Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Wolf in N/W Spain

17th - 21st April 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

Thursday 17th April :- The flight into Madrid was on time and Chris, Liz and myself headed north-west to Castilla y Leon. The journey was notable for it’s raptors including Booted Eagle, Griffon Vultures, Black & Red Kites plus other typical roadside birds such as Crested Larks, Spotless Starlings, White Storks, Magpies and Carrion Crows. As we neared our destination the weather got worse and resulted in persistent heavy rain, but at the hostal we received our usual welcome from Antonio. After a settling in period we made a fruitless visit to the Wolf viewing area but there was nothing moving at all due to the inclement weather so we returned to the guesthouse for a welcome drink and a fantastic evening meal.

Friday 18th April :- Unfortunately the forecast was correct and weather was once again high winds and heavy rain, however we still braved the elements at dawn and ‘chanced our arm’ at the wolf watching site. Inevitably it was not to be but we did see 2 gorgeous Rock Buntings just a couple of metres from the car, so we soon returned to the ‘casa Rural’ for our breakfast and within the grounds we found Crested, Blue & Great Tits, Blackcaps, Black Redstart and Blackbird, we hoped the 'black' warramasn’t a sign of things to come!. After breakfast we set off for Villafafila and en-route we had good views of Montagu’s, Hen & Marsh Harriers, Red Kite and Griffon Vultures, and our first stop was at Estación de Las Tablas where we found 20+ Lesser Kestrels around the derelict buildings but little else. We continued through the extensive cereal fields stopping at the pools at Villacarrin and doing rather better with several Gull-billed Terns, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Shelduck, Little Grebes, Black winged Stilts, Common Coots along with Black Kites, Lesser Kestrels and Swallows. We then visited the Villafafila Lagoons and their visitor centre which was good for Pintail, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Grey lag Goose, Peregrine Falcon, Black tailed Godwit, Avocets, Redshanks, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Black headed & Lesser Black backed Gulls, Northern Wheatears, Hoopoe, Crested & Skylarks, White & Yellow Wagtails. After lunch we spent most of the afternoon driving the tracks of the local agricultural fields with Great Bustards everywhere and we saw at least 200 of these fabulous birds, making this is far and away the best place in Spain to see this species along with Stone Curlews, White Storks, Calandra & Crested Larks, Linnets, Corn Buntings and Montagu’s Harrier. It was now time to make our way back to San Pedro and the return journey produced an Iberian Green Woodpecker, Stonechat and Southern Grey Shrike, then after a good rest we went out again to look for Iberian Wolf but the weather was still awful, we did however manage to find a couple of Wild Boar and several Red Deer, our first mammals of the break.

Saturday 19th April :- Unbelievably the weather had got worse and it looked likely to continue that way for the rest of the day and how I felt sorry for Chris & Liz. Doggedly we still made the effort at dawn but it was aborted not too long after arriving, and making the best of a bad day is not easy but I decided on a visit to very scenic Lago de Sanabria. We arrived at the tree-lined car park on the edge of this huge lake while it still teemed but watched from the shelter of a nearby verandah, finding a few Great Crested Grebes on the lake, Jay, Robin, Chaffinches and Great Tits amongst the trees. Eventually we drove higher up the mountain seeing more Jays and several Rock Buntings on the way and high above San Martin the rain turned into snow so near the top we turned around not before discovering 2 Water Pipits and a large flock of Skylarks. After a coffee in San Martin we returned to the La Veniata following a short stop in the lovely village of Puerte de Sanabria, back at the hostel the weather seemed to be improving and we started seeing a few raptor species with Red & Black Kites both on the wing. After a fantastic lunch which was followed by a short walk around the local area, which was fairly successful as the birds were quite active in the improving weather and we saw Nuthatches, Firecrests, Crested, Coal, Great & Blue Tits, Mistle Thrush, Jays, Cuckoo, Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Serin, Chaffinches and Rock Bunting. Unfortunately the rains returned so we made our to the viewing area but with heavy showers we weren’t that optimistic. Then while sitting in the car during one such deluge I saw another person jump out of their car and look into the gloom intently - the alarm bells rang and we also scanned the area  carefully. I found it, a lone Iberian Wolf was moving slowly through the heather and very fortunately it was quite close. I managed to get Chris & Liz on to the wolf and we watched as it worked it’s way towards a small conifer plantation where it disappeared. Chris & Liz were elated, as was I, incredibly we had got good views in aweful weather, we had been very lucky indeed as our host Antonia was quick to point out.

Sunday 20th April :- The foul weather continued but yet again Chris and I ventured out to look for the wolves, none were forthcoming but we did see a fine Red Deer stag plus Dunnock, Dartford Warbler and a calling Iberian Green Woodpecker. During breakfast around La Veniata we saw a pair of Short toed Treecreepers, 4 Crested, a Coal, Great & Blue Tits, Blackcaps, Robin, Wren and Black Redstart. Our birdwatching excursion today was to Arribes del Duero situated right on the Portugese border, and the weather steadily improved as we headed south as did the birds with Little Grebe, White Storks, Red & Black Kites, Egyptian Vulture, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, several Common Cuckoos (sitting on wires), Hoopoe, Crested Larks, Sand & House Martins, Swallows, Mistle Thrush, Southern Grey & Woodchat Shrikes, Jay, Magpie, Chaffinches, Serin, Greenfinches and Corn Buntings. At the first watchpoint we spent some time enjoying the raptors which were now on show including a pair of Golden Eagles, a few Booted Eagles, Griffon & Egyptian Vultures, Black Kites and Kestrels, plus Woodlarks, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martins, Bee-eaters flying over, singing Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler and more point blank views of Rock Buntings. It was now time for lunch so we headed to Portugal and the border town of Miranda, then after lunch we stopped off at the River Duero border spending an hour enjoying more good birds such as an adult Bonelli’s Eagle, Black Kite, Crag Martins, more Nightingales and a very showy Sub-alpine Warbler. Eventually we left and returned Spain slowly making our way back to San Pedro, stopping en-route for a close Short toed Eagle (our fourth Eagle species of the day), Montagu’s Harrier and lots more commoner raptor species. We arrived back late afternoon but with plenty of time for a relax before our final try at the watchpoint while we sat around watching the garden's trees we found Wrens, Blackcaps, Black Redstart, Blue, Great, Coal & Crested Tits, Nuthatches, Jay, Chaffinches and Serins. Although the weather had greatly improved it was still a fairly quiet evening with a few Red Deer showing very well, along with Dartford Warblers, Rock Bunting, Dunnock and a Raven

Monday 21st April :- With an early afternoon flight it gave us chance for a relaxed start and for me one of the highlights of my stay, as I opened the shutters on a (ironically) glorious morning a bird flew into the tree opposite the window and sat there picking insects from the branch. It was a Wryneck, what a great privilege to see one so close and shows the quality of the local environment. We sadly left for Madrid Airport and en-route we encountered a few good birds including a Black Vulture amongst a few Griffons, Red & Black Kites, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrels, White Storks, Ravens and a lovely male Cirl Bunting. A great end to an interesting weekend that was affected heavily by the unseasonal weather.


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