Sunday, June 17, 2007

Madrid Trip Report

From 13th-16th June I was away on a short t
rip to Madrid, taking advantage of some ridiculously cheap flights from easyjet to have a look for some typical southern european birds that dont occur this far north in Spain.


After arriving on the afternoon Easyjet flight from Asturias, I caught the Metro into the city centre and checked in to ‘Los Amigos Hostel’. With a few hours of daylight left I took the Metro out to the Cassa de Campo, a large park, on the Western edge of the city. Despite being very busy with people, there was still a decent selection of common birds around. The highlight being several noisy Monk Parakeet, an exotic feral species here in Europe. Also of interest were a few flyover White Stork, and a sharpei (Iberian) Green Woodpecker.

Monk Parakeet


Looking forward to the first full days birding in the city, I took the Metro to the ‘Moncloa’ station, then the 601 bus to Mingorubio and the nearby El Pardo Nature Reserve. On arrival at the river, just below the Dam, Nightingales were loudly singing all over the place, seemingly competing with Cetti’s Warblers to see who could sing the loudest. Serins were also buzzing away from almost every tree.


Walking along the river back towards Mingorubio I soon bumped into one of my biggest ‘bogey birds’, a fine pair of Bee-eaters perched up on the telephone wires. A Hoopoe flew over my head from the vast woodlands on the other side of the river and a solitary Azure-winged Magpie completed a very colourful trio, then to add the scene, a male Golden Oriole flitted between trees on the opposite bank and a Kingfisher whizzed downstream. The riverside scrub held a few singing Reed and Melodious Warblers.

A quick stop by the bridge in Mingorubio for a drink and a sandwich was very productive, with a confiding pair of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and Nuthatch feeding young in the trees on the side of the river. I walked up the hill to the observation tower, which regrettably seemed unavailable for public use. The surrounding woodland was well worth the walk however, with several male Subalpine Warbler, a group of Hawfinch in the pines near the restaurant, a Cardinal Butterfly and a Wild Boar.



Walking back down to Mingorubio a pair of Griffon Vultures flapped lazily overhead and were followed soon after by a light phase Booted Eagle.

Wild boar

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Subalpine Warbler

A walk around the scrubby grassland between the river and road North of Mingorubio produced a Sardinian Warbler and Cirl and Corn Buntings, along with a few Black Kites overhead and a Red-rumped Swallow that shot through.

I then crossed over the road to explore the relatively dense woodland there. A group of 20 or so Azure-winged Magpies passed through noisily and Crested Tits called occasionally throughout the woods. I also bumped into a family group of Wild Boar, which luckily decided that they would rather hide than try and see me off!

On the bus back I saw my only gull of the trip, a single Black-headed Gull flying south over the river, and a Peregrine floating around the edges of the city.

Sardinian Warbler


I again boarded the Metro early in the morning, this time I got off at Rivas- Vaciamadrid, in the South of the city. After leaving the station I crossed the footbridge over the motorway to get to a ‘Parque-Nacional de Sureste’ an reserve that was an interesting mix of wasteland and wetland, with a small lake in the middle and edged on two sides by mucky looking rivers. Walking out to the first hide at the lake there were a few flocks of Spotless Starlings on the wasteland, a Turtle Dove purring from the riverside trees, a Bee-eater perched up on a dead tree and several White Storks overhead. On arrival at the hide, a Great Reed Warbler was singing loudly but refused to show itself. A Purple Heron and a Little Bittern flew across the lake, of which only a few Coot, Great Crested and LittleGrebes were feeding on.

Then came the most unexpected moment of the trip, as I left the hide to walk around the edge of the lake, I flushed a nightjar from the side of the track, only when it disappeared behind a clump of trees did I realise that it looked very Rufous. Luckily I relocated it in the deck and clinched it as a Red-necked Nightjar, an awesome unexpected lifer!

Red-necked Nightjar (part of)

Continuing along the track, good birds continued to flow, first off a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo, that flew across the river, then a pair of Penduline Tits nesting in the riverside willows. There was a constant backdrop of Golden Orioles fluting away and occasionally revealing themselves as they flew from tree to tree. A Zitting Cisticola performed a few song flights over the track and a Booted Eagle passed through overhead, along with plenty of Black Kites. On arrival at the second hide, two Great Reed Warblers were singing and I finally got good views of one as it clambered up the reeds. Walking back to town, the only new birds were a group of 4 Cattle Egrets that flew towards the wetlands.

Great Reed Warbler

After getting a bite to eat in Rivas, I headed out to the rocky slopes to the East of the town. The first part of the walk was quite disturbed by dog-walkers, but a few Crested Larks were singing and a single Bee-eater flew over. Walking further out to a high escarpment a Southern Grey Shrike was perched on an electricity pylon, and a group of Red-billed Chough were feeding on the slopes below the path. On the escarpment, 3 Thekla Larks, showed well, but were pretty much the only birds present. Walking back to Rivas, the only bird of note was a Booted Eagle flew past very low.

Thekla Lark


Santiago Villa, from Spain Birds, picked me up from my hostel in central Madrid at 07:00am and we headed off to the Jarama plains, to the North of the city. The plan was to see the two Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, along with plenty of the plains commoner inhabitants that would still be lifers for me. On arrival at the site, a quick scan of the fields revealed a few Crested Larks and a Corn Bunting, and a Red-legged Partridge but none of our target species. We drove further into the fields and a stop at some bushes by a few houses produced a male Spanish Sparrow in a flock of House Sparrows, and a few singing Serins.

Corn Bunting


Soon after we drove off, Santiago picked up on the call of a Rock Sparrow, stopping quickly we soon located a pair perched on a distant bush, before flying off over the river. Suddenly a pair of Little Bustard appeared, flying low across the fields, giving good flight views before dropping into the long grass and disappearing from view. Continuing along the track a single Great Bustard flapped across the road and dropped down over a nearby rise, we paused quickly to look at a pair of Stone Curlew next to the road, then carried on in pursuit of the Bustard. We soon picked out the bird, along with 4 others, in a nearby field, they gave excellent scope views as they walked around in very stately fashion, a truly magnificent bird. Whilst admiring these birds, a Little Bustard started calling from the field next to the road, frustratingly the grass was too long to see the bird in the field, but then another male appeared out of the edge pf the field further down the track, called a few times on the edge of the field, before walking out right into the middle of the track, giving excellent full views through the scope as it threw its head back, with the short, dry rattle of a call reaching us a fraction of a second later. Santiago then pointed out a Short-toed Lark in song flight over our heads, and it soon descended to join several others on a nearby soil heap. Turning back to look at the Great Bustards, a male Montagu’s Harrier was hunting silently over the same field, and all of a sudden, some alarm calls from the ever present hirundines drew our attention to a juvenile Goshawk powering through, the first one that Santiago had recorded at this site!

After getting our fill of all these great birds, as well as a small flock of Turtle Doves, a pair of Bee-eater and a group of Cattle Egret passing through, we headed back the way we has come in search of our final target species. Parking next to very basic airstrip in the fields, we walked up to some old ruins where a small colony of Rock Sparrows were breeding, giving much better views than we had before. As we continued walking uphill, a Zitting Cisticola flew overhead in song flight and then a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo flew around us in a wide arc. Coming over the crest of a hill we stumbled across a large group of Great Bustards, 24 birds in total, and mainly the impressive thick necked males, a stunning sight as they flew low across the plains before landing fully in the open in a ploughed field, holding their heads high and proud. Frustratingly, we heard the call of the Black-bellied Sandgrouse but despite some frantic looking for a flock in flight they remained unseen. A ringtail Hen Harrier hunted along the other side of the valley, behind the bustards, and more Crested Larks were signing from the neighbouring fields. Walking back, another Little Bustard flew over close by, we could hear the wind whistling through its flight feathers. As we got back to the car, a pair of Lapwing flew over, calling loudly. Driving back along the river, pair of Little Owls were perched up on an old building where they nest annually. Driving out towards the fields that Santiago considered our best bet for the Sandgrouse we stopped to check out the House Sparrow flock again, and got good views of another male Spanish Sparrow, a much smarter bird than its commoner relatives. We parked up and set off along a dusty track alongside some fields that looked ideal for Sandgrouse but with no joy. A male Marsh Harrier completed a trio of harrier species and a Red Kite flew over the trees on the far edge of the field. Time was starting to run out and although we had seen many great birds I was secretly a little disappointed that it looked like we were going to dip on the Sandgrouse, then just as we were thinking of turning back I scanned along the far edge of the field and picked up a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight, unfortunately they flew away from us and into the distance, I was proper relieved to see the birds but the views hadn’t been great. Santiago thought that there was a good chance that the pair we had seen had been part of a larger flock that may still be in the fields so we carried on, and sure enough soon another 3 birds flew from the far side of the field and flew past us giving much more prolonged and closer views, great stuff, I had seen everything I had wanted too, not an easy ask at this time of year. As we walked back to the car feeling rather happy, we had the most bizarre sighting of the whole trip, a pair of Ruddy Shelduck that appeared from the far horizon, flew over our heads and off towards the river in the distance, a crazy record, and unsurprisingly another ‘site first’ for Santiago. There was till more in store however, with males of both Hen and Montagu’s Harrier before we got back to the car. Before we left, a quick stop by the river was very birdy, with a family party of Penduline Tits, more Spanish Sparrows a Woodchat Shrike and a male Golden Oriole devouring a massive green caterpillar.

Satisfied with a superb mornings birding, Santiago dropped me off at Barrajas Airport for my short flight back to North Spain.

Overall this was an excellent trip, with 92 species recorded, of which 17 were lifers for me. I would thoroughly recommend Madrid for a short birding trip, with a whole host of good birds seen easily using only public transport, as well as being a lively and fascinating city to enjoy in the evenings.

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