Sunday 2 July 2023

The Spanish Tour for WINGS - Day 8 - 7th May 2023

A pre-dawn start saw us heading out onto the dark roads to head for the Plains. There was no one on the road but we did see a Fox and a lolloping Iberian Hare that refused to actually cross and just slowly hopped back and forth along the road in front of John’s van.

We hit the start of the track at Los Cerralbos with Sol still just below the far distant horizon and it was pleasantly cool and calm. Our world was full of Larks with Thekla’s near the start and then countless Crested, Calandra and few Short-toed as we bounced our way out onto the vast and seemingly endless plain.  A Little Owl was silhouetted on a distant building.

What followed was one of the most memorable and enjoyable few hours birding I have ever had.  Other than the occasional humanoid sound made by one of our group it was like one of those films where suddenly the protagonists awake to find themselves in a world where people have just vanished.

The background fizz of Calandras was augmented by the jangling of Corn Buntings and chattering of swarms of Spanish Sparrows while both Common and Great Spotted Cuckoos passed us by along with Hoopoes and Iberian Blue-headed Wagtails.





Great Spotted Cuckoo

Common Cuckoo

Corn Bunting

The bubbling of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and almost tern-like calls of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse could be heard around us but it sometimes took a while to pick them up as they were sometimes quite high up and further away than you thought. The light was perfect and the views as they zipped by were excellent. Both species were found on the ground but never close by.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse- John Muddeman

Six Little Bustards flew north and the same number of male Great Bustards strutted their stuff in the nearest dip and even gave a short flight for us although they were certainly not worried by our presence.

Vapour trail shadows... 

Great Bustards

Black Kites and Ravens were loafing around and hunting for insects for breakfast on the ground while hulking Cinereous and Griffon Vultures were waiting for things to warm up. Lesser Kestrels were already hawking but the pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles (phew) did not budge from their tree for quite some time.

White Storks arguing about nest material - oh and a Great Bustard

Jim in the landscape

Black Kite

Black Bulls and friends

Lazy Spanish Imps

Platystolus martinezii

Platystolus martinezii - John Muddeman

Not sure - Blue-winged type Grasshopper

Spanish Brown Argus

All too soon it was time to retrace our steps and a final check for Little Bustards on the ground resulted in both Harry and I seeing the head and neck of male poke up from the grass before continuing to feed out of view.

A coffee stop in Santa Marta de Magasca was still amongst the birds with Spotless Starlings, Goldfinches and Black Redstarts singing from the rooves, White Storks on the church and Cinereous Vultures cruising overhead. How pleasant!

Cinereous Vulture

Black Redstart

White Storks 

A seemingly random roadside stop overlooking the Río Tamuja gave everyone the chance to at last see Red-legged Partridge as a couple fed along the other side of the river below us. Western Orphean and Cetti’s Warblers sang along with Cirl Buntings and Red-rumped Swallows flicked around us. Suddenly an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle appeared and drifted lazily through and amazingly in the course of the next ten minutes two more similarly aged but differently plumaged birds did just the same. These two came even lower and you could see the gleam in their eyes.

She came to watch us by the roadside and 'parked' in the same layby

Spanish Imperial Eagle #1

Spanish Imperial Eagle #1

Spanish Imperial Eagle #1

Spanish Imperial Eagle #2

Spanish Imperial Eagle #2

Spanish Imperial Eagle #2

Spanish Imperial Eagle #2

Spanish Imperial Eagle #2

Spanish Imperial Eagle #2

Spanish Imperial Eagle #3

Spanish Imperial Eagle #3

Spanish Imperial Eagle #3

Spanish Imperial Eagle #3

There were a few Butterflies here too with Small Copper, Spanish Purple and False Ilex Hairstreaks, Bath White, Meadow Brown and Clouded Yellows flitting around.

False Ilex Hairstreak

Meadow Brown 

After leaving this valley we were once again out on the plain heading through La Pulgosa where at least ten Rollers were seen in electric blue around their white boxes on the telegraph poles.  Jackdaws, Lesser Kestrels and Little Owls were in other boxes while Crested and Short-toed Larks sang and three Hoopoes flopped across the road.



With the two pale patches on the underwing forewing I think that it may be a Lulworth Skipper

A Red-legged Partridge went the other way and gave even better views.  There were many Vultures in the sky as we turned off onto the track to what is known as Lone Tree.  There is a hide there but the view the other way from this elevated position was vast. 

Red-legged Partridge

Our sixth Spanish Imperial Eagle of the day – a pale first-year bird – came up from a distant carcass and there were big groups of both Vultures lounging around with others spiralling overhead. A family of Hoopoes in the Lone Tree were the only passerines out there but the highlight for me was the squadrons of black and yellow Owl-flies quartering the grassland like micro-Harriers with their black heart-tipped Deely Boppers waggling as they went.  Not a single one was on my side of the fence so no pics of this spectacle I’m afraid.

Lone Tree

Best gates ever... Great & Little Bustards, Rollers & Lesser Kestrels

A Vulture mix

Lone Tree - again

Cinereous & a Griff

Cinereous Vulture

Not sure - a Sand Spurrey perhaps?

It was now very hot be we still decided to squeeze in one last stop before lunch at Embalse del Guadiloba.  This flat calm reservoir had a few Great Crested Grebe fishing and Cormorant, five Black-headed Gulls, two Stilts and Redshank around the edges along with a bonus Northern Lapwing.

A family of Grey Wagtails on the dam outflow were new and showed well with a family of White Wagtails but it was easy to get distracted by the insects with a huge Two Tailed Pasha that stopped for only a second or two, Southern Gatekeeper and Small Skipper.  The Helichrysum was alive with many Beetles, Bugs and some good Flies including Lomatia belzebul (a Bee-fly relative) and some small Hoverflies. 

Spanish Broom

possibly Heliotaurus ruficollis

Small Skipper 

Southern Gatekeeper

Two Tailed Pasha - what a beast!

Lomatia belzebul

A large Mirid bug and Syritta pipiens

There were other prizes though with a tiny Clearwing Moth that we have yet to identify, a feasting Thomisis onustus Crab Spider and the super funky Truxalis nasuta.

Thomisis onustus

Truxalis nasuta

Unknown Clearwing moth

Lunch in a roadside services was very good once again and we were kept company by several Jumping Spiders and quite a few Pholcus sp dangling in a sinister fashion from the windows…

Jumping Spiders

Pholcus sp? - more heavily patterned than at home

On again and an encouraging descending spiral of Vultures saw us pulling over to watch a calf carcass about 200m from the road being destroyed by a truly ravenous hoard of Griffons.  The odd Cinereous dropped into the centre of the melee now and then and took control.  We watched one of them pull the whole body along using just its bill tip!

A ringed Griffon



I had never seen a full on Vulture feeding frenzy before and, for me, it was one of those childhood TV memories that I had at last fulfilled. The sound and action was full on and very primal.  Well over 100 birds circled above but I think we put the majority off with our short stay.

The Roc lives!  Where is Sinbad when you need him!

Incoming Cinereous - head up, feet up unlike the opposite Griffon

Bundle!  Cinereous Vulture joins the party - John Muddeman

The nearby Talavan Reservoir only garnered ten minutes of our time but was lush and full of life with Water Rails and Great Crested Grebes and a host of Dragonflies and Damsels and some interesting aquatic plants including Ludwigia peploides which is native to Australia, New Zealand and the New World.

Spanish Sparrow colony

Ludwigia peploides

A Water Crowfoot sp

Goblet Marked and Small red-eyed Damsleflies on the Ludwigia peploides

What appeared to be a random piece of non-cultivated land was seemingly Talavan Heath and with Spectacled Warbler our target we sauntered off through the central track.  I found a smart male almost immediately and could hear a couple singing but it took a while to get everyone onto these delightful, richly coloured Sylvias. Sardinian and Dartford Warblers were also present along with Linnets and Greenfinches and two day flying moths with the familiar Small Purple Barred and the banded Zygaena sarpendon – a type of Burnet.

Berberomeloe majalis once again

Small Purple Barred

Zygaena sarpedon

We got back in time for dinner having quite literally seen every single species that John had hoped for us to connect with – quality guiding.

However, we did not quite get to finish repast as before dessert was served we downed cutlery and popped down the road to the village of Torrejan where bang on cue the Red-necked Nightjars came out to play. At least four birds hawked around the trees along side the reservoir power gliding after prey and often tussling with each other. They were largely silent although there was the odd wing clap.  Another bird sang in the distance.  It was a superb end to a long but fruitful day.

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