Crossbill: The Nature Guide to Extremadura, Spain
The name “Extremadura” can be loosely translated as ‘the back of beyond’ for this vast, open, sparsely populated area south west of Madrid has long been regarded as something of a backwater. Yet this very isolation and, not least, its poor soils, have saved it from aggressive agricultural change. Today it is fast becoming THE location for those searching out Spain’s stunning scenic, environmental and cultural heritage. Extremadura is dominated by dehesas, a unique landscape of extensive open oak woodland and pasture that seems more in keeping with an African savannah than part of Europe. Dehesas cover hundreds of thousands of hectares of the rolling Extremaduran hills, their expanses occasionally broken by sudden, rocky mountainous outcrops or steep river gorges. Other areas are devoid of trees, and covered instead by a type of steppe of herbs, grasses and tough retama brooms.
The Extremadura landscape is wild and open, but, especially in spring, also has a very attractive face, with flower-lined streams and a profusion of wildflowers in the dehesas.
Famed for its birds
Although still fairly unknown even today, Extremadura’s reputation for having an unspoilt landscape and incredibly rich birdlife began attracting a trickle of foreign travellers some thirty years ago. Birds of prey, in particular, are well represented here. The numbers of griffon and black vultures are exceptionally high, and there are healthy populations of eagles, including the impressive Spanish Imperial Eagle, which is confined to the south-western Iberian Peninsula. Of prime importance is Monfragüe National Park, where most raptors can be seen with relative ease, and the vulture colonies allow impressive views.
Extremadura is also one of the best areas in Europe for steppe birds, like Great and Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and various species of larks. Birdwatchers will be thrilled by the large colonies of Lesser Kestrels, the Barn Owls, Pallid Swifts and the many Storks that breed on the old downtown Castillos. With such a cast of exciting species Extremadura enjoys top billing amongst European birdwatchers.
Mountain scenery and isolated villages
But Extremadura has much more on offer than birds alone. The small, isolated villages and the old, medieval towns of Trujillo and Cáceres are a feast for the eye for the culture vultures (although the die-hard ornithologist can still watch the ‘real’ vultures soaring high over the Plaza Mayor). Access is constantly improving with a wide network of rural B&B’s and an increasing number of marked trails which open up the many mountain ranges for exploration. Departing from picturesque small villages, one can walk in the pleasant shade of the chestnut groves and Pyrenean oak forests, while you admire the scenery, plant and insect life of the mountains (there are some great butterflies here). For a long time the best way to visit Extremadura was in guided groups, but this has now changed. In recent years, the government of Extremadura has greatly improved the tourist facilities, and nowadays the region can be easily explored on your own.
The Crossbill Guide to the Extremadura (2011) introduces you to this fascinating region and provides you with itineraries to discover the area at your own pace. A trip to the Extremadura can easily be combined with a visit to the Coto Doñana, which is covered by the nature Guide to Coto Doñana, and to the Sierra de Grazalema, which is covered by the nature Guide to the Andalusian Sierras. Alternatively you can travel north to the high mountain regions of Sierra de Gredos or Picos de Europa.
Author: Dirk Hilbers
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