Arroyo-Conejos Resevoir and Campiña Sur
Location and access
The towns that act as reference points for this route are Llerena and Azuaga (start and end of the route) in the south of the province of Badajoz, both of which are on the N-432 (Badajoz-Granada). The area is easily reached from the “Autovía de la Plata” (A-66), turning off to these towns when you reach Zafra. Pages 1:50,000 numbers 855, 856, 877 and 878.
Description of the route
The route goes through the SPA “Campiña Sur y Embalse de Arroyo Conejos”, an enormous plain used for growing cereal crops (+250,000 ha) in the south of Extremadura, which is very important for its populations of birds, particularly steppe and aquatic species. The suggested route is long and thorough, a little over 80 km, designed to be done by car in one whole day. It starts in Llerena, where you should take the local road (Carretera de los Labradores or del Pantano) that leads to the dam wall of Arroyo Conejos or Llerena Reservoir (12.5 km). We suggest you visit the end of the reservoir as well, for which you have to go back along this road for 2.8 km until you reach a crossroads (30S-242988-4244234); at this point turn left and after 3.5 km you will reach the course of Conejos Stream and the end of the Reservoir. Then return to the crossroads but this time keep going straight on, until you reach the end of the road (2.5 km.) and Caserío de Casas de Pila (30S-241322-4246132), a typical example of the rural houses of La Campiña. Once there, turn right down a small local road, the BA-086 (Llerena-Maguilla), the first part of which runs along the trail “Cañada Real Soriana”. After crossing the dehesa “Dehesas de Las Tiendas, Casablanca and Malajuncia”, which support large populations of Common Cranes in winter, and travelling for 6.5 km, you will reach a crossroads of small local roads right at the point that the Conejos stream flows by, downstream of the dam. Once you have reached this point go towards the small town of Maguilla; just after taking this road you will leave behind you the house Cortijo del Tío Piche on top of a hill on the left and some disused mines. After driving for 6.5 km between olive groves, vineyards and cereals and crossing the stream “Arroyo de las Veguillas”, lined by a magnificent elm grove that has been declared a SCI, you will reach the afore-mentioned town. Once in Maguilla and after you have gone through the town, take the road Campillo de Llerena (BA-042). 1.5 km along this road, when you reach a large open bend (30S-253122-425145) an asphalted road leads off on the right (Carrera or Camino de Zalamea), which you should go down until you reach an intersection (6.5 km) with the road Campillo-Azuaga (BA-016). During this part of the route and until you reach the end you will be crossing a vast plain and fertile agricultural land (olive groves, vineyards and cereals), with small areas of Holm oak dehesa, dotted with country houses and whitewashed pigeon lofts. At any point along this route it’s possible to see steppe birds (Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, harriers, etc.) or flocks of Common Crane (both in the dehesa and in the middle of the plains), so we would recommend you look around the vast area at length in search of these species, stopping whenever you choose. Once on the road mentioned earlier turn right, towards Azuaga, and after 2.8 km (30S-259756-4252775) leave this inter-town road, turning left onto an asphalted road (Carretera de Palomero or Pista de los Alcornocales). This road is a little over 7.5 km long and will take you to another road (EX-111: Azuaga-Zalamea de la Serena) after turning right within its vicinity, when the road crosses a dirt track (30S-266159-4256465). Just before you reach the turning you will cross a cork oak copse, with mature trees, planted several decades ago, an atypical scene in these plains of cereal crops. When you reach the EX-111 and have crossed it take the track that starts right opposite the crossroads; after going 250 m along this turn right at the first crossroads with another track you find (30S-26654-428368), taking this new track southwards. Where the road crosses these tracks and in the surrounding area you will find several temporary lakes (Lagunas del Hueco I and II, del Lentiscal, Tres Chicas, Juan Andrés), another typical feature of La Campiña and very important, although in most instances they have been highly altered by drainage processes, agriculture, mismanagement, etc. In any case, after periods of heavy rainfall they can shelter interesting species of water birds (see later), particularly during winter and on passage. Once on the track follow it for 10 km until it ends at the local road BA-075 that leads from Granja de Torrehermosa to the roads previously mentioned (EX-111 and BA-016). In this last section of the route you will have crossed some of the most favoured areas in the whole region for steppe birds in general and Great Bustards in particular. Once on the road mentioned before, right at the junction where you find another lake (Laguna del Alguacil) turn right, following the road for 4.5 km until you reach a small dehesa (Dehesa de Llera, a favourite haunt of Common Crane) where this road crosses that of Azuaga-Zalamea. Once here you have two options, depending on whether your “ornithological expectations” have already been fulfilled or not; you can turn left towards Azuaga (9 km) to finish the route in this town or you can go straight on, continuing your birdwatching route a little further. If you choose the second option, after crossing the EX-111, keep going straight on along the same local road for 5.5 km, until you get back to the road of Campillo (BA-016). Once here, and after crossing another good area for Great Bustards, turn left onto this road and then carry on to the final destination of this route, the town of Azuaga (12 km). If you wish you could make small diversions off the suggested route and back again at some of the other junctions with main roads along the route (we strongly advise you not to take secondary roads due to their bad state, especially after it has rained recently).
There are many and varied ornithological attractions that are worth highlighting in this region in the south of Extremadura. The Arroyo-Conejos Reservoir is another of Extremadura’s wetland areas that has been classified as being of great importance for water birds. The community of colonial species is important during the breeding season, which regularly nests on the reservoir’s islands: Gull-billed Tern, Collared Pratincole, Little Tern and Black-winged Stilt. Along with these species Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Gadwall, Mallard, Common Coot, etc. also breed in the area. In winter this water body is used by large groups of water birds, including Greylag Goose, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon, Red-crested Pochard and Common Pochard. During passage species such as Eurasian Spoonbill, Garganey (particularly in the spring passage), large groups of White Stork and different species of waders occur, both in the reservoir and in the temporary lakes dotted around the cereal fields of La Campiña. Common Crane makes great use of the dehesa and plains (feeding areas) as well as the wetlands (roosting areas). In terms of numerical importance La Campiña is the second most important area for this bird in Extremadura, supporting flocks of more than 10,000 individuals. In this respect Arroyo-Conejos Reservoir can provide a perfect site to watch the cranes coming back to their roost from the dehesas , which are located to the west of the reservoir. You will get excellent views of this noisy and spectacular event from its wall. As regards the steppe bird species, together with the Plains of Cáceres and La Serena, La Campiña Sur is one of the main refuges in Extremadura for these. As breeding birds the presence of Great Bustard (over 500 individuals and over 1000 in winter), Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Stone Curlew, European Roller, Montagu’s Harrier, Calandra Lark and Short-toed Lark are noteworthy. Throughout winter Hen Harrier, Merlin, Northern Lapwing, Golden Plover, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, among other species, occur. Lesser Kestrel, abundant throughout the region, has established large breeding colonies in urban areas (the colony of the Church of Llerena has been declared a SPA) and in rural buildings, along with European Roller in the latter. Red-billed Chough is another characteristic and abundant species in the area, closely linked to the former lead mines, now disused. Lastly, there are interesting species of birds linked to the dispersed dehesa copses, such as, apart from the Common Cranes already mentioned, Black-winged Kite, Azure-winged Magpie and Long-eared Owl.
Best time to visit
Although this route can be done at any time of the year, we would recommend doing it in spring (March-May) or in winter (December-February), but taking special care in this period due to the bad state of the roads (mud and water).
Other environmental and cultural interest
Environmental interest. In the region or the surrounding area you can find several Natural Areas of the Natura 2000 Network in Extremadura, such as the SCIs of the upper sections of the headwaters of the Rivers Matachel, Retín and Bembézar; the Elm grove of the Veguillas stream (Maguilla) and the Sierras de Bienvenida and Capitana (Bienvenida). The “Mine de la Jayona” (Fuente del Arco) has been declared a Natural Monument, having been restored and prepared for visits (more information at www.extremambiente.es). Lastly, Sierra del Recuerdo and the spurs of Sierra Morena (Azuaga) are home to large birds of prey.
Historical-cultural interest. Monumental centres of Llerena (Church of Nuestra Señora de la Granada, Plaza Mayor, Mudejar houses, walls) and Azuaga (Castle of Miramontes, Church of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación, chapels, ancestral houses). Mudejar style churches of Granja de Torrehermosa, Berlanga and Valverde de Llerena. Impressive examples of the area’s Roman and Arabic past are the Theatre and Roman city of Regina (Casas de Reina) and the Arabic castle (Alcazaba) of Reina, respectively. In Cardenchosa, a municipal district of Azuaga, there are several megalithic monuments, including a menhir within the urban area itself.