This is an account of the visit to Extremadura, Spain in April 2017, when Jason Nichols and I (Perry Fairman) visited the area for five days (24th-28th).
Utilising guide books, past and present and our own knowledge, designated areas were planned to be explored on each of the five days visit, in order to cover as many of the areas of interest to us as possible in the time available.
The planning was not designed to be a mad-dash from place to place, in order to ‘tick-off’ as many species as possible, but to be able to explore at relative leisure, the environmental biology of the various habitats we visited.
Extremadura is a region of Spain on the Iberian Peninsula, which has a wide range of habitats, including mountains, grasslands and woodlands rich in wildlife, scarcely populated (humans) and in essence, is like one enormous ‘nature reserve’.
The Dehesa habitat here is a multifunctional agrosylvopastoral (a combination of growing crops, trees, and pasture/animals in the same units of land), anthropogenic system of cultural landscape found in southern and central Spain and southern Portugal (where it is known as Montado). The tree component mainly comprises of oaks, usually Holm Oak Quercus ilex and Cork Oak Quercus suber.
Dehesas may be private or communal property and are used primarily for grazing. A variety of products are produced from this landscape including wild game, mushrooms, honey, cork, and firewood, but this is also a wildlife habitat for endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and the Spanish Imperial eagle. As a consequence, it is very popular with the visiting naturalist.
This is Jason’s and my-self’s third visit, to what is a very biodiversity-rich environment, the last visit being in May 2007 and the first visit in May 1997.
A relatively early flight (24th April) from Luton to Madrid airport combined with a fairly late departure (28th April) from Madrid, enabled the five day allocated time period to be utilised to its maximum potential.
Based in Torrejón el Rubio in a very comfortable apartment allowed almost immediate access to the Dehesa and within ‘striking range’ of the places we planned to visit.
Day 1 (24th April)
With everyone a potential terrorist nowadays, airports have become notoriously difficult to negotiate and somewhat stressful! Once clear of the airport terminal another hurdle ensued, firstly locating the hire car and then starting it! However, during this time the first birds were seen, which were House Sparrows followed by 5 Parakeet species flying by.
Eventually, we were out of the suburbs of Madrid and heading along the motorway, seeing Griffon Vulture before stopping at a service station for supplies, where a Crested Lark was seen.
Black Kite, 3 pairs of Red-rumped Swallows (nesting under the road bridges) and Barn Swallow were seen, before turning off the motorway and heading in the general direction of El Berciel.
Stopping near the entrance to a villa to photograph a pair of Red-rumped Swallows, an early bonus was seen, albeit some distance away a Black-winged Kite! There were in fact two black-winged kites, which were displaying to each other and probably with a view to nesting on one of the pylons, if they were not already.
Magpie, Blackbird, Serin, Chaffinch, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling, Goldfinch and Linnet were further added to the avian species list before reaching El Berciel.
El Berciel was a place we had visited before, with memories of Bee-eaters nesting and therefore it was one of the reasons to head to this spot after leaving Madrid, along with the obvious reason of getting off the motorway so we could stop if we saw anything. In fact, just after we turned off the motorway we stopped in an ecologically interesting area with trees alongside the road, fields and a stream with a bridge over it.
Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler and Nightingale were heard singing here as was a Golden Oriole Hoopoe and a Cirl Bunting and Violet Carpenter Bees Xylocopa violacea proved elusive to the camera as they flew quickly along the roadside, only stopping periodically.
The bridge here was memorable for two reasons, the first Terrapins of the trip, Spanish Pond Terrapins Mauremys leprosa and the place where my hat (not just any hat-it had been to Kenya!) was lost to the aforementioned and other inhabitants of the water course, with no other option but to wear one of Jason’s baseball caps, of which I had no desire to wear but a ‘necessary evil’ nonetheless!
Jay, Stonechat, Blackcap, Common Kestrel, Iberian Grey Shrike, Iberian Yellow Wagtail (on a manure heap, gaping to lose heat), Barn Swallow, House Sparrow and a Tree Sparrow were also seen in the area, before happening upon Bee-eaters, trying to excavate nest holes in a sandy bank alongside the road. Montagu’s and Marsh Harrier and Red-legged Partridge furthered the avian diversity here and some large wasps with yellow spots on the abdomen and orange antennas were seen.
The wasps were Mammoth Wasps Megascolia bidens nectaring on the white flowers of a species of tree growing here and after seeing several Western Dappled Whites Euchloe crameri the journey continued towards Torrejón el Rubio. At the bridge over the Rio Tajo, another stop was made. Walking down to the banks of the river found House Martins and Crag Martins, Cormorant, Mallard and Feral Pigeon and the first Black-winged Stilts (5) of the trip on the edge of the river, whilst 4 Common Sandpipers frequented the boulders in the river.
Once into the Dehesa, nearing Torrejón el Rubio the first Azure-winged or now renamed Iberian Magpie was seen along with a Common Cuckoo.
After arriving at our apartment at Torrejón el Rubio and off-loading our gear, a walk to find a ‘local hostelry’ resulted in seeing 4 Common Swifts overhead. A male Black Redstart was seen across the road from the bar, whilst enjoying a Spanish lager and ‘chicken and chips’!
Day 1 of the Extremadura Bio-blitz had ended and so to sleep, ready for the next day.
Extremadura 5-day Bio-blitz
April (24th-28th) 2017
Bee-eater Iberian Yellow Wagtail Western Dappled White
Red-rumped Swallow Black-winged Kite