Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Lynx in Andalucia

1st - 5th December 2011

Thursday 1st :- After a long drive down from Valencia and a really good night’s sleep near the airport, Julian and Jane collect Jason and his son James from Malaga Airport and set off inland towards Cordoba.  The two guests are predominately interested in mammals and have an interesting philosophy that any birds that eat other prey (or anything big) are actually honorary mammals, and worth looking at!
We head towards our destination in the Sierra de Andujar, making a slight detour to the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra as, a large brackish lake just inland from the coast.  Here we start at a watchpoint overlooking some freshwater pools where we find lots of Greater Flamingos, (which the place is famous for), along with, Little Grebe, Little Egrets, a few Shoveler, Pintail and Mallard, Common Moorhen, Coot and an immature Marsh Harrier.  Another of our targets is also found here with 200+ Common Cranes around and it was fabulous to hear them ‘bugling’ in the midday sunshine. After a while we leave here and drive round to the excellent ‘Jose Valverde’ visitors centre and get much better views of the flamingos, plus a few Black-winged Stilts, both Lesser Black-backed & Black-headed Gulls, Cattle Egrets and a natty Stonechat..  Eventually we set off for Andujar stopping en-route for some lunch at an excellent motorway café.
The journey is relatively uneventful, with some interesting scenery, which is mainly cereal fields and olive grove, which stretch as far as the eye can see.  This whole part of Andalucía is re-known for the olive oil production and justifiably so.  The also drive yields some good views of Red Kite overhead, plus Common Buzzard and more Cattle Egrets where they are ploughing the fields. We spotted several stork nests on top of electric pylons and one even has a White Stork in it. Along the road Julian also spotted things like Common Woodpigeon, Crested Lark, Spotless Starling & Blackbird, but had not called these as James & Jason “were not birders”.  However as the journey progressed they succumb and added even these species to their “honorary mammal list” and the decision had been made to mention everything and see how we get on.
We are all pretty excited about the possibility of Lynx, so once we reach the accommodation we grab the room keys and continue towards our first main viewing area along the Rio Jandula (Encinarejos).  We stop at a known view point and stay there until dusk, but sadly the Lynx did not appear but we had good sightings of Red Deer, with their bellowing resonating around the valley. A lucky couple of us see a European Kingfisher flying along the river and James was the only one to spot our second mammal of the day - Rabbit.
As night falls we make our way slowly back to the accommodation and meet soon after for dinner, which as usual here is wonderful and far too much.  Replete and tired after a long day’s travelling we head off for bed, full of expectation for the following morning.

Friday 2nd :- Breakfast was a quick affair since most of us were still full from the previous evening’s meal. So we were very quickly on the road and heading for La Lancha. The weather had turned worse and this morning there was some low cloud and mist but still the visibility was pretty good. The road surface was now much improved so our progress was fairly rapid on the winding roads but as always with ‘first views’ we stopped too many times for deer. There were good numbers of both Red and Fallow Deer as we passed though the Holm and Spanish Oak wooded hillsides and each was a potential photo opportunity. At Los Escoriales we saw the famous and magnificent ‘fighting bulls’ and (as always) commented on the barbarity of the traditionally Spanish pastime and how it was good to see it being slowly eradicated. Soon after this we were dropping into the valley of La Lancha and our thoughts very turned to the world’s rarest cat.
We passed a few people that Julian knew and by their gesturing must have just seen a lynx – if only we hadn’t kept stopping for deer! So we parked and Julian went to speak to them and was followed by Jason & James. Jane had sensibly stayed by the vehicle because the next thing we see is her waving franticly so we head back down the road. Not only has she seen an Iberian Lynx, but it has passed within a few metres of her. Jane does well explaining where it was last seen and where it could re-appear, which thankfully it does but not for long. This time Jason doesn’t misuse his camera and manages to get a decent still of the animal, and James goes one better with some excellent video footage in the open. What a dream start to the day and hopefully there will be more. We continue to search after it’s disappeared into the gloom and the weather is deteriorating fast with now steady rain and thicker mist. This makes any kind of watching almost impossible and about 10am we call time and head back down the mountain.
We have decided to try at the river again in hope that the cloud will have not got that low, which is the case but it’s still raining. We stand on the bridge looking for Otter and getting wet, but also seeing a few birds such as Kingfisher, Grey Heron, Grey & White Wagtail, Wren, Chiffchaff, Jackdaws, Long-tailed Tit, Black Redstart and Chaffinch. Jason sees an Algerian Mouse briefly, another small addition to the mammal list. Just before midday we have had enough and make our way back to the hotel for lunch and to dry off a little and thankfully there are breaks in the sky, which is encouraging. An hour later the sun is out so we make the most of it and drive back up to La Lancha. The improved weather has allowed the large raptors to fly and soon en-route we see our first Griffon Vultures followed by a single Black Vulture. Then Julian spies another bird and we stop only to find an immature Golden Eagle soaring over the ridge – brilliant. A little further we stop for a roadside Hoopoe, which also produces Iberian Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Mistle Thrushes, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Serin.
At La Lancha we start again to search for the lynx spending the rest of the day there and despite our best efforts we don’t manage another view. Griffon & Black Vultures are constantly circling overhead and Julian also picks out a pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles amongst them. Other birds in the area include Southern Grey Shrike, Blue Rock Thrush, Song Thrush, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, Robin, Red-billed Chough, Kestrel, Great and Blue Tit.
We returned to the Los Pinos as the sun was setting over the Monastario Virgen de la Cabeza, which made for a fantastic back-drop to the whole area and well worth the visit alone. Later we gathered for the check-list again followed by another superb meal before retirement to our respective rooms.

Saturday 3rd :- It is a beautiful morning and after breakfast we head quickly to La Lancha with great expectation and hopefully a repeat performance of the previous day. Jane our talisman sadly wasn’t with us, opting for a more relaxed start and to meet us later at the accommodation. It was a lovely morning and we got fabulous views of Red and Fallow Deer as we made our way to the watching area. Griffon and Black Vultures were on the wing in the early morning sunshine but sadly the Iberian Lynx hadn’t read the script and stayed out of sight.
Late morning we had searched enough and Julian suggested a drive down to the Jandula Dam and check out the ‘bat cave’ to hopefully add a couple more mammals to the list. At the dam wall we got views of a Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Dove and a Grey Wagtail before heading into the cave. It had been quite cold recently so we weren’t confident on finding anything but this wasn’t justified at all as we got fabulous views of roosting Whiskered, Greater Mouse-eared and Schreiber’s Bats. Jason and James had a great time photographing these three species before heading back to the dam wall. Here we spent a little time searching the area and Jason did incredibly well finding a Great White Egret next to a Grey Heron, quite a rare bird in this area. Eventually we got back to the vehicle and returned to the hotel as we needed to meet Jane and then go on to the River Jandula. The return journey was fairly quiet but we did find a couple of very accommodating Little Owls along the route.
Back at the accommodation we decided to have an ice cream and refreshments out on their patio and while thoroughly enjoying these Julian found a pair of adult Golden Eagles circling overhead. Just goes to show the quality of this whole area.
After this very welcome break we drove the short distance to the river were we spent a little time eating our ‘bocadillos and fruit’ which had been made for our lunch. It was lovely next to the river seeing Grey Herons and a Kingfisher, plus Julian found a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles, which were quite vocal. After this we drove to the dam wall and spent a little time searching this area for Lynx and Otter but without success, although Julian did see another Kingfisher, Hawfinch, Azure-winged Magpies, Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits. It was quiet so we decided to return to La Lancha, stopping en-route to allow Jason to photograph some Red Deer and to check out a few birds such as Iberian Green Woodpecker, Stonechat, Mistle Thrush and Serin.
At the La Lancha watchpoint we were greeted by the news that an Iberian Lynx had been seen just 20 minutes earlier and we needed to be vigilant. For the next couple of hours we kept a constant watch on the area but to no avail the animal didn’t reappear but we did get some good views of 4 Wild Boar. In fact despite the distance Jason got a decent photograph and
James got some excellent video through Julian’s telescope. The birds were also quite interesting with another couple of Spanish Imperial Eagles, Crag Martins, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Dartford Warbler and Song Thrush.
However the highlight of the day wasn’t an animal but the amazing sunset that we witnessed before heading back to the hotel. Despite the omission of any lynx sightings it had been another brilliant day on this wonderful reserve. Hopefully we would have better luck the following day.

Sunday 4th :- The decision was made last night to spend the day at La Lancha to maximise our possibilities of seeing the elusive lynx. We knew it was going to be a long day in the same location more or less, but were all optimistic that it would be worth the wait. Fortunately the weather smiled on us today and even if we had not seen the “world’s rarest cat” it was a beautiful day. The journey into our chosen location yielded both Red & Fallow Deer, a couple of Griffon Vultures and the ever helpful Azure-winged and Eurasian Magpie which alarm when the lynx are near. The morning started better than expected with a lynx having been spotted on our arrival. We were quickly shown where and all managed a glimpse, although James also got some nice video footage of it looking back before it jumped into a crack in the rocks and it was lost to sight. There was a good amount of local enthusiasts around, so plenty of “spotting opportunities” which were frustratingly fruitless to this point.
We decided to drive some way back down the valley to take some more photos of the Fallow & Red Deer and have a bit of a change of scenery for lunch. There were a few birds in the area with lots of Chaffinches and Serins plus Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and a Southern Grey Shrike. Having taken some nice shots and had a bit of a wander into the countryside, we returned to our main location for our primary target.
A pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles and a Black Vulture circled overhead as a pleasant distraction to the lack of lynx sightings. Our luck, however, was about to change and some! With about an hour of decent daylight left, Julian sent out a message and we quickly reconvened at his location. A large adult male was casually wandering down one of the tracks before cutting into the trees & bushes. Out of breath and excited, we followed Julian’s directions and all rapidly managed to located the beautiful cat. For the next thirty minutes we followed him as he traversed the hillside, found a nice spot in the sunshine and proceeded to just “chill” and have a wash. After a while he was on the move again and we managed to follow most of his route. He ran down a slope after some sort of prey and at this stage we lost him to his dinner! We were rapidly losing decent light and decided after this wonderful viewing to head back to the hotel for the evening meal and another good night’s sleep.

Monday 5th :- It was our last morning and since we didn’t have to be in Malaga until late afternoon we decided to have one more visit to La Lancha. It was another fabulous morning and the drive up produced the usual roadside Red Deer and wonderful views of the monastery in the bright morning sunlight. When we reached the site there was a lot of mist in the valley bottom making it difficult to search for lynx but we stayed for an hour getting one last ‘feel’ for this very special terrain.
We decided to return slowly to the hotel and try en-route for the elusive Mouflon, which had thus far evaded us. Near Los Escoriales we stopped at the side of the road and immediately found a herd of 20+ of these wild sheep – a cracking result for Jason and James. While we were there a Green Sandpiper flew over and in the trees there were Chaffinches, Serins, Mistle Thrush and a Corn Bunting.
Very pleased with our efforts we got back to the hotel for breakfast meeting up with Jane who had decided not to join us. After breakfast we packed our bags and said our “goodbyes” to the staff and headed back towards Malaga. As always the journey was an easy one with clear roads and eventually clear skies. The good weather ensured we saw several Red Kites along the route a few White Storks, Ravens, Kestrel and a couple of Crested Larks at the side of the road.
Since Jason and James were so much into their mammals, Julian had suggested a change to the advertised itinerary instead going to the El Torcal NR where there was a good chance of finding the endemic Spanish Ibex. Soon enough we were winding our way up into the mountains stopping at the visitor centre associated with this natural park. Jason and James went off for a walk looking for this rare mountain goat, while Julian and Jane stayed around the centre both sets having their own successes. Julian and Jane added some new species to the bird list with a lovely male Rock Bunting; a Thekla Lark flew over, also a Dunnock and a small flock of Linnets plus a male Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Blue and Great Tits. Jason and James had found their target with a nice herd of 30+ Spanish Ibex very close to the track they were on, which gave them a chance of some good images. Mid-afternoon we left the mountains and as we dropped out of the park we found a few more ibex, which was an excellent spot by our 12 year old wildlife enthusiast – James.
We continued to drop back down to Malaga Airport along the minor roads and an hour later we were pulling in to the departure area. Julian and Jane were driving back north to Valencia so we quickly said “farewell” having agreed it had been an incredibly successful few days in Andalucía.


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