Ur­ban bird­ing

Ur­ban Birder David Lindo con­firms why Ex­tremadura is a pop­u­lar draw for bird­watch­ers from all over the world

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

David Lindo on why Ex­tremadura is such a pop­u­lar bird­ing des­ti­na­tion

At twice the size of Wales, Ex­tremadura is the fifth big­gest re­gion in Spain. Sit­u­ated in the south-west of the coun­try, it borders Por­tu­gal along its western edge. It is a sparsely pop­u­lated place, with a lit­tle more than 1.1 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants and only 60,000 liv­ing in Mérida, the re­gion’s cap­i­tal. Ex­tremadura is well known within bird­ing cir­cles for be­ing one of the best places in Western Europe for or­nithol­ogy. What is less well known is that its ci­ties have the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing among the very few Euro­pean ur­ban cen­tres des­ig­nated by the EU as Spe­cial Pro­tec­tion Ar­eas for birds. Be­tween them, Ex­tremadu­ran ci­ties host about 15% of the en­tire Lesser Kestrel pop­u­la­tion in Europe and two of the largest con­cen­tra­tions of breed­ing pairs are in Cáceres and Tru­jillo, ci­ties that are more than an hour’s drive from Mérida. Al­though the city is not graced with a size­able Lesser Kestrel colony sweep­ing above the rooftops of its old town, there is lit­tle chance of miss­ing the nu­mer­ous White Storks. They openly nest on the roofs of ho­tels and other build­ings as well as the pin­na­cles of the plen­ti­ful Ro­man ru­ins that this city is so fa­mous for. Their nests are a par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive sight, nes­tled on top of the Acue­ducto de los Mi­la­gros (Aqueduct of Mir­a­cles) the ru­ins of a Ro­man aqueduct bridge. A walk around the old city in the sum­mer would re­sult in the sight of nu­mer­ous House Martins and Swal­lows. Scream­ing Pal­lid Swifts chase around the build­ings at break­neck speed. Aside from be­ing sub­tly dif­fer­ent to Swifts in their browner coloura­tion and less fre­netic flight on slightly broader wings, their screams are some­what more clipped than the Swift that we know so well. With them can be the larger Alpine Swifts, and higher still drift Black Kite and oc­ca­sion­ally Booted Ea­gle and both Black and Grif­fon Vul­tures. Dur­ing the win­ter, when the swifts have de­parted, the Black Kites are re­placed by their larger and more north­ern Red cousins, Lesser Black-backed Gulls criss-cross the skies, and if you lis­ten care­fully, you may hear the wild bu­gles em­a­nat­ing from flocks of travers­ing Cranes. Mérida is also famed for pos­sess­ing the Puente Ro­mano, or the Ro­man Bridge. Strad­dling the Gua­di­ana River that dis­sects the city, sep­a­rat­ing the older quar­ter from the more mod­ern side, it is the long­est of all the Ro­man bridges still in use in the world. It is also the num­ber one ur­ban bird­ing lo­ca­tion in the city. Bird­ers slowly walk its 792m span look­ing over the sides for birds. It is ar­guably the best place in the whole of Ex­tremadura from which to find Pur­ple Swamphen, and you are guar­an­teed truck­loads of Cat­tle Egrets. You may also be lucky enough to see Lit­tle Egret, Night Heron, Glossy Ibis and Spoon­bill that breed a few hun­dred me­tres down­river next to the more mod­ern Lusi­ta­nia Bridge. Check­ing the small reedbeds at the east­ern end of the Ro­man Bridge could bring you par­ties

of Pen­du­line Tit, while scan­ning the river­side Par­que de las VII Sil­las (the Park of Seven Seats) will ex­cite your senses with pos­si­ble sight­ings of Lit­tle Bittern, King­fisher, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Cetti’s War­bler, Golden Ori­ole, Spot­less Star­ling and Serin. Nest­ing within the crevices of the bridge it­self are Jack­daws, prac­ti­cally rub­bing alu­las with fel­low nest­ing House Spar­rows, Crag Martins, Alpine and Pal­lid Swifts. The bridge is also a good place to ob­serve mi­grants dur­ing the mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods and birds like Black Stork, Osprey and Short-toed Ea­gle have all been recorded.

Not to be missed

Ne­glect wan­der­ing the man­i­cured con­fines of Par­que de las VII Sil­las at your peril. Re­cent good birds have in­cluded Bluethroat, plus Mous­tached and Yel­low-browed War­blers. More likely are Iberian Chif­fchaff, Western Bonelli’s and Western Subalpine War­blers dur­ing mi­gra­tion sea­sons. Gull-billed Tern, Crested Lark, Melo­di­ous War­bler, Zit­ting Cis­ti­cola, Red-rumped Swal­low and Stonechat that breed in or nearby the park along with lit­er­ally scores of Chif­fchaffs, dur­ing the win­ter. Counted within the Mérida Met­ro­pol­i­tan Area are a few other sites that are worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing. Em­balse de Proser­pina or Proser­pina Reser­voir lies within 4km of the city cen­tre. It is a pop­u­lar reser­voir, heav­ily used by lo­cal an­glers and its south­ern end is very ur­ban. De­spite this dis­tur­bance it is still worth a quick visit, par­tic­u­larly at the dam end, which is a his­tor­i­cal fea­ture see­ing as it was built by the Ro­mans. Hirundines are plen­ti­ful, as are Serin and other com­mon finches. Look out for Blue Rock Thrush on the ac­tual dam wall it­self. Em­balse de Mon­tijo is an­other spot well worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing. To­tally un­der­watched, this site could yield al­most any­thing. Egrets, Pur­ple Heron and rap­tors, like Marsh Harrier and vul­tures, are a given. Fi­nally, Casa de la Luz, which is about 9km out­side of the city on the road to Alange, is an in­ter­est­ing, small re­serve-cum-pub­lic park along the banks of the Gua­di­ana River. The habi­tat con­sists of river­ine wood­land and more open scrubby ar­eas. Dur­ing the sum­mer, this site boasts Wry­neck, Red-necked Night­jar and one or two pairs of the frus­trat­ingly shy Is­abelline War­bler, for­mally known as the Western Oli­va­ceous War­bler. More ex­pected are Pur­ple Heron, Azurewinged Mag­pie, Golden Ori­ole and dur­ing the sum­mer even­ings a large roost of Black Kites gath­ers.

Ro­man Bridge, Mérida

Wry­neck

Alpine Swift

Fe­male Lesser Kestrel

Hoopoe

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