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Birding Madrid & Castille-La Mancha September 1st-2nd 2016

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    Guide: Luis Sitges of Birding Trekking & Nature


    I went on a family holiday in late August 2016 to Madrid, a city I am now very fond of, due to the excellent birding both in and around the city, and surrounding countryside. My wife and daughter have the hotel pool and shopping in the Grand Via as their primary pursuits, which leaves me free to go birding in the city parks, of which there are several. It is often easier to see the birds here than out in the country as they are so used to people and the city environment.  

    Thursday 1st September: SW Madrid Province: Weather sunny/33⁰C Morning

    We left the hotel at 07:30 and drove to a wooded valley, situated SW of the city. The target species were Golden Eagle, Black Vulture and Spanish Imperial Eagle.  We parked at a car park beside a dam which provides fresh water to the city. The valley was covered in Pine and Holm Oak trees and in the morning sunlight provided a wonderful back drop to the lake. Tree Sparrow, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Redstart, Goldfinch, Lapwing, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Serin, Linnet, Grey Heron, Mallard, White Wagtail, Robin, Kingfisher, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Nuthatch, Rock Bunting, Willow Warbler and Red-rumped Swallow were seen as we walked along the edge of the lake. After 20 minutes a bird appeared on a ridge behind us, and Luis recognised immediately as a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle. The bird eventually landed on a pine tree across the valley, giving us excellent vies through the telescope. Then the first of several Black Vultures appeared over the woods, giving very close views of the bird. Only twenty minutes gone and we had all target species at close hand, amazing and more; two Golden Eagles joined the Vultures in a fly-past! It doesn’t get much better than this. Oh forgot to mention the Griffon Vultures, they were everywhere coming from all directions, presumably a food source was somewhere in the woods. Lastly a Bonelli’s Eagle made a brief appearance.

                               Sub-Adult Spanish Imperial Eagle                                    Black Vulture
                         Sub-Adult Spanish Imperial Eagle                                   Black Vulture

    We then headed on to our next site which was a picnic area beside a lake. Here we got excellent views of Azure-winged Magpie, Spotless Starling, Black Redstart, Redstart, Crested Tit and Grey Wagtail. A great morning’s birding so we stopped for lunch.

    Restarted at 14:30 but already we could see dark clouds gathering in the north west and headed to our last site of the day a Griffon Vulture colony which was close to a main road. Here we got superb views of adults and young together.

                          Adult Griffon Vultures                                     Juvenile Griffon Vulture 
                             Adult Griffon Vultures                                    Juvenile Griffon Vulture

    Friday 2 September: Castille-La Mancha: Sunshine 35⁰C and hot!

    An early start, we left Madrid at 07:30 and headed south for 100km, arriving at our first destination, just as the sun was rising to give some bright morning light. We encountered three Great Bustard at a considerable distance from the road but using the telescope, we got some excellent views.

                Great Bustard                     Little Bustard
                              Great Bustard                                            Little Bustard         

    Amazingly as we were watching the birds, two Little Bustard appeared out of the cropped field behind the Great Bustards, a good start to the day.  Continuing along the road a Marsh Harrier glided along the olive trees next to the road startling Crested and Short-toed Larks in the process, the Spotless Starlings weren’t that keen on hanging around either. A farmyard further on produced several Little Bustards feeding among the flock of sheep. A few kilometres along the same road, we came across a pair of Lesser Kestrel, sitting in the middle of a harrowed field. Obviously on migration, as the local colony we visited earlier had no birds present, long gone by now in early September.

    The next two sites we visited were a disappointment, due to lack of any surface water, although we did get a few birds, namely Hen Harrier, Turtle Dove, Short-toed Eagle and Yellow Wagtail ssp. iberiae.

    However the best was kept to the last, as we say in English, a reserve called Tablas de Daimiel National Park. This is a wetland on the La Mancha plain, a mainly arid area in the province of Ciudad Real. With an area of 3000 hectares, the park is the smallest of Spain’s fifteen national parks. It is a listed Ramsar Convention site and the core of the Biosphere reserve Mancha Humeda. The importance of the reserve was obvious on our trip; it was the only one with any degree of surface water. As we approached the reserve the first thing to strike you was the hundreds of Flamingo juveniles and adults in their glowing pink plumage.

                                              Adult Flamingo taking off
                                                                         Adult Flamingo taking off

    The number of birds on the marsh was staggering but one in particular stood out White-headed Duck, there were at least 100+ birds, I had never seen so many before in my entire life, as was present in this reserve.

                                       White-headed Duck flock     
                                                              White-headed Duck, a portion of the flock! 

    In two hours birding we saw a fantastic variety of birds, every moment there was something flying in or out of the reserve. Here is a synopsis of what was seen: Osprey, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron , Whiskered Tern, Whinchat, Willow Warbler, Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Turtle Dove, Ferruginous Duck, Booted Eagle, Woodchat Shrike, White Stork, Black-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Great-crested Grebe, Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Grey Wagtail, Purple Swamphen, Common Buzzard, Black-headed Gull, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Bittern, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail ssp. flava, Black-tailed Godwit, Red-crested Pochard, Stock Dove, Moorhen, Coot, Northern Pochard, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall.

                  Reed Warbler                     Purple Swamphen
                                        Reed Warbler                                   Purple Swamphen              
                     Ruddy Darter                    Emperor Dragonfly  
                         Ruddy  Darter                                Emperor Dragonfly 
              Glossy Ibis        Whinchat        Squacco Heron 
                   Glossy Ibis                     Whinchat                      Squacco Heron          


    Not only was the bird life amazing, but the insect life matched it, particularly the Dragonflies (although there were some insects you wished weren’t there): The Dragonflies were just amazing as they carried out their courtship display right in front of the hide. This is indeed the jewel in the crown of Castille-La Mancha’s reserves. As it was 200 km back to Madrid, we couldn’t stay as long as I would have liked as I had a plane to catch, early next morning

    Again my thanks to Luis for another  two wonderful days birding, as always he was great company and I would recommend Birding Trekking & Nature to anyone visiting Madrid for birding purposes.

               Spanish Imperial Eagle           Zitting Cisticola       Osprey       Adult Flamingo       Griffon Vulture
       Spanish Imperial Eagle  Zitting Cisticola         Osprey          Adult Flamingo            Griffon Vulture 
    Trip Report PDF version
    Trip List 22nd August - 2nd September (including Madrid area sightings)                          

    Ed. O’Hara: Lurgan, N.Ireland

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