We left Donana with the notion that we could return for Marbled Duck on the final morning. For now, the crags of Monfrague and the plains of Trujillo promised once-in-a-lifetime epicness. We executed our assault on both suberbly, finding a campground with the help of Ramata at base command. We checked in west of the plains and got as much sleep as we could before our pre-dawn start. Following the directions of Garcia and Patterson, we navigated the ranch roads in the dark. We flushed the occasional Little Owl and could hear the larks and corn buntings breaking into song, heralding the dawn of one of the most epic days of our lives.
|Dawn on the plains of Trujillo|
The Great's smaller counterpart, the Little Bustard, proved elusive and with the morning spent, we tried our luck at Monfrague. The Castel de Monfrague sat atop a precipetous crag, villanously encircled by throngs of bloodthirsty vultures, with a spattering of other raptors ready to strip bare any carcass within a 100 mile radius. The cliffs were saturated with Griffons, plastered with decades-worth of their white feces.
|Castillo de Monfrague|
|Steve with vulture colony on cliff behind him|
|"Particular trail without interest"|
|Eurasian Griffon Vulture|
We proceeded to drive along the gully, where Steve learned a valuable lesson about Spanish driving. Apparently, it is not permitted to stop anywhere, even when observing wildlife in an area specifically devoted to said activty. Steve wanted to put this cultural norm to the test, stopping to look at this or that bird. Immediately, we had caused a 4-car jam. He slowly creeped along the side, waiving at them to pass him. However, this escalated the situation as the Spaniards proceeded to ride his ass until he decided to speed up. Steve held his ground, hoping that common sense would prevail. It was like we were watching Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, with Spaniards hysterically yelling foul language and honking. "Hijo de puta!" and "No puedes hacer eso aqui!" yelled one Spaniard as he ripped passed us. Well, lesson learned. In someone else's country, you need to follow the customs, however dumb they seem to us.
We were on the trail of Egyptian Vulture and Eagle-Owl. The Eagle-Owl nest site was vacant since word was that the female had died and the male wandered off. Talking with a French family, we heard an amazing story of a Lynx walking past the dad as he enjoyed a cold beer at his roadside camp at Sierra del Andujar. Shit, maybe we could see one! Our brains immediately started scheming on how we could pull this off and still see all the birds we wanted to see. As we got back into the car, the fellow called us back. We narrowly avoided missing a soaring Bonelli's Eagle. WOW! Then it was onto the Egyptian Vulture, which was sitting on her nest just above the water. A pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles on a nest with simultaneous Blue Rock Thrush added a perfect ending to an epic day. We returned to the campground totally juiced and passed out on the grass.
|Dom kept disciplined ebird checklists for the whole trip|
As night came, I was determined to get my view of a Eurasian Scops Owl, since we'd heard them the night before. To do this, I needed to leave the campground, which was all walled off, and wander into the neighboring pasture. I hopped the barbed wire and honed in on the source of their tooting calls, which was tricky as whenever I got closer, the sound would get more distant. They were outwitting me. Next, I tried approaching very slowly and did not activate my light until I was right bellow the tree. I heard the call, turned on my light and there it was just a few feet above, a perfect view. After basking in its glory for 5 minutes or so, I raised my camera for a pic but that was enough to scare it off into the night. For some reason, Dom was not phased at missing these amazing views of a life owl.
We were up the following morning to hit up the other side of Trujillo, just east of the town. It was a difficult choice on which area to pick but we decided on this spot because many tour groups choose to go here. It did not disappoint, as we saw many more Great Bustards and eventually, two Little Bustards which was a big relief for me! Although they were about 200m away so left good views to be desired, so we explored further.
|Great Bustard lek|
|Little Owl habitat|
By that time in the morning, the bustard show was over but birds abounded. As we were stopped, a bird with a long tail flew over the road...Great Spotted Cuckoo! We drove further in the direction it had gone and secured stunning views of a male and female. These majestic parasites had arrived, ready to infiltrate the nests of unsuspecting Magpies. Time spent beside a derelict farmhouse yielded Iberian Shrike. Inspection of two White Stork nests revealed smart-looking Spanish Sparrows nesting inside.
|Great Spotted Cuckoo|
|Iberian Gray Shrike|
What a morning! With our siege on the local birdlife complete, we decided to turn out assault to the castle in the nearby town. We refreshed ourselves in the Plaza Major before climbing up the hill to the 12th century Castillo, imagining what life would be like under the 500 year Arab rule.
|Castillo de Caceres|