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Thursday, May 28, 2009


The final part of our stay in Spain was in the Province of Extremedura, which is located in the Southern part of the Central Plateau, roughly to the south of the Gredos Mountains and south-west of Madrid. The astonishing habitat of Extremedura is horizon-to-horizon coverage of forests of cork oak and holm oak trees.

Seemingly endless forests of cork oaks and holm oaks in the
Monfragϋe National Park exemplify Extremedura

The forests have important commercial and ecological value. The bark of the cork oaks is harvested rotationally to supply corks for wine bottles, whilst the acorns provide food for free-range pigs. In summer, the forests comprise a wonderful habitat for birds, mammals, invertebrates and plants of many kinds. In winter the forests play host to some 75,000 European Cranes that fly south from Arctic regions to feed on the fallen acorns (sharing the bounty with the pigs).

Free-range pigs forage for fallen acorns in the oak forest. The tree in the left foreground has had its cork bark stripped; this will regenerate for re-harvesting in a ten-year cycle.

Towards the south of Extremedura, the country becomes more arid until the steppe country of the Cacares Plain is reached. Here there is a range of wildlife adapted to such an environment.

Transition between the forests of Extremedura and the steppes of the Cacares Plain

The arid habitat of the Extremedura steppes and Cacares Plain...

...Home of the Great Bustard...

...and Short-toed Lark (can you see its short toes?)

The Extrremedura village of Serrejón where we stayed at poppy-time

On our final morning we had this splended view of what was, for me, the "bird of the trip" - a magnificent Spanish Imperial eagle!

With thanks to my fellow group members from Cumbria and especially to our tour guide Josele Saiz of Boletas Birdwatching Centre, Spain, for an absolutely superb week!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wildlife of the Gredos Mountains

My previous post about the Gredos Mountains described some of the botanical delights. Here are some examples of the vertebrate wildlife that we enjoyed seeing.

Monster from a horror movie? Just a Fire Salamander! These amphibians are rare and secretive: to give an indication, this was only the third that our tour guide had seen in his life!

A group of beautiful Spanish Ibex appeared from the forest. When one of the males appeared to take an alarming interest in us, we decided that discretion is the better part of valour, and backed off a little! Those horns are not just for decoration!

For the birdwatchers in the group, this rare Rock Thrush (a male) singing from atop his lofty boulder, was a real gem!

How many White Storks can you see nesting on this mountain village church?

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Vultures are a common sight over the plains and steppes of central Spain; the Griffon Vulture is by far the most numerous species, whilst the Black Vulture is comparatively rare. I took these pictures of vultures in Extramadura, Central Spain, last week.

Squadrons of Griffon vultures home in on the carcass of some animal...

...whilst a solitary Black Vulture circles overhead

A Black Vulture joins a group of four Griffons on the ground to pick over an animal carcass

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Gredos Mountains, Spain

Of all places to observe wildlife in Spain, it is perhaps the Pyrenees Mountains and the wetlands of Andalucia that attract the most attention. However, there are other less-visited locations in Spain where the scenery and biodiversity are equally staggering.

I have just returned from an expedition to the Gredos Mountains and Extramadura in central Spain, to the west of Madrid,with the Spanish wildlife tour company Boletas. This is the first of a series of posts about the expedition.

At this time of year, spring is bursting out in the Gredos mountains with summer migrant birds arriving and the alpine flowers coming into bloom.

The Gredos Mountains, west of Madrid. The highest peaks are still snow-covered

Our accommodation in the Gredos mountains - a lodge in the wooded foothills

The smell of cistis flowers percolated the air...

...whilst the perfume from carpets of wild lavender dominated the open areas

Rock roses in the rocky areas...

And wood peonies in the wooded areas

Above the snowline the alpine plants were peeping out between patches of snow

Brave miniature alpine daffodil trumpets sniff the air...

...and alpine crocuses gave a splash of colour

Looking out from the Gredos Range across the plains of the Tagus river towards Extramadura