We left our hotel located a few kilometres east of Trujillo just as dawn was breaking. A 45 minute drive through frost covered pasture along mostly empty roads took us to Monfrague National Park. Here we stopped at a viewpoint, Salto Del Gitano (which we're told translates to Gypsy's Leap), overlooking a high rocky outcrop bathed in the crisp light of early morning. Griffon vultures use the cliffs here for breeding and already there were dozens of these large raptors soaring above the ridge. Most were heavily engaged in nesting activity, some sweeping in low across the gorge with sprigs of greenery in their beaks hurtling at breakneck speed towards the sheer rock face only to pull up at the last second and alight beside their chosen nest site on an inaccessible ledge. Some of these impressive raptors would pass quite close allowing us all to fully appreciate their size and aerial prowess, they really are effortless masters of the air and will fly miles seemingly without having to flap their wings at all. Although their habits are a touch unappealing I like them and close to they really are the most handsome of birds. We also saw a confiding blue rock thrush and singing cirl bunting at this site whilst one of our group managed to photograph a short-toed tree creeper that was seeking insects from the cavities in the stonework on which we all stood. Nobody else saw this little bird pecking around our feet because we were all looking up at the unforgettable spectacle of large numbers of vultures soaring to and fro, but you can't win them all. This all made for an excellent start to what would be an exceptional day.
We moved along the narrow winding roads through scrub clad hillsides and rocky scree to another site providing spectacular views of a high rock face where within a couple of minutes we first heard and then saw a Spanish Imperial eagle perched on an isolated branch of a dead tree. How lucky were we? Through the scope we had simply stunning views of this endangered bird as it surveyed its territory from on high. We would have been satisfied with this but the eagles, for there were now a pair on show, were not done with us and over the ensuing couple of hours put on excellent displays of courtship sky dancing followed by majestic patrolling of the cliff face harassing the griffon vultures just to show them who was boss.
We spent the afternoon walking through some native pine forest finding crested tit and various other small birds before returning to this amazing raptor watch point in late afternoon with the purpose of finding an eagle owl. It was a long vigil and most of the party were getting a little tired before light relief appeared in the form of a fishing otter. This lively mammal entertained the group for half an hour during which time it must have caught half a dozen fish from the clear river waters. And then just as dusk was falling the eerie, far carrying call of a male eagle owl began to echo off the rock face. Fourteen pairs of binoculars began scanning the boulders for a glimpse of the bird and quite fittingly our leader found it, excitedly pointing to the silhouette perched at the very top of the rock face and calling its mate with evenly spaced single hoots. Elated we drove back to the hotel, late for dinner, very tired, but pleased with a fantastic days nature watching in a simply magical place.