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Spain Extremadura & Gredos

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to Spain, exploring Extremadura and the Sierra de Gredos

Since our very first visit here in 1990, this fabulous birdwatching tour to Spain has remained one of Limosa’s all-time favourite trips. After seeking a host of rare and spectacular breeding birds on the rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura, our Spain birding tour goes in search of alpine specialities in the beautiful Sierra de Gredos to produce an exceptional list of Iberian birds - including both Great and Little Bustards, Great Spotted Cuckoo, White-rumped Swift, Iberian Magpie, Bluethroat, Citril Finch and Spanish Imperial Eagle among more than a dozen different birds of prey. Add two good and wonderfully situated hotels and join us for the best birding in all Iberia - at the very best time of year! Returning for our 30th year to the region.

Tour Dates

2020

Spaces
9

Leaders
Fernando Enrique
Gary Elton

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1845

inc return flights from London Heathrow-Madrid with British Airways/Iberia

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £195
Land Only: £1695

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Lesser Kestrel adm flying Spain Stephen Daly andalucianguides.com 9440

The Spanish steppes are an important stronghold for Lesser Kestrel © Stephen Daly, andalucianguides.com

A dusting of snow on distant sierras; Bee-eaters hawking over the dehesas; hillsides pervaded by the heady scent of Cistus; and picnics beneath pine trees topped by the nests of bill-clattering White Storks... The distant ‘raspberry’ of a Little Bustard unseen in the grasslands; warm Spanish skies thronged by over a dozen species of birds of prey; the somnolent gaze of an Eagle Owl squinting back at us from a crag in the bright afternoon sun... This long-running holiday to the rugged steppes and wild sierras of Spain’s ‘Secret Wilderness’ offers all this - and more!

Our travels begin in Madrid, from where we head west to Extremadura - the ‘wild heart of Spain' - and the fabulous Spanish steppes. We’ll spend the first five nights of our tour here, staying at a wonderfully situated Hospederia - right on the approach to beautiful Monfragüe National Park and with great birding right on the doorstep. From seemingly endless horizons of evergreen oaks to the wide blue skies and broad sweep of the region’s glorious steppe grasslands, our days in Extremadura are typically hazy, sun-drenched and memorable - filled with more birds than you could wish for!

Nowhere else in Europe do birds of prey breed in such number or variety, while the likes of Black Stork, Western Swamphen, Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Iberian Grey Shrike, Little Bustard and the spectacular Great Bustard are among a long list of other possible treats in store.

During our stay in Extremadura we’ll make a thorough exploration of magnificent Monfragüe National Park. Western Orphean Warbler, Rock Sparrow and Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie will occupy our time in the delightful woodlands as we keep a keen eye on the skies for Monfragüe's plentiful birds of prey. Black and Egyptian Vultures breed along with all five Iberian eagles - Booted, Bonelli’s, Short-toed, Golden and Spanish Imperial - while hordes of Griffon Vultures throng the dramatic rock pinnacle of Peñafalcon. We’ll seek the elusive Black-winged Kite, scan the cliffs and crags for Eagle Owl and the rare White-rumped Swift, and pay a visit to the historic old town of Trujillo with its splendid medieval architecture adorned by nesting Lesser Kestrels, Pallid Swifts and White Storks.
    
We conclude our holiday with two nights at a characterful and comfortable Parador, set high in the Sierra de Gredos. With views out over the pinewoods - and a chance of seeing Citril Finch on the lawn outside - these lovely mountains are another of Spain’s best-kept secrets! Melodious and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Firecrest and Pied Flycatcher frequent the forests, and Ortolan Buntings serenade us from alpine slopes heavy with the scent of yellow-flowering broom.

As the road winds higher, and rare and imposing Spanish Ibex gaze down from the ridges above, we enter the realm of the exquisite Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Water Pipit and the localised Bluethroat. It should all make for a thrilling finale to this wonderful two-centre holiday - our best-loved European tour.

Limosa has been operating a wide-ranging annual programme of birdwatching tours to Spain since 1990, including dozens of trips to Central Spain. Join our highly rated English-speaking Spanish specialist Fernando Enrique - who has lived in Extremadura and knows the area well - for a 'five-star' small group tour that will introduce you to the very best birdwatching in all Iberia - at the very best time of year!

Ortolan Bunting Gredos Spain Gary Elton Limosa Holidays May 2012

The lovely Ortolan Bunting frequents the alpine meadows and gorse-clad slopes of the Gredos Mountains © Gary Elton/Limosa Holidays

Day 1            
TO MADRID & MONFRAGUE
Our May birdwatching holiday to central Spain begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Madrid, where Fernando will be waiting to welcome us. We travel west towards the rolling steppe, beautiful oak woodlands and wild sierras of Extremadura. The journey should take around three to four hours, but we'll pause along the way to enjoy a light tapas lunch at a nice little venta Fernando knows and to scan the grasslands for Montagu’s Harrier and Bee-eater - and maybe have a first try for the ever-elusive Black-winged Kite!

Early evening arrival at our hotel for five nights, a wonderfully situated Hospederia that lies right on the approach to magnificent Monfragüe National Park. Cattle Egrets and White Storks forage for lizards and grasshoppers in the pastures, handsome Spanish Sparrows and Spotless Starlings nest in numbers about the scattered Extremaduran farmsteads, and Black Kites float effortlessly over the grasslands. Night at a hotel overlooking Monfragüe National Park

Days 2 - 5                       
MONFRAGUE, STEPPE GRASSLANDS & SIERRAS OF EXTREMADURA

Monfragüe National Park sits amidst mile upon mile of unspoilt countryside, where centuries of traditional land management have created the unique dehesas - a timeless, park-like habitat of cork and evergreen oaks, foraged by pigs and alive in spring with calls of Hoopoes, Woodlarks, Rock Sparrows, Woodchat Shrikes and beautiful Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies. Rocky fields and verges brim with an exuberance of wild flowers at this season; Sardinian Warblers give their scolding ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ call at every halt; and dusty, pink-chested Iberian Grey Shrikes perch boldly beside the road.

Monfragüe is arguably the finest place in all Europe for birds of prey and we can expect to encounter a dozen or more different species. Immense Griffon Vultures patrol the skies, along with Black and Egyptian Vultures, Red and Black Kites, Peregrine and up to five species of eagle: Short-toed, Booted, Bonelli’s, Golden and Spanish Imperial. The latter is one of the world’s rarest and most endangered raptors. The scarce Black Stork is perhaps easier to see well at Monfragüe than anywhere else we know, and we’ll check a favourite spot for the powerful Eurasian Eagle Owl - both species should have young at this time.

Truly a magical spot, Monfragüe’s plunging valleys and Cistus and herb-scented hillsides are equally rich in small birds. Crag Martin, Thekla Lark, Blue Rock Thrush, Dartford, Subalpine and Western Orphean Warblers, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch and Red-billed Chough will all be about in spring. Parties of ‘bibbling’ Alpine Swifts sweep past beneath us to their nests and, with luck, we will find the scarce and declining Black Wheatear, too. The very rare White-rumped Swift is an essentially African species that we have often seen at Monfragüe in the past, and a late arrival to Europe that's best looked for from the middle of May onwards.

The sweeping plain that lies to the south of Monfragüe is a major stronghold of the aristocratic Great Bustard. Early mornings offer the best chance to see these magnificent birds (don’t worry, it doesn’t get light until about seven!), before the grasslands disappear beneath a sea of shimmering heat-haze. With Hoopoes, Stone-curlews and Calandra Larks calling all about us, from a vantage point overlooking the steppe we shall scan for the dominant males as they perform their quite extraordinary display - one that culminates in the great birds shaking and turning themselves ‘inside-out’ to become a mass of white feathers that's variously been likened to a foaming bath or a giant chrysanthemum - and visible at tremendous range! We should also see and hear the ‘raspberry-blowing’ Little Bustard, with its distinctive Newcastle United-stocking neck!
 
Extremadura's flowing grasslands are interrupted by chains of low rocky sierras and slow-flowing rivers, and for sheer variety of birds this whole region is hard to beat. Little Bittern, Night Heron, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Short-toed Lark, Spectacled Warbler, Penduline Tit and Golden Oriole are among many that await our discovery. Spanish Sparrows - which despite their name are actually rather scarce in Spain - can be locally common here, with flocks of several hundred sometimes seen. We may also hear the unmusical rattling cackle of the Great Spotted Cuckoo (which lays its eggs in the nest of Magpies), watch Red-rumped Swallows swooping low to their nest in a culvert beneath the road, or come face to face with the squat form of a Little Owl glaring down at us from one of the massive ‘erratic’ boulders that are so characteristic of these ‘hard lands’.

We’ll also drop by at a productive wetland site that’s home to Purple Heron, Western Swamphen and Savi’s Warbler, and have further chances to look for Black-winged Kite. Out in the region’s rice fields we may encounter two tiny finches: Common Waxbill and the startling Red Avadavat - both have been introduced here. In breeding plumage, the male Avadavats can resemble a fast-flying strawberry!
    
Before leaving Extremadura, on one day we'll pay a visit to Trujillo and spend a little time wandering the narrow, cobbled streets of this historic hilltop town. The Conquistadors may have long since departed this famous place but there are still plenty of White Storks, Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts to enjoy as we sip an ice cold beer in the beautiful main piazza. Bring your camera - on a clear day, the views across the plains from atop the medieval battlements are superb! Nights at a hotel overlooking Monfragüe National Park

Days 6 - 7            
SIERRA DE GREDOS
Bidding a reluctant farewell to our hotel this morning, we travel north, passing once again through spectacular Monfragüe National Park. Along the way, we’ll watch for raptors such as Bonelli’s and Golden Eagles, and have further chances to try for Western Orphean Warbler, White-rumped Swift and other of the region’s more elusive inhabitants. If it is hot, we may picnic in Monfragüe beneath the shade of some fine old Cork Oaks, with bill-clapping White Storks and Nightingales to serenade us.

From here, we continue into the delightful Gredos Mountains, where the creaking, oak-boarded corridors of our second super hotel - and a whole suite of new birds await!

With views out across a patchwork of upland meadows and bottle-green pines to distant snowy peaks, the imposing Parador de Gredos makes the perfect base to conclude our tour. The sound of cowbells drifts up the hillside from fields below, Firecrests and Western Bonelli’s Warblers breed nearby and Honey Buzzards clap their wings in Nightjar-like display high above the forests. For those who can manage to tear themselves away from the comfort of their hotel room, a pre-breakfast amble nearby might well be rewarded with the likes of Crag Martin, Crested Tit, Black Redstart and Cirl Bunting.

We’ll devote the whole of Day 7 to birding in the mountains, soaking up what is surely some of the loveliest countryside in all Spain. Iberian Green Woodpecker, Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Crossbill frequent the pinewoods that flank the tumbling streams in the valleys, with pastel-coloured Ortolan Buntings to tempt us up on to the higher slopes.

Higher still, we will search for the extremely localised Bluethroat (unusually, the birds found here have an all blue throat), while on alpine hillsides heavy with scent and laden with yellow-flowering Spanish Broom we should add Rock Bunting and Water Pipit. The handsome Rock Thrush breeds here too, with the exquisite spring males resplendent in chestnut, white and blue. The elusive Citril Finch is another possible treat in store - and we may even end up sharing our picnic with a rare and imposing Spanish Ibex! Two nights at the Parador de Gredos

Day 8                
DESCEND TO MADRID, FLY LONDON

After another hearty Parador buffet breakfast and a last chance to look for the likes of Citril Finch, Hobby and Dipper this morning, we head down from the mountains towards Madrid.

Our route may take us past the fortified medieval town of Avila, with its castellated pink stone walls looking for all the world as though they must have been built for some blockbusting Hollywood epic. Though our birding is all but over, we may still be lucky to spot the odd vulture, Booted Eagle or Red Kite along the way.

Arriving back in Madrid, we catch a late afternoon flight to London Heathrow, where our spring birdwatching tour to Spain concludes.

Great Bustard Extremadura Spain Gary Elton Limosa Holidays May 2012

Male Great Bustard gives great views to participants on our May tour to Extremadura © Gary Elton/Limosa Holidays

What To Expect

Since our very first visit here in 1990, this fabulous birdwatching tour to Spain has remained one of Limosa’s all-time favourite trips.

After seeking a host of rare and spectacular breeding birds on the rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura, our Spain birding tour goes in search of alpine specialities in the beautiful Sierra de Gredos to produce an exceptional list of Iberian birds - including both Great and Little Bustards, Great Spotted Cuckoo, White-rumped Swift, Iberian Magpie, Bluethroat, Citril Finch and Spanish Imperial Eagle among more than a dozen different birds of prey.

Add two good and wonderfully situated hotels and join us for the best birding in all Iberia - at the very best time of year!

The weather in Extremadura in May is typically warm to hot and sunny (occasional showers or thundery rain some years). More variable in the Sierra de Gredos: often warm and sunny, but it can feel cool, especially early and late in the day. As with all mountain areas - our hotel is situated at an elevation of ca.1500m (5000ft) - it can occasionally be cold and/or wet here, too. Snow is unlikely (but not impossible) in the Sierra de Gredos in May.

Opportunities for incidental bird photography can be good to excellent, especially for flying raptors and storks at Peñafalcon in Monfragüe National Park.

Birds

130-160 species

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation in central Spain, staying at two good hotels. Our tour commences in Extremadura, where we spend five nights at the Hospedería Parque de Monfragüe overlooking magnificent Monfragüe National Park, some 25 miles north of the town of Trujillo. All rooms have private facilities.

We conclude our holiday with 2 nights at the comfortable and characterful Parador de Gredos, at the heart of the picturesque Sierra de Gredos. All rooms have private facilities.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with a light tapas lunch in Spain on Day 1 and concluding with a packed lunch on Day 8.

Breakfasts and dinners will be at the hotels. Lunches will usually be picnics in some of our favourite places.

Walking

Overall easy. The walk up to the Castillo de Monfragüe to enjoy the spectacular view and to scan for White-rumped Swift is optional and involves some uphill walking and climbing some steep steps, all taken slowly.

In the Gredos Mountains, we offer one longer and more moderate walk (optional and weather permitting), for a maximum of 1-2.5 miles (2-4 km) with some uphill sections, but all taken at a gentle pace - and with good chances of seeing Bluethroat as a reward! Comfy walking shoes with sturdy corrugated soles are advised here.

Travel

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

Ground transport by minibus

great spotted cuckoo georgia 0517 editBS copy resized

The harsh staccato call of Great Spotted Cuckoo is often the first sign that this localized visitor is about © Brian Small, Limosa

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1 SF, Extremadura & Gredos tour ... A tour perfectly designed to show off the bird-rich, grand beauty of Spain, packed with variety but done at a relaxed pace... [empty string]
2 RU, Extremadura & Gredos tour ... It is such a pleasure to be on a trip with Gary. His knowledge about birds, handling the itinerary, etc. is first rate. Vina las Torres was just lovely... [empty string]
3 TJ, Extremadura, Spain tour ... Gary worked extremely hard to find as many species as possible, including the elusive sandgrouse... Good company, good food and great birding - what more could one want... [empty string]
4 R&BP, Extremadura, Spain tour ... a marvellous holiday. We just never imagined the Spanish steppes could be so beautiful! ... the fragrance and colour of the wild flowers and herbs, the birds, the butterflies and the sun! Add two superb guides and a group that just gelled. Perfect. [empty string]
5 DH, Extremadura, Spain tour Good transport, excellent guides, fantastic birds - the best! [empty string]
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