Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Lynx in Andalucia

20th - 24th September 2010

Monday Sept 20th :– Richard and Jane of Calandra Tours landed in Malaga with their group Richard & Elizabeth, Aileen, John Thorogood & John Tookey all of which were stalwarts of there expanding business. I met them at Terminal 3, loaded the mini-bus and headed out of the city towards Antiquera where a few of us (particularly Jane & Aileen) saw a Common Buzzard and a Kestrel over the hills either side of the motorway. Eventually we reached the town of Fuentepiedras and continued on to the excellent Laguna de Fuenta de las Piedras. Here we visited a couple of watchpoints and enjoyed brilliant views of 1000’s of Greater Flamingos in all plumages. Water birds were the main feature with the sight of 1000+ Common Coot being another spectacle as was loads of Mallard and Shoveler in the smaller lagoons. Waders included a couple of Greenshank, Black winged Stilts and some distant Lapwing, but a Purple Gallinule was the biggest surprise of the morning. However it was the ‘birds of prey’ that stole the show with lots of Marsh Harriers in all plumages, a gorgeous juvenile Montagu’s Harrier found by John T, another Common Buzzard, Red Kite and a few Lesser Kestrels around the derelict buildings. We also saw in this area 20+ ‘Blue headed’ Yellow Wagtails, Stonechats, Crested Larks, 2 close Common Ravens, a few Common Swifts, Barn Swallows, House & Sand Martins plus a ‘heard only’ Sardinian Warbler. It was now late afternoon and still very warm so we headed off again towards Andujar, en-route seeing a small flock of Cattle Egrets, Jane saw a Little Egret, with a surprise White Stork still sat in its nest near Cordoba!!! Eventually we reached the town of Andujar and headed inland to the Sierra de Andujar and our accommodation the CTR Los Pinos. While I was arranging the rooms etc Richard and the others had a walk round seeing a few Red rumped Swallows hawking insects. There wasn’t much time before the evening meal and we convened in the bar for ‘pre-drinks’, which were more than welcome. After these and a brief over-view of the next few days by myself we sat down to a fantastic meal, which would have kept a small Roman army going for a few weeks. It had been a brilliant start to the holiday and hopefully it would continue in this vein.

Tuesday Sept 21st :–
Most of us were outside by 07:45 watching a few Common Pipistrelles in readiness for our agreed 8am breakfast. Apparently it had rained most of the night and Jane had been lucky enough to hear the Tawny Owl outside their apartment. At breakfast we discussed the fantastic orange juice and the industrial strength coffee but all thought it was excellent by Spanish standards. Outside the sun was starting to clear the mist and the clouds were dispersing – it was going to be a nice day. When everyone was ready we met at the minibus but the birds started appearing with Wren, Robin and Great Tit being added, a 1st winter Pied Flycatcher and Sub-alpine Warbler to keep the interest going. Sadly we had to leave the complex and headed off into the heart of the Sierra de Andujar, being very impressed by the views across this pristine Mediterranean Forest. At the Iron Bridge over the River Jandula we turned off and drove down to the dam wall were we parked and stood on the bridge for 10 minutes. There had been an European Otter seen 15 minutes earlier but sadly it didn’t return but we did see our first Red Deer of the day as well as Sardinian Warblers, White Wagtails, Red rumped Swallows and Azure winged Magpies. We then decided to have a walk along the river back the way we had driven in, as the mist was clearing rapidly. The first half of the walk produced many new species including Grey Herons, Nuthatch, Crested, Long tailed & Blue Tits, Iberian Green & Great Spotted Woodpeckers, singing Woodlark, Cetti’s Warbler (heard only), Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and a couple of Cirl Buntings. At the designated watchpoint we found some stag Red Deer, which were very vocal and readying themselves for the rut. Richard picked out a couple of Fallow Deer, I found a Green Sandpiper and Aileen did very well finding a Kingfisher sat at the side of the river – even John Tooks managed to get a good view of an Azure winged Magpie. It was now starting to get hot so we continued towards the road continuing to see new species like Common Redstart, Eurasian Reed Warbler, John Tookey actually saw a Cetti’s Warbler (nice one) and Jane & I found a Spotted Flycatcher. Richard saw a few European Pond Terrapins on rocks in the river and whilst watching these Aileen saw our first Grey Wagtail of the short break. However we still hadn’t seen a raptor species yet – what was going on. Richard & I had decided to go back for the vehicle and as we set off a few Griffon Vultures appeared followed by 2 Black Vultures (at last!). So we enjoyed these for a while and set off along the track, we hadn’t gone 100m and I picked up a 1st winter Golden Eagle over the ridge but it disappeared before we could alert anyone. However then we found a cracking adult Spanish Imperial Eagle being buzzed by a male Goshawk – fabulous. So I ran back to where the others were but by the time I got there these two had also disappeared, only John Thorogood had seen the eagle so hopefully it would return. I set off back to Richard and a little further we saw the adult Spanish Imperial Eagle again and even saw it perch on a rock giving fabulous views through Richard’s telescope. We continued our walk back for the minibus and eventually returned to the rest of the group to thankfully find they had also been watching one of the adult Spanish Imperial Eagles, although during lunchtime we did get more good views of this majestic raptor. When we got back to where they were one of the Natural Parks warden’s was there using his Lynx tracking device. He then proceeded to tell us there was a female Iberian Lynx about 200m away but out of sight and possibly asleep or resting as she hadn’t moved for a while. However while this conversation was going on I spied another Goshawk in the distance and a couple of swift species. Richard then said “this Swift has a white rump?” I quickly got back on to it and sure enough there were 2 White rumped Swifts flying around with the Red rumped Swallows and House Martins – absolutely incredible. We continued to watch this very rare Iberian breeder until it disappeared and then went for our picnic lunch. We spent the next hour sitting at the picnic benches eating our lunch and watching the surrounding area, which produced another Imperial Eagle, good views of the White rumped Swifts and Richard H playing with some of the local ants? Butterflies were now quite in evidence as John T found a Southern Scarce Swallowtail, along with Clouded Yellow, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Common Blue. It was now getting quite hot so I suggested we return to the hotel for a siesta for a couple of hours, which was fairly well received. So later that afternoon, we returned to the Rio Jandula watchpoint and spent the rest of the day there. Initially it was very good as Aileen found an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, which was closely followed by an adult Golden Eagle. There were plenty of Red Deer, some of which were again very vocal, plus a few Fallow Deer. However generally it was quiet and just before sunset we made our way back to the Los Pinos complex. It had been a great day and very memorable on many levels for much of the group.

Wednesday Sept 22nd :–
A very early start for yours truly meant I was listening to, at least 3 Tawny Owls in the grounds of the hotel. Then at 07:30 we convened at the restaurant for breakfast as arranged with the owner, only to find no one had told the morning staff! However we did make a start about 07:45 but losing precious time could be costly later. Thankfully we were ready to go about 50 minutes later and we headed into the hills towards El Escoriales, a farm dedicated to raising the mighty Spanish Fighting Bull. What magnificent beasts they are. The journey was memorable for a few stops for Red legged Partridges, Iberian Green Woodpecker and some very handsome stag Red & Fallow Deer. At Escoriales we dropped down to the Embalse de Jandula stopping at my usual parking place in the hope of finding an Iberian Lynx. As usual I got quickly out of the minibus and scanned the area and unbelievably there was a Lynx on the track in full view. I called to the group “I’ve got a Lynx” and as I did so it decided to hop off the camino and into the scrub at the side making it impossible to see. I could have wept as no-one else got a glimpse of it, and a four hour vigil didn’t produce it either. However we did have some special moments as yet again a pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles stole the show with a fine (and close) aerial display and one then landing in the top of an Olive tree. Other highlights during the morning were a nice flock of Alpine Swifts overhead, Common Buzzard, Black & Griffon Vultures, a Little Owl calling, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Thekla Lark and a fly-past Rock Sparrow. The Red Deer were in full voice again today, which grew a little wearing after the first three hours of the din. It was yet another very hot day and around noon Richard & I decided it was time for a move so we slid into the vehicle and continued all the way down the hill to the reservoir. Here we quickly found several Cormorants, Grey Herons, a Grey Wagtail plus Scarlet Darters and some large Barbel. We walked along the dam wall watching the hordes of House Martins being buzzed by at least 5 Sparrowhawks and a single Kestrel, and then Aileen found yet another adult Spanish Imperial Eagle (which was actually met with some disregard!). While watching this magnificent predator a cracking male Blue Rock Thrush started to sing and John Tookey did very well finding it sat on a rock (where else really?). Then shortly after this I picked up another raptor over the hill and tentatively called a Booted Eagle and when confirmed this when I got my ‘scope’ on it. It was now time to have our lunch so we drove a little way back up the hill and sat at some lovely picnic tables to eat our bocadillos & fruit. During this time Richard found a Crested Tit and there were Black & Griffon Vultures floating about. It was now over 30 degrees and we again decided to return to the Los Pinos for a siesta and go out again later when it had cooled off a little. So late afternoon we headed off to the Rio Jandula for a walk along the river to the watchpoint. It was still quite warm and as we got out the minibus Aileen found another adult Spanish Imperial Eagle (I think she’s a SIE magnet!). I then saw a Hawfinch fly into a tree and partially disappear but managed to find it through the scope but the view wasn’t good through the branches.  We continued along the river to the watchpoint getting fabulous views of Spotted Flycatcher, a pair of Nuthatches and a Hoopoe. At the watchpoint over the river we stood for the rest of the evening getting good views of Red & Fallow Deer on the opposite sierra, with the Red Deer in good voice again! Richard found a Kingfisher on the edge of the river that was really accommodating and everyone got wonderful views through the telescope. This night we were looking to do a late drive so we decided to head back to the Los Pinos for an earlier evening meal. I had opted to walk back to the vehicle and pick everyone else up and on the way back discovered a Little Owl sat on a rock. Thankfully I hadn’t gone far and was able to alert the rest to its presence, and it stayed there to ‘wow the crowds’ while I carried on.  A little later we were all safely back at the accommodation and soon after that sat waiting for another excellent evening meal.  As the meals were consumed and the wine drank the enthusiasm for a night drive waned somewhat and in the end it was myself, Richard P, John Tookey and Elizabeth who opted for the excursion. Ironically though it was the views through the telescope of the Moon and Jupiter with four of its moons that were the highlight as the drive itself was pretty disappointing. All we did was drive down to the river again and then along to the end and back with us getting ‘eye-shine’ from deer alone and the brief call of a Tawny Owl. However as we got back to base a mid-sized brown(ish) bird flew off the path and disappeared into the adjacent scrub and I tentatively thought it was a Tawny Owl. When we got out John & I tried to find it with the torch and quickly did, but it wasn’t an owl but a lovely Red necked Nightjar sat on a fence post. We watched it for about 10 minutes before it flew off into the woods making yet another good bird record for this short break and a great end to the day (and night!)

Thursday Sept 23rd :– It was another fairly early breakfast as we wanted to be back at the El Escorial watchpoint in hope of the previous day’s Lynx returning. Sadly the weather had deteriorated during the night and we were greeted with overcast skies and some drizzle. So we set off and along the road stopped for a Mistle Thrush that was sat in a Holm Oak and a cracking mature stag Fallow Deer. A little further we found a small group of Mouflon (wild sheep), which really impressed us, as most of the group hadn’t seen this mammal species previously.  At the viewing area we looked out over the sierra for the next few hours with intermittent showers and lack of Iberian Lynx dampening our spirits. Although the sight of two adult Spanish Imperial Eagles sat on a rock was superb, as was the bellowing Red Deer. In fact listening to Richard H describes how they got themselves into the right position and let rip with their ‘MOO’ conjured quite a mental image. A Southern Grey Shrike was another welcome addition to the list and we got good scope views as it called from the top of a bush, with other things being much the same as the previous day. Around midday we set off back to the hotel and Aileen found a small group of Griffon Vultures circling overhead. A Little Owl sat at the side of the road and we got very good views of a Woodlark singing from an electric wire (in fact I got a recording of it) and a 1st winter Common Redstart. Instead of going straight back to the accommodation I took everyone to the nearby excellent visitor centre where we spent a few minutes looking round the exhibits. Returning to the minibus Aileen and Jane saw yet another Spanish Imperial Eagle (told you she was an SIE magnet!) drift overhead, they have been such a good feature of the break. Back at the Los Pinos – Ramon (the owner) very kindly let us have our bocadillos in the bar area and supplemented this with olives, dessert and alcoholic drinks (we should have done this every day!). Afterwards we went our separate ways for a welcome siesta agreeing to meet again two hours later, but by now the rain had got worse and was quite heavy. Mid-afternoon we gathered again at the vehicle and the rain had thankfully stopped so we drove the very short distance to the Al Pelegrinos watchpoint where we spent an hour searching the surrounding terrain. It was fairly quiet but we did see a few things with John Tookey finding a Northern Wheatear on a distant hillside, plus a male Blue Rock Thrush, Booted Eagle, Kestrel and a Common Swift amongst the ubiquitous House Martin flocks. So we carried on back to the Jandula River and this time we parked near the old Iron Bridge where in fact we spent some time watching from much to the amazement of the passing motorists. However it is yet another good place and during our stay there we found another adult Spanish Imperial Eagle (crikey it gets around), I picked out a Crag Martin amongst the huge flock of hirundines, which mainly consisted of Barn Swallows and House Martins. A Green Sandpiper invoked some questions on their plumage differences with Common Sandpiper (well done Mr Thorogood with your answer) and 3 Moorhen were found by Richard (not a common species here). Sadly the weather was worsening and by the time we had returned to the minibus it had started to rain quite heavily so we drove up to the watchpoint but viewing was impossible. Just to kill some time I continued on to the dam wall with (eagle-eyed) Aileen seeing the Little Owl again sat on a rock, not an easy feat through a rain-splattered windscreen and miserable conditions. At the dams parking area we again stopped for a while but the rain continued, we did get good views of a Rock Sparrow sat on the overhead power lines but that was all so we opted for an earlier finish and an earlier meet time in the bar (sounded like a good plan to me). So our final night was quite a boozy affair with plenty of beer and wine and Ramon had organised a feast for us with Wild Boar sausage, cured ham, local sheep’s cheese to start followed by a magnificent paella. He then offered a ‘chipito’ to end the night, which was either honey rum or some type of vodka; we didn’t really care by that time and drank a toast to a good few days despite the disappointment of the Lynx. Arrangements were set for the next day’s travels and we eventually retired in good spirits.

Friday Sept 24th :– After a fairly leisurely breakfast we got our things together and loaded the mini-bus with Richard & I seeing a Blackcap in the bushes next to it. We set off and it was quite overcast but before long the cloud gave way to sunshine and it developed into a lovely warm day. The journey to Malaga was notable for a couple of Ravens, Cattle Egret and a few Crested Larks en-route. Although a drinks break at a quaint finca that doubled up as an artefact museum was an intriguing and delightful stop – certainly somewhere I shall visit again. We reached Malaga in very good time and made our way to the mouth of the Guadalhorce River getting fabulous views of 2 Short toed Eagles flying over the San Julian urbanisation. We parked next to the river and collected our lunches then walked to edge of the Med where we sat, watched the sea, enjoyed the warm sunshine and ate our butties! The birds were good off-shore with several Black Terns dip-feeding of the surface, a couple of Gannets added themselves to the bird list and Mediterranean Gulls drifted past in fairly good numbers. After this Richard very kindly agreed to take everyone for a walk on to the reserve while I had a rest in the minibus since I had a 5 hour drive home after leaving everyone at Malaga Airport.  The walk lasted for a couple of hours and they found lots of new species for the trip, making it the most successful yet. During their time John Thorogood found a Black necked Grebe, there was a single White headed Duck, and one massive highlight was a Honey Buzzard that flew over with its commoner cousin. Waders included a Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, 10+ Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. They saw lots of Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls plus 2 Lesser Black backed Gulls, Richard found a Sandwich Tern, and there were a few Common & Little Terns making for a worthwhile stop before heading for the airport. We got there in very good time for their flight and I said my ‘good-byes’ to a wonderful group of friends having enjoyed the short break tremendously despite the disappointment of the Iberian Lynx. Thank you very much to everyone, you are all wonderful people. Until the next time!


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