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Spain Extremadura & La Mancha

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to central Spain, getting you off the beaten track

Escape the onset of winter at home and join us for a terrific week of birdwatching in the heart of Spain. Five nights amid the rugged sierras and rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura, followed by two exploring the tucked away lagunas of La Mancha. It’s a holiday that will take you from the vulture-filled skies over Peña Falcon, via flocks of bustards, sandgrouse and thousands of wintering Cranes on the plain, to the hidden rural wetlands of “Don Quixote country” - a winter home to White-headed Duck, Western Swamphen and even the odd Whiskered Tern!

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
8

Leaders
Fernando Enrique

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1695

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

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £135
Land Only: £1575

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1 White headed Duck drake Andalucia Spain Stephen Daly andalucianguides.com 5672

The lagunas of La Mancha are an important stronghold for the endangered White-headed Duck - the males with their improbable sky-blue bills swollen like a prizefighter's nose! © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Hoopoes bouncing through the dehesas on zebra-striped wings; tawny autumnal grasslands dotted with groups of stately Great Bustards; squadrons of Black and Griffon Vultures floating silently in the sky above the immense rock pinnacle of Peña Falcon; the thrill of seeing thousands of spectacular Common Cranes, trumpeting loud their arrival here from northern Europe to winter beneath the oak trees and in harvested fields of maize and rice... Starting amid the rolling steppes and rugged sierras of Extremadura and concluding with visits to the tucked away wetlands and lagunas of rural La Mancha, our November birdwatching tour to the 'wild heart of Spain' promises all this and more!          

From Madrid, we head west to delightful Viña Las Torres, a small and beautifully renovated private estate set amidst wonderful birding country not far from Trujillo. With good home cooking (and wine included with our evening meals), this comfortable Hotel Rural will be our base for the first five nights of the holiday. More than 90 species of bird have been recorded within five minutes walk of the hotel - so it can be hard to tear ourselves away from here. But we will, for our late autumn days in Extremadura are usually sunny and always memorable, filled with more birds than you could wish for!         

Visits to magnificent Monfragüe National Park form the centrepiece of our stay in Extremadura - one of Limosa's all-time favourite places. Birds of prey are more numerous here than anywhere else in Western Europe. In late November, we will be looking for the scarce Black-winged Kite, Black and Griffon Vultures, and up to three species of eagle: Bonelli's, Golden and the endemic Spanish Imperial. Autumn is also an excellent time to see the solitary Southern Grey Shrike and the exotic but sociable Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie, two further Iberian specialities that make their home in the beautiful dehesa woodlands that ring this national park.          

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

During our stay, we’ll pay a brief visit to the historic old town of Trujillo, enjoying far-reaching views from the medieval battlements followed by dinner at a restaurant in the cobbled Plaza Mayor, watched over by the formidable statue of Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru.

Leaving Extremadura, we loop north and east beyond Toledo, where the lagunas (lakes) of La Mancha lie scattered like confetti across the rolling rural heartland of Spain. Nestling in a landscape made famous by Cervantes' classic novel Don Quixote, these tucked away wetlands are important to the threatened White-headed Duck plus a fine array of winter wetland birds that can include hundreds of Greater Flamingos, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Western Swamphen and (with a little good fortune) Moustached Warbler, too. We spend two nights in this sleepy 'backwater', at a comfortable hotel in Alcazar de San Juan.

Guide Fernando Enrique joined the Limosa team in 2014 and is our English-speaking Spanish specialist. He has excellent experience of central Spain, having lived, birded and led tours in both Extremadura and La Mancha - including our November 2016, 2017 and 2018 trips there.

Join us as we return for another exciting and refreshingly different birding tour to Spain, discovering the land of the Conquistadores and Cervantes' fictional hero, Don Quixote!

Griffon Vulture 3 Monfrague Stephen Daly 5113

At the heart of magnificent Monfrague National Park, the immense crag of Pena Falcon is home to the enormous Griffon Vulture © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

Day 1
TO MADRID & TRUJILLO

Our November 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 late autumn, the prospect of seeing White Storks, Hoopoes and Southern Grey Shrikes may come as a welcome surprise.

Early evening arrival at our comfortable rural retreat, a small, privately-owned 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, Spotless Starlings and Common Waxbills forage in the fields, and exotic Iberian Magpies (Azure-winged Magpie in 'old money') regularly gather to roost in the hotel garden. Night Viña Las Torres

Days 2 – 5
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 might hear the eerie cries of Stone-curlew drifting over the steppe, the dry rattle of a Cirl Bunting from the hillside 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 and alive with the ceaseless chatter of Iberian Magpies. Tetchy 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 may glare down at us from one of the massive erratic boulders that are so characteristic of this part of Extremadura - the ‘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 Red Kite, Peregrine and three big eagles: Bonelli’s, Golden and the endemic Spanish Imperial are all resident in the park. We could even be lucky 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. Crested and Thekla Larks, Dartford Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Rock Bunting and Red-billed Chough are all likely - and we could find Crag Martin, Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper, too.

To the south of Monfragüe our attention will turn to the sweeping plains, a vital stronghold of the spectacular Great Bustard, which gather into flocks (or droves) at this season. We should also see the declining Little Bustard as we search for 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 bird of prey. 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. And as we scour the fields for them, flocks of Calandra and Sky Larks, Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, finches and pipits may be put to flight by the sudden appearance of a low-flying Hen Harrier or a dashing Merlin - both are winter visitors here.

Come November, thousands of stately Common Cranes will have arrived from northern Europe to feast on fallen acorns and the glut of spilled food left behind in Extremadura’s harvested fields of maize and rice. They make a stirring sight - and sound - and are one of the highlights of any late autumn visit to the Spanish steppes!

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

Days 6 - 7
LA MANCHA: WETLANDS & LAGUNAS

After breakfast this morning, we bid farewell to our hosts at lovely Viña Las Torres and travel eastwards from Extremadura, beyond Toledo (the provincial capital of Castilla-La Mancha),

to the sleepy rural backwater of La Mancha. It's a longish drive but we'll pause along the way to enjoy a couple of choice wetland sites, where sightings of Western Swamphen, Spoonbill, Great Egret, Bluethroat and Penduline Tit were among highlights from our 2016 and 2017 tours.

Like much of Spain's vast central plain or meseta, the open and undulating landscape of La Mancha is relatively sparsely populated. Scattered here and there amongst the patchwork of cereal fields and vines are numerous shallow lakes or lagunas - some reed-fringed freshwater habitats bursting with activity; others saline, sterile and seemingly devoid of life. Yet each holds it's own fascinating population of birds.

Of major importance is La Mancha's thriving population of rare White-headed Ducks - the males with their extraordinary sky-blue bills swollen like a prizefighter's nose! In November, we should also find hundreds of Red-crested Pochard and Greater Flamingos here too, along with Black-necked Grebe, Western Swamphen and good chances of the rare Ferruginous Duck. Marsh Harriers sail low across the autumnal hems of reed, and Hen Harrier is also possible. We should hear the pig-like squealing of Water Rails (though actually getting to see one is another matter entirely!) and the 'cut glass pinging' of Bearded Tits, while Cetti's Warblers shout as we pass by the waterside tangles and tamarisks. Zitting Cisticolas frequent the drier margins and, if the gods are smiling, we might even encounter the very localised Moustached Warbler here.

Thirteen 'out-of-season' Whiskered Terns put on a surprise showing for us on our last visit, and other species to watch for include Avocet, the endemic Iberian Green Woodpecker, Bluethroat and Water Pipit.

Although intensively cropped, La Mancha's steppe-derived farmland still supports a surprising variety of dry country birds. In November we might find Calandra and Crested Larks, Stone-curlew and Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse as we travel between one wetland site and the next.

Our well-chosen accommodation for these two nights is Hotel Chateau Viñasoro, a comfortable rural retreat amid the vineyards of La Mancha. Nights Hotel Chateau Viñasoro

Day 8                        
RETURN TO MADRID, FLY LONDON

We have time this morning to enjoy more of La Mancha's varied winter birding, with further chances to see White-headed Duck and the prospect of waders such as Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Little Stint.

We return to Madrid and catch a late afternoon flight back to London Heathrow, where our autumn birdwatching tour to Spain concludes.

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We may be lucky to enjoy close views of Common Cranes in their winter quarters in Extremadura, either foraging for acorns beneath the oak woodlands or feeding in the harvested fields of maize and rice © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

What To Expect

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to central Spain in late autumn, getting you right off the beaten track.

Five nights amid the rugged sierras and rolling steppe grasslands of Extremadura, followed by two more exploring the tucked away lagunas of La Mancha. It’s a holiday that will take you from the vulture-filled skies over Peña Falcon, via bustards, sandgrouse and thousands of wintering Cranes on the plain, to the rural wetlands of “Don Quixote country” - a winter home to White-headed Duck, Western Swamphen and even the odd Whiskered Tern!

The weather in Extremadura in late autumn is typically warm and sunny, 12-20C (54-68F). It can be chilly first thing, however (and ground frost is possible at this season). Some rainfall or showers are likely in autumn.

Birds

120-140 species

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation at two delightful and perfectly situated rural hotels in central Spain. We spend the first 5 nights in Extremadura, staying at lovely Viña Las Torres, a small and beautifully renovated country house hotel (‘Hotel Rural’) situated at the heart of the Sierra deLagares, just a few miles from Trujillo.

From there we travel to La Mancha for a 2-night stay at the Hotel Chateau Viñasoro, set amid the vineyards near the provincial town of Alcazar de San Juan. All rooms have private facilities.

Meals

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

Delicious home-cooking - and with some wine included with our evening meals - at the first hotel (Viña Las Torres). Breakfasts and evening meals will be at the hotels except on one evening in Extremadura when we will have dinner at a restaurant in historic Trujillo. Most lunches will be picnics.

Please note that wine with meals is not included in our tour price at the second hotel (Hotel Chateau Viñasoro).

Walking

Easy, short walks. In Extremadura, 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.

The landscape in La Mancha is more gentle and the going easy over predominantly level terrain.

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

Travel

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

Ground Transport   By minibus

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The impressive Western Swamphen puts on a good show for participants on our November 2016 tour, being noted at three different locations © tour participant David Pope

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