Saturday, 7 May 2016

Another road trip through Spain - Week 1

I'm on another road trip in Iberia, this time largely as a passenger with my good friend Mark Paine in his smart new van conversion come camper. To take some of the drag out of driving we took the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and have made it down from northern Spain to Donana in the south in little over a week taking in the following major sites - 

  • Fuentes de Navas
  • Sierra Gredos
  • Extramadura
  • Sierra Morena / Norte
  • Donana

Its been pretty 'full on' and only just managed to squeeze in some internet time here at El Rocio. Its been a cracking good trip so far with some magnificent scenery and plenty of birdlife. Early May in Spain was never going to disappoint and with 173 bird species already recorded we're on course to break the 200 barrier with ease (famous last words!).

Highlights so far then, and with limited time to write this up for now this is mainly pics ...
Leaving Portsmouth on the ferry

Pit stop for the van a few kilometres north of Palencia. Already had Short Toed and Booted Eagle plus numerous Black Kites and here we got our first Bonellis Warbler.

The van, Monzon de Campos, 28/04/16

Bonellis Warbler, Nr Palencia, 28/04/16

First destination, Fuentes de Navas, nr Salamancar - lots of lovely wet fields, trees and bushes full of warblers and Yellow Wagtails aplenty!

 Fuentes de Navas

Yellow Wagtail, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16

 Yellow Wagtail, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16
These had us flummoxed for a bit, turned out to be Reed Warblers but they were predominantly in trees and bushes and not reeds. Many Grasshopper Warblers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps and the first Subalpine Warbler of the trip.
 Reed Warbler, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16

 Subalpine Warbler, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16

Wader species at Navas included many Common and Green Sandpipers, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Black winged Stilts of course and a good Grey Plover record. Up to 40 or so Northern Wheaters, Spotted Flycatcher and at dusk we had a couple of Great Bustards flapping past the van into roost.
From here we headed into the Sierra Gredos mountain ranges to the west of Madrid and an overnight stop over at San Martin del Pimpolar added Black Wheatear, Crested Tit, Rock Bunting and Melodious Warbler to the ever growing list.
 Rock Bunting, San Martin del Pimpolar, 1/05/16

Melodious Warbler, San Martin del Pimpolar, 01/05/16
 Comfortably the best Northern Wheatear pic so far!

 Northern Wheatear, San Martin del Pimpolar, 01/05/16

Olive groves & the Sierra de Gredos

Bee Eaters, Nr Candelada, 02/05/16

 Olive Grove, nr Candelada

It goes without saying that the fields and hedgerows are full of colour with carpets of wild flowers in abundance everywhere you look. I'm not going to have time to look up the names of all these blooms but at least I know this one! More flower pics at the end of this post.

Just as colourful but darn elusive is the oddly sounding Golden Oriole, we've heard plenty of their piping calls from high up in the trees and suspect they've just arrived, but seen only brief glimpses and this  one was pure luck....

Golden Oriole, Candelada, 02/05/16

The plains of Serena in Extramadura is a wild and largely uncultivated land, great for steppe species and birds of prey and amongst other things brought us our first Black Vulture
Black Vulture, nr Tallarubio, 02/05/16
 Plains of La Serena

High Plains drifter on wheels, La Serena
 Great Spotted Cuckoo, La Serena, 03/05/16

Calandra Lark, La Serena, 04/05/16
Unlike in the UK, there are many sparrows in Spain, big flocks of them everywhere, mainly House Sparrows but also Tree Sparrows and the scarcer one - Spanish Sparrow, its a bit of a beast!

 Spanish Sparrow, La Serena, 03/05/16

Spanish Sparrow, La Serena, 03/05/16

Another steppe speciality, Great Bustard. We've seen maybe 20 or so in total including displaying incredible sight, shame they were too distant to photograph but a flying big B is the next best thing!

Great Bustard, La Serena, 03/05/16
Both Great and Little Bustards are faring ok here but Montagues Harriers on La Serena, once numbering 160 pairs are in massive decline because of more intensive farming methods
 Male Montagues Harrier, La Serena, 04/05/16

Male Montagues Harrier, La Serena, 04/05/16
Male & Female Montagues Harriers, La Serena, 03/05/16

Honey Buzzards migrate late and we were lucky enough to catch some passage over the plains. We reckoned on about 40 went over in small groups.

 Migrating Honey Buzzards, La Serena, 04/05/16

At Puerto Pena we spent a night on a campsite to regroup, shower and recharge batteries. Big Griffon Vulture colony there with one or two pairs of Black Storks nesting on the cliff face too.

 Black Stork, Puerto Pena, 03/05/16

Black Stork, Puerto Pena, 03/05/16
From Extramadura and La Serena we headed south beyond Seville to the mecca that is Donana, one of Spain's best known national nature reserves. The best bits are well away from the main visitor centre at El Rocio and most of the following were taken around the Jose Valverde centre deep into the reserve.
The old Bombeo pumping station (below) and the van, Donana,  just before an electrical storm
The bird they all come to see here is the Iberian Imperial Eagle and we were lucky boys indeed to happen upon 2 of these huge eagles out in the middle of nowhere and perched  incongruously atop pylons!
 Iberian Imperial Eagle, Donana, 05/05/16

 Iberian Imperial Eagle, Donana, 05/05/16

Iberian Imperial Eagle, Donana, 05/05/16

Donana is a major stop off place for migrant waders on their journey north from Africa to the rest of Europe and there were still plenty around. Ringed Plover seemed to be the most numerous, Dunlin a close second and  a few Greenshank, Redshank, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints mixed in with the resident Black Winged Stilts.
 Ringed Plover, Donana, 06/05/16

Little Stint, Donana, 06/05/16

Little Stints, Donana, 06/05/16

Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ringed Plover & Dunlin, Donana, 06/05/16
 Other highlights from Donana so far have been Pin Tailed Sandgrouse, Isabelline Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, Collared Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, Little Bittern and Black Shouldered Kite.
Black Shouldered Kite, Donana, 06/05/16

Collared Pratincole, Donana, 05/05/16
Whiskered Tern, Donana, 06/05/16

One evening there was a significant movement of Sand Martins with a 1000 plus passing south over the Guidamar river. It could simply have been birds heading into roost or late passage, either way it's the most Sand Martins I've ever seen in one day!

Sand Martin, Donana, 05/05/16 
 Here's a few of the wild flower species I promised, all fairly common I'm sure but I haven't got the time right now to put a name to them ..... if anyone can ID them I'd be muchos gratias!
 Cistus sp?

 More Red Poppies, El Pintado


More to follow as we stick around down here and then head back up north. Adios!




Anonymous said...

Keeping an eye on you Mark. Some great pictures.


Tim Ward said...

Big thanks Jeff ...he needs an eye keeping on otherwise he might claim these pics are his!!

Millymollymandy said...

I enjoyed reading your previous trips to Spain as it gave me ideas where to go on future visits, and I could dream of the amazing species you have seen. We have a motorhome now too and will be heading to the Pyrenees in September and will be visiting El Cortalet (I think that's what it's called, the reserve near Roses) again. First time in autumn though, have previously visited twice in spring. Very envious of your Golden Oriole!