Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Lynx in Andalucia

4th - 8th October 2011

Tuesday 4th :- Keith & Penny arrived to a lovely and warm Malaga being met by Julian in a well-equipped air-conditioned minibus. We then drove to the Ibis Hotel to collect Simon & Karen, Kevin & Gwen who had arrived the night previously. While we were loading the van our first official bird was a House Sparrow followed closely by a pair of Monk Parakeets flying past.
We had a 50 minute drive to the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra and en-route saw our first Cattle Egret and Spotless Starlings but not much else. 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, Purple Gallinule, Little Grebes, Little Egret White Stork, Shoveler, Black-winged Stilt and Coot along with Barn Swallows, Greenfinch and an Iberian Hare seen by Simon and Kevin.
We set off back towards the town and almost immediately stopped for a juvenile Whinchat at the side of the road, plus Stonechat, Crested Lark and a cracking Zitting Cisticola. We also stopped for a Swallowtail butterfly and Simon did really well also finding a Praying Mantis along with Oberthur’s Grizzled Skipper and Western Dappled White. A little further we pulled into the car park of an observation platform and spent a little time scanning the lagoon. Here we got decent views of Lesser Black-backed & Black-headed Gulls, Black-winged Stilts, Yellow Wagtails and a couple of Marsh Harriers. In the distance there were some Avocets but the heat haze was making things difficult. However Penny and Kevin did fantastically well picking out a migrant Osprey over the lagoon.
It was now time for lunch so we drove into Fuente de Piedras and sat outside under an awning having our bocadillos, drinks and extras. After this we set off for Andujar and the 2 hour journey was mainly uneventful apart from Simon finding a large group of White Storks in a river near Cordoba. Eventually we got to the accommodation and fairly quickly checked in, adding our first Iberian Magpies as we did. Being still hot we agreed to wait an hour before setting off again. When we reconvened the first few were treated to a pair of Common Buzzards doing their display flight, plus a couple of very distant Griffon Vultures. We drove out through the natural park to the Encinarejo Dam, where we stood for a while on the bridge seeing Rock Sparrow, White Wagtail, a male Blue Rock Thrush was on the dam wall and a Kingfisher made an all too brief appearance. Due to a previous sighting of Lynx Julian wanted us to take the track up to the edge of the dam, which wasn’t easy but we did manage it.
Once there we spread out and started scanning the adjacent hillside until it was nearly dusk, but sadly no ‘big cats’ appeared. Simon did really well picking up a White-rumped Swift dashing through the valley, and we actually saw the ‘white rump’ as it flew away from us. Azure-winged and European Magpies chatted everywhere and the Blue Rock Thrush returned to the dam wall allowing Gwen to digi-scope it. A Sparrowhawk circled around the far hillside and we were constantly reminded of ‘stag’ Red Deer with their bellowing echoing around the valley. As the sun was setting we returned to the minibus but first Gwen and Kevin wanted to site their ‘stealth-cam’, which they did on the end of the bridge. This was the first time we had tried this and we were intrigued to see the results the next morning.
We left about 20:15 and returned to the Los Pinos, on the way we saw a couple of Noctule Bats flying over the river. Later we enjoyed our first evening meal in the restaurant, before going through 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.

Wednesday 5th :- Just before dawn we headed back out to the Encinarejo Dam and in the gathering light we got good views of Common & Soprano’s Pipistrelles around the accommodation. We arrived at the bridge full of expectancy and when Gwen returned with the camera she indicated it had been working during the night. However we would have to wait until we got it down-loaded to the laptop to see what we had filmed – all very exciting!
So we again spent some time looking from the bridge seeing the usual Rock Sparrows, Kingfisher, White Wagtail and a Spanish Terrapin. Lots of Great Cormorants flew over in their distinctive vee formation, looking like a squadron of fighter aircraft. It was very cold standing there so we took a walk back to the side of the dam wall where again we waited for over an hour searching for Lynx. There were lots of magpies around making plenty of noise, which can indicate an animal in the area but alas no, despite lots of effort from everyone. However, we again saw some decent bird species with a nice mix of passerines including Pied Flycatcher, Chaffinch, Serin, Common Chiffchaff, Long-tailed, Great & Blue Tits. One comic moment was finding an Iberian Green Woodpecker running down a dirt road on the opposite hillside! Plus, Penny was very pleased as she had seen one of her favourite birds – a European Robin.
We left just as the sun was starting to warm the land and got back to the hotel ready for our breakfast and to see what (if anything) had triggered the camera. Kevin and Gwen walked in with a couple of wry smiles on their faces asking what time we had left the Jandula River area. Apparently just 15 minutes after we had gone a Lynx had crossed the bridge and the photographic evidence was there. This was quite a bitter/sweet moment as we knew we were so close to seeing one of the world’s rarest big cats. It made the discussion at the breakfast table quite lively about what our strategy should be for the day. After breakfast we gathered again at the minibus and just as we were about to leave Simon saw a large butterfly, which was quickly identified as a Cardinal – Europe’s biggest fritillary.  We clambered out to see it and eventually got some good views of it on a flower head. Eventually we were again back at the River Jandula but this time to have a walk along the edge of it, in search of some birds. By now, the temperature had now soared, making it uncomfortable for most of us, and quiet for wildlife.
For the next two hours we slowly walked along the track towards the dam trying to stay in the shade. Karen found a Nuthatch and Simon then followed with a lovely Spotted Flycatcher and then another one. A pair of Mallards flew up the river and in the distance Julian picked out a Black Vulture amongst a few Griffon Vultures. Ironically butterflies were the most notable thing due to the unseasonable heat and we added some new species to the list including the very impressive Two-tailed Pasha plus Southern Brown Argus, Brimstone, Small Copper, Wall & Meadow Browns. Whilst Julian walked back for the minibus and the picnic lunch the rest of us continued on the track to a nice shady area for lunch. Here we met with some amateur film crew who informed us we had just missed an Otter swimming past in the river. Hopefully our luck would start to improve soon?
The temperature had now gone into the 30’s and we were starting to feel a little jaded but we carried on looking for wildlife and Keith did well finding an Iberian Wall Lizard on the trunk of a pine tree. We agreed we needed a rest so we left the area and drove back to the Los Pinos for a welcome siesta, with some folk opting to spend it the swimming pool – how sensible is that! It was still ‘el scorchio’ when we met at 5pm, still in the low 30’s and very difficult to deal with. We still set off and drove back to El Encinarejo this time stopping at the river’s edge where most people spent their time until dusk.
Julian decided to go renegade and headed off to search from the dam wall as we needed to cover as much area as possible. He spent most of the rest of the day there scanning the area without success apart from a really close male Blue Rock Thrush, a couple of Blackcaps and some Red Deer. The rest of us stayed by the river and enjoyed a fabulous Kingfisher found by Penny scanning the riverside. Sadly there wasn’t too much else to mention apart from the usual species of the area although as we drove out in the dark the front couple got a very brief view of a Red-necked Nightjar over the trees. We got back to the hotel and quickly readied ourselves for the evening meal, which again was a superb affair and despite the hour we were all in very good spirits and looking forward to the next day.

Thursday 6th :- While we were at breakfast Julian drove back to the Jandula River to collect the stealth-cam. Once back Gwen entered the findings on to her laptop and just found footage of Red Deer and Rabbit but no Lynx this time. It was still dark when we set off for La Lancha and our initial progress was good, with a magnificent view of dawn breaking over the distant mountains. After this the journey up to Los Escoriales was slow as usual with the poor road surface having an effect on our progress. However, this produced some excellent views of Red and Fallow Deer plus a Hoopoe found by Kevin and a few Woodlark spotted by Simon.
After Los Escoriales we encountered the ‘Fighting Bulls’, which are purposefully bred to die in the arena – a bit of a morbid thought looking at these magnificent beasts. Not much further and Julian stopped quickly pointing out a group of 8 Mouflon (Wild Sheep) on the hillside, which were very well received being another new mammal for the trip. We then started to drop down to La Lancha getting quicker than normal due to some improvements to the road! We set ourselves up along the road and almost immediately Simon found a group of Wild Boar feeding below our position. We spent the next few hours there constantly searching for our main target but alas no, however we did get to see both Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Southern Grey Shrike, Robin and Blue Rock Thrush, all to the constant roar of the rutting Red Deer.
As it got towards midday Julian decided to move on and drop further down the track to the Jandula Dam. Here we parked and walked onto the dam wall with the first birds being 2 Golden Eagles, Black & Griffon Vultures over the far hillside. This was then followed by a few Crag Martins plus several Rock Doves initially found by Penny along the dam wall. On the water we found a few Cormorants and lots of Grey Herons, and then Keith struck gold with a fine male Black Wheatear.  The main aim of this visit was to visit the ‘Bat Cave’ and we headed into the dark with Julian armed with a torch. What a fab time we had searching the nooks and crannies for these ‘furry night-flyers’. Initially we only identified Whiskered Bats but a little further Julian pointed out a Schreiber’s Bat and a little later a few Great Mouse-eared Bats. We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to see the bats but it was now nearing lunchtime so we headed up to the La Lancha picnic area. Just before we left Gwen looked up and picked out a Griffon Vulture along with a smaller raptor, which turned out to be a ‘dark phase’ Booted Eagle.
We enjoyed our lunch in the shade of the sun seeing a couple of Clouded Yellows and Two-tailed Pasha butterflies but other things had certainly gone quiet.  Around 2pm we headed back to the accommodation for another welcome siesta, which lasted for a couple of hours. Julian had been given some information about a Lynx sighting at the river so this is where we headed for when we were ready. We arrived and slightly split up to keep an eye on different parts of the river bank as we hoped the Iberian Lynx would come back down to drink. Things were getting more active with sightings of Kingfisher, Spotted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail and a Sparrowhawk. Two-tailed Pashas floated around and Julian even managed to get a photo, something he’d been trying to do for a long time.
A little before 7pm Julian, Penny and Keith were quietly chatting and suddenly Penny asks “what’s that on the hill?” Julian puts his binoculars on it immediately and says “Lynx” and proceeds to contact the rest of the group. Unfortunately while this was going on Penny and Keith watch as it sits for a very short time and then heads out of sight over the hill. We cannot believe our luck as normally we would have expected it to walk down the hill towards the river! So we continue searching the area but to no avail and as dusk is falling we leave the Jandula River site and make our way back to the hotel. As Julian heads for the restaurant a Red-necked Nightjar flies over him and lands on a nearby fence post. He then manages to show it to Kevin & Gwen, Keith & Penny but sadly it flies off before Simon & Karen arrive. The meal is full of discussion about the following day and what our strategy should be but we all agree that we need to go back to Encinarejo to look for Iberian Lynx. Julian said he needed to deliver at least two of our three main target species (Iberian Lynx, River Otter and Spanish Imperial Eagle) - our fingers (and everything else) were crossed!

Friday 7th :- It was a bit of as make or break day for the trip with a brief sighting of Lynx the day before to just a few people, we needed to have our slice of luck. The day started really well with awesome views of Jupiter and four of its moons through the telescope so our hopes were already raised. We drove to El Encinarejo and along the river and just as we got over the brow of the hill the unbelievable happened. Our Iberian Lynx was walking up the unmetalled track and as soon as we got close (by accident) it dropped down the slope and into the undergrowth. We tried in vain to refind the Lynx but it wasn’t to be, with only Simon having seen the animal, still leaving a few not having seen anything! After some careful searching of this area we headed for the stretch of river where it had been showing previously and waited. In fact we ground it out and stayed there for most of the day even when we had the offer of returning to the hotel during the heat of the day.
It wasn’t easy to stay focused as we watched constantly all day but thankfully we got some excellent wildlife interruptions that kept our spirits up. Simon and Karen did excellently identifying a Little Bittern from a brief flight view across the river. We had to wait a while but eventually it did reappear, flying back to its original place, this was the first time Julian had ever seen this species on the nature reserve. Kingfishers (renamed Beautiful Kingfisher by Penny) were constantly flying up and down the river occasionally landing in full view, along with Grey & White Wagtails. The surrounding woodlands held Great Spotted & Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Pied & Spotted Flycatchers, Common Redstart, Nuthatch, Common Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcaps and a Woodlark singing from an overhead wire. Around midday Julian went off to search the dam area but didn’t get far before he heard a familiar call from above the pine woodland and then quickly finding an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle. He called Kevin on the mobile but the signal was bad however the alarm bells rung with him and he looked to see why Julian was trying to reach him. This was an excellent move as Julian then waved to get us all to come over. Thankfully the eagle continued to soar around calling and we all got some fabulous views of this majestic ‘aquila’ eagle. We had got the first of our three target species!
Mid-afternoon it again was very hot and Julian asked if we would like to go back to the hotel for a siesta but our stalwarts said “no thanks”, which was a big decision for Gwen who was struggling with the conditions. Julian did return briefly to bring back some drinks and snacks, which was very much appreciated by us all and added some much needed enthusiasm. Then late afternoon Gwen and Julian spotted a shape in the water and said “Otter” near where the rocks stuck out into the water. Most of us saw it but it dived out of sight so Kevin made his way quickly round to the rocks, where a Spanish observer was sitting. While we were waiting for the Otter to reappear (which it did) Kevin started gesticulating something out of a Village People routine! However instead of Y.M.C.A. - this read L.Y.M.X., which needed no explanation. We hurried around to where he was on the rocks and he calmly explained the situation.
The Spanish observer (later found to be called Juanjo) had seen a Lynx on the far bank, couldn’t see anything at the moment but knew whereabouts it was. Julian talked to him then in Spanish to find he had seen both the River Otter and an Iberian Lynx at the same time and thankfully stayed with the Lynx.  Although it wasn’t currently in view he was sure it was quite close just behind some rocks and if we waited should also see the animal.  So we settled down and watched not seeing anything for 10 long minutes and then Julian and Juanjo saw it right on the water’s edge. It didn’t stay there long before starting to walk slowly downstream and (nearly) everyone got their first brilliant views of this mega-rare cat.  Simon had left his camera over where we had been standing for most of the day and had gone to fetch it but the Lynx was actually heading his way. So we made the decision to move and return to our original spot stopping Simon on the way back and actually quickly getting him on to the Lynx.
We then enjoyed the next half hour as we watched move along the river, sometimes out of sight but knowing where it was due to the Magpies alarming.  When it did finally disappear, we looked at each other and simply grinned, we had achieved our objective in very good style. Thanks were given to Juanjo for initially finding the male Lynx, with promises of sending him some of the images we had taken. We remained in this area for a while longer hoping it would return but Julian suggested we try the usual watchpoint further down river as it looked to be heading that way. So we drove the short distance to the viewing area and sat, talked and smiled about what we had just seen. Then Julian said ”I’ve got the Lynx” and sure enough it had followed the river and was now coming into view along the bank. It was a well vegetated area so we couldn’t watch him for long before he disappeared again, however we predicted his movements. Kevin was spot on as he relocated the transient Lynx a couple of times, even getting him in the telescope sat on a rock. This was the last we saw of the Iberian Lynx but what a wonderful mental image they portray and one that will last for a long time. We left El Encinarejo just before dusk with the continuous and haunting sound of the Red Deer bellowing in our ears, giving an almost medieval feel to the whole scene.  Obviously the final evening meal of the short break was a special one, with the food and drink complimenting the mood of the group – testament to Ramon and his team at the Los Pinos.

Saturday 8th :- Breakfast was booked a little later than normal giving everyone a chance to do a little around the grounds of the Los Pinos. This proved to be worthwhile as we collectively saw some excellent local species such as Crested & Coal Tits, Common Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Robin and a couple of Griffon Vultures flew over. We also got another chance to see the fascinating view of Pipistrelle Bats going into their daily roost. Once we were ready we loaded the minibus and headed down to the motorway heading for Malaga.
It’s an easy drive through mainly agricultural land with Crested Larks flying up from the side of the road and Ravens sat on pylons. Kevin saw a kite species, which was probably a late migrating Black Kite and there were also a few Common Buzzards and Kestrels. Eventually we reached the metropolis of Malaga and continued west along the coast road for a short distance stopping at the mouth of the Rio Guadalhorce. Keith and Penny were leaving an hour later so we only had time to have our picnic lunches looking out to sea. This was excellent as we saw plenty of Cory’s (Scopoli’s) & Balearic Shearwaters heading east along with lots of Gannets fishing. There was also the usual mix of other coastal birds, which included Turnstones, Cormorants, Mediterranean, Black-headed, Yellow-legged & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Sandwich Tern and Monk Parakeet! Simon found a Whimbrel flying along the coastline and when Penny came back from a short walk she disturbed an Algerian Mouse from around the rocks.
It was now time to take the first couple to the airport so Julian drove the short distance incredibly seeing a Booted Eagle on the way. This was a lovely way for Keith and Penny to end their holiday. After leaving them at the airport, Julian returned to the coast and walked out to the nature reserve with everyone else. It wasn’t an easy walk along the beach as it was now quite hot, although the cool on-shore breeze did help. We got to the first hide and one of the wardens was sitting there and informed of a couple of Glossy Ibis, which was a welcome bonus. However over the course of the next hour we also found several Black-necked & Little Grebes, White-headed Duck, Gadwall, Pintail, a single Common Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Common Coot, a couple of Greater Flamingos, Little Egrets, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank and Common Sandpipers.
We had a real easy time watching and photographing many of these species. Having plenty of time before needing to be at the airport we then walked round to the next hide and spent some time there where we found Spanish Terrapins along the reedy fringes. We also had more White-headed Ducks, Common Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebes plus a couple of Kingfishers chasing each other over the lagoon. One highlight was seeing 2 Ospreys flying on to the reserve, right past where we were sat, and then Julian picked out another Booted Eagle but this was quite distant. Mid-afternoon we kept half an eye on the aircraft leaving Malaga and when Julian saw the required Aer Lingus plane we all waved goodbye to Penny and Keith, thankful their flight had been on time. Our walk round this small reserve continued but it was hot so we settled for one last look in the first lagoon before walking back to the where the minibus was parked. This again was along the beach, causing Karen take an impromptu paddle as one wave came in further than the others!
Early evening we got to the airport in plenty of time for our respective flights and said our “goodbyes” at the check-in desks. We all agreed it had been a wonderful short break, with many great memories.

Iberian Lynx



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