Sierra de San Pedro
Location and access
The route is in the region of the Sierra de San Pedro, on the border of the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz, although this route is completely in the last. It starts from the town of Alburquerque, which can be reached from Badajoz by the EX –110, from Herreruela by the EX -324, from Aliseda by the EX -303, or from San Vicente de Alcántara by the EX -110.
Description of the route
The route is 27.4 km long, there and back, from Alburquerque to the Castle of Azagala. It is best done partly by car and partly on foot, in one day. The most notable thing about this route is that it goes through a thinly populated area, which has not been altered by any large infrastructures (except for the Peña del Águila Reservoir). From the top of Sierra de Santiago you look over a large dehesa area flanked by mountain ranges of less than 600 m.a.s.l. (only Mount Torrico is higher than this, at 703 m.a.s.l.), with a few farmhouses dotted around them and hardly any electricity cables, thanks to the various actions to modify these carried out within LIFE projects by the General Directorate of the Environment. This means you can see many species of birds in a density that would be unthinkable in other areas of Europe.
This interesting route in the Sierra de San Pedro goes through the most representative habitats of this protected natural area and, with a bit of luck, you will be able to see the most representative birds, as in the area of this route several pairs of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Eurasian Black Vulture, Black Stork, Golden Eagle and Egyptian Vulture nest.
The route starts from the town of Alburquerque, at the street San Antón, next to the bullring “plaza de toros” (X:0673458, Y: 4343090), (it is best to do this first part by car, as it is quicker and the asphalted road doesn’t have a hard shoulder so could be dangerous to walk along). The first part of the route is along an asphalted road that runs between traditional stone walls and some wire fencing, next to small orchards and family farms set in a wonderful dehesa of Holm and cork oaks. The route goes along the side of the Sierra del Puerto del Centinela, which is very close by, on the right, and dehesa and plains on the left, with Mount Torrico of the Sierra de San Pedro in the background.
(X: 0675300, Y: 4342685) At this point the turn off to the entrance of the Convent de los Frailes Viejos is on the right and at the top of the mountain range you can make out a large hollow known as “El Ojo del Diablo” (the devil’s eye). Continue straight on along the road and at point (X:0676387, Y: 4342515) you will find the turn off on the right, in a eucalyptus grove, to the cork oak “El Abuelo” (the grandfather) which is 600 m away in a pretty livestock dehesa. Keep going straight on along the road, which now has a eucalyptus grove on the right and an orange orchard on the left. A little further on you will find the spring “Elvira Vaca” on the right, with a large pool in which you can refresh yourself on hot days. From here you will have a good view of a large part of the Sierra de San Pedro and a magnificent Holm oak in front of you. Continue along the road to point (X:068547, Y: 4341837), where you should turn left. Here you will find a slate sign with “al Castillo” (to the castle) written on it. It is best to leave your car here and continue on foot, as some sections of the road are in a bad state, not suitable for cars, and as it will also then be possible to see more species of birds and enjoy the nature around you. By this point you have already done about 6 km of the route, with about 12 more to go, out and back, which can be done in a few hours, stopping to eat something at midday. Continuing straight on down the road you will see several pig farms and a lot of sheep. There are also some slate signs with “al Castillo” (to the castle), to help you find the way. When you reach point (X: 0678840, Y: 4343035) you will find a sign saying “Ermita de los Santiagos” (a small chapel which is worth visiting) and a sign with “al Castillo” on the right, which you should follow. After a fair walk between dehesa with varying densities of trees and going past a large Iberian pig farm you will reach point (X: 0683882, Y: 4342860), where there is another fork in the road, signposted “el Pantano” to the right and “al Castillo” to the left. You can clearly see both from here: the castle is on top of the low Sierra de Santiago and the reservoir is within the gully of the valley of the River Albarragena. Go left and continue on until you reach the castle. It is 13.7 km from the start of the route in Alburquerque to here and the road up to the castle is private so it’s a good spot to stop for a picnic lunch, enjoy the view and rest a little before starting back. From the Castle of Azagala there is a good view of most of the Sierra de San Pedro and its spurs. You can also see Mount Torrico and the mountain ranges Sierra de Los Leones, Sierra del Puerto del Centinela, Sierra de La Caraba, Sierra Fría, etc.
The jewel of this route is, without doubt, the Spanish Imperial Eagle, of which there are four breeding pairs in a 15 km radius from the route. It is also easy to see Eurasian Black Vulture, which has a large breeding population in the area; Black Stork, which, as well as breeding in the area, uses the end of the reservoir as a gathering area before migration; and Bonelli’s Eagle, of which there are several pairs nesting in the cliffs and trees. However, Peregrine Falcon is very scarce; it nested in the gully of the Albarragena for some years, but now it’s only possible to see in winter. In contrast, Golden Eagle can frequently be seen at any time of year, as can Griffon Vulture, which has a large breeding population and so can easily be found right from the start of the route. Other frequently seen birds of prey are Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Eurasian Sparrowhawk and in the historical centre of Alburquerque there is a large breeding population of Lesser Kestrel. Nocturnal species include Eagle Owl, a rock-dwelling species that lives in large numbers in the rocky cliffs, even in the area close to the town. The most abundant owl is Little Owl, which can be found at dusk in most open Holm oak groves and the areas of granite rocks. Tawny Owl can be found in the thickest Holm oak groves and Barn Owl in various farmhouses in the area and in some of the old, ruined houses in the town.
Other common species in the area are European Nuthatch, closely linked to the mature cork oak groves and very frequent in the area around the cork oak “El Abuelo”; Azure-winged Magpie, a very pretty colonial corvid associated with dehesa; Woodlark, the lark species most closely connected to wooded areas in Extremadura, easily detected by its melodic song, Hoopoe, Common Cuckoo, Nightingale, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits.
Best time to visit
This route can be done at any time of the year and won’t be disappointing in any season, although you should take some considerations into account.
There are more species to observe in spring and summer, as there are various migratory species in the area in these seasons, such asBlack Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Booted and Short-toed Eagles. However, you must bear in mind that spring is the breeding period, so you must keep to the route to avoid causing any disturbance that could affect the breeding success.
This area is very hot in summer, so avoid the middle hours of the day (which are also the hours in which the birds are less active and so it’s difficult to see them).
The stag rutting occurs in autumn and it’s easy to hear the bellowing and crashing of antlers on the banks of the reservoir. From some look-out posts it is also easy to watch the event if you have good optical equipment (telescopes or binoculars).Winter is the hunting season. The farms that surround the route in the area of the castle and the reservoir are private farms dedicated to big game hunting and hunts often take place between November and February. As a result you should check in the village if there are any hunts happening and you shouldn’t do the route if there are.
Don’t forget :
Don’t disturb the people who live or work in the surrounding area. Most of the farms that surround the route are private farms so you must not leave any gate open or disturb the livestock.
Other environmental and cultural interest
The stag rutting season is at the end of August and in September (the date can vary according to the climatic conditions), commonly known in Extremadura as the“berrea” (bellowing). The males fight to keep the harem of females with which they mate, becoming more confident at this time and leaving the thick cover of the forests for the open plains and dehesa.
It’s worth making the 600 m deviation from the route to see the cork oak “El Abuelo” (the grandfather). This magnificent cork oak was designated an “outstanding tree” by the botanist Diosdado Simón Villares.