Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Wolf in N/W Spain

3rd - 7th April 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

Thursday 3rd April :- I arrived at Valladolid Airport in plenty of time to meet everyone, quickly making the acquaintance of Doug & Marian who had been staying in the city overnight, then Dan, Caroline and Edd followed shortly by Graham and Agi who had also been staying in Valladolid for a few days. We loaded the mini-bus and soon got on our way to the Sierra de la Culebra finding Booted Eagle, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Raven, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws en-route. By mid afternoon we arrived at the exquisite Casa Rural La Veniata run by our illustrious host, Antonio, who had both our rooms and our lunch all ready for us. A little later repleat and rested we drove a short way for a walk along a forest track, having first noted the birds in the hostel garden included Crested, Great & Blue Tit, Blackcaps, Black Redstart, Robin and Swallows. The walk was easy providing just a few birds including 2 Short toed Eagles, Peregrine Falcon, Dartford Warblers, Rock Bunting, Coal Tit and Siskins. We returned to the guesthouse and got ready for our evening vigil looking for Iberian Wolf. An hour before dusk, we again drove the short journey to the known watchpoint, and from here we met another English couple John & Pam, together we carefully searched the surrounding plantation and moorland. We found a few Red & Roe Deer before Doug said, ‘I think I have got one’ and sure enough there were actually 2 Iberian Wolves. We watched them, enthralled for about 15 minutes as they made their way slowly through the heather, what a privilege to be able to watch these rare animals so well. Once they had disappeared, it was huge smiles all round and major relief from ’yours truly’ - we had been successful on our first outing. We remained there until dusk finding a few more deer and a distant Wild Boar but the topic of conversation was all about the wolves. Back at the hostel, we enjoyed a fantastic meal and discussed the following few days.

Friday 4th April :- An early rise found us back at the wolf watchpoint hoping for another sighting but unfortunately not although we did get to see 2 Red Deer Stags locking antlers in a playful type of rutting. The birds were good with Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wood Pigeons, White Wagtail, Blackbird, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks, Dartford Warblers, a male Northern Wheatear, Raven, Magpie, Siskins and Rock Buntings. We returned for breakfast and met up with my friend Mick Vivian who had driven through from Madrid, and after breakfast we headed south towards the Duero River on the Portugese border. En-route we found a male Montagu’s Harrier, Red & Black Kites, Common Buzzard, Kestrels, White Storks, Hoopoe, Stonechat, Southern Grey Shrike, Carrion Crows, Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and Serins. As we arrived at our first stop the Pena Rotunda we found a couple of Common Cuckoos followed by our first pair of Egyptian Vultures, and at the parking area a Green Sandpiper flew over, along with a few Crested Larks and Meadow Pipits. We walked to a point overlooking the river and stayed there searching the area finding a few Griffon & Egyptian Vultures, Red legged Partridge, Alpine Swifts, Blue Rock Thrush, Mistle Thrush, a male Sub-alpine Warbler, 2 gorgeous Black eared Wheatears, Red billed Chough, Linnets, a Corn & Rock Buntings. We left and continued south a short way again stopping along the edge of the Duero River to have our lunch, then we walked out to this very impressive gorge finding a very nice male Cirl Bunting on the way. At the view-point, 'eagle-eyed' Agi soon found a Black Stork followed shortly by me finding an adult Golden Eagle. At one point we had the Golden Eagle, 2 Black Storks, Griffon & Egyptian Vultures in the air together. Mick had a probable Peregrine Falcon, we also saw a Short toed Eagle, 10+ Woodlarks, House Martins, Blue Rock Thrush, Woodchat Shrike, Red billed Choughs, Red rumped Swallows and Rock Buntings. It was now late afternoon so we returned to the accommodation and got ready for our evening looking for wolves. An hour around the hostel was productive with a Sand Martin flying through plus Chiffchaff, Blackcaps, Sardinian Warbler, Nuthatch, Jay (found by Graham & Agi ) and Chaffinches. We set off for our last session and as we entered the forest track a large raptor flew, circled and returned to the pine plantation, which was clearly a large female Goshawk. At the watch point we met up again with John & Pam but this time we failed to see any wolves, but we did see a Red Fox plus a few Red & Roe Deer. We returned to the hostel for an excellent meal and later Graham and Agi returned from their night time walk having heard and seen a Tawny Owl.

Saturday 5th April :- Another early start saw us at the wolf watching area before breakfast hoping for another sighting and another gorgeous morning unfolded in front of us with lot’s of deer but not much else. After breakfast we headed off south east in the direction of Villfafila to search the lagoons and fields of this fantastic area. Our first stop was at the Estación de La Tabla, a site of a large Lesser Kestrel colony, and we saw about 30+ of these lovely falcons along with Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black & Red Kites, Little Owl, Rock, Tree & House Sparrows, Black Redstart, Crested Lark and a Hare. We continued and found a lovely male Montagu’s Harrier quartering the fields next to the roads, then at Villacanas we checked the lagoon and found plenty of new birds including Little Grebes, Grey & Purple Herons, White Storks, Gadwall, a male Garganey, Shoveler, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Black winged Stilts, a Redshank, Sand Martins, Stonechat and Goldfinches. Next we visited the reserve at Otero which also held a few more Lesser Kestrels and another Little Owl. On the lagoons we added a few Shelducks, Pintails, Common Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Avocets, Lapwings, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Black tailed Godwit, Greenshank, more Redshanks, Dunlin, Ruff, Lesser Black backed & Black headed Gulls, Rock & House Sparrows. A slow drive around the edge of the lagoon into Villafafila produced lots of Northern Wheatears, Griffon Vulture, Montagu’s Harrier and Crested Larks. Next we visited the lagoons around the reserve but the main ones were dry, however one or two still had some water producing similar species as seen before, but a small stand of trees had Common Redstart, Willow Warblers, Tree Sparrows and nesting Black Kites. However the major highlight was finding our first of 250+ Great Bustards in the nearby agricultural fields. After a while we decided to try more agricultural areas which produced lots more Great Bustards, a few Calandra & Crested Larks, Meadow Pipits and Rock Sparrows. It was now late afternoon so we called at the local hostelry for a welcome drink before heading back to San Pedro de Herreras. That evening after finding a couple of Crossbills, Chiffchaff, Crested Tit and Wren around the gardens of the Veniata, we went to the watchpoint and were again disappointed not to see any wolves. We did get some compensation with a Short toed Eagle sitting on a pine tree and Graham found a Goldcrest during a short walk with Agi. The evening meal was again wonderful and a tribute to this superb accommodation.

Sunday 6th April :- Very sadly only a few of us braved the cold morning as it was another lovely calm early Spring day. At the watchpoint we shuffled around trying to make out the shapes in the early gloom, trying to get our eyes focused, and as the sun rose we found several Red Deer. Then Edd calmly said ‘I’ve got one at the side of the track’ and sure enough there the Iberian Wolf sat about 300 metres away and this was then followed by three more and they were watching us intently. It was surreal as these rare animals eyed us with some indignant concern but they defiantly did not leave, until after several minutes one padded off followed by two others leaving one big male just sitting there. Then into view walked the blonder-coloured wolf definitely seen on the first evening, and these two interacted, left their scent in several places before moving off in the direction the other three had taken. WOW. There were huge smiles all round, especially from Mick who had unfortunately missed them on the first evening. Today was going to be a local day and when we were ready we set off for Villarciervos stopping at a few sites around this excellent area, and at the first stop we found plenty of birds including two pairs of Hen Harriers, Montagu’s Harrier, Short toed Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Woodlarks, Green Woodpecker, Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Linnets and Raven. This was then followed by a piece of good fortune as a further along the road we stopped to look at several Black & Red Kites flying around, I made a quick scan and I couldn’t believe my eyes, a Black shouldered Kite sitting on a tree. This was fantastic and as we stayed there watching this rare raptor we found 2 Southern Grey Shrikes, Common Buzzard, Griffon Vultures, several Siskins and a few Crossbills. It was now lunchtime so we headed back to La Veniata for another superb meal, and this was followed by everyone ‘doing their thing’ which proved to be interesting as Graham and Agi saw our only Short toed Treecreeper of the trip, Mick found a few Firecrests, Edd found a Schreiber's Green Lizard and I saw a Grey Wagtail fly over proving how productive the area around the village could be. That evening we set out for the last time to the watchpoint but unfortunately there were no wolves, although Geoff & Julia who were also staying in the hostal had seen one briefly just before we arrived. However we did get very good views of a family of Wild Boar as they made their way along the rough track not too far away and we saw our usual mix of Dartford Warblers, Dunnocks and Rock Buntings. Our last evening was quite a social affair with Graham and Agi supplying some excellent wine they had bought at Valladolid, and we said our farewells to several of the people staying there as we were leaving early for the airport.

Monday 7th April :- Unfortunately due to the flight time we didn't have time for any wolf or birdwatching that morning so we loaded the minibus, said our goodbyes to our host Antonio and sadly left for the airport. The journey went well and we arrived in good time for everyone's flight back to Britain.


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