpiper

About 25 in the Coto Donana, including several quite large groups of newly arrived migrants

Little Stint

About 25 in the Coto Donana, all at one site

Temminck's Stint

One with Little Stints and other small waders in the Coto Donana


Upwards of 300 in the Coto Donana


About 25 in the Coto Donana, including one male in good breeding plumage

Yellow-legged Gull

Approximately 40 in and around the Coto Donana

Lesser Black-backed Gull

About 30 in the Coto Donana

Black-headed Gull

Four in the Coto Donana

Whiskered Tern

A real highlight was the large number of Whiskered Terns in the Coto Donana. Probably 400+ were seen in total

Black Tern

Five in the Coto Donana, with Whiskered Terns

Gull-billed Tern

Well over 200 in the Coto Donana

Little Tern

Two at the Jose Valverde Centre, Coto Donana

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Heard distantly near Santa Marta

Rock / Feral Pigeon

Many Feral Pigeons everywhere, and a few possibly pure (?) Rock Pigeons at Monfrague Natural Park

Wood Pigeon

Seen in single figures on every day but two

European Turtle Dove

Four together in the Coto Donana

Collared Dove

Distinctly more widespread and common than on previous visits to the region. 16 sightings on 8 dates

Great Spotted Cuckoo

Two at Belen Steppe, and a further three near Santa Marta, including a first-summer bird apparently copulating with a full adult

Common Cuckoo

Well over a dozen heard, and several seen. Most frequent at Monfrague Natural Park

Eagle Owl

A single bird showed quite well in flight and perched at Tietar Cliffs, Monfrague Natural Park, at dawn, and another was calling east of El Rocio in the Coto Donana

Tawny Owl

One hooting east of El Rocio, Coto Donana

Little Owl

One at Belen steppe, and a further three in the Coto Donana

European Scops Owl

Heard singing at night at Arroyo de la Vid, Monfrague Natural Park, and by day near Santa Marta

Pallid Swift

Up to three at a time over Trujillo, and a very few identified with certainty in the Coto Donana

Common Swift

Abundant throughout

European Bee-eater

Seen daily, with a maximum of 33 in a day in the Coto Donana

European Roller

One briefly at the roadside near Santa Marta


27 sightings noted on every day bar the first

Green Woodpecker

One near Madrid, then a further three heard or seen

Great Spotted Woodpecker

One at Monfrague Natural Park, one drumming at La Rocina, Coto Donana, and one heard in the Sierra de Gredos

Calandra Lark

Not uncommon on the steppe near Trujillo (20+ per day), and several in the drier areas in the Coto Donana

Greater Short-toed Lark

Upwards of 100 in the fields of the Coto Donana

Lesser Short-toed Lark

At least 20 in the Coto Donana

Crested Lark

Abundant throughout


Common in suitable habitat near Trujillo and at Monfrague Natural Park, and 2 in the Sierra de Gredos

Thekla Lark

Having struggled to identify Theklas in the hills around Trujillo, we managed to firmly pin down several at Belen and elsewhere


Three near Trujillo (possibly overlooked), and at least 5 at high altitude in the Sierra de Gredos

Sand Martin

About 25 at various sites throughout

Crag Martin

50+ at Monfrague Natural Park, and 40 around Sierra de Gredos

Barn Swallow

Common throughout

Red-rumped Swallow

Seen daily - max. 30 at Monfrague Natural Park

House Martin

Common throughout

Yellow Wagtail

About 40 in the Coto Donana (all iberiae bar two flava types), and three in breeding habitat in the Sierra de Gredos

Grey Wagtail

Two at Monfrague Natural Park and a further 6 in the Sierra de Gredos

White Wagtail

Three at Monfrague Natural Park, 1 in the Coto Donana, and 1 in the Sierra de Gredos

Meadow Pipit

About 20 near Trujillo

Tree Pipit

One at La Rocina, Coto Donana

Water Pipit

Four holding territory in the Sierra de Gredos

Southern Grey Shrike

Ten around Trujillo, and a further seven between the Sierra de Gredos and Madrid

Woodchat Shrike

27 noted on six dates

Hedge Accentor

10+ at altitude in the Sierra de Gredos

Winter Wren

A very few heard and seen at montane sites and in the Coto Donana

White-throated Dipper

One in the Sierra de Gredos

European Robin

Heard at Monfrague Natural Park, and 10+ in the Sierra de Gredos. One singing before dawn in a Madrid suburb

Common Nightingale

Heard in song at various sites, but only seen at Monfrague Natural Park and La Rocina, Coto Donana


One singing male in the Sierra de Gredos

Black Redstart

A male at Penafalcon, Monfrague Natural Park, and a further 3 males in the Sierra de Gredos


One at the Belen steppe

Common Stonechat

Present in small numbers at many sites

Northern Wheatear

Thirteen noted at a variety of sites

Black-eared Wheatear

Four near Trujillo (three males), and then one of each sex in the Coto Donana

Blue Rock Thrush

About 6 noted at Monfrague Natural Park

Common Blackbird

Widely noted in small numbers

Mistle Thrush

Six around Monfrague Natural Park, and a further 2 in the Sierra de Gredos

Cetti's Warbler

1 singing at Tietar Cliffs, Monfrague Natural Park, and 20+ in the Coto Donana

Savi's Warbler

Four in song at La Rocina, Coto Donana

Sedge Warbler

One at El Rocio, Coto Donana

Eurasian Reed Warbler

Only about 4, all singing, in the Coto Donana

Great Reed Warbler

About 8 heard and seen in song in the Coto Donana

Melodious Warbler

One heard in song at La Rocina, and a further 2 singing males seen elsewhere in the Coto Donana

Zitting Cisticola

About 30 noted - most abundant in the Coto Donana


One singing in the Sierra de Gredos


Heard only in the Sierra de Gredos

Iberian Chiffchaff

One detected by song and then seen well at La Rocina, Coto Donana. A silent Chiffchaff sp. was seen in the Sierra de Gredos

Western Bonelli's Warbler

Two silent individuals in the Sierra de Gredos


A total of five singles noted

Garden Warbler

One at La Rocina, Coto Donana

Common Whitethroat

Single singing males at Monfrague Natural Park and La Rocina, Coto Donana

Sardinian Warbler

Few seen, surprisingly - three at Monfrague Natural Park, and further four or so in the Coto Donana

Subalpine Warbler

Six at Monfrague Natural Park, and a surprising find of a migrant at El Rocio, Coto Donana

(Western) Orphean Warbler

A singing male detected by voice and then seen well at Monfrague Natural Park

Dartford Warbler

Single males at Monfrague Natural Park and at La Rocina, Coto Donana

Pied Flycatcher

One male of the distinctive form iberiae in the Sierra de Gredos

Long-tailed Tit

11 noted on five dates, mostly in the hills

Great Tit

10 on five dates

Coal Tit

About 20 in the Sierra de Gredos

Blue Tit

6 on five dates

Crested Tit

Two at Monfrague Natural Park and another two in the Sierra de Gredos

European Nuthatch

Two seen and others heard in the Sierra de Gredos

Short-toed Treecreeper

One at Monfrague Natural Park, two at El Acebuche, Coto Donana, and a further two in the Sierra de Gredos

Golden Oriole

One male singing and very briefly seen at El Acebuche, Coto Donana

Corn Bunting

Abundant in grassland and agricultural habitats - many hundreds seen throughout

Cirl Bunting

Five near Torrejon el Rubio and at the Monfrague Natural Park

Rock Bunting

A singing male at Monfrague Natural Park, and then a very confiding 10 or so in the Sierra de Gredos

Common Crossbill

20+ in the Sierra de Gredos

Common Chaffinch

Common throughout

European Serin

Abundant throughout

European Greenfinch

Three singles noted

European Goldfinch

Common throughout

Common Linnet

39 noted on six dates

Eurasian Bullfinch

One at a lunch stop in the Sierra Morena heading south, and another two there heading north

House Sparrow

Abundant throughout

Spanish Sparrow

About 180 seen around the Trujillo area, with many pairs nesting in a Spanish Imperial Eagle nest!

Tree Sparrow

30+ at La Rocina, Coto Donana, and two more elsewhere in the area

Rock Sparrow

Twelve in the dehesa near Torrejon el Rubio, near Monfrague Natural Park

Spotless Starling

Abundant throughout

Eurasian Jay

Three at Monfrague Natural Park and four in the Sierra de Gredos

Azure-winged Magpie

Abundant in dehesa throughout, and several in the Coto Donana, especially at El Acebuche

Black-billed Magpie

Noted almost every day in single figures

Eurasian Jackdaw

Seen almost every day in large numbers

Carrion Crow

About 10 in the Sierra de Gredos

Common Raven

17 noted on seven dates


Simon Woolley

April 2003