June 20, 2015, Monfrague National Park, Spain — It’s hard to believe, but I’m already running out of easy birds in Europe. When I arrived in Spain two days ago, I’d already seen more than 65 percent of the species that have ever been recorded in this country, and most of the remaining ones are tough. Looking at the list of possibilities, Gorka decided we should go to Extremadura today, in central Spain, and stay at Monfrague National Park.
This required a longish drive from the coast across Spain’s central plateau, a large flat area in the middle of the country. I mostly caught up on sleep riding shotgun this morning but woke up for a few minutes when we stopped to look for Great Bustards, the world’s heaviest flying animal.
Bustards (rhymes with “mustard,” not “plastered”) like to walk on the ground in open fields, and Gorka eventually spotted one in an overgrown agricultural patch. “The most endangered birds in Spain tend to be the birds of open habitats,” Gorka said, echoing what I heard last week in Norway. Cleaner farming practices, along with the rise of irrigation in this area (which means fields are left fallow less often), leave less room for birds. We also searched for related Little Bustards but didn’t find any; they have apparently declined dramatically in recent years.
By the time we reached Monfrague, the carmometer read 38 degrees Celsius (just over 100 Fahrenheit)—officially the hottest temperature I’ve yet experienced this year! Bird activity was slow in the heat, but we soon found some good specialties, including several groups of Iberian (Azure-winged) Magpies, one of my most-wanted birds in Spain.
Gorka and I watched the sunset from the Monfrague Castle, overlooking the Salto del Gitano cliffs where several dozen Griffon Vultures perched on the rocks; a White-rumped Swift glided past, and Black Kites circled on the horizon. Monfrague National Park is one of Spain’s best-known birding hotspots and a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and one of the best places to look for the Spanish Imperial Eagle—hope we see one in the morning!
New birds today: 10
Year list: 3041