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Traditionally, most birders visit themagnificent rolling steppes, ruggedsierras and Cork Oak woodland ofExtremadura in April and May, when thecountryside is besieged by migrants, andGreat Bustards are in full display. A birdingvisit in the crystal-clear light and relativelymild temperatures of winter, though, has itsown particular, very special, merit. We begin this holiday with a flight toMadrid, from where we head south-westthrough rolling hills, olive groves andwoodland to the central plateau ofExtremadura, where we find extensivesheep-grazed grasslands and the CorkOak forests known locally as 'dehasa'. Forall six nights we will be based in adelightful country house a short distancefrom the beautiful medieval town of Trujillo.With a lounge complete with open fire infront of which to complete our daily birdlog, a warm Spanish welcome and anenviable garden bird list, this is an ideallocality from which to explore the adjacentsteppes and Monfragüe National Park. Due in part to the shorter grass at this timeof year and the absence of any heat haze,Extremadura's many attractive residentbirds are much easier to see in winter thanat any other season. Stately Great Bustards(the world's heaviest flying bird) congregatein large numbers in their winter quarters,the males busily exercising their wings inreadiness for the annual spring-time battlefor a mate. Little Bustards, too, congregatein huge flocks of 500 or more and, as wescan the fallow steppes for flocks ofbustards, we may find Black-bellied or Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and flocks of larks.Great Spotted Cuckoos, too, may be seen,for they return from Africa as early as mid-January, while Stone Curlews, Calandraand Thekla Larks, Corn Buntings, SouthernGrey Shrikes, Little Owls, Hoopoes,Spotless Starlings, Spanish Sparrows,Woodlarks, White Wagtails and magnificentfar-reaching winter vistas complete thepicture out on the plains. We'll also enjoy watching the unforgettableevening spectacle of Common Cranes, inflocks of 10,000-strong, as they fly in totheir night-time roosts. Making the most ofpurpose-built hides in the area, the sight ofthese Cranes coming in at dusk as thewinter light slips beneath the horizon willbe a highlight of the tour. Elsewhere, theregion's lakes should hold large numbersof wildfowl, Purple Gallinule, Black-neckedand other Grebes, plus Cattle, Little and afew Great White Egrets. Water Rails, Cetti'sWarblers and exquisite Bluethroats emergeto forage at the fringes of the wetlands andin damp channels, all so much easier tosee than ever they are in Britain! Patchesof woodland and scrub hold LesserSpotted Woodpeckers, Azure-wingedMagpies, Blackcaps, Sardinian andDartford Warblers, Firecrests, Short-toedTreecreepers, Crested and Iberian Long-tailed Tits, Serins, Siskins, Hawfinches and Cirl Buntings. In fact many of thesespecies may be seen within a stone'sthrow of our accommodation! On thehigher ground Alpine Accentors over-winter, while Chough, Black Redstart,Raven, Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush,Rock Bunting and Black Wheatear are allon the cards along with the resident andomnipresent Crag Martins.No mention of birding in Extremadura,however, can be made without reference tothe magnificent raptor-watchingopportunities. The onset of winter sees theBlack Kite being replaced by the Red, andby January Spanish Imperial Eagles aredisplaying over their nest sites - abreathtaking sight. Although the Short-toedand Booted Eagles will not return fromAfrica until early March, there is still plentyof variety, with Golden Eagles starting tonest and airborne Griffon and BlackVultures drawing our attention to anycarrion in the area. Bonelli's Eagles soar inbonding pairs, with Buzzards havingarrived for the winter by the thousand fromelsewhere in Europe. Other residentsinclude Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Peregrineand, of course, the stunning and muchsought-after Black-shouldered Kite,another species with a tendency to formwinter groups. Eagle Owls have mated bylate December, with the female usuallyincubating by January, calling for the maleat dusk to bring her food. We hope that alate afternoon visit to a special site willprovide a fitting climax to our holiday.Spain - Extremadura inWinter (& at Christmas!) A thorough 7-day winter exploration of the bird-rich steppes of Extremadura.Wednesday 14th November - Tuesday 20th November 2012 Cost: £1,195Saturday 22nd December - Friday 28th December 2012 Cost: £1,195Tuesday 5th February - Monday 11th February 2013 Cost: £1,195Tuesday 12th November - Monday 18th November 2013 Cost: £1,195Sunday 22nd December - Saturday 28th December 2013 Cost: £1,295Outline itineraryDay 1Fly to Madrid, driveExtremadura.Day 2/6Daily programmeof birding excursionsfrom our base nearTrujillo.Day 7Fly London. AccommodationA beautifully restored andcomfortable country housein delightful surroundings; allrooms with private facilities.Food and wineAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Day walks only.FocusBirds.LeaderDavid Morris or ByronPalacios. Single room supplement£195.Web quick search: ESP23& ESP28122Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryFRANCEPORTUGALTRUJILLOGREDOS MOUNTAINSSEVILLEGUADALQUIVIRRIVERMADRIDATLANTICOCEANMEDITERRANEANSEASPAINBluethroatCommon CraneGreat Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

In 1956 a team of distinguishedornithologists organised an expedition toexplore the wilderness of marshes andwoodland along the Guadalquivir River insouthern Spain known as the Coto Doñana.At a time when foreign travel was still aremote dream for most people, thesubsequent account of the expedition inGuy Mountfort's classic book 'Portrait of aWilderness' made exciting reading andinspired ambitions to visit this remarkablearea. Five decades later, the Coto Doñanais still regarded as one of the bestbirdwatching sites in Europe but it owes itscontinued existence to the efforts ofdedicated conservationists, who havefought against a myriad of threats, rangingfrom encroachment by farming and touristdevelopments, to a serious chemicalpollution incident. Although the central coreof the area was declared a national park in1969, the conservation struggle continues,but each spring and autumn the marshesstill attract an amazing variety of birds andoffer one of the greatest ornithologicalspectacles on the continent. We begin our holiday in Seville, famous forits oranges and Moorish architecture, fromwhere we will drive south-west to the townof El Rocío, a delightful and elegant villagethat overlooks the lagoon, river andmarshlands that lie within the Coto DoñanaNational Park. With its white-washedbuildings (that include a magnificentchurch) and its unmetalled sandy streets,there is something of the American WildWest about this village! It also makes a finebase as we explore the wide range ofhabitats in the region: the mosaic ofmarshes, Stone Pine woodland, opengrassland and heathland, freshwater poolsand coastal sand dunes. Here we will enjoythe large numbers of birds of prey that arepresent in the park, together with numerousother migrants, including storks, herons,waders, ducks, gulls and terns. We will alsolook for some of the region's specialities,amongst them Purple Gallinule, MarbledTeal, Crested Coot and the rare SpanishImperial Eagle (seven pairs of which occurhere). Additionally, in the drier habitats, wewill search for such species as Azure-winged Magpie, Great Spotted Cuckoo,Tawny Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark andRed-necked Nightjar. A range of mammalsmay also be encountered in this part of thepark, most notably the Iberian Lynx, ofwhich a handful remain in this corner ofAndalucia, together with Red and FallowDeer, Hares and Rabbits all, potentially, to be found on the menu of thisendangered cat! For the latter half of our holiday we willfocus on the marshes and paddy fields inthe eastern part of the Doñana, where thebirding is excellent. We will focus, inparticular, on a vast area of 11,300hectares at the heart of the GuadalquivirMarshes that is included within the DoñanaNature Reserve and comprises anextensive area of 'naturally' farmed fish-ponds, pastures for cattle grazing, and ricepaddies - all areas being organicallyfarmed with great awareness of, andprovision for, the vast numbers of birdsattracted to this avian paradise. Avocets,Collared Pratincoles, White Storks, Slender-billed Gulls, Gull-billed Terns and manyother wetland bird species all nest in goodnumbers, whilst in winter hundreds ofthousands of ducks and waders thrivehere. The site also supports large numbersof Greater Flamingoes and Purple Gallinules, as well as Marbled Teal and theoccasional White-headed Duck. It is anexperience which will undoubtedly providethe highlight of this holiday. Both in spring and in winter one cannothelp but be impressed by the sheernumber of birds here. Pools are crowdedwith herons and egrets, flocks of ternsswoop over the marshes, and the sky isfilled with raptors. In spring, additionally, wewill hear the melodic outpourings ofNightingales from almost every thicket, andthe songs of Great Reed, Reed and Savi'sWarblers from the reedbeds, whilst Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles add their liquidtones to the chorus. With practice, some ofthe less familiar songs may also beidentified: the scratchy warbling ofSubalpine and Spectacled Warblers in thescrub, or perhaps the persistent rattle of aCirl Bunting. Chirping tree-frogs andcrickets remind us that not all the soundsare produced by birds and the fragrance ofa myriad of flowers ensure that the Doñanaexperience envelops all of our senses!Raptor enthusiasts will be delighted by theabundance of birds of prey inhabiting theDoñana, amongst them Griffon Vultures,Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Goshawks,harriers and both Red and Black Kites, butit will inevitably be the sights and sounds of the marismasthat will leave the mostindelible memory of our visit to this fragile Spanish wilderness. Spain - The Best of Coto Doñana A thorough, 5-day exploration of the magnificent Coto Doñana National Park in search of theincredible birdlife of both its best and least-known corners, in the company of local conservationists. Thursday 22nd November - Monday 26th November 2012 Cost: £995Tuesday 12th February - Saturday 16th February 2013 Cost: £995Saturday 13th April - Wednesday 17th April 2013 Cost: £995Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFRANCEPORTUGALTRUJILLOEL ROCÍOSEVILLEGUADALQUIVIRRIVERMADRIDATLANTICOCEANMEDITERRANEAN SEASPAINSANLÚCAR DE BARRAMEDAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Seville and overnightEl Rocío.Day 2/4El Rocío.Day 5Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotel, all roomswith private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy birdwatching walks.FocusBirds.LeaderKevin Elsby, Peter Dunn or ByronPalacios.Single room supplement£95.Web quick search: ESP09123Collared PratincoleWhite StorkCoto Doñana