Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Wolf in N/W Spain

8th - 13th August 2011

Monday 8th – Julian met Peter at Madrid Airport around noon and immediately set off through the city to their accommodation in San Pedro de Herrerias, which is in the heart of Iberian Wolf country. They were meeting two other couples at the hotel who had made their own way there. It was August in central Spain and it was hot so the journey was pretty quiet although a stop for lunch produced their first Black & Griffon Vultures. Then a little further a large eagle circling over the highway made them stop, as it was a sub-adult Spanish Imperial Eagle. They then stopped at a small pool at the side of the road and this produced 3 Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, single Mallard, Black-headed Gull and Crested Lark. After this they drove straight through to the Zamora Region seeing several Black & Red Kites, Common Buzzards, Kestrel, Southern Grey Shrikes and a Grey Heron. They got to the accommodation late afternoon and no sooner had they stepped out of the vehicle they saw a Southern Water Vole swim up the stream behind the building along with a Great Banded Grayling, Speckled Wood, Holly Blue and Small White butterflies. Julian and Peter then met up with Mel & Lorraine who were just going for a walk round this lovely quaint village and then Keith & Liz who were enjoying the fine weather on the balcony of their room. Rooms were organised and no sooner had Julian opened his shutters did he see a really dark adult Honey Buzzard circling over the village, which was then joined by a completely different looking juvenile bird. It was brilliant to see the two together and see their incredible plumage differences. It had been agreed we would be meeting to make our first try for wolf at 18:30, which eagerly adhered to by everyone and shortly after we were driving north out of the village. Earlier that day Mel & Lorraine had seen a group of vultures circling over an area with some dropping down so there might have been a kill? We were keen to investigate but when we arrived there were now no Griffons anywhere, which was a little disappointing. There was some compensation as another couple had found a family party of Wild Boar, which is always nice to see. For the next couple of hours we scanned the area seeing no wolves but finding a male Roe Deer, Short-toed Eagle, Melodious & Dartford Warblers, Stonechat and better views of the Wild Boar. Then around 8pm there was a commotion from some Spanish observers and the word “Lobo” was definitely heard mentioned. So Julian rushed over and asked what was being seen? They had seen an Iberian Wolf but it had lain down and was now out of sight – we couldn’t believe it! Thankfully we all trained our telescopes on the patch of deep grass ad after what seemed like an age it raised its head for all to see. This then progressed to it sitting up and then standing and we got fabulous views of it before this young Iberian Wolf walked and out of sight behind some trees. It was smiles and hugs all round, we had been extremely lucky and the pressure was off. It did not matter we got back to the accommodation late for the evening meal, we were celebrating the success of seeing a wolf at the first time of asking.

Tuesday 9th – An early start saw us all in the dining room for a warm drink before heading back out to Villardeciervos. Sadly Keith and Liz had received some sad news from home had to leave immediately, which was such a shame. The rest of us said our farewells to the couple and set off in the morning twilight. We got to the area and found it shrouded in mist but this was already starting to disperse. Julian quickly found a couple of female Red Deer in the distance but there wasn’t much further activity for the first 30 minutes. Then one of the Spanish observers mumbled something and looked intently into his telescope. He had seen something running? Julian pointed his scope in that general direction and a small pack of wolves ran through view. He blurted out “I’ve got 4 maybe 5 wolves but they’re heading out of sight” and sure enough they quickly disappeared into a small gully. Everyone was scanning the general area and two of the pack just sat out in the open, with the others no-where to be seen. Some young Red Deer were watching the two wolves intently but soon ran as it seems the other three were trying to flank them – this was amazing. Shortly after these wolves came back into view with one now just carrying a Rabbit, which another tried to steal. It was a little like watching domestic dogs at play! Then they all came together, we had 5 sub-adult Iberian Wolves in our scope view and it was completely awesome. We continued to watch them slowly disperse and eventually head into the pine forest as the sun’s rays started to clear the last remnants of the mist. It was massive smiles all round as we knew we had been very privileged to see this level of wolf behaviour and sighting. It was still not even 8am so we stayed there for another half hour before going for a much welcome breakfast. During this time we saw 3 fabulous mature Red Deer stags just below where we were standing, plus sightings of Jay, Mistle Thrush, Kestrel and a pair of Common Crossbills flew over. We got back to the hotel and during breakfast discussed what we had seen and what we planned to do later, which was just stay local. We were ready we reconvened at the vehicle with Peter having already seen a Pied Flycatcher, Serin and Great Tit had found a Great Banded Grayling on an ivy covered branch. After the usual photos had been taken we headed off towards Ferreras de Arriba stopping at a couple of water tanks, Julian knew about. The first one was very full and quite clear but also having a couple of huge Carp and a few Goldfish in. Clearly there would be no amphibians in it. So we moved to the second who was much shallower but having a lot more weed and covered in Water Boatmen and the odd Diving Beetle. After some careful searching Julian found what he was looking for – Marbled Newt and after a few tries he managed to catch one in his net. It was a gorgeous adult female and we spent some time looking at it and photographing it in the morning sunshine. While all this had been going on we had also had an adult Short-toed Eagle drift over, along with several of the commoner woodland species such as Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested, Long-tailed and Great Tits. While Peter was returning the newt back to its home we then found an interesting blue-ish coloured lizard and after some debate identified it as a young Spanish Psammodromus. The butterflies were also keeping us entertained as we found False Grayling, Long-tailed Blue, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Iberian Marbled White, Gatekeeper and Wall Brown. The day was now warming up nicely and we decided to move on to a more natural pool Julian knew a little further along the road. This place was just as interesting although a little more frustrating as we couldn’t get to grips with the European Tree Frogs, which reside here. Mel was one of the lucky ones as he alone got views of Bosca’s Newt in the deeper water and we all managed some view of Iberian Water Frog. There were a few dragon & damselflies here with Emperor, Keeled Skimmer, Small Bluetail and Small Red Damselfly being identified. A pair of Common Crossbills showed really well in a dead tree and we also had a flock of 100+ Bee-eaters migrate through. It was now lunchtime so we headed back to the hotel where our hosts had prepared a fabulous Tortilla Española, together with slices of cheese, chorizo and tomato. Once we had completed lunch it was time for a long siesta to catch up on lost sleep or relax in the hotel’s sunny garden. While the rest of us had a much needed siesta Lorraine spent a little time wandering around the village finding a family of White Wagtails, Linnets and Goldfinches. Early evening we met at the vehicles just as Peter found a few young Schreiber’s Green Lizards in some vegetation by the stream. We decided to have a walk around the village until it was time to head out to Villardeciervos. It was still extremely warm and fairly quiet but we had a nice time doing a circular route around the village and through the oak wood. During this time we got some good views of Common Crossbills, Blue Tit, a Honey Buzzard showed in the distance and Red rumped Swallows. We did see lots of butterflies including more of the same species but we also added Brimstone and Comma to the growing list. About 7pm we drove out to the watchpoint but it was still quiet although there were more raptors around. While we were there we managed to see a total of 4 Short-toed Eagles, 2 Booted Eagles, a pair of Goshawks, a Hen Harrier, Honey Buzzard and Griffon Vulture. There were also a few smaller birds around with good views of Dartford & Sub-alpine Warblers, Stonechat and Dunnock. Unfortunately by the time we left no wolves had been seen we did manage a couple of Roe Deer and as we drove back to San Pedro Mel & Lorraine saw a Red Fox cross the road. We got back to the accommodation with plenty of time to fill in the daily checklist and have a beer before the evening meal.

Wednesday 10th – We again went to the same viewing point and stood for a couple of hours staring out at this very scenic area of land. Mammals this morning were restricted to lots of Red Deer (including some fantastic stags) and a couple of Roe Deer. However we weren’t disappointed as the birds made up for things with flight views of 2 or 3 Golden Orioles, an Iberian Green Woodpecker sat in a bare tree, in one bush we saw a Greater Whitethroat, female Sub-alpine and Dartford Warblers. A party of 5 Red-legged Partridges landed on the same track as we were standing and Mel got very lucky with a brief view of a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo. All this combined with another beautiful day certainly made the effort worth it. We got back to the hotel and had a leisurely breakfast and arranged to meet soon after by the vehicle. Julian and Peter were outside a little earlier and went for a short walk near the accommodation, which produced some very nice Red-rumped & Barn Swallows sat in a dead tree. A family party of Black Redstarts chased insects around the Apple Trees and they also found a couple of Blackcaps in the same area. Before long they were heading out towards the motorway for Puerto de Sanabria but stopped en-route for a pale phase Booted Eagle and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. As we travelled along there were plenty of Common Buzzards on telegraph poles and several Southern Grey Shrikes on the wires. We exited the highway and headed for the Lagunas de Sanabria, an area of glacial lakes surrounded by mountains covered in oak. On the way we stopped in the rural town of El Puente to let Mel try and source a fleece jacket as he was getting very cold in the mornings. Although he couldn’t find anything it wasn’t a wasted stop as the rest of us enjoyed a coffee sat in the warn sunshine. We continued our journey and slowly wound our way up the mountain to the highest lake – Laguna de los Peces. Although it’s quite a popular area it wasn’t overly busy at this location, which was a bonus. In the car park Mel located a flying Griffon Vulture and several smaller raptors, which turned into several Kestrels and a couple of Montagu’s Harriers. Julian found a large flock of Red-billed Chough in the distance and we got some nice views later once we had walked to the lake. Eventually we set off for the dammed lagoon along a track that goes through large areas of Spanish Heather and Spanish Broom. The birds were fairly quiet initially but got better when Peter located both female and young Bluethroats, along with a Grey Heron, Dunnocks, White Wagtail and a small flock of Linnets. There were a few butterflies on the wing and careful identification revealed several Brown Argus, Clouded Yellows and Small Whites plus a single Black Satyr, which was gorgeous. At the dam wall Peter with Julian started searching for their main target of the day, the locally endemic Iberian Rock Lizard and over the next few hours got some terrific sightings and photographs. During this time Mel and Lorraine searched for birds and did fantastically well locating first a Black Vulture, followed by a Raven sat on a rock, another Booted Eagle, Water Pipit and a few Northern Wheatears. Julian also helped the bird list along by first finding a ‘Spanish’ Yellow Wagtail and then a distant Red-tailed Rock Thrush, much to the pleasure of Mel and Lorraine. Early afternoon we walked back to the car park and enjoyed our picnic lunch while looking for wildlife but at this time of year things disappear in the heat of the day. We had planned an early evening meal tonight so we headed back to San Pedro de Herrerias not before Peter had treated us all to an ice cream. An hour later we were safely back at base and retired to our rooms for a welcome siesta before the late evening session and night drive! The evening was quiet with only Common Pipistrelle being seen within San Pedro along with species we had seen previously. As dusk fell we got into the vehicle and headed off south towards Alcanices first doing a detour to Flechas. This was very lucky as we came across a pair of Scop’s Owls, one sat in the road and the other on an overhead wire. We got some very good views in the beam of the headlights. After this we continued on and out across some agricultural fields where we found on of our mammal targets – Iberian Hare. Again we got very good views in the headlights and also from the torches we had. This was the first of at least 4 individuals seen during the drive. Things then got a little quiet but a Tawny Owl flying across the road kept our interest and then Mel got a really good look at one as it flew towards us down a forest ride. Here we stopped the vehicle to listen to the night creatures and got deafened by European Tree Frogs, Cicadas and Bush-crickets while we admired the night sky in all its glory since there is no light pollution in the forest. It was now quite late and we returned to the hotel very satisfied with what we had seen and heard.

Thursday 11th – There was no looking for wolf this morning as we wanted to have an earlier start for the excursion to Villafafila. So after breakfast we headed off but not before Julian and Peter and watched a Common Goldenring Dragonfly oviposting in the village stream. Along the route we saw several species such as Southern Grey Shrike, Short-toed Eagle and Red Kite. However the major highlight of the journey was finding a large group of vultures sat in a ploughed field. These were mostly Griffons but there were also at least 4 Black Vultures sat amongst them along with a few Black Kites and Ravens. This was a classic Spanish scene and one that Peter had never witnessed previously in Europe. Due to a bit of luck and some skilful driving we were actually able to get fairly close to them allowing for some decent images to be taken of them both sat and flying around. Eventually we got to the agricultural fields on the outskirts of Villafafila and immediately found lots of raptors taking advantage of the newly harvested crops and ploughed fields. Incredibly one of the first birds we saw was the rare melanistic (black form) Montagu’s Harrier, which was a real bonus and we were even luckier to find a second individual later in the day. There were also other, regular Montagu’s Harriers floating around plus lots of Common Buzzards, Black Kites, Common Kestrel and a young Marsh Harrier. After this we headed straight for the main pseudo-steppe area passing a couple of lagoons associated with this area. Hopefully we would get a chance to check these out later. A couple of White Storks were seen followed by a female Hen Harrier and then a group of 5 Common Pochard on a small pond. As we started to drive the tracks Peter said “there are bustards here” and sure enough not too far away was a small group of 6 males. It was now getting quite hot and they were reluctant to move, thus allowing us to get out of the vehicle and get excellent views through the telescope. We continued along the tracks seeing the occasional Northern Wheatear and Crested Lark plus a few Clouded Yellow and Western Dappled White butterflies. Then Julian and Peter called “Quail” but no-one else saw the tiny game-bird. We stopped as they had seen where it had landed only a couple of meters from us. So Peter volunteered to walk towards it and seconds later we saw it fly up and away across the field, which was brilliant. Julian decided we would try somewhere else and we continued to an area next to the lagoons where we found our first waterbirds that included Grey Heron, Common & Green Sandpipers, Lapwings and Common Coot. Mel and Peter saw a small raptor flush the waders that must have been a Merlin but while trying to locate it Julian found a Peregrine, which created havoc with all the species. Lorraine then located a few migrant warblers in some nearby Tamarisk, which turned out to be mainly Willow Warblers plus a single Garden Warbler. It was now nearing lunchtime and we wanted somewhere shady to lunch so Julian guided us to the main hide overlooking the biggest lagoon. In the car park he immediately showed us the Little Owl that apparently is always there. We actually thought it was stuffed! The ‘observatorio’ was sadly locked but we did find shade in front of it and looking out over some shallow water. So during our picnic we found a pair of Greenshanks, several Redshanks and Avocets, with good flocks of Lapwing and Black-winged Stilts. Also here there was another Marsh Harrier, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and lots of Black-headed Gulls. After lunch we had a walk round and Julian found our first Rock Sparrow and picked out a Lesser Kestrel flying over Otero de Sariego. This deserted village is home to a small breeding colony of these dainty falcons but they had most left leaving just a few juvenile birds, making identification difficult. It was now very hot so we headed to the nearest petrol station for an ice cream, which was very well received. After this we headed back towards San Pedro stopping on the way at the Rio Esla Bridge, where we enjoyed good views of an Otter as it swam across the wide river. There were also a few passerines including Sardinian, Sub-alpine and Willow Warblers, Robin and Black Redstart. We got back to the accommodation about 4pm and spent a little time sat outside in the warm sunshine before going to freshen up and have a short siesta. Along the river Julian saw a Beautiful Demoiselle, Mel saw a Grass Snake and Peter caught up with Schreiber’s Green Lizard. We were eating earlier than usual and going out to Villardeciervos afterwards with us stopping out until near dark in the hope of hearing a wolf howl. Sadly this wasn’t to be but we did get a lovely passage of Bee-eaters looking resplendent in the evening sunlight plus lots of Common Swifts moving south. The only mammals we did manage to see were a couple of Red Deer and as we were packing up to leave a European Nightjar started to churr. Back in San Pedro we stood for while on the edge of the village listening to Tawny Owls and looking at some of the constellations in the brilliant star-lit sky.

Friday 12th – We started early with a visit to Villardeciervos where we spent a couple of hours unsuccessfully looking for Iberian Wolf. Although we did get some very good views of a pair of beautiful Red Foxes playing in the long grass and some superb stag Red Deer and a couple of Roe Deer. The birds were again a highlight with several sightings of Golden Oriole and Mel did very well finding a Wryneck sat in a bush. After breakfast we headed off towards Portugal seeing the usual Griffon Vulture, Red Kites, Southern Grey Shrikes and lots of Common Kestrels along the overhead wires. We passed through the Portuguese border town of Miranda do Douro and stopped just outside in a layby that overlooked the River Duero (Spain’s 3rd largest river). Here we spent about 30 minutes finding several species such as a juvenile Egyptian Vulture sat on a rock, Booted Eagle, heard a Short-toed Treecreeper, with several Alpine Swifts, Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows. We also had a bonus of two new butterflies with the lovely Striped Grayling and Small Copper. We then continued through to Fariza which is back on the Spanish side of the border seeing a brilliant male Montagu’s Harrier and lots of Common Buzzards and Black Kites. Eventually we got to the Ermita with the temperature quite high and slowly rising. We wandered down to the Los Barrancos watchpoint finding Wall Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies and a few Griffon Vultures. Mel then called an adult Egyptian Vulture and almost immediately afterwards Julian found an adult Golden Eagle soaring over our heads. We watched this magnificent raptor start to display with huge undulating dips before heading off out of sight. As we got down to the watchpoint we then found the second adult and for a brief period we had Golden Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Griffon Vulture in the same telescope view! Despite this it was still fairly quiet, which was largely due to the heat of the day so after a comical period with some visiting Spanish we walked back to the vehicle and collected the picnic lunch. We sat in the shade while in the grounds of the church and enjoyed the picnic nearly as much as the relief from the sun. Around 2pm we set off back towards San Pedro but took a slightly different route to take in an impressive (and old) iron bridge over the River Duero. Here we stopped and made use of some excellent photo opportunities with the bridge spanning this impressive gorge. Peter did superbly finding a partially hidden Large Psammodromus, with Mel and Lorraine finding a couple of Rock Buntings. Julian and Mel got a very brief view of a male Blue Rock Thrush but sadly couldn’t relocate it but we were now too hot to bother about it. This signalled our departure and we headed back to the accommodation getting there late afternoon and enough time to relax, have a siesta and get ready for the evening meal and our final wolf-watching session of the short break. During this time the weather deteriorated a little with overcast cloud and high winds but we still went with some hope and expectation. The viewing was difficult with the wind in our faces but we persevered and found the usual small group of Red Deer and a single Roe Deer. Birds were somewhat quieter but we did get a sighting of a Honey Buzzard and just before we left a young Long-eared Owl was calling from some nearby trees. It was dark when we got back to San Pedro and we decided to have a short walk around the village where we saw a Common Pipistrelle and a brilliant Praying Mantis. We then headed into the hotel and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine together celebrating a fabulous few days.

Saturday 13th – Our final morning was pretty low key as we were all going our separate ways so after a leisurely breakfast we said our "goodbyes" to Antonio. Mel and Lorraine headed off for the Picos de Europa, with Julian and Peter driving back to Madrid for Peter's lunchtime flight.


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