Thursday 27th :- Julian met the group of Liz, Richard & Margaret, Robert & Sally, Nick & Sheila at Malaga Airport after a bit of a problem with the minibus. However this was fairly quickly dealt with and we were soon on our way to the Lagunas de Fuentedepiedras, stopping en-route for some lunch after the early flight. During lunch we enjoyed a few local birds in the café garden with a pair of Blackcaps, Liz found Crested Larks on the lawn, there were Goldfinches, a single Serin, Blackbird, Nick located Great & Blue Tits, plus a White Wagtail and the ubiquitous Spotless Starlings. After lunch we continued to the lagunas seeing a few Lapwing en-route, however at the lagoon we immediately saw found 100’s of Greater Flamingos in the shallow waters. We stopped at the observation point where we added a few Black-winged Stilts, lots of Northern Shoveler, Margaret found a pair of Mallard, there were Black-headed & Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the lake, 2 Eurasian Teal flew past, a lovely pair of Stonechats sat on the nearby phragmites and a Chiffchaff flitted around the tamarisk bushes. As we were about to leave, Margaret did very well finding a Black-necked Grebe that was greatly appreciated by us all. We continued driving around the lagoon, seeing our first mammal of the short break – a Rabbit but finding a flock of 500+ Common Cranes was definitely the highlight. Whilst watching these Richard picked out a Cattle Egret in the ploughed field and Jules completely misidentified a post for a Grey Heron.!!!!! Liz saw a small group of Crag Martins hawking insects over the water. However time was moving on so we left this excellent area and on the return journey we got very good views of an adult female Marsh Harrier. Back on the motorway we headed north to Cordoba with Liz, Nick and Sheila calling birds along the route, such as Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, Kestrels and Buzzards. The biggest surprise was just south of Cordoba when Nick called a large raptor which we immediately identified as Black Kite- quite incredible for the time of year. Then Liz and Sheila went on to find a few more in the same area. An absent minded driver and a new road system meant we spent some extra time negotiating Cordoba but at least Liz made good use of this by seeing our first Black Redstart. Eventually, we were back on track heading for Andujar with Sally and Robert spying a White Stork from the side of the road. At one of the many intersections with Spain’s longest river – Rio Guadalquivir – Liz and Sheila saw a ‘real’ Grey Heron flying along the edge of the water. Eventually we got to the town of Andujar and headed north into the Sierra de Andujar. As always it wasn’t long before we saw our first delightful Iberian Magpies, a constant companion on this reserve. Eventually we reached our accommodation for the next few days and quickly got to our rooms to un-pack. A few people took a short walk around the grounds before meeting in the bar seeing a few of the commoner species. During a pre-meal drink we did the check-list and Julian went through the plan for the next day. This was followed by an excellent meal especially for the vegetarians in the party and soon after we returned to our rooms in anticipation of the next day. During their night time stroll Robert and Sally heard a Tawny Owl near their room.
Friday 28th :- We met for breakfast at 07.30 and Liz had already heard the Tawny Owl in the tree-lined car park. Sadly the weather was very inclement but despite this we were still quite optimistic. The morning wasn’t getting any better as a stray cat decided to deposit a present in the back of the mini-bus! So after Julian had spent a little time cleaning this up we headed off towards the Jandula Dam. The dull and rainy conditions made viewing from the van very difficult but we did manage to get good views of a Woodlark sitting on an telegraph wire singing its lovely song plus a young stag Red Deer. Around the farm of Las Escoriales we saw the fighting bulls along with a Corn Bunting and a few Chaffinches but generally it was quiet. Eventually we got to the viewing area of La Lancha and being a weekend there were already plenty of people looking. We found a place to park, exited the mini-bus and got ourselves set up with our telescopes and outdoor gear. Julian wanted to check whether anything had been seen prior to our arrival and walked back up the road to the small group of Spanish watchers. As he got there one young guy looked up, smiled and told him to look through his telescope. He could not believe his eyes as in front of him, lying down asleep was an Iberian Lynx. Panic ensued as he gestured to the rest of his group and had them hurrying up the hill to where he was standing It could not have got any better as we watched this magnificent and rare cat for the next 90 minutes. It slept for much of this time but also cleaned itself while lying down, yawned (showing its teeth!), sat up and looked around, laid back down again then looked around again before slowly moving to a nearby tree which it duly scratched and scent marked before wandering off out of sight. What an amazing experience and a dream start to the short break. During the morning the weather had started to improve we wanted to return to the accommodation for our lunch as rain was still threatening. On the way back Julian spied a large raptor and immediately stopped suspecting a large eagle and sure enough there was an adult Golden Eagle soaring round with a Sparrowhawk. We stayed here at the side of the road for about half an hour with Robert finding some distant Red Deer and Nick pointed out our first Black Vultures of the trip. Back at the Los Pinos we enjoyed our lunch after such a fabulous morning wondering if it could actually get any better? After this we had a short break before gathering again at the minibus and heading off to another area of this wonderful nature reserve. We parked alongside the Rio Jandula and walked the metalled road towards the dam initially finding Grey Heron, Bullfinch, Nuthatch, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits. The weather was now seriously improving and consequently the raptors started to appear with Julian finding a magical pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles. Amazingly these were then joined by a third immature Spanish Imperial Eagle and as the adult male displayed in huge loops it was briefly mobbed by a Goshawk – incredible. Griffon Vultures also started now to appear along with a few House and Crag Martins. We were making very slow progress as new birds kept appearing with two adult Golden Eagles and Liz saw a Red Admiral butterfly highlighting the contrast in the weather. Eventually we reached the viewpoint and Sally pointed out several Red Deer and a female Sardinian Warbler came incredibly close to us searching for food, which delighted the photographers in the party. It was now late afternoon so we set off back with Nick finding a Short-toed Treecreeper then I saw a Grey Wagtail on a rock in the river. The walk back to the van was very pleasant with some very interesting conversation about all manner of subjects, this becoming quite a feature of the holiday. It had been an unforgettable day even for Julian who had never, in many visits, seen a Lynx for such an extended period stressing how fortunate we had been. That night we were again treated to a wonderful meal rounding off this almost perfect day.
Saturday 29th :- This morning the weather had slightly improved and after breakfast we drive up to La Lancha like the previous day. Determined to get there a little earlier than the previous morning we try to drive straight through but incredibly (near the watchpoint) Sheila says “Stop – there’s a Lynx!” Those in or near the front see this rare cat, but it’s very nervous even with us inside the van and after a few brief views it walks out of sight, heading up the hill. It was a lot smaller than the male the previous day with not much of a moustache, so we assume it’s a female. So we quickly exit the minibus and spend the next 30 minutes looking for her and Robert manages another brief view but that’s all so Julian suggests we continue to where we were yesterday. He and Sheila drive the short distance leaving the rest of us to walk to the watchpoint seeing some lovely Jonquil in flower. Julian again had talked to a few people and found out nothing much had been seen yet that morning, so we were feeling incredibly pleased with Sheila’s find. During the course of the first half of the morning we were able catch up on a few birds, including Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler and Southern Grey Shrike. Sheila (who definitely had her eyes in!) finds an Iberian Green Woodpecker sitting on a boulder (after hearing them constantly) and a small flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls fly over. Then around 11am things start to happen and we are informed there are Mouflon in view up the track, so everyone goes to see these impressive wild sheep. As it warms up, Black & Griffon Vultures start to drift over, then shortly after we see an adult Golden Eagle closely followed by a pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles - brilliant. Incredibly then an Iberian Lynx was seen by one of the Spanish observers. Julian got a quick view through his scope before it disappeared behind some vegetation. Again panic ensued as directions of its whereabouts (did everyone eventually find the deer?) were relayed before our very own Richard announces “I’ve got them and there’s actually two!” His directions were expertly given and before long we were all enjoying the sight of a male and female Iberian Lynx interacting with each other. It was fabulous to watch her flirt with this alpha-male, scent marking an area and being very responsive. We were witnessing mega-social interaction between two incredibly rare mammals – a real privilege and completely awesome. Thankfully, they left their final commune to the imagination as side by side they disappeared over the hill. It was now high 5’s all round. The problem was that during this we were also being entertained by a pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles displaying, an immature Golden Eagle soaring overhead and a Sparrowhawk flying through, it was difficult to keep up! However once things calmed down we drew breath and it gave us a chance to review what we had seen, which was simply incredible especially on the back of the previous days superb views. It was now nearly lunchtime (although no-one cared) so we drove the very short distance to an outdoor area with table and benches for our picnic. Once there we sat round reflecting on the morning’s events of seeing no less than 3 Lynx plus a host of other spectacular birds and mammals. Even during lunch and as a testament to this fantastic area we saw another adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, plus more Black & Griffon Vultures. After lunch we continued down the hill to the Jandula Dam where we hoped to find a few more key species. It was Margaret who first alerted us to a familiar song and soon enough Julian found the singing male Blue Rock Thrush. As Liz and Julian were getting everyone on to this lovely bird, Nick said “I’ve got a Black Wheatear” but sadly as he said this it flew up and out of sight with only Robert getting a view of it before it disappeared out of sight. We walked into the tunnel as there was a possibility of roosting bats. Being winter, the chances weren’t good but with some careful searching we did find one tucked into a drill hole which was certainly a Schreiber’s Bat. After this we spent some time on the far side of the tunnel looking over the reservoir and hills with Nick finding our first Great Crested Grebe of the trip and Robert picking out a Cormorant. Vultures were soaring over the hillside and this gave Julian a chance to test people’s identification skills, which proved most worthwhile. Raptor identification is not easy and it was brilliant to see how everyone’s knowledge had improved so much over the past couple of days. The walk back through the tunnel was fortuitous for Sally, Robert and Julian as they found a couple more bats that appeared to be the smaller, darker Whiskered Bats, another very good find. Liz had been looking for the Black Wheatear without success, but did manage to find several Black Redstarts, a Grey Wagtail and a few (possibly) genuine Rock Doves. It was now late afternoon and time to return to the hotel since we knew our journey would be slow and as we passed the Lynx area we stopped but nothing more had been seen so onwards we continued. The drive back to Las Escoriales was slow due to the shocking road conditions but we did see a Jay and a Great Spotted Woodpecker (both found by Liz). As we passed the farm Julian had seen a couple of interesting corvids, which turned out to be Red billed Choughs, another good addition to the list. Although this was the reason for pulling over, Julian had previously seen Sharp-ribbed Newts here and Robert thought it was great fun to try and look for them. Sadly it was just a few Water Boatmen that we could manage and Margaret did very well finding a Sparrowhawk sat in a bush. It had been a long and fairly intense day and we were ready to freshen up so we headed back to the accommodation. As usual we arranged our evening meeting time to do the daily log, which was followed by another fantastic evening meal. This is certainly the place to go if you are a vegetarian in Spain.
Sunday 30th :- After our usual start to the day with a traditional Spanish breakfast, we loaded the van and drove out to do the Jandula River walk. Due to the cold clear skies of the night before there was an atmospheric mist in the valley bottom. However this wasn’t the case when we reached the Encinarejo Dam, as it was actually quite a cold and murky morning but thankfully the visibility was decent. We decided to have a quick check from the bridge for otters but without success, although it did prove fruitful as Margaret found our first Rock Sparrows of the trip. We were also able to see and hear Cetti’s Warbler, White Wagtail, Spotless Starlings, Cormorant and Mallard. As we walked along the river towards the main road we added the usual suspects of Robin, Black Redstart, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Serins, and Sardinian Warbler etc. A small flock of Siskins flying over was a nice surprise and then while standing at the mirador Sheila found a Short toed Treecreeper. We spent a little time here but it was still quite misty although we did find Azure-winged Magpies and a few Red Deer. The walk continued along the river and a signal to stop from Richard showed he had found a handsome male Cirl Bunting in the top of a tree. Due to the weather it was still fairly quiet bird-wise so Nick and Robert gave us some interesting facts on Noble Chafers, which was brilliant. A little further on we added Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail and Long tailed Tit to our daily list before we reached the end of the track. There were a few Jackdaws here with Liz finding a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sally and Sheila finding lot’s of evidence of Wild Boar along the river but sadly no animals. Eventually we turned round and headed back along the same route with the mist starting to clear. A short way along the road, Julian heard a familiar call and quickly located a Hawfinch at the top of a tree and we all got excellent views of it through our telescopes. The weather had been improving all the time and on the way to the mirador we added a Dunnock, Kingfisher and a Brown Rat (seen by Liz) to the trip list. At the mirador we sat for a while looking over the sierra beyond the river finding a few more Red Deer and eventually we got some brief views of a Kingfisher. However, it was a female Sardinian Warbler that really entertained us as it fed on bits of apple that was put down by Julian. The sun was now really breaking through and it was starting to become a really warm and pleasant day. It was rapidly approaching lunchtime so we continued towards the dam seeing a few Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Greenfinches. Near the El Sentero watchpoint, Julian, Nick and Liz found an Aquila eagle over the distant ridge and quickly identified it as an adult Golden Eagle which was then joined by a second adult. As we gathered together to watch them we were entertained to a beautiful aerial display before one flew right over our heads only then to be joined by an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle!!! We watched enthralled as these two ‘Lords of the Skies’ performed before the ‘Goldie’ disappeared into the distance. This left the Spanish Imperial Eagle, which was then joined by its mate and they continued to display right above us. We could even hear the male calling which was simply a magnificent experience. During the course of this short break we’d had some incredible sightings of two of Europe’s largest avion predators. We were starting to get hungry by now so we carried on to the bus and while doing so saw several Griffon Vultures fly over. Crag & House Martins were hawking insects and Liz managed to find another Red Admiral. Our final event of the morning was the discovery of a female Rock Bunting picking up seed from around the vehicles.
Despite the early mist and lack of any Lynx sightings we were still in very good spirits and looking forward to the afternoon session. Lunch was taken in the hotel’s bar and again we were catered for with considerable attention, as is always the case with Ramon and his staff. After lunch we agreed a meeting time a little later since we were staying out until dusk and doing a night drive back from La Lancha. So after a short rest we reconvened at the van now with glorious weather and while waiting Julian spied a Golden Eagle in the distance. Richard especially enjoyed watching this fabulous raptor first soar then fold back its wings and stoop towards some unsuspecting prey at an incredible speed. Richard was delighted commenting that the Sierra de Andujar was simply the best place he had ever seen Golden Eagles. We drove slowly to La Lancha stopping on the way to let out Nick, Sheila, Robert and Sally who wanted to get some photos of the lovely Common Jonquil growing at the side of the track. Although fairly quiet for wildlife although Richard did find a handsome male Blue Rock Thrush the peace and tranquillity of the surroundings was breath-taking and very memorable. So we stayed there until dusk watching the sun illuminate the stunning landscape and the impressive Monastery – Santuario Cabeza de la Virgen, which dominates the horizon to the west. We had been told that Eagle Owls had been heard near the Jandula Dam so we drove this short distance and stood and waited as the evening twilight gave way to darkness. We didn’t hear any owls but Sally did get a brief view of a Merlin as it dashed through and the Crag Martins were brilliant. As the stars came out in the cloudless sky Richard skilfully put his telescope on Jupiter and four of its moons, which was excellent. The drive back was interesting along the horrendously pitted road but Sally bravely sat in the front and took control of my torch. We were looking for eye-shine and she was rewarded with several Red & Fallow Deer at the side of the road. At the Sharp Ribbed Newt pond we stopped again to check it just for Robert who thought this was great fun. By and large the drive had been fairly unsuccessful, but again we’d had a good laugh along the way. We were now very hungry, especially Margaret and Julian so we quickly got changed (or not) and went almost straight away into the restaurant. It was an excellent last night with Ramon and his staff completing the week with lots more excellent food and drink. In fact we all agreed that it was the best any of us had ever had in Spain before, especially the vegetarian options, which were simply fantastic and incredibly varied. We all gave Ramon and his staff a well-deserved round of applause for all their efforts. This was quickly responded too by Ramon who supplied us with a round of complimentary drinks of whisky and honey. The meal went on a little longer than usual as we discussed our favourite moments, with the Lynx being at centre stage and other notable things including the eagles, vultures and the bats in their cave.
Monday 31st :- After our final breakfast we loaded up the minibus and said our farewells to the staff of the excellent C.T. Los Pinos. Like an old friend there was a flock of Iberian Magpies to see us off from the hotel grounds and soon enough we were on the motorway heading south. The journey to Malaga went very smoothly and we made very good time even with a comfort stop just outside Antiquera. We did manage to see a few species en-route to Malaga, which included a few Cattle Egrets, Common Buzzard and Spotless Starlings. We travelled beyond the city towards the airport before heading to the coast at San Julian. Here we parked near the beach and walked up on too the bank of the river where Julian got a big shock. Previously people could walk the short distance to the Rio Guadalhorce reserve, but not now as the river had breached the sand bar and divided the sandy beach. However despite this obstacle we remained near the beach complex and we looked for birds over the wetland reserve and the Mediterranean Sea. We only had an hour but we managed to find several new species to add to our list which included – Black-necked Grebes, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Osprey and a pale phase Booted Eagle. At the (now breached) river mouth we found a few waders, seeing a couple of Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Kentish Plovers, and our first Swallow of the summer flew through. However our biggest surprise was scanning out over the Mediterranean Sea and finding a small flock of 13 Common Scoter sat on the water. There were lots of Western Yellow-legged and Black headed Gulls around along with a few Sandwich Terns fishing off-shore. It was very pleasant stood around for an hour in the warm sunshine watching the birds come and go, but soon enough it was time to leave for the airport. The beauty of the Rio Guadalhorce is that it’s literally minutes away from the airport and we were right on time for our check-in. It was a sad farewell as it had been such a tremendous few days and we said our “goodbyes” and left this wonderful corner of Iberia