Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Wolf in N/W Spain
2nd – 6th November 2009

2nd November : – I flew into Madrid Airport early morning and met everyone at the arrivals gate by mid morning. The party consisted of my father Don, his friends Alex, Trevor and David, plus my good friends Colin & Celia, and from the outset everyone got on really well. We loaded the minibus and soon headed out of Madrid over the Guadarrama Mountains to a coffee stop just beyond the range and now in Castilla y Leon. We continued our journey seeing lots of Red Kites, Common Buzzards and Kestrels along the route as well as a few Mallard, Woodpigeons, Ravens, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies. Things changed a little as we turned off the main highway towards San Pedro de Herrerias where we added a Cormorant and a Jay flew across the road. We did make one stop as a large group of 38 vultures were seen circling over the hillside and closer inspection showed most of them to be Griffons with a few Ravens amongst. At the village we parked up and walked round to the wonderful Centro de Turismo Rural (CTR) Veniata, where we were met by its owner Antonio. Since we had all been up really early I decided we should have a short siesta before going on our first vigil for Iberian Wolf. However a few people couldn’t sleep, with Trevor & David having a young Golden Eagle go over the village and a Black Redstart near the church. Colin and Celia also had a very late departing Tree Pipit and a squashed Fire Salamander!. Later we drove out to our first watching area – Pistas de Linares were we stood until dusk, but only finding plenty of Red Deer and a couple of Roe Deer. Although it was probably the presence of some hunters on the sierra that also made things difficult, thankfully they are not around for the rest of the week.

3rd November – I woke to the calls of Tawny Owl outside and a quick look from the balcony didn’t reveal anything, apart from the fact it was very cold. I joined the others downstairs for a welcome hot drink before leaving for the Pistas de Linares watchpoint. We were a little early and waited for the gloom to lift before setting up our telescopes outside the minibus. Over the next hour and a half we struggled to find much apart from the usual Red Deer and birds included Woodlark (found by Colin), Dartford Warbler, Dunnock, Jay and Woodpigeons. We returned to the hotel for our breakfast, which we were all ready for and very much enjoyed. After breakfast we reconvened at the minibus where Don & I saw a Nuthatch, Blue & Great Tits and a Song Thrush. We then headed out towards the Otero watchpoint and en-route between Villadeciervos and Ferreras de Arriba we found a large number of vultures circling over the hillside. Finding a suitable track we got fairly close to where they were and got some fantastic views of 4 Black & 100+ Griffon Vultures. Also here we found a sub-adult Golden Eagle being constantly mobbed by Ravens, a few Red Kites, Common Buzzard and a Kestrel. Eventually we left and continued on to the watchpoint near Otero de Bodas where we met a seta (mushroom) picker who showed us this incredible specimen found in the woods. At the watchpoint we again looked over the sierra but mammals were scarce, however a couple of Crested Tits, Coal Tits, Short toed Treecreeper and a lovely male Crossbill kept us occupied. We returned to the hotel for an excellent lunch of paella followed by ice cream and afterwards went for a walk from the hotel towards Pistas de Linares. It was quite quiet but Don found a Rock Bunting in the cemetery, I saw a couple of Long tailed Tits and Colin found a very tame Coal Tit fed in the low vegetation just a couple of metres from where we were standing. In fact it was too close for Colin to focus with his 500mm lens!!!. However it was nice to get out and stretch the legs, having spent most of the last two days being driven or just standing. I had decided to try this evening’s watch from Otero but without success with any wolves, although we did see Red & Roe Deer, a couple of Griffon Vultures, Iberian Green Woodpecker, 4 Siskins, Crested Tit, Jay, Carrion Crows and Ravens. So again at dusk we returned to the CTR Veniata where we watched Jupiter and its moons for a while before going inside. It was yet another excellent evening with stories of past birding adventures and Alex’s pathological dislike of Poles & local ladies in Boston!.

4th November – After our early morning cuppa we ventured out to find the wind was still blowing fairly strongly but it also rained some during the night. We quickly got out to Pistas and set up for the morning watch. Initially there was nothing around but soon enough we started to find the deer around the sierra but this was all. Birds included a couple of Bullfinches found by Colin and also Red Kite, Dartford Warbler, Dunnock, and a few Crossbills. A little deflated and (now) hungry we returned to the hotel for breakfast with Colin finding a Greenfinch in the garden. Around 10am we set off from San Pedro seeing 5 Griffon Vultures going over the village, and the route to the outskirts of Villafafila produced at least one Black Vulture, more Griffons, Red Kites, Common Buzzard, Collared Doves, Southern Grey Shrike, Goldfinches & Chaffinches. Just outside Villafafila village we stopped firstly for some Skylarks and a couple of Crested Larks, then a little further for distant shapes in one of the agricultural fields. These were our first Great Bustards, and Trevor was overjoyed since these were the first he had ever seen, although 200+ later he was starting to get a little complacent. Also from here we got brief views of a few Calandra Larks in with the large numbers of Skylarks, a small flock of Linnets and more Goldfinches. We then continued into the town briefly stopping for a good look at a Spotless Starling sat on a roof. Just past the Laguna de Villafafila visitor centre we pulled in to let Celia get out as she wasn’t keen on spending the morning in the mini-bus and wanted to have a good walk. This was certainly something Celia got as the directions I gave her to the deserted village of Otero de Sariegos were rubbish!. However despite this she made it there in good time to meet us for our lunch at the observation hide. So we continued on towards the agricultural fields surrounding the lagoons and started to find more Great Bustards and some Common Cranes but they were also distant. Crested & Skylarks were joined by Meadow Pipits and a couple of Marsh Harriers quartered the area. We then crossed over the road and visited the Revellinos area, which was much more productive as we found several groups of bustards fairly close the tracks enabling some good images to be taken by the photographers in the group (almost everyone actually). This took the rest of the morning and other birds included a couple of Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, a few more Calandra Larks, Stonechat and Linnets. So we headed back to Otero where we met the weary Celia and enjoyed our picnic lunch out of the strong wind, whilst checking a large flock of Grey Lag Geese and a few Lapwings. I found a Little Owl in it’s usual daytime roosting wall and a small flock of Tree Sparrows were seen near the hide along with some Corn Buntings. After lunch we looked at a small body of water just on the reserve and found several species of wildfowl including Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shelduck, along with more Greylag Geese and a good flock of Lapwings. Also here Colin managed to double our wader list by finding a Common Snipe. Trevor was desperate to see some sandgrouse so I decided we should return to the dried lake area where I had seen then previously and as luck would have it 8 Black bellied Sandgrouse flew in front of the minibus and landed out on the salt-marsh. They were in a good position so we walked out to try and get better views and in doing so found a large flock of 200+ Calandra Larks. Unfortunately we flushed the sandgrouse but this time got superb views as they flew around our position, even Colin managed to get a couple of excellent flight shots. Eventually we walked back to the minibus but not before David got to see the Common Cranes closer than the previous time in the morning. We got back to the vehicle and set off slowly hoping to find the sandgrouse again but instead Alex called a Merlin that flashed through but showed very well as it passed the bus. It was now time to leave this superb area and return to the Sierra de Culebra and with the time advancing on we drove straight to Pistas de Linares for the evening session. This produced the usual subjects much like the previous days and a little disappointing after such a good day out in the field.

5th November – Again we braved the conditions and went out to the local watchpoint but things were much the same as the previous days, which was a little disappointing. Today we were heading for Portugal and the Arribes del Duero – the river that creates the border between the two countries. The journey produced the usual Southern Grey Shrikes, Red Kites and Griffon Vultures. Our first stop was at the Ermita (chapel) near Aldeia Nova, which overlooks the Rio Duero as it cuts an impressive gorge between the two borders. It was fairly quiet but the sunshine and scenery alone made it worth the effort, however we did get very good views of Crag Martins, Rock Buntings, Black Redstart, a few Crested Larks and a mixed flock of Serins, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. After this we drove the short distance to Miranda del Duero the main border town in the area where we stopped for a coffee. After this we crossed back over into Spain and headed south to another fantastic watchpoint overlooking the river and its steep sided gorge. We had our picnic lunch here before walking the short journey to the mirador. This produced a few birds including a couple of Thekla Larks amongst the Junipers, more superb views of Griffon Vultures as they drifted over, more Crag Martins and a nice flock of 20+ Red billed Choughs. It was now time to return to San Pedro and on the way back we called in at Flechas where we found a Black shouldered Kite being mobbed by a Magpie. What a way to end a great day’s birding. I the hope of a carcass being left out we headed for the watchpoint between Ferreras and Otero but we found nothing, although Colin did cause a stir by finding a strange pale object near where the carcasses should be. This session was slow with just a few Red Deer and not much else for our trouble, but a Red Fox was a little compensation crossing the road on the way back.

6th November – This was our last chance and with a bit of a tip from Antonio we chanced our arm again at Pistas de Linares but very sadly (especially for me) we failed to find any Iberian Wolves. However Don did very well finding a small party of 5 Wild Boar on the distant sierra followed by a male Hen Harrier, which was being swept along by the strong wind. So soon enough it was time to return for our final breakfast and afterwards, said our goodbyes to Antonio who had been yet again a fantastic host. We drove back down to Madrid seeing quite a few Red Kites and Common Buzzards on the way plus one or two Griffon Vultures. We got to the airport in good time for their flight where I said my fond “farewells”, being very sad after having such a brilliant time with everyone.


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