Spain (Andalúcia and Extremadura) 22-26 November 2003


Account written by J.Thomas

This was a short break trip intended to see a few target species – the participants were Paul Bowyer, Stuart Holdsworth and myself, Julian Thomas. There were 7 species (Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Black Vulture, Great Bustard, Azure-winged Magpie, White-headed Duck, and Marbled Duck) needed by some or all of us and available at this time of year, plus Eagle Owl, which Paul and I had only heard. Of these we saw 6, but missed Marbled Duck and Eagle Owl. In addition Paul and I saw our first indisputably wild Red-crested Pochards. In all we recorded just over 100 species in 4 days birding, and all of us agreed it was a successful trip.  Cost (excluding meals, drinks etc) was approx. £250.


In the short time available we mostly visited “classic” sites – Doñana and Monfragüe in particular. All sites visited are in Where to Watch Birds in Southern Spain (Garcia and Paterson, Helm) and/or Where to Watch Birds in Spain and Portugal (Rose, Hamlyn). Thanks to Paul Chapman for the loan of both books. Daylight was 8am to 6pm or a bit later.



Flights were with EasyJet, Bristol to Malaga – booked early, they were cheap (£62 return including taxes). Such low fares make these short break trips a really attractive option, although Malaga is not close to any of the best sites. Car hire was with Crown car hire via Rega ( – a Peugeot 406 cost £156 for 4 days (so £52 each). We could have had a Ford Focus for about £20 each less, but with plenty of miles to cover we went for the roomier option. I have booked through Rega twice now with no problems.


The autovias (4-lane freeways) and autopista (6-lane toll motorway) are excellent, and a major road building programme means not only that others are on their way, but also that there are many new, high quality smaller roads. Some of the older minor roads, however, are cracked, twisty and bumpy in places (eg the road through Monfragüe). Maps used were the regional Michelin 1:400,000 ones, sheets 576 and 578, available from bookshops over here.


Food and accommodation

We booked the first night’s hotel on the web before we went – there are various hotel booking agencies on-line, most of which take two days to confirm by e-mail and then usually tell you the hotel is full! Try – with them I got us in at the first place I tried and got immediate confirmation of the booking. This was the Hotel Las Vegas near the seafront in Malaga. Approx. £28 pppn, which seemed to be about the going rate. Decent pizzeria and bar both nearby.


Next we stayed at the Hotel Toruño in El Rocio within Coto Doñana– small and pleasant enough, with each room dedicated to a typical Iberian bird or mammal. We missed the fact that the Hotel had its own restaurant across the street, and went to another (not very good) one down the road. The only bar we found was OK, but not great, and the uneven sandy streets of the town were also not great for driving or walking on in the wet conditions.


The last two nights were at the Hotel Victoria in Trujillo – rather grand, with marble floors and wrought-iron balustrades, but at similar cost to the others, although in this case that didn’t include breakfast. The café bar/restaurant attached to the hotel did good evening meals, but the breakfast selection was very limited. 

Day-to-day account


Saturday 22 Nov


Early evening flight to Malaga, where we stayed overnight.


Sunday 23 Nov


We left the hotel at 8.30am and drove the 2½ hours west through intermittent rain to our first site, Laguna de Medina, near Jerez. Species seen on the drive included Red Kite, Cattle Egret, Griffon Vulture, and a flock of 81 White Storks near Algeciras. After waiting for a thunderstorm to pass, we scanned the lagoon from the car park (one stretch of the main track near the car park being impassable without wellies). A range of wildfowl were present, including 4 Black-necked Grebes, but only one sub-adult drake White-headed Duck was visible, and no Marbled Ducks. (As all of us had seen plenty of Red-knobbed Coots in Namibia earlier in the year, we made no real attempt to pick out any from the large numbers of Common Coots.)


On then, in much clearer weather, to Coto Doñana, where further fruitless searches for Marbled Duck at La Rocina and El Acebuche did, however, produce some good birding, including plenty of Azure-winged Magpies (noisy, gregarious and beautiful - just as good as I thought they would be), Black-shouldered Kite, several Purple Gallinules, and 27 Glossy Ibises flying to roost. The supporting cast included Sardinian Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Black Redstart, Firecrest and Crested Tit. Overnight in El Rocio.


Monday 24 Nov


We awoke to leaden skies and heavy rain, which persisted all morning as we headed north to Extremadura. Attempts to cut across country towards La Serena were thwarted by the road being closed for rebuilding at the village of Pallares – this did, however, give us our only Rock Sparrows of the trip. We decided in the conditions to get back on to main roads and head instead for the Caceres-Trujillo area in search of steppe birds. Luckily the rain stopped as we arrived at around 2pm, although it was still cold and overcast.


Searching the area north of the main Caceres-Trujillo road produced a group of 4 Great Bustards as well as several Southern Grey Shrikes and more Azure-winged Magpies, Crested Larks, Corn Buntings etc. A tour around the south side produced first 2 more Great Bustards, then 12 more in flight, 10 of which flew directly overhead and landed in the same field as the first two! A mixed flock of larks buzzing around the same field was made up mostly of 100+ Calandra Larks.


A last tour around the north side of the road came up trumps when a flock of 32 Little Bustards flew over the road at dusk and landed (just) in view! Overnight in Trujillo.


Tuesday 25 Nov


Early morning mist out on the steppes soon burned off to reveal a glorious clear sunny day, just when we needed it, and we found 3 Great Bustards still where we had left the flock the previous evening. Paul got some more photos, then we headed off, picking up several Southern Grey Shrikes and Hoopoes and a flock of Serins as we left. 

One advantage of doing the Caceres-Trujillo steppes rather than those of La Serena was that we were only an hour or so away from Monfragüe (pronounced “mon-frahg-way” by a helpful Spanish birder we met at Doñana). This is a beautiful site, rightly noted by all as not to be missed, and new species for the trip mounted up rapidly, including Blue Rock Thrush, a few Rock Buntings, the first of many sightings of Black Vulture that day (this one perched in a small tree), Crag Martin, and Hawfinch. Griffon Vultures were also of course much in evidence, and much of the day was spent at the Mirador de la Bascula sifting through the spiralling masses for other raptors.


Highlight of the first watch was a single Bonelli’s Eagle, looking small next to the vultures, with another giving excellent views on the way back to the hamlet of Villareal de San Carlos for a late lunch and a drop in at the information centre. Back at La Bascula in mid-afternoon, we saw a pair of these excellent birds, the male displaying; a Golden Eagle also showed briefly. Our main target, however, continued to elude us. By 5pm most of the vultures were already back down on the crags for the night, and we were resigned to a dip. As I turned to go, I noticed two large raptors above the main ridge, and scoped them – eagles! It did not take long to be sure that they were indeed Spanish Imperial Eagles. One drifted off, but after a few minutes the other swooped down and landed in view in a tree on the side of the ridge, then flew a short distance to another tree, showing all of its fieldmarks. Not the closest of views, but still plenty good enough!


We finished off at the Portilla de Tietar viewpoint, only a couple of km further along the same road - the regular Eagle Owl failed to show, but there was still excellent birding to be had, with close views of c20 roosting Griffons and a perched Bonelli’s Eagle the highlights, along with a flock of c100 Azure-winged Magpies, a Blue Rock Thrush, and several Crag Martins. We stayed until dark then headed back to Trujillo, very happy with the day.


Wednesday 26 Nov


With only one target left we headed back on the long drive south to Andalucia, exchanging bad weather for good yet again. Highlights of the journey were a Peregrine and several more of the ubiquitous Red Kites. Belatedly we had found out (contra the negative news given by park staff at El Acebuche) that there were in fact a few, very difficult Marbled Ducks at La Rocina in Doñana, but with a plane to catch that was too far the wrong way off our route to try that day. Instead we tried Laguna de Medina again, arriving at 12.30pm. More wildfowl were in evidence today, with 75 White-headed Ducks and 2 Red-crested Pochards the best, but our quarry still eluded us.


On to the nearby Laguna del Comisario, which held another 40 White-headed Ducks and 8 Black-necked Grebes, but still no Marbled Ducks. With so much rain, there was far more water about than usual, spreading birds about away from their usual haunts. It had also turned any patch of dirt into a sticky bog, so we didn’t risk the 4km of dirt road to the nearby Laguna de Taraje. Instead we headed back towards Malaga, stopping a couple of times on the way.


The estuary at Palmones, near Algeciras, produced a few new waders for the trip and good views of Gibraltar, but not much else. Another coastal stop at Puerto Sotogrande was very good though, with the tiny Laguna de las Camelias holding a variety of species including c200 Cattle Egrets and 2 Purple Gallinules, several Crag Martins whizzing overhead, and 50+ Yellow-legged Gulls roosting on the beach. At 5.30pm we left for the airport and our 9pm flight home.

Species List                            (number seen, site code, date)


Sites: LM – Laguna de Medina; D – Doñana (La Rocina or El Acebuche); CT – Caceres-Trujillo steppes; M – Monfragüe; LC – Laguna del Comisario; PE – Palmones estuary; PS – Puerte Sotogrande (Laguna de las Camelias and nearby beach)


1.  Great Crested Grebe           1, LM, 23 and 26; 1, LC, 26

2.  Black-necked Grebe            4, LM, 23 and 26; 8, LC, 26; 1, PE, 26

3.  Little Grebe                         Common – present on all lagoons visited

4.  Cormorant                           Small numbers seen in various places, including 4, M, 25

5.  Grey Heron                         Ones and twos in various places, 15+, PE, 26

6.  Little Egret                           In varying numbers at wetland sites

7.  Cattle Egret                         Common, seen daily, including c200, PS, 26

8.  Glossy Ibis                           27, D, 23

9.  White Stork                         Regular, mostly in Andalucia; a flock of 81, Algeciras, 23

10. Mallard                               Common

11. Gadwall                               1-3, LM, 23 and 26

12. Wigeon                               1 or 2, LM, 23 and 26

13. Shoveler                              Common on LM, 23 and 26, also seen at LC, 26

14. Eurasian Teal                       Only a few at LM, 23 and 26

15. Red-crested Pochard           2 drakes, LM, 26

16. Tufted Duck                        1 drake, LC, 26

17. Pochard                              Up to 50, LM, 23 and 26; also a few on LC, 26

18. White-headed Duck            Only 1 drake, LM, 23, but 75 there, 26, and 40, LC, 26

19. Griffon Vulture                     Common, especially at M

20. European Black Vulture       20+, M, 25

21. Bonelli’s Eagle                     4 separate sightings of at least 3 different birds, M, 25

22. Golden Eagle                       1 sub-adult, M , 25

23. Spanish Imperial Eagle         2, M, 25. Best bird of the trip.

24. Buzzard                               A few seen by the roadside and in CT steppes

25. Red Kite                             Common, and gorgeous as ever

26. Black-shouldered Kite         Single adults showed very well, D, 23 and CT, 25

27. Marsh Harrier                      2 (fem), LM, 23; 1 (imm m), D, 23; 1 (fem), LC, 26

28. Hen Harrier                         1 ringtail, D, 23

29. Peregrine Falcon                  1 seen from the car in the Sierra Morena, 26

30. Kestrel                                Common, a few seen daily

31. Red-legged Partridge           Common, at least a few seen at most sites

32. Great Bustard                      Fantastic birds: 18, CT, 24 ; 3 there, 25

33. Little Bustard                       32 in one flock, CT, 24

34. Moorhen                             At LM on both visits

35. Purple Gallinule                    At least 12, D, 23; 2, LM, 26; 2 PS, 26 – still love those feet!

36. Coot                                   Large nos at LM on both visits

37. Lapwing                              Seen in small numbers at a few sites and on drives, common

38. Snipe                                   1 or 2, D, 23

39. Redshank                            c10, PE, 26

40. Greenshank                         At least 1, PE, 26

41. Green Sandpiper                 1, LM, 23; 1, CT, 24 (flying over, searching in vain for water?)

42. Common Sandpiper 2 or 3, D, 23; 1 calling, M, 25

43. Dunlin                                  A pack of about 15, PE, 26, also one over PS same day

44. Lesser Black-backed Gull    Small numbers along the coast and occasionally inland

45. Yellow-legged Gull              Common along the coast, also seen inland

46. Black-headed Gull               Common on the coast, also seen inland

47. Sandwich Tern                    1, PE, 26

48. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon      Common

49. Stock Dove                         4, M , 25

50. Woodpigeon                       A flock of about 40,  M , 25; a few others elsewhere

51. Collared Dove                     Common in towns and villages

52. Kingfisher                            1 heard, M, 25; 1 seen, PS, 26

53. Hoopoe                               1, CT, 24, with 4+ there next day, and 2 at M; 1 from car, 26

54. Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, M, 25

55. Skylark                               A few, CT, 24

56. Woodlark                            2, M, 25

57. Crested Lark                       Common throughout – no Thekla Larks identified

58. Calandra Lark                     100+, CT, 24 and 25

59. Crag Martin                         Several at M, 25 and PS, 26

60. Meadow Pipit                      Common

61. White Wagtail                      Common

62. Grey Wagtail                       2, M, 25

63. Southern Grey Shrike          Common on CT steppes, 24 and 25

64. Spotless Starling                  Common throughout

65. Eurasian Jay                        A few seen at various sites

66. Magpie                                Commonly seen in small numbers

67. Azure-winged Magpie         Common – 300+ seen, including flocks of c100 and c60, M, 25

68. Jackdaw                              Flock of 250+, CT, 24, plus a few others elsewhere

69. Raven                                  Regularly seen singly or in pairs

70. Carrion Crow                      Only a few seen, CT, 24

71. European Blue Tit                Odd ones seen at various sites

72. Great Tit                              Odd ones seen at various sites

73. Crested Tit                          1 seen and others heard, D, 23

74. Long-tailed Tit                     A few, M, 25

75. Wren                                   Odd ones seen at various sites

76. Dunnock                             Only one (!), M, 25

77. Blue Rock Thrush                3 singles (2m, 1f/juv), M, 25

78. European Stonechat            Common throughout

79. Black Redstart                     Common, singles seen regularly

80. Robin                                  Fairly common

81. Blackbird                            Fairly common

82. Song Thrush                        A few seen at various sites

83. Mistle Thrush                       2, M, 25

84. Cetti's Warbler                    Heard at most wetland sites

85. Fan-tailed Warbler              A few singles seen at LM and D, 23 and LM, 26

86. Sardinian Warbler                Common, seen and heard regularly

87. Blackcap                             1 seen and others heard, M, 25

88. Dartford Warbler                 Singles heard in several places including D and M

89. Chiffchaff                             Common throughout

90. Firecrest                              1, D, 23

91. House Sparrow                   Common throughout

92. Rock Sparrow                     2, Pallares, Extremadura, 24

93. Chaffinch                             Fairly common

94. Hawfinch                             2 singles, M , 25

95. Greenfinch                           A few seen, CT, 25

96. European Goldfinch Small flocks in various places

97. Eurasian Siskin                    Heard at M, 25

98. Linnet                                  A few small flocks, eg CT, 24 and 25

99. Serin                                   Flocks of 6-10 birds, CT and M, 25

100. Corn Bunting                     Fairly common, especially on CT steppes

101. Reed Bunting                     1, LM, 23

102. Rock Bunting                     2 singles and a pair, plus other probables, M, 25