Extremadura’s landscape is best described as a rolling hilly one, in which there are two distinct types of landscape, steppe and dehesa. The steppes are formed by endless undulating plains, covered with grasses and herbs. This vastness attracts many types of birds, among which are Great- and Little Bustard, Stone-curlew, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Collared Pratincole, Montagu’s Harrier, European Roller, Shrikes and Calandra Lark.
Large parts of the province of Extremadura have remained virtually intact over the centuries. Extremadura is almost as big as the Netherlands and has only about 1.1 million (!) People. Nature is extraordinarily varied and ubiquitous. Here example, to see bird species that are rare elsewhere or disappeared in Europe, and Extremadura, making it very attractive as a destination for birdwatchers.
There are roughly three distinct types of landscape: plains, dehesas and mountains. The steppes are formed by endless rolling plains that are covered with grasses and herbs. Dehesas (tree meadows) are vast forests of stone and cork oaks, where the trees are a good distance from each other. There is usually little or no undergrowth, except after a rain period sprouting a whole carpet of colorful wildflowers. Two major rivers pass through this landscape, the Tagus and the Guadiana. In the north of Extremadura you find the Sierra de Gredos, with peaks of over 2500 meters. Across Extremadura there are several more mountain ranges such as the mountains around Guadaloupe that connect to the Montes de Toledo.
The area of ‘La Vera’, where Cuacos de Yuste is located, forms a fascinating link between the different landscapes (and thus climate zones) of Extremadura. It is a strip of about 70 to 10 kilometers at the foot of the Gredos Mountains, where you find a unique and mild transitional climate that is not affected by the sharp edges of the mountain climate (cold in winter) and the dehesa (hot during the summer).
Extremadura is very popular with bird lovers all over Europe, for it has a very diverse population of interesting species of birds. All the year round one can enjoy particular species of birds that are difficult to find anywhere else in Europe. Extremadura is especially famous for its large numbers of birds of prey, with species like Golden Eagle, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle.
Not to be missed are the large numbers of Griffon Vultures. Black Vultures also breed here in considerable numbers. Less common is the Egyptian Vulture.
Extremadura has considerable populations of Red Kite, Black Kite, Lesser Kestrel and Montagu’s Harrier too. The marvelous Black-shouldered Kite, mainly active during twilight, can be admired at various places. A very particular kind of bird is Azure-winged Magpie: its area of distribution within Europe is confined to only Extremadura. These social living birds are to be found very commonly in the dehesas. Colourful Mediterranean species like European Bee-eater, Hoopoe and European Roller can be found almost everywhere
Suggestions for visits with an emphasis on nature:
Monfragüe National Park
Birdwatchers, hikers and cyclists will all truly enjoy this world famous area through which the river Tagus flows. In spring and autumn large numbers of migratory birds can be found alongside the many native birds. The park is known for its huge amount of raptors (such as Spanish Imperial Eagle, Monk- or Black Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle). Around 450 pairs of the Griffon Vulture breed on the cliffs throughout the park. The size of the park is around 300 km2 and from several viewpoints you have a good view of the birds and the river. There are also several well-marked trails.
The ‘dehesa’ is an open woodland, with holm oak, cork oak and other species, with grasslands and little undergrowth, where human activity has always been intense. The dehesa therefore is a cultivated natural landscape which is generally used for extensive livestock farming, hunting and for the proceeds of additional products such as wood, cork and mushrooms. It is a landscape that exists in the border area between Spain and Portugal and in Spain covers about 40.000km2, an area comparable with the half of Scotland. From Cuacos de Yuste you can enjoy endless walks, bike rides and car trips through this landscape that has its own beauty in each season of the year and where cattle, sheep and pigs can live as you would ideally like to picture it.
Forests and hills of La Vera
The Vera region is strip of several kilometers wide, roughly between the towns Candaleda and Plasencia, over a distance of 70 kilometers at the foot of the Sierra de Gredos. It is a transition area between the mountains and the dehesa. It is extremely fertile, water rich and has an exceptionally mild climate. There are dense oak forests, orchards with all kinds of fruit and it is the area where the famous smoked paprika powder originates (‘pimentón de la Vera’). The Vera area has a chain of small but lively villages and there are excellent possibilities for walking or cycling.
Sierra de Gredos
The Vera region lies directly at the foot of the Gredos mountain range that has peaks reaching to over 2500 meters. This mountain range forms the border between Extremadura and Castile and it also is the (climatic and cultural) border between northern and southern Spain. The mountains are very accessible and interesting for both experienced and less experienced hikers. In addition to herds of goats, sheep and cows grazing in the summer months in the mountains, you will most likely see mountain goats, mountain sheep, deer, many birds of prey and reptiles. Because the climate at the foot of the mountain is Mediterranean and the peaks are above the tree line, you can enjoy a huge diversity of flora during a single walk. In the spring and autumn the height greatly determines in what season the nature is. At the moment the Vera area is already fully enjoying summer, you can still see trees in the bud high up in the mountains.
Valle del Jerte
From the Vera area you can take a beautiful winding mountain road to the Valley of the Jerte. This is a narrow valley surrounded by steep mountains and is famous in all of Spain for its excellent cherries. In the spring the valley will be white of the blossom when all the cherry trees are in bloom.
Lakes and lagoons at Candaleda
Near Candaleda is a large water reservoir surrounded by a number of lagoons. This makes it an ideal place for many species of waterfowl, both birds that stay here throughout the year as for migratory birds. There is a bird observation (‘Las Tejoneras’) from where birders have excellent views.
Sierra de Guadaloupe and Montes de Toledo
From Cuacos de Yuste you cross the valley of the Tagus taking attractive roads through the dehesa landscape to get to the mountains of Guadaloupe that connect to the Montes de Toledo. This is a very rich and varied mountain landscape of great beauty and with a great diversity of flora and fauna.
Sierra de Gata Natural Park of the Tagus
On the border with Portugal there are several more natural parks, including the Sierra de Gata nature reserve the area around the Tagus.