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Spain Spanish Steppes in Winter

A 7-day birdwatching tour to Extremadura, Spain

Escape the worst of the British winter and join us for a wonderful week of birdwatching amid the rugged sierras and rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura - the ‘wild heart of Spain’. The vulture-filled skies of Monfragüe National Park, flocks of Great and Little Bustards, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie - plus thousands of wintering Cranes! Six nights at a charming Hotel Rural, set in delightful countryside near Trujillo and within easy drive of the best birding spots.

Tour Dates

2018

Spaces
4

Leaders
Fernando Enrique
Second leader (tba)

Max Group Size: 12
Duration: 7 Days

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Cost: £1495

inc return flights from London Heathrow to Madrid, with Iberia and/or British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £140
Land Only: £1375

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Griffon Vulture 2 flight Ex Spain Stephen Daly 4411

The Spanish steppes are a vital stronghold for many threatened species, including Griffon Vulture - which we'll see scouring the plains and at its breeding haunts on the immense vulture crag of Pena Falcon © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Hoopoes bouncing through the dehesas on zebra wings; tawny winter grasslands dotted with groups of stately Great Bustards; squadrons of mighty Cinereous (Black) and Griffon Vultures floating silently in the sky above the immense rock pinnacle of Peña Falcon; the deep grunting of Purple Swamphens hidden within dense stands of bullrushes... Focusing on the rolling steppes and rugged sierras of Extremadura, our January birdwatching tour to Spain promises all this - and more! For a winter visit to the 'wild heart of Spain' brings the thrill of spectacular thousands of Common Cranes, which arrive here from northern Europe to feed beneath the oaks and in harvested fields of maize and rice.        

From Madrid, we head west to delightful Viña Las Torres, a small and beautifully renovated country house estate set amidst wonderful birding country a few miles from Trujillo. With good home cooking and wine included with our evening meals, this comfortable hotel rural will be our base throughout the holiday. Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies roost in numbers in the garden and more than 90 species of bird have been recorded within just five minutes walk of the hotel - so it can be hard to tear ourselves away! But we will... for winter days in Extremadura are always memorable, filled with more birds than you could wish for.          

Visits to magnificent Monfragüe National Park form the centrepiece of our tour. With its oak and scrub-covered hillsides, plunging river valleys and massive vulture crags, this is one of our all-time favourite places. Birds of prey are more numerous here than anywhere else in Western Europe. In January, we can expect to find a dozen or more different species including the scarce Black-winged Kite, Cinereous (Black) and Griffon Vultures, and up to three species of eagle - Bonelli's, Golden and the endemic Spanish Imperial. This is also an excellent time to see the solitary Southern Grey (Iberian) Shrike and the exotic but sociable Iberian Magpie - two further Iberian endemics that make their homes in the beautiful dehesa woodlands that ring this fine national park.          

Out on the rolling plains, flocks of Calandra Larks and droves of bustards - both Great and Little - will have come together for the winter. As we scan the January fields for them, we may unearth Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and parties of Eurasian Stone-curlew, too.

During our stay, we’ll pay a visit to the historic old town of Trujillo, enjoying far-reaching views from the medieval battlements followed by dinner one evening at a restaurant in the cobbled Plaza Mayor, overseen by the formidable statue of Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru. Even in winter, a few White Storks may already be back at their rooftop nests in the town.

We think the variety of species on this January tour will surprise you as we go in search of everything from flocks of Spanish Sparrows, Red Avadavats and Common Waxbills amid rice fields on the plains to Eurasian Crag Martins, Alpine Accentors and Hawfinches in the shadow of hilltop Moorish castles. Join us for a great week of birding amid the rugged sierras and rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura - and leave the worst of the British winter behind!

Common Cranes two families 0100

Thousands of Common Cranes spend the winter in Extremadura, feeding in the fields of harvested maize and rice, and foraging for acorns beneath the oaks - a spectacular sight! © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Day 1
TO MADRID & TRUJILLO

Our January birdwatching tour to Spain begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Madrid, where Fernando will be waiting to welcome us. We head west towards the rolling steppe grasslands, beautiful oak woodlands and rugged sierras of Extremadura - the 'wild heart of Spain'. The journey will take around three to four hours, but we'll stop along the way for something to eat - and maybe have a first try for the elusive Black-winged Kite. Although it is winter, the prospect of watching White Storks, Eurasian Hoopoes and Southern Grey Shrikes may come as a welcome surprise.

Early evening arrival at our comfortable rural retreat for the week, a small and beautifully renovated country house hotel set amidst wonderful birding country just a few miles south of the medieval hilltop town of Trujillo. Cattle Egrets, Spanish Sparrows and Spotless Starlings forage in the fields, and Iberian Magpies gather to roost in the garden. Night Viña Las Torres

Days 2 – 6
MONFRAGUE NATIONAL PARK, THE STEPPE & SIERRAS OF EXTREMADURA

To begin our appreciation of this lovely region we only have to take a short walk outside: more than 90 species of bird have been recorded within five minutes walk of the hotel. Nearby, we could well hear the eerie cries of Eurasian Stone-curlew drifting over the steppe, or watch birds of prey soaring effortlessly overhead.

North from Trujillo, our route to Monfragüe National Park passes through mile after mile of unspoilt dehesas - a park-like habitat of cork and evergreen oaks, foraged by pigs. On sunny days in late January, the woodlands come alive with the hollow calls of Hoopoe, fluting Woodlarks, and the ceaseless chatter of Iberian Magpies. Sardinian Warblers scold us from the brush and Southern Grey Shrikes perch like sentries beside the road, while the squat form of a Little Owl glares down at us from atop one of the massive erratic boulders so characteristic of these ‘hard lands’.

This is probably the richest spot in Europe for birds of prey. As the immense shapes of Griffon Vultures launch themselves from sun-warmed crags to patrol the sweeping skies, we’ll watch for Cinereous Vulture, Red Kite, Peregrine and three big eagles: Bonelli’s, Golden and the very rare Spanish Imperial are all resident in the park. We could even be lucky enough to come across the huge Eagle Owl, out sunning itself on a favoured ledge.

Always magical, Monfragüe’s Cistus-covered hillsides and deep plunging valleys are equally rich in small birds. Eurasian Crag Martin, Crested and Thekla Larks, Dartford Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Rock Bunting and Red-billed Chough are all likely - and we could see Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper, too.

To the south of Monfragüe, our attention will turn to the sweeping plains, a major stronghold of the spectacular Great Bustard, which gathers into flocks (or droves) at this season. We should also see Little Bustards as we search for the scarce Black-winged Kite; sailing on the breeze like a giant paper plane, winter is perhaps the best time of year to see this oft-elusive resident. We’ll listen out for the distinctive Pochard-like calls of nomadic Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and the telltale ‘chuckling’ of Black-bellied Sandgrouse passing over the steppe. As we scour the fields for them, flocks of Calandra Larks and Skylarks, Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, finches and pipits may be put to flight by the sudden appearance of a low-flying Hen Harrier or dashing Merlin - both are winter visitors here.

In January, thousands of stately Common Cranes from northern Europe will also be present, feasting on acorns beneath the trees and the glut of food left behind in Extremadura’s fields of harvested maize and rice. They make a stirring sight and sound, and are one of the highlights of a winter visit to the Spanish steppes.

For sheer variety of species, this whole area is hard to beat. Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Purple Swamphen, Common Kingfisher, Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, Water Pipit and Hawfinch, along with Common Waxbill and Red Avadavat (two tiny, introduced finches now firmly established in this corner of Iberia) are among many other 'winter birds' enjoyed by our previous groups. And unexpected surprises on our January 2016 tour included vagrant Ring-necked Duck and Sociable Lapwing, too!

No visit to this wonderful region would be complete without a walk through historic old Trujillo town, with its winding cobbled streets, delightful medieval architecture and mellow pan-tiled roofs. Even in winter, a few White Storks are likely to be attending their rooftop nests. One evening, we'll take dinner in town, pausing to admire the glorious views across the plains from atop the medieval battlements and afterwards dropping back down to a restaurant overlooking the beautiful Plaza Mayor with its imposing statue of the Conquistador Francisco Pizarro, mounted on horseback. Nights at Viña Las Torres

Day 7                                    
RETURN TO MADRID & LONDON

After breakfast this morning, we bid a reluctant farewell to our hosts Juan Pedro and Belen and make our way back to Madrid. There'll be time to enjoy a little more birding along the way.

Late afternoon flight to London, where our winter birdwatching tour to the Spanish Steppes concludes.

Iberian Grey Shrike 3555

The pink-chested Southern (Iberian) Grey Shrike is endemic to Spain and Portugal, although it also creeps over the border into the south of France © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

What To Expect

A 7-day birdwatching tour to the Spanish Steppes in winter, and the ideal escape from the worst of the British winter!

Join us for a wonderful week of birding amid the rugged sierras and rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura - the 'wild heart of Spain'. The vulture-filled skies of Peña Falcon, flocks of Great and Little Bustards, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie - plus spectacular thousands of wintering Cranes! Six nights at a beautifully restored and privately owned Hotel Rural, set in delightful countryside near Trujillo and within easy distance of the best birding spots.

The weather in Extremadura in late January is mild (5-13C/41-55F), averaging 9C/47F. The late autumn and early winter rains will be tailing away by late January, but some rainfall is likely during the winter months.

Birds

120-140 species

Accommodation

6 nights accommodation at lovely Viña Las Torres, a small and beautifully renovated country house hotel situated at the heart of the Sierra de Lagares, just a few miles from Trujillo. All rooms have private facilities.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 7. Delicious home cooking and wine included with our evening meals at the hotel.

On one evening we eat out, taking dinner together at a restaurant in historic Trujillo. Lunches will be picnics in some of our favourite places.

Our tour price also includes an informal evening of wine tasting at the hotel, with our charming host Juan Pedro.

Walking

Easy; short walks. One uphill walk followed by a steep climb up a series of stone steps to reach the viewpoint overlooking the heart of Monfragüe National Park is optional.

Wear comfy walking shoes or lightweight boots  with sturdy corrugated soles for grip.

Travel

We fly with British Airways/Iberia from London Heathrow-Madrid.

Ground Transport   By minibus.

Little Bustards flight Ex 3975

The Spanish Steppes are a vital stronghold for both Great and (above) Little Bustards, the latter with their rather grouse-like appearance and whistling wings in flight © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

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