Central Sierras of Badajoz
Location and access
This route is in the centre of the province of Badajoz. Towns that can be used as reference points are Almendralejo, Alange, Oliva de Mérida and Hornachos. There are many easy ways to reach it: both from the A-5 Madrid-Badajoz (E-90) and the “Autovía de la Plata” (A-66). Pages 803, 804 and 830 of the IGN.
Description of the route
The route suggested here is a long one, due to the places of ornithological interest being spread out and the links necessary between them. It is designed to be done by car, with short walks, over two whole days. You could start the route by visiting the “Church de la Purificación de Almendralejo”, a religious building declared an SPA as it is home to a large colony of Lesser Kestrel (over 100 pairs). Afterwards continue onwards along the historic road “Vía de la Plata” towards Mérida, crossing the fertile plain of Tierra de Barros between vineyards and olive groves. 2.5 km after the town of Torremejía and before the Puerto de Sevilla mountain pass that divides the mountain range turn right (EX-105: Alange-Don Benito). By this point you will already be in the foothills of the mountain ranges that make up the area to be visited in this route, the SPA of “Embalse de Alange y Sierras Centrales de Badajoz”. Specifically, you will be going round the Sierra Grajera (Grande and Chica), covered by thick sun-loving bushes (mastics, wild olives, rock roses, etc.), after having left behind Sierra Moneda. As soon as you have passed this mountain range, a little over 4 km from the start of the road, you will reach a junction at which you should turn right towards Almendralejo. Stop 500 m later, where you will find the Lake of Melchor Gómez, on the right, next to the road, before an enormous solar park. This small wetland area, covered by aquatic vegetation (Scirpus, Eleocharis, Juncus), only contains water after very wet winters. Next continue along the previous road and, just over 4 km further on, you will reach the enormous dam wall of Alange Reservoir; go across it and stop in the car park on the right, right under the crags of the Hill of the Castle of Alange (this point can also be easily reached straight from Mérida, via the EX-089 Mérida-Alange).
At this perfect birdwatching spot we recommend you walk along the track that goes along the southern side of the castle to Alange (2 km). Along this track, which affords magnificent views of the reservoir, there is an archaeological site from the Calcolithic period that you could also stop at. There is also a good birdwatching walk along the road on top of the dam. Once you’ve finished here continue along the EX-105 towards La Zarza (6 km), after going round the northern side of the castle and then leaving behind the spurs of Sierra de Peñas Blancas on the right, whose opposite end is the next destination. Just before La Zarza and after crossing Calera Stream, turn right onto the town’s ring road (ZA-30), continue for 1.9 km and, at the highest point of the road (29S-742435-430013), where there is a turn off into the town down an asphalted road, turn right again, onto the road known as Camino Juan Bueno (“Janbueno”). This will take you to the Mines of Tierrablanca de La Zapatera (kaolin or sericitic slate, used to whitewash walls), a part of the route in which you can enjoy magnificent views of Sierra de Peñas Blancas, covered by olive groves in rows (or on slopes) and almond trees and stony ground, crowned by quartzite crags. Once at the Mines, an enormous opencast mineral pit, a pair of small roads lead off on the right (29S-743796- 429979), but continue along the main road (to the left), going between the mine’s embankments. Once you have gone past these and the mine itself the road goes down opposite the Cave de la Zapatera in Sierra de Juan Bueno and narrows; keep on it for about 400 m until you reach a dirt track in a good state (29S-74422-430019). Turn right onto this track and continue to Oliva de Mérida (6 km), keeping the afore-mentioned mountain range always on your left, highly degraded by forest repopulations of eucalyptus. You will reach a road, at the exit of the town, with the old chapel “Ermita del Espíritu Santo”, in ruins, opposite, in which there is a fine colony of Lesser Kestrel. Now turn right towards Palomas (EX-335), parallel to the Cañada Real Leonesa Occidental trail; after 2 km turn onto the route of the old road, crossing Higuereja Stream and stopping in the rest area beneath the crags of Sierra Utrera (“butrera”). As the name suggests (butrera means vulture nesting site) the mountain range is home to a large colony of vultures, as well as other large birds of prey (see later). After a well-deserved birdwatching stop continue along the road to Palomas (10 km), towards your destination: Sierra de Hornachos (25 km). If you wish, you could make a quick trip onto the sun-bathed areas, covered by magnificent wild olive groves between rocky crags. For this, after going over Puerto de Palomas mountain pass and leaving behind the Chapel of San Isidro, a short distance (200 m) later a track leads off on the right from which you can enjoy spectacular and different views of Sierra de Peñas Blancas. Back on the road, when you reach Palomas go towards Puebla de la Reina (EX-210) and, from there, to Hornachos (EX-344). The natural area “Sierra Grande de Hornachos” (SPA, SCI and ARI), a birdwatching destination of the first order, has an exceptional richness of birds. We suggest two walks, over the two ranges that make up this magnificent mountain range: Sierra de Pinos and Sierra Grande. From Hornachos, at the lower part of the town, next to a pillar at the junction of several roads, take the EX-344 towards Puebla de la Reina. Then after 2.8 km take the track on the right (29S-75382-427412), 100 m before the entrance (on the left) to the Chapel of San Isidro, where you will find an information panel. Go 2.2 km along this track and when you reach a junction (29S-755364-4275325) turn right. This track (best done on foot), which affords magnificent views, will take you to the Umbría de Sierra Grande, covered by dense Mediterranean forest and scrubland, dotted with stony areas and crowned by enormous quartzite crags. You can continue along this track, using the wire fence that goes along it on the right as a reference (passing some tracks that lead off on the left) for 4-5 km, until you reach some attractive cork oak groves. Return along the road towards Puebla de la Reina, and after the mountain range crosses Bejarano Valley, providing pretty views, after a little over 4 km leave the road, turning left down the road signposted to the rural house Sierra del Mampar (29S-752791-4277720). Park at the edge of this road and walk around the spectacular Sierra de Pinos, marked out by numerous crags and covered by an impenetrable Mediterranean forest. Once you get back to your car this birdwatching route is finished. Of course, if you are coming from Puebla de la Reina these two routes can be done in reverse.
The mountain ranges that occupy the centre of the province of Badajoz (Sierras de San Serván, Grajera, Peñas Blancas, del Conde-Vistalegre, Manchita and Hornachos), are authentic “ecosystem-islands” in a highly degraded agricultural environment, and boast a community of large birds of prey as the main ornithological value. Throughout the route and at each one of the suggested observation points and/or walking routes (Hill of the Castle-Dam of Alange, Mines of Tierra Blanca, Sierra Utrera, Sierra Grande and Sierra de Pinos), you can see birds of prey. The populations of Bonelli’s Eagle (10 pairs), Golden Eagle (9 pairs), Egyptian Vulture (8 pairs) and Griffon Vulture (over 100 pairs) are very important in conservation terms. Other important species (Short-toed Eagle, Eagle Owl, Common and Lesser Kestrels, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, etc.) as well as those that are of more general interest (Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard) can also be seen along the route. Other species of interest include Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Western Orphean, Dartford and Subalpine warblers, amongst others closely linked to rocky crags, Mediterranean forests and dehesa. In winter species such as Alpine Accentor appear, as well as a small population of Common Crane that feeds in the dehesa and roosts in the reservoirs. On the wall of the dam of Alange the biggest breeding colony of Alpine Swift in Extremadura is established (over 300 birds; and they are also present in some mountain crags in the area), as well as a large number of House Martins, Eurasian Jackdaws, etc. In the wetlands of the area, particularly Alange Reservoir (difficult to access as it is so large), a large group of water birds can be found throughout the whole year, but mainly in winter (grebes, rails, ducks, herons, gulls, terns, cormorants, etc.) but also during the breeding period (particularly colonial ducks and waders). Black-winged Stilt, Little Grebe and Common Coot regularly breed in the Lake of Melchor Gómez, and occasionally Whiskered Tern, Collared Pratincole and Northern Lapwing. The community is enriched by other species (chiefly waders) during the migration, which can also include Eurasian Spoonbill. In short, there is a great ornithological richness here, as befits a diverse and heterogeneous area.
Best time to visit
Spring is the perfect time to do this birdwatching route, for the richness of both the fauna and botanical species (see later). However, the middle of winter (December-February) also offers pleasant rewards.
Other environmental and cultural interest
Environmental interest. There is another series of Natural Areas of the Natura 2000 Network in the area (SCIs Guadiana alto, River Matachel, River Palomillas; SPAs Colonia de primillas de la Iglesia de Guareña (Lesser Kestrel) and Cornalvo Natural Park; you can find more information at www.extremambiente.es). The area also has interesting botanical values, such as the best and almost only Spanish populations of the geranium “Geranio de roca” (Erodium mouretii), and excellent populations of Orchids and Daffodils (Narcissus spp.). Molinos Reservoir (Hornachos) is another area you could visit (roosting area for Common Crane, concentrations of Black Stork, ducks, etc. after the breeding season).
Historical-cultural interest. The mountain ranges mentioned have, without exception, one of the best collections of schematic rock art in the Southwest of Spain. There is a sign-posted route in La Zarza to visit the famous “Rock paintings of La Calderita”. The historical areas or monumental centres of Mérida (World Heritage Site), Alange (Roman thermal springs-spa, Castle, parish church, chapels) and Hornachos(“Moorish enclave”: Arabic castle (alcazaba), pillars and fountains, orchards and irrigation channels, ancestral houses, chapels) have outstanding historical interest. The Mudejar churches of Palomas, Puebla de la Reina and Hornachos are also worth visiting.