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Cabañeros National Park trip report 15-18/09/2011

John Muddeman
25/09/2011 22:01:08

A quick report from a recent weekend-long tour to Cabañeros National Park, sometimes referred to as the 'Spanish Serengeti'.

Posted in: Butterflies and Moths, Dragonflies and Damselflies, Birds, Mammals | Castile-La Mancha | Mainland Spain, Central Spain

Cabañeros National Park was first set up as a Natural Park Boquerón-del-Estena © John MuddemanBoquerón del Estena© John Muddeman in 1987, following a six-year battle after the area had been earmarked for becoming a live firing range for the army. Thankfully, its extraordinary geological, wildlife and archaeological values were sufficiently known that social, ecological and political opposition was sufficient to save it during a campaign which received high media coverage. Now it is generally considered as the archetypal example of dehesa in C Spain, with some of the lower parts locally referred to as the raña, the so-called "Spanish Serengeti" given the vast grassy swathes with trees peppered across it, reminiscent of the African savannah.

However, this is far from typical of all of the 40 thousand hectares, which also cover large areas of rocky-topped mountains cloaked in dense Mediterranean scrub and woodland dominated by Cork, Round-leaved, Portuguese and Pyrenean Oaks. Indeed, the microclimate in some of the deeply incised valleys snaking their way through this wild terrain, complete with small permanent rivers - such as the Boquerón del Estena - means that the area houses a few glacial relict species from further north hiding out in the colder and shady N-facing sections, such as the southernmost Iberian populations of Schreiber's Green Lizard and even an endemic subspecies of Silver Birch Betula pendula fontqueri var. parvibracteata.

Black-Stork - Ciconia-nigra © John MuddemanBlack Stork juvenile
Ciconia nigra
© John Muddeman
Not having been for some years I made a reccy on 15th September and together with the trip over the weekend of the 17th/18th, this actually revealed more birds and wildlife than initially hoped, despite the hot (>30ºC) and very sunny conditions. This was mainly due as well though to not concentrating within the park (which has limited access), but to the surrounding areas to incorporate more habitats types.

The final count was some 114 birds species, including good views of Great Egret, Black Stork, an adult Egyptian and plenty of Griffon and Eurasian Black Vultures, Western Osprey, Red Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Bonelli's, Booted, Golden and Short-toed Eagles, Western Marsh, Hen and Montagu's Harriers, Lesser Kestrel, Red-legged Violet-Dropwing - Trithemis-a © John MuddemanViolet Dropwing
Trithemis annulata
© John Muddeman
Partridge, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, European Turtle Dove, Common, Alpine and White-rumped Swifts, Hoopoe, Calandra, Wood, Crested, Thekla and Greater Short-toed Larks, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-backed and Iberian Grey Shrikes, Zitting Cisticola, Subalpine Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Blue Rock Thrush, European Penduline-tit, Iberian Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Spanish Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Hawfinch, Rock Sparrow and Cirl and Rock Buntings. Of particular note amongst there were the sightings of White-rumped Swift (possibly the first since the only previous available record from September 1993!), the discovery of a considerable post-breeding gathering and roost of Lesser Kestrels in the area, which wasn't mentioned in a detailed book covering the birds of the area published in 2005, and the all-too-brief sighting of a presumably migrant Red-backed Shrike which may be the first.

Although I didn't stop for a Black-shouldered Kite en route on 15th, this small dark road casualty beside a bank covered in rabbit holes did catch my eye. Sadly, it was a small Western Polecat, only the second I've ever seen in Spain, though the first was an adult Western-Polecat - Mustela-put © John MuddemanWestern Polecat
Mustela putorius
© John Muddeman
running rather more successfully across the road in Extremadura many years ago. Although a grisly start, it does highlight the plight of so many mammals on these fast new roads, and also goes to show that taking a quick pic can also be of value in determining where these secretive and nocturnal beasts are. Apart from numerous European Rabbits, the only other mammals were deer, with a roadside stop NE of the park revealed roaring Red and barking Fallow Deer in private estates, both of which we saw well again elsewhere during the main trip as well, as a couple of furtive Roe Deer. The incredible densities of these small and dark Red Deer here are a famous autumn attraction for people observing the rut, and with the males having started the week before, we weren't disappointed!

The Torre de Abraham reservoir just to the NE yielded Red-Deer - Cervus-elaphus © John MuddemanRed Deer hind and calf
Cervus elaphus
© John Muddeman
a couple of Black Storks and a few ducks, waders and gulls for the group, though was kinder on the reccy including two stray immature Greater Flamingoes! A superb Western Osprey was present throughout for all to enjoy though. The sharper-eyed will notice the absence of Spanish Imperial Eagle, but you can't see everything! Ironically, Cabañeros is where a famous web-cam for the species has been set up, giving a superb remote insight into the daily life of these magnificent raptors, but with only two pairs within the vast reserve, it actually was no great surprise we didn't see any.

The high temperatures were helping to keep the odonates going too, and a few species were noted on the wing, including Copper Demoiselle, Small and Western Willow Spreadwings, Vagrant Emperor, Migrant Hawker, Keeled Skimmer, Red-veined, Common and Southern Darters, Broad Scarlet and Violet Dropwing. The butterflies were surprisingly poor, but did include 5 or 6 always impressive Two-tailed Pashas, one of which perched obligingly for the entire group at point-blank range until we walked away, and plenty of Cardinal Fritillaries too.

SEOBirdLife-group-Cabañero2 © John MuddemanSEO/BirdLife group Cabañeros© John Muddeman With a special thanks to all those on the trip for putting up with the high temperatures experienced, and in particular to Xurxo Piñeiro for his excellent company as well as leadership, and to our driver Miguel Ángel.

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