This tour combines the contrasting habitats of central Spain — the undulating, sun-drenched steppes and shimmering plains of Extremadura, the rugged oak-forested hills of Monfrague National Park, and the imposing granite peaks of the Sierra de Gredos. We will explore these exciting and wild habitats during the course of a 2-centre, week-long holiday focusing particularly on the birdlife of the region, but also enjoying the abundant and colourful wayside flora of both the plains and mountains, as well as any butterflies and mammals we encounter during the week.
We begin the holiday with a flight to Madrid, from where we head south-west through rolling hills, olive groves and Cork Oak woodland to the central plateau of Extremadura, where we find extensive sheep-grazed grasslands and Cork Oak forests known locally as 'dehesa'. For the next four nights we will be based near the beautiful medieval town of Trujillo, an ideal spot from which to explore the adjacent steppes and the magnificent Monfrague National Park. Flocks of Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts wheel around Trujillo’s beautifully preserved ancient churches, whilst White Storks peer down from their roof-top nests or clatter their bills to greet a returning mate. One of our main goals, however, will be to witness one of the most exciting bird spectacles in Europe, the breeding display of the Great Bustard. During this, the males — the world’s heaviest flying birds — convert themselves, by a series of bizarre distortions, into huge white balls of feathers that revolve slowly in an almost military step. While they look stately and dignified, the nearby Little Bustards perform an awkward, head-throwing action accompanied by a comical buzzing sound. The two species are certainly the star attractions of this region, but it offers far more besides, including many other grassland specialities such as Quail, Stone Curlew, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and both Calandra and Short-toed Larks, whilst Bee-eaters, Rollers and Hoopoes bring colour to the scene. In the surrounding Cork Oak dehesa we will look for Great Spotted Cuckoos, Hoopoes, Short-toed Treecreepers, both Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes and Azure-winged Magpies. Overhead we will keep an eye open for the 16 species of raptor which, with luck, may include the localised Black-shouldered Kite. It is in Monfrague National Park, however, that we will focus in particular on birds of prey; here Egyptian, Black and Griffon Vultures rise on the thermals with the heat of the day, both Red and Black Kites are numerous, and Golden, Spanish Imperial, Bonelli’s, Booted and Short-toed Eagle all breed. Amongst other specialities are Black Stork and Eagle Owl, whilst the smaller and more abundant occupants of the hills include Alpine Swift, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Subalpine Warbler and Chough.
To the north-east of Extremadura and Monfrague lies the Sierra de Gredos. This is a rugged and imposing range of granite mountains that rises to 2,600 metres and is a stronghold of the magnificent Spanish Ibex, a species that we will make a special effort to see during our stay. We will spend the second part of our holiday here, based in a very comfortable, boutique-style hotel that boasts a fine view towards the mountains and serves some of the finest food in the province. This will ensure that we are in good shape for our walks in the surrounding hills, forests and mountains!
In the valley below our hotel we will search the pine forests for Honey Buzzard, Goshawk, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Crested Tit, and perhaps even Citril Finch and Crossbill. Higher up, above the tree-line, we will search for breeding Crag Martins, Dippers, Bluethroats, Rock and Ortolan Buntings, whilst higher still we will look for Water Pipits, Alpine Accentors, Black Redstarts and Rock Thrushes. Birds of prey are not numerous here, but amongst the species that do pass overhead from time to time are both Black and Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagle and Booted Eagle. The dominant plant of the mountains is the yellow-flowered broom, but along the rivers, streams, roads and tracks of the Gredos — and in the ancient stone-walled hay meadows and grazing pastures — we will find a colourful flora that includes many orchid species. Indeed, by spending most of our time on this part of the holiday exploring on foot, by means of mountain walks, we can hope to see a wide range of wildlife including an excellent flora and attendant butterfly and insect-life.
The leaders were both excellent - hugely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and made a good team together. They were also wonderfully even-tempered and skilled at handling the different personalities in the group.
I liked the two contrasting areas and the well chosen hotels, food and drink were generous and good quality.
Very knowledgeable leaders who were well organised.
This was an amazing trip. The landscape was beautiful, the locations were really well chosen and the bird, plant and insect species were varied and interesting. The accomodation was fantastic - both the hotels were of a higher standard than I was expecting in terms of rooms, food and atmosphere.
Mr & Mrs W.
Food, friendship, flora and fauna all fantastic!
Both leaders were excellent in all aspects, with James particularly outstanding in his recognition of species.
A very good trip was made excellent by the skills of the leaders. James' knowledge of both areas was top drawer ensuring we achieved all 'target' species and his 'spotting skills' and birding knowledge was impressive.
Mr & Mrs K
The holiday was excellent and gave both myself and my husband the introduction to Extremadura and the Gredos we so wanted. Without the guides we would not have seen anywhere near as many birds and it was the best introduction to the area and Naturetrek that we could have wished for.
I was very satisfied with the trip overall. The leaders could not have tried harder, particularly to find the birds I wanted to see.
El Milano Real in the Gredos was great! Beautiful views, comfortable modern, clean room, lovely village with lots of birds around, good food and a wonderful breakfast beautifully presented.
Just to say yet another ten out of ten and a gold star! We had a marvellous trip with Lee and Andrew, and saw an amazing number of birds, butterflies and plants/flowers. The daily picnics were a feast and the hotels and food were excellent. All in all, a great trip.
This was a most enjoyable and rewarding trip. The leaders were excellent and made sure everyone got to see the magnificent wildlife, regardless of the clients' expertise (or rather, lack of it). Please pass on my sincere thanks to Lee and Jim for a wonderful adventure.
Mr & Mrs B.
The holiday exceeded our expectations in every way. The first hotel, Vina Las Torres, was excellent with a great location and good food; our hosts were friendly and very helpful. The wildlife was terrific, with wonderful views of Great Bustards in flight and excellent birding for the whole week. A special word of thanks to our two leaders, Lee and Andrew. They not only showed their skills as first-rate naturalists, but were unfailingly cheerful and helpful with a huge fund of knowledge which they shared willingly.
Both leaders (Lee and Jim) were very professional and have immense knowledge. It was a relaxed tour which fitted perfectly to the needs of the group which encompassed serious birders and those new to the pass time and others interested in photography. In all thoroughly enjoyed (the tour) and as ever a good example of the skill that Naturetrek has in providing 'what the customer wants.'
Lee Morgan was a great all-round tour leader. His people skills are also great - he is calm but able to get a point across when necessary! Also an excellent preparer of lunches which really added to the day - a point where we could sit down as a group and enjoy delicious local food as well as good conversation with the group - so much better than a roll, square of cheese and an apple in a plastic bag.
The leaders were superb; particularly Jim, on his first trip, was very enthusiastic and always helpful and patient. A great team!
The lunches each day were spectacular!! We all ate far too much. Both hotels were very good but we loved the one in Extremadura. The owners were charming and the food was outstanding; we were all made to feel very welcome. The large bag of oranges we were given at the end of our stay was a bonus - there is nothing like the taste of an orange straight from the tree. Thank you to everyone at Naturetrek.
Please pass on my thanks for the extra special way the tour guides, Pam and Eric, looked after the group. Also for sharing with us their wide knowledge of the area's birds and flowers.
... yet another ten out of ten and a gold star! We had a marvellous trip with Lee and Andrew, saw an amazing number of birds, butterflies and plants/flowers. The daily picnics were a feast and the hotels and food excellent. All in all, a great trip.
Mr & Mrs B.
Overall, the trip was excellent, very well organised and with a high standard of accommodation.
Lee Morgan's attention to our care and needs went well beyond our hopes.
Generally a good holiday. Eric Barnes was fabulous - hugely knowledgeable, a great enthusiast and a great teacher too. Very down to earth and always helpful and thoughtful. The finca was very charming - very nice welcoming cocktail at the start of the holiday.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The area was fascinating and the itinerary well planned. The hotels were good. The leaders were enthusiastic. I enjoyed the holiday and have seen a lot of birds and other things I didn’t know about before.
D. & J.R.
Philip and Eric did very well to satisfy a group with very different interests without sacrificing one interest group for others. The early morning birding trips, and sometimes dividing the group between the two leaders, worked very well. Phil shared his extensive botanical knowledge in a way that also interested the birders, and Eric's energetic enthusiasm made birding with him a pleasure. Thanks for organising our extended stay in Madrid. The Hotel Carlos V was comfortable with good service. Its central position was just right for all the places we wanted to visit. Naturetrek's ability and willingness to organise extensions is one of its greatest attractions for us.
Our leaders were helpful at all times The birdwatching was excellent despite the heat haze! A most enjoyable trip.
I was very pleased with this holiday. I think I saw more new species of bird on this trip than any other trip I can remember. It seems to me that Extremadura deserves its reputation for birds in general and raptors in particular. For me the highlights of the holiday were the extended periods for which we were able to watch Montagu’s Harriers hunting and settling territorial disputes. We had the rustic simplicity of the Finca Santa Marta (Hotel). The general ambiance of the Finca was lovely and there was scope to find all sorts of interesting things to look at in the grounds. There was a moment of sheer magic when some of us were trying to listen to the sound of Golden Orioles above the background noise from Bee-eaters, Hoopoes and a Nightingale. Dave Pierce and Ted Griffiths had the local knowledge to take us to places where we would see interesting birds and they were great company throughout, both in the field and in the evenings. I learnt more about identifying raptors from Dave than I ever could have learnt from books, Ted was great fun as usual and both of them were generous to those of us who just have binoculars rather than telescopes. Thank you for a really good holiday.
The leaders did a good job of looking after us and put in a lot of effort to please the clients. My highlights were the Ortolan Bunting, the Hoopoe on the lawn at the finca, the Honey Buzzard over Bonelli's Wood ... all live in the memory.
The leader, Phil, was very good and certainly made sure everyone saw as many species as possible. Eric was exceptional. He was very attentive and was very thoughtful - an excellent spotter, too. Both Phil and Eric are a credit to Naturetrek.