Extremadura’s Paradise for Birdwatchers: Monfragüe National Park

We added Montfrague birdwatching to our trip just one day before we got to Plasencia, not knowing exactly what we’ll be getting: it was, mostly, just a better way to kill time before heading to Valle del Jerte’s million cherry tree hanami.

To be fair, I did have a vague idea about the abundance of birds in the park, but that information meant very little since I’d never been bird-watching before.

Enter our guide David, and our private 4×4 for the day. David was so convinced we’re going to love it, he even said he’ll not charge for the addition if we weren’t impressed. Well, now I’m curious!

Monfragüe’s Biological Richness

montfrague birdwatching - salto del gitano
Birdwatchers paradise: Salto del Gitano, Montfrague Natural Park

Extremadura is an important area for wildlife, with the main natural reserve at Monfragüe National Park, designated Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO  in 2009.

The Monfragüe National Park is an extraordinary and characteristic example of remarkable ecosystems within the Spanish and European natural heritage.

Its interest spans geomorphological and biodiversity aspects, with a fauna rich in both endemic and endangered species.

The wood in the center of Monfragüe Park, with its flatter terrain, has been cleared and transformed, giving rise to a large grazing area or Dehesa, the largest environmental unit in the Monfragüe Biosphere Reserve.

The 116,000 hectares of Monfragüe National Park, in addition to abundant livestock, the main commercial production of Dehesa, allow the existence of a remarkable variety of native cattle, perfectly adapted to local conditions.

Monfragüe Birdwatching

montfrague birdwatching imperial vulture closeup

The great biological richness of the park resides in its fauna, whose concentration of birds of prey is remarkable – such as that of the black vulture; its presence in Monfragüe is a guarantee against the danger of extinction on a world scale, and the one living in Monfragüe represents the largest colony of all.

Thanks to the creation of the park, the number of vultures has gradually also increased in the neighboring regions of Castilla la Mancha, Castile and Leon and Andalusia.

Montfrague is truly a birdwatchers paradise, home to over 280 species of birds. We saw an abundance of prey birds circling the impressive rock face at Salto del Gitano.

Vulture colonies settle on the carved rock facade where they build their nests. We saw one with its baby and another one mating!

You’ll find about hundreds of pairs of black vultures, Spanish imperial eagles, black storks, and Egyptian vulture, among others. Of all these birds of prey, the most magnificent one (and the most numerous, with over 600 pairs) is the Griffon vulture.

The real jewel of Monfragüe is the black stork, almost extinct and whose number is recorded in the park is the largest, which ensures the survival of the species in the world.

The same can be said for the imperial eagle, one of the most endangered species on the planet.

Did you know: the saying birds of a feather flock together , used to identify people with similar characters or interests, actually holds true for birds?

Birds with the same feather colors mostly mate for life, unlike bird species where the male has, for example, a colorful, flirtations plumage.

Solitude in Nature

The only inhabited place in the Monfragüe Park is a small village(?) called Villareal de San Carlos, where a mere 16 people live.

We stopped for an outdoor tapas picnic at a viewpoint shelter in the park, to enjoy some Iberian ham, chorizo and lomo, and feast on the delicious artisan goat cheese and the classic pan con tomate.  No cars, no people and with only the sound of spring, we were as far away from civilization as it gets – a much better way to enjoy our birdwatching trip than your typical restaurant lunch.

Remembering the suggestion of our oenologist in Penedes, I asked David about the local wine, pittara. As luck would have it, he had also brought a pouch of pittara wine, so I got the chance to taste it.

Nicolas was right: it’s an either you love it or hate it affair. It tasted like something between a semi-sweet red wine with a hint of cherry brandy (we are in Cherry Land, after all) and I didn’t like the first sip at all – but like alcohol often does, it later grew on me.

When to Go & Practical Info

Practical Info:

  • Monfragüe National Park
  • Address: 10695 Villareal de San Carlos, Cáceres
  • Tickets: Free entry
  • Distance: 24 km from Plasencia and 70 km from Cáceres.

Spring: If you go in spring, from the months of March to May, you’ll witness the majestic Spanish Imperial Eagle as well as most bird species. You can also add Jerte to your itinerary, and also enjoy the biggest hanami in Europe.

Summer: Extremadura can get very hot in summer, especially in the months of July and August. If you choose to visit Montfrague in summer, the best time for birdwatching is either around sunrise or at sunset.

Whenever you decide to visit, birdwatching in Spain – and particularly Monfrague – will seldom fail you.

Getting There

Renfe trains run twice daily from Madrid Puerta de Atocha, and take around three hours to get to Plasencia.

If you don’t / can’t rent a car, you’re environmentally conscious, or you simply enjoy the company of locals, try your hand at BlaBlaCar. The carpooling service is very popular in Spain, with frequent rides across regions.

Birdwatching in Extremadura: You may want to book with Naturlingua- their birdwatching trips include transport in 4×4 and a multilingual experienced guide. More info at www.naturlingua.es 

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