Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Lynx in Andalucia

14th - 18th February 2011

Monday 14th :-  Julian met the British half of the group - Barbara, Garry & Allison along with the Dutch trio of Jan, Jacob & Laura at Malaga Airport.  Incredibly both the flights from London & Amsterdam arrived at the same time so little time was wasted waiting for each other.  Julian had already got the minibus so we could quickly load the vehicle and head out inland to the Laguna de Fuente de Piedras.  The journey went quickly and the overcast weather produced lots of ‘hirundines’ low down amongst the hills.  Although mainly Crag Martins there were also smaller numbers of Barn Swallows and House Martins.  As we approached the huge lake we could see in the distance our first Greater Flamingos and at the parking area we got saw them close to the water’s edge and in flight.  We spent the next 30 minutes searching this section of the lagoon and also found Mallard and Shovelers, Avocets, Lapwing & Black-winged Stilts, Lesser Black-backed & Black headed Gulls, Crested Lark, Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails, Stonechats, Zitting Cisticolas, Chiffchaffs and Linnets.  We then drove on round the lake stopping in a car park to another watchpoint and from here Jacob found our first group of Common Cranes, Cattle Egrets followed a tractor ploughing a field, there were a few Corn Buntings and Sardinian Warblers and Blackcaps sung from the Holm Oaks.  After a while we walked out to the mirador and scanned the pools below initially finding Coot, Avocets, Little Grebe and a couple of Black Redstarts in the nearby vegetation.  However Jacob located one of target species with a distant Purple Gallinule and then Garry found a couple of Black-tailed Godwits amongst the Avocets, being quickly followed by a Common Snipe.  Allison was busy with a small ‘white’ butterfly and photographic evidence proved it to be a Green Underside White, a very good find.  At least 3 Marsh Harriers were patrolling the area and as we left Laura spied a couple of Common Buzzards over the acres of Olive grove in this area.  As we returned to the motorway Julian spied some more Common Cranes, Barbara saw a Rabbit and Jan found an Iberian Hare. What a start to the holiday!  We now headed back to the motorway and at the first available stop we called in for our lunch, which was most welcome by the group as they had been travelling since the early hours of the morning.  After lunch we continued our journey towards Andujar but seeing 20+ Black Kites and several White Storks (some on nests) along the way.  The long journey passed fairly quickly and soon enough we were heading inland from Andujar to our accommodation within the natural park.  As we parked at the C.T. Los Pinos we found our first (of many) Iberian Magpies, a constant companion during our stay here.  Everything was ready for us so we quickly unloaded the minibus and settled into our rooms for the next few days.  We had arranged to meet later for a quick look for Lynx at one of the nearby watchpoints Julian knew about.  This time passed quickly and we all reconvened at the van before heading out on to the reserve.  Being our first night Julian had intended on a quick visit but once we arrived at the river viewpoint at Encinarejo things started to happen.  We had a really good time up until dusk finding out first Red Deer and several Rabbits.  The slow drive along the track produced a Hoopoe, Chaffinches, Grey Heron and several Jackdaws.  Then at the watchpoint we saw lots of Red Deer plus Great Spotted Woodpecker (for Jan), Cetti’s Warbler and Kingfisher were heard along the river just around where we were standing we saw a Wood Mouse, Rock Bunting and a very confiding female Sardinian Warbler.  However it was Garry who did really well by finding a Wild Boar grubbing for food just below our position.  This is not always an easy mammal to see on this trip and this individual gave exceptional views through the telescope.  As dusk fell Julian thought it would be good to return to the accommodation as it had been such a long day for everyone.  The return trip was fairly quiet and at the C.T. Los Pinos we agreed to meet in the bar a little later. Being our first night Julian explained a few things about this short break, filled in the daily checklist and then went for the meal in the restaurant.  As always it was fabulous with plenty for everyone, in fact too much for most, which isn’t unusual!!! The evening was completed with complimentary coffees and teas before we headed back to our rooms but sadly it had started to rain – hopefully the weather would improve by the morning?

Tuesday 15th :-  It had rained all night and it continued to rain really heavily for most of this day also making Lynx-watching almost impossible particularly in the morning.  We made the best of it and the drive to La Lancha produced a few Fallow Deer plus Chaffinches, Serins and a Mistle Thrush. At the viewing area it was horrendous but Allison did find some Red Deer and an odd Rabbit was spotted amongst the scattered boulders.  After about an hour of getting very wet Julian suggested a drive down to the dam wall to look for bats in their cave.  This we did and as we walked to the area Jacob found a handsome male Blue Rock Thrush on a nearby rock face.  In the cave Julian started to check the holes and crevices first finding a couple of Schreiber’s Bats huddled together, with their domed heads and purplish tone to the upper body fur.  Then in another hole we found a (presumed) Whiskered Bat quickly followed by a brilliant Mouse-eared Bat.  It had been a successful escape from the rain and we then stood in the entrance scanning the dam finding a Cormorant and a House Martin trying to find some insects to feed on. Eventually we walked back to the minibus in resignation that we ought to abort the morning and return to the accommodation to dry off, have some lunch and a break for a couple of hours, hoping the rain would cease. The drive back was slow as we again found more of the same species and stopping to try and get a good view of them through the rain-splatted windows of the van. To be honest it was very difficult to see anything at all.  Back at the complex we enjoyed our ‘bocadillos’ and a warm drink before retiring to our rooms for a short siesta.  Mid-afternoon we headed out again even though it was still raining quite steadily and drove down to Encinarejo and as we started down the track we found a small flock of Siskins, We continued along the metalled road seeing Chaffinches, Azure-winged Magpies and Song Thrushes, eventually parking by the dam wall.  We then spent some time on the iron bridge where we found some Lynx footprints and Julian found a Lynx scat, which was very interesting as it meant one had been around recently.  A lovely male Blue Rock Thrush was found by Jacob and then Garry and Allison picked up a few Crag Martins moving down the river.  .Julian then found a Hawfinch sat in a tree with Song Thrushes but unfortunately it disappeared before anyone else could get on to it.  After this we started walking along the river but the weather was still a problem, however it did look to be improving.  Along the route we saw Grey Herons, Cormorants, Long-tailed & Blue Tits, more Chaffinches, Greenfinches and we heard a Cetti’s Warbler.  Near the mirador we found lots of Hoop Petticoat Daffodils, which were nice but even better the weather started to improve and the rain stopped.  This had an incredible effect on the wildlife with birds starting to sing and call including a Little Owl, Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Short toed Treecreeper amongst others.  Then the ultimate happened as Laura get really animated, even speaking in Dutch we  (the English speaking contingent) knew she had seen something special. The Magpies being agitated was the key and very quickly afterwards we were looking at a male Iberian Lynx moving through the dehesa. It was now that Julian realised Barbara had in fact walked off and wasn’t enjoying the world’s rarest cat. While he went to get her the rest of us got some very good telescope views of this amazing animal. Julian returned with Barbara following but very sadly the Lynx had walked out of sight before she got to see it.  Very disappointed for Barbara we remained in the area hoping to relocate the Lynx for Barbara but without luck and when the bad weather returned we had to make our way back to the minibus.  We walked back to the vehicle with the weather starting to again deteriorate and as we drove back to the C.T. Los Pinos the rain became steady again. Later we met in the bar and went through the daily log, which showed we (as a group) had seen no less than 10 species of mammal, which is incredible in the conditions. The evening meal was again fabulous and a true testament to this excellent place to stay.

Wednesday 16th :-  It had again rained a lot during the night but by the time we were ready to leave it had stopped. However this brought its own problems as the hills and valleys were shrouded in mist!. We drove slowly to La Lancha seeing briefly a Jay plus a few Chaffinches, Collared Doves and a Mistle Thrush. Nothing was really moving and at the watchpoint we could see much at all due to the low cloud, however it was lifting. We did have to wait an hour but the tracks were starting to become visible so we spread out to search. It was our Dutch contingent that scored again on this cold and dreary morning with Jan finding the (usual) male Iberian Lynx sat out in the open. It was fabulous as we watched it for about an hour, first going back to rest (but definitely not asleep) before getting up again to wash itself, stretch and then slowly walk off. We were able to track its progress for a while but eventually lost it behind some vegetation. Sadly the weather had again deteriorated with cold sleet-like rain and now quite high winds (this was meant to be sunny Southern Spain!). We tried to relocate it but our resolve was not brilliant as we had got such fabulous views just a little earlier and they were still very much in our mind’s eye. Around 11am, Julian decided we should return to the Los Pinos for an afternoon break and our lunch so we got back into the minibus and headed back. Again it was very slow progress due to the horrible road conditions and we saw very few birds except for Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, a Hoopoe briefly, Chaffinches and a Kestrel, our first raptor species for a day and a half!!!. Back at the accommodation we had our lunch before an afternoon siesta or break until 3pm. At this time the weather was still not brilliant with some cold heavy showers between a few dry periods, which was very disappointing. We (like the previous day) drove out to Encinarejo and parked at the dam like the day before. This time we were going to walk the length of the track back to the main road and immediately set off. After a short time Julian flushed a Grey Wagtail from the now flooded fields and this was quickly followed by Laura finding our first ‘eagle’ of the trip. We quickly came to the conclusion it was an adult Golden Eagle, which was then joined by its mate. We watched these two magnificent ‘birds of prey’ do an aerial display, which was breath-taking as the male performed for his mate. Whilst we were watching this Julian found a third ‘Goldie’ but this time a sub-adult as it flew at the back of where we were standing. While most of us watched the adult Golden Eagles (that had now landed) Garry had been continuing to search the skies and found another large raptor. It was very distant but once in the telescope Julian had no hesitation in calling it an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, which was incredible in these overcast conditions. Sadly it didn’t hang around long and we had to resign ourselves with this brief and distant observation. After this excitement we continued along the metalled road to the mirador where we watched for a while seeing a good number of Red Deer across the water. Again we continued along the track with Jacob finding a Hoopoe and lovely male Black Redstart, Julian pitched in with a cracking Crested Tit and a brief sighting of a Hawfinch Garry then located a couple of Common Buzzards and Barbara saw a few Goldfinches. Near the main road we decided to turn round and head back to the vehicle but with a mind to stop again at the watchpoint. This proved very good as Barbara then found a beautiful Short-toed Treecreeper, which showed really well and this was followed bythe sound of a Cetti's Warbler and a Wren. The light was starting to fade but we still stayed a while at the mirador where Jan found the same Wild Boar as the previous day. The birds from here included Swallows, Crag & House Martins, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Sardinian Warbler and loads of Azure-winged Magpies. It was now time to leave as the light was fading fast but on the way back to the vehicle Julian spied a large raptor in the near distance and immediately recognised it as an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle. Everyone got decent views of this very rare eagle, which rounded the day off very well, it had been superb despite the cold inclement weather. Back at the Los Pinos we had some time to freshen up before reconvening for pre-meal drinks and the checklist. Julian had taken a video of the Iberian Lynx and brought his small laptop to the table for everyone to see. This went down really well as it gave us a chance to recall this very special moment, which took place that morning. After another sublime meal we then retired to our rooms in anticipation of the next day and hopefully better weather!!!

Thursday 17th :-  It was better but it wasn’t brilliant! There were still high winds and bands of cold rain swept across the natural park but it was a slight improvement.  According to Julian the weather has never been such a topic of conversation. After breakfast we loaded the minibus and headed out towards the River Jandula (Encinarejo) and we got there as the heavens were opening with cold, unpleasant rain.  The slow drive along the edge of the river produced the usual Jackdaws, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Chaffinches, Azure winged Magpies and Robins.  Although Laura, who was sat in the front seat did very well by finding a couple of Hawfinches sat in the tall trees.  We parked at the usual place by the dam wall and had a quick look in the immediate area only finding a Grey Wagtail and a Southern Grey Shrike sat on an overhead wire.  The weather was again starting to get worse so Julian suggested an alternative – driving up to the Monastery Cabeza de la Virgen about 15KMs away for a coffee.  This was extremely well received (especially the coffee!) so we drove up to this impressive building, which dominates the whole area seeing a few Red Deer en-route.  We parked at the monastery and went our separate ways agreeing to meet at the café when they were ready.  About 20 minutes later we had all reconvened and were enjoying a welcome hot drink and even managed a look at the photographic exhibition on wildlife.  However it was Garry & Allison that came back with the news that they had seen some Hawfinches very well at the back of the building.  So when we were ready we searched the trees at the back of the building and eventually got fabulous views of one male and three female Hawfinches. The weather was improving all the time so we decided to return to the river to do the usual walk. Travelling back down the hill Garry said “there’s a big raptor” so I pulled in at the next available place.  It took a little time but we did re-find the bird of prey, which turned out to be a Griffon Vulture and this then developed into another few vultures, which included our first Black Vulture – much to Garry’s delight having never seen one before.  We continued down the hill and another large raptor seen by Laura and Julian (at the front of the bus) made us stop quickly. This bird was almost immediately identified as a sub-adult Spanish Imperial Eagle but that was just the beginning. Between us we kept finding different birds and within a space of less than 30 minutes we had seen at least 4 different Spanish Imperial Eagles of different ages, which was fascinating to Julian. There were still more raptors around with Griffon & Black Vultures, Common Buzzard and Kestrel but the eagles stole the show. Sadly we had to leave and we then soon got the River Jandula and parked just off the main road.  From here we walked slowly along the river to the watchpoint having found a cracking Kingfisher in a dead tree, Iberian Green Woodpecker, heard a Nuthatch, Long tailed, Great and Blue Tits, Black Redstart and another Hawfinch. We stayed at the mirador until we were ready to head back for lunch watching mainly Red Deer on the far hillside. Although Garry and Jacob did pick out a young Golden Eagle flying over plus a smaller eagle that remained a mystery. Julian & Laura had walked down the hill a little and were scanning the dehesa for Lynx when Julian picked out a Red-rumped Swallow amongst the House Martins. It was now lunchtime so we walked slowly back to the minibus and on the way Julia, plus a couple of others got good views of the 1st winter Spanish Imperial Eagle that had been staying near there.  It was decided again that we would return to the Los Pinos for lunch and the excellent staff kindly accommodated us in the hotel’s bar.  After a short break we met at the minibus just as a Goshawk flew over at great speed. Once ready we headed out to La Lancha but this time in some bright and sunny weather so everyone could appreciate this gorgeous landscape. Today the journey was also a little slower as we were now stopping occasionally for raptors appearing over the ridges, which were mainly Griffon Vultures. At the usual Lynx watchpoint Julian spoke to a couple of people and got the news that nothing had been seen that morning so we continued to the dam where again we were going to visit the ‘bat cave’. On the way we were stopped by a French family who were interested in what we had seen that morning.  They had just come from the cave and Julian caused much laughter (especially for Allison) by trying to impersonate a Mouse-eared Bat.  The walk across the dam wall proved very productive as we found a lovely male Blue Rock Thrush on the far cliff side but as we were looking at this Allison calmly said “what’s this black bird with a white tail?”  Garry duly replied “I hope it’s what I think it is, as it’s a new bird for us!!!”  Sure enough she had found a beautiful male Black Wheatear and we got great views as it moved around below us.  There were also a few Black Redstarts there and in the rock face crevices we found several ‘good’ Rock Doves’.  We then left the sunshine for the cave and almost immediately found a few Whiskered Bats huddled together in one hole.  This was then followed by a single Schreiber’s Bat and a couple of the fierce looking Greater Mouse-eared Bats, making for another very successful visit here.  So we slowly returned to the minibus after finding a couple of Great Crested Grebes on the reservoir and watched the Crag & House Martins hawk insects over the dam wall.  The drive back up to La Lancha was (as usual) slow due to the poor road surface but soon enough we were out of the vehicle scanning for Lynxes.  There were a few Red & Fallow Deer around but not much else so still quite confident we started to spread out.  This time it was Garry who put the call out that he’d briefly seen a Lynx moving into some deep vegetation so we positioned ourselves and waited.  It was Julian who then saw it along with Jacob and Laura just beyond where Garry had first found it.  Excellent directions and use of each other’s scopes meant we were all getting good views of this very rare mammal as it moved through the undergrowth.  We then lost it for a while and just as Jacob said “it’s now walking right” Julian said “I got another – there are two!” and sure enough they then came together.  This time we could follow them a short distance as they jumped on to a large boulder and sat together in the evening sunlight. This was indeed an absolutely magical moment for the group.  They stayed there a few minutes and we got superb views through the telescopes especially those with 60x eye pieces until first the male then the female jumped down from the rock and disappeared into the dense tangles of mastic, gum cistus and rosemary.  What a finish to this wonderful short break, surely nothing could surpass this episode and rightly it didn’t as late afternoon we made our back to the C.T. Los Pinos.  That night we had another excellent meal prepared by Ramon’s staff, whose courtesy and attention to detail is testament to this accommodation. At the end of an excellent evening celebrating our successes and telling of our individual highlights of the holiday we retired to our rooms in readiness for the long drive the following morning.

Friday 18th :-  Ironically our final morning dawned as we began our short break with a beautiful sunny, yet still cool day.  Breakfast had been arranged for 08:30 and after the usual process of paying for outstanding drinks etc we were heading towards Andujar by 09:30.  Our progress was very good and Spain’s excellent road system meant we made inroads into the 250Km journey quite quickly.  We also added some species along the route with Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Cattle Egrets, White Stork and Crested Larks along the motorway verges.  Eventually we got into the metropolis of Malaga skirting the edge and heading out south towards the airport but instead going to the coastal reserve of the Rio Guadalhorce.  Although in reality we couldn’t actually step on to the reserve as the heavy rains of the previous few days had meant the river had breached the sandy beach cutting off our route through. So we resigned ourselves to watching from the river bank that both overlooked the reserve and the Mediterranean Sea.  New species were found very quickly with Julian finding a small group of Common Scoter, an adult Mediterranean Gull amongst the 100’s of Western Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Marsh Harriers.  Jacob then found the first of several Black-necked Grebes on the sea, Laura a couple of Gannets further out with Jan adding a few Turnstone and Sanderling on the rocks below us.  Garry did very well locating an Osprey on the reserve and Barbara pitched in with a couple of Common Sandpipers running along the edge of the river. Birds weren’t the only new thing to be found as Allison busied herself sorting out the butterflies that were on the wing with a couple of lovely Swallowtails, a Clouded Yellow and lots of Small Whites. Sadly after our picnic lunch Julian had to take the English half of the group to the airport for their flight. The Dutch contingent was not leaving until much later and he had agreed to look after them for the rest of the day. So off they left leaving Julian’s telescope with Jacob, Laura and Jan, which they made full use of. Julian returned about an hour later to find out they had gone on to see a Great Skua, always a good bird in the Med along with a Booted Eagle, Little Egret and lots more Mediterranean Gulls. When Julian got back they then tried to get on to the reserve by driving round to the other side of the river but could not find any suitable access points. However we decided to have a gentle stroll along the river still overlooking the wetlands saw a Spoonbill flying in to a lagoon, another Booted Eagle and Black Kite plus lots of Spanish Terrapins in the reed-fringed river. It had been an excellent end to this wonderful short break which could have been adversely affected by the poor weather but ultimately wasn’t leaving some lasting memories for those fortunate enough to be there.


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