Spain Extremadura & Gredos    *alt*

8 days, from £1845
Limosa Holidays
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Description

An 8-day birdwatching tour to Spain: Extremadura and the Sierra de Gredos Since our very first visit here in May 1990, this 8-day birdwatching tour to Spain remains one of our all-time favourite trips. The bird-rich steppe and dehesas of Extremadura combine with a plethora of alpine specialities in the lovely Sierra de Gredos on this long-running tour featuring two wonderful hotels. May is 'the' month to go. Join us for some of the very best birding in all Iberia - at the very best time of year!

A dusting of snow on distant sierras; European Bee-eaters hawking over the dehesas; hillsides pervaded by the heady scent of Cistus; and picnics beneath pine trees topped by the nests of bill-clattering European White Storks... The distant rasp of a Little Bustard unseen in the grasslands; warm Spanish skies thronged with over a dozen species of birds of prey; the somnolent gaze of an Eurasian Eagle Owl squinting back at us from a crag in the bright afternoon sun... This long-running holiday to the rugged steppes and sierras of Spain's 'Secret Wilderness' offers all this - and more!

Our May birdwatching tour to central Spain starts in Madrid, from where we head west to Extremadura - the wild heart of Spain. Our base for five nights here in the fabulous Spanish steppes is a small and beautifully renovated country house hotel set amid rolling countryside. From seemingly endless horizons of evergreen oaks to the wide blue skies and broad sweep of glorious steppe grasslands, our days here are typically hazy, sun-drenched and memorable - filled with more birds than you could wish for!

Nowhere else in Europe do birds of prey breed in such numbers or variety, while the likes of Black Stork, Western Swamphen, Red-necked Nightjar, Great Spotted Cuckoo, European Roller, Little Bustard and the spectacular Great Bustard are among a long list of other possible treats in store.

During our stay in Extremadura we'll make a thorough exploration of magnificent Monfrague National Park. Western Orphean Warbler, Rock Sparrow and Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpie will occupy our time in the delightful woodlands as we keep a keen eye on the skies for Monfrague's plentiful birds of prey. Black and Egyptian Vultures breed along with all five Iberian eagles, while hordes of Griffon Vultures throng the dramatic rock pinnacle of Penafalcon. We'll seek the elusive Black-winged Kite, scan the cliffs and crags for Eurasian Eagle Owl and the rare White-rumped Swift, and enjoy dinner one evening in the historic old town of Trujillo - its splendid medieval architecture adorned by nesting Lesser Kestrels, Pallid Swifts and European White Storks.

We conclude our holiday with two nights at a characterful and comfortable Parador, set high in the Sierra de Gredos. With views out over the pinewoods - and a chance of Citril Finch on the lawn - these lovely mountains are another of Spain's best-kept secrets! Melodious and Western Bonelli's Warblers, Common Firecrest and European Pied Flycatcher frequent the forests, while Ortolan Buntings serenade us from alpine slopes that are heavy with the scent of yellow-flowering Spanish Broom.

As the road winds higher and rare and imposing Spanish Ibex gaze down from the ridges, we enter the realm of the exquisite Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Water Pipit and the localised, 'taxonomically challenged' Bluethroat. It should make for a thrilling finale to this wonderful two-centre holiday - our best-loved European tour.

Limosa has been operating a wide-ranging annual programme of birdwatching tours to Spain since 1990, including dozens of trips to central Spain. Join our highly rated, English-speaking Spanish specialist Fernando Enrique - who has lived in Extremadura and knows the area well - for a 'five-star trip' that will introduce you to the very best birdwatching in all Iberia - at the very best time of year!

Highlights
Unbeatable spring birding amid the steppes and sierras of central Spain
5 nights at a small, privately-owned country house hotel in fabulous Extremadura
Monfrague National Park - THE best place in Europe for birds of prey
The classic 'Spanish Steppe' specialities... both bustards, sandgrouse, Great Spotted Cuckoo
Dinner in historic Trujillo, birthplace of the Conquistadors - and countless Lesser Kestrels!
2 nights at a characterful Parador, high in the beautiful Sierra de Gredos
Bee-eater, White-rumped Swift, Bluethroat, Rock Thrush, Citril Finch, Spanish Ibex
Returning for our 28th year to the region
New smaller maximum group size (10+2 guides) to enhance your birdwatching experience
Expertly led by Limosa's Colin Bushell and our resident Spanish specialist Fernando Enrique

Itinerary


 Day 1 TO MADRID & TRUJILLO

Our May birdwatching holiday to central Spain begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Madrid, where Fernando will be waiting to welcome us. We transfer west by road towards the rolling steppe, beautiful oak woodlands and wild sierras of Extremadura. The journey should take around three to four hours, but we'll pause along the way to enjoy a late light lunch at a nice little venta Fernando knows and to scan the grasslands for Montagus Harrier and Bee-eater - and maybe have a first try for the ever-elusive Black-winged Kite!
Early evening arrival at our comfortable rural hotel, a small and beautifully renovated country house set amidst wonderful birding country a few miles south of Trujillo - our base for the first five nights of the tour. Cattle Egrets and White Storks forage for lizards and grasshoppers in the fields, handsome Spanish Sparrows and Spotless Starlings nest in numbers about the farmsteads, and Black Kites float effortlessly over the grasslands. Night Via Las Torres


 Days 2 - 5 MONFRAGUE, STEPPE GRASSLANDS & SIERRAS OF EXTREMADURA

The journey north to Monfrague National Park passes through mile upon mile of unspoilt countryside, where centuries of traditional land management have created the unique dehesas - a timeless, park-like habitat of cork and evergreen oaks, foraged by pigs and alive in spring with calls of Hoopoes, Woodlarks, Rock Sparrows, Woodchat Shrikes and beautiful Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies. Rocky fields and verges brim with an exuberance of wild flowers at this season; Sardinian Warblers give their scolding rat-a-tat-tat call at every halt; and the dusty pink-chested Iberian race of Southern Grey Shrikes perch boldly beside the road.
Monfrague is arguably the finest place in all Europe for birds of prey and we can expect to encounter a dozen or more different species. Immense Griffon Vultures patrol the skies, along with Black and Egyptian Vultures, Red and Black Kites, Peregrine and up to five species of eagle: Short-toed Snake, Booted, Bonellis, Golden and Spanish Imperial. The latter is one of the worlds rarest and most endangered raptors. The scarce Black Stork is perhaps easier to see well at Monfrague than anywhere else we know, and well check a favourite spot for the powerful Eurasian Eagle Owl - both species should have young at this time.
Truly a magical spot, Monfragues plunging valleys and Cistus and herb-scented hillsides are equally rich in small birds. Crag Martin, Thekla Lark, Blue Rock Thrush, Dartford, Subalpine and Western Orphean Warblers, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch and Red-billed Chough are all present in spring. Parties of bibbling Alpine Swifts sweep past beneath us to their nests and, with luck, we will find the scarce Black Wheatear, too. The very rare White-rumped Swift is an essentially African species that we have often seen at Monfrague in the past, and a late arrival to Europe that's best looked for from the middle of May onwards.
The sweeping plain that lies to the south of Monfrague is a major stronghold of the aristocratic Great Bustard. Early mornings offer the best chance to see these magnificent birds (dont worry, it doesnt get light until about seven!), before the grasslands disappear beneath a sea of shimmering heat-haze. With Hoopoes, Stone-curlews and Calandra Larks calling all about us, from a vantage point overlooking the steppe we shall scan for the dominant males as they perform their quite extraordinary display - one that culminates in the great birds shaking and turning themselves inside-out to become a mass of white feathers that's been likened to a foaming bath or a giant chrysanthemum - visible at tremendous range! We should also see and hear the raspberry-blowing Little Bustard, with its distinctive Newcastle United-stocking neck!
Extremadura's flowing grasslands are interrupted by low rocky sierras and slow-flowing rivers, and for sheer variety of birds this whole region is hard to beat. Little Bittern, Night Heron, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Short-toed Lark, Spectacled Warbler, Penduline Tit and Golden Oriole are among many that await our discovery. Despite their name, Spanish Sparrows are actually rather scarce in Spain - but they can be quite common here, with flocks of several hundred sometimes seen. We may also hear the unmusical rattling cackle of the Great Spotted Cuckoo (which lays its eggs in the nest of Magpies); watch Red-rumped Swallows swooping low to their nest in a culvert beneath the road; or come upon the squat form of a Little Owl glaring at us from the massive boulders that are so characteristic of these hard lands.
Well drop by at a productive wetland site thats home to Purple Heron, Western Swamphen and Savis Warbler, and have further chances to look for Black-winged Kite. Out in the regions rice fields we may encounter two tiny finches: Common Waxbill and the startling Red Avadavat; both have been introduced here. In breeding plumage, the male Avadavats can resemble a fast-flying strawberry! At dusk, we may be lucky to hear the peculiar kotok song of Red-necked Nightjar within a short drive of our hotel.
Before leaving Extremadura, on one evening well enjoy an informal wine tasting with our host Juan Pedro at the hotel. On another, we'll pay a visit to Trujillo and spend a little time wandering the narrow cobbled streets of this historic old town. The Conquistadors may have long since departed this famous place but there are still plenty of White Storks, Lesser Kestrels and Pallid Swifts to enjoy as we take dinner in the beautiful main piazza. Bring your camera - on a clear day, the views across the plains from atop the medieval battlements are superb! Nights Via Las Torres


 Days 6 - 7 SIERRA DE GREDOS

Bidding a reluctant farewell to Via Las Torres this morning, we travel north, passing once again through spectacular Monfrague National Park. Along the way, well watch for raptors such as Bonellis and Golden Eagles, and have further chances to try for some of the regions more elusive inhabitants. If it is hot, we may picnic in Monfrague beneath the shade of some fine old Cork Oaks, with bill-clapping White Storks and Nightingales to serenade us. From here, we continue on to the delightful Gredos Mountains, where our second hotel - and a whole suite of new birds await!
With views out across a patchwork of upland meadows and bottle-green pines to distant snowy peaks, the imposing Parador de Gredos makes the perfect base to conclude our tour. The sound of cowbells drifts up the hillside from fields below, Firecrests and Western Bonellis Warblers breed nearby and Honey Buzzards clap their wings in nightjar-like display high above the forests. For those who can manage to tear themselves away from the comfort of their hotel room, a pre-breakfast amble nearby might well be rewarded with the likes of Crag Martin, Crested Tit, Black Redstart and Cirl Bunting.
Well devote the whole of Day 7 to birding in the mountains, and to soaking up some of the loveliest countryside in all Spain. Iberian Green Woodpecker, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Crossbill frequent the pinewoods that flank the tumbling streams in the valleys, with pastel-coloured Ortolan Buntings to tempt us on to the higher slopes.
Higher still, we will search for the extremely localised Bluethroat (the birds found here, unusually, have an all blue throat), while on alpine hillsides heavy with scent and thick with yellow-flowering Spanish Broom we should add Rock Bunting and Water Pipit. The handsome Rock Thrush breeds here too, with the exquisite spring males resplendent in chestnut, white and blue. The elusive Citril Finch is another possible treat in store - and we may even end up sharing our picnic with a rare and imposing Spanish Ibex! Two nights at the Parador de Gredos


 Day 8 DESCEND TO MADRID, FLY LONDON

After another hearty Parador buffet breakfast and a final check for Citril Finch around the hotel this morning, we head down from the mountains towards Madrid. We may be lucky to spot the odd vulture, Booted Eagle or Red Kite along the way. Our route will take us past the medieval town of Avila, with its castellated pink stone walls looking for all the world as though they must have been built for some blockbusting Hollywood epic.
Returning to Madrid, we catch a late afternoon flight back to London Heathrow, where our spring birdwatching tour to Spain concludes.