Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Iberian Wolf in N/W Spain

24th - 28th September 2009

Trip Report by Julian Sykes

Thursday 24th September :- My day dawned in Madrid and I was soon on the road to Santander where I was meeting Ian, Dylan (of Planet Whale) and their group who had been cetacean watching over the Bay of Biscay. Apparently the whales and dolphins had been poor with a single Fin and a few Pilot Whales but the seabirds involved Great, Cory’s & Sooty Shearwaters, Great Skuas, Yellow Wagtail and a Robin on the boat. We were hiring a second minibus for the 13 strong group which (as usual) took some time but eventually we were heading out of town towards Palencia. The journey through the eastern Cantabrian Mountains was very scenic and produced a few Common Buzzards and a couple of Black Kites until we stopped just outside Reinosa for our picnic lunch. This was an excellent place producing many raptors including a migrating Osprey, Short toed Eagle, Griffon Vultures, more Common Buzzards, Kestrel, Ravens, White Wagtails, Goldfinches and a Willow Warbler, plus Adonis Blue, Clouded Yellow & Small White butterflies. The excellent lunch, glorious sunshine and the classic montane backdrop made for a great start to the land-based portion of the holiday. We now had a long journey ahead to the Sierra de Culebra so we set off and travelled through the miles and miles of cereal fields seeing yet more Common Buzzards, Ravens, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies. A ‘ringtail’ Montagu’s Harrier showed well to the people on the right side of the vans and Crested Larks flew up from the roadside. Eventually we reached our accommodation -  the superb Centro de Turismo Rural (CTR)Veniata in the village of San Pedro de Herrerias, where we were greeted by it’s patron Antonio. Since it was now evening we decided to meet an hour later for drinks before the evening meal but a few people managed a stroll around the village prior to this. This produced a couple of 1st winter Pied Flycatchers, Whinchats, male Black Redstart, Nuthatch, Great & Blue Tits. A Tawny Owl calling outside the hotel completed a very good first day indeed.

Friday 25th September :- It was still dark as we congregated at the minibuses waiting to head off to Pistas de Linares for our first chance of seeing an Iberian Wolf. The light was just starting to filter through as we parked overlooking the sierra and even through the early morning gloom we could see some low lying mist!!!.  The first hour as the sun rose above the hills was fairly quiet apart from a few Dunnocks and a surprising Griffon Vulture, which alighted on some rocks in full view. Red Deer stags could be heard bellowing to one another and eventually a few were found scattered over the viewing area. The light had improved considerably over this wonderful terrain and we started to find our first Dartford Warblers, Carrion Crows and Ravens. I found a 1st winter Rufous tailed Rock Thrush, which was my first for this area and showed extremely well in the morning sun. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called and flew across the valley as did an Iberian Green Woodpecker, Jay, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Black Redstart - things were going well. Then an interesting movement made me go for my scope and there briefly was an Iberian Wolf – but it disappeared before anyone else saw it. I was devastated. We scanned to no avail but a pair of Black Vultures flew over with it’s commoner cousin, the Griffon and landed out on the sierra. Was there a kill?, were there wolves around as the vultures were pensive?. We continued to watch until around 10am and then decided to leave, as breakfast became a necessity. However with half the group in the vans, Mike called “Wolf” and sure enough he had hit the jackpot just down from where he was standing. The obvious panic ensued with people exiting the minibuses like paratroopers from a Hercules plane and tried to get on to the mammal. However it did the decent thing and stayed in the same place long enough for us all to get good scope views before it trotted off into the undergrowth. It was a ‘high 5’s’ moment, including our new Dutch friends who had been there several days and seen nothing. We returned to Veniata full of smiles and relief particularly for yours truly!. As it was now mid-morning breakfast had turned into brunch but no one cared, we had achieved our goal at the first time of asking. During breakfast Dylan explained the rest of the day and how he and Ian were splitting the group and would be going for a walk to try and find evidence of wolf. I was being despatched to the west to check out a ‘Wolf Trap’ in the hills above Lubian. So I spent the rest of the day visiting this site and seeing a couple of Red Kites, Swallow, Cirl & Rock Bunting, plus Grayling, Clouded Yellow and Brimstone butterflies. Then higher on the tops above Lubian I found a Water Pipit, Northern Wheatears, Whinchat, Rock Bunting, Ravens and Common Buzzards. The scenery was superb as the viewpoints looked down on the ‘Laguna de Sanabria’, Spain’s largest glacial lake. I got back to San Pedro in plenty of time to get ready for the evening watch, en-route having a Merlin fly in front of the vehicle. I met up with Dylan who told me of their exploits finding lots of wolf evidence including tracks (a cast was taken), scats and even fur!. So again in high spirits we convened at the minibuses and drove the short journey to Linares, where we set up for our evening vigil. Again many Red Deer, including some very impressive stags were on show, and Ian called a Hobby that flew-past showing really well. We all thought it was Christmas as Ian spotted an Iberian Wolf quite close on the sierra standing and out in the open. This was simply brilliant and over the next hour until dusk we got good views of this animal and probably a second. In fact towards the end of the session we watched as it tugged at a carcass of what we presumed to be a deer. It simply doesn’t get any better, we had been incredibly lucky to get such good views. Eventually we returned to the CTR Veniata and enjoyed another good Spanish meal at this wonderful location. That night a Tawny Owl was seen sat on one of the nearby buildings before disappearing into the night.

Saturday 26th September :- Another fine day dawned over the watchpoint of Pistas de Linares and before breakfast we found the usual suspects of Red & Roe Deer, Black & Griffon Vultures, Woodpigeons, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Wren, Dunnocks, Chiffchaffs, Dartford Warbler, Jay, Crossbills and Linnets. Back in the village of San Pedro we saw a Nuthatch, Black Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher. After breakfast we had decided to visit some of the local areas looking for (particularly) reptiles & amphibians and had some success as we found a cracking female Marbled Newt. Also here Cait saw a Bocage’s Wall Lizard and sadly Dylan pulled out a pristine Schreiber’s Green Lizard that had drowned in one of the water butts. After this we drove out towards Sanabria and up towards the Laguna de Sanabria. We stopped at the impressive visitor centre en-route and while everyone else looked round the exhibits and displays I got the picnic lunch ready. It was now another glorious day, so we enjoyed our rice salad, cheese, bread & fruit in the shade of some Spanish Oaks. While we were there some of us saw a Nuthatch, Great & Blue Tits, plus Gill was lucky to find a Short toed Treecreeper. After lunch we drove slowly up to the mountain-top lake of Laguna de los Peces where we took a slow walk around the edge of the water. We enjoyed many new species in this area, which included Grey Heron, 2 Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Griffon Vultures, a Peregrine Falcon showed over a distant hillside, Meadow Pipits and a close Water Pipit, Dunnocks, Stonechats, Northern Wheatears. Amongst the bushes we found several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, with several Iberian Rock Lizards along the dam wall. We returned to San Pedro with enough time for a siesta or relax before the evening vigil, which was actually fairly quiet seeing much the same things as the morning’s visit.

Sunday 27th September :- As we were going to Villafafila and we were concerned about the heat on the plains, we decided to forego the early start looking for wolf. Instead we had an earlier breakfast and set off south east stopping en-route for several Red Kites, Black Kite and a Southern Grey Shrike. However a fleeting glimpse of a small raptor had Ian and I pulling into the side of the road, knowing we had seen something potentially good. Then it appeared again and confirmed our suspicions that we had found a Black shouldered Kite. We watched it as it flew a short distance and alighted on an electric cable, so we found a track and got nearer to where it was. Here we spent quite some time watching this lovely and rare raptor through the telescopes, then a second one appeared confirming there was a pair in the area. Eventually we continued on to Villafafila and immediately headed out to the tracks around the extensive agricultural fields in this area. Our first stop was quite productive.



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