“In Monfragüe, black vultures” … This was already said by a Spanish rock group long before it was declared a National Park in 2007 and enthusiasts of ecotourism activities invaded everything with their binoculars.
Even before its declaration as ZEPA (Special Protection Area for Birds) in 1991, it was already known that this territory of the Mediterranean forest, located in the province of Cáceres, was one of the best places in the world to dedicate to the observation of birds, vultures especially.
The Romans called it Mons Fragorum, who came to say “dense mountain”. A ver accurate description, because these mountains crossed by the Tiétar and Tagus rivers are full of forests, scrub, rocks and holm oaks. Such vegetation, together with the reservoirs and streams that it contains, form a territory inhabited by a large number of species of flora and fauna.
Each year, the Monfragüe National Park receives more than 300,000 visitors, who arrive to experience birding in Extremadura. The most common species to spot are the black vulture, the Egyptian vulture or the golden eagle. But there are other birds of great importance, especially birds of prey, that can be observed from the viewpoints and paths of the park.
If you also want to invest a good amount of time to this booming activity, take note of the winged species that are trending in Monfragüe.
BIRDS OF THE NATIONAL PARK OF MONFRAGÜE
Buitre negro, el rey de Monfragüe
BLACK VULTURE, THE KING OF MONFRAGÜE
It is, without any doubt, the most emblematic bird of the National Park; with more than 300 registered couples and it is estimated that already reached the 400 ones. Everyone who loves birdwatching in Monfragüe wants to see them.
The also got the medal in terms of size. The black vulture has a wingspan of 2 meters and a half (some people even speak of 3 meters), and can weigh 12 kilos, being the largest flying bird in Europe.
This bird is very good in life as a couple. They are monogamous and live in nests that build in the tops of trees or crags. Each year, they return to the same nest to reproduce; putting a single egg that incubates between the two, for 55 days.
Monfragüe is the largest breeding colony known. You can see them in small groups or, even, by themselves; flying over the area in search of animals of all kinds.
BLACK STORK, THE EVASIVE LADY
If there is a second animal that can be said it is symbolic of Monfragüe, that is the black stork.
In Extremadura there are 75% of all breeding pairs in Spain (about 300). Of that part, 30 couples are in this National Park. Although you will only see them during Spring and Summer; Then, towards the end of this season, they emigrate to Africa to spend Winter.
The black stork is smaller than the white congener. Also more elusive and less common. It nests at high altitudes in the treetops or in the rocks. Besides, you may see them next to the rivers or ponds where they get fed.
GRIFFON VULTURE, THE THUG ONE OF THE PARK
Around half a thousand pairs of griffon vultures breed in Monfragüe. The skinhead cousin of the black vulture shares space and customs with this one. It nests in the rocky outcrops of the park forming large colonies, and also puts a single egg a year.
You can see this huge scavenger raptor using the air currents. You will differentiate it from the previous one (in addition to its lighter, obvious color) by the head and neck exempt of feathers; what facilitates its feeding based on large animals.
IBERIAN IMPERIAL EAGLE, THE EMPRESS
The imperial eagle, endemic one in the Iberian Peninsula, has a world population of only 200 individuals. A few decades ago it was on the verge of being declared in extinction, although luckily it seems to be recovering its populations little by little. In Monfragüe we only find 12 couples.
This raptor lives in the areas of scrubland and Mediterranean scrub, feeding mainly on rabbits; although it can capture other species of mammals, reptiles, and birds.
You will recognize it in flight because of its dark brown color; although you can also see it nesting in the canopy of large trees.
Alimoche, el pícaro astuto
In the Monfragüe National Park you can see about 30 Egyptian vultures nesting in the rocks during Spring and Summer.
It is the smallest one in the vulture family. It only weighs a couple of kilos and its wingspan is almost no more than a meter and a half long. Maybe that’s why he’s the last one to go for the carrion; he has to wait for his larger relatives (black vulture and griffon vulture) to finish feeding to rescue the pieces of skin and flesh that remain attached to the bone.
This being the case, it is not surprising that the Egyptian vulture has developed other methods to obtain food. A curious innate behavior of this species demonstrates its ability: it uses stones to break the eggs of other birds and thus access its interior.
COMMON ELANIO, THE BLUE LIGHTNING
The common or blue elanio began to colonize the peninsula from Africa in the mid-twentieth century. Today, it is in full expansion and it is estimated that there are about 700 couples in Spain, most of them in Extremadura.
This little raptor is easily recognizable. Similar in size to a pigeon, it has white and gray-blue plumage on the wings, and red eyes that contrast with the rest of the body.
You can see it during Spring and Summer seasons in open fields, nesting in the treetops and skillfully hunting small rodents.
OTHER BIRDS OF PREY IN MONFRAGÜE
The catalog of species that can be observed in a birding activity in Monfragüe is completed by as many raptors.
Among the family of eagles, it is included the golden eagle (which has 6 or 7 breeding pairs in the park), the Bonelli’s eagle, the booted eagle or the short-toed eagle.
You can also see peregrine falcons (3 or 4 pairs), kites, hawks and many types of nocturnal raptors, such as several types of owls.
Now that you know what species to look for, you’ll want to know where to find them.
To start your visit you can find the base camp in Villarreal de San Carlos, the only town within the National Park, where you will find the Visitor’s Reception Center. In addition, every year the International Fair of Ornithological Tourism (FIO) is celebrated, which gathers thousands of fans and birdwatching professionals.
The Monfragüe National Park makes it very easy for all of them, since it has a good network of viewpoints from which many of these birds can be seen in quantity.
Next, I’ll explain to you which are the most important and how to get there.
VIEWPOINTS OF THE NATIONAL PARK OF MONFRAGÜE
It is the first lookout point that we find in Monfragüe if we access via the EX-208 road from Plasencia. If you leave from Villarreal de San Carlos, you will have to take that same road towards Plasencia.
It is located at the north of the park, in Sierra de la Serrana, and from there it is possible to observe many birds of prey flying over the surrounding cliffs. The most visible ones are the griffon vultures and the Egyptian vulture.
Also known as Peña Falcón, this is undoubtedly the most important point of the National Park; that spot every good ornithologist wants to experience.
It is at the entrance to the park from Trujillo, also on the EX-208 road. To get from Villarreal, just follow the same road to the south. You can also access the route on foot, following one of the official itineraries of the park, the Red Route, just 5 kilometers away.
You will find a small parking lot on the side of the road, but it has very few places. Therefore, it is not advisable to visit this area on weekends or holidays, since there are usually plenty of people.
The viewpoint is located on an imposing cliff over the Tagus River that exceeds 300 meters in height. It is occupied, above all, by griffon vultures; being the place of the park where more examples of this species can be seen.
In addition, you can also see black vultures, black storks, Egyptian vultures, hawks, imperial eagles and royal owls. All of them nesting in the cliffs or nearby trees.
One of the greatest shows occurs when a specimen in mid-flight surpasses the heads of tourists there while they stand firmly, binoculars in hand, exclaiming of surprise.
CASTLE OF MONFRAGÜE
During high season you can only reach the castle on foot. You will have to continue along the Red Route, going up a nice path between rockrose, heathers and cork oaks. It is what you will be doing if you join this hiking activity in the Monfragüe National Park.
The rest of the year, you can arrive by car almost right to the castle; following the road EX-208 and leaving behind the Gipsy Jump, and then deviating through a narrow track to the left (not accessible for caravans or large vehicles). At the end, you will find a small parking lot for no more than two or three cars. The last meters, with no alternative option, you have to climb them on foot.
The castle, of Arab origin, hosting a sad legend, is barely untouched. They say that the young princess Noeima fell in love with a Christian warrior; and was condemned to wander through the surrounding mountains for filtering information to enter the castle.
We can not say whether you will meet the ghost of the princess or not. What’s very likely is that you will see birds, vultures especially, from the viewpoint located at the top. As well as enjoying one of the best panoramic views of the Monfragüe National Park.
The viewpoint of the Tajadilla is next to the Torrejón dam, on the Tiétar river. To get there by car, take the detour to the right of the EX-208 road, going from Villarreal de San Carlos to Plasencia (on the left if you go in the opposite direction).
To go on foot, you can make a small hiking trail of about 4 kilometers from Villarreal, the Yellow Route. You will pass in front of some typical huts, before following the path parallel to the bed of Tiétar. After leaving behind the well-known fountain of the Alisar and Tres Caños, you will reach the viewpoint.
In the rocks in front, you can see many griffon vultures and Egyptian vultures. Less frequently, although also possible, we can spot the Bonelli’s eagle and the black stork.
At the viewpoint of Tajadilla, in addition, there is a picnic area that is perfect for a break, before you start your trip back to Monfragüe.
Following the same road that took us to Tajadilla, we reach the viewpoint of Scale, once past the bridge of the dam.
From this area, you can easily see black vultures and, with some luck, the imperial eagle; which finds many of its prey in the thickets of the Mediterranean forest that are found in front of the viewpoint.
In addition, this area is also one of the best places to enjoy a day of observation of the bellowing of the deer in Monfragüe. As in Tajadilla, you will find a small picnic area.
The next viewpoint on the road after Scale is Higuerilla, which is located on a bend in the Tiétar river.
Thanks to its position, this is the best viewpoint of Monfragüe to see waterfowls. Depending on the month, you can see herons or cormorants, among other species. Also the otter, resting on its banks.
But the best thing is, again, the chance of spotting the black vulture, the Iberian imperial eagle, the black stork or the Egyptian vulture. And, of course, we find amazing views over the Tietar river.
PORTILLA DEL TIÉTAR
It is the last viewpoint on the road that crosses Monfragüe, located almost at the northeastern exit of the National Park.
To make things easier for birdwatchers, a small shed has been installed in the viewpoint from which we can observe species without disturbing the fauna. The most visible species are the griffon vultures. But, also, if we are lucky, you can see imperial eagles, Egyptian vultures and the owl.
If you go with no rush and nobody is waiting for you, take a moment to enjoy the sunset in this spot. The best farewell to your visit in Monfragüe.
It may seem that in Spring there is more life; but Autumn in Monfragüe has a special charm. The colors of the forest, the battles of the deer during the bellowing… Vultures and deers compete in this era for the hegemony of a territory that is both peaceful and wild, wild and beautiful.