The Steppe

We found ourselves on the steppe near Trujillo in the chill of early morning scouring the short grassland for signs of bustards. All around we were serenaded by the trills and fluty calls of corn buntings and crested larks whilst on the horizon the odd red kite struggled to gain height in the absence of any thermals. After a few minutes fruitless scanning I happened upon what could easily have been mistaken for a couple of piles of earth at the far end of a nearby field, except that one of these earth piles raised its head to reveal itself as a little bustard. Within a few seconds another bird appeared and then a third, this one a fine male which made for a great start to our day absorbing the delights of the vast emptiness of the plains of Extremadura. But this was just a taste, a tease, of what was to come on this wonderful days birding.

We moved on a mile or so and found ourselves walking along an isolated track flanked by a large expanse of gently undulating steppe. Iberian grey shrikes flitted from fence post to fence post, a thekla lark perched alongside a crested lark offering a text book comparison of their respective identification points, brightly coloured stonechats hopped from stem to stem and lapwings uttered their plaintive calls as we lazily made progress. And there ahead of us we saw them, a group of great bustards haughtily strolling through the sward. We slowly approached their domain but before we reached critical distance were side-swiped by another party, hitherto unseen, taking wing from behind a ridge and flying straight across our path - magical. But there was more. Within a few minutes we had seen both pin-tailed and black-bellied sandgrouse speeding across the plain, distant griffon vultures spiralling skywards on the warming air and then the highlight, a lone black vulture that approached so close it more than filled the viewfinder of my camera. How good can it get?

Better. A lunch stop quickly produced kingfisher, grey wagtail and several overwintering chiffchaffs. More griffon vultures and red kites passed on high and then two larger birds circled closer and these were Eagles, golden eagles, a courting pair. These lovers entranced us for several minutes before passing from view but within a few minutes more another appeared from behind a ridge very low and very big. A pair of Ravens took exception to this massive predator and gave chase, harassing the eagle, mobbing it incessantly as it progressed across the river valley. We hardly drew breath before a yet another, our fourth for the day, flew lazily along the valley giving prolonged and appreciated views to all.

We moved on to another area of steppe hoping for better views of sandgrouse. Instead we were treated to the unlooked for and unexpected sight of a pair of Spanish imperial Eagles engaged in their courtship dance. Beautiful birds. Spring was certainly in the air in central Spain today.

We ended the days birding with a brief stop at yet another area of isolated rolling steppe and within a casual scan of the scope could see great bustard, red kite, buzzard, little owl, larks, buntings, and the ever present lapwings and golden plover. Almost too much even without the azure-winged magpies and hoopoe on the approach to our hotel.

The evening meal was full of talk of today's birds and what delights tomorrow may bring (we're promised many). The hoteliers daughter played beautiful piano for us and the delightful home cooking washed down with a rather cheeky wine rounded it off a treat. I'm enjoying this holiday.

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