Traditionally, most birders visit the magnificent rolling steppes, rugged sierras and Cork Oak woodland of Extremadura in April and May, when the countryside is besieged by migrants, and Great Bustards are in full display. A birding visit in the crystal-clear light and relatively mild temperatures of winter, though, has its own particular, very special, merit.
We begin this holiday with a flight to Madrid, from where we head south-west through rolling hills, olive groves and woodland to the central plateau of Extremadura, where we find extensive sheep-grazed grasslands and the Cork Oak forests known locally as ‘dehesa’. For all six nights we will be based in a delightful country house a short distance from the beautiful medieval town of Trujillo. With a warm Spanish welcome and an enviable garden bird list, this is an ideal locality from which to explore the adjacent steppes and Monfragüe National Park.
Due in part to the shorter grass at this time of year and the absence of any heat haze, Extremadura’s many attractive resident birds are much easier to see in winter than at any other season. Stately Great Bustards (the world’s heaviest flying bird) congregate in flocks in their winter quarters, the males busily exercising their wings in readiness for the annual springtime battle for a mate. Little Bustards congregate too, and as we scan the fallow steppes for bustards, we may find Blackbellied or Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and flocks of larks. Great Spotted Cuckoos, too, may be seen, for they return from Africa as early as mid-January, while Stone Curlews, Calandra and Thekla Larks, Corn Buntings, Southern Grey Shrikes, Little Owls, Hoopoes, Spotless Starlings, Spanish Sparrows, Woodlarks, White Wagtails and magnificent far-reaching winter vistas complete the picture out on the plains.
We’ll also enjoy watching the unforgettable evening spectacle of Common Cranes, in flocks of 10,000-strong, as they fly in to their night-time roosts. The sight of these Cranes coming in at dusk as the winter light slips beneath the horizon will be a highlight of the tour. Elsewhere, the region’s lakes should hold large numbers of wildfowl, Purple Gallinule, Black-necked and other Grebes, plus Cattle, Little and a few Great White Egrets. Water Rails, Cetti’s Warblers and the occasional exquisite Bluethroat emerge to forage at the fringes of the wetlands and in damp channels, all so much easier to see than ever they are in Britain! Patches of woodland and scrub hold Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Azure-winged Magpies, Blackcaps, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, Firecrests, Short-toed Treecreepers, Crested and Iberian Long-tailed Tits, Serins, Siskins, Hawfinches and Cirl Buntings. In fact many of these species may be seen within a stone’s throw of our accommodation! On the higher ground Alpine Accentors overwinter, while Chough, Black Redstart, Raven, Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and Black Wheatear are all on the cards along with the resident and omnipresent Crag Martins.
No mention of birding in Extremadura, however, can be made without reference to the magnificent raptor-watching opportunities. The onset of winter sees the Black Kite being replaced by the Red, and by January Spanish Imperial Eagles are displaying over their nest sites — a breathtaking sight. Although the Short-toed and Booted Eagles will not return from Africa until early March, there is still plenty of variety, with Golden Eagles starting to nest and airborne Griffon and Black Vultures drawing our attention to any carrion in the area. Bonelli’s Eagles soar in bonding pairs, with Buzzards having arrived for the winter by the thousand from elsewhere in Europe. Other residents include Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and, of course, the stunning and much sought-after Black-shouldered Kite, another species with a tendency to form winter groups. Eagle Owls have mated by late December, with the female usually incubating by January, calling for the male at dusk to bring her food. We hope that a late afternoon visit to a special site will provide a fitting climax to our holiday.
Food was excellent and varied.
Byron was very knowledgeable and was able to pass on his knowledge to others. Byron and Nigel made an excellent pair of leaders.
Byron, our guide, was an inspiring, patient, cohesive tour leader with outstanding fieldcraft and wide knowledge. He was excellent throughout.
Everything was excellent! Laura and Simon made a very good team and we were impressed with their depth of knowledge. They were excellent hosts at meal times and went to great efforts to provide our picnics.
The leader Laura Benito was absolutely lovely, knowledgeable and caring and prepared to go the extra 2 miles to ensure our comfort and enjoyment. with Simon Woolley they formed an excellent team. Their combined expertise - including language - guaranteed the success of the trip at every level and in every situation. I would happily go with them anywhere else.
The hotel is a beautiful place, especially the garden with welcoming and attentive hosts and very good food. The leaders were excellent ornithologists and excellent drivers. Helpful and pleasant.
Byron and Julian made a wonderful "team" to lead the group. I was so impressed with the faultless organisation, their hard work and the excellent picnics they provided.
Byron and Julian worked tirelessly to ensure a varied and interesting itinerary. They both ensured that all the group had access to telescopic sightings of birds and helped with the taking of photographs. The days were well-balanced, with a great variety of habitats. The hotel Vina Las Tores was a delight. Such attentive hosts and excellent food. A most memorable holiday - thank you!
I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this short time in Extremadura. The accommodation and food was delightful, and Juan-Pedro and Belen could not have been more helpful and hospitable. As for Byron Palacios and Julian Gayarre, they certainly went that extra mile to find birds and mammals.
I really liked the Naturetrek brochure as it gave so much detail about each trip. I was really impressed with the way the Naturetrek office, Andy Tucker in particular, dealt with the flight cancellation by British Airways and kept us immediately in touch and up-to-date with the alternatives available to us. Thank you also to Linda for letting us have the e-ticket before we left home. The accommodation booked for us was excellent, both in the facilities provided, the friendliness of the hotel owners and in the presentation and content of all the meals. I liked the fact that all food was provided. I was delighted to find that the tour was all about seeing birds by visiting lots of different habitats and spending time at each. I also liked the relaxed lunchtime with food provided and time to wander and find birds in our way.
When BA cancelled the flight, the Naturetrek office kept me well informed. Many thanks to all involved in the re-organising.
I was totally impressed by Byron and Julian's bird knowledge and their ability to find them. The birdwatching was really excellent considering that I went as a less-than-knowledgeable wife. Excellent picnic lunches too! The hotel was a fantastic place, highly original with good food and nice wines.
I want to thank Andy Tucker for doing an excellent job of rescuing the tour for us after the devastating news that the Spanish general strike had caused our flights to be cancelled. He managed to organise alternative flights at very short notice, giving each of us a choice of how to proceed. I suspect he worked very long hours and I really appreciate it. I wouldn't have missed the tour for the world. Thank you, Andy! Byron and Julian were wonderful, showing huge enthusiasm and energy. They were amazingly clever at spotting and identifying birds that there is no way we would have found without their expertise. Together they made sure that we had a genuinely enjoyable time and their company was as important as their knowledge and expertise to the enjoyment of the trip. The hotel was great as I have a very awkward set of dietary requirements. Belen was amazing as she came up with delicious wheat, tomato and meat-free versions of pretty much every meal. She and Juan-Pedro were wonderful hosts (and their daughter is a brilliant pianist).
An excellent trip and as usual Naturetrek chose a brilliant small family run hotel. The food was first class. Byron and Julian were great company. Great relaxed birding and we found nearly all the species to be expected. Another very enjoyable holiday.
Great holiday. Excellent attentive leaders. A very congenial group and delightful hosts.
The holiday accommodation was particularly good; the owners were charming. Both the trip leaders worked really hard to ensure everyone gained as much as they could from this holiday. Brilliant picnic lunches.
I was very impressed with the hotel, the facilities and the owners' attention to every detail, wonderful food especially for vegetarians. An excellent holiday with wonderful views of some great wildlife.
This was my first wildlife holiday. I have learned a huge amount. I loved being out of doors all day in clear, calm, open spaces. Extremadura has a magnificent profusion of bird life.
All very good, especially accommodation, family and food.
We have thoroughly enjoyed two Naturetrek Christmas tours - Extremadura and Provence. More please!
Another excellent trip with Naturetrek offering a varied, interesting and relaxing Christmas break. The accommodation was very pleasant and the family so welcoming. The meals were delicious home cooking with each dish explained and presented beautifully.
It's 30 years since we went on an organised birding trip, having done lots on our own in the intervening period. I was up till 2am the day we got back looking through your brochure for the next one. Many thanks.
This trip was our first trip with Naturetrek and surpassed all expectations. The leaders both tried their utmost to ensure that all members of the party had views of the target birds. Our lists, without their patience, would have been much shorter. The lunch time catering and picnic sites were delightful. Our accommodation was lovely. The setting was scenic and the building itself charming. Our hosts made us feel most welcome. They were very attentive and Belen provided an astonishing range of the most delicious dishes when needed. All in all, I simply cannot imagine a better holiday. We were fortunate to have joined such a friendly group. The holiday for me was made by the company and the guides. From loading the minibuses at Madrid airport, to taking our luggage off the carousel at Heathrow, Peter could not possibly have done more. The guides worked such long days, but remained cheerful and friendly; they are both a great asset to your company. Thank you to all of you for providing us with such a memorable experience.
The only gripe I have is that is was all over too quickly!
Mr & Mrs F.
Byron was a great guide and companion and Senora Fernandez a wonderful cook and both she and Paco went out of their way to make us welcome and comfortable.
Accommodation was excellent, nice setting, warm hospitality and excellent (though unusual) food. Both guides were great and their banter enlived the outings
A very enjoyable trip in an area new to me. The tour leader Peter Dunn was extremely helpful and adaptable. The hotel was quiet, peaceful and comfortable. The home cooked food was excellent.
David Morris excelled as trip leader and demonstrated his in-depth knowledge of the area, to produce some really cracking finds especially on the last day.
Very enjoyable.Good leaders who organised a flexible itinerary very well. Excellent lunches! Accommodation at 'Casa les Canteras' was clean, warm and friendly with good local cooking.