Plains of Cáceres, Magasca and Trujillo
Location and access
A large plateau extends to the south of the River Tajo, cleaved by the Rivers Almonte and Tamuja, forming a gently undulating landscape, used mainly for livestock farming in the pastures and for growing rain-fed cereal crops. The route runs between the towns of Cáceres, Santa Marta de Magasca and Trujillo.
It is most easily accessed via the A-58 (formerly the N-521), which connects Trujillo and Cáceres. The main road to Cáceres is the A-66, whether coming from Mérida or from Plasencia. To reach Trujillo, take the A-5 from Mérida or Navalmoral de la Mata.
If you are starting out from Monfragüe National Park there are various routes you can take, along less busy roads through beautiful countryside. As you leave Torrejón el Rubio you will find a crossroads from where you can head towards Trujillo along the EX-208 or to Cáceres via the EX-390.
Description of the route
The route starts at the exit off the A-58 onto the CC-99 towards Santa Marta de Magasca. If you are travelling from Cáceres this exit is 7 km after the turning to Sierra de Fuentes (on the right) and from Trujillo the exit is10 km after the road crosses the River Gibranzos.
Once you are on the CC-99 continue along this road for 14 km until you reach the town of Santa Marta de Magasca, after having passed the deep valley of the River Tamuja. Just after you enter the town, past the bus stop, take the road on the left that goes around the town. The route goes through an area of dehesa first and then goes down to the banks of the River Magasca before again crossing a vast area of pastures and farmland. 8 km from Santa Marta de Magasca you will reach a junction at which you can turn towards Monroy (22.2 km away) or to Trujillo (23.8 km). If you choose the first option you will get to the spectacular valley of the River Almonte (18 km from the junction), after going through areas of pastureland and some open dehesa. If you go towards Trujillo you will reach the EX-208, 18 km from the junction, which will take you directly to the town. The route ends in the historical centre of Trujillo, where you will continue to see interesting birds.
This route goes through one of the most interesting areas in the region for birdwatching, not by chance crossing four areas that have been designated as Special Protection Areas for birds (SPA “Llanos de Cáceres y Sierra de Fuentes”, SPA “Magasca”, SPA “Riveros del Almonte” and SPA “Colonias de Cernícalo primilla de Trujillo”).
The complete route will allow you to see a great diversity of species in the most representative habitats of the region, with a clear predominance of natural pastureland and rain-fed cereal crops, interspersed with areas of Holm oak grove dehesa and scrubland (mostly broom and Spanish lavender). The main scenic contrasts arise around the river valleys, where there is an abrupt change from the dryness of the plains to the leafiness of the river courses, whose steep sides are completely covered by a dense vegetation of Holm oaks and wild olives.
There is a complete representation of steppe bird species in the areas of pastureland, with the populations of Calandra and Thekla Larks, Corn Bunting and Spanish Sparrow standing out for their abundance, which you can see throughout the route. Other species in this area include the Little Owl, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Common Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Spotless Starling, Southern Grey Shrike and European Bee-eater. If you stop your car and look carefully you can also spot other birds that are present in smaller numbers, such as Short-toed Lark and Black-eared Wheatear.
You can see Great Bustards at any time of year, but they are easier to spot in spring when they are in display. It’s advisable to station yourself in high areas with good visibility and scan around the area using binoculars or a telescope to find these birds in these extremely vast areas. Little Bustards are also very abundant, although they can pass by unnoticed in the areas where the pasture or cereal crops have grown very high. Their insistent call during the mating period usually gives away their presence, as well as the sound they make in flight, which is a spectacular sight when they are in large flocks.
It’s best to stay in one place or walk around to see other pastureland species, such as Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Stone Curlew; you could follow the drovers’ trails that cross the route, for example. There are also large numbers of European Roller and Lesser Kestrel, with some of the nesting boxes on the electricity poles being occupied by these species.
Colonies of Montagu’s Harrier have established themselves in various sections of the route, nesting in the cereal fields next to the road. They are intensely active from May onwards, when the first chicks hatch.
At the end of spring and start of summer the populations of migratory locust and other orthoptera are at their highest numbers and the birds feed on this resource. You can often see European Rollers, kestrels, Black Kites and other birds that feed on the thousands of invertebrates that can be found on the road alighted on the electricity poles and cables and on the wire fences near to the roads, where they are much more visible than in the pastures. This also forms the basis of the diet of the White Stork and Cattle Egret, species that form large colonies in the few trees in the area.
You shouldn’t be surprised to see Eurasian Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Raven or Egyptian Vulture, as the large numbers livestock feeding on these pastures offer a source of carrion for these scavengers. This area provides the main food supply for the large colonies of Eurasian Black Vulture that nest in the SPA “Sierra de San Pedro”. In the same way, large birds of prey, such as Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles hunt in this area, attracted by the abundance of prey (rabbits, hares and partridges).
During the autumn passage there are large numbers of Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Tawny Pipit, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail, which you can often see from the road.
In winter species such as Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Hen Harrier, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, White Wagtail are common and even Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which fly around the many livestock pools. Large flocks of finches, mainly Goldfinch, Linnet, Greenfinch and European Serin gather in the large areas of thistles and other plants with seeds attractive to birds.
In the dehesa and scrubland areas that you’ll find before you reach the rivers Tamuja and Magasca the bird species change notably, with Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, European Turtle Dove, Azure-winged Magpie, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Blue Tit, Great Tit, etc. being common in this habitat. On the slopes down to the riverbanks the vegetation is usually much thicker and more wooded, almost impenetrable. Some birds of prey exploit the safety of this thick cover to nest in (Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eagle Owl), along with Black Stork and typical forest species (Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Wren, European Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Melodious Warbler). In the rocky outcrops of the slopes you can also find Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting.
Along the river courses the presence of birds that nest on bridges is of interest, such as Crag Martin (easy to spot on the bridge over the River Tamuja), Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin. There are good numbers of Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, White Wagtail and Grey Wagtail on the sand and gravel banks, incessantly moving up and down the river.
At the end of this route you reach the town of Trujillo, one of only a few urban centres that have been declared a SPA, due to its large colonies of Lesser Kestrel. As you explore the streets of its historical centre you can see many of this species in flight, making their characteristic sound. You can also visit the breeding colonies that can be found in Plaza Mayor, the Convent of San Francisco, the Parador Tourist Hotel, Encarnación Street and the Palace of Albaida, the Palace of Luís Chaves and Plaza de Toros (this bullring is located in the outskirts of the town and has the biggest colony). You can also enjoy watching the many pairs of White Stork that build their nests on the roofs and bell towers of the historical buildings and have become one of the symbols of Trujillo. The breeding population of Pallid Swift is also worth mentioning, which shares the habitat with the Common Swift.
Best time to visit
Spring is the best time to do this route, as the birds in these areas include many summer visitors. It is also interesting in winter, when the winter visitors are present. The beauty of the steppe landscapes and their huge contrast with the river valleys makes this route a pleasure at any time of the year, even summer (avoiding the middle hours of the day).
Due to the low volume of traffic on the roads you can drive slowly so you can spot the birds more easily.
You mustn’t stay too long in the areas around the nesting colonies (Montagu’s Harrier, White Stork, Lesser Kestrel, Cattle Egret) and it’s advisable to keep a safe distance away to avoid disturbing the birds.
Other environmental and cultural interest
You should visit Cáceres, a city that has been declared a World Heritage Site. It has a very beautiful historical centre, which is in an excellent state of conservation, as well as a variety of cultural attractions.
Trujillo also has a lot of tourist appeal; within its historical centre you can visit the Jewish quarter, Church of San Martín, Church of Santiago, Arabic Castle and the museums of Pizarro and of Cheese and Wine.
In Cáceres you can also visit the Centre of Environmental Education “Olivar de los Frailes”, which has a lot of information about the protected areas in the region. In the town of Sierra de Fuentes you can visit the Centre of Recuperation of Fauna and Environmental Education “Los Hornos”.