Why Spain? You ask. The answer has been the same on recent trips both when boarding a plane or hitting the road. Birds, birds, birds.
Extremadura, the province southwest of Madrid, boasts an amazing array of avian riches in Europe, a high consentration of raptors and a handful of endemics which are birds that are found nowhere else in Europe.
Birders come from all over Europe to make a pilgrimage to this rural part of Spain to see Spainish imperial eagle (which once graced the flag of Franco’s Spain), Egyptian, griffon, and black vultures, black stork, Iberian magpie, bee-eater, lesser kestrel, great and little bustard. Many of the twitchers hailed from the mighty triad of birding nations of Northern Europe: the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain.
Extremadura sits on the flyway that bridges Northern Europe with Africa. This part of the Iberian Peninsula provides breeding habits for the colorful European bee-eater and roller as well as providing a year round habitat from many other species.
For this expedition I hired the services of a guide to take me to the birds, work as a translator and go-between with the locals, and help me navigate rural Spanish cuisine (which for me meant cheese, bread, and beer but sometimes augmented with wine.)
My mastery of Castilian is clearly demonstrated by my different spelling of Las Canteras in this spread. It’s great to know that my spelling is appalling in any language!
My guide, Pau, chose Casa Rural Las Canteras Birdwatching Center as our base camp. From the front porch you could view the crumbling stone barn that had been reclaimed as a white stork rookery, containing at least eight active nests. On the other side of the porch was a scope fixed on a little owl. No I mean that’s what the owl is called: Athene noctua ( odd name for a daylight owl). It seemed that no matter when you looked through the scope, the little owl is always perched on the stone wall. Uncanny! Well I had to sketch the owl on it’s permanent perch.
So this is where babies are made! White stork nest at Las Canteras.
Las Canteras (or Carbones) is run by the innkeeper and his mother, whom I dubbed Doña Carbones. She looked at my white stork sketch and offered a little art criticism: “¡Muy bonito!” I’ll take it!