The unsound approach

Spain – 26th May to 2nd June 2010


Rik Addison & Dave ‘Trousers’ Smith

After a couple of 'could-have done better' trips to Shetland in recent springs, we were hoping to hit the big time in 2010 but with the core team rapidly disbanding to disjunct places across the globe, spring holiday plans were left to the minimal former Norwich contingent of Rick-n-Dave*. So we decided to sack off an expensive island trip and instead pay less money and go to Spain. Ok, the timing at the end of May was not ideal and so it proved. Not much was singing which made digging out birds such as the Sylvias pretty tough.

A crack/on crack punkbirder crew undertook a Spain mission in February 2004, and hoovered up pretty much everything available in a harrowing 48 hr ordeal. Myself and Dave decided  to stay in half board hotels / B&B’s and generally did not thrash ourselves to death. We did struggle quite a bit in the south however, where temperatures ranged from freakin hot to total scorchio. Despite the relaxing pace of the 'holiday', we did manage to cover 2,800 km in a week and connect with pretty much all the targets. In an effort to keep driving to a minimum, we did not bother going for species which were well out of the way; dropping Dupont’s Lark, Flamingo, Bush Chat etc. Of the realistic targets we only missed GS Cuckoo, Specky, Black and Middle Spot woodies.

*ed. we welcome this trend for foreign Rick and Dave, we had attributed their previous reticence to experience gained on their first foreign exploits, which for Rick was losing 12 stone chasing an Everett's Thrush up Mt. Kinabalu and for Dave was spending 6 months on a trawler in the Antarctic with only his inner monologue for company..


26th May:

Early flight on sleazy-jet from Luton to Madrid went off without volcano or strike issues, which was nice. Picked up a VW golf and started heading north in the general direction of Picos de Europa. First stop was Lagunas de Villafafila just SW of Benevente for a crack at Bustards and anything else which might be around on the lagoons. We could only afford a couple of hours here before heading off again in order to get to the Hotel at a decent time. The drive north from here to Fuente de Hotel near Potes took bloody ages. No time for any other birding in the evening (ed. beer?)


27th May:

Early morning kick around the slopes around the hotel looking for Black Woodies and Rock Buntings, then a 10am cable car ride up the mountain. Spent most of the morning looking for Wallcreepers, Snowfinch and Alpine Accs. After lunch we went for a very long walk to a 'possible' Rock Thrush site, the walk back to the cable car in the afternoon was murder! (ed. of Dave?) A more gentle afternoon was spend around the hotel and down the valley.


28th May:

Another early morning attempt at Black Woodpecker failed again, and we slowly made out way down the valley stopping off at various sites such as Brez and Potes. Early afternoon drive south to Villafafila for another look around this excellent area. Drove slowly through the night to the Caceres plains where we got a couple of hours of kip in the car (ed. sleep? amateurs...!).


29th May:

All morning kicking around the Caceres plains looking for all the steppe specials. A short drive to the south west in the afternoon taking in lots of sites for birds such as Roller, Black Wheatear, Spanish Imp. Checked into our Hotel near Trujillo late afternoon and then dinner in the town center while watching Pallid Swifts and Lesser Kestrels.


30th May:

The whole day was spent around Monfrague National Park. Lots of time was spend tarting around looking at vultures and ice creams (ed. you didn't buy any?) but we also managed a couple of hours at Arrocampo to the north east looking for Black-winged Kites and wetland stuff. Evening spent waiting around for Eagle Owls.


31st May:

Early morning at Jaraicejo trying for all the warblers you apparently get there, and then out west to Monroy looking for Black Wheatears and Black-winged Kites, no joy for either. A quick dash down to Caceres and Guadiloba Reservoir for Collared Pratincole. Late afternoon spend driving around the Belen plains looking for steppe stuff, nothing doing either...


1st June: 

Early start on the Caceres plains and then yet another drive to Monroy for Black Wheatear. Loop round the top and up to Monfrague NP with no specific targets, just to see some cool stuff. Last 3 hours spent around Arrocampo dedicated to Black-winged Kite. Had a quick chat with El Rozzers due to Dave’s ‘granny-esque’ driving style (ed. over a gorge?)


2nd June:

Slept in this morning and late breakfast, followed by our 4th attempt at the warblers at Jaraicejo. Still nothing new doing so we took a slow drive back to Madrid for an afternoon flight home.


Systematic List:

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Common Quail – Plenty heard around Villafafila on the 26th and 28th May. One was eventually flushed by the roadside. Great Crested Grebe – Pair at Arrocampo 30th May, Cormorant – Single at Arrocampo on various dates

Little Bittern – Up to 4 at Arrocampo on 1st June (3 males). Never seen on the deck although we did see one get a good kicking from a Great Reed Warbler


Night Heron – 30+ at Arrocampo on 1st June was the largest count, Squacco Heron – Single at Villafafila 26th May and another at Arrocampo 1st June.

Cattle Egret – Common. 100+ at Arrocampo on the 1st was the highest count but small groups were seen pretty much everywhere

Great White Egret – Single at Arrocampo 30th May and 1st June. Little Egret – 1 at Arrocampo 1st June, Grey Heron – Common

Purple Heron – Plenty at Arrocampo and a few elsewhere. Spoonbill – A single at Villafafila 28th May. As with all Spoonbills, it never actually woke up or did anything during our 2 hours in the area.

Black Stork – 2 pairs around Monfrague NP on the 29th May and another pair around Monroy 30th May

 White Stork – common. Honey Buzzard – 2 over the road near Benevente on the 26th May. Black Kite – Everywhere. Red Kite – Only 4 seen during the whole week

Egyptian Vulture – One near Potes on the 29th May. Many around Trujillo although much scarcer than the Griffs

Eurasian Griffon Vulture – Very common around Trujillo with dozens seen every day. Less numerous in the north but still plenty seen every day

Black Vulture – A pair over the Caceres plains on the 31st May and another pair at Monfrague on the 1st June where a nest was visible (at about 4 mile range)

Short-toed Eagle – A single from the car on the 29th May. 2 near Hinojosas on the 29th and a single at Monfrague on 31st May. Marsh Harrier.

Montagu’s Harrier – Brilliant. Seen daily in small numbers around Trujillo and Caceres. Only males were seen. One at Villafafila on 28th May was a dark morph bird which looked fantastic but unfortunately flushed before I could get the camera on it!


 Common Buzzard. 

 Spanish Imperial Eagle – A single adult from the watch point at Monfrague on 30th May. 


Golden Eagle – One at Monfrague on 30th May and another on 1st June.

Bonelli’s Eagle – A pair seen from the bridge near the visitors center at Monfrague on 30th May and presumably the same pair on the 1st June

Booted Eagle – Seen daily around the plains in small numbers. Most were pale morphs

Lesser Kestrel – At least 2 adult males around Villifafila on 28th May and small numbers around the plains later in the week. Probably more were overlooked.


Common Kestrel. Hobby. Peregrine – A single from the watch point at Monfrague.

Black-winged Kite – We put in around 10 hours of effort for these around Arrocampo and finally scored at near-dusk on the 1st June. Unfortunately the bird was distant, made a kill with its first attempt and then buggered off back to the nest.

Purple Swamphen – 2+ at Arrocampo on various dates. Surprisingly elusive! Common Moorhen. Coot 

Great Bustard – An excellent showing. 11+ at Villafafila on the 26th May followed by another 2 seen from the car near Valderas. 58+ counted in a single group at Villafafila on the 28th May. 5+ on the Caceres plains on the 29th and just a single there on the 1st June.

Little Bustard – Very tricky to find and always distant. 4+ on the Caceres plains at dawn on the 29th were so distant they were partially obscured by the curvature of the earth never mind the heat haze and long grass. 3+ in the same location on the 1st June were a bit more co-operative and did at least give some good fly-bys

Black-winged Stilt – Numerous at most wetland areas. 20+ at Villafafila on the 28th May

Avocet – A few at Villafafila. Collard Pratincole – 12+ at Guadiloba reservoir nr Caceres on the 31st May 

Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing. Black-tailed Godwit – 2 at Villafafila on the 26th May. Common Redshank. Common Greenshank

Red Knot - Single at Villafafila on the 26th May. Dunlin. Ruff. Black-headed Gull. Lesser Black Backed Gull. Yellow-legged Gull

Gull-billed Tern – Single at Villafafila on the 26th and 12+ there on the 28th including 6 which were hawking over a crop field miles, from the nearest water and simply allowed us to drive up to them! A single at Guadiloba reservoir on the 31st May.

Little Tern – 2 pairs on Guadiloba reservoir on the 31st May. Black Tern – 6 at Arrocampo on the 1st June.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse – Around 30 on the Caceres plain on the 29th May although numbers hard to estimate. All except 1 was in flight. 12+ in the same location on the 1st June

Black-bellied Sandgrouse – Brilliant. 9 on the Caceres plains on the 29th May were all in flight but 4 there on the 1st June landed right in front of us for 20 seconds. One of the trip highlights.

Rock Dove. Woodpigeon. Collared Dove. Turtle Dove. Common Cuckoo

Eurasian Eagle Owl – Took a bit of waiting around but got it in the end! We spend over two hours waiting around the nest site rock face at Monfrague on the 30th for the bird to finally appear at 10.15 when it left the roost.

Nightjar sp. – One at Monfrague on the 30th May and another from the car on the 1st June.

Red-necked Nightjar – Heard around the Eagle Owl site at Monfrague on the 30th May.

Common Swift. Pallid Swift – Small numbers in Trujillo town centre on various dates.

Alpine Swift – 2 pairs nest under a bridge near Monfrague visitors centre and a few other seen at various spots around Caceres. Absolute buggers to photograph though!

White-rumped Swift – 4+ around the Castillo at Monfrague on the 30th May

European Kingfisher.

European Bee-eater – you can never tire of seeing Bee-eaters! Plenty at various sites around Monfrague / Caceres / Trujillo including a single pair nesting 50 yards from our Hotel. Largest colony was 25+ pairs at a single site near Monroy.

Roller – 5 Pairs nesting along the road near Hinojosas and a few other seen around the general area

Hoopoe –Seen daily in small numbers around the Caceres plains / Monfrague.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Middle-spotted Woodpecker – Heard at a breeding site near Potes. Black Woodpecker – Heard near the Hotel at Fuente de on the 27th May, but sounded distant.

Green Woodpecker. Eurasian Wryneck – A pair breeding around Brez, 28th May.

Skylark. Greater Short-toed Lark – A Single on the Caceres plains on the 29th and another or same on the 1st June. Another one randomly in a field near Monroy on the 31st May

Crested Lark. Thekla Lark – A pair at Jaraicejo were the only ones confidently identified! Presumably more were overlooked

Woodlark. Calandra Lark – Very common on the plains. Sand Martin. Crag Martin – Small numbers seen at various locations around Picos and the Plains

Barn Swallow. Red-rumped Swallow – Common. House Martin. White Wagtail. Grey Wagtail. Yellow Wagtail – One at Villafafia on the 26th and another on the 28th. A couple around Arrocampo.

Tree Pipit. Water Pipit – Plenty breeding on the tops around Picos. Wren. Dunnock. Alpine Accentor – 15+ high in the Picos on the 27th May. Cool


Blue Rock Thrush – 2 males around Monfrague on the 30th May and another around Monroy on the 31st

Blackbird. Song Thrush. Mistle Thrush. Zitting Cisticola – surprisingly hard to come by. One at Villafafila on the 26th and a few singles at various points around Monfrague and Caceres.

Cetti’s Warbler. Savi’s Warbler – 3+ singing around Arrocampo on the 30th May and 1st June.

Sedge Warbler. Reed Warbler. Great Reed Warbler – Plenty at Arrocampo.

Melodious Warbler – Very hard to come by. One near Potes on the 28th was only seen by Dave. Another around the Visitors center at Monfrague on the 1st June was only seen by Rik. And finally one singing near the Hotel at Trujillo on the final morning was seen by both of us!

Willow Warbler. Chiffchaff. Iberian Chiffchaff – A single bird singing near Benevente on the 28th May

Western Bonelli’s Warbler – Small numbers around the Hotel in the north and Brez. A few around Monfrague.

Blackcap. Garden Warbler

Orphean Warbler – Again, very thin on the ground and difficult to find. One from the car near Serrijon on the 30th May was massively unsatisfactory. 2 Pairs around the visitors center at Monfrague on the 1st June were much better.

Subalpine Warbler – A female at Jaraicejo on the 30th May. 6+ around the visitors center at Monfrague on the 1st June and another female (or same bird) at Jaraicejo on the 2nd June).

Sardinian Warbler – A few pairs around Monfrague and various other locations. 2 pairs close to the hotel at Trujillo.

Dartford Warbler – 5+ at Jaraicejo on the 30th May and a single bird at Monfrague on the 1st June.

Firecrest – Singles here-and-there around Picos.

Spotted Flycatcher. European Robin. Nightingale - Common. Black Redstart – Common in the North. Common Redstart. European Stonechat

Northern Wheatear. Black-eared Wheatear – We really struggled with these despite some dedicated search time in good looking areas and supposedly ‘easy’ sites. Eventually fluked one from the car on the road to Monroy on the 30th May.

Black Wheatear – Again, we dedicated a lot of time to this species and kept on dipping at specific sites which we were told were guarantees. Eventually found one at a site near Monroy on the 1st June.

Long-tailed Tit. Coal Tit. Great Tit. Blue Tit. Nuthatch. Wallcreeper – Main trip target and highlight. We had allowed two days on the tops but skored pretty easily on the 27th. 2 birds were seen, both males, with one being watched for a good 15 minutes shuffling around the scree slopes.

Short-toed Treecreeper – One seen around the visitors center at Monfrague on the 1st June.

Golden Oriole – 3+ Singing around our Hotel in Trujillo, one flew over the road near Sarrejon on the 30th May and a single seen briefly at Monfrague on the 1st June. Very difficult to see. An amazing scene of a male having a scrap with a Hoopoe around the Hotel on the 30th May was an awesome sight but also one of those ‘why the hell is my camera not ready’ moments.

Iberian Grey Shrike – Numerous around the Plains and Monfrague.

Red-backed Shrike – Plenty around Picos including a pair breeding just outside our hotel window.

Woodchat Shrike – Very common. Carrion Crow. Common Raven. Jackdaw. Eurasian Jay. Chough. Alpine Chough – Small numbers high up the mountain

European Magpie. Azure-winged Magpie – Common in the groves around Caceres and especially Monfrague. Most were very shy and retiring

Spotless Starling. Cirl Bunting. Corn Bunting.

Rock Bunting – A couple of pairs around Fuente de and a singing male at the raptor watch point at Monfrague

Chaffinch. European Greenfinch. European Goldfinch. Eurasian Linnet. European Serin. Eurasian Bullfinch

Hawfinch – A group of 6 at Monfrague on the 29th May. House Sparrow. Spanish Sparrow – Small numbers seen daily around the plains

Tree Sparrow. Rock Sparrow – 4 at Villafafila on the 26th May. White-winged Snowfinch – 8 up the mountain on the 27th May

Other Stuff

Err, loads, but we couldn’t identify any of it

Alpine Newt



male Montpellier Snake? Actually Ladder Snake, thanks to Mike Grimes for reading this far!


Halford's new mobile car cleaner


Ocellated Lizard


Burnt Orchid


Rick n Dave. not actual width or height. Rick having recently displaced Tichodroma, Dave having recently misplaced Iberia.

And finally

Top quote of the week 

The turning is up here on the left or the right” - Thanks Dave. The application for the WRC co-driver job in the post yes?