Orellana Reservoir and Puerto Peña
Location and access
Orellana Reservoir is the last of the three large reservoirs that regulate the River Guadiana upon its entry into Extremadura and it can be found between the regions of La Serena and Vegas Altas del Guadiana, in the province of Badajoz. The landscape is dominated by the water collected in the reservoir, which is flanked by medium-height mountain ranges (Sierra de Pela, 724 m; Sierra del Castillo, 697 m) that stand out over vast areas of dehesa, pastures and rain-fed crops.
The main road to it is the N-430, from which you can reach the towns of Orellana la Vieja(taking the BA-105), Navalvillar de Pela and Casas de Don Pedro, from where you can easily get to Talarrubias and Puebla de Alcocer via the EX-115, EX-103 and BA-137.
Description of the route
Section 1.Casas de Don Pedro-Puerto Peña. The route starts in the town of Casas de Don Pedro, where you should take the BA-137 that goes around the town to the east, continuing on towards Talarrubias. Barely 1 km after you’ve passed the last houses of the town you will find a junction with an asphalted road that runs parallel to the Canal de las Dehesas. You can make a small diversion from the route and turn right at the junction, to the Diversion Dam of Casas de Don Pedro, an interesting place to watch water birds. To reach it you must drive along the canal service road for about 2250 m until you reach a dirt track on the left (opposite one of the regulation sluice gates) that goes down to the diversion dam, although it’s a good idea to park your car at the canal and go down the 500 m to the bank on foot, so you don’t frighten away the birds. Then go back to the junction with the BA-137 and continue all the way along the canal service road (15 km), until you reach a junction at which you can return to the N-430 or go to “Puerto Peña” campsite. Next to the campsite you’ll find the Centre of Interpretation of the Rock-dwelling Fauna of Puerto Peña, with interesting information panels and remote control cameras to observe the birds of the rocky crags. Continue along the route, leaving the Canal de las Dehesas behind and continuing towards Valdecaballeros along a road that crosses under the N-430. Immediately after this you will reach the Viewpoint of Puerto Peña, where you should stop to watch the birds of the rocky crags of Puerto Peña mountain pass.
Section 2. Puerto Peña-Puebla de Alcocer. After the viewpoint continue towards Peloche-Herrera del Duque, crossing the wall of the dam of García de Sola and then 200 m later take the turn off on the right onto the BA-138 towards Talarrubias. Without going into the town, continue until the road joins the EX-103 towards Puebla de Alcocer. In the outskirts of Puebla de Alcocer, on the left hand side of the road (800 m after the petrol station) you will find the ruins of the Convent of la Visitación, in which there is a spectacular colony of Lesser Kestrel. You could also go for a walk around the town and up to the castle, where it’s possible to see many birds.
Section 3. Puebla de Alcocer-Cogolludo-Orellana la Vieja. Continue along the EX-103 towards Orellana la Vieja and Castuera and about 3.8 km from Puebla de Alcocer you will find a dirt track in a good state that leads off on the right, just after you pass the junction to Esparragosa de Lares. Keep on this track and, about 12 km later, you will reach the area of Cogolludo, where a bridge crosses Orellana Reservoir. Continue on for another 8 km and you will reach the road that connects Navalvillar de Pela and Orellana la Vieja (Ex-115), where you should turn left and carry on until you get to the latter town.
Section 4. Orellana La Vieja-Puebla de Alcocer. From Orellana la Vieja take the EX-115 towards Campanario and La Coronada, going past the wall of the dam of Orellana Reservoir, and after about 5 km you will reach the junction with the EX-103, which will take you straight to Puebla de Alcocer. If you wish you could also get there via the livestock track that leads off from the same junction and runs parallel to the EX-103.
All the suggested routes are within the Special Protection Area for birds (SPA) “Embalse de Orellana y Sierra de Pela”, which was one of the first places in Extremadura to be given this recognition. Orellana Reservoir was also included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance of the Ramsar Convention, due to the value of its habitats and the species present.
The diversion dam of Casas de Don Pedro, in the first section of the route, is well worth visiting, where large numbers of water birds, particularly duck, gather in summer and winter. There are man-made islands for colonial species to nest on and in spring you can find Little Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole and Little Ringed Plover in this area. The breeding of Gadwall is highly notable. The route along the “canal de las dehesas” towards Puerto Peña mountain pass mainly crosses areas of dehesa and pastures, where you can see typical species such as Black-winged Kite, Common Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Black Kite, Common Crane, Azure-winged Magpie, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Thekla Lark, etc. There are excellent views of Orellana Reservoir at all times from the canal road, including the end section (which looks like a river when the water level is low) and some interesting islets. It’s a good idea to stop in some places with good visibility and try to locate the birds with a telescope. These are mainly duck and herons, as well as colonial species that nest on the islands. About 5 km before the camp site there is an enormous colony of heron, with over 2000 pairs, with Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron, Squacco Heron (only confirmed in some years) and White Stork nesting here. The colony is on a large island covered in tamarisks, on which you can also see Little Ringed Plover, Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern and Little Tern. You can get to the bank of the reservoir via a track sign-posted by the owners of the farm. When the water level drops at the end of summer you can see groups of Black Stork in this area of the reservoir, with over 100 birds on occasions.
This first section ends at Puerto Peña viewpoint, one of the most spectacular sites in Extremadura for birdwatching. It’s the only spot in which up to 4 pairs of Black Stork nest in the same crag, which are also accompanied by birds of prey, such as Bonelli’s Eagle, Griffon Vulture (over 20 pairs), Egyptian Vulture, Peregrine Falcon and Common Kestrel. It’s easy to see other species typical of rocky crags, such as Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Raven and Red-billed Chough. There is also a winter sighting of Wallcreeper in this area and the presence of Alpine Accentor is regular at this time.
There’s very little traffic in the second section of the route so you can enjoy a quiet drive until you reach Talarrubias, going past diverse habitats (dehesa, olive groves, pastures) and leaving the rocky crags of Puerto Peña and the Sierra de los Golondrinos behind you. One of the sites you should visit is the colony of Lesser Kestrel in the ruins of the Convent de la Visitación, which supports over 40 pairs, which are possible to watch at your leisure. White Stork, Little Owl, Barn Owl, Common Swift and Pallid Swift also nest in the building. You can go up to the castle of Puebla de Alcocer to complete your day, where there is the possibility of seeing numerous rock-dwelling birds, as well as some incredible views of the regions of La Serena and La Siberia.
The third part of the route leaves the road for a quiet track that goes through pastures and dehesa until it reaches Cogolludo, a curious spot where the course of the River Guadiana is squeezed between two mountain ranges, with a bridge connecting both banks. The mountain ranges, covered by dense vegetation of Holm and cork oaks, wild olives and strawberry trees, are crowned by quartzite crags where Eagle Owl, Egyptian Vulture, Black Stork, Golden Eagle, and Bonelli’s Eagle nest. There is also a small colony of Red-billed Chough, which is usually accompanied by Eurasian Jackdaws. There is a large colony of House Martins in the spans of the bridge of Cogolludo, which also nest in the cliffs along with Crag Martins. There are excellent views of the reservoir and its birds from the bridge. In winter numerous duck are present (Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Greylag Goose, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Red-crested Pochard) and large flocks of Common Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe and Black-necked Grebe. Large numbers of Great Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Black-headed Gull also roost here.
The last section is the best for watching steppe species, as most of the route along the EX-103 goes through areas of natural pastureland and cereal fields. During the breeding season you can easily see such emblematic birds as Great Bustard (with the possibility of seeing individuals displaying), Little Bustard, Lesser Kestrel and Montagu’s Harrier, the latter has a large breeding colony that can be seen from the road. It’s also easy to see European Roller (common on electricity poles), Hoopoe, Little Owl, Stone Curlew and, with a bit more time, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Collared Pratincole. Calandra Lark, Thekla Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting and Spanish Sparrow are abundant in the pastures. In winter Golden Plover, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit and White Wagtail are present here.
Best time to visit
The best time for the steppe areas and rocky crags is spring, as most of the bird species are summer visitors and aren’t present in winter. However, the reservoir supports more species and in a greater number both during autumn passage and in winter, with the concentrations of moulting duck particularly notable.
Other environmental and cultural interest
The most well known of the traditional festivals is “La Encamisá” in Navalvillar de Pela, which is celebrated every year on 16 January in honour of Saint Antón Abad. At nightfall hundreds of horses, lavishly adorned, parade around the town’s streets, among bonfires, attracting a huge crowd of local people and visitors. The festival has been declared one of Regional Tourist Interest.
The ruins of the ancient city of Lacimurga Constantia Iulia can be found in the vicinity of Cogolludo, a Roman settlement of a sub-urban and rural nature, which deserves a leisurely visit.
The schematic rock paintings that can be found in the farm “Hoyo de Pela”, in the municipal area of Orellana la Vieja, are very interesting.