Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata© Santiago Villa
Coto Doñana & Extremadura:
the very best of SW Spain in spring
Discover the contrasting landscapes, birds and spring butterflies and flowers of SW Andalucía and Extremadura, SW Spain, during the peak migration period.
Vast areas of seasonally flooded marshes stretch towards the horizon before being lost in a hazy shimmer. Disorganised flocks of bright pink Greater Flamingos wade and honk softly with hundreds of restless waders and ducks feeding and dabbling around their legs. Groups of colourful Glossy Ibis return hurredly from their feeding sites to join the garrulous throng of Cattle and Little Egrets, Purple and Black-crowned Night Herons displaying on their nests in a huge mixed colony. Blue-and-black beaked Squacco Herons stealthily hunt amphibians on the water's edge, just yards from where we pass, ignoring the 'creaking' Whiskered Terns bouncing over. Marbled Ducks Marmaronetta angustirostris © John Muddeman
High up, a majestic Spanish Imperial Eagle circles at height looking for unsuspecting prey while keeping a close eye on its territory too, and a somewhat owl-like Short-toed Eagle adorns a pylon, looking for a careless snake among the salt-marsh scrub where chattering Lesser Short-toed Larks flit restlessly across.
This is a typical spring scene in the Coto Doñana, justifiably claiming to be one of the great wetlands in Europe and home to countless breeding and migrant birds. These range from tiny Spectacled Warblers and Lesser Short-toed Larks, through Spanish Sparrows, Great Reed, Isabelline and Savi's Warblers, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a myriad shorebirds, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns, Red-knobbed Coot, Marbled and White-headed Ducks and also including a remarkable variety of egrets, herons and larger wading birds as well! But the fringing sandy lowlands also house excellent populations of scrub and woodland birds and mammals, including Dartford Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Thekla Lark, Eurasian Wryneck, countless Common Nightingales, furtive Crested Tits, showy Woodchat and shy Iberian Grey Shrikes, marauding Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies, aerobatic European Bee-eaters, fluting Eurasian Golden Orioles, whistling Booted Eagles and, occasionally, the delicate Black-shouldered Kite. This is also where one of the last remaining populations of the critically endangered Iberian Lynx occurs, and though we would be exceptionally fortunate to see one, it is always an outside possibility and we keep our eyes open!
Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii© John Muddeman
The Doñana area in broader terms also includes a series of coastal wetlands extending to near Huelva in the west. We will be visiting these too, since they provide excellent access to a series of estuarine habitats difficult to reach in Doñana, including a large area of still working salinas. These are especially favoured by migrant shorebirds and the specialist Slender-billed Gull, while the adjacent river channel and coast, with its populations of Little Tern and feeding and roosting areas for Audouin's Gull, Caspian Tern and the locally-breeding Western Osprey frequently also hold other surprises. We'll also take a look in the bushes for the local Chameleons, too!
Combining this with a visit to Extremadura, home of the Conquistadors, provides a perfect opportunity to observe one of the greatest varieties of birdlife possible in a week anywhere in Europe. Colourful European Bee-eaters and European Rollers hawk from wires in the vast expanses of dehesa, Lesser Kestrels squabble noisily over town rooftops, majestic Great Bustards strut the seemingly endless plains and huge skies are thronged with dozens of raptors, including the enormous Eurasian Black Vulture.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus© Santiago Villa
Monfragüe National Park deserves a day in its own right, and lends itself to being a showpiece reserve. With excellent access to the main viewing points in the park, with views across the river valley in front, it is one of the very best for observing a fantastic array of wildlife in the region. We visit a series of key spots where dapper Egyptian Vultures wheel overhead among scores of Griffons, and perky Red-rumped Swallows and Eurasian Crag Martins criss-cross in front as perched Black Storks show off the green and purple glosses on their plumage in the morning sun. A River Otter appears from nowhere below us, diving repeatedly and crunching up its prey before melting away again. A distant barking sound heralds a displaying Spanish Imperial Eagle, its white epaulets flashing in the sun as it dives and turns, while a Bonelli's Eagle tries to glide past unnoticed.
The vast plains here also house one of the richest and most abundant steppic bird faunas in Europe. Little Bustards call from flower-studded pastures, flocks of speeding Pin-tailed and more bulky Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly quickly from one rise to another, huge numbers of Calandra, Crested and Thekla Larks fill the air with their songs early in the mornings, Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina© John Muddeman
smart Woodchat and shyer Iberian Grey Shrikes adorn the fences and Western Holm Oaks, clamorous Great Spotted Cuckoos fly noisily across, often being chased by their Common Magpie hosts, agile Montagu's Harriers drift elegantly low across the fields hunting for prey and jingling Corn Buntings are seen at every turn. As the temperature rises, so the birds of prey begin to appear in numbers, and it can be a real challenge just to know where to look!
These are all just some of the delights we have experienced on this tour, as we explore the wealth of wildlife of the coast, marshes, lakes and scrublands of Doñana and the plains and mountains of Extremadura, in this remarkable corner of Europe.
The tour however is far from just a celebration of the birdlife, despite being its main focus. It will also serve as an introduction to the reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies and commoner flora of SW Spain as well, though naturally what we find on the ground will depend to a considerable degree on the weather and conditions we experience at the time, as well as interests within the group.
For a provisional itinerary, please see the Spainbirds page for this tour.
"I want to thank you for the wonderful trip you gave Judith and me round some beautiful parts of Extremadura. It has some dramatic and peaceful scenery and a lovely variety of birds from the exceedingly large and suitably impressive raptors to the small and much more delicate songsters. It was an enormous treat to see so many different wild orchids, especially the swathes in the ancient olive groves. It will be hard to forget the giant orchids right beside the road."
Penny H. (UK) April 2016
Chamaeleon chamaeleon© John Muddeman
Coto Doñana & Extremadura:
the best of SW Spain in spring
Leader: John Muddeman for Spainbirds Nature Tours
Sat. 25 – Fri. 31 March 7-day tour (Spainbirds Nature Tours)
Please enquire for further details.
ANYTIME DATES by request. Please enquire.
Price: 1400€ per person, including half-board, en suite accommodation at the Hotel El Toruño and at the Hospedería de Monfragüe, tapas / picnic lunches, minibus transport throughout, all entry fees and the services of John Muddeman as leader. A single-room supplement of 175€ is applicable.
All payments have to be made in Euros to Spainbirds Nature Tours S.L.
For booking, please click on the Spainbirds Booking Form, or contact me directly (see my contact details below). The Spainbirds office will then advise you of the payment details and terms.
Booking information: either follow the link above or feel free to contact John Muddeman for further details and a booking form, or indeed if you have any queries about this tour.
|Office phone:||(+34) 918 989195|
|Mobile phone:||(+34) 649 608747|
||C/ Alcocer 1, 1-C|
28214 Fresnedillas de la Oliva,