Thursday, 31 March 2016

Newsletter March 2016.

There are wolves at the end of that rainbow!

Our March tours began straightaway with the arrival of Tim and Ann on 1st March, and both of them were soon engrossed in watching large flocks of great bustards in flight and on parade on the ground, plus a beautiful marsh harrier at Villafafila. Such fascinating avian sights were followed by good otter views en route.  All this before they even reached the hotel!

The next morning (2nd March) dawned misty but it cleared in time for Tim and Ann to appreciate the views from the highest point in the Sierra de la Culebra, namely Pena Mira. Both on their walk up to this fabulous viewpoint and on further walks that morning, fresh wolf scat was found plus some tracks.

This red-rumped swallow seen by Ann,Tim and John at Boya was reported by John and it holds the record for the earliest recorded sighting of this species in Zamora this year, so well done for spotting this early arrival!


March is an exciting month indeed as each week brings yet more migrants into our area and Tim and Ann were our first people with us this year to see the newly-returned Egyptian vultures (three of them) during their day visit to the the Douro Gorge on 3rd March.

Spending a pleasant, sunny day there, Tim, Ann and John enjoyed good views of golden eagles perched on a rock, crag martins and house martins, rock bunting, serin and good close views of griffon vultures.The evening wolfwatch that night gave us good views of red deer but the highlights were a fleeting glimpse of a wild boar crossing the road ahead of our car and a chirpy young Iberian hare which raced along the road in our headlights for several metres, interrupting its familiar speedy loping with an incredibly high jump twisting its rear end with aplomb before landing and bringing truth to the phrase " to hit the ground running."
Ann and Tim at the river which is the border between Spain and Portugal.

Dear Margaret and John,

Thank you so much for giving us such an amazing experience of life in Sierra de Culebra.  We had such a good time....  What we loved was being outdoors in such beautiful and remote surroundings , walking in the hills and valleys and learning what life is like in that area.
We saw some wonderful birds too, and of course the little Iberian hare was an added bonus!
                                                                             Ann and Tim. March 2016.

Black vulture was seen by all as they made their way back to Madrid, a wonderful capital city and a notable contrast to the old villages explored merely a few hours earlier where the livestock housed below heat the living quarters above, and where the pace of life could be from generations ago not just a few hours away.

Cuckoo calls and skylark sounds are commonplace now at the end of the month,but our first call of the common cuckoo was heard on the morning of March 18th, whilst I was able to hear the unusual, insistent spring call of the great spotted cuckoo on the morning of 22nd March here in Cional.

Colin and Mike from Scotland are becoming members of the Returning Regulars Club, and John and I always enjoy their company and companionship.  Arriving on 18th, both Colin and Mike saw a group of 4 wolves at long distance as they raced through the heather ( the wolves, not Colin and Mike!) on their first day  and once again their appetite was whetted for yet better, closer views. They decided to take John's advice and for the next few days concentrated at a site where the vista is not so panoramic, but if granted a view of wolf, it could be closer. Friends Roberto, Jose and Inaki had seen wolves here on 20th March, but Colin's and Mike's determination and patience was tested almost to surrender point.  However, they were rewarded, at 07:02 on their last morning watch en route to Madrid airport, with good, clear views of a lone wolf loping across a nearby field.

"We had a great time as we always do in Culebra. It's always fine margins which adds to the excitement. If we hadn’t happened to be looking in the right direction ... or if we had arrived ...30 seconds later…. But that’s part of  the fun of it.

I hope you keep enjoying your Spanish lives. We appreciate your enthusiasm and your generosity with all that fabulous knowledge you have built up over the years. Its truly inspiring what you do but I’m quite sure its not always sunshine and wolves. We could see the hard work that lies behind it all." 
                                                                                        Colin. March 2016.

During a cold, Easter weekend, such tales of "it ain't over until..." were parried about as Gavin joined us to try to see wolves.  Through cold winds, heavy rain and general chilly air, Gavin kept on looking and his positivity is to be commended. And it reaped rewards! Having tried to see wolf in other parts of the world, Gavin was treated here to a long sighting of three wolves interacting from 08:30/09:30 on his final wolfwatch on the morning of March 28th, again, like Colin and Mike, just before packing up and setting off back to Madrid airport!
Seen them! It was worth it!


John's videos of these three wolves also show the weather conditions on the Easter Monday morning, but John and Gavin were more than delighted with the rewards of their efforts. 


Previous to this sighting, Gavin and John had spotted good examples of wolf tracks and fresh scat, and the increasing number of summer migrants appearing meant that Gavin managed to see several very interesting bird species which included black vulture, griffon vulture, azure-winged magpie, great white egret, hen harrier, marsh harrier, lesser kestrel, corn bunting, rock bunting, avocet, shelduck, shoveller, short-toed treecreeper, hoopoe, corn bunting, firecrest, nuthatch, red kite, black kite, short-toed eagle,

skylark, black-winged kite, rock sparrow, Dartford warbler, golden eagle, blue rock thrush, Alpine swift, crag martin, red-billed chough, sand martin, house martin plus about 400 great bustards.  These are merely a selection! 

During times tracking,John and Gavin also spotted red deer, roe deer, Iberian water frog, fox, Iberian hare and two voles crossing the road in our headlights as we returned to enjoy dinner with other enthusiasts at our hotel.

Here we have John's video of a lively firecrest spotted when out tracking with Gavin.


The journey back to the airport gave Gavin and John excellent views of black-winged stilt and gull-billed tern plus large numbers of ardent great bustards in full lek, as seen here in John's video.

I shall finish this March Newsletter with another of John's videos from this month, simply because it is a beautiful scene of a white stork wading in the river by our nearby clapper bridge amidst spring blossom, hopefully finding a frog or two!


Margaret. ( All photos and videos taken in the wild by John during this month March 2016.)

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Newsletter February 2016

Newsletter February 2016.

February has given us some wonderful blue skies and cold clear days, as can be seen in this video of young red deer on a very frosty early February morning.


However, there was warmth in the sunshine during daylight hours and John and I were surprised to see an Iberian wall lizard out sunning on our stone walls as early as February 4th. The relative warmth of that day also brought out various caterpillars and millipedes.  Our first wolves of the month were seen on the morning of February 6th; watch them as they feed on a recently dead red deer.

 The closest lupine encounter this month was on 13th February at 17:30 as John was battling against a strong head wind while attempting to walk our dog Sheeba, just outside our village of Cional.  A roe deer sped across the road just in front of John in obvious panic, and John didn't need to look far to see the reason - a lone wolf on the prowl and loping across the sandy soil into the heather 200 metres away.

On the first morning of Roger and Silvia's tour, indeed on the car journey from the airport to our base here in the Sierra de la Culebra, John was able to show them both several great bustards and they were all delighted to watch otter during a stop en route. The next day (17th) gave everyone a good view of Iberian hare and then two foxes during the morning watch, plus large numbers of red deer stags and hinds at all watches.At one time we were all able to watch three red deer with two roe deer also in our scopes,thereby clearly highlighting the differences between these two species.

Scenes such as this almond blossom against a clear blue sky

gave Roger and Silvia some clear but cold morning wolfwatches

where they spotted badger tracks recently made in the morning's snowfall.

Roger and Silvia were ready to warm up by the log fire each breakfast time back at the hotel!

This month of February has given us interesting morning bird song and we have welcomed back several migrants already.  Crossbills were seen on 11th February and Roger and Silvia also enjoyed seeing them on 18th February along with rock bunting,great spotted woodpecker, Iberian green woodpecker and short-toed treecreeper mostly seen while walking some of the tracks. They also heard a nuthatch and indeed, from Roger's clear description of an encounter in the wood just behind the hotel, it is very likely that he was watching a wildcat on the morning of 20th February.

"John was such a star looking after us so well.
Thank you so much for a wonderful experience." 
                                                                Roger and Silvia.Feb 2016.

During their trip to the Douro gorge, John, Roger and Silvia were interested to see house martins as well as the more familiar crag martins, at the dam at Miranda de Douro, along with Iberian grey shrike and stonechat also seen on that day(19th February).Larger birds seen during their visit to the gorge sites included common buzzard, griffin vultures at close quarters and a spectacular sight of two golden eagles,a male and a female,with the male performing several displaying dives to entrance his potential mate. 

Another interesting raptor spotted during Roger and Silvia's final watch on the morning of 20th February, was a peregrine falcon perched on the crag behind us.

No-one recognised this apha male as John chose a very relevant costume for the Carnaval weekend at Villanueva del Valrojo in early February! During the day many people enjoyed the sound of the traditional piper playing in Otra Cosa.


Alan and Jacqueline thoroughly enjoyed close views of many great bustards both on land and in flight as they travelled from Madrid to our base here in the Sierra de la Culebra.  They also saw shoveller, grey heron, great egret and little egret plus marsh harrier; not a bad start to their tour!


It was dark by the time we were driving along the road to the hotel, but it was exciting to catch the shine of deer eyes in the dark, plus a young Iberian hare which ran alongside the car for several yards and was clearly visible in the headlights. Despite their first day (26th February) being decidedly wet, Alan and Jacqueline were very lucky to see several interesting bird species at close quarters while walking around some of the quaint,working villages near their hotel. These bird sightings included our first hoopoe of 2016,  with snow falling,

, video

Iberian grey shrike,



white stork,

rock bunting, Iberian chiff-chaff, serin, siskin, common buzzard, raven, white wagtail, grey wagtail, black redstart, red kite and a memorable sight of a sparrowhawk taking off with its freshly captured prey, possibly an unfortunate chaffinch. 

During that evening's cold wolfwatch, we took notice of a grand stag who posed proudly as if totally aware of his beauty and his incredible headgear until, just as dusk was falling, Jacqueline wondered what the moving, large dark shape was caught in her telescope.  It was a wild boar and we were all able to watch  as this large male trotted fairly rapidly through the short, yellowing grasses, to be eventually lost owing to poor light and heavier undergrowth.

The next morning started well with good views of marsh harrier and indeed a wolf was seen, albeit fleetingly, by the ranger on the evening's wolfwatch. Ravens were able to be seen and heard along with good views of red deer and three roe deer.

This proved to be a wonderful day along the Douro gorge with excellent views of blue rock thrush at the dam at Miranda. 


The golden eagle pair were still involved in display flights... a joy to watch at such close quarters During this video taken by John you can see the golden eagle twisting its head from side to side before speeding down out of sight in a dramatic display dive. Such a great day of memorable moments finished off that evening with good views of black-shouldered kite both in flight and roosting.


The journey back to Madrid airport on 29th February gave Jacqueline superb views of three black vultures which provided a cyclical satisfaction to the whole tour; on the original trip away from Madrid airport 5 days ago, Jacqueline had missed seeing black vulture which John and Alan noticed. This time, no-one missed out on a good view of such an impressive bird.

"I just wanted to thank you again for a wonderful weekend, I hope we can do it again sometime"
                                                       Alan and Jacqueline. Feb2016


 ( All photos and videos taken by John during this month of February 2016 in the Sierra de la Culebra)

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Newsletter January 2016

Newsletter January 2016.

This first month of 2016 has given most of Europe some atypical weather patterns and certainly here in the Sierra de la Culebra January has continued with predominantly misty, mild weather - not the norm for this time of year.  Such conditions have thankfully been punctuated with more typical bright, cold spells and this month there have been some wonderful wildlife moments to share with you here.

    One bright day early in this month John and I were privileged to watch a golden eagle soar just above our heads as it crossed from the Sierra de Cabrera towards Pena Mira.


The white storks have returned safely to their traditional nesting sites in many of the villages around here, including these birds settling onto their impressive nests at the church at Villardeciervos. The village streets resound to the sounds of these birds bill-clacking as part of their display and greeting behaviour.

We have enjoyed regular sightings of black-winged kite in this area throughout the winter months and the exciting news is that this most attractive of species seems to be on the increase in this area. In this video taken by John in the early days of this month,we can watch a black-winged kite preening itself after the early morning mist and dampness has dispelled.


The milder weather has promoted territorial and breeding behaviour amongst many of the species to be observed here, including this Iberian grey shrike which was caught in song by John mid-January.

Driving between Villardeciervos and our home village of Cional on 22nd January, John thought he saw a movement in the still waters of the embalse and immediately drew up to investigate. Not just one, but two, otters and they continued to cavort and mate in the water giving John this fabulous opportunity to film their behaviour. At first sight, there only seems to be the male otter in the water here, but watch as the bubbles appear, indicating the presence of the female below. Later into the filming, they both emerge to swim back to the bank together.

John has continued to follow the activities of the pack of 8 wolves mentioned in this  blog on January 1st and he has also charted movements of individual wolves throughout the month despite some pretty adverse viewing conditions. On a crisp January morning John was able to film this lovely view of stags in the nearby heather, which is already beginning to show signs of flowering. The stags are still sporting their antlers which they will lose in March.


John was delighted to accept the request to give two talks to the children in the school at Tabara earlier this week. The children ranged in age from 3 to 15, but were all equally transfixed during the talks and presented John with intelligent questions after each session which demonstrated that they had understood John's particular brand of "Spanglish". I am unsure however, just who they thought he actually was, judging by the number of autographs he had to sign that morning! The pupils were interested and polite,proving to be a credit to the staff at this excellent school.

One bright, showery day we enjoyed exploring the mixed forest of this area which has remained more or less unchanged for generations. Here I am beside one of the majestic cork oaks which still are used today to help in our enjoyment of wine from throughout the world. 

Margaret H. January 2016. ( All photos and videos in this Newsletter are taken by John.)

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year! The Full Pack in playful mood.

On a bright Christmas day morning, John was able to film the whole pack of 8 for several minutes, alpha male and female and their playful sub-adults and last summer's cubs. An amazing opportunity to see these creatures in totally natural, wild surroundings!

What a fantastic Christmas present! Long may these wolves roam free and wild in the Sierra de la Culebra.

Margaret  01.01.2016.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Christmas Greetings!

Christmas Greetings!

Everyone is busy at this time of year, but I hope you can find time to view this previously unseen video from one of John's successful pieces of filming this month. It is a fascinating piece, showing the wariness of one of the two wild wolves in particular, even when hungry and faced with the real prospect of food!

We have enjoyed seeing and filming wolves every month of this year, and hope that we can continue to share these wonderful Wild Wolf Experiences with you throughout 2016.

                                        Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, 23 November 2015

A Wintery Wolf Scene.


This morning was a beautiful crisp,clear frosty morning and John was lucky to film this magnificent alpha male wolf for several minutes as it crossed an area of low grassland on the hunt! This wolf looks to be in magnificent condition with a full winter coat. A very large example of Iberian Grey Wolf...fantastic!


 Well worth the early, cool start this morning, 23rd November.        Margaret, 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Newsletter October 2015

Newsletter October 2015

Bright days of sunshine and blue skies have been punctuated by some lengthy periods of heavy rain and mist this month, so we were delighted when the rain stopped and the sun broke through on the afternoon of 6th October as Jane stepped off the train from Madrid at the picturesque station of Puebla de Sanabria. Throughout her time with us the sun shone and it was perfect walking and viewing weather and Jane enjoyed watching the magnificent stags in particular.  It was ironic that the one morning, 9th, that Jane decided to stay abed was the very morning when John and Wil were able to watch a wolf for upwards of 1 1/2 hours from 09:30 to 11:00 but as we all know sometimes to your cost, you've got to be there to see anything there!

Richard and Ros had their first wolf-watch on the morning of 17th October and a lot of activity could be seen and heard from their viewpoint as they began to accustom themselves to telescopes and the terrain. About forty red deer were active in the valley with stags bellowing their message of supremacy through the early morning mist and three roe deer were spotted too. This timeless autumn activity was repeated during the evening watch where we enjoyed watching young stags sparring in between bouts of wet weather.

A walk around the village brought evidence of wild boar rooting and wolf scat was seen on the outskirts. Birds spotted included red kite, common buzzard, jay, robin and nuthatch. The next day, further village walks were explored in rather wet conditions and Richard, Ros and John were interested to watch the circling of eight griffon vultures.

The trunks of the ancient sweet chestnut trees were a study in texture.

Dartford warbler was both seen and heard and the weather did not really improve, merely settling into a damp mist for our evening wolf-watch. It certainly lent an even greater sense of timelessness as we listened to the primeval sounds of the rutting stags around us; sounds which have echoed across these valleys since time immemorial. However, there was visual excitement too as at 19:40 we all managed to watch four large wild boar,looking very dark in these conditions,parrying playfully together for several minutes. They were clearly visible despite the poor light and it was exciting to watch them running, then stopping,locking heads for a few seconds, then jumping and scurrying further along the track.

A good view of black-winged kite, one of three this tour,started off a superb day for bird viewing on 19th October where so many species new to Richard and Ros were seen I can only pick out a few. Richard has the full list of what amounted to 30+ new birds for them.

By the Rio Esla there were stunning views of an obliging kingfisher, plus gadwall and great white egret and when John, Richard and Ros moved on to Villafafila they were treated to fabulous views of hundreds of elegant cranes and of course, the tremendous great bustards. Both species were closely observed feeding and in flight.

This great bustard was enjoying a good scratch!


Griffon vulture, hen harrier, marsh harrier, raven, red kite and black kite were amongst other fabulous birds spotted today in clearer conditions. However, the evening wolf-watch was once again very wet and although we were able to watch red deer for a while, these were difficult viewing conditions. But, difficult viewing conditions meant ideal conditions for salamander spotting and a tremendous day culminated with Richard, Ros, John and I closely watching a large fire salamander as it made its characteristic earnest strides towards a nearby wall, a potential source for winter seclusion.

A perfect specimen, we were able to observe the red dorsal line running between the yellow patches as it endeavored to find a hole in the wall large enough for this sizable example of a fabulous little amphibian.

En route to Portugal, Richard and Ros were appreciative of the welcome at the pottery workshop where Ros watched some pots being made with skill and accuracy.

The visit to the stunning Douro gorge gave up views of two golden eagles and plenty of griffon vultures against breathtaking backdrops, but even more exciting was the find en route of a kill with a large Mastine present accompanied/pestered byover a hundred griffon vultures and 20+ red kites, hovering around for their portion of the red meat. I have already featured some wonderful photographs and video from this encounter on our Wild Wolf Experience Facebook page and I urge you to look at these; they are  truly amazing!


I make no apologies for attaching another photo and a different video of this memorable scene witnessed here in the Sierra de la Culebra.

At the end of the month we welcomed Eva back with her partner Matt. Eva had seen wolf with us before in January 2015 but this was to be Matt's first attempt. In changeable weather conditions, we tried morning and night, and after three days we had seen several red deer, roe deer and some distant wild boar, but the wolf presence was eluding us.  However, as a real climax to their visit, in the last ten minutes of reasonable light on their last evening's wolf watch,

Matt whispered that he could see not one but two wolves!



In fact, three wolves were seen that evening and we were delighted at such a finish when both Eva and Matt had never missed a watch despite fairly strong downpours  John was able to video these three wolves and I attach two of his videos above.The wolf at the top of this Newsletter is also from this view, being the darker, third wolf  seen.. What a wonderful finish to the month!

"Dear Margaret and John

....We really enjoyed our wild wolf experience... and the tours of the regional villages which we found absolutely fascinating.  Thank you also for your company and the stimulating conversations.

Very best

Ros + Richard"

(All photos and videos taken in this Newsletter were taken by John here in the Sierra de la Culebra. All taken in the wild.)