Monday 26 June 2023

The Spanish Tour for WINGS - Day 7 - 6th May 2023

I was outside the hotel before dawn listening to the dawn chorus of Crested Larks, Woodlarks, Hoopoes, Cuckoos, chattering Woodchats and squeaking Iberian Magpies while the Crag Martins were already chittering around me.  

Time for breakfast and the off to Monfragüe and its famous castle and viewpoints. After a twisty road we were soon on the narrow track up to the top.  It was quite steep and wound in and out of the twisted Cork Oaks. Short-toed Treecreepers, our first Nuthatches, Western Subalpine Warblers and Mistle Thrushes were all heard and once at the top we were treated to vast views across the landscape in all directions. The razorback ridge we were on was being utilized by the Vultures and all three species were seen with some eyeballing from the two big ones as the cruised by without a flick of a feather.

And higher

There was an outside chance of an early White-rumped Swift and amazingly at least one was seen zipping around with the hirundines and a single Common Swift.  Normally you would have to wait a few more weeks for this localised species.  Black Redstarts hopped around the fortifications and the males ‘fizzed’ from the high points and are always good value.

Looking down into the river system way below we found two sow Boar with seven piglets just beyond the stripy stage rooting along the dry river bank and a few minutes later some strange V shaped ripples crossing the same stretch resolved themselves into six swimming Red Deer with just their heads above the surface with their ears resembling weird Sunfish!

Boar - uncropped

Red Deer 

Shortly after they had reached the other side there were a couple of huge fish gulps that were way bigger than the heads of the Deer! John informed me that there are some monster non-native Wels catfish in the river and that he suspects most medium sized mammals may well be on the menu.

Cinereous Vulture

 Looks very like the Machimus atricapillus I see at home

White-rumped Swift - John Muddeman

The walk down added quite a few False Ilex Hairstreaks, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue and a fine sunbathing Large Tortoiseshell before the wiggle back down to the main road where Harry was lucky enough to see a Red-legged Partridge but I was unable to stop.

Large Tortoiseshell

Lang’s Short-tailed Blue

Minsmere Yellow Underwing - Catocala conjuncta

Around the corner to the Peña Falcón viewpoint which is the classic picture postcard that I have seen a thousand times from my friends visiting the reserve with its towering rock faces over the river below.  We spent some quality time with the Vultures along with three pairs of nesting Black Storks, Peregrines and Ravens while Blue Rock Thrushes, Rock Buntings, Black Redstarts and Crag Martins entertained us a close range. 

Peña Falcón


Black Vultures

Black Storks

Blue Rock Thrushes

Rock Bunting

 Huge Lichen

It was a bit of photographer bun-fight so we did not linger too long and moved on to the next stop at Fuente de Cardinal where a Western Orphean Warbler was belting out from the oaks.  It was good to hear quite how different this was to the Easterns I had in Lesvos the previous week.  Less fluid and a bit more clunky but still a wondrous songster.  Western Subalpine Warblers were also in song and showed very well as they collected food low down.  The male never stopped singing despite working hard!

Vultures cruised over and another Red-legged Partridge sung invisibly way up the slope.  Who would have thought seeing one would be so tricky!  A couple of squawking Jays were new too and I was still remembering that what may be familiar to us would be all shiny and exciting to the American clients and I do love a Jay!

More False Ilex Hairstreaks and a couple of Holly Blues and Small Coppers were on the Retama sphaerocarpa along with a huge male Megascolia maculata flavifrons.  A fine male Cleopatra was on the French Lavender and Southern Gatekeeper and Spanish Purple Hairstreak were both completely new species for me.

Megascolia maculata flavifrons


Holly Blue

Southern Gatekeeper

Small Copper

False Ilex Hairstreak

Spanish Purple Hairstreak

We stopped at Villareal de San Carlos for a Coffee among the cobbled streets and were watched beadily by the local breeding Swallows while Crested Larks serenaded from the car park. 


Hot House Sparrows

After a quick and very hazy look at two fat fluffy Bonelli’s Eagle chicks in its nest we moved to Mirador de la Tajeilla where after a short wait a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen a couple of times as it came in to feed in the small trees.  It was quite vocal and you could hear it coming. Two male Rock Buntings were in full song and Thekla’s Larks spiralled above while both Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers foraged around the roadside where Meadow Brown and Clouded Yellows were noted. Griffon Vultures were nesting on the crag opposite and a noisy Short-toed Eagle dropped in before perched up to survey the valley.

Asphodelus albus

Bombylius cruciatus

Red Deer

Wild Boar

Rock Bunting

Rock Bunting

Rock Bunting

With rumbling tummies were headed off to our lunch stop at Pureta de Monfragüe where we sat out of the fierce sun and watched Spanish and House Sparrows, singing Cuckoos, Hoopoes, Melodious and Sardinian Warblers and even saw a couple of Turtle Doves whizz through. 

Black Kite



There was an old swimming pool in the grounds which has become something of a draw to herpetologists and the green water may not have looked inviting to us but was home Iberian Water Frogs, a finely marked Viperine Snake and best of all quite a few Sharp-ribbed Newts.  I had not even heard of these newty leviathans and several were pushing ten inches long but we only saw them when they powered up to the surface to take air like micro-Godzillas. I will let you Google about how they get their interesting name.

The patient Newt-wrangler

Viperine Snake

Viperine Snake

Viperine Snake

 Iberian Water Frog

 Iberian Water Frog being rescued - or was it a scene from Flash Gordon?

Sharp-ribbed Newt

Sharp-ribbed Newt

A White Wagtail looked on

As we were leaving I found a pair of Rock Sparrows singing in the Cork Oaks but finding them was tricky but I eventually succeeded and a couple of people got onto them before they inevitably flew.  A Nuthatch was similarly unobliging.

Portilla del Tietar was a popular spot to look for Eagle Owls but the chicks had fledged but some serious scanning allowed me to pick up one of the orange eyed fluff balls panting in as much shade as it could find. 

Can you see it?

Eagle Owlet

It was another Vulture fest and Short-toed and Booted Eagles added to the BOP mix while a party of Long-tailed Tits came down the hillside and crossed the road.

Griffons - sorry for all the images but I am not sure when I will see them again like this 

Black Vulture

Egyptian Vulture on her nest

A view point further one near the Dam saw us watching Spanish, House and some pukka hybrid Sparrows around the picnic benches and some very mellifluous Golden Orioles before our final stop at another car park ostensibly to look for (successfully) the very rare endemic Iberian Newt; a small species that is often to be found in the livestock drinking troughs that are fed from the mountain springs.  A Hawfinch called repeatedly and a Jay posed for a while too.

 Spanish x House Sparrow

Spilostethus padurus

The drive back was briefly punctuated by me glancing out of the window and looking just down onto an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle with its head and epaulets gleaming in the sun and its tail bands gleaming. It was a windy, up hill section and I flashed and hooted at John in front and pulled over and disgorged my crew and headed on to catch up with John.  They could not see it so I drove back down to collect the others who had indeed continued to watch it as it spiralled up and away.  Hopefully we would find another for the rest of the part the next day.

 Moorish Gecko

 Small Ranunculus

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