Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Lynx in Andalucia

13th - 17th October 2011

Thursday 13th :-Val, John & Kevin arrived to a lovely and warm Malaga being met by Julian in a well-equipped air-conditioned vehicle. We had a 50 minute drive to the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra and en-route saw our first Spotless Starlings and a couple of (probable) Griffon Vultures. After the unseasonably hot autumn the brackish lagoon was now getting quite low so we drove to the Cantarranas Watchpoint, which overlooks some freshwater pools. This proved fruitful with views of a few Greater Flamingos, Little Grebes, Little Egret, Shoveler, single Avocet, several Black-tailed Godwits, Black-winged Stilt and lots of Coot along with Barn Swallows, Greenfinch and a couple of Kestrels. We set off back towards the town and almost immediately stopped for a Common Buzzard being mobbed by the Kestrels, plus Stonechat, Crested Lark and a couple of flying Zitting Cisticolas. We also slowed down for a view of Bath White, which were frequenting the roadside Fennel. It was now time for lunch so we drove into the town of Fuente de Piedra and sat outside the café with our bocadillos, salted nuts, olives and drinks. We then set off for the Sierra de Andujar and the 2 hour journey was mainly uneventful apart from Kevin finding another Common Buzzard and a probable Black Kite. Eventually we got to the accommodation and fairly quickly checked in, adding our first Iberian Magpies on the road up to the hotel. Still hot we agreed to wait an hour before setting off again into the heart of the reserve and our first try for Iberian Lynx. We drove out through the natural park to the River Jandula, where we found our first Red Deer of the short break. When we finally stopped Julian found a Firecrest in one of the Black Pines, which is not an easy bird to see in this area. So we positioned ourselves in strategic positions along a short stretch of the river and waited for our target mammal. It was a fairly slow afternoon but collectively we managed to see a couple of Kingfishers, Nuthatch, Great Spotted & Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap and the ubiquitous Azure-winged Magpies.  We left as it was getting dark and the Soprano’s Pipistrelles were starting to gather over the river. We slowly returned to the Los Pinos and on the way we flushed a Red-necked Nightjar from the side of the road. Back at the accommodation we quickly got ready for the evening meal and while waiting out in the car park, Julian and John saw a Noctule Bat overhead. We thoroughly enjoyed our first evening meal in the restaurant, followed by the daily check-list and the next day’s plans. We were all quite tired from a long day’s travelling so our rooms beckoned not long after we had finished and as we left Jupiter was showing well in the star-lit sky.

Friday 14th :- It was still dark when we went for breakfast and a Tawny Owl was calling in the distance, plus there were a few Moorish Geckos in the lamp stands waiting for a juicy moth. Julian and Kevin who were in the same block hadn’t had a great night’s sleep due to some piece of machinery whirring away! After our breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, melon, toast and hot beverages we were ready to head back out to the River Jandula site. We arrived as dawn was breaking but our hearts sank a little when we discovered workmen were also occupying the same area we had intended too. So Julian suggested a walk along the river’s edge to get away from the noise and combat some of the cold of the early morning. There were plenty of Red Deer including a fine stag and in the distance we could hear the bellows of these fine beasts. Julian then became aware of a disturbance being made by a few Magpies and wanted to investigate. Searching all the time we edged along the river and Julian all of a sudden uttered the immortal words “Lynx – there on the edge of the river” It didn’t actually take long for the rest of us to find the animal but it seemed like an eternity however we needn’t have panicked! There was this wonderful creature slowly making its way down to the water’s edge where right out in the open it stretched, drank, looked right at us and drank again. Absolutely magic, in fact Val actually shed a little tear! It then slowly moved off along the river and we realised we were near a couple of (presumed) Spanish watchers so Julian ran off to get them. He returned with the couple but the Lynx had disappeared but John did very well re-finding it sat on a rock partially obscured. There was relief again as we all enjoyed this rare ‘big cat’ only to watch another join it and then together have a little play in the immediate area. While this was all going on we were also joined by another couple and one of the natural park’s warden’s, who was equally impressed with the activity. After nearly an hour’s observation they both walked up the small hill and over the top out of sight, giving a little time to catch our breath, smile and shake each other’s hand. What an experience and all within 100m of where we were standing. Obviously after this the rest of the morning was a slight anti-climax but we did still enjoy some great wildlife, especially the birds of prey. We spent all the rest of the time sat at the river’s edge seeing Hawfinch, Kingfisher, Spotted Flycatcher, Nuthatch etc but around 11am we enjoyed some excellent raptor watching. Initially we found a 1st winter Golden Eagle, which showed very well and was soon joined by a migrant Short-toed Eagle and our first Griffon Vulture. This then passed and while looking for a Red Admiral butterfly Julian heard the distinctive call of an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle. After a quick scan of the skies he found it with another Griffon plus a Black Vulture, which was incredible. The vultures continued to appear with kettles of mainly Griffon Vulture but also an odd Black. Kevin was searching the skies and found another adult Spanish Imperial and adult Golden Eagle but at quite a distance. It was now getting quite hot as we neared midday and incredibly the raptors disappeared as so often happens, but it had been a fabulous end to a great morning. We had our picnic lunch in the heat of the midday sun and soon afterwards returned to the Los Pinos for a siesta. Although before this we drove the short distance to the visitor centre where Val and John enjoyed a quick look round. Outside Julian was finding a few butterflies including a brief look at a Two-tailed Pasha plus Brimstone and Long-tailed Blue. Kevin then found a Crested Tit and after a little while we all got very good views of this gorgeous wee bird. Back at the accommodation we arranged a meeting time and went our separate ways until later that afternoon. It was still very hot when we left for our afternoon session on the natural park but we were full of anticipation after the morning’s delights. As we agreed the pressure was now off and we could get on with trying to see as much as possible in the knowledge we had seen Iberian Lynx brilliantly. With a change in direction we drove out towards Los Escoriales thinking our progress would be slow, so what a surprise to Julian when he found the pot-holes had now been filled in! This was excellent and quite quickly we had found our first new mammal with a small group of Fallow Deer. At Los Escoriales we got out of the vehicle to get some photos of the magnificent fighting bulls and while this was going on Julian then found a few Mouflon. We couldn’t believe our luck. After a short while we continued along the unmetalled (and dusty) road down to the La Lancha viewing area, where we spent some time until nearly dusk searching for Lynx. We didn’t see any further mammals but just watch the sun set on the hills adjacent to the impressive outline of the Santuario de Virgen de la Cabeza.

Saturday 15th :- It was still dark when we set off for La Lancha and our progress was good, with a magnificent view of dawn breaking over the distant mountains as we started to drop down to the usual watching area. There were already a few people there so we set ourselves up along the road and started scanning the immediate to the constant bellowing of Red Deer. We spent the next few hours there searching for our main target but not this morning. Sadly Julian had gone to speak to some other Lynx-watchers and found a couple of Wild Boar but they unfortunately disappeared before anyone else got to see them! However there were a small group of Mouflon on the distant hillside along with Rabbit, Common Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie and Song Thrush. A male Merlin had dashed through earlier and this was followed by our second new raptor species – a female Hen Harrier. Both indicative of winter being on its way, although you would never know from the weather we were having. The find of the morning must though go to Kevin who picked out an adult Golden Eagle sat on a rock about 1.5 miles away. As it got towards midday Julian decided to move on and drop further down the track to the Jandula Dam. We parked and got out of the vehicle with the first birds being a few Crag Martins near the dam wall followed quickly by a migrant Black Stork, which flew over us and headed down the valley. As we walked across the dam Julian spied a close adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, which gave good views through the telescope as it flew alongside Black & Griffon Vultures. On the water we found a few Cormorants and lots of Grey Herons, and then John did well locating our first Grey Wagtail, which was in fact one of a pair. However the main aim of this visit was to visit the ‘Bat Cave’ and we headed into the dark with Julian and John armed with their torches. What a fab time we had searching the nooks and crannies for these ‘furry night-flyers’. Initially we found a group of Whiskered Bats huddled into one hole but a little further Julian pointed out a Schreiber’s Bat and then some very impressive Greater Mouse-eared Bats. We really enjoyed our visit to see the bats but it was now nearing lunchtime so we headed up to the La Lancha picnic area. We had our lunch in the shade of the sun seeing a few more vultures but we also added another new butterfly with Berger’s Clouded Yellow but things had certainly gone quiet. So we slowly headed back to the accommodation for a welcome siesta, en-route we got another frustratingly brief view of a Two-tailed Pasha, which flew over the car. Then enthused by this we spent 10 minutes checking the gardens of the Los Pinos finding Cardinal, Cleopatra, Large White, Bath White, Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood around the Bougainvillea - brilliant. Late afternoon the butterfly theme continued as we then found a couple more Cardinals and several Long-tailed Blues. We got to the car to find a gorgeous strikingly green Praying Mantis on the ground there so Julian and John took turns to hold it while suitable photos were taken. It was a stunning creature, taken to jumping from one place to another!!! Eventually we got away from the Los Pinos, after all this and a bit of car washing as the dust of recent days had made the windows difficult to see out of. Like the evening before we drove slowly up the hill to Los Escoriales and just beyond the junction pulled in to admire the ‘Fighting Bulls’. This is when Julian found another small group (or the same?) of Mouflon sat on the hillside so we took our time enjoying these lovely wild sheep. While we were there another adult Spanish Imperial Eagle circled high overhead and Kevin demonstrated the potential of his camera gear by getting some very good photos, even at that height. As the afternoon cooled to a reasonable level a few more raptors appeared particularly several Griffon & Black Vultures. We continued along the dirt road towards La Lancha and Kevin did extremely well spotting a Little Owl again sat on a rock. Once we reached the watching area we set up and scanned the valley for both Lynx and Boar but without success. However it was such a beautiful evening with the sun dropping behind the Monastery illuminated on the far hillside was quite breath-taking. As dusk fell we headed back to the hotel and reconvened soon after for yet another fabulous meal followed by the daily log. We all agreed it had been yet another brilliant day!

Sunday 16th :- Our day started well with Julian bringing to breakfast a very impressive Convolvulus Hawkmoth, which he duly released into the garden. Then once we were ready we drove off towards El Encinarejo as it started to get light. Just as we entered the track Val pointed out a very handsome stag Red Deer lying down on the raised embankment, which was fabulous. We continued on to the end where we parked, got our things and walked on to the bridge over the river. It was a lovely Autumnal morning and quite chilly in comparison to the others, with Kevin wishing he’d put his long trousers on! At the bridge we started our search for any roaming Lynx that might be in the area. This wasn’t our only focus and started to log a few birds including a Blue Rock Thrush trying to impersonate a Spotless Starling (the bill was a dead give-away!), Kingfishers flew up and down the river, 2 Mallard and several Cormorants flew over, plus Grey & White Wagtails Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and some majestic Hawfinches. After a while we started to walk slowly down the river continually looking for an Iberian Lynx where we had seen them previously. Then Kevin noticed a couple of raptors flying low through the valley, which were identified as Griffon Vultures. Incredibly they dropped into the pine forest directly behind where we were standing; making us think there must be some kind of carcass there. This theory was enhanced as lots more started to drop in, so we got to a better position and allowed ourselves to get some photographs. Val actually found several birds sitting in one tree and looking like something out of Disney’s Jungle Book. The sun had now appeared over the hills and was illuminating them brilliantly, while Kevin merrily clicked away with his superb camera outfit. Once satisfied with this we made our way on to the large granite rocks that sit on the edge of the river and waited. More good birds appeared with Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler and Hawfinch. Although John did brilliantly finding a Garden Warbler followed by a Little Grebe and Moorhen – all new additions to this area. Late morning and it was now starting to get quite warm, with Julian predicting that the raptors would be starting to appear soon. This was incredible as right on cue we started to see several Black & Griffon Vultures circling over the distant hillside. Then Julian heard a familiar call, searched the skies and found what he was looking for – a sub-adult Spanish Imperial Eagle flying right over us. However he wasn’t convinced this was the ‘calling bird’ so continued to look, eventually finding the adult in the far distance. John thought he could also see it but quickly realised he and Val were watching another bird that was in fact a male Goshawk. This then led to some interaction between the eagle and the accipiter! We were so pleased with this, but were blown away as a little later we all heard the Spanish Imperial Eagle call, looked around and found no less than 4 birds in the sky, with 2 adults and 2 immature birds – this was simply amazing. Once we had calmed down from all of this we realised it was nearly lunchtime so we waited a while longer and then drove a little further down the river to a nice picnic table in the shade. Julian tried to entice some Iberian Magpies with bread but sadly none were forth-coming but we did see some nice things. We added a new butterfly with Small Copper and we also saw a Two-tailed Pasha, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood along with Spotted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Robin and Woodlark. It was now getting very hot and things were quietening down so we packed our things back in the vehicle. Although just before we left Kevin found another Spanish Imperial Eagle, with Val then coincidently finding the Goshawk. This was an excellent way to end the morning in this wonderfully tranquil place. Back at the accommodation some of us went butterfly hunting and quite quickly found Cleopatra, Cardinal, Long-tailed Blue, Bath White and Small White, plus Carpenter Bee another very impressive creature. So slowly we made our ways to the rooms with a welcome siesta in mind. Like the previous days we reconvened at 5pm with Val and Kevin asking Julian to go and check out a Cricket Val had found. It turned out to be a Great Green Cricket but we thought Val’s Cricket was more appropriate. Eventually we set off towards La Lancha and made very good progress reaching the watchpoints after a couple of brief stops for a lovely male Black Redstart and some close Azure-winged Magpies. We parked in the usual place and again set up to scan the whole area, with a hope of either Lynx or Wild Boar. The first hour was fairly quiet still with the usual rutting Red Deer plus Sardinian Warbler, Red-legged Partridge, Blackbird, Southern Grey Shrike and John found a lovely male Blue Rock Thrush. It was not long after this Julian picked out a couple of young Wild Boar on the hillside and was extremely pleased when everyone else had managed to see them through the telescope. He had really wanted to see another mammal species and this was the preferred one as both Kevin and Val had never seen them before. Like so often happens just about the same time Val went on to find a large raptor sat on a distant rock, which after looking through the telescope was one of the two ‘aquila’ eagles around. We debated the bird and the ‘smart money’ was on Spanish Imperial but we were just not certain especially when we saw just how much it dwarfed the local aggressive Magpies. It did eventually take to the air and revealed itself as an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle our sixth one of the day, which is quite phenomenal. After this we continued searching and a little later Kevin re-found the Wild Boar but this time they were a family party of eight and we really enjoyed tracking them across the sierra. When all this had finished the sun was just about setting over the distant hills again illuminating the santuario, which was just awesome. The whole scene was quite spiritual and will leave a lasting memory on the minds of those present. As dusk fell we headed back to the Los Pinos, always aware that something could cross our path at any time. The bats were again flying with Noctule and Pipistrelles being the only possible identification possible without a frequency detector. Back at the accommodation we quickly got ready and went into the restaurant for our final meal, which included roast duck slices in date sauce and wonderful paella by request. This had definitely been another fabulous short break to this incredible area of Spain

Monday 17th :- This morning we were leaving for Malaga and it was a fairly relaxed start to the day with a later breakfast than normal in a hope of seeing a few bats return to their roost. Sadly there were only a couple of Pipistrelles around and they insisted on staying out in the morning daylight. So after breakfast we quickly loaded the car, said our “goodbyes” to the staff of the Los Pinos and drove down to Andujar and then on to the motorway. It was a very quiet journey as regards wildlife with just a few Crested Larks and a couple of frustratingly brief views of Raven. One highlight was a very observant Kevin seeing a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier in a gulley just outside Malaga City. Eventually we got to the beach at the mouth of the Guadalhorce River, where we initially scanned the sea and the nature reserve. This proved fortuitous as we found the usual mix of gulls (Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged and Black-headed) plus a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull sat on the beach. Over the reserve we saw Little Egrets, Cormorants and a Kestrel along with an Osprey sat in a dead tree. Out to sea there were several Gannets fishing, and Julian found a lone Scopoli’s Shearwater languidly flying west up the coast. Armed with our lunches we set off across the beach and on to the nature reserve where we stopped off at the first hide. Here we sat and enjoyed good views of White-headed Ducks, Common Pochard, Black-necked & Little Grebes, Greenshank and Common Sandpipers but sadly no Osprey again. We then moved to the second hide where Kevin found a few Spanish Terrapins plus more White-headed Ducks and Little Grebes, with a Booted Eagle flying over the motorway in the distance. While we were here we also watched 3 Greater Flamingos drop into the first lagoon so we decided to leave and spend our last 30 minutes back there. It was time to make our way back to the car and then the short distance to the airport, getting everyone there in very good time for their flights. Everyone agreed it had been a fabulous few days in southern Spain, with some phenomenal wildlife experiences.

Iberian Lynx



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