Crossbill Guides: Extremadura - Spain First print: 2006 Second, revised print: 2011 Third print: 2013 Fourth, revised and expanded print: 2019 Initiative, text and research: Dirk Hilbers Additional research and information: Henk Zweers, Godfried Schreur, Kim Lotterman, Constant Swinkels, Gino Smeulders, Gisela Radant Wood Editing: John Cantelo, Brian Clews, Jack Folkers, Kim Lotterman, Albert Vliegenthart Illustrations: Chris Braat, Horst Wolter Maps: Dirk Hilbers Type and image setting: Oscar Lourens Print: Drukkerij Tienkamp, Groningen ISBN 978-94-91648-182 This book is printed on paper of FSC and PEFC certified sources.
ÂŠ 2019 Crossbill Guides Foundation, Arnhem, The Netherlands All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by print, photocopy, microfilm or any other means without the written permission of the Crossbill Guides Foundation.
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CROSSBILL GUIDES FOUNDATION This guidebook is a product of the non-profit foundation Crossbill Guides. By publishing these books we want to introduce more people to the joys of Europeâ€™s beautiful natural heritage and to increase the understanding of the ecological values that underlie conservation efforts. Most of this heritage is protected for ecological reasons and we want to provide insight into these reasons to the public at large. By doing so we hope that more people support the ideas behind nature conservation. For more information about us and our guides you can visit our website at: WWW.CROSSBILLGUIDES.ORG
highlights of extremadura
Highlights of Extremadura
Visit Monfragüe and see the rugged landscapes, the many vultures and other birds (routes 1-3).
Follow the old tracks and trails through the mountains of La Vera and Las Villuercas (routes 9-16).
Footpath in La Vera
Go birdwatching in the steppes of Cáceres or La Serena (route 6, 7 and 23).
4 Cork Oak dehesa
Explore the dehesa – the unique and birdrich oak groves of Extremadura (routes 1, 5, 6, 9, 18, 21).
highlights of extremadura
Stroll along the banks of the Almonte or other rivers, and discover a wealth of wildflowers, reptiles and amphibians (e.g. route 1, 6, 7).
Go Crane watching in the winter time and be amazed at how green Extremadura can be (route 5, 18, 22).
Visit one of the calcareous outcrops and enjoy the wealth of orchids and other wildflowers (routes 1, 20, 21).
Visit the ancient cities of CĂĄceres, Trujillo, MĂŠrida or Guadalupe and marvel at the historic buildings and lively Extremaduran culture.
Trujillo by night
about this guide
About this guide This guide is meant for all those who enjoy being in and learning about nature, whether you already know all about it or not. It is set up a little differently from most guides. We focus on explaining the natural and ecological features of an area rather than merely describing the site. We choose this approach because the nature of an area is more interesting, enjoyable and valuable when seen in the context of its complex relationships. The interplay of different species with each other and with their environment is astonishing. The clever tricks and gimmicks that are put to use to beat life’s challenges are as fascinating as they are countless. Take our namesake the Crossbill: at first glance it’s just a big finch with an awkward bill. But there is more to the Crossbill than meets the eye. This bill is beautifully adapted for life in coniferous forests. It is used like scissors to cut open pinecones and eat the seeds that are unobtainable for other birds. In the Scandinavian countries where Pine and Spruce take up the greater part of the forests, several Crossbill species have each managed to answer two of life’s most pressing questions: how to get food and avoid direct competition. By evolving crossed bills, each differing subtly, they have secured a monopoly of the seeds produced by cones of varying sizes. So complex is this relationship that scientists are still debating exactly how many different species of Crossbill actually exist. Now this should heighten the appreciation of what at first glance was merely a plump bird with a beak that doesn’t close properly. Once its interrelationships are seen, nature comes alive, wherever you are. To some, impressed by the virtual familiarity that television has granted to the wilderness of the Amazon, the vastness of the Serengeti or the sublimity of Yellowstone, European nature may seem a puny surrogate, good merely for the casual stroll. In short, the argument seems to be that if you haven’t seen a Jaguar, Lion or Grizzly Bear, then you haven’t seen the “real thing”. Nonsense, of course. But where to go? And how? What is there to see? That is where this guide comes in. We describe the how, the why, the when, the where and the how come of Europe’s most beautiful areas. In clear and accessible language, we explain the nature of Extremadura and refer extensively to routes where the area’s features can be observed best. We try to make Extremadura come alive. We hope that we succeed.
how to use this guide
How to use this guide This guidebook contains a descriptive and a practical section. The descriptive part comes first and gives you insight into the most striking and interesting natural features of the area. It provides an understanding of what you will see when you go out exploring. The descriptive part consists of a landscape section (marked with a red bar), describing the habitats, the history and the landscape in general, and of a flora and fauna section (marked with a green bar), which discusses the plants and animals that occur in the region. The second part offers the practical information (marked with a purple bar). A series of sites and routes (walks and car drives) are carefully selected to give you a good flavour of all the habitats, flora and fauna that Extremadura has to offer. At the start of each route description, a number of icons give a quick overview of the characteristics of each route. These icons are explained in the margin of this page. The final part of the book (marked with blue squares) provides some basic tourist information and some tips on finding plants, birds and other animals. There is no need to read the book from cover to cover. Instead, each small chapter stands on its own and refers to the routes most suitable for viewing the particular features described in it. Conversely, descriptions of each route refer to the chapters that explain more in depth the most typical features that can be seen along the way. In the back of the guide we have included a list of all the mentioned plant and animal species, with their scientific names and translations into German and Dutch. Some species names have an asterix (*) following them. This indicates that there is no official English name for this species and that we have taken the liberty of coining one. We realise this will meet with some reservations by those who are familiar with scientific names. For the sake of readability however, we have decided to translate the scientific name, or, when this made no sense, we gave a name that best describes the speciesâ€™ appearance or distribution. Please note that we do not want to claim these as the official names. We merely want to make the text easier to follow for those not familiar with scientific names. An overview of the area described in this book is given on the map on page 15. For your convenience we have also turned the inner side of the back flap into a map of the area indicating all the described routes. Descriptions in the explanatory text refer to these routes.
7 car route
beautiful scenery history
interesting geology interesting flora interesting invertebrate life interesting reptile and amphibian life interesting birdlife visualising the ecological contexts described in this guide
table of contents
Table of contents Landscape Geographical overview Geology and climate Habitats Dehesa Streams, rivers and reservoirs Steppes Low mountains – Mediterranean forest and cliffs The high Mountains History Nature conservation
11 12 16 21 23 37 42 48 55 62 70
Flora and Fauna Flora Mammals Birds Reptiles and amphibians Insects and other invertebrates
77 80 93 97 1 13 119
Practical Part Routes in Cáceres Province Route 1: Monfragüe NP round trip Route 2: The castle of Monfragüe Route 3: Cerro Gimio and the Malvecino stream Route 4: Embalse de Arrocampo Route 5: Cuatro Lugares Route 6: The plains between Trujillo and Cáceres Route 7: Steppes of Belén Route 8: Sierra de Montánchez Route 9: Sierra de las Villuercas Route 10: The ancient chestnuts of Castañar de Ibor Route 11: Walking to the Aguijón mine Route 12: Sierra de Gata – Castillo de Almenara Route 13: Las Hurdes – Chorro del Chorrituero Route 14: Traslasierra - from Valle de Jerte to Ambroz Route 15: Garganta de los Infiernos Route 16: Garganta de Jaranda and El Trabuquete Additional sites in Cácares province
127 128 130 137 142 145 149 154 159 162 166 173 176 179 182 186 193 197 202
table of contents
Badajoz Province Route 17: A walk through Mérida Route 18: Moheda Alta Route 19: Sierra de San Pedro Route 20: Sierra de Alor Route 21: Between Zafra and Jerez de los Caballeros Route 22: Sierra Grande de Hornachos Route 23: The vast steppes of La Serena Route 24: Benquerencia and the Sierra de Tiros Additional sites in Badajoz Province
9 210 212 216 219 222 225 231 235 240 243
Tourist information and observation tips 251 Birdwatching list 265 Acknowledgements 272 Picture and illustration credits 273 Species list and translation 274 List of text boxes Extremadura, what’s in a name? Geology of Extremadura in six maps Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara The aesthetics of the dehesa A unique form of land use The cycle of the dehesa Products of the dehesa Birds and the puzzle of the original vegetation A shepherd’s tale La Matanza Transhumance: forgotten practice, forgotten culture Nature versus the environment The oaks of Extremadura Rockroses: a Mediterranean delight The return of the Iberian Lynx Extremadura’s special bird species The lost family of the Azure-winged Magpie Crested or Thekla’s Lark?
12 18 21 26 29 30 34 52 60 65 68 74 87 89 96 98 103 104
Paradise. That is the shortest description of Extremadura in spring. Old, majestic oaks in a rolling green carpet of pasture. Little lambs frolicking through endless orchards, their mothers standing knee-deep in wildflowers. In the pools, happy black pigs are up to their bellies in mud. Little ribbons of white flowers dangle from their snouts. A stork glides down to its nest on an old church, where it is greeted by its partner and the rest of the stork community, numbering a dozen or more. Welcome to Extremadura, where the partnership between People and Nature still seems harmoneous. Extremadura is a remote region in western Spain, bordering Portugal. Its rugged and infertile soil kept it on the periphery of civilisation for a long time. It was scorned by the Spanish and disregarded by the rest of the world. But this attitude has taken a 180-degree turn since eco-tourism became in vogue. And with good reason, for the region has great things in store for all sorts of travellers, both domestic and foreign. If you enjoy birdwatching, Extremadura offers you skies filled with eagles and vultures, and steppes alive with bustards and sandgrouse. If you love to search for beautiful flora, the extravagant number of Mediterranean wildflowers will dazzle you, especially in the mountains. In the endless orchards and along the flower-fringed streams youâ€™ll find yourself in the Garden of Eden. Nearby rocky mountain slopes and merciless steppes show a beauty of a more rugged kind. Remote regions invite you for a hike, and in the evening, you can quietly enjoy a wonderful meal in an old plaza while watching the geckos hunt around the streetlights attached to medieval houses and palaces. Extremadura is a rollercoaster for every nature lover not only astonishing in its diversity but also in its genesis. If you have come to see a wilderness without a trace of human influence, you have chosen the wrong spot. The majority of Extremaduraâ€™s valuable natural areas evolved through the interaction between the land and its inhabitants. This makes the region into a must-see example of the way nature and culture can enhance each other. This nature guide will introduce you to the natural splendours of this beautiful region, explain the mechanisms behind them, and direct you to the best places to witness it all for yourself.
There are few landscapes as picturesque as the Extremaduran dehesa in spring.
Extremadura, what’s in a name? If you read the general introduction of this book, it is hard to believe that ‘Extrema-dura’ is Spanish for ‘extremely harsh’. People unfamiliar with the region often have images in mind of dusty plains, deserted and desertified. They are utterly astonished when they see the greenness of the area. Expecting to find a desert, they stumbled upon an oasis instead. The origin of the name ‘Extremadura’ does not refer to the harsh climate, which is strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, and is thus more humid than parts of central and eastern Spain. Nor does it come from the bad soils. Rather, it is a corruption of the Latin Extrema Dorii, meaning the extreme (other side) of the Duero. In other words, it refers to its location south of the Río Duero. The same goes for the Portuguese region Estremadura, which should not be confused with the Spanish Extremadura. During the Reconquista, the term became a reference to Moorish lands south of Castile, so the lands outside (extremo de, in Spanish) of the Kingdom of León. Today, the name Extremadura is often synonym for a mocked, backward, forgotten and exploited part of Spain. But as such it is a burden carried with pride, as testified by the Plasencia rock band Extremoduro, which’ song Extremayduro is all about how the world looks down on Extremadura.
The three faces of Extremadura: Holm Oak dehesa (top), steppe (centre), and the mountains (bottom).
Extremadura is an autonomous region in southwestern Spain. To the south, the region gives way to the sparsely populated Sierra Morena of Andalucía. The northern border coincides with the high-altitude mountains of the Sistema Central, a large mountain range that effectively cuts the country in two and is referred to as the backbone of Spain. The highest part of the Sistema Central is the Sierra de Gredos, just northeast of Extremadura, where Pico Almanzor reaches 2592 metres. The Extremaduran part of the Gredos mountains is known as La Vera, where peaks are still in excess of 2,000 metres. The wide valley of the Jerte river separates La Vera (in the east) from TraslaSierra (west) which in turn gives way to the lowland area of the Valle del Ambroz, before rising again in the mountainous areas of Las Hurdes and Sierra de Gata, with peaks rising up to 1,400 metres. North of these mountains, outside of Extremadura, lies the northern meseta (upland plateau) of Castilla-León. Spain’s southern meseta is divided into two by the Sierra de Guadalupe, of which the Sierra de las Villuercas are a part. With peaks just reaching 1,700 metres, las Villuercas forms the eastern border of Extremadura, and
effectively places the region on the western part of the southern meseta. The plains of Extremadura are at about 400 metres much lower than those further east and north, giving rise to a climate, flora and fauna with a distinct Mediterranean-Atlantic character and therefore often called the Lusitanian region (see page 78). Extremadura is a large region of 41,602 km2, roughly the size of Switzerland. It is, with little over one million inhabitants, only sparsely populated. Nevertheless, one could qualify Extremadura as an urban society. Nearly all extremeĂąos, as the residents of Extremadura are called, live in tight
Opposite page: Overview of Extremadura. The numbers refer to the routes from page 128 onwards. The blue letters are sites in Cáceres Province (pages 202-209); the red are sites in the province of Badajoz (pages 243-249).
villages and towns, leaving large regions uninhabited, except from a loose scatter of large farmsteads called fincas. Villages can be over 30 kilometres apart. The in-between areas take the form of empty steppes, vast dehesas (oak orchards, see page 23) and rough mountain ranges. The autonomous region of Extremadura consists of two provinces: Badajoz in the south and Cáceres in the north. The routes and sites in the second half of this book are also divided per province: Cáceres is treated on page 128 to 209, while page 210 to 249 are dedicated to Badajoz. Two large rivers drain Extremadura. Both flow from east to west but are very different in character. The Tagus (Tajo) drains most of Cáceres Province. It has steep and rocky margins and is dammed over its entire length, effectively making it a string of reservoirs. Important tributaries of the Tagus are the Jerte, Tiétar, Almonte and Alagón rivers. The Tagus reaches the Atlantic near Lisbon. In Badajoz Province, the Guadiana is the defining river. It enters the province in the scarcely populated east where there are several very large reservoirs, but further west it becomes a sluggish river that flows through a large, fertile lowland. Extremadura’s capital Mérida lies on the banks of the Guadiana, as does the region’s largest town, Badajoz, which is on the Portuguese border. From there on, the Guadiana turns south and roughly remains on or close to the border until it reaches the Atlantic. The Guadiana is shallow with lots of islands, riverine forests and reedbeds, which collectively forms Extremadura’s largest wetland. With the exception of the Guadiana valley and, just south of it, the region of Los Barros, Extremadura has a poor and rocky soil. The Variscan bedrock (see geology chapter) is never far below the surface so there hardly is any soil. This is a defining characteristic of Extremadura – the poor soils and hot Mediterranean climate make the extensive pasture-woodlands known as dehesas (see page 23) the most successful type of land use. This landscape is renowned for its wildlife. Everywhere in this rolling lowlands there are low and rocky sierras which are the result of folding of the old strata in ancient tectonic movements. This combination of warm and rocky ranges, alternating with rolling pastureland and narrow engorged river valleys are what give Extremadura its unique landscape. The beating heart of Extremadura (from a naturalist’s point of view) is Monfragüe National Park (routes 1, 2 and 3) between the towns of Plasencia, Cáceres and Trujillo. Monfragüe is also a ‘biosphere reserve’. It comprises a small and rocky mountain range along the Tagus river. Monfragüe lies like a rocky island in a sea of Mediterranean dehesa, which stretches out in all directions for kilometres on end (routes 1 and 4 to 6).
P o r t u g a l
Towards the north they merge with the foothills of the Sistema Central, with, from west to east, the Sierra de Gata (route 12), Las Hurdes (route 13), Valle del Ambroz, TraslaSierra and Valle de Jerte (route 14) and La Vera (routes 15 and 16). Towards the southeast the dehesas give way to the Sierra de las Villuercas (routes 9 to 11), which is larger and more rugged than Monfragüe. South and west of Monfragüe, the plains with dehesas are broken by large areas of steppe. These plains are known as the Llanos de Cáceres (route 5, 6 and 7). Cáceres and Trujillo are the major towns in this area. South of Cáceres lies a long, east-west mountain range, which separates the province of Cáceres with that of A66 Badajoz. The westlas s ern part of these urdes H redo hervás de G t a 13 . m a S mountains are e G 12 14 15 S. d known as the Sierra La Vera 16 l de San Pedro (route madrid plasencia 19) and the east the coria navalmoral 2-3 4 Sierra de MontánM o n f r a g ü e Tajo chez (route 8). k 1 torrejón f South of this 5 a g 11 10 e range, now in the i cáceres b 9 7 j Province of Bada6 c d h trujillo guadalupe joz, lies the fertile plain of the GuaA5 19 8 diana river (route b 18 17, 18 and various a sites on page 243 don benito d 17 lisbon to 246). Heading Guadiana mérida 23 e badajoz f east from there, g La c you enter one of the 24 S e r e n a h 20 wildest and least 22 populated areas of 21 Extremadura, with zafra jerez de los caballeros i several very large A66 reservoirs, large swathes of dehesas monasterio Sierra Morena and some of the córdoba 0 40 km finest steppes in sevilla the whole of Spain.
Extremadura has many areas with impressive granite boulders. They are of volcanic origin and are very old, dating back to the time the Hercynian mountains formed (370-290 mya). The boulders on the photo can be admired on route 21.
process that still takes place: the harder slates stick out like teeth out of the softer ‘gum’ of the eroded topsoil. During both the Hercynian and Alpine mountain orogeny, the bedrock got folded and these folds can still be seen in the landscape in various places (e.g. on the banks of the Tiétar in Monfragüe; route 1). In places, the pressures created a very clean, sinusoid pattern that translated in the formation of parallel ranges and valleys. The Sierra de las Villuercas is a spectacular example of this, and received its status as a UNESCO Geopark partially because of it. All in all, it is the combination of Hercynian bedrock in a lowland plain, endlessly dotted with Holm and Cork Oaks and riddled with low sierras that sets Extremadura apart from the other Iberian regions (with the exception of the adjacent Andalucian part of the Sierra Morena and Southern Portugal, with which Extremadura forms a unity). For much of Extremadura, this is where the geological story ends. But not for the northern and central part of Badajoz Province. When the continents pulled apart and the plates broke loose, some parts of today’s Extremadura got submerged. This was in the Carboniferous age, when
the climate was tropically warm and thick layers of limestones formed on the seafloor. These limestones surface locally, most notably in the area of Zafra and Olivenza. The broad valley of the Guadiana in Badajoz province has yet another geological background than the rivers that drain the province of Cáceres. The Guadiana brought with it much younger sediments from Tertiary and Quaternary age. These created loamy and fertile soils, ideal for agriculture.
Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara In 2011 the entire mountain range of Sierra de las Villuercas, Ibores and Jara was declared a ‘Geopark’, the geological counterpart of what a National Park is for nature and wildlife. It is not difficult to see why the area was granted this status – the impressive parallel valleys and ranges are a rare example of synclines – the sinuous folding of the bedrock. In addition, there are many caves with Palaeolithic rock paintings, fossils and mines with rare ores. Throughout the park, there are information panels and the Park has an extensive website in Spanish and English (www.geoparquevilluercas.es).
Habitats Oscar Wilde once said: “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Unravelling this mystery, or trying to do so, is a fascinating pastime, to say the least. To get anywhere near an understanding of the visible natural world – in this case of Extremadura – you will need a concept as a framework into which you can place what you see around you. For a biologist such a concept is that of a ‘habitat’. A habitat is best defined as a tight interaction between plants, animals, soil and climate in a given area. The latter two form a landscape where a specific set of plants and animals feel at home. Habitats are the cornerstone of the way a biologist looks at a landscape and understands it. It is an extremely useful tool, not only for experts, but also for first-time visitors. Without this tool the occurrence of plants and animals seems a matter of chance, and the presence of patterns and structures in the landscape remains unexplained or even unnoticed. But if you look at a landscape in terms of habitats you will get an understanding of that
Schematic crosssection of the habitats of Extremadura, from the mountains of La Vera to the steppes on the plain.
landscape and of the challenges, curses and blessings it brings to its inhabitants. The behaviour of birds, the shape of flowers, the colour of leaves and even the smell of the landscape can be understood when seen in the context of habitats and habitat adaptations. Of course this brings up a truckload of new questions. The fascinating thing about unravelling Oscar Wildeâ€™s mystery is that it makes a lot more visible. That is, it enables you to find plants and animals and to discover principles and processes that would otherwise have remained hidden to you. With all of this in mind, this guidebook has been organised around the habitats of Extremadura. The routes we suggest to you have been carefully chosen to give the best possible introduction to all the habitats in the region, thereby optimising your chances of seeing all the plants and animals. High mountains (page 59) Mountain forests (page 57)
Cork Oak dehesas (page 23) Holm Oak dehesas (page 23) Mediterranean forests (page 50) Rocky outcrops (page 49) Holm Oak dehesas (page 23) Rivers (page 37) Steppes (page 42)
Extensive holm oak dehesas are part of the landscape of routes 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14, 18, 19 and 21, plus sites A, E, G on pages 202-205 and sites A and C on pages 243-245. Old Cork Oak dehesas feature on routes 1, 9, 19 and 21 plus site A on page 243. Narrow-leaved Ash dehesas we found on routes 1, 14 and 21, and pasturelands with old Pyrenean Oaks are present on route 14.
Pick any road or track around the Monfragüe National Park. Go from Torrejón to Serradilla. Or to Monroy or to Jaraicejo. Gnarled oak trunks curl out from behind ancient stone walls, peppered with foxglove and asphodel. Above the gentle breeze you hear Hoopoes calling and Thekla’s Larks singing from several directions. A squadron of Griffon Vultures glide by, directly followed by a Short-toed Eagle (or two). This is not an exaggeration, but a real image of the dehesas of Extremadura: a paradise for naturalists.
What are dehesas?
The rolling, tree-dotted hills and plains of Extremadura are called dehesas. They undoubtedly form the most typical and special landscape of Extremadura and never fail to impress the visitor.
The dehesa, a rolling parkland with evergreen oaks, is Extremadura’s most typical landscape.
Old age and drought (result of climate change) result in the death of many Holm Oaks. Although it is prohibited to cut down Holm Oaks, replanting them is not mandatory. As such the the death of these trees is a threat to the dehesa ecosystem.
Buntings, open, fallow dehesas support Little Bustards, Stone Curlews and the reptiles of open land. The shrubby dehesas form perches for Woodchat Shrikes and Sardinian Warblers. Now, if you adopt a bird’s eye view to examine the dehesa landscape as a whole, instead of a single plot, you see a pattern of shifting cultivation. The dehesa landscape shows a continuously changing pattern of fields, pastures and scrublands underneath the open canopy of evergreen oaks. Every plot of dehesa is in a different stage in this cycle. The dehesas on poor soils take eight to ten years to complete the cycle, whilst the more fertile ones are back to barley again within four years. The cycle of the dehesa The cycle of the dehesa – Once every six to ten years cereals are planted in the dehesa. In years that follow, the land is left fallow and sheep and cattle graze the pasture. Gradually, the dehesa is invaded with scrub, until the landowner clears it and sows cereals again. Rocky patches and river valleys escape the cycle and function as a retreat for plants and animals. Each stage of the cycle supports its own flora and fauna (e.g. Quail in the cereals, Black-eared Wheatear in the open pasture, Dartford Warbler in low scrub and Woodchat Shrike in tall scrub). The cycle of the dehesa sets the pace for a unique and varied ecosystem. The agricultural developments of recent decades has made it increasingly difficult for farmers to maintain the dehesa cycles, making it an ecosystem in distress.
Dehesa with pasture
Dehesa with cereal cultivation
Dehesa with pasture and low scrub
Dehesa with scrubland
– mediterranean forest and cliffs
Low mountains – Mediterranean forest and cliffs Visit the low mountain ranges on routes 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 19, 21, 22 an 24, plus site F on page 247. Bird-rich cliffs are a feature on routes 1, 2, 9, 22 and Site J on page 206. The only truly developed Mediterranean forests are found in Monfragüe (routes 1, 2 and 3). Route 2 is the best of these.
The north slopes of the mountains (called Umbría in Spanish) are clad in a wild and dense Mediterranean woodland (route 24).
Extremadura is riddled with steep but low mountain ranges. Geologically, most of them are folds in the Hercynian bedrock that have since been eroded. These ranges, many of which are spread in an east-west direction, typically have a slowly rising base that quickly becomes steeper and ends in a vertical rocky crest, like an exponential curve. At the base are dehesas and olive groves, the steeper slopes are often clad in cistus scrub, while the crests are bare rock. All this may be at an elevation of only a few hundred metres above the lowlands and not more than a few kilometres in cross-section, but of superb value to Extremadura’s wildlife.
– mediterranean forest and cliffs
The temperatures rise quickly on the south-facing cliffs, producing an environment that is unlike all the others in Extremadura. This is the realm of several birds of the southern Mediterranean that you won’t easily find in another habitat: Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Rock Bunting and Black Wheatear are some of the typical species here, all of which breed in the many crags and cracks in the rocks. Very locally you may also find White-rumped Swifts. Above all however, the cliffs are the breeding sites of raptors. The warm, rising winds stroking the south-facing cliffs are perfect to lift up the large, broad-winged birds. With this in mind, one of the reasons for Extremadura’s unsurpassed number of raptors becomes clear – there are so many good breeding sites, surrounded by vast expanses of dehesas and steppes to hunt. Thereby, the low mountain ranges have a firm ecological connection to the surrounding dehesas and steppes. Animals that hunt in the dehesas and steppes, breed on the cliffs. For example, the roughly six-by-thirty kilometre stretch constituting Monfragüe’s National Park holds over 650 pairs of Griffons (2015 census). They all live off the carcasses of cattle and game – food that is not present in great supply in the Mediterranean forest itself. The vultures can soar up and wander as far as to 200 kilometres away from their nests. They are commonly found scavenging in the steppes around Trujillo and Cáceres. The colonies of Griffon Vultures are indeed most impressive, because the birds breed close to one another. Some colonies have 80 pairs or more (such as the famous Peñafalcon in Monfragüe; route 1), but there are many, many small colonies. Often, there are other birds breeding nearby – Egyptian Vulture, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Peregrine and Eagle Owl. It is wonderful to gaze up from below the cliffs and watch the birds take off from their ledges and majestically circle overhead. Perhaps more impressive though, is to see this at eye-level while you stand on top of the ridge. There are several places where you can do this easily (e.g. route 2, 9, 22 and 24) because on these ridges there are many castle ruins reached by convenient tracks or paths. During the period of the Reconquista, the borders between the Moorish caliphate and the Catholic kingdom shifted many times, and what makes a better spot to build defensive towers than on top of a ridge with unimpeded views to all sides? Hence both the Arab and the Catholic rulers built their share of castles. Beneath them, small villages were often founded. Today, these are the starting point from which you can walk up to the castillo (or its ruins).
The passing of history along the Almonte river: the old medieval bridge with, in the background, two that were built in the 20th century. The furthest bridge is that of the Madrid-Mérida motorway (route 1).
History The human history of Extremadura begins in the Neolithic age, during which hunter-gatherer tribes roamed the plains of Extremadura. When these gradually switched to tending herds and growing crops, they thinned the original Mediterranean forest to a savannah-like landscape – a sort of protodehesa. The first evidence of a dehesa-like agricultural system stems from approximately 4,000 years ago. Details of the early history of the area is, in the absence of much hard evidence or written accounts, relatively obscure. The Vettones, often regarded as a pre-Celtic group, persisted in northern Extremadura into the 2nd century BC. However, it is likely (but not certain) that the Celtic presence in Iberia goes back to the 6th century BC. The Celtiberians (either Celticised locals or Celts influenced by the pre-Celtic population) were the most influential ethnic group in the area prior to Carthaginian and subsequent Roman incursions.
The Roman era
Where the Carthaginians settled, the Romans were never too far behind and it was the latter who made the lasting impression. Extremadura saw big changes with the coming of the Romans, who conquered the region in 206 BC. Remarkably intact remains of Roman structures can still be found in many places in Extremadura. Extremadura’s capital Mérida is famous for its Roman heritage. In its day, it was the capital of the whole of Lusitania, a Roman province which encompassed Extremadura and a very large part of present-day Portugal. In Mérida (Augusta Emerita in Roman times) you will find one of the most intact Roman amphitheatres in the world and the largest Roman bridge in all of Spain (which is good for birdwatching too; see route 17).
For the construction of towns the builders needed wood – a lot of it. The dehesa and woodland surrounding the settlements were cut down, the timber was used for construction and the land was converted to crop and grain fields. This heralded the birth of the steppes of Extremadura. With the founding of these cities, the creation of the steppes and the previous emergence of the dehesas, the blueprint for Extremadura’s present-day landscape was already largely completed. The typical division between urban life and the largely uninhabited surrounding plains also crystallized during this time. Even the first reservoirs were constructed at this time to ensure an ongoing supply of drinking water. The Embalse de Cornalvo (site A on page 243) and the Embalse de Proserpina both supplied Roman Mérida with water. Another famous Roman construction in the region is the Ruta de la Plata, a road cutting straight through the entire western part of Spain, from Asturias in the north to Seville in the south. Ruta de la Plata literally means silver route, but this is a corruption of an Arab word, ballata, which is not a reference to silver at all, but to the cobbled pavement. The fact that it was paved over such an incredible length through vast, empty uplands and steep mountains, made a vital contribution to trade within western Spain and, through the port of Seville, with the rest of the world. Extremadura was at that time an area of significance.
The Visigoths and the Moors
After the withdrawal of the Romans, Spain was invaded by several Germanic tribes. To regain control, the Roman emperor commissioned the Visigoth king, who was married to his daughter, to restore order. In return the Visigoths received the right to settle there and govern the country. The highly Romanised Visigoths were a warrior elite, who left Tarraconensis the civil administration to the Romans. Latin remained Lusitania the language of government and commerce. The Visigoths have left few traces in Extremadura, unBaetica like their successors, the Moors. After their landing at Gibraltar in 711, it only took
The Romans divided the Iberian Peninsula into three provinces. Mérida was the capital of the western province, Lusitania.
FLORA AND FAUNA While hikers, travellers and those searching for tranquillity are just beginning to find their way to Extremadura, birdwatchers, wildlife photographers and naturalists discovered the region decades ago. To them, Extremadura ranks among the top destinations in Europe. This is in part due to the large areas of relatively unscathed habitats which harbour good numbers of species that are scarce in many other areas in Europe. But it is also because of the nature of the flora and fauna itself. The position of Extremadura on a crossroads of two major biological realms, that of the Atlantic and that of the Mediterranean, gives rise to a specific biodiversity that can only be labelled, well, Extremaduran. Mediterranean species dominate the flora and fauna of the region. Sardinian Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, Short-toed Eagle, Strawberry Tree, Tongue Orchid, Two-tailed Pasha and Montpellier Snake are all examples of Mediterranean ‘life forms’. The Pyrenees to the north and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to the south formed great barriers that limited the spread of species. Since the Moroccan and Andalucian mountains were once part of the same geological system, many of the species found in southern Spain today, are also present in northern Africa. Among the birds that are found on both sides of the Straits and occur in Extremadura are Black Wheatear and Thekla’s Lark. Many more examples are to be found in the flora and among the reptiles and amphibians (e.g. Iberian Water Frog, Spanish Terrapin and Ocellated Lizard). Looking at the distribution maps of these species, it is soon clear that what is loosely called ‘Ibero-African’ is in fact a collection of overlapping ranges, corresponding with barriers within this region. Some species never crossed the Pyrenees, whilst others spread across southern France, but were stopped by the Alps in the east and the colder climate towards the north (Ocellated Lizard and Champagne Orchid fit this category). Extremadura’s most typical wildflower, the Gum Cistus, ranges from the French Cote d’Azur over Iberia and into Morocco and Algeria. Others crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. What they all do have in common though, is that they never made it into the eastern Mediterranean. ‘Trapped’ in this relatively small region, they evolved here to give this part of the world its distinct nature.
flora and fauna
The Azure-winged Magpie is one of Extremadura’s iconic birds: beautiful, noisy, curious and conspicuous. It is widespread and numerous within the region, but a rarity on a global scale. It occurs only in in the centre and southwest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Wildflowers of the Mediterranean evergreen forest Mediterranean Selaginella (Selaginella denticulata), Green-flowered Birthwort (Aristolochia paucinervis), Palmate Anemone (Anemone palmata), White-flower Navelwort (Omphalodes linifolia), Lusitanian Milkvetch (Astragalus lusitanicus), Pallid Narcissus* (Narcissus pallidulus), Spiked Starof-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), Lange’s Orchid* (Orchis langei), Dense-flowered Orchid (Neotinea maculata), Rosy Garlic (Allium roseum) Wildflowers of the mountain forests and scrub Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis), Small-leaved Milkwort* (Polygala microphylla), Western Peony (Paeonia broteroi), Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata), Mountain Sandwort (Arenaria montana), Spanish Lupin* (Lupinus hispanicus), Basil-leaved Rockrose (Halimium ocymoides), Cowslip (Primula veris), Bastard Balm (Melissis melissophyllum), Linaria triornitophora, Antirrhinum meonanthum, Common Jonquil (Narcissus assoanus), Shrubby Gromwell (Lithodora fruticosa), Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), Narrow-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), Sicilian Orchid (Dactylorhiza markusii), Early-purple Orchid (Orchis mascula), Lange’s Orchid (Orchis langei) High altitude region Gredos Snapdragon* (Antirrhinum grossii), Alpine Toadflax (Linaria alpina), Linaria incarnata, Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), Red-flowered Spurge* (Euphorbia broteroi)
only in the highest and coldest regions. Much of the flora on these high slopes are a continuation of that of the Sierra de Gredos (just beyond Extremadura), but in our region the farthest reaches of the Garganta de los Infiernos give them a toehold here.
What applies to plants in general also goes for the wild orchids in Extremadura: there are a fair number of species, but few grow in good numbers with most being restricted to a few favoured spots. The highest diversity is found in a few isolated pockets of calcareous soils. Again, there is a clear difference in species found in the lowlands and those in the mountains. In the lowlands, the most frequent species is the Common Tongue Orchid, which grows, sometimes by the thousands, in pastures that are moist or wet during the winter. It is frequently accompanied by Champagne Orchid and occasionally by Fragrant Bug* (Anacamptis fragrans), Loose-flowered
and Heart-lipped Tongue Orchids. The Small-flowered Tongue Orchid by contrast, occurs on drier areas and is not at all uncommon in grassy dehesas. Its small size means that it is easily overlooked. Extremaduraâ€™s pride is also a kind of tongue orchid, which we have named Green Tongue Orchid* (Serapias perez-chiscanoi; p. 217), because of its colour. The Green Tongue Orchid* is so special because it is confined largely to the Extremaduran section of the valley of the River Guadiana (with only a few spilling over into Portugal) â€“ a proper endemic species. Note that Common and Small-flowered Tongue Orchids occasionally have green-flowered forms too. Throughout the dehesas, many other species appear as soon as soils are not too acidic. Sawfly and Conical Orchids in particular are widespread, although usually not too abundant. They flower early, peaking usually in the first half of April. A very impressive plant, should you have the luck to encounter it, is the Pink Butterfly Orchid. This plant occurs in various forms throughout the Mediterranean basin, but only in southwestern Iberia does the form grandiflora grow, which more than lives up to its name.
flora and fauna
The Tongue Orchid grows in clumps in damp, grassy areas and is perhaps the most common orchid in Extremadura.
The Sawfly Orchid has the largest flowers of all of the bee orchids, measuring up to 3.5 cm in length. Being the only one of this group to grow well on acidic soils, it is the most widespread of the bee orchid group (Ophrys) in Extremadura. Lange’s Orchid looks like a very looseflowered version of Early-purple Orchid. It grows in the Mediterranean forest (bottom).
On the aforementioned areas of limestone, the Pink Butterfly Orchid is sometimes abundant, just as is Sawfly Orchid. But there are many more species to be found here: Yellow Bee Orchid (usually common on limestone), Mirror Orchid (also often numerous), Woodcock Orchid (fairly common), Dull Bee Orchid (less common), Bee Orchid (uncommon) and Spanish Omega Orchid (quite rare) – all are members of the insect-mimicking genus Ophrys. The small but very pretty flowers look like bees or wasps. The appearance of the flower is so convincing that the male bee or wasp tries to copulate with the flower and by doing so, pollinates it. On limestone soils the most abundant species is probably the Naked Man Orchid, so named because of the flower’s humanoid, specifically male, appearance. In southern Extremadura, there are two other orchids that grace the limestone hills very early in the year: the Giant Orchid (which starts to flower in mid February) and the very rare Fanlipped Orchid, which appears a week or so later. The best limestone sites are in Badajoz Province, near Zafra (route 21) and Olivenza (route 20). In Cáceres, the hills near Almaráz (route 1), are the richest. The Mediterranean forests and dehesas on the hillsides of the sierras, characterised by a rich soil and more humid climatic conditions, support a different set of species. Widespread are Lange’s Orchid* (Orchis langei), a largely Iberian species, and Dense-flowered Orchid, which has tiny flowers. The parasitic Violet Bird’s-nest too is a widespread, if often local, orchid. In the mountains, the Chestnut woodlands are often rich in orchids. The most conspicuous species here is the pale-yellow Sicilian Orchid, which often grows together with Early-purple Orchid, and Tremols’ and Narrowleaved Helleborine. A complete orchid list for Extremadura can be downloaded from our website.
Many of Extremaduraâ€™s mammals can be found along any of the minor roads in the dehesas, but to encounter them (alive!) you have to be lucky. Otter is common on most of the rivers, such as on routes 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 13, 15, 16, 21. Egyptian Mongoose can be seen in many places but appears to be more often seen on routes 4, 6 and 21. Red Deer can be found on route 11. Iberian Hare is frequently seen in the steppes, such as routes 4, 5, 6, 7 and 22. The chances of seeing Iberian Lynx in Extremadura are close to zero, but the area they have been introduced is near the Matachel river (route 22). Look for Iberian Ibex on route 16.
The forests and scrub offer shelter, the grassy fields and trees provide food and pools and many streams relieve thirstâ€Ś it is hard to think of a better type of landscape for mammals than that of Extremadura. It may, therefore, come as a surprise that the Mammalian fauna is not nearly as diverse as the birdlife or that of the reptiles and amphibians. The distinct Mediterranean flavour to these other species groups, is not as evident in the mammals. Most of these animals are also present in the countries of central and western Europe. Among the ungulates, the familiar Red Deer and the Wild Boar occur in good numbers throughout the wooded parts of the region, particularly the dehesas. They are drawn by the pasture and the clearings in which they can forage. In many dehesas the number of Red Deer is unnaturally high because they are being bred for the hunt. The Extremaduran history of the familiar Roe Deer of temperate Europe is quite extraordinary. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Roe Deer was widespread in the mountains of CĂĄceres Province. In the course of the century, it
flora and fauna
Red Deer occur throughout the mountains and dehesas. Together with Wild Boar, it is the most prized game animal for hunters. Some estates are maintained solely for the deer hunt.
Extremadura’s special bird species Spanish Imperial Eagle Endemic to the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco. Black Vulture Rare everywhere in Europe except Extremadura, with largest densities in the world found in and around Monfragüe. Azure-winged Magpie Endemic to the centre and southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Great Bustard Largest European population is in Iberia, of which sizable ones are in Extremadura. Little Bustard Within Europe, almost restricted to France and Iberia (with more in Russia, the Ukraine and further into Central Asia). Common Crane Over 100,000 winter in Extremadura, which is about half the estimated European population. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Within Europe, only in Iberia and a small area in France; large numbers in Extremadura. Black-bellied Sandgrouse Within Europe, only in Iberia; large numbers in Extremadura. Lesser Kestrel Threatened bird, of which the largest European populations are found in southwestern Iberia. Griffon Vulture Very large numbers in Extremadura. Great Spotted Cuckoo Mediterranean bird that is most numerous in southwestern Iberia. Black Stork Outside Eastern Europe, almost exclusively in Extremadura. Black-winged Kite Within Europe, only in southwestern Iberia and southwestern France. White-rumped Swift African species occurring only in Extremadura and Andalucía. Spotless Starling Within Europe, about 90% are found in Iberia. Iberian Grey Shrike Endemic to Iberia and southern France, common and widespread in Extremadura.
Most, if not all, other mountain ranges in the region have their own colonies. Especially in Cáceres Province it will be rare not to see a few Griffons if you are out in the field for a day (or even a few hours). Griffon Vultures breed in colonies on cliffs, unlike its even larger cousin, the endangered Black Vulture which nests in trees (although rarely both will nest in the ‘wrong’ place). With a wingspan of almost three metres, the Black Vulture is considered the world’s largest raptor, with the exception of the condors of America. The largest concentrations of Black Vultures are found in Monfragüe, where almost 300 pairs breed. Smaller colonies are present in Sierra de Gata, the northern part of Sierra de las Villuercas an Sierra de San Pedro. In the far south, in the Sierra Morena are more Black Vultures, but most breed across the border in Andalucía. Just west, north and east of the Extremaduran borders, there are more Black Vultures, but the greatest concentration is centred around Extremadura. The third vulture is the much smaller and rarer Egyptian Vulture. Even so, it
is not at all an uncommon bird in the region, breeding in isolated pairs in rock ledges throughout the region. The reason for the large numbers of vultures lies both in the land use and in the geology of Extremadura. The vast plains are the perfect scavenging ground whilst the many mountain ranges and undisturbed woodlands offer plenty of nesting sites. The ability of vultures to cruise for more than a hundred kilometres from their nesting sites enables them to exploit a vast area in which to find carcasses.
Other birds of prey
Vultures are not the only scavengers. Black and Red Kites too, prefer the easy meal over the hassle of catching live food. Kites often go for the roadkill, sometimes putting on spectacular shows as they swoop down to the tarmac. Red Kites are numerous in winter, when a large part of the central European population moves south to flee the cold and lack of prey. From March onwards, most Red Kites disappear (low numbers breed in the mountains of northern Extremadura) and are replaced by thousands of Black Kites. During spring and summer, the Black Kite is the most numerous raptor in Extremadura, vastly outnumbering the â€˜commonâ€™ Buzzard or any of the eagles.
flora and fauna
Extremadura has one of Europeâ€™s largest concentrations of Griffon Vultures (top) and Black Vultures (bottom). They are especially numerous in the northern and central part of the region.
As a breeding bird, the Red Kite is fairly scarce in Extremadura (in contrast to the Black). In winter though, they are quite common.
There are five species of eagle in Extremadura. Booted and the Short-toed Eagles are widespread in the dehesas and steppes. The beautiful and endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle is endemic to the central and southwestern part of the peninsula and one of Extremadura’s star birds. Centuries of persecution made it rare and the subsequent outbreak of myxomatosis, a deadly disease that wreaked havoc amongst the eagle’s main prey, Rabbits, brought it to the brink of extinction. Fortunately, the population has recovered somewhat and numbers are gradually growing again in Extremadura, from 35 pairs in 2000 to over 50 pairs now. The Spanish Imperial Eagle is a typical dehesa bird, breeding, like the Black Vulture, on well-developed tree crowns and sometimes on pylons. The Bonelli’s Eagle is a species of rocky sierras, where it builds its nest on remote ledges. It spends a proportionally large amount of its time on the ground, making it a hard bird to spot, although in Monfragüe and La Serena you have a good chance on finding it. The Golden Eagle too, is rather thinly spread. It is most frequent in the mountains, both high and low and hunts hares in the steppes. Another bird many people come to search for is the Black-winged Kite. This feisty little raptor is an active and agile hunter, feeding mostly on rodents. It is originally from Africa but spread into Iberia in the middle of the 20th century. The first records were from Portugal. Breeding was proven in Spain in 1975 where it is now a widespread bird. Extremadura was one of the first areas to be colonised. Here it is associated with cereal plots and scattered trees and bushes. It hovers frequently and often perches on wires, but, despite this conspicuous behaviour, it can remain elusive. A roughly similar habitat is preferred by Montagu’s Harriers – grain fields and steppes. Montagu’s Harriers have declined almost everywhere in Europe, including Extremadura. The rare all-black form is more common (3-5% of the total population) in Spain than anywhere else in Europe. Marsh Harriers are found in and around wetlands, but disperse into the steppes as well. Hen Harriers breed only very rarely in Extremadura, but they are frequent winter visitors to the steppes. The Extremaduran mountains are inhabited by a different group of raptors (although Golden Eagles, Griffon and Black Vultures are present
too). The forests are inhabited by the familiar Sparrowhawks and Goshawks, albeit in rather small numbers. The Honey Buzzard has a healthy population in the La Vera. Another avian highlight of Extremadura is the Lesser Kestrel. This handsome little falcon breeds in loose colonies in old buildings. It is rare throughout Europe except in central and southern Spain, where is has sizable colonies in most cities and villages (e.g. Trujillo, Cáceres, Guadalupe, Cabeza del Buey). It is one of the group of birds that feeds on large insects and small lizards (like White Stork, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller, Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Grey Shrike, Hoopoe). Sadly, the numbers of Lesser Kestrels are dropping, in some places rapidly so. This is probably caused by a decline of prey. Besides Lesser Kestrel, the Common Kestrel, Peregrine and Hobby occur in Extremadura, the latter two in small numbers. In winter, Merlin can be found in the steppes. Breeding raptors of Extremadura Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard (mountains only), Red Kite, Black Kite, Black-winged Kite, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Common Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon
It’s going to be a fine day – birds of towns and villages
These are the notes from my notebook of my first morning ever in Extremadura – a clear October morning from my balcony on the edge of the village of Torrejón el Rubio: “1 flock of Azure-winged Magpies, 1 Great Grey Shrike (this was 1995, before the Iberian Grey Shrike was accepted as a separate species), 7 Griffon Vultures, 2 Black Vultures, 3 Hoopoes, flocks of Barn Swallows and numerous Spotless Starlings – all this in 10 minute’s time. It is going to be a fine day!” Most likely you’ll be staying in a village or small town as well and if so, the chances are that you’ll have your first birding experience on a similarly fine morning. Take your time to explore the surroundings of villages as there is often a lot to see. Extremadura has a wide range of farmland birds that occur in or just around villages. Many can be found in the dehesas as well but prefer the small plots you find around villages. The sheds and white-plastered houses have large numbers of Swallows
flora and fauna
reptiles and amphibians
The Ocellated Lizard is a big fellow that can reach a length of about 80 cms. Every now and then it darts across the road.
Whereas many of the lizards are not so difficult to find, snakes lead very secretive lives. They are often thought of as top predators, but, in reality, they only take up a very modest middle position in the food chain. They hunt for rodents, young birds, lizards and frogs, but are hunted in turn by Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian Mongoose, and a variety of other predators. The young or small snakes even have to watch out for any type of mid-sized bird or even other larger snakes, so they cannot be too cautious. Six snake species occur in the dry dehesas, steppes and on the rocky mountain slopes. The largest is the fierce Montpellier Snake, which may reach up to two metres in length. It climbs trees to hunt for eggs and young birds. It is, together with the Ladder Snake, Horseshoe Whip Snake and Viperine Snake, the most common species in Extremadura. Ladder Snakes inhabit, on average, drier and more open terrain than Montpellier Snakes, while Horseshoe Whip Snakes prefer fields and bushy areas. The Viperine Snake in contrast, is strictly aquatic. It is the most easily found species and you usually see it when you enjoy your bocadillo on the side of the river, or stare down from a bridge and see it swimming in a quiet section of the stream. Be aware though, that another species also occupies this habitat â€“ a uniformly dark grey to black animal. This is the Iberian Grass Snake, closely related to the familiar Grass Snake of northern Europe, but without the yellow scythe-shaped mark on the neck. To prevent being hunted, the small False and Southern Smooth Snakes are active at night. During the day, they hide underneath stones, and come out in the evening where they start off by warming themselves on the rocks and the tarmac before going off to hunt. Therefore, the late hours of the day are the best time to spot them. Spanish Terrapin, which is frequent in Extremaduran streams. It loves to sunbathe on rocks, but is very shy and disappears in the water at the slightest hint of danger. If you check the rocks in rivers and reservoirs with your binoculars before going to the waterâ€™s edge, you are most likely to spot it before it sees you. The second Terrapin, the European Pond Terrapin, is rare in Extremadura, only found in a few well vegetated marshlands.
insects and other invertebrates
Insects and other invertebrates
The butterfly fauna is most attractive in the mountains (routes 1, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16). For dragonflies the best sites are shallow reservoirs in the lowlands (routes 4 and sites D, F, G on pages 203-205 and sites A, B D, E and F on pages 243-247) and streams and small reservoirs in the mountains (routes 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16). Dry-land invertebrates, such as Yellow Scorpions, Scolopendras, tarantulas and bush-crickets are widespread in all stony lowlands and lower mountains.
Birdwatchers, herpetologists (fans of reptiles and amphibians) and botanists all have Extremadura high on their lists of ‘must-visit’ areas, but entomologists (who study invertebrates) rarely target the area. Whereas the high mountains of Spain, such as the Cordillera Baetica in Andalucía, the Pyrenees and the Sistema Central have a lot to offer, the number of butterfly species on the mesetas and Extremaduran lowlands is limited. Nevertheless, there are quite a few very interesting southern species flying around in the lowlands and a whole lot more in the mountains.
The wildflowers that carpet the lowlands in spring are mostly of short-lived, widespread species. They offer a home to equally widespread, generalist butterfly species. A visitor in April or early May will find in the dehesas and steppes a rather limited number of mostly widespread species, like Small Heath, Long-tailed Blue and Small Copper, mixed with common Spanish butterflies like Spanish Brown Argus and Black-eyed Blue, Spanish Marbled White and Green-striped White. In more densely wooded places, there are Cleopatras, which look like Brimstones (which also occurs) with a deep orange blush on the forewing. Spanish Festoon, member of a small group of Mediterranean and Near Eastern butterflies, is very conspicuous, with a typical zigzag marking on the wing. Its larval food plants are birthworts. It is a common early spring butterfly in Extremadura.
flora and fauna
The Spanish Festoon is a common spring butterfly in open Mediterranean forest where its larval food plant grows, the Green-flowered Birthwort.
routes in cáceres province
Routes in Cáceres Province Most of the classic wildlife sites are situated in the province of Cáceres, including those in and around the National Park of Monfragüe. The National Park, with its phenomenal number of vultures and eagles, is the most famous site of all, so that’s where we start our routes – first a car route that connects the National Park’s major highlights (route 1), followed by two beautiful walks (routes 2 and 3).
laCastil cha a La M n
13 12 S. de Gat
Po Overview of the Province of Cáceres. The numbers refer to the routes on the following pages. The site descriptions in Cáceres Province are given on page 202 onwards.
Cas t L eo illan
S. de Villu las erca s
Monfragüe seamlessly connects with the immense lowland area to the south, known as the Llanos de Cáceres. Here you’ll encounter an endless expanse of dehesa and steppe, each with their own attractions. Routes 4 to 7 explore these plains that are so typical of Extremadura. They are all car routes with some stops and short strolls, as this is the best way to explore the lowlands. In addition to these routes, the sites A to G on pages 202 to 205 are also situated in these lowlands. South of the plains, a low mountain range separates the province of Cáceres from that of Badajoz. The western part of it is known as the Sierra de San Pedro and lies mostly in Badajoz (see route 19), while the eastern part is the Sierra de Montánchez, which offers some attractive hiking (see route 8).
routes in cáceres province
East of the Cáceres plains, the land rises to a mountain range that consists of several parallel, jagged ridges – the Sierra de Las Villuercas. In many ways, this sierra is the wilder and larger brother of Monfragüe, which is actually a forerunner of the Villuercas mountains. It would be one of the remoter parts of Extremadura were it not for the small Pilgrimage town of Guadalupe with its enormous monastery that attracts tourists and devoted Catholics alike. The key sites in the Sierra de las Villuercas are combined in a single car route (route 9). In addition, we’ve described two walks (routes 10 and 11) and several other spots (sites H, I and J on pages 206 and 207). North of Monfragüe and las Villuercas lies another plain with large expanse of dehesa. It is on average more fertile than the Llanos de Cáceres. North of that plain lies a range of sierras, which are all part of the Sistema Central. In the west, bordering Portugal, lies the Sierra de Gata. Then comes Las Hurdes, Valle del Ambroz and the famous Valle de Jerte with its many cherry orchards. The Jerte valley, north of the town of Plasencia, borders Extremadura’s highest mountains: the south slopes of the Sierra de Gredos, known as La Vera. We’ve described one walking route in the scenic Sierra de Gata (routes 12) and another in Las Hurdes (route 13) and two others in La Vera (routes 15 and 16). The latter two rise to an altitude of 1,000 – 1,500 metres and lead through an Alpine landscape with a rich flora and fauna that is very different from all the rest of Extremadura. The Jerte and Ambroz valleys are explored on a car route with short walks (route 14) which is above all scenic.
Lonely roads through endless dehesas characterise the landscape of the province of Cáceres (route 1).
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
Route 1: Monfragüe NP round trip FULL DAY OR MORE 85 KM
The Peñafalcon is a spectacular gateway to Monfragüe (route 1 and 2). Over 50 pairs of Griffon Vultures breed on the cliffs, together with Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork.
The classic route – all the highlights of Monfragüe. More vultures than you can count, and many more birds. Spectacular cliffs along the Tagus river. Hillside with many orchids in early spring. Habitats: Cork and Holm Oak dehesa, streams, cliffs, wetlands, limestone outcrops, Mediterranean forest, olive groves Selected species: Naked Man Orchid, Mirror Orchid, Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Stork, Bee-eater, Blue Rock Thrush, Orphean Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Ocellated Lizard, Spanish Festoon
This can well be dubbed the trip of trips in Extremadura. It covers all the highlights of Monfragüe National Park and its surroundings – enough to keep you spell-bound from dawn until dusk. The area is diverse, including mountains, dehesas, Mediterranean forests and wetlands. Wellknown sites such as the cliffs of Salto del Gitano and Portilla del Tiétar alternate with less visited sites, such as the pass of Casas de Miravete and the limestone hills of Almaraz. If this is your first visit to Extremadura, this is the route with which to start. Note that this is a long route. To do all points justice, you need two days, so we advise you to pick the sites that you think hold most interest for you and save the other ones for the next day.
Starting point Torrejón el Rubio (GPS: 39.771195, -6.011716)
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
Arrocampo marshes (route 4)
Ar la Vroyo d id e Almonte bridge (site A on p. 202)
torrejón el rubio
e N P 11
casas de miravete
Head north in the direction of Plasencia.
Through the fine Holm Oak dehesas and with views of the Monfragüe mountain range in the distance, you head towards the Arroyo de la Vid, a stream that in typical Extremaduran fashion, has cut out a small gorge in the hard Hercynian bedrock. Along the way, look for typical dehesa birds such as Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie, Thekla’s Lark and Woodchat Shrike. Just before you cross the stream, there is a small car park on the left. Park here and walk to the bridge, cross it and follow the trail to the right to the river. The puddles and slow-flowing parts are excellent for Spanish Terrapins, Viperine Snakes and amphibians. Meanwhile, don’t forget the check the skies for passing Black Storks, Egyptian Vultures and other cliff dwellers, which breed along the cliffs of the Arroyo, or come in from Monfragüe. Return to the car and continue. On your right lies the castle of Monfragüe on the mountain ridge (the goal of route 2). Stop on the car park of on the edge of the Tagus reservoir, from where you have great views over the cliffs on the Tagus edge.
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
Monfragüe is home to Europe’s highest concentration of Black Vultures.
This is the Salto del Gitano, Monfragüe’s grand entrance. The impressive escarpment on the opposite side is the Peñafalcón, the famous vulture rock. The many Griffon Vultures that circle around the rock are the immediate eye-catcher at this site. The colony on the Peñafalcón is one of the largest in Monfragüe. Once the air starts to warm up in the morning, the vultures depart to cruise the thermals in search of carrion and sometimes soar right over your head. One or two pairs of Egyptian Vulture and Peregrine Falcons breed as well in some years. Black Storks breed in the fissures just above the water line. To see their nest, you have to walk a little further on, go around the corner and then look back to the rock. Other birds that can be seen near the Peñafalcón include Rock Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush (on the slopes close to the car park), Red-rumped Swallows and, in the sky, Black Vulture (which breeds on tree tops all over Monfragüe, unlike the cliff-breeding Griffons). Black Kite and perhaps Golden or Spanish Imperial Eagle may also pass by. Botanists can enjoy the endemics Spanish Adenocarpus* (Adenocarpus argyrophyllus) and Spanish Foxglove* (Digitalis thapsi) on the cliffs around the car park. Continue along the road. Notice that once past the Peñafalcon, you drive on the north-facing side of mountain (Umbría), which is clad in dense Mediterranean evergreen forest. Cross the Tagus (Río Tajo) and park on the car park on the other side.
Unlike the Guadiana in southern Extremadura, the Tagus has so many dams that it has become a string of reservoirs rather than a river. Ecologically, this has been disastrous for the river habitat, especially for the fish fauna. Nevertheless, this spot may have some interesting sights in store for you. Underneath the bridge there are many House Martin nests, and you may see Alpine Swift, Crag Martin and sometimes Rock Sparrow. This general area has Bonelli’s Eagle too, so keep your eyes open for this elusive bird as well.
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
Continue to Villarreal de San Carlos.
This village, with bar and visitors’ centre, is the only settlement in the park and consists of one big car park and one small street. Villarreal was founded by King Carlos III to house royal guards, who had to ensure the safety of the travellers in what was then a dangerous and desolate region. After Villarreal, take the first right, in the direction of Saltos de Torrejón.
These scrubby hills covered with young Holm Oaks, French Lavender and Gum Cistus, are not very interesting, but ironically, they are the reason that Monfragüe received its protective status. Under the Francoist regime’s drive to create a paper industry they were planted with Eucalyptus. It was envisaged that Eucalyptus woodland would cover all of Monfragüe, but thankfully, strong opposition from the germinating Extremaduran conservation movement prevented this ecological disaster (see also page 69). The young Holm Oaks were replanted to restore the original Mediterranean forest.
Just before reaching the dam on the Tiétar there are two viewpoints on the right. The first has a short circular path around a hill overlooking the Tiétar river just before it meets the Tagus, and the second overlooks a small vulture colony, where beside Griffons, Egyptian Vulture usually breeds. On the other side of the dam lies Saltos de Torrejón, a village that was built to accommodate the dam workers.
The Iberian endemic Spanish Foxglove* (Digitalis thapsi) flowers in May and is fairly common on rocky soil.
Spanish Terrapins are numerous in the streams in and around Monfragüe.
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
Continue until you see the Río Tiétar on your left. There are various viewpoints here at either side of the river where you can stop, admire the landscape and look for birds of prey. The next site is the rocky outcrop you see ahead. Stop at one of the parking spaces and continue on foot.
From the bend in the road you overlook the Portilla del Tiétar, Monfragüe’s more modest but still very scenic ‘back door’. Its Griffon Vulture colony is smaller than on the Peñafalcón, but closer. In some years, Eagle Owl, Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork also breed on the cliffs and nearby rock escarpments and are easily seen. The surrounding Cork Oak dehesa is a breeding site for Booted, Shorttoed and above all for Spanish Imperial Eagle, for which this is by far the best spot in Extremadura. For the last couple of years now, it bred on a tree just to the right of the cliff. Other birds here are Blue Rock Thrush and Red-rumped Swallow.
A Cork Oak near the Portilla del Tiétar. A year after the cork is stripped, the trunk gets a beautiful, velvety red colour.
If it is not too busy, walk the next 2 kms to the restaurant (see map). This walk leads through an excellent Mediterranean forest with Strawberry Trees, Tree Heath, Laurustinus and Palmate Anemone. A stile over the fence on the left allow you to enter the Cork Oak dehesa on the edge of the river – an excellent opportunity to explore this habitat from up close. This spot is all the more interesting because the so dominant oaks are replaced by Narrow-leaved Ash as the dehesa tree – a rare phenomenon. There are some interesting plants too, like One-leaved restaurant r Squill* (Scilla monophyllos) and Green-flowered Birtha ét Ti wort – the latter visited by the pretty Spanish Festoon butterfly, for which this is the larval food plant. Portilla del Tiétar
Return to the car and continue along the road. This leads through a beautiful and rather lush Cork Oak dehesa. Go right on the sign Ruta Rosa on a dirt track. At the junction 250 metres further on, go left and continue until you reach the tarmac road again.
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
This track leads through more dehesa, but, unlike the road, offers you the option to stop wherever you want. Similar birds can be seen here as elsewhere, with addition of Rock Sparrow, which is quite numerous here. Back on the tarmac, go right. You pass the village of Serrejón and continue in the direction of Almaráz. Where the road reaches a roundabout you turn left. At the next roundabout you can choose to visit the marshes of Arrocampo (which we’ve described separately as route 4), or continue along this route, for which it is easiest to use the motorway. Head towards Madrid and after 2 kms, take the next exit (Almaraz Este). Instead of driving to Almaraz, turn right (towards Valdecañas del Tajo) and park at the second track on the left (only 200 metres from the motorway). A sign here describes an orchid route (see small map on next page). Follow it.
The hill, clad in olive groves, is a limestone outcrop, a rare substrate in northern Extremadura. It supports a rare flora which includes 11 species of orchids. Although their numbers have dropped over the recent years (most probably because of changing land use), you should be able to locate quite a few Naked Man, Woodcock, Mirror and Smallflowered Tongue Orchids. Late March to late April is the best time.
Naked Man Orchids in the verge of the trail near Almaráz.
route 1: monfragüe np round trip
The olive groves are a good place to find Ocellated Lizard, Large Psammodromus and Ladder Snake, plus Cirl Bunting and Orphean Warbler, two of the less common songbirds of Extremadura. almaráz
Return to the motorway and back in the direction Trujillo. After 2 kms, take exit 200 to Almaraz Sur (this is from where you came), and on the roundabout, and follow the old NV road to Puerto de Miravete.
With the coming of the Motorway in the 1990’s the winding N-V road over the mountains via Casas de Miravete became almost obsolete. Today, it is a little travelled route, very much the opposite of the road that cuts through Monfragüe. On the pass there is a picnic spot with views over the vast dehesas of the Trujillo-Cáceres plain.
Continue to Jaraicejo and proceed on the NV to the bridge over the Almonte river.
Woodcock Orchids are are numerous on the ‘orchid trail’ in early spring.
The Almonte south of Jaraicejo is another excellent place for a picnic and a stroll along the crowfoot-lined water. Spanish Terrapin and Viperine Snake can be seen here, Bee-eaters breed nearby and vultures and eagles cruise overhead. Another highlight here are the three bridges – the large motorway bridge in the distance, the smaller N-V bridge and the small but beautiful old Roman bridge (p. 62). Return to Jaraicejo and turn left towards Torrejón el Rubio.
The dehesas between Jaraicejo and Torrejón are again excellent. You can stop at the small chapel just outside Jaraicejo and explore the surrounding dehesa. Azure-winged Magpie, Woodchat Shrike and other dehesa birds can be found here and the wide, unimpeded views over the plains offer another shot at viewing raptors. The very last stretch of dehesa before hitting the Trujillo-Torrejón road is very scenic in April for its masses of flowering French lavender. Turn right to Torrejón. If you fully explored all the stops along this route, it must be midnight by now.
route 2: the castle of monfragüe
Route 2: The castle of Monfragüe 6 HOURS, 8.3 KM MODERATE Beautiful walk through dense forest and over rock cliffs. One of Iberia’s most intact Mediterranean forests and its botanical treasures. Monfragüe’s castle, with Black and Griffon Vultures at arm’s length. Habitats: Mediterranean evergreen forest, scrub, cliffs Selected species: Strawberry Tree, Lange’s Orchid, Violet Bird’s-nest Orchid, Black Stork, Black Vulture, White-rumped Swift, Bonelli’s Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, Southern Marbled Newt, Two-tailed Pasha
This is the classic walking trail villarreal de san carlos in Monfragüe, leading past several of the park’s major sites, in particular the castle and the 5 Peñafalcón (the vulture rock). Both are must-sees for anyone visiting Extremadura. At both spots, the close-up views of puente cardinal raptors in a spectacular setting Tajo are jaw-droppingly magnificent. 6 7 But this trail has more to offer. 3 Salto del The short climb up to the castle Gitano castillo 2 follows a south-facing slope, which has a much opener 4 Sierra 1 de las and drier vegetation than the Corchu elas p other side, which is covered 0 1 km entirely with a rich north-slope torrejón el rubio vegetation – one of the finest on the entire Peninsula. In spring, the castle and the Peñafalcon are busy with tourists. Normally we would advise an early start, but in this case, we’d suggest to be at the castle around 2 hours after sunrise. This is when the vultures start to fly and pass by at eye-level – a sight you don’t want to miss!
additional sites in cácares province
of a Roman city that was once here. Later in history, this was the site of the village Navalmoral las Viejas, which was sacrificed to flood the reservoir in 1963, as were many other Extremaduran villages. An information panel tells the history, together with photos of the evacuation.
L – Monasterio de Yuste and Garganta la Olla
The traditional mountain village of Garganta la Olla.
One of the cultural highlights of Extremadura turns out to be a very scenic area with lots to offer to the naturalist: The Monasterio de Yuste and nearby’s traditional mountain village of Garganta la Olla. The first is a beautifully located monastery and National museum, which main claim to fame is that it was the retreat of Emperor Charles (Carlos) V, who walked through the mountains and Jerte valley (now the Carlos V footpath) and spent his final years in the Monastery. Five kms further in the mountains, Garganta la Olla is one the Extremadura’s prettiest villages, built from the local slate and with the typical overhanging balconies laden with flowers that you also find in the remoter places in Las Hurdes and Sierra de Gata. The quiet country road between the two and further up to Piornal (at almost 1,200 metres the Extremadura’s highest village) leads through wonderful woodlands of Pyrenean Oak, alternating with some scrubland and several beautiful streams that come tumbling down the slope. The area is rich in forest birds, especially around the monastery’s park-like environment with its tall trees. Hawfinch, Iberian Green, Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Bonelli’s Warbler and Nuthatch are all present and don’t forget to look up in the more open areas as there is a good population of Honey Buzzards in the area (present from mid-May onwards). Interesting forest flora consists of both Purple and Spanish Foxgloves* (Digitalis thapsi), Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem, Champagne and Early-purple Orchids. By the stream near Garganta la Olla (near
additional sites in cácares province
the piscina natural), you can find the snapdragon Antirrhinum meonanthum, Royal Fern, Grass and Viperine Snake and a good range of butterflies and dragonflies. Hikers may choose to walk the footpath between the monastery and Garganta la Olla (appr. 6 kms one way) or the shorter and easier loop around the monastery. Both footpaths start from the picnic area next to the monastery.
M – Puerto de Tornavacas
At the very top of the Jerte valley lies the village of Tornavacas. From there, it is a 6 km drive to the Tornavacas pass, by which you enter Castilla-León. At nearly 1,300 metres, the Tornavacas pass lies well in the zone of the high altitude broom scrub, although there are areas with oak forest too. Noticeboards paint an attractive picture of an Alpine flora and fauna, but you’ll see none it here. For that you need to the rocky slopes of Extremadura’s highest peak, which lie tantalizingly close just west of the pass, but as the track is barred, it is unfortunately out of reach for the hiker. What you can find around the Tornavacas pass is the wildlife that is home to the meadows and broom fields that dominate the altitude zone of roughly 1,000 -1,600 m. Birds include Whitethroat, Mistle Thrush, Booted Eagle, Ortolan Bunting and the ‘blue-spotted’ Iberian race of Bluethroat. There are some attractive wildflowers, such as the white-flowered thrift Armeria transmontana and the lupin Lupinus gredensis. There is also a good range of butterflies and all of it is within easy reach of the car park. From the pass, you’d best walk the track that starts on the eastern side of the road (right, coming from the Valle de Jerte) and connects with the Travesia de Alta Extremadura. The latter is a multiple day route that brings you higher up in the mountains.
Some attractions in La Vera (site L and M): Nettle-tree Butterfly (top), the snapdragon Antirrhinum meonanthum (centre) and Lupinus gredensis (bottom).
Badajoz Province cáceres
Overview of the Province of Badajoz. The numbers refer to the routes on the following pages. The site descriptions in Badajoz Province are given on page 243 onwards.
P o r t u g a l
20 21 jerez de los caballeros
La 23 S e r e n a
cabeza del buey
Badajoz is the more prosperous of the two provinces of Extremadura, but by naturalists it is less visited. The northern part of Badajoz is flat and fertile, thanks to the broad Guadiana that flows gently through the plains. There are large villages and several towns, such as Badajoz and Mérida. The agriculture is more intensive and the population density is much higher than in the province of Cáceres. The great attraction for tourists in the province is Mérida, Extremadura’s capital that has one of Spain’s most impressive Roman architecture (route 17). Yet the naturalist has a lot to see in Mérida too, above all its birdlife. The marshy margins of the Guadiana and of several shallow reservoirs nearby are attract many birds, especially many herons, Glossy Ibis, warblers and other marshland species. There is even an orchid that grows solely in this Guadiana plain – the Green Tongue-orchid* (Serapias perezchiscanoi), so it is no wonder that several routes (17 and 18) and sites (A, B, C, D and E) focus on the Guadiana valley. North of the Guadiana valley, towards the province of Cáceres, lies a low mountain range clad in dehesas and olive groves. East of the Mérida- Cáceres motorway (and just within Cáceres Province), it is called the Sierra de Montánchez (route 8) while the western past is known as the Sierra de San Pedro (route 19). The latter lies largely within Badajoz Province.
The Sierra de San Pedro is gently undulating, with large areas of Cork Oak dehesa. Within Badajoz, it is the most important site for raptors, in particular Black Vulture and Spanish Imperial Eagle. In the southwestern part of the province, roughly between Portugal and the Mérida-Sevilla Motorway, lies a large area that is much less visited. The northern section is known as the Tierra de Barros (literally mudlands) where the soil is fertile and olives and grapes are grown. Further south, the terrain becomes hilly and is covered in swathes of dehesa. Unlike the dehesas of Cáceres, there are many areas with base-rich and calcareous soils, rich in orchids and other wildflowers. This, in combination with the many beautiful small towns, hilltop castles and overall wealthier land, makes this a change from the north. Route 21 explores this landscape, while route 20 describes a walk through the orchid-rich limestone hills. The south-east is different again. This rolling landscape is covered in dehesas, very sparsely populated and riddled with rocky and very dry sierras. This impressive, seemingly vacant land reaches its scenic zenith in La Serena, Extremadura’s most important area of steppe. La Serena is the apotheosis of the romance of emptiness. It is virtually treeless, except the occasional large Eucalyptus tree along the few roads that cross the area. But what seems like the back of beyond is at the same time a capital for birds of arid regions. La Serena is of tremendous importance as a refuge for Great and Little Bustards, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Collared Pratincole and various larks (route 22 and site G on page 247). The dry Sierras have their own birding attractions, such as healthy populations of Bonelli’s and Golden Eagles, Black Wheatear and White-rumped Swift. Routes 22 and 24 and site F on page 247 explore these mountains.
Walking the tracks and trails through the dehesas in Badajoz Province is bound to produce some interesting sightings (route 19).
TOURIST INFORMATION & OBSERVATION TIPS
Travelling in and to Extremadura
Most visitors to Extremadura either drive to their destination, or fly and rent a car at the airport. Extremadura lies in the middle of the triangle of Madrid, Lisbon and Seville and each of these cities have large, international airports with connections to just about anywhere in Europe. The westbound motorway out of Madrid leads directly to Lisbon and connects with the motorway to Seville at Extremadura’s capital, Mérida. Depending on which area of Extremadura you want to visit, you can choose to fly in via Madrid (northern Extremadura), Seville (southern Extremadura) or Lisbon (western Extremadura). By road (whether overland from central Europe or via a ferry from the UK to Bilbao/ Santander) it is best to arrive via Salamanca and enter Extremadura in the Valle de Ambroz near Hervás. If you decide to try your luck with the public transport, bring a good book, because it is inevitable that you will be spending quite some time in bus or train stations. The Spanish trains (RENFE) are of good quality and the high speed trains (AVE) are among the best on the continent, but unfortunately, there are few train lines into Extremadura, and none of them are comfy AVE trains. The main line runs from Madrid to Navalmoral, Monfragüe (yes, Monfragüe has a train station, albeit about 20 kms from the National Park), Cáceres, Mérida and Badajoz. A regional train runs up from Seville via Zafra to Mérida. Finally, there is a line from Puertollano (near Ciudad Real) via La Serena to Mérida. For more information, check www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/, www.trenes.com, or for international train connections, www.raileurope.com. You can penetrate deeper into Extremadura by taking one of the many private bus companies. Check www.horario-autobuses.com/bus/horarios-autobuses/extremadura. At minimum, a rudimentary grasp of Spanish is needed to explore the country by bus.
tourist information & observation tips
Less certain indications are the state of the track, or if it runs for some distance (which can be checked on your hand-held device). If so, it is usually OK. In any case, abide by the following: First of all: if you pass through a closed gate, always (!!) close it behind you. Furthermore, whilst the road may be public or you may have the right of way, that does not include the surrounding land. Don’t wander off into the field. Then, be careful around cattle. There are usually bulls among them and they don’t care if you have a right to be there or not. Never enter a field with a sign toros bravas (fighting bulls). If there are people around, always greet and actively engage them to ask whether you can enter. Take the initiative in order to avoid the situation in which you appear to be caught trespassing. Last but not least, if someone asks you to leave then do so without quibbling. Even if you have a right to be there (and some farmers do sometimes sneakily claim ownership of public land), there is no point in arguing unless you are a local.
‘Take nothing but your photo, leave nothing but your footprint’, is the well-known phrase that summarises the nature of responsible tourism. It goes without saying that, as a visitor to a natural area, you have a responsibility to leave your surroundings and everything in it undisturbed. But maybe it is less obvious what is and what isn’t permissable in the case of Extremadura. So here is what you should be especially aware of when visiting this area. The nature of Extremadura is strongly linked to the traditional land use, as you can read in the sections on the dehesa (page 23) and history (page 62). To help maintaining these ecosystems, you can use the products derived from it, so their production remains economically viable. Eat local food, drink local wine and stay in rural hostals (casas rurales). On page 256 we offer a menu of typical Extremaduran dishes with lots of products from the dehesa. Use it to ask your waiter for some good, honest grub! When going out into the field, it is important to respect private property (see above entry on private property issues). Many local land owners will see you as representatives of, even ambassadors for, nature conservation. If you do not respect the private property rights of land owners, this reflects negatively on nature conservation as a whole. Since most ecologically valuable areas are on private property, keeping owners onside is of vital importance for nature conservation. Some shy bird species are under pressure, most notably bustards and several eagles. When making a trip in the steppes, keep a low profile. If you encounter Great or Little Bustards near the road, do not leave your car, because, by doing so, you will frighten them off. Other vulnerable birds breed on ledges in rock faces. Be careful when approaching rocky slopes that you do not disturb the nests of breeding birds. Extremadura is one of the parts of Spain where water is sparse. Tap water, albeit free,
is a much scarcer commodity than in northern Europe. Take care not to use more than you need. Tap water is safe to drink, but heavily treated and therefore not very pleasant to drink, nor healthy, especially in the hotter months. The alternative is bottled water, with all the problems of waste that come with it. Many villages in the mountains have excellent water fountains with spring water that is perfectly safe to drink, so fill up your bottles here. (When in doubt: se puede beber el agua del fuente? means “is the water from this well safe to drink”). Ecotourism code of conduct We appeal to every naturalist, birdwatcher and nature photographer to abide by this code of conduct in the interests of birds, wildlife and their environment. • Learn patterns of animal behaviour – know when not to interfere with an animal’s life cycle. • Acquaint yourself with the fragility of the ecosystem – stay on trails that are intended to lessen impact. • When out in the field, use good judgement – treat the wildlife, plants and places as if you were their guest. • Treat other observers and photographers courteously – ask before joining others already in an area. • Keep distance from the birds to avoid stressing or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording or filming. Use appropriate lenses to photograph wild animals – if an animal shows stress, move back and use a longer lens. • Keep well back from burrows, nests, colonies, roosts, display areas and important feeding sites. Do not handle birds, chicks or eggs unless for recognised research activities. • Before advertising the presence of a rare species of plant or animal, evaluate the potential for disturbance, its surroundings and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and, where applicable, permission has been obtained from private land-owners. Unless officially publicised, the sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities. • Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission. • Tactfully inform others if you observe them engaging in inappropriate or harmful behaviour – people often endanger animals unknowingly. If this doesn’t help, report inappropriate behaviour to proper authorities. • Be a role model – educate others by your actions; enhance their understanding. • Support the protection of important bird habitat.
tourist information & observation tips
Finding snakes, spiders, scorpions and the like
For the uninitiated, this is how you do it. Seek out a stony field or dehesa and start turning the stones. Underneath them you will find a wonderful, hidden world of creatures that appear on too many menus to be able to afford themselves a place in the sun. They come out at night to hunt and avoid being hunted by crawling under a rock. Turning stones is rather like unwrapping Christmas gifts: it is exciting, highly addictive and there is always one more ahead that must hide something good. Mostly you will find ants and their nests, but every now and then you will find Scorpions, Tarantulas, Scolopendras or snakes. Toads, Western Spadefoots and Sharp-ribbed Newts are other possibilities and if you are lucky you might even stumble upon a Worm Lizard. Turning flat stones of over 20 by 20 centimetres yields the best results. Lift them up to one side, turn them over and step back. Be aware that some animals have a painful sting or bite. Never hold the stone you turned in your hand, because the animal might be underneath it and crawl up. Turning stones is very invasive for the animals that live beneath them. Many of them worked hard to create an underground nest. Therefore, make sure that you donâ€™t disturb the subterranean life too long and place the stone back in exactly the same position as you found it. Some snakes are active at night (see reptile and amphibians section on page 113). These often warm themselves on the surface of small country roads. A drive or walk at dusk can reveal Ladder, False and Southern Smooth Snakes. In spring these places are also used by other snakes and lizards to warm up for the day. Extremaduraâ€™s two aquatic snakes, Iberian Grass and Viperine Snake can be seen in the standing or slow-flowing sections of rivers. Note that snakes and lizards become more active in the course of May. A late April visitor may not see a single snake on his holiday, while a late May visitor could see one every day.
(Bird)watching the steppes
Even though they are open and there is little to restrict your view, finding the birds of the steppe is a challenge. To maximise your chances, make sure you go out early in the morning. You need to be out and about at sunrise. This is when the birds are active. In the late hours of the day, the bird activity sees another, more modest peak. Not only are the birds most active and vocal at this time of the day, they stand out more prominently in the low light, while in the middle of the day the heat haze makes observations difficult. Added advantage of rising early is the beautiful light over the steppes. The best way to find birds is to drive slowly along small steppe roads with the windows rolled down to hear the bird sounds (note that it can be cold driving like this, so dress appropriately).
This is the way to find Little Bustard and both sandgrouse. To help you recognise the calls download them in advance onto your mobile phone (see for downloads the excellent site www.xeno-canto.org/europe). Never (!) play back the calls of Little Bustard out loud in the field as it seriously disrupts the courtship of this strongly declining and fragile bird. Stop at vantage points (e.g. hill tops) and take your time to scan the area with your binoculars to find birds on the ground. A telescope makes birdwatching in the steppes easier and much more interesting. Birds are easily frightened off by movement. It is best not to leave your car, but if you do, stay low and next to the car to prevent the birds from detecting your movements. If you want to explore the steppes on foot, you’ll do best to choose a spot with a little water and some ‘dog’s teeth’ rocks. Here there is most to see in terms of insects, reptiles and plants and less to disturb in the form of vulnerable steppe birds.
Guided birdwatching excursions
There is a large team of local nature guides that offer guided birdwatching and / or naturalist excursions to groups or individual travellers, either for a single day or for a longer period. This is an excellent way of getting to know Extremadura more intimitely. Some are native Extremeños; others moved into the region from other parts of Spain, the UK, the Netherlands or Germany. They all speak English, and some speak other languages as well. These guides joined forces in the Birding in Extremadura Club (www.birdinginextremadura.com). Check this website to find a local nature guide to explore Extremadura with.
The numbers between the brackets () refer to the routes from page 128 onwards: Geese and ducks Most geese and ducks are winter birds on well-vegetated reservoirs. Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Pintail, and, more rarely, Wigeon and Red-crested Pochard, can be found on the shallow reservoirs of Arrocampo (4), Talaván (5) and Canchales (site D on page 245). In spring, these are the sites for Mallard (common) and the odd Gadwall. In 2019, several Ferruginous Ducks were present in Arrocampo (4). Greylag Goose is an uncommon winter visitor, while Egyptian Goose now breeds near small ponds in the steppes (e.g. 23). Partridges Red-legged Partridge is frequent in any shrubby terrain. Quail breeds in areas with cereal plots and mountain broom scrub (e.g. 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 14, 16, 23 and sites D and E on pages 203-204 and sites C, D, G and I on pages 245-249).
Grebes Great Crested Grebe is common on reservoirs throughout the year (4, 5, 17, 21 and site K on page 207 and sites A, B, D and E on pages 243-246. Little Grebe is locally common on reservoirs with vegetated shores. (4, 5, 6, 18 and sites B, D and E on pages 244-246). Cormorants, spoonbills, ibises, herons, and egrets Great Cormorant and Grey Heron are most frequent on large reservoirs and rivers. Spoonbill, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Night Heron, Little Bittern and Purple Heron breed in reedbeds (best 4, 17 and sites B, D and E on pages 244-246). Squacco Heron is currently only present at Arrocampo (4) and Azud de Guadiana (site E on page 246). Great Bittern is very scarce and mostly found at Arrocampo (4). Glossy Ibis is increasingly common along the Guadiana river (17, sites D and E on page 245-246) and since recently also at Arrocampo (4). Cattle Egrets associate with herds in plains and steppes and are rather common and widespread (best 4, 5, 6, 7, 17, 20, 21 and 23). Storks White Stork breeds in good numbers in almost any town and village and sometimes in large Eucalyptus trees in the steppes. Black Stork is a fairly frequent and widespread but shy, breeding bird along wooded rivers and cliffs near rivers. Monfragüe (1, 2 and 3) is the best place to find it, but you can find it in all mountainous areas. In September they congregate in large numbers on the edges of the reservoirs of Guadiloba (6). Vultures Vultures cover long distances and can be spotted anywhere, even from a terrace on the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo. This being said, Cáceres Province, the Sierra de San Pedro and the southeast (La Serena) definitely have the highest numbers. Griffon Vultures are most numerous. The best views are opbtained on routes 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 19, 22 and 24. Black Vultures are common in the northern mountains 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 11, 12 and 19. Egyptian Vulture is a lot less common and most easily seen on 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 22 and site J on page 206. Eagles Booted and Short-toed are widespread and can be seen anywhere. Golden Eagle is particularly frequent in La Serena (23, 24, site G on page 247), but can be seen Monfragüe, Hornachos and all other mountain ranges as well. Spanish Imperial Eagle breeds with several pairs in Monfragüe, and the nesting site at the Portilla del Tiétar (1) is for years now the most reliable site for this endemic bird. Other routes to look out for this bird are 6, 7 and 19. Bonelli’s Eagle is fairly easy to observe in the Sierra de Tiros (24), but also on 1, 3, 19, 23 and site F on page 247. Other birds of prey The Osprey is frequent on migration but rare in winter, mostly on rivers and shallow reservoirs (4, site K on page 207 and sites B, D and E on pages 244-246). Montagu’s Harrier has declined alarmingly and is now rare in the steppes of Cáceres (5, 6, 7), Brozas (site E on page 204). Only in La Serena it is still a common hunter of the arid fields (22, sites G and I on pages 247-249). Hen Harrier takes its place in winter. Marsh Harrier numbers are increasing. It is now frequent on wetlands (4, 5, 23, site B, D and E on pages 244-246). It is increasingly common in arid fields too. Red Kite is common and widespread in winter, but scarce in spring and summer (most in the northern mountains; 12, 14, site L on page 208). Black Kite is the most numerous bird of prey from March on-
wards. Black-winged Kite prefers cereal fields in open dehesas and not too dry agricultural land. It is not an easy bird to track down and seems to be a bit more numerous in winter. Good routes are 4, 5, 18, 23 and sites C, D and I on pages 245-249. Common Buzzard is widespread and rather common throughout. Sparrowhawk is fairly common in mountain forests. Goshawk and Honey Buzzard are raptors of the mountains, mostly in La Vera (14, 15, 16, site L on page 208) and to a lesser degree in Las Villuercas (9). Falcons and kestrels Lesser Kestrel used to be a very common, colonial bird in many towns and villages, but is declining alarmingly. It is still widespread, but numbers are not nearly what they once were. It breeds in town centres of Guadalupe, CĂĄceres, Plasencia, Trujillo, Jerez and Cabeza del Buey and can be seen on routes 4, 6, 7, 9, 19, 21 and 22). Common Kestrel is an uncommon breeding bird of open terrain. Merlin winters in small numbers in the steppes. Peregrine is a rare resident bird of cliffs (1, 9). Hobby is a scarce breeding bird, mostly along small rivers in La Serena and las Villuercas. Rails, crakes and gallinules Purple Gallinule, Water Rail and Moorhen breed at Arrocampo (4). Coot is frequent on many shallow reservoirs. Cranes and Bustards From November to early March Cranes feed in small family groups in dehesas (e.g. 4, 5, 6, 18, 22 and sites A, C, D, H and I on pages 244-249). The morning and evening commute back and forth from and to the night roosts offer spectacular sightings at the Embalse de TalavĂĄn (5), Moheda Alta (18), Canchales (site D on page 245) and above all, Puerto Mejoral (site H on page 248). The flight of the Cranes is the highlight of winter birding. Both Great and Little Bustard are best seen on routes 6, 7, site E on page 204 and site I on page 249). But above all, La Serena is the place to be (23 and site G on page 247). In winter, bustards form large groups and occur very locally throughout the steppes. Waders, Stone Curlew and Collared Pratincole Common Sandpiper is fairly common along streams. Little Ringed Plover frequents open reservoir shores (e.g. 6, 22 and site K on page 207 and site B on page 244). Black-winged Stilts are local but fairly easy to find on routes 4, 6, 18 and sometimes 22). Other waders (e.g. Little Stint, Dunlin, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper) occur on passage or in the winter on muddy reservoir shores (best 6 (Valdesalor), 18, site B and D on pages 244-245). Stone Curlews occur throughout the steppes and open dehesas. La Serena is the best (22, site G on page 247), but try route 5 and 6 too. Collared Pratincole is uncommon, but can be seen on 18 and 23 and site B and D on pages 244-245. Lapwing is frequent in winter in the open steppes. Golden Plovers occur in groups in the arid grasslands in winter. There are also records of groups of Dotterel. Gulls and terns Black-headed and Yellow-legged gull can be seen on the Azud de Guadiana and Embalse de VadecaĂąas (site K on page 207 and E on page 246). Gull-billed, Little and Common Terns (in that order of frequency) breed locally in marshes and shallow embalses (4, 6, 18 and site K on page 207 and sites B, D and E on pages 244-246). Whiskered and Black Terns are scarce on passage.
species list & translation
SPECIES LIST & TRANSLATION The following list comprises all species mentioned in this guidebook and gives their scientific, German and Dutch names. Some have an asterisk (*) behind them, indicating an unofficial name. See page 7 for more details.
English Scientific German Adenocarpus, Spanish* Adenocarpus Spanische Drüsenginster* argyrophyllus Alder Alnus glutinosa Schwarz-Erle Alkanet, Large Blue Anchusa azurea Italienische Ochsenzunge Andryala Andryala integrifolia Ganzblättrige Andryale Anemone, Palmate Anemone palmata Iberische Frühlings- Anemone Artichoke, Wild Cynara cardunculus Artischocke, Kardone Ash, Narrow-leaved Fraxinus angustifolia Schmalblättrige Esche Asparagus, Wild Asparagus sp. Wilder Spargel Asphodel, White Asphodelus albus Weisser Affodill Balm, Basterd Melittis melissophyllum Immenblad Barley Hordeum vulgare Mehrzeilige Gerste Bedstraw, Round-leaved Galium rotundifolium Rundblättriges Labkraut Bellflower, Lusitanian Campanula lusitanica Lusitanische Wiesen- Spreading* Glockenblume* Bellflower, Rampion Campanula rapunculus Rapunzel-Glockenblume Bindweed, Mallow-leaved Convolvulus althaeoides Eibischblättrige Winde Birch, Silver Betula pendula Hänge-Birke Bird’s-nest, Violet Limodorum abortivum Violetter Dingel Birthwort, Green- Aristolochia paucinervis Grunblütiges flowered* Pfeifenblume* Bluebell, Brown Dipcadi serotinum Schweifblatt Bluebell, Spanish Hyacinthoides hispanica Spanisches Hasenglöckchen Bramble Rubus sp. Brombeere Broom, Common Cytisus scoparius Besenginster Broom, Spanish White Cytisus multiflorus Vielblütiger Ginster Broomrape, Greater Orobanche rapum-genistae Ginster-Sommerwurz Sorrel, Cape Oxalis pes-caprae Nickender Sauerklee Campion, Rose Silene coronaria Kronen-Lichtnelke Catchfly, Pink* Silene colorata Farbige Lichtnelke* Catchfly, Small Flowered Silene gallica Französisches Lichtnelke Cherry, Wild Prunus avium Süss-Kirsche Chestnut, Sweet Castanea sativa Edelkastanie Cistus, Grey-leaved Cistus albidus Weissliche Zistrose Cistus, Gum Cistus ladanifer Lackzistrose
Dutch Spaanse klierbrem* Zwarte els Italiaanse ossetong Wolsla Mediterrane gele anemoon* Wilde artisjok, Kardoen Smalbladige es Wilde asperge Witte affodil Bijenblad Gerst Rondbladig walstro* Iberisch weideklokje* Rapunzelklokje Heemstbladige Winde Ruwe berk Paarse aspergeorchis Groenbloemige pijpbloem* Bruine hyacint* Spaanse hyacint Braam Gewone brem Witte brem Grote bremraap Knikkende klaverzuring Prikneus Kleurige Koekoeksbloem* Franse silene Zoete kers Tamme kastanje Viltig zonneroosje* Kleverig zonneroosje*
Cistus, Laurel-leaved Cistus laurifolius Lorbeerblättrige Zistrose. Laurierbladig 275 zonneroosje* Cistus, Narrow-leaved Cistus monspeliensis Montpellier-Zistrose Montpellier zonneroosje* Cistus, Poplar-leaved Cistus populifolius Pappelblättrige Zistrose Populierbladig zonneroosje* Cistus, Portuguese* Cistus psilosepalus Portugiesische Zistrose Portugees Zonneroosje Cistus, Sage-leaved Cistus salvifolius Salbeiblättrige Zistrose Saliebladig zonneroosje Cistus, Wrinkle-leaved Cistus crispus Krause Zistrose Krulzonneroosje* Cowslip Primula veris Wiesen-Schlüsselblume Gulden sleutelbloem Crupina Crupina crupinastrum Crupina* Crupina* Daffodil, Hoop-petticoat Narcissus bulbocodium Reifrocknarzisse Hoepelroknarcis Daffodil, White Hoop- Narcissus cantabricus Kantabrische Reifrock- Witte hoepelroknarcis* petticoat Narzisse Daisy, Annual Bellis annua Einjähriges Gänseblümchen Eenjarig madeliefje Eucalyptus Eucalyptus sp. Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Fennel, Giant Ferula communis Riesenfenchel Reuzenvenkel Fern, Bracken Pteridium aquilinum Adlerfarn Adelaarsvaren Fern, Royal Osmunda regalis Königsfarn Koningsvaren Foxglove, Heywood’s* Digitalis heywoodii Heywoods Fingerhut* Heywoods vingerhoedskruid* Foxglove, Purple Digitalis purpurea Roter Fingerhut Gewoon vingerhoedskruid Foxglove, Spanish Digitalis thapsi Iberischer Fingerhut Iberisch vingerhoedskruid* Friar’s Cowl Arisarum vulgare Krummstab Kromstafaronskelk Fritillary, Spanish Fritillaria lusitanica Portugiesische Schachblume Iberische kievitsbloem Galactites Galactites tomentosa Milchfleckdistel Galactites* Garlic, Rosy Allium roseum Rosen-Lauch Roze look Gentian, Gredos* Gentiana boryi Gredos-Enzian* Gredos gentiaan* Germander, Shrubby Teucrium fruticans Strauch-Gamander Struikgamander Gladiole, Italian Gladiolus segetum Saat-Siegwurz Italiaanse gladiool* Gorse Ulex sp. Stechginster Gaspeldoorn Grape-vine Vitis vinifera Wilde Weinrebe Wilde wijnstok Greenweed, Spiny* Genista hirsuta Behaarter Ginster Behaarde brem* Greenweed, Winged* Genista tridentata Geflügelter Ginster* Gevleugelde brem* Gromwell, Shrubby Lithodora fruticosa Strauch-Steinsame* Struikparelzaad* Hard-fern Blechnum spicant Rippenfarn Dubbelloof Hawk’s-beard Crepis sp. Pippau Streepzaad Heath, Portuguese Erica lusitanica Portugiesische Heide Portugese hei* Heath, Spanish Erica australis Südliche Heide Spaanse hei* Heath, Tree Erica arborea Baumheide Boomhei Heath, Umbel-flowered* Erica umbellata Schirmheide* Schermdophei* Helleborine, Narrow- Cephalanthera longifolia Schwertblättriges Wit bosvogeltje leaved Waldvögelein Helleborine, Tremols Epipactis tremolsii Tremols-Stendelwurz* Tremols’ wespenorchis* Honeywort Cerinthe major Grosse Wachsblume Grote wasbloem Hyacinth, Tassel Muscari comosum Schopfige Traubenhyazinthe Kuifhyacint Hypocist, Pink Cytinus ruber Rote Zistrosenwürger Rode hypocist Hypocist, Yellow Cytinus hypocistis Zistrosenwürger Gele hypocist Iris, Lusitanian Iris lusitanica Portugiesische Schwertlilie* Portugese lis* species list & translation
CROSSBILL GUIDES FOUNDATION
The wealth of birds and the splendid scenery has given Extremadura the status of a natural paradise. The rugged mountains, steppes and Mediterranean woodlands of this once unknown region in western Spain, are now one of the most appreciated destinations for wildlife enthusiasts. With this guide you will discover why.
• The guide that covers the wildflowers, birds and all other wildlife • Routes, where-to-watch-birds information and other observation tips • Insightful information on landscape and ecology
“Everything you need to turn up in the right place and at the right time to find some of the best wildlife in Europe ” Chris Packham – BBC Springwatch www . crossbillguides . org
if you want to see more
South of the rugged Gredos Mountains and west of the wind-blown uplands of central Spain lies a lost corner of the Spanish interior. This is...
Published on Oct 23, 2019
South of the rugged Gredos Mountains and west of the wind-blown uplands of central Spain lies a lost corner of the Spanish interior. This is...