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Extremadura 10 – 17 February 2015

Cranes and much more

Crane season in wild, central Spain runs from November to February. Some 100,000 cranes overwinter in the region, providing one of Europe’s great wildlife spectacles.

cranes
Cranes in Extremadura (Steve Fletcher)

The cranes feed on acorns in the ‘dehesa’ or wood pasture that is such a distinctive feature of Extremadura. They also feed in rice paddies and maize stubble fields, sometimes in groups, sometimes big flocks. And you can hear their evocative bugling: birds overhead or tucked out of sight in the holm oaks.

The cranes may be reason enough to travel to Extremadura in February, but there is much more. Other wintering birds include waterfowl and, on the steppes, flocks of golden plovers and lapwings, the latter avefría – cold bird – in Spanish.

Also on the steppes are impressive great bustards, often in small parties as the breeding season approaches. In the air, the sight of one of the world’s heaviest flying birds is quite something. Other steppe birds include little bustards, stone-curlews and both pin-tailed and black-bellied sandgrouse.

Crested and calandra larks are also found in the plains. Another speciality is Spanish sparrow, a rather local bird in Spain despite its name.

azure-winged magpie

calandra lark
Calandra lark, above, and azure-winged magpie, left (Steve Fletcher).

We will visit Monfragüe Nationall Park, some 25 miles north of Trujillo. This is one of the most outstanding areas for seeing birds of prey in a country which is itself probably the best for raptors in Europe. It has the core Spanish population of black vultures, which breed here along with griffon vultures and both Spanish imperial and golden eagles. From the various crags, which make fine vantage points for raptor-watching, other species that can be seen include black stork, chough and rock bunting.

There are clear signs of spring, too, in February. White storks are bill-clapping on their huge nests. Lesser kestrels will be back along with other migrants such as great spotted cuckoo, martins and swallows.

western spadefoot toad Trujillo boys and bull-bike
Movie clips from February 2012. Left to right: azure-winged magpies, western spadefoot toad, carnival time in Trujillo. Click on the pictures to watch the movies.

We stay at the charming Finca Santa Marta, a granite-built olive oil mill converted into a country inn, situated in the countryside south of Trujillo. It’s a great place to see azure-winged magpies, that amazing, colourful bird of the east with an outpost in Spain. One theory was that they originated from birds escaped during trade with China in earlier times, but proof that it is a relict population has recently come to light with the discovery of sub-fossil bones.

great bustards
Great bustards (Steve Fletcher).

Birds

As well as those already mentioned, we should see a selection of the following: Bonelli’s eagle, red and black-shouldered kites, peregrine, raven, hoopoe, blue rock thrush, little owl, southern grey shrike, woodlark, Dartford and Sardinian warblers, hawfinch, cirl and corn buntings, Thekla lark, spotless starling and rock sparrow.

Flowers

Ahead of Extremadura’s fierce summer, the countryside is green, with wayside flowers such as Iberian milk-vetch and field marigolds. We will look for miniature daffodils: hoop petticoat and angel’s tears narcissi.

Silene colorata
Mediterranean catchfly Silene colorata

Holiday details

We will visit the Crane Information Centre, dehesa and rice paddies at Moheda Alta. Other excursions will include visits to Monfragüe Natural Park, including places such as Peña Falcón and the Tiétar cliffs; and exploration of the plains around Trujillo. We also spend a morning in the wonderful old town of Trujillo with its striking central square and breeding white storks and lesser kestrels.

Price: £1,430 per person in twin room for a full week (Tuesday to Tuesday)

Single room supplement: £200

En suite facilities

Flights: Scheduled easyJet flights Gatwick – Madrid

Deposit: £300

Maximum number (two leaders): 14

Conservation project

SUPPORTING

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Traditional low intensity farming, especially non-irrigated arable farmland but also seasonal grazing, supports much of the special wildlife of Extremadura – and can never be protected just by nature reserves.

The conservation of the Spanish steppes and ‘dehesa’ wood pasture is a great priority for the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (Spanish Ornithological Society / BirdLife Spain).

cork oak dehesa
Cork oak dehesa in Extremadura

Leaders

Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes. He’s also a qualified soccer coach, for one son’s under 13 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.

Chris has regularly co-led Honeyguide's Extremadura holiday for many years.

Martin Kelsey OBE is our regular leader in Extremadura where he lives with his family, close to Finca Santa Marta. Diary uncertainties mean we are not sure if he'll be co-leading the Honeyguide group in 2015, at the moment.

Martin's background in ecology includes a three-year study on marsh warblers. After three years in the Amazon rain forest with the British Ornithologists' Union, where he met his wife Claudia, he worked for BirdLife International, before joining Save the Children.

Martin Kelsey's blog about birds in Extremadura. This post is from mid-February 2014, and gives a good feel for Extremadura at the time of this holiday in February 2015.

Map of Extremadura

Holiday reports

Our most recent holiday report is from February 2015.

Most of our visits have been in March: the most recent is March 2014.

There are many more Extremadura holiday reports on our holiday reports pages - 21 reports in total since 1998.

crane

Crane (Steve Fletcher)

Statue of Pizarro, Plaza Mayor, Trujillo

The main square in Trujillo

Extremadura photos

Gallery of photos mostly places and flowers.

Birds gallery photos by Steve Fletcher.

Birds of prey gallery photos by Steve Fletcher.

Finca Santa Marta

Many photos of Finca Santa Marta on Facebook here.

Finca Santa Marta

For the Finca's website, click on the picture of the sign.

We have the run of its attractive and wildlife-rich grounds too.

In 1984, the Finca hosted a party of 58 from the Artists for Nature Foundation. They painted and sketched the wildlife and landscape (sometimes people and buildings too) in the area, or at the finca itself, all captured in a beautiful book. More about the book here, including a selection of artwork.

Many photos of Finca Santa Marta on Facebook here.

storks in Trujillo

White storks in Trujillo

Useful information and links

Birding in Extremadura: website of the Government of Extremadura.

Birds of Extremadura illustrated map here. We send a printed copy to anyone who books or enquires about this holiday.

Recommended reading from Crossbill Guides: Extremadura.


More information on this and other Crossbill Guides here.

Extremadura Crossbill Guide

Honeyguide web pages about Extremadura

Extremadura flowers. This is is for flowers we see here — mostly on our March holidays — that aren't in the usual field guides.

Orchis conica at Finca Santa Marta, in March.

More orchids on our Iberian orchids page (also more for March holidays).

Orchis conica at Finca Santa Marta
tree frog

 

Tree frog

 

Tree frogs on YouTube, filmed in Extremadura, March 2011 ... striped tree frog here and tree frog here.

Stripe-less tree frog

stripeless tree frog

Marcelino from SEO

Marcelino Cardalliaguet from SEO accepts a cheque from Honeyguide (Malcolm Key).

Marcelino says Honeyguide is: "Currently the best example of sustainable tourism in Extremadura," and praises our "Direct support to local work for the conservation of Extremadura natural values."

Holiday leaders

Chris Durdin

Chris Durdin in Extremadura, February 2015 (Howard Bayliss).

Martin Kelsey

Martin Kelsey OBE, pictured (a little unfairly) after a vulture had just flown overhead. We don't go in for much photo manipulation, but the same photo has been in Honeyguide's brochure but with the dropping removed.

Martin is a committee member of GUIDEX, an association of professional bird & nature guides in Extremadura.

Martin is interviewed in El País about nature tourism in the region here. In Spanish, 20 September 2012.

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... where there are many holiday photos to enjoy.

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The air holidays shown are ATOL Protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is ATOL 3253. ATOL Protection extends primarily to customers who book and pay in the United Kingdom. Click on the ATOL logo if you want to know more.

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