We then travel north to the wild and beautiful country of Extremadura, about 250km south-west of Madrid, which holds some of Europe's most endangered bird species in their last strongholds. The rolling plains of the "Spanish Steppes" are home to Europe's largest remaining population of its largest bird, Great Bustard, together with good numbers of Little Bustard, and both Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. This is probably the best area in Europe for raptors, too, with a unique assemblage of species including Black Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black-shouldered Kite. Accommodation: In Andalucía we stay in a 3-star hotel in El Rocio and a 4-star hotel in Zahara with all rooms en suite. In Extremadura we stay at the Finca Santa Marta, a small country hotel delightfully converted from a former olive farm in the Extremadura countryside. All rooms are en suite.
Days 1–3: Plan to arrive in Sevilla on Day 1. From here we drive down to Zahara de los Atunes, our base for the next three nights. We will spend two days exploring the wide variety of habitats on the western side of the Strait area, dividing our time between the coastal dunes and beaches, small estuaries, mountain ridges, the huge expanse of La Janda with even a little sea-watching thrown in. The whole area acts as a magnet to migrant birds and we spend time looking for a number of specialties of the area, from Cory's and Mediterranean Shearwaters, Audouin's Gull, Bonelli's Eagle and Thekla Lark near Tarifa, to White-headed Duck, waders and Penduline Tit at one of the many lagoons in the area. This is peak spring migration time, and birds should be pouring north across the Strait. Raptors, Bee-eaters, Rollers, Hoopoes, Wrynecks, Quails, the list is endless, and should provide for a truly exciting start to the tour. Our base is an excellent hotel in the small fishing village of Zahara de los Atunes 3 nights Zahara de los Atunes
Days 4 – 6: We head north to our hotel in El Rocio on the northwest tip of Coto Doñana for a three-night stay. We start with a look at the wet areas at El Rocio and park centres. If the water levels are right, the marshes here can be crammed with birds, with Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, herons and egrets, numerous waders and Whiskered Tern. Local specialities include Purple Gallinule, while Savi’s Warblers reel from the reedbeds. We will also walk through the pinewoods and cork-oak groves as a further introduction, especially to the resident birds of the area. Flocks of dramatic Azure-winged Magpies flit through the lower branches, small passerines including Crested Tit and Firecrest work through the upper levels, while the air is redolent with the songs of Serin and Nightingale. As air temperatures increase, so raptors become more noticeable - these can include Red Kite, Short-toed and Booted Eagles.
One day will be spent taking a trip out towards the heart of the marshes, which are still excellent hunting habitat for numerous raptors, including Lesser Kestrel, and one of the rarest raptors in the world, Spanish Imperial Eagle. The rather bare fields are also home to the resident Lesser Short-toed Lark. We will stay at the "wild-west" town of El Rocio, whose white buildings and white sand streets make a highly distinctive and memorable setting. Three nights El Rocio.
Days 7–11: We will take most of the day to drive to Trujillo in Extremadura. Our base, the excellent Finca Santa Marta, couldn't be better placed to make the most of the area. Azure-winged Magpies flit around the Finca's orchards, while Cirl Buntings and Wood Larks sing from a nearby hillside where Champagne Orchids can be found among an abundance of spring flowers. One of our first priorities will be a visit to Monfragüe National Park, an area that is arguably the best year-round raptor-watching site in Europe! Situated some 45 km north of Trujillo, the park is one of the Spanish strongholds for Black Vulture, which breeds together with both Griffon and summering Egyptian Vultures. Eagles are also well represented, with the star birds being around 10 pairs of Spanish Imperial Eagle, which, with a total population of 120 or so pairs, is one of the world's most endangered raptors. Golden and Bonelli's Eagles are resident and are joined in spring by Booted and Short-toed Eagles. Several of these species breed on and around the dramatic pinnacle of Peñafalcón, which also holds Chough, Crag Martin and Alpine Swift, together with breeding Eagle Owls nearby. In spring, it is also one of the easiest places in Europe to watch shy Black Storks at a breeding site.
Nearby valleys hold good stands of the open oak woodland, or "dehesa" that is such a distinctive feature of Extremadura. Here we can find good numbers of Azure-winged Magpie in its European stronghold, and keep our eyes open for the scarce Black-shouldered Kite. In spring, incoming migrants include Bee-eater, Roller, Black-eared Wheatear, and Great Spotted Cuckoo can be expected. The plains to the south of the area form part of the "Spanish Steppes", with a fascinating assemblage of birds. It is here that we hope to see Great Bustard performing its incredible breeding display, in which the male turns itself into a huge white pom-pom of feathers. We have watched these normally shy males display as close as two hundred yards away from us on spring visits in the past - a breathtaking sight! Little Bustard are abundant, and we also hope to see both Pin-tailed and the commoner Black-bellied Sandgrouse, together with local resident passerines including Calandra Lark. Spanish Sparrows are rather scarce in Spain but are common here, with flocks of several hundred often seen. Small wetland sites in the area hold Purple Heron, Little Bittern and other waterbirds, including Purple Gallinules, which can be surprisingly easy to see. The reedbeds hold breeding Savi’s Warbler, while Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill are two intriguing introductions to Iberia that seem to be spreading.
Trujillo, well known for its beautiful town square with breeding Pallid Swift, and White Storks, has one of the highest concentrations of Lesser Kestrels in Europe - we have counted over a hundred in the air together on our visits. Throughout the area, with its picturesque villages and huge savannah-like landscapes, White Stork nests can be found almost everywhere you look. This is a unique and incredibly distinctive part of Europe, with lovely scenery, small empty lanes, and absolutely brimming with birds: don't just take our word for it - join us here! Five nights Finca Santa Marta
Day 12: Return to Madrid for an afternoon flight home.
Maximum 14 clients (two leaders with more than 7 clients)
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