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Madrid, La Mancha, Extremadura & Canary Islands private birdwatching tour report

John Muddeman
29/03/2015 02:17:01

Trip report covering the highlights from a private birdwatching trip to Madrid, La Mancha, Extremadura and the Canary Islands in mid-March 2015

Posted in: Birds, Endangered Wildlife and Habitats | Canary Islands, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, Madrid | Mainland Spain, Western Spain, Central Spain, Spanish Islands

Central Spain & Canary Islands bird trip 14-19 March 2015

I have recently been out for almost 6 days, including two in C Spain and a further 3 ½ in the Canary Islands in search of a variety of the most characteristic birds of the region, including plenty of its endemics. Sue was over from S Africa on a much longer trip, mostly in N Spain (both before and subsequently to guiding her), but came for a few of the respective regions’ specialities, and with great success!

After plenty of searching, the extensive arable plains Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Pterocles alchata © John MuddemanPin-tailed Sandgrouse
Pterocles alchata
© John Muddeman
and scattered wetlands of La Mancha finally yielded the wanted treasures such as flocks of Great & Little Bustards, elegant Red Kites and flighty Calandra Larks, plus a few colourful White-headed Ducks on a bird-filled lagoon, though many other delights included a big Lesser Kestrel colony en route. Finally, after lunch and lots of kilometres along tracks, a super flock of gorgeous Pin-tailed Sandgrouse down to within just 40 m meant it was a clean sweep of the wanted steppic birds. The strong, cold N winds were keeping all these birds down, and also kept us in shelter where possible almost throughout the day, but were probably also paramount for us finding a couple of fine Bramblings amongst a flock of migrant Common Chaffinches feeding in a vineyard. This was the first ‘extra’ species for the tour, and indeed Sue’s first lifer of the trip, but we also rounded off the day with lovely views of 2-3 adult Spanish Imperial Eagles on the edge of Madrid, before finally calling it quits.

With this success on day one, we switched the itinerary and headed first to Extremadura in the aim of seeing a couple of other specialities. The extra kilometres were again very well worth it and within moments of arriving at our first stop at the Arrocampo Reservoir, a fine Savi’s Warbler came out and scolded us, with several others buzzing unseen from the bulrush beds. Many of the other usually sought-after birds of the site were seen in the dead still and fine conditions, including my first Purple Heron of the season, a few Purple Swamphens and a few hours later, as the breeze picked up, Sue’s first Cinereous Vultures among the Griffon Vultures streaming out from Monfragüe National Park. But more careful scrutiny of the reedmace beds also lead to cracking views of a couple of Jack Snipe in flight, as well as one perched and preening, when the sometimes noisy wintering and migrant Bluethroats didn’t interrupt! There was no sign of the Great Bittern sometimes present, but a calling Bearded Reedling reminded me of others heard the day before, and migrant Sedge Warblers, plus gently buzzing Sand Martins and a couple of red-rumped Swallows showed spring was well on its way.

Canary Islands Blue - Cyclirius webbiana © John MuddemanCanary Islands Blue
Cyclirius webbiana
© John Muddeman
As a bonus to a somewhat tortuous route back through the Campo Arañuelo, another Black-winged Kite was great, but more so a small flock of Red Avadavats and the first of numerous Iberian Magpies, as well as a passing Short-toed Snake Eagle. We were now down to looking for just a couple of possible species, including Eurasian Nuthatch and Eurasian Siskin, with a noisy individual of the former delighting in trees on the edge of Madrid, and only leaving the siskin, which have been in very short supply in general this winter, as outstanding.

It was now the turn of the Canary Islands. An early flight to Tenerife found us disembarking into beautiful cool, still and sunny winter weather. A real treat, and the birds matched our expectations! Several Laurel Pigeons graced the trees and scrub on the cliffs above a roadside viewpoint, while Atlantic Canaries and Canary Island Chiffchaffs formed the basis for the constant birdsong surrounding us in the lush green vegetation. Such a difference from the arid conditions in summer and autumn! The first Plain Swifts were seen en route to the next site, where another Laurel Pigeon gave flight views, a male canariensis Common Chaffinch held us spellbound as it called and displayed to a female by swaying rhythmically from side to side on a horizontal Tree Heather trunk, and the first of numerous striking superbus European Robins sang at close quarters. Other small birds included the heineken Blackcaps and leucogaster Sardinian Warblers, while the majority of the teneriffae African Blue Tits seen from then on were in the towns and villages! The first of two or three granti Eurasian Sparrowhawks for the day was noted as it circled overhead in display!

Some small pools close to a walk through the Male Blue Chaffinch - Fringila teydea © John MuddemanMale Blue Chaffinch
Fringila teydea
© John Muddeman
famous laurisilva cloudforest were full to the brim and rather devoid of birds, despite a very confusing dark and juvenile Mallard-like duck, which had to be an escaped farmyard bird. However, it was now early afternoon, and while we flushed a few pigeons in the forest, which clattered off unseen, we content ourselves with seeing the abundant Common Chaffinches and singing cabrerae Common Blackbirds in the deeper forest, plus abundant Canary Islands Chiffchaffs both there and also outside in the scrubby habitats alongside Atlantic Canaries. Plenty of the notably blunt-winged canariensis Common Kestrels and quite pale insularum Common Buzzards were also noted widely.

There was still time to look for THE iconic bird of the canary Islands, the gorgeous Tenerife race of Blue Chaffinch, and my usual spot in the corona forestal immediately turned up trumps at a picnic site, and about a dozen birds present, despite a slight pause to look at the only pair of canariensis Common Ravens we saw on Tenerife as we got out of the car. With several adult male chaffinches chasing around, and one displaying to a female on the ground, they were fun to watch, though we finally pulled ourselves away to note a pair of surprisingly flighty Berthelot’s Pipits and a couple of very confiding canariensis Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Time was really racing, so we headed back to another area of laurel forest, this time in the NE of the island. Two short stops failed to produce anything new, se we headed for the final viewpoint with views down over a huge swathe of the forest-clad slopes. The light was just starting to fade, and despite still fine conditions, the classic cloud was building on the N slopes as the cool N wind started picking up and ‘pouring’ the cloud over a low point in the same ridge just beyond us. A few anxious minutes followed, then suddenly a dark pigeon with a pale tail band bust from cover before diving back deep into trees. A Bolle’s Pigeon! Another then sang for a few moments, but remained out of sight before finally, it too fled from cover and for a few moments was watched in full sun as it sped across the canopy before also diving into the seemingly impenetrable vegetation. Smiles all round as we’d seen everything except just one of the hoped for target birds in just one day!

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - Stenella frontalis © John MuddemanPlayful Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Stenella frontalis
© John Muddeman
Another early start on our second day saw us getting to the ferry port early. It was far warmer on the SW of the island than the now damp and windy NE, and the ferry journey across to La Gomera and back was interesting, not because we failed to see any of the hoped for seabirds, except the common Cory’s Shearwaters, but because there were also plenty of dolphins, including Atlantic Spotted and Bottle-nosed, plus probable Striped Dolphins, and even a few great whales, in addition to the local Long-finned Pilot Whales, and some ‘fast V-splashes’ which are typical of beaked whale species. Only one of the great whales really showed itself at all, when it made a deep dive, showing a relatively long and fine sickle-shaped dorsal fin, possibly being a Bryde’s Whale. The return was somewhat scuppered though as we had to sit offshore due to a ‘technical problem’ in the port, for nearly 2 hours!

We then made a series of short visits to a series of interesting sites in the far S of the island, including a small reservoir devoid of birds, a bizarre circular reservoir, also sadly almost devoid of water and covered with cross wires and netting, but still providing feeding habitat for a few Green Sandpipers, plenty of Little Ringed Plovers and a number of Grey and White Wagtails, as well as an unseen calling Yellow Wagtail. Another pool near the Golf del Sur turned up trumps with a couple of roosting juvenile Eurasian Spoonbills and a Greenshank, while over the golf course itself a mobile feeding flock of swifts kept us very busy. The great majority were Plain Swifts, but a Pallid or two could be heard calling, but refused to be seen… We finally managed to hear a couple again after c. half and hour and a fine head-on Pallid Swift was bagged for Sue!

Our final destination, in part thanks to the lost Displaying male Blue Chaffinch - Fringila teydea © John MuddemanMale Blue Chaffinch displaying to female
Fringila teydea
© John Muddeman
time on the ferry was down towards the Punta de la Rasca. With outside chances of the Tenerife race of Stone-curlew and the endemic canariensis race Long-eared Owl, which used to the be found at the site, we gave it a try. But despite walking out over the extensive hot badlands, our first orbitalis Spectacled Warblers and koenigi ‘Desert’ Grey Shrikes, plus a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the wall of the now unvisitable Charca del Fraile, there was no sign of either. A quick scan out to sea revealed huge numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters passing, and thoughts of the much wanted Macaronesian Shearwater being amongst them, though a distant Great Skua showed we needed to get closer to the shore and watch. Indeed, we then stayed for a couple of hours until sunset, though apart from an estimated 10 000 Cory’s which passed during the time, there was almost nothing special until it was almost too dark to watch, when a couple of Manx Shearwaters raised the stakes for a few minutes as the moved past well offshore.

Day 3 on the islands involved another early start and flight from Tenerife to Fuerteventura, for a day trip! The cool, at times chilly breeze was scudding patchy cloud across the island and as soon as we could reach the plains on the far side of the island we could start looking for the steppic birds in ideal conditions. A majorensis Egyptian Vulture circling with a pale morph Booted Eagle off the side of the ring-road was a great start mind! And when we also noted singing local polatzeki Lesser Short-toed Larks over the stony desert, we knew it could be good. Indeed it wasn’t long before we had one, then two and finally three superb fuertaventurae Houbara Bustards in view from the same spot, while 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse which called as they passed over just put the icing on the cake! A slight detour was needed to find the right spot in a nearby village, but there crouching in full view was a strongly marked insularum Stone-curlew glaring back at us! The drive to the island’s only permanent reservoir included a Laughing Dove in flight, while some scanning in a gorge also produced a very dull-looking female Fuerteventura or Canary Islands Stonechat. however, her lack of colour was more than made up for by her nest-building activity, and we finally located where she was taking the sheep’s wool, high up a near vertical gully side and under a small rock!

Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus inornatus © John MuddemanSecretive Yellow-browed Warbler
Phylloscopus inornatus
© John Muddeman
It was just 10:30 a.m. and we were now ‘free’ for the rest of the day! So we decided to have a good look at the reservoir, where massed resting Ruddy Shelducks avoided those pairs with multiple shelducklings, a couple of Black-winged Stilts graced the edges and a fine adult Purple Heron flew past before landing out of sight. Migrant Common Chiffchaff and Common Snipe added to the variety.

We now headed down to the ‘woodland’ at Costa Calma, where both Yellow-browed Warblers and Olive-backed Pipits have been wintering for the last three years in a row. With strong winds now blowing the trees around it was always going to be a difficult job, and it wasn’t until we’d walked virtually from end to end had turned around, that a stunning Yellow-browed Warbler popped into a dense tree almost overhead! Great views were had for a few moments as it responded to me whistling, but then it simply vanished. We started the walk back and suddenly another walker crossing the belt of trees flushed a chunky pipit which towards and then past us, giving clear views of the head and back… An Olive-backed Pipit!. It was impossible to relocate though in the trees in the windy conditions, so headed back for a late well-earned lunch, though not before two more Yellow-browed Warblers appeared in response to me whistling, just before leaving the park :-O

We still had time left so headed to View of Mt Teide from NW Tenerife © John MuddemanView of Mt Teide from NW Tenerife© John Muddeman another barranco, which was basically extremely quiet apart from a fine male CI Stonechat, and then tried to look at a couple of golf courses near the airport. One area was fenced off, another had building works on the area where you used to go in to look over pools, and so it was great to notice a whole load of terns out to sea. These were Sandwich Terns and were coming in to roost in a small cove, so we saved them until last, going back to another golf course where we gained entry. Two Tree Pipits, a small flock of Willow Warblers, two Red-rumped and a single Barn Swallow, 3 Common and a single Spotted Redshank were excellent additions to the island, and indeed tour lists! We finished off with a search for the terns, also finding a few waders feeding along the same rough shoreline, including Eurasian Curlew, Kentish Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and a Little Stint as a fine finale. We returned to Tenerife to find cold, quite wet and very windy conditions still prevailing…

Another early start saw us going down to a headland on the N coast just after dawn. While Cory’s were passing, nothing else was, so after bagging single Grey Plover and Whimbrel for the trip, we returned just in time for a ‘normal’ breakfast in the guesthouse. We went out again, this time to look for the last possible lifer for Sue, the Tenerife Kinglet, or Canary Island Goldcrest. The cold and windy conditions made it very difficult, though one stop produced a surprise pair of Barbary Partridge, and only finally did we eventually manage to spot two nervously feeding amongst the swaying evergreen trees at one site. There was just enough time left to go and look for possible migrants at a set of pools nearby, and while we’d seen a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons fly over first thing, none were present when we went in, much to my surprise. However, another Common Snipe was a good find, though better still were a couple of calling migrant Sedge Warblers, our last new bird of the trip, and a fine end to an intensive short trip to the Canary Islands. Sue ended up with 77 species, while I’d noted 2 more. A good tally for the Canaries!

(Sub-)Species List for the whole trip
Total Species=149

Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara) A Canary Islands Common Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs canariensis © John MuddemanA Canary Islands Common Chaffinch
Fringilla coelebs canariensis
© John Muddeman

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala)
Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis)
Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
European White Stork (Ciconia ciconia ciconia)
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia leucorodia)
Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) Canary Islands buttercup - Ranunculus sp. © John MuddemanCanary Islands buttercup
Ranunculus sp.
© John Muddeman

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea [cinerea-group])
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
C.I. Vulture (Neophron perc. majorensis)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)
Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus granti)
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Canary Islands Buzzard (Buteo buteo insularum)
Western Buzzard (Buteo buteo buteo)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus canariensis)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus dacotiae)
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Eurasian Merlin (Falco columbarius [aesalon-group])
Great Bustard (Otis tarda)
Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata)
Canary Islands Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae)
Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax)
Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) Tenerife Robin - Erithacus rubecula superbus © John MuddemanTenerife Robin
Erithacus rubecula superbus
© John Muddeman

Eurasian Stone-Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)
Eurasian Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus insularum)
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola squatarola)
Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis atlantis)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
Western Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii)
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata)
Iberian Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata alchata)
Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) Canary Islands Cranesbill - Gerenium canariensis © John MuddemanCanary Islands Cranesbill
Geranium canariensis
© John Muddeman

Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Stock Dove (Columba oenas)
Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)
Bolle's Pigeon (Columba bollii)
Laurel Pigeon (Columba junoniae)
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis)
Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)
Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo)
Plain Swift (Apus unicolor)
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops [epops-group])
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Tenerife Great Spotted Woodpecker (D. major canariensis)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
‘Desert’ Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis koenigi)
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica [pica-group])
Western Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Northern Raven (Corvus corax)
Eurasian Raven (Corvus corax [corax-group])
Eurasian Raven (Corvus corax canariensis)
Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae)
Tenerife Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae teneriffae)
Eurasian Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus)
Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus)
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra)
Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens)
Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens polatzeki)
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
European Swallow (Hirundo rustica rustica)
Eurasian Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Common House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti)
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Canary Islands Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis)
Canary Islands Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis canariensis)
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
Savi's Warbler (Locustella luscinioides)
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla heineken)
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata)
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala leucogastra)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Canary Islands Goldcrest (Regulus regulus teneriffae)
Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula cabrerae)
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Canary Islands Robin (Erithacus rubecula superbus)
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
White-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica cyanecula/namnetum)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Canary Islands Stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae)
Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae dacotiae)
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni)
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
Berthelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii)
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Canary Islands Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs canariensis)
Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla teydea)
Tenerife Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla teydea teydea)
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
European Serin (Serinus serinus)
Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria)
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris)
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis parva)
Common Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
Common Linnet (Carduelis cannabina meadewaldoi)
Common Linnet (Carduelis cannabina harterti)
Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus)
Canary Islands Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus amantum)
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

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