La Serena and Sierra de Tiros
Location and access
La Serena is a region in the east of the province of Badajoz. Its main distinguishing features are the vast plains that dominate the landscape. The River Zújar and its tributaries cut across this plateau of slates, with a gently undulating relief. The plateau is flanked by a series of mountain ranges to the south and east, which are less than 950 m high and covered by dense vegetation of Mediterranean forest and scrubland.
It’s best to follow the EX-104 to visit the area, using the town of Villanueva de la Serena as a reference point. This road goes through the region’s main towns, including La Coronada, Campanario, Castuera and Cabeza del Buey. You can also reach the area from the N-430, via Acedera (BA-105, towards Orellana la Vieja), Navalvillar de Pela (EX-115, towards Orellana la Vieja) or Casas de Don Pedro (BA-137, towards Talarrubias and Puebla de Alcocer).
Description of the route
Section 1. From Campanario to the EX-035. The route starts in the town of Campanario, which you can reach via the EX-104 from Villanueva de la Serena. Just before this road enters the town turn left onto the EX-349, which leads towards La Serena Reservoir. After 850 m you will find a junction with the EX-115 towards Orellana la Vieja, but continue straight on along the same road, which takes you into one of the most beautiful steppe areas in La Serena. First you will pass the chapel “Ermita de Piedra Escrita” (km 5.5), then you will go over the River Guadalefra (km 6.1), finally reaching the EX-103. Turn left towards Orellana la Vieja and Puebla de Alcocer and after 1200 m you will find a right turn, continuing along the BA-035. After 3 km you will go past the ends of Zújar Reservoir and another 3 km later you will reach a junction at which you should turn right towards Cabeza del Buey (keeping on the BA-035).
Section 2. From the BA-035 to the chapel “Ermita de Belén”. This section is 22 km long, along a very straight road that goes through pastures and crop fields. It is popularly known as the “Carretera de las Golondrinas” (swallow road). The road ends back at the EX-104, where you should turn right towards Castuera. After 3.7 km and once you have gone past the small village of Almorchón, you will find a turning on the right that leads to the Chapel of Belén.
Section 3. From the Chapel of Belén to Castuera. From the Chapel of Belén the route continues along a dirt track for over 25 km, which you should keep going straight along. The first 5.5 km run parallel to a railway line, then it splits away from this to continue through pastures situated in the northern side of the mountain range. The track takes you to Castuera, ending at the EX-104, next to the town’s cemetery.
La Serena is, without doubt, one of the steppe areas of greatest value in the Iberian Peninsula, both for its size and the importance of its habitats and the species present. The birds associated with the pastures and rain-fed crops are superbly represented here, with some of them reaching large populations with a great importance in terms of conservation. As a result of all this, it has been declared a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA); it is also the largest protected area in Extremadura, covering over 150,000 ha.
There are lots of possibilities of seeing steppe birds in sections 1 and 2, as these go through some of the best areas of plains. Thekla Lark, much more abundant than Crested Lark in this area, is one of the most frequent species, present throughout the route. It’s easy to see a lot of birds perched on the wire fences, stone walls and “dientes de perro” (dog’s teeth – the name given to the quartzite outcrops in the region, which are over 2 m high in some cases), such as Black-eared Wheatear, Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting, Hoopoe, Little Owl and Red-legged Partridge. The lack of trees means that the birds use electricity poles and cables a lot to perch on, a good way of seeing Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and European Roller as you go along the route. The Calandra Lark can be found in the pastures and fallow fields, given away by its song and rapid flight, and it’s also possible to find the Short-toed Lark in some areas, mainly in fallow fields. Given the scarce tree cover you should pay special attention to the areas that have bulrush or thyme groves or bushes (brooms, wild olives, hawthorns, Iberian Pears, brambles), where you will find other species, such as Goldfinch, Linnet, Zitting Cisticola, Common Stonechat, Melodious, Spectacled, Sardinian and Western Orphean Warblers and Rufous Bush Robin (the latter two particularly in patches of wild olive). Colonies of Montagu’s Harrier have established themselves in some cereal crops, in which you may also find pairs of Marsh Harrier.
in-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse are also frequent in both sections, two emblematic species of steppe areas, although to see these birds it’s best to stop your car and try to hear them in flight, as their call is very loud and easily recognisable. At dusk it’s easier to see or hear the Stone Curlew which is much more abundant that you would imagine.
Great Bustards could surprise you at any moment along the route, particularly in the section of the BA-035, where there are many possibilities in spring of seeing them in display. Little Bustards are more spread out in the area and in the breeding period you should look for them in the crop fields and less grazed pastures. They are much more easy to find if you listen out for the males giving out their strange call to mark their territory.
You can see species such as Mallard, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Common Kingfisher and White Wagtail in the rivers and streams you will find along the way. In larger rivers (Zújar y Guadalefra) Little Egret, Little Tern, Black-headed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull are also present. In the summer months large numbers of species usually gather in the pools that still have water and it’s worthwhile dedicating time to checking these spots.
Old buildings are also interesting sites for birds, as their hollow spaces and roofs are used by many species to nest in, with colonies of Lesser Kestrel establishing themselves here, as well as pairs of White Stork, Little Owl, Scops owl, European Roller, Eurasian Jackdaw, Hoopoe, Spotless Starling and even Red-billed Chough. Cattle Egret usually patrol around the areas with livestock.
Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Whinchat, Willow Warbler and Tawny Pipit are abundant on passage. But the most spectacular change in the composition of the birds present occurs in winter, when large populations of species such as Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Hen Harrier, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and White Wagtail come to the pastures. Some of the resident species become gregarious in this period and move around in flocks, such as the Spanish Sparrow, Goldfinch, Linnet and Calandra Lark. Although it’s usually found in the dehesa the Common Crane establishes its roosting areas in small pools in the middle of the plains.
Section 3 of the route starts at the chapel “Ermita de Belén” and goes through pastures and crop fields but along most of the route you also have views of the northern side of the Sierra de Tiros, which extends from the vicinity of Almorchón to Castuera. The mountain ranges are covered by dense vegetation, with Mediterranean forest (with Holm and cork oaks) predominant in some areas and rock rose patches in others and open dehesa normally appearing at the lowest parts of its slopes. Large quartzite crags stand out along the mountain tops. This complex network of habitats notably enriches the composition of the bird communities, with typical forest species establishing themselves (Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush,Nightingale, Eurasian Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Woodchat Shrike, Wren, Rock Sparrow, Common Chaffinch and Hawfinch) and those representative of crags, such as Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Crag Martin and Alpine Accentor (in winter). The huge importance of the mountain ranges for the nesting of Bonelli’s Eagle, Golden Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Eagle Owl, Peregrine Falcon and Black Stork is worth highlighting, species that find a safe refuge in the quartzite rock faces and feed in the steppe areas.
Best time to visit
This route never disappoints at any time of the year, although you can see a greater number of birds in spring and winter. In summer the birds are more active at dawn and you should avoid doing the route in the middle of the day. The yellow and ochre hues of the parched pastures are also spectacular.
We would recommend you to keep to the roads and tracks and not go into the pastures and cereal fields. This precaution is even more important in spring, as you could disturb the birds that nest in these habitats. When you see groups of Great Bustards displaying you should always keep your distance.
Other environmental and cultural values
The Centre of Interpretation of Nature “Comarca de La Serena” is in Castuera, which has diverse information panels and an interesting audiovisual. It’s next to the “Museo del Turrón” (fudge museum), a typical product of this town, which we also recommend you to visit. In Castuera there are also several factories of the famous “Queso de La Serena” cheese, with denomination of origin, produced in a traditional way from raw Merino sheep’s milk.
When you have finished the route you could continue along the EX-104 towards Cabeza del Buey and visit the castles of Benquerencia de la Serena and Almorchón (of Almohade origin, from the 12th-13th centuries), and even carry on to the castle of Zarzacapilla. Thanks to their exceptional locations you can enjoy extraordinary views from them. After Benquerencia de la Serena you reach Puerto Mejoral, a small town in which ADENEX has a Nature Centre and an excellent hide to watch the passage of the cranes when they fly from the dehesa to their roosting areas at dusk.