Thursday 26th :- Julian met the group of Dave & Mary, Steve & Linda, Jean, Carole & Marilyn at Malaga Airport who all arrived on time. We were soon on our way inland towards the Lagunas de Fuentedepiedras, but we stopped on the way for some lunch as it was now midday. During lunch we started to build the list with of the commoner local birds whilst sitting outside in the warm sunshine. Around the café were Spotless Starlings and House Sparrows, but the open fields behind with some sparse phragmites produced a large flock of Calandra Larks, female Marsh Harrier, Little Egret and our first Common Kestrel found by Lin. After the ample bocadillos we continued to Fuentedepiedras seeing Lapwing and Cattle Egret en-route. Once the lake was in sight we started to see 100’s of Greater Flamingos in the shallow waters along with lots of Black-headed & Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We continued driving around the lagoon to the mirador, seeing our first mammal of the short break – Rabbit in the extensive olive groves. At the mirador we easily found a flock of 500+ Common Cranes in the ploughed fields and spent time watching and listening to their distinctive bugling call. After this we walked out to look over some pools next to the main lagoon and quickly located our target – Purple Gallinule, with several seen on the edge of the reedbed. Also here were many more species which included Little Grebe (found by Mary), Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Common Coot, a few more Marsh Harriers, Black-winged Stilts, 6 Avocets and a Green Sandpiper (found by Dave), then Mary chipped in with a Common Snipe. Jean had been watching the closer birds and located a small flock of Greenfinches and Linnets plus some lovely Black Redstarts. Overhead Julian pointed out 3 Ravens and a pair of Common Buzzards added to the raptor total. There were birds everywhere and in good numbers, making the whole scene tremendous, but we had to leave as Julian wanted to call in at the visitor centre. Mid-afternoon the centre was shut (this is Spain!) so we walked round the back and set up overlooking the main lagoon with a couple of smaller pools also in view. Here we got much closer views of some previously seen species such as the wildfowl, Stonechat, White Wagtail and Chiffchaff. We were also finding new birds such as Moorhen, Sardinian & Dartford Warblers, Robin and a Meadow Pipit. Julian had deliberately been scanning the Greater Flamingos and then announced “I think I might have a Lesser Flamingo, but it’s asleep”. This was potentially a significant find being a major Spanish rarity but we needed to see it’s bill to clinch the identification. After an agonising wait and needing a Peregrine to disturb the flock it eventually lifted its head and confirmed Julian’s suspicions, which was tremendous. Late afternoon we finally set off from this superb reserve and continued towards Andujar. It was generally a quiet journey apart from several White Storks and another Cattle Egret just outside Cordoba with a few roadside Crested Larks and big flocks of Spotless Starlings. However it was Dave who scored en-route with a Black-shouldered Kite sat on a wire just outside Pedro Abades. Sadly he was the only person to see it as we sped along the motorway and time and situation did not really allow us to turn round to try and relocate it. Hopefully it will be there on the return journey! We reached Andujar with the sun setting in the west and quickly made our way to the hotel. We quickly got our rooms and settled in, with Julian arranging to meet us later that evening to go through the week’s itinerary and our daily checklist. This was then followed by an excellent evening meal, which is a feature of this accommodation in the heart of the Sierra de Andujar.
Friday 27th :- This was our first opportunity searching for the very rare Iberian Lynx and we were all full of hope and optimism – what would the day produce. With breakfast at 7am we were ready to leave 45 minutes later, and we headed out just as it was getting light. As it was our first morning we had to stop for our first Red Deer of which there were several along the route. We saw the ‘fighting bulls’ at Los Escoriales farm and over the hillside several Griffon Vultures were on the wing, which seemed quite early for this species to flying around. Eventually we reached the La Lancha watchpoint which had already a few other observers there looking for Lynxes. We spread out along the track seeing our first (of many) Azure-winged Magpies alongside Eurasian Magpies. An Iberian Green Woodpecker called from down the valley and a lucky few even managed to see one in flight before disappearing into a Holm Oak. The weather started to deteriorate a little as it now started to drizzle but we remained vigilant and Mary was rewarded with first finding a Black Wheatear followed by a Blue Rock Thrush both good birds for this site. It was quiet so around midday Julian decided we should have a change of scenery and go for lunch at the picnic tables near the disused village of La Lancha. The light rain had now stopped so we enjoyed our ‘bocadillos’ overlooking the Jandula Dam and the mountains beyond – a wonderful vista. We also looked for birds and Jean found a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on a half dead Eucalyptus tree and another couple of Griffon Vultures flying over. However the lack of raptor species was very confusing to Julian who had expected much more than just a few Griffons! After lunch we proceeded down the dirt road to the Jandula Dam wall, where we parked and walked across. We quickly found another fine male Blue Rock Thrush on the wall itself with a Black Redstart and several Mallards and a Grey Heron along the river below. As we got to the other side of the dam after discussing the authenticity of the Rock (type) Doves Julian said this was a good place to find Black Wheatear. No sooner had these words had been uttered did Dave say “there’s one there!” Sure enough he had found a beautiful male Black Wheatear that showed very well to us all through the telescope. Next we made our way into the cave hoping to find some roosting bats but winter is difficult as most have left to hibernate. However our luck was very much in as we searched the cavities and although it was only two bats it was one Schreiber’s Bat and one Greater Mouse-eared Bat – so definitely not a wasted excursion. We then slowly made our way back to the minibus and since it was now mid-afternoon we made our way back to the watching area. It was again slow going and now fairly difficult to keep our concentration, even Julian was getting tired eyes. However we got our just reward as firstly Julian noticed something laying between two bushes but it wasn’t there when he put the telescope on it? Although it didn’t take long as he saw the male Iberian Lynx disappearing behind a bush before anyone else from our group could see it. He could believe it, and the next ten minutes were agony but Mary announced “I’ve got it – by those rabbits”. She was spot on because not only was it near the rabbits it was also stalking them and for the next few minutes we were treated to this gorgeous animal trying to catch its dinner. It is unsurprising that this event was the magic moment for most of the group. Sadly it failed in its attempt and wandered off out of sight in disgust but we were elated. The day had been long and tiring but we had got our rewards for all the effort we put in. As the sun was dipping behind the monastery we made our way back to the accommodation. It had been an excellent day.
Saturday 28th :- We convened at the usual time and the weather looked much better as dawn broke over the Sierra de Andujar. We were going back to La Lancha in the hope of getting another sighting of a Lynx. As we approached Los Escoriales estate there was lots of vultures over the hillside, which included both Griffon and a few Black Vultures – a nice start to the day. As we passed through the fields with the ‘fighting bulls’ we also saw a few stag Red Deer and a buck Fallow Deer. Still we quickly made our way down to the watching area of La Lancha, where we spread out along the usual stretch of track, watched and waited. Despite the much improved weather it was still very cold with a slight N/E biting wind adding to the chill factor. We got some respite as the sun lifted above the hill tops and started to warm the earth but it was still cold and difficult to concentrate as the feet and hands numbed! However we persevered for a couple of hours with some success as Dave and Mary scored with a single Wild Boar moving swiftly down the mountain. Jean enjoyed her first good views of a male Sardinian Warbler, Steve and Lin found a few handsome male Fallow Deer amongst the much commoner Red Deer. Marilyn got a brief flight view of a Hawfinch, which had been found by Fernando and Julian picked out a couple of Red-billed Chough in the distance. Being a weekend it started to get very busy with ‘casual watchers’ so Julian decided we needed to move on and try to find a few of the species of the group’s wish list. Lin really wanted to get a decent photo of a fighting bull so back at Los Escoriales we stopped near the farm. Unfortunately the bulls were a little distant (but came closer in time) but Marilyn uttered the immortal words “I’ve got a Hoopoe”. This had been requested by Lin in particular at the start of the short break and she was overjoyed, especially getting a chance to photograph it (along with Mary) as the bird probed for insects. As this was taking place it gave the rest of us scanned the fields, and there was lots to see. The common birds included Spotless Starlings, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Mistle Thrushes, Collared Doves and Woodpigeons. Although there was also a pair of Stonechats and Black Redstarts on the fence, a group of Corn Buntings ‘jangled’ from the top of a Holm Oak, Marilyn found a pair of Lapwing, and a pair of Ravens flew across the area. Fernando met some friends and they pointed out a few Black Vultures sat with Griffon Vultures and Dave found a circling Sparrowhawk. Having spent longer than expected we needed to leave for the hotel and soon enough we were ordering a welcome hot drink and using their facilities. Since we had dropped off the mountain and the sun’s rays had intensified it was now lovely and we were stripping layers to compensate. After the break we were going back to the minibus when Mary found 3 Common Buzzards above the local pine plantation. Julian then heard a Firecrest and with a little gentle persuasion coaxed it out into the open to allow the group’s paparazzi to get a shot or two. As we were planning to leave Julian then picked up a pair of adult Golden Eagles in the distance. They were clearly enjoying the sunshine with some classic display flights and an occasional talon grapple – simply wonderful. It was now nearly lunchtime so we headed off to the Rio Jandula and the river track of Encinarejos, which was still thankfully quite quiet. We stopped at one of the many picnic tables and enjoyed our sandwiches, whilst listening to both Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreeper. After lunch we again searched the skies and Dave found a ‘large accipiter’ that he thought was a Goshawk and was absolutely correct – not always an easy identification! We were going to drive a little further down the track and this was hastily done as Julian had seen a large eagle in the distance, which he though was a Spanish Imperial Eagle. We stopped on the small hill and clambered out, quickly finding three eagles with one leaving the area and they were all ‘Imperials’. For the next few minutes we enjoyed fabulous views of these magnificent birds as the pair displayed and called overhead. Next a Green Sandpiper flew down the river, quickly followed by a Cormorant flying up the river. At the watchpoint we were treated to fabulous views of a female Sardinian Warbler and Robin as they searched for titbits around our feet. We then started on a walk down to the dam wall, which was incredibly pleasant in the now warm sunshine. We saw species like Chaffinch, Black Redstart, Long-tailed, Great & Blue Tits but the highlight was Lin finding a gorgeous Kingfisher just across the river. After giving it the due attention we finished our walk on the small iron bridge where we saw a couple of White Wagtails, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and Julian showed us some old Lynx scat, which was primarily all fur! Mid-afternoon we wandered back to the minibus, seeing much of the same species, before returning to the Los Pinos for a comfort stop. It was a great raptor day and while Julian waited for the rest of the group he relocated the pair of Golden Eagles this time closer and showing much better. Once these majestic birds had left the area we started back towards La Lancha and at Los Escoriales we stopped to photograph a few stag Red Deer. While this was happening Julian heard a very familiar call and said “Spanish Imperial Eagle” So we all got out of the van and quickly found a couple of eagles moving away from the area, but we could still hear their calls. A search of the circling vultures then produced another pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles and we watched as they then displayed overhead – quite incredible. A little shell-shocked by this we continued but only got a little way before Mary expertly saw a Little Owl on the ground amongst the dehesa. We reversed to get a better view but sadly it flew up into a Holm Oak and didn’t show well again, so on we went. As we reached La Lancha we were greeted by a crowd of people in the track, which could only mean one thing – Lynx. Julian confirmed this with one of the attendees so dropped us off and went to park. There was a female Lynx and to some of the group it showed very well, to some they later got decent distant views with Steve finding it across the valley ahead of anyone else. However the Iberian Lynx wasn’t the only interest as Julian found a couple of Moufflon on the opposite hillside amongst the Holm Oaks. This was then followed by Mary finding another Spanish Imperial Eagle, which could potentially be our eighth of the day – quite incredible. It had been a good and long day and we returned to the hotel, knowing this, after a relax and a refresh we met later for a fabulous meal, which has become the signature of this excellent accommodation.
Sunday 29th :- We wanted to give ourselves the best chance of seeing Lynx again so after our usual breakfast we heading off again to La Lancha. The journey was initially in darkness but we got tremendous views across the valley as it started to get light. Our spirits were high with anticipation on this excellent morning and when we arrived we all spread out and started to search in earnest. Incredibly it was Julian again who found the Lynx, with a fabulous knack of knowing where to look. The down-side was that this male Lynx was transient and very difficult to keep up with. However we persevered trying to get a feel for where it would appear next as it moved through the undergrowth. Both Mary and Dave did very well locating the cat in their telescopes with the rest of us having to settle for an opportunity missed. Thankfully we had all seen this rare mammal previously on this trip! The Lynx had disappeared down a vegetated gulley, so we waited to see if it would reappear, but sadly not. We did see other things of interest which included a small group of Mouflon found by Dave, Fallow and Red Deer, Dartford and Sardinian Warblers, Hawfinch, Red-billed Chough and Jackdaw. Late morning Julian decided we had, had enough and said we would drop down to the deserted village of La Lancha for a comfort stop followed by lunch at Los Escoriales. This was very well received and shortly afterwards we were parking by the picnic site overlooking the Jandula Dam. It was now a lovely warm day and we stayed there a while enjoying the scenery and listening to a Great Spotted Woodpecker drum. Once we were ready re headed back up the valley to Los Escoriales, where we drove slowly through the dehesa seeing Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Serin, Mistle Thrush, Spotless Starlings and Black Redstarts. Near the farm buildings of Los Escoriales we stopped and had our picnic lunch while both Griffon and Black Vulture drifted across the valley overhead. Mary found an excellent Iberian Wall Lizard, which was then followed by a Red Admiral, Small White and Clouded Yellow butterflies. After their lunch Steve and Lin walked further down the road to photograph the ‘fighting bulls’ in the fabulous conditions. These were then followed by Jean, Carole and Marilyn, who found a lovely male Stonechat, White Wagtails and more finches. During this time Dave, Mary and Julian had been doing a little raptor watching with lots more vultures, a Sparrowhawk and distant Spanish Imperial Eagle. A little later we all reconvened at the minibus and headed back to the CT Los Pinos for a much appreciated coffee. It was a little quiet here compared to the previous day but we did get good views of several Blackcaps, Spotless Starlings and Iberian Magpies, which was certainly worth the effort. It was now mid-afternoon and Julian wanted us to give ourselves the best chance of one more Lynx sighting so we drove back up to Los Escoriales. I think by this time we all knew ever turn in the road intimately!!! We slowly drove through the dehesa and Mary shouted “Hoopoe on the wire” so we came to an abrupt stop and reversed back into a suitable position. This enabled some of us to get a few photographs of the beautiful bird before it flew off over the Holm Oaks. We then carried on to the viewpoints at La Lancha and having spoken to a couple of locals, knew we had not missed any Lynx sightings. So we again positioned ourselves looking out across the valley, waiting and hoping.
Monday 30th :- It was yet another gorgeous day and with an early breakfast and luggage packed away we were heading along the motorway to Cordoba as the sun was rising. The roads were again perfect and we made good time to our coffee stop just north of Antequera. We had been seeing some birds along the route which included several White Storks, Cattle Egrets, a pair of Carrion Crows, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Crested Larks and large flocks of gulls flying inland. Although it was Steve who got the species of the journey with a Red Fox briefly trotting across an agricultural field. At the rest stop we sat outside and enjoyed the weather (despite the cool breeze) and got sightings of a Hoopoe flying over, several Calandra Larks and a small covey of Red-legged Partridge. After this short break we continued on to Malaga and as we were heading towards the airport we saw a Booted Eagle drifting over the motorway. At San Julian we turned towards the coast and visit the small reserve at the mouth of the Rio Guadalhorce. We parked and walked up on to the banking where we initially found a Great Crested Grebe in the river and Dave spied a Zitting Cisticola in the near vegetation. As we set off across the beach we then saw a couple of Kentish Plovers and an adult winter Mediterranean Gull flew south over the sea. Eventually we reached the hide overlooking a small lagoon and immediately started to log some new species for the day. Marilyn picked out our first a Black-necked Grebe and Jean found a White-headed Duck (despite her dislike of them!). Mary then saw a Common Snipe in front of the hide and we also saw lots of Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, several Greater Flamingos and Common Coot. Julian then incredibly found a ‘dark-phase’ Booted Eagle sat on a dead tree in the lagoon. This bird then flew to the side of the water and had a drink before setting off again and flying round right in front of us – superb. As it climbed higher above the vegetation it was loosely joined by a second ‘pale phase’ individual, giving us a very good comparison of their coloration. Sadly we hadn’t got long here as we needed to be at the airport so we started back to the minibus in plenty of time. While returning along the beach we found our final new species of the week with a couple of Gannets passing off-shore. We got back to the airport with plenty of time for our flight and said our “goodbyes and thanks” to Julian as he was staying to lead another trip to Andujar soon afterwards.