Duke of Burgundy Success. May 2015.

Duke of Burgundy
 This was the day I hoped I would target one of my wanted species of butterflies, the Duke of Burgundy. The previous couple of years I had gone too late and missed out, so this year I went when it was definitely during it's mid flight period. My Dad joined me as he had never seen the Duke of Burgundy's either and had never seen Dingy and Grizzled Skipper so hoped to connect with these also. The weather was lovely and sunny as forecast and once we arrived it changed......the clouds rolled in and everyone on site said how wrong could they get a forecast, same old same old!
After the temperature rose a Dingy Skipper was found by a group of enthusiasts, at least we had close views of the Skipper and my Dad had at least had one new species.
 Duke of Burgundy
After some time and still no sign of any Duke's, I was pre-occupied with the many warblers calling and flitting around, with Blackcap calling and Whitethroats flying back and forth I was still enjoying the morning. Then the group further up the hill waved everyone in and sure enough shortly after I was looking down at my first Duke of Burgundy, what a lovely butterfly and smaller than I had envisaged, my Dad joined us a few seconds later and was staring at his second new butterfly species of the morning.
 Dingy Skipper
After a while the temperature rose and the sky did start to break. The butterflies started to awaken and we saw quite a few Dingy Skippers, before more Duke's started to appear. We ended up seeing 6 Duke of Burgundy's by the end of our trip so we were more than happy, but the day did not end there, we encountered just 2 Grizzled Skippers and one posed well enough for some photos and allowed us good close views. The only butterfly that had eluded us was the Green Hairstreak, we scoured a known area a few times but nothing and then as we were about to leave I noticed 2 butterflies high up in the tree next to us, and with some intense scanning we found one and was able to see the Green Hairstreak we were searching for. A successful and fantastic morning...one species down and Purple Emperor next....hopefully.
 Dingy Skipper
 Dingy Skipper
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
 Duke of Burgundy
Duke of Burgundy 
 Duke of Burgundy
 Dingy Skipper
  Grizzled Skipper
 Grizzled Skipper
Duke of Burgundy

Excellent Extramadura & Great Gredos. Spain 2015.

Day 1 Spain
Finally the time had arrived for our trip to Extramadura, Spain. I was joined by my wife Sarah and friend Jill. Our place of stay was to be with our friend Neil Renwick with a couple of nights away in the Gredos Mountains. The previous year the three of us had travelled to Extramadura in February to see the wintering Common Cranes, unfortunately the weather was awful with just the one clear day and the rest very wet indeed. So we were hoping for better weather this time around.....and on arrival at Madrid....dull and throwing it down. Not again we thought! But the thing with Spain is the abundance of birds regardless of the weather. So we were met by Neil at the airport and after a welcome drink we set off. The rain got a lot worse before we started to see any breaks in the weather and once out of the Madrid area we stopped at a roadside restaurant, already our list contained White Stork, Buzzard and other common species and now we could add Crested Lark from the car park! By the time we had finished our food and drinks the weather had indeed started to clear, we moved just a few hundred yards from the restaurant and parked up on a small roundabout, now the sun was out the raptors were starting to appear. And what a great spot it turned out to be.
 Short Toed Eagle
 Griffon Vulture
Black Kite
The first raptor to appear was a Griffon Vulture, followed by Black Kite and Booted Eagle, there was a new species in every direction, the birding was so exciting not knowing what would fly over next. We added Great spotted Cuckoo, Woodlark calling along with a calling Quail and then Lesser Kestrel, butterflies were numerous too with Painted Lady, Small White and Small Copper. After such a dramatic start we headed off towards Arrocampo.
 Arrocampo Reservoir

The rain had eased up and we only experienced a short shower or two, Arrocampo is a great place to bird, you can drive the car to the hides so we didn't have to worry about our luggage. There is such an abundance of species here, and we started to hear and see some real stunners. There were Black Kite and Purple Herons flying around and Lesser Kestrels hunting the field adjacent to us. Calling from the reed beds we had Savi's Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, the additions just kept coming along the more we scanned and watched the area, Purple Swamphen with young, Little Bittern calling from the reeds before it finally gave itself up for just seconds before disappearing, a stunning male bird. Neil then picked out a Ferruginous Duck before identifying Gull Billed Terns commuting from one stretch of water to the other.
 Lesser Kestrel
 Gull Billed Terns

Purple Heron
Waders included Common Sandpiper, and a few Black Winged Stilts

 Black Winged Stilts

Common Sandpiper
I didn't know what way to look next, there was so much to take in, and the birds just kept coming. Cattle Egrets passing in small groups, then a lone Great White Egret landed to feed.
 Cattle Egret
 Great White Egret
Raptors added now included Marsh Harrier and Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Black Vulture. Moving around the hides we saw Night Herons mixed in with the Egrets, song birds included Crested Lark, Cetti's Warblers, Chiffchaff and a Great Tit that decimating the local caterpillar population.
 House Sparrow
 Marsh Harrier
 Great Tit
 Black Kite
 Booted Eagle
 Black Vulture
Chiffchaff
What a fantastic start to the holiday, the fields also contained beautiful spreads of wild flowers, inter mixed colours of yellow, purple and white. The Vipers Bugloss seemed to be everywhere.

It was time to move on towards Neil's home, adding Woodchat Shrike and Azure winged Magpies as we approached his town. What a great first day, it felt so good to be back in Spain.

Day 2 Spain
After a fantastic but long day I was awoken early by the large congregation of House Sparrows that roost in Neil's garden, followed shortly thereafter by the local cockerels. Once up I was greeted by Neil's dog Kelly who was very excited to see new guests staying, a lovely morning cuppa and already from the garden the birding starts. With the sound of Hoopoe continuously calling the skies were alive with Swallow, Swift and House Martin. The plans for the day were a nice long walk with Kelly the dog and then head off for a picnic and venture around the Monfrague region, Monfrague is a wonderful area and was a highlight from last year, we couldn't wait to get back. First the walk.

The walks were to be a highlight every morning we ventured out, the abundance of different birds and wildlife is a world apart from home. No sooner had we started and I was looking skyward to identify the raptors already up and about, by far the most numerous were the Black Kites, everything else to me was a bonus.
 Egyptian Vulture
 Black Vulture
Spanish Marbled White
With plenty of wild flowers blooming, there was also a large number of butterflies around and knowing a lot would be new species for me I set about photographing as many as I could.
Green Striped White
Spanish Marbled White
 Brown Argus
 Small Heath
Hoopoe
The Hoopoes seemed to be everywhere, with upto 8 counted some days, and just within the outskirts of the town. The local sheep farmer would move the sheep and goat to a grazing area where they would be left to graze, these areas were full of song from the Crested Larks and Corn Buntings.

Leader of the Pack

 Crested Lark
 Crested Lark
Corn Bunting
Over the length of the trip Corn Bunting must of been the most numerous, they would be calling every few yards!
 Typical Spanish dehesa. Swathes of Vipers Bugloss brightened the fields. Raptors just kept passing over.
 Booted Eagle

Green Frog
One thing that you do notice is the calling frogs at all times of the day. Every water hole or pond would have frogs. At night the noise is so loud. And with a careful approach we sometimes caught glimpses of Terrapin turtles.
 Green Frog
 Green Frog
Green Frog
What a wonderful morning walk, so much to see. We headed home and after Neil sorted the picnic feast the Monfrague region was next on the agenda with stops wherever and whenever, there was always something to see all of the time.
Picnic stop and what a beautiful area Neil took us to. I love the Monfrague area and I know Sarah does too.
Black Stork
Whilst tucking into our lunch we saw Black Stork fly overhead, there were a few Azure winged Magpies present but they are always so elusive and flighty that this was the only shot I was able to get through the whole trip! Our background chorus whilst lunching was Serin and distant Nightingale, can't grumble with that.
 Azure Winged Magpie
 Griffon Vulture
The highlight of this area that brings in loads of tourists are the Vultures that sweep overhead, it is an experience that leaves you in awe, you cannot grasp how many birds are flying around and so close. The commoner bird is the Griffon Vulture, with the possibility of a handful of different raptors maybe making an appearance.
 Griffon Vulture
Griffon Vulture
 Spanish Imperial Eagle
And one raptor that gets everyone excited and staring up is the Spanish Imperial Eagle. We were lucky the year before to of seen a couple of these majestic birds and I never tire of watching them. This time around we connected once again.
 Spanish Imperial Eagle
Griffon Vulture
A quick downpour had us sheltering in a roadside hide, whilst the vultures continued to soar around.
Griffon  Vulture
 Griffon Vulture
 Monfrague Region
 Spanish Imperial Eagle
 Spanish Imperial Eagle
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Spanish Imperial Eagle
 Subalpine Warbler
Always elusive, I was lucky to snap this Subalpine, busily finding food.
Jill and I had good views of this butterfly, but being a paler colour than the UK species, I didn't realise it was a Speckled Wood until Neil informed me.
 Speckled Wood
Griffon Vultures
 Blue Rock Thrush
Wherever there is a rock face, there is a good possibility of Blue Rock Thrush, stunning bird.
 Monfrague
Egyptian Vulture
This is one of only a few nesting sites in the area for Egyptian Vulture, and it really blended in.
Bee-eaters
And after a spectacular afternoon it was time to move on but being in Extramadura it is never without new sights to see. We stumbled across a few Bee-eaters perched in a tree, and when they departed they were replaced with a Woodchat Shrike.
Red Deer
As we came around a bend we encountered this Red Deer only to be then confronted with a large flock of Bee-eaters and to top it off a Short Toed Eagle keeping watch over the proceedings, where else could you experience this!
 Short Toed Eagle
Bee-Eaters
 Short Toed Eagle
Short Toed Eagle
 Short Toed Eagle
 Black Kite
Our next stop was a bridge over a river where hopefully we would connect with a favourite species of mine. On arrival we were confronted with a low flying Black Kite swooping back and forth under the bridge trying to pick off birds. And then amongst the hundreds of Martins the Alpine Swifts appeared, they were so large against the other hirundines but by no means easy to try to photograph, I was happy to get anything.
 Alpine Swift
 Bonelli's Eagle
Then a distant raptor was identified by Neil as a Bonelli's Eagle, wow could the day get any better. It unfortunately kept it's distance but was still a welcomed addition and worthy of a celebratory drink.
 Bonelli's Eagle
Alpine Swift

Day 3 Spain
I once again awoke to the noise of House Sparrows and Cockerels, and as usual enthusiastically greeted by Kelly the dog. A morning cuppa with Neil and I was already surveying the birds from the garden. After breakfast we took Kelly for a walk and were greeted by the usual numerous birds on offer, with 5+ Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticola looking like they were being pulled up and down on a piece of string, overhead we had Griffon,Black and Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle along with Short Toed Eagle! and this was just from the outskirt of the town.
Once back from the walk we packed our overnight bags, today we were off to the Gredos Mountains for a couple of nights away...this was going to be exciting.
 We had quite a trek to get there and we would be stopping at numerous places that Neil knew we would encounter some great birds and wildlife...this was going to turn into an epic day for all of us.
As we headed through the Castile La Mancha region towards the Rio Tietar a most wanted species was joyously added to our list...Black Winged Kite. What a stunner and if that wasn't good enough 2 more joined the first...wow.
Black Winged Kite
Black Winged Kite
 Black Winged Kite
 Black Winged Kite
Black Winged Kite
All 3 were adult birds, luck really was on our side as in a previous known area we had drawn a blank. They drifted away leaving a few Bee-eaters present to add to the moment. Onward to the next stop at the Rio Tietar.
Neil stopped at a open area overlooking the river, one sound we were to hear seemingly everywhere was Nightingale, mind seeing them was another matter! At the river we encountered a Little Ringed Plover along with Grey and White Wagtails, we also found a male and female Beautiful Demoiselle of which I had never seen before, such lovely colours.
 Male Beautiful Demoiselle
Female Beautiful Demoiselle
We had now moved into the Castile y Leon region, with the temperature rising I had my window open, so alongside letting a cool breeze in it also enabled birds to be heard, and at a junction stop Neil heard Golden Oriole. A quick manoeuvre and we parked up just as 2 Golden Orioles landed in the tree infront, they gave themselves up a couple of times but were elusive, everyone was able to connect though and a brief search thereafter only gave up a lone White Stork feeding in a small field. We now started to climb up towards the Gredos.

Gaining height and entering wooded areas with waterfalls and streams, Neil stopped off at what was to be and excellent location for butterflies, there were so many different species flying around and beautiful scenery to match them.

With so many butterflies on the wing I didn't know what way to go! We had Scarce Swallowtail but that and a Swallowtail did not pause for a photograph, they merely flew on through.
 Spanish Festoon
This was my first target species to capture on camera, a Spanish Festoon, it was elusive and very flighty keeping down the sides of the gorge, but I managed a shot. What a stunning butterfly.
 Clouded Yellow
 Small White
 Brimstone
 Common Lizard
Wherever there was rock, then there was the chance of Lizards.
 Queen of Spain Fritillary
I did not identify this until reviewing my images, although badly damaged I was pleased to of identified it as a Queen of Spain Fritillary, another new species.
 Brimstone
Brimstone and Clouded Yellow were in good numbers.
Brown Argus
 Moroccan Orange Tip
This stunning Moroccan Orange Tip was one of a few present but they really were hard to get a photo of. No sooner had I seen one and started to approach, it would be harassed by another or other butterfly and head off the other way, so I felt fortunate to of grabbed these images. What a little beauty.
 Moroccan Orange Tip
 Red Tailed Lizard
This lizard was far too relaxed to be bothered to move as I photographed him.
 Speckled Yellow Moth
I didn't expect to get this moth in among the butterflies, I only identified it after returning home.
Clouded Yellow
And so it was onwards and upwards once again, getting closer to the Gredos mountains.
Mombeltran Castle
As we passed the Mombeltran Castle the skies above were full of Swifts, Swallows and Martins. We headed high up into the Puerto del Pico range, and what a view from up there, mind you it was a cold strong wind blowing through.


Firecrest
 On the way up we stopped to see what was on offer, and after watching a Booted Eagle and Common Buzzard both mobbing each other we then added Red Squirrel, Short Toed Treecreeper, Firecrest, Crested Tit and Grey Wagtail.
Common Whitethroat and Stonechat were ticked off but a bird refusing to give itself up when calling was probably a Subalpine. From here the road really climbed and twisted and we were on the look out for Spanish Ibex.
 Sure enough nearing the top we encountered our first Spanish Ibex, amazing how they can keep their balance on those steep slopes.
 The view from the top.

The image above shows the old Roman road that winds its way up the mountain.
Passing down the other side we continued to see lots of birds, pausing to identify a passing eagle as a Booted Eagle.
We were not far from our hotel, but first stopped at the Parador Hotel. Here we scanned the tree lined roads and soon picked out Crested Tit and 4 Bonelli's Warblers. Viewing the rear of the Hotel we found a small group of Citril Finches feeding along the path, how good is this place I thought with so much to see.
The time was now getting on and so we headed the short distance further to our hotel, The Hostal Almanzor. Follow this link to view the Hostal.
 http://www.hostalalmanzor.com/
With lovely views from the hotel room looking at the Gredos mountains we were all more than happy with our place of stay, and it only got better as we ventured to the rear of the hotel to their very own glass fronted hide overlooking a feeding station. Just feet from the window we had Rock Bunting and Rock Sparrow!! unreal, I knew I would be up early in the morning. What a day we had had, and to top it off a fantastic evening meal from Loli & Luis Alfonso and then listening to Snipe drumming and calling Scops Owl from your balcony.
Rock Sparrow

Day 4 Spain
Today I was up and early, quick dive in the bath and I was eager to spend an hour in the Hotel hide before breakfast. I knew the light was too dark first thing but I just could not resist getting into the hide and seeing what fantastic birds would show, and even if the quality of my photos weren't spot I didn't care I snapped away and would relive the moment whenever I looked at them. What a great place.
 Rock Sparrow
The Rock Sparrow's and Rock Bunting's were up early feeding on the grain and seed put out by Luis. What a start to the day, and it was just getting going.
Rock Bunting
Rock Sparrow
The Jays were scoffing the food put out and it was starting to disappear quickly.
 Jay
 Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
In this image you can make out the yellow colouring on the throat. By now I had been joined by Neil, and shortly thereafter Jill and Sarah. The fruit was then about to vanish rather quickly when a Red Squirrel decided to join the feeding party.

It promptly re-visited until the fruit was nearly all gone, stashed up in his tree out of sight. It was then time for breakfast, but I just had to revisit before we set off for the day.
 Crested Tit
Crested Tit
And I was glad I did go back as a Crested Tit mad a brief appearance, I was the only one in the hide at this time and by the time the others had returned it was long gone.
Crested Tit
 Rock Bunting
Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
With the usual birds still on show we then headed out front of the Hotel. Luis began to explain about his plans for the site and to increase the hides and wildlife viewing. We then entered the small wooded section that is part of the hotel to look at the Western Bonelli's Warblers that were so vocal and active here, there was around 4 birds calling and some were showing quite low down. This was a buzz being so close to such a lovely little bird, and one I had only seen once before in the UK.
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
Western Bonelli's Warbler
What a fantastic start to the day and it was now time to venture towards the Gredos Mountains for a few target species. But first we had been told of a location where there were Dippers that was on route so off we went.
 Navagredos
This was a campsite area with some lovely wooded areas around, really scenic and on arrival we had Black Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and Booted eagle over.
Red Squirrel
We encountered a couple of Red Squirrel on route, this one paused for a photo.
 Ocellated Lizard
The rocks had quite a few lizards basking on them, this Ocellated was the biggest being around 12 inches long, I had to bide my time for it to pop it's head out though.
Ocellated Lizard
We ventured into the woods and scanned the streams and eventually located a Dipper further upstream, we decided to return later as the weather was hot and sunny and we needed to get to the mountain top before it changed.


Spanish Ibex
 Nearing the top Neil had to stop due to a obstruction on the road!
 Iberian Yellow Wagtail
Once the Ibex had moved on we entered the car parking area, what a view and immediately we could see Rock Bunting, Iberian Yellow Wagtail near the mountain stream, and Crag Martins low overhead. I then spotted a single Ortolan Bunting which posed for a second or two then flew off, we hoped to encounter these again. Wow we were only just leaving the car park area!
 Ortolan Bunting
 Rock Bunting
As we climbed the mountain path, Rock Buntings were everywhere it seemed, this was a real favourite of mine by now, stunning bird.
Rock Bunting
Neil scoped a very distant Rock Thrush atop a adjacent mountain top, not great views but a new species to add to our list, fingers crossed for another one. We all then got onto a flock of birds crossing over the mountain range, and a species we didn't expect to see up here...Spoonbill!
 Spoonbill
This was a great sight to see and wondered how far and where they would end up?
We were now near the top area where we hoped to connect with Bluethroat although we didn't know how many if any were in the area. We spoke with a Spanish birder who proceeded to show us images of a Bluethroat on his camera, well at least there was one here. He then had us envious by showing a photo of a Rock Thrush taken near the car park! We weren't that lucky and wondered if we would connect with another obliging bird......well can this country get any more special? As we spoke a stunning Rock Thrush, as if following us for our benefit, landed a stones throw away! You could of been forgiven for thinking a swarm of bees were present...we were buzzing for sure, what a stunner!
 Rock Thrush
 Rock Thrush
 Rock Thrush
 Rock Thrush
Rock Thrush
After it departed the scene we set about looking for the Bluethroat. This was to be an elusive bird to find but it gave itself up on a couple of occasions and although distant and in a heavy heat haze we had connected with another stunner. Thereafter it seemed intent on keeping it's head down and we did not see it again, although there were other people in the area whom seemed to be searching for it, it preferred to keep hidden.
Bluethroat

Grizzled Skipper
Walking the tracks to the top we stumbled upon this Grizzled Skipper which was a nice addition. I then decided to spend some time photographing the group of Spanish Ibex not far away.
 Spanish Ibex
 Spanish Ibex
The Ibex were really confiding, the group I was watching contained around 15 or so, and I noticed a larger group of 60 plus moving down from an adjacent mountain side.
Spanish Ibex
 Spanish Ibex
 Spanish Ibex
They put their large horns to good use when needing a scratch.
Spanish Ibex
 Spanish Ibex
Spanish Ibex
 Sierra de Gredos
We started to head down the mountain, and I caught sight of a really pale Wheatear that had been keeping close to the top area, mind you most of the Wheatear looked very sun bleached up here.
 Northern Wheatear
 Iberian Emerald Lizards
A very slow approach was needed to get close to these Iberian Emerald Lizards, what lovely colours.
Iberian Emerald Lizard
Moving down the mountain provided more photographic opportunities.
 Rock Bunting
 Spanish Ibex

 Water Pipit
Nearing the bottom there were a few Water Pipits, they kept their distance though and seemed to be quarrelling with the other buntings presumably for territory.
 Ocellated Lizard
 Iberian Emerald Lizard
Water Pipit
Back in the car park and a pleasing sight were at least half a dozen Ortolan Buntings around. Along with the Rock Buntings they posed close enough to be photographed.
 Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
 Rock Bunting
 Rock Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
What a fantastic place this is, the variety of birds and so close at times, I shall not forget this place in a hurry I can tell you. We set off back towards the Dipper site and woodland near the Parador De Gredos Hotel for Citril Finch. 
Dipper
At the Dipper site a single bird gave itself up for a brief view before moving downstream so we headed to the woodlands for Citril Finch.
Citril Finch
Luis had told Neil of a favoured clearing for the finches and after a short time scanning we saw at least 3 birds. A excellent day that was packed with great birds, back to the Hotel Almanzor and perhaps a quick look in the hide! 
I was also looking forward to their Onion soup, "Oh my god the taste and the Cheese", I was a happy man, and I know everyone else was having a great time.
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker
A quick visit to the hide was quieter than normal.
 Jay
Jay
Rock Bunting
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker
After dinner we would all listen for the Scops Owls again.

Day 5 Spain.
It was time to leave the Hotel Almanzor this morning, I didn't want to leave and we could of easily stayed a week here, it was lovely. We had the previous night once again listened to Scops Owl, Neil reckoned about 4/5 individual birds! I know I awoke early (4am) and continued to listen to the closest one, next to the hotel, until just before 7am!
 Views from the balcony at Hostal Almanzor, what a sight, I didn't want to leave, but there was compensation in that we were going back to stay at Neil's and we still had some good birding ahead of us, and we missed our morning walks with Kelly.
After breakfast we said our goodbyes to Luis and could not resist another visit to his grounds, well I couldn't should I say, there were Bonelli's Warblers calling and showing, worth one more go before heading off.
 Serin
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
 Western Bonelli's Warbler
Western Bonelli's Warbler
Western Bonelli's Warbler
Western Bonelli's Warbler
It was only a short journey up the road to our next stop, we decided to talk a leisurely walk through the woods behind the Parador de Gredos Hotel and try for the Citril Finches one more time before returning to Extramadura. There were plenty of Short Toed Treecreeper about but no sooner had one landed and I raised my camera to get a shot, it would disappear behind the trunk! I managed just one record shot!
Short Toed Treecreeper
We only managed to get a glimpse of Citril Finch but heard them right near we had left the car!
It was a really nice leisurely walk and it turned up an unexpected treat when I found a male Pied Flycatcher in the trees. A brief encounter with a Oil Beetle and we headed back to the car to venture back towards Extramadura region and a stop at the heights of the Valle del Jerte.
 Monument in woods near Parador de Gredos
 Oil Beetle
Lovely View

Puerto de Tornavacas
Valle del Jerte
Looking down the valley to the Cherry growing district, what a view and once again Neil had taken us to a gem of a spot, right next to the main route through, but it was alive with things to see.
 Subalpine Warbler
An elusive but vocal Subalpine  gave itself up a few times but never long enough for a close shot.
 Subalpine Warbler
 Holly Blue
This little hotspot had loads of insects on offer to be seen.
 Tiger Beetle
 Queen of Spain Fritillary
Another Q of S Fritillary of the trip and this one showed well with complete wings this time.
 Bath White
This Bath White was a first, so I was glad to clinch a photo. We ventured to the highest region that was accessible and added Woodlark and Ortolan and Rock Buntings along with some orchids which we were not sure on the name.


Forester Moth
This was a first for me.
Ortolan Bunting
Had these 2 Buntings followed us??
 Rock bunting
Ocellated Lizard
Where there's rock there's Lizards.
 Ocellated Lizard
Small Copper
View down the Valle Del Jerte
What a view looking down into the valley. We moved on down and deeper into this Cherry growing region, with its terraced hills it was a very scenic journey. Winding our way back towards home we once again ventured into the Monfrague region, stopping to scan areas when we could. Arriving at The Rock as it were, we managed to get a space as it was very busy, who can blame people for wanting to turn up, some no doubt time and time again, the skies were alive with vultures.
Egyptian Vulture
At least 3 Egyptian Vultures were on show and ventured lower than I have normally seen them, they circled around the peaks mingling with the many vultures now coming into roost as the day was nearing an end.
Griffon Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Sarah demanded I put the camera down and just take in the spectacle that was unveiling overhead. One quick shot to capture that moment and then I too stood and stared in awe.
Vulture Spectacle
Griffon Vultures
Black Stork
A Black Stork put in a brief but low appearance.
Incoming Griffon Vultures
 Egyptian Vulture
Black Vulture
The sun had taken it's toll again and so we headed off for some dinner, and to meet up once again with Kelly. From the Gredos to Monfrague another truly epic day. 

Day 6 Spain.
The days were flying by sadly, back at Neil's it was breakfast in the garden again, distant Hoopoe and Sparrows calling welcomed me as I was noisily and happily greeted by Kelly the dog, so pleased to see everyone once awake, especially when Sarah was up and ready as she and Kelly had their morning rough and tumble. Another lovely morning walk for Kelly was order of the day after breakfast before we then changed direction and visited the steppes for some new birds.
 Spanish Sparrows
This large flock of Spanish Sparrows were watched enthusiastically as they fed in the crop fields, the males are such a stunning Sparrow.
Spanish Sparrows
Sardinian Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
The walk produced some lovely birds and butterflies as per norm, and a close encounter with a Sardinian Warbler was very nice, even managing a shot or two as it searched for caterpillars.
Bee-eaters
You would always hear Bee-eaters but if they were high and flying then you would hardly ever pick them out, so this pair in a bush was a welcome sight and below what appeared to be a nesting hole.

 Brown Argus
 Small White
Female Broad Bodied Chaser
There were a lot of Broad Bodied Chasers flying along the track verges, unfortunately no males though.
Painted Lady
Most days we would see Painted Lady, maybe another good year in the UK is on the cards?
Woodchat Shrike
One bird I wanted to get a close shot of was the Woodchat Shrike, but they were always atop a bush too far off, it was great to hear their songs though as I have that as a message alert on my mobile, so to actually hear it in person was cool.
Woodchat Shrike
 Painted Lady
Spanish Marbled White
 Oil Beetle
we saw plenty of Oil Beetles crossing the tracks. Touching one of these would give a nasty reaction. In defence it gives off an oily substance. The alternative name ‘Blister Beetle’  derives from the effect the liquid can have on a person’s skin; contact may cause skin to blister and will be extremely painful if it makes contact with your eyes.
 Dehesa
 Local calf
The local cattle were always curious, probably as they don't see many people out where we were, and the fact that Kelly would scrutinise them from the gate!
Local cattle
 Thekla Lark
This Thekla shows the heavier streaking on the breast compared to Crested, and the smaller deeper bill.
Calandra Lark
There were numerous Calandra Larks, flying up from the cover of the grass fields they would burst into song, and mimic quite a few different bird species too!
 Zitting Cisticola
Every now and again the Zitting Cisticola's would drop from the sky and perch up for a short time, proving they weren't attached to a piece of string in the sky.
 Crested Lark
With a slow and careful approach the Crested Larks were quite approachable, notice the fainter streaking on the breast (above) and the longer curved bill.
Crested Lark
We were also lucky enough to see a snake unwind itself from a basking position in a bush and disappear through a stone wall, it was quite a size too and when back at Neil's we confidently identified it in his books as a Montpellier's snake.
With the picnic box sorted and Kelly settled we then headed out to the steppes, here I hoped to see Montagu's Harrier.
On leaving the town Neil stopped to check on some Orchids along the roadside verge that he had seen previously. Not being able to locate any, past their flowering period, I noticed a butterfly not familiar with myself and so I jumped into action and managed to get a shot before it carried on down the road. Back in the UK I found it to be a Iberian Knapweed Fritillary, what a stunner.
 Iberian Knapweed Fritillary
Spanish Steppes
Not too many trees, I had to photograph this one for Mark Brandon back in the UK.
As we approached Neil's planned picnic stop we indeed encountered our first Montagu's harrier, a female high up. At our stop we viewed a female Wheatear and distant Montagu's as well as many Black Kites, nearly double figures all together. Our eyes then turned skyward as raptors seemed to be approaching in numerous groups, mostly vultures but one moving overhead caused us to move a tad more swiftly to get onto... a juv Bonelli's Eagle.
Bonelli's Eagle mobbed by a Black Kite
Bonelli's Eagle mobbed by a Black Kite
The size of this eagle was immense and how lucky to of got it so low down in the sky. It was mobbed at one point by a Black Kite which looked small to say the least up against this giant.
Booted Eagle Juv
 Female Montagu's Harrier
 Spanish Steppes
Moving along to another stop off point we encountered a handful of Montagu's in one field and stopped to watch these for some time.
Black Kites
 Male Montagu's Harrier
Mating Montagu's Harriers
Sarah and I strolled away from the car along a track and viewed the Harriers from another vantage point, here we witnessed a pair mating.

Female Montagu's Harrier
What a backdrop!
And in addition we added distant Great Bustard and calling Little Bustard.
Female Montagu's Harrier
 Essex Skipper
This Skipper was an unexpected find in the long grasses, and as always a Crested Lark was never far away.
Crested Lark
It was time to move on towards Trujillo for the cheese festival and a stop off for dinner at La Sonata.
 Overlooking Trujillo
The cheese festival was buzzing, there were so many people there, also being a Holiday for them boosted the numbers. It was lovely to be back in Trujillo again, we had stayed there the year before and enjoyed it. We walked around the town and then visited Luby at La Sonata for our evening dinner, Paella yum yum.....
It was nice to once again meet up with Luby and it was as always an enjoyable evening and great food.
 Trujillo
White Stork
Trujillo
All that remained after dinner was an evening walk around Neil's home town with Kelly.
And once home and ready for our walk we were met at the door by a Natterjack Toad!
Natterjack Toad

Day 7 Spain.

 Hoopoe
Sarah and I took Kelly for her morning walk today. The usual abundance of birds lined the walk. Then it was time to head back off out into the Steppes and afterwards to Caceres. On route we were extremely lucky to see a flock of Black Bellied Sandgrouse fly past the car and drop down further infront of us, but despite searching they had vanished in a dip out of sight.
 Male Montagu's Harrier
 Male Montagu's Harrier
The Harriers once again put on a good show and seemed a lot closer, the only trouble being the heat haze which rendered a lot of my images unusable. Once again we picked out Great Bustard and Little Bustard distantly. The Little Bustard call giving great amusement!
 Male Montagu's Harrier
The Montagu's were so graceful and lovely to watch.
 Female Montagu's Harrier
 Female Montagu's Harrier
Neil headed us further towards Caceres, with an all important search for Roller.
 Roller
And what a fruitful search it turned out to be, with 14 Roller's seen by the end of the day. Such a stunning bird and so colourful. Sarah and I had been lucky to connect with the bird that turned up in Norfolk in 2013, but this was something else to see them up closer.
Roller
 Corn Bunting
Obviously we couldn't drive 50 yards without encountering a Corn Bunting!
 Roller
 Roller
 Roller
 Lesser Kestrel
A few Lesser Kestrel had taken up residence in the nesting boxes.
 Zitting Cisticola
 Zitting Cisticola
 Zitting Cisticola
 Calandra Lark
We moved to a slightly higher vantage point for something to eat, a place we had visited the year before except this time we didn't have to angle the car so the rain kept out! This was the time I came closest to Calandra Lark for a half decent image, and shortly before, whilst we had been busy watching other birds Neil had been scouring the fields for Short Toed Lark.
 Short Toed Lark
And would you believe it, luck on our side, as we neared our picnic stop point, I saw a couple of Larks feeding along a field edge next to the car and the shout of "Short Toed Lark" went up!
 Short Toed Lark
Unbelievable to of found these in all of the fields surrounding us, and a first for me made this a special bird of the day.
Short Toed Lark
Short Toed Lark
Short Toed Eagle
Coffee and snack time and once again we were straining our necks as overhead a Juv Short Toed Eagle flew over. You could be forgiven for waking up thinking the day before's birding was a dream! Not out here.
 Short Toed Eagle
Roller
Time to move onto Caceres and a look around the town.
Caceres
This was a lovely old town, I loved walking around the old cobbled streets.
 Caceres
 Lesser Kestrel
Overhead were swarms of Swifts, and Lesser Kestrels mixed in. The Lesser Kestrels used any nesting place available.
Caceres
 Caceres
So quaint are these narrow walkways and streets. We worked our way to the top then down towards the square for some refreshments.
 Caceres
Caceres
It was a fantastic feeling as the Swifts screamed past you at head height along the narrow streets. We stood for some time just watching them coming and going to their nesting holes built into the stone walls right next to us. A great moment.
 Caceres
 Caceres
 Caceres
 Caceres
Caceres Plaza
Venturing into the main square we found somewhere to stop for food and drink, this was relaxing just watching the world go by. Then the sound of drumming and people gathering drew our attention to a procession of youngsters carrying a flower covered box. Neil asked what it was for but the staff at the restaurant were not aware as they have so many religious festivals here and if they are not informed as to what each one is they are in the dark! It made the trip more eventful anyway, and we finished up taking a stroll around the shop lined streets.
 Religious Festival
Caceres
Caceres
Caceres
Back on the road and we headed back through the Steppes towards Neil's home. But as we were in Extremadura it wasn't to be a boring journey.
Roller
We journeyed back past the Roller nest boxes and indeed got some more obliging views. A couple of them had caught large centipede's, swallowing them looked a feat in itself!
Roller
Centipede done!
 Roller
Centipede wind!
Roller
Content!
 Black Kite
Little Owl
Chilling in the setting sun.
 Male Montagu's Harrier
We only saw a couple of Montagu's on the journey home.
 Little Bustard
Whilst searching for the Harriers a welcomed bonus were a few Little Bustard's that took flight among some cattle. Although we heard them calling, what seemed to be right next to the car, we did not see anymore, but once again their call brought some amusement to the journey back.
Little Bustard
That night after dinner we ventured out with Kelly and visited the local bar for a drink and my first Churros with chocolate, I also got to practise my Spanish a bit, this was a lovely experience but knowing tomorrow was our last day made it sad also, as we headed home after a few drinks we heard the obligatory Scops owl and an unusual bird calling overhead which was later identified by Neil as a Little Owl! not your usual call you are used to, this was more like a duck!

Day 8 Spain.
Our final day and nobody wanted it to end, Kelly knew something was up and seemed quieter than normal.
Kelly
 Our last breakfast outside.
I set about taking some photos of Neil's garden, such a transformation from the previous year.
 House Sparrow feeding area.
And say cheese!

Sarah & Neil
The poppies hadn't been out before we travelled to The Gredos mountains, such vibrancy now though.
The Sparrow Roosting Tree, and my alarm clock every morning.
The Goldfinches were nesting somewhere in the garden, Neil did find it once we had returned to the UK.
 Goldfinch
 Veg patch and "The Throne"
Goldfinch
 Sadly our final morning walk
We set off for our last walk straight after breakfast, the Hoopoe's were calling and flying around. A Black Kite was sat on one of the stone walls as we started along the track, it was joined by another later on and both put on a great display tussling in the air.
 Black Kite
Holly Blue
I kept an eye out for any new species of butterfly but didn't come across any, I was more than happy with the species on show though.
Green Striped White
 Thekla Lark
A pair of Thekla Lark were very showy and allowed me a very close one on one session.
Thekla Lark
 Thekla Lark
Time for a drink
It was warming up quick and Kelly was in need of some refreshments and whenever she paused she if was treat time too.
 Treat Time
 Wheatear
We found another Wheatear on the outskirts, we heard Bee-eater but they were high in the sky and we couldn't pick them out, which is weird considering how colourful they are.
 Goldfinch & Stonechat
Green Frog
We stopped at the town pond and looked at the Green Frogs and found a couple of terrapins which Neil wasn't aware of them being there, as soon as we approached they vanished mind you. And as we stayed for a while longer Neil set off home to settle Kelly in before we left to bird our way to the airport.
Time to go home Kelly.
Sarah, Jill and I worked our way back to Neil and set about packing our stuff into the car, we had a picnic stop planned and some places to look for perhaps some different species.
Locust
But first we said farewell to little Kelly before departing.
 On the road again and we stopped near Jaraicajo at the Rio Almonte. Here I watched Red Rumped Swallows collecting mud with House Martins, Nightingales were calling right near the car but typically we couldn't see any.
 Red Rumped Swallow & House Martins
Red Rumped Swallows & House Martins
Not far away and we stopped where unfortunately we didn't encounter Western Orphean Warbler, that would of been good, instead we were very happy to watch Dartford Warblers at close quarters. There was a young bird with the adults, keeping them busy finding it food.
Dartford Warbler
 Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler
 Dartford Warbler Juv
Common Heath moth
French Lavender
The Lavender here was stunning, a carpet of purple all over.
It was time to move onto our picnic spot a short distance away at the Arroyo de la Vid. As soon as we pulled up the Nightingales were what seemed within touching distance, could we see them though...no.
We eventually picked a couple out and all had views finally! This was a great little spot and we soon had plenty of birds around as well as passing over, including Black Storks, 14+ Bee-eaters, a huge mass of Swifts that had everyone staring in awe. On the ground though we clocked up another fantastic species...a Melodious Warbler! This was a first for me and what a bright and colourful bird too, unreal to be getting such good stuff on the way to the airport no less!
 Melodious Warbler
Melodious Warbler
Wild Flowers Everywhere
 Arroyo de la Vid
 A pair of Red Rumped Swallows gave the right runaround trying to get a photo, but I managed a half decent couple of shots in the end, they seemed to know I was trying to snap them and they came closer and circled me as if to tease!
Red Rumped Swallow
 Red Rumped Swallow
Red Rumped Swallow
Thereafter we added a Sparrowhawk which apparently is not very common there and Neil maybe sees one a year! so at least he now had his quota for that species.
It was then the motorway towards Madrid and after a stop for food we were ready to depart.
Thanks to great company, a great friend and guide, great weather and great birds this had been undoubtedly one of the most memorable holidays. I was sad to leave that's for sure, it had been terrific, the people of Spain had been terrific, everything had been terrific.
I can't wait to return.
Thanks Neil (and Kelly).