Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Lynx in Andalucia

19th - 22nd January 2010

Tuesday January 19th :- After having to change the hire car I set off south to meet my very good friend Ken Shaw who was staying with friends of mine. I arrived about 10:30 and he was ready to leave but a scan of the crags revealed an adult Bonelli’s Eagle sat on a ledge. Then while we were watching the adult male Bonelli’s Eagle flew in and copulated with his spouse. It was an amazing sight and one I had not witnessed before. The day had started with a major high and hopefully it would get better. Other birds seen in this area (Ken Had been here a couple of days) were 8 Black Wheatears, a couple of Blue Rock Thrushes, Thekla Larks, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Crag Martins, Red legged Partridges, and a ‘heard only’ Eagle Owl. So we left and drove the short distance to El Hondo where we were hoping to find the wintering Greater Spotted Eagle from Estonia. So we parked up and immediately found several Booted Eagles floating about plus a few Marsh Harriers and Kestrels. A Moustached Warbler was in full song and we also saw Cetti’s Warbler, Crested Larks, Grey & White Wagtails, Chiffchaffs, Shoveler, Mallard, Coot and Little Grebes. I then picked up a large raptor sat in a tree and after a little deliberation we confirmed it was indeed the Greater Spotted Eagle as it was being mobbed by a Marsh Harrier. This was the first of our two target species seen for the day. So with a long drive ahead we set off south and with some excellent directions eventually found our next site near Albejon. For a couple of weeks there has been a (North American) Belted Kingfisher seen here and we both wanted to add it to our Spanish lists. Our initial recce proved fruitless apart from a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes, Greenshank, Green & Common Sandpipers, Little Egret and Grey Heron. However a chance meeting with a group of Spanish birders (from Barcelona) kept us there slightly longer than we anticipated. It was as we were literally starting the vehicle that the Spanish saw the bird flying in from one of the other irrigation pools. So we exited the car quickly and got fantastic views through the telescope as well as a couple of record shots – what a magnificent bird. We would have loved to have stayed longer but we were now facing a four hour drive south to the Sierra de Andujar and hopefully an appointment with Iberian Lynx?. The journey was very smooth and made even better as I spotted a Golden Eagle whilst driving and after pulling in to get a better view Ken found an accipiter, which we agreed was a Goshawk. Eventually we arrived at our destination in the dark and settled into our room before having a welcome beer and an odd glass of wine with the evening meal. During this time we were discussing our chances of seeing a Lynx the following day.

Wednesday January 20th :- Breakfast was a simple affair but the coffee was most welcome and Ken definitely enjoyed his toast. We made an easy start and drove the road and track up to El Escorial then down towards the Embalse de Jandula. We parked at the corner I have previously found to be the most productive and already there were a few Spanish watchers assembled. Well within 10 minutes of getting there we got a signal from a Spaniard to come quickly – which we did. He had an Iberian Lynx on the track and within seconds Ken & I were watching one of the world’s rarest cats. We got magnificent views of it as it slowly made it’s way along the dirt road eventually going out of sight. What a stroke of luck and ‘high fives’ all round!!!. We returned to the car and continued our vigil from there for the rest of the morning but sadly didn’t get another view of it. However we did have a magnificent few hours finding a few more mammals including lots of Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Wild Boar and Rabbits. The birds were pretty good also with superb views of 2 adult Spanish Imperial Eagles (now our fifth species of eagle), which could be prospecting the area, 8 Black Vultures, 100+ Azure winged Magpies, Dartford & Sardinian Warbler, Woodlark, Blue Rock Thrush, Mistle & Song Thrush, Crested, Long tailed, Blue & Great Tits, 2 Red billed Chough, Jay, Red legged Partridges, Iberian Green Woodpeckers and a Hoopoe. Around 2pm we decided to leave as we were getting a little cold and tired (after the previous day’s drive) returning to Villa Matilde where we were staying for a couple of nights. After a serious siesta we returned to the same area and stayed there until dusk adding several Griffon Vultures plus a couple more Black Vultures, 2 Little Owls, Kestrel, Black Redstart and Serin.

Thursday January 21st :- Woke this morning to thick fog throughout the valley so after breakfast Ken & I drove into Andujar town to collect some provisions, which wasted some time while the fog lifted. We returned to the sierra checked into our new hotel (Los Pinos) and then set off for the Rio Jandula and a walk along the river. As we were passing some very good Lynx habitat incredibly an Iberian Lynx walked across the road in front of the car, 5 seconds later and it could have been under my wheels!. I stopped immediately and we watched it dumbfounded as it passed alongside of us within 6m and dropped down the banking. We exited the vehicle and positioned ourselves to watch it wander slowly down the hill and stop to rest out in full view. It was such a fantastic experience and something I will never forget to see this rare animal so close and so well. It was totally unconcerned by our presence and after 15 minutes wandered out of sight. After getting over the shock and excitement, then texts to various friends and relations we continued to the river. The walk was excellent stopping in several places to look for Lynx and birds, finding lots of woodland species including Hawfinch, Nuthatches, Short toed Treecreeper, Great Spotted & Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Woodlark, Crested, Long tailed, Great & Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and the ubiquitous Iberian Magpie. Along the river we saw a Kingfisher, Mallard and Cormorants, plus a immature Golden Eagle showed well near the reservoir. As we returned to the car for lunch the weather was starting to improve and a pair of Common Buzzards called whilst flying over the pine woodland and several Griffon & Black Vultures appeared. However the highlight was having a migrating Great Spotted Cuckoo fly right above our heads. During lunch we enjoyed fabulous views of an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle as it played with a (heavily moulted) Griffon Vulture right above our heads. After lunch we drove slowly up to the ermita, wiith fabulous views of the natural park, and en-route we found a soaring adult Golden Eagle. The area around this stunning hill-top church was fairly quiet for birds but certainly worthy of further investigation especially during the migration period.

Friday January 22nd :- Ken & I were leaving the Sierra de Andujar today and decided to have a quiet start and go for an easy breakfast in the hotel bar. We eventually left the area by late morning and headed towards one of Andalucia's premier reserves 'Laguna de Fuente de Piedra' in the hope of finding a Lesser Flamingo for Ken. It was a gorgeous day and as we made our way along the motorway Ken saw a Black shouldered Kite near Pedro Abad (good bird for this area) and as we passed Cordoba we saw several groups of White Storks another unexpected species. Nearer to the wetlands we started to find good numbers of Cattle Egrets, Lapwings, Lesser Black backed & Black headed Gulls at the side of the road. Soon enough we arrived at the lagoon and found our way to the impressive visitor centre were a charming young Spanish lady with excellent english gave us some invaluable information on what could be found where. So we decided to take the walk locally from the centre and visited a few small reed-fringed pools finding lots of Mallard, Shoveler, Lapwing, Black winged Stilts, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebes plus a Marsh Harrier, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Bunting and 2 Water Pipits. However we were keen to find the 1000 strong Greater Flamingo flock so we drove round the other side of the huge lake and en-route found 100+ Common Cranes feeding in the ploughed fields as well as a Little Owl sat on a barn roof and small flocks of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Crested Larks and a few Corn Buntings. We continued round and found where we thought was the best vantage point but it was a long way from the Greater Flamingos, however even through binoculars I saw what could be a likely suspect. I quickly set up the telescope and sure enough confirmed that it was indeed an adult Lesser Flamingo, much to Ken's delight. We stayed there having our lunch, watching the bird activity and adding a Red Fox to our already very good mammal list. Mid-afternoon we started to make our way back towards the visitor centre and actually found another (better positioned) mirador so stopped and got closer views of the Lesser Flamingo amongst the Greater Flamingos. This was a great way to finish our excursion so we then headed down to Malaga, found ourselves a hotel for the night, and enjoyed a celebratory meal and drink. This had been a fantastic few days, many thanks to Ken for being a good friend and superb company - long may it continue.


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