Location and access
The Arrocampo Reservoir is in the northeast of the province of Cáceres, at the western border of the region of Campo Arañuelo and very close to Monfragüe. Today 687 ha of the reservoir and its surrounding banks are protected within the Natura 2000 Network with the category of SPA. An Ornithological Park has also been created in Saucedilla to make visiting the area easier.
Arrocampo Reservoir has such exceptional characteristics that it has become a unique site within Extremadura, with unusual birds that are difficult to see inland in most of the peninsula. The reservoir’s function is to cool Almaraz nuclear power station, so the water level is constant; thanks to the constant pumping from the River Tajo it doesn’t undergo the fluctuations that are typical of other reservoirs. As a result a lot of the bank is covered by masses of marsh vegetation. The higher than normal water temperature and the plains that surround it, used to grow irrigated crops, also favour the diversity of birds.
The reservoir is easily accessible as it is near to two major roads. From the north, from the EX-A1 between Navalmoral de la Mata and Plasencia, turn off towards Casatejada and continue to Saucedilla, where you will find the Ornithological Park Information Office at the southern end of the town. Coming from the south, from the A-5 between Navalmoral de la Mata and Trujillo, there are two options: you can take exit 190 towards Saucedilla or go through Almaraz, which has three exits from the A-5 between kilometre 193 and 200. The road between Almaraz and Saucedilla crosses one of the ends of the reservoir via a low bridge.
Description of the route
The trip suggested is the two routes offered by the Ornithological Park of Saucedilla. Route 1 is 4 km long over dirt tracks, with stops at four hides. It can be done on foot or by car, if the track is in an adequate state. Route 2 is a short car journey between Saucedilla and a nearby irrigation pool. Both routes start at the Information Office, at the south end of the town of Saucedilla, next to a canal and a football pitch. Inside the office there is a panel describing the routes, which are easy to follow as they are well marked out and sign-posted. In total there are five hides, which are relatively small and, unless someone is using them, are kept locked. The keys can be borrowed from the Information Office, but this has slightly irregular opening times and days that aren’t always adapted to the best times to see birds (dawn, for example). If you find the hides locked an alternative is to use the access ramps as viewpoints. Although certain species are mentioned here at each stop point in reality it’s possible, with time and luck, to see these birds throughout the whole route.
Route 1 starts at the office and Hide no. 1 is only 200 m further on. It offers a wide view and the possibility of seeing marsh birds such as Purple Swamphen, Water Rail, Little Bittern, Savi's Warbler and Squacco Heron. Continuing southwest you reach Hide no. 2, perhaps more interesting, with the difficult Great Bittern and Bluethroat present in winter and the Purple Heron, Bearded Tit and Penduline Tit in spring. Again going southwest you will find Hide no. 3, with a good view of the reservoir and its inner wall, a nesting site for White Stork and a resting place for Great Cormorants and herons. It’s also a good place to see duck, Common Coot, Great White Egret and grebes. Returning eastwards you will reach Hide no. 4, located next to the road bridge. Although the main windows look over a mass of bulrushes populated by the usual marsh birds, the view towards the east is more interesting, towards an end of the reservoir that is a favourite haunt of Marsh Harrier and all species of heron. You can also watch from the road bridge, which has a large improvised car park and where you can also walk. The water extends on both sides of the bridge, and is a good place to watch birds in flight, such as herons (and bitterns), Gull-billed Tern and Osprey. Return to the starting point on foot via a path parallel to the road. You can vary the route by doing it in reverse, just visiting some of the hides or stopping as you choose along the banks.
Route 2 also starts at the Information Office, crossing Saucedilla northwards and taking the last street on the left in the town. It continues along a paved and dirt track that passes through farmland, pasture and dehesa for 3.8 km. In this section it’s possible to see Black-winged Kite and Great Spotted Cuckoo, among other birds. At the end of the track there is a large concrete tower (to raise the irrigation water), where you should turn left, staying on the right of Cerro Alto pool, where you will find Hide no. 5. There are remains of flooded dry Holm oaks within the pool, which in their day had a colony of Grey Heron and that now serve as a roost for Great Cormorant and, occasionally, Great White Egret and Osprey. Route 2 ends at this point, however, Dehesa Nueva pool is about 2.5 km southwards and several kilometres after you cross another end of Arrocampo Reservoir. This expanse of water opens up new possibilities of seeing more aquatic birds: European Bee-eater during the breeding season; geese, Golden Plover and Stone Curlew in winter; and various birds of prey throughout the year. Finally, don’t forget that the towns and villages in the area (Saucedilla, Casatejada, Almaraz) have colonies of Lesser Kestrel living in their churches, birds that abound throughout the route.
Arrocampo Reservoir is the best place to see marsh birds in Extremadura. The biggest populations in the region, and sometimes the only ones, of various species can be found here, such as Purple Swamphen, Purple and Squacco Herons, Savi's Warbler and Bearded Tit. You are almost certain to see Marsh Harrier and it’s possible to see Hen Harrier in winter. During the migration periods the richness of the species here is increased by the appearance of Bluethroat (present in winter), Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Spoonbill, Great White Egret and Little, Spotted and Baillon's Crakes. In general, amongst the aquatic birds the herons are best represented, with the possibility of seeing all the Spanish species. There is also a large group of rallidae (Purple Swamphen, crakes, Water Rail, Moorhen, Common Coot), ducks (particularly Gadwall and Mallard), Great Cormorants, storks and grebes. All these make Arrocampo, without doubt, the best place in Extremadura to watch marshland species.
Best time to visit
Arrocampo can be visited throughout the year, although in July and August the high temperatures can be uncomfortable during the middle of the day. In these months we recommend doing the route at dusk or dawn. The biggest attractions in spring are watching the herons that breed here (Little Bittern, Purple, Grey, Squacco and Black-crowned Night Herons, with recent attempts by the Eurasian Spoonbill to breed) and marsh birds (warblers, including Savi's Warbler, Bearded and Penduline Tit, Purple Swamphen). In winter, if you are lucky, you can see Great Bittern and Osprey and there are numerous Marsh Harriers and Great Cormorants. Due to the exceptional conditions of the water temperature occasionally there are birds typical of the summer here in winter, such as various species of swallows, Squacco Heron and Little Bittern. During migration periods (August to October and March and April) there is a mixture of the species previously mentioned, plus the appearance of numerous birds on passage, increasing the ornithological richness of Arrocampo.
Other environmental and cultural interest
There is a large expanse of dehesa between Arrocampo and Monfragüe. It’s best to keep to the minor roads to enjoy them, such as that linking Serrejón and La Bazagona or those leading to Toril. The hundred-year old cork oak tree “El Abuelo” (the grandfather) is in this municipality and the enormous Holm oak “La Marquesa” is in Navalmoral de la Mata. The ecological corridor of the pine groves of the River Tiétar is also nearby, with the only indigenous pine groves in Extremadura. They grow along the banks of the Tiétar in the municipalities of Talayuela, Casatejada, Majadas and Toril. Some of these pine groves shelter magnificent colonies of White Stork, Grey Heron and Black Kite.
The towns and villages in the area have small examples of traditional and monumental architecture, such as the parish churches of Saucedilla, Casatejada and Almaraz and the medieval castle of Belvís de Monroy, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. You can also see the remains of another castle in Almaraz. Food specialities include cheeses, sausages, “migas extremeñas” (fried breadcrumbs) and large game dishes. The Romería de Rocamador in Almaraz (a religious procession) and the Carnivals of Navalmoral de la Mata are the most notable festivals.