Thursday 10th May/Friday 11th May..
Cliff, Suretha, John and I enjoyed an 07:00 breakfast in bright sunshine at the Holiday Inn near Madrid Airport, in itself a new experience for all four of us before departing for Extremadura for a few days birding "en route" to Sierra de Andujar. Although well provided with big cats in their native South Africa, Cliff and Suretha were very keen to see this most elusive of wild cats, the Iberian Lynx, and made it quite clear that this creature was the over-riding reason for their journey. Hmmm, no pressure there then! Very experienced wildlife watchers themselves, Cliff and Suretha acknowledged the unpredictability of wildlife watching but as always John and I resolved to do our best. I am not prepared to allow the Spotless Starlings seen by Cliff on the scrubland outside the hotel on his arrival last night as being first birds of the trip , so the soaring Barn Swallows and Swifts will be counted as our premier sights. Negotiating the Madrid traffic to get out of the conurbation , Magpies, Spotless Starling and Red-legged Partridge were spotted by the roadside.
Once out of the general rush, we were soon courted by Black Kite, Common Buzzard and aptly named Swifts. A foolish Goldfinch was trying to cross the A5 with Crested Lark also on the road. Barn Swallow, Black Kite and White Stork were seen flying over the road at El Casas de Escalone; the Storks obviously aiming for their nest of young perched atop a high chimney. We turned towards a horizon of snow-capped mountains to be delighted by 2 Black-shouldered Kites hunting close to the roadside.
Today we were aiming for Extremadura, not a usual stop en route for Wild Wolf Experience, but as Cliff and Suretha had travelled so far they wanted to make the most of their Spanish expedition so we were staying in this most scenic area, confident of good raptor and other birdlife sights.
The road to the Tietar Cliffs showed water levels to be very low and we saw 3 Grey Heron plus a Great Egret standing in shallow water which was populated by hundreds of fish stranded in drying pools, or even worse left to die on the river side as the waters evaporated even further. The spectacle of so many fish throwing themselves onto the bankside in a suicidal mission to get some oxygen and fresh water supply was totally new for us all and the birds, full of their fish supper, joined with the Terrapins and a Red Deer Hind which was cooling off in the river, to studiously ignore all this action. An Egyptian Vulture scanned from above as we continued towards the cliff viewpoint hearing the plummy tones of Golden Oriole.
Our one full day in Extremadura began before breakfast as we started on our search for Great and Little Bustard and by 7:23, as well as a Pied Flycatcher, Cliff had spotted a Great Bustard in flight. Several Red-legged Partridge tried to masquerade as Little Bustards by the roadside and although we were not taken in by these activities, they did just mean an occasional double-take as we travelled along a road of open dry grassland, ideal Bustard country. We were not to be disappointed...under a sky with a little more welcome cloud cover, Cliff caught sight of a Little Bustard in full display mode, puffing up,jumping footstamping and wing flashing in an attempt to attract some female attention. Some suitably uninterested females were to be seen getting on with their lives whilst this male specimen continued puffing and jumping, much to our appreciation at least.
What a day!!! Certainly a successful one by unanimous opinion, and full of lifetime memories in such spectacular, natural surroundings...but the main purpose for our tour beckons...our search for the Iberian Lynx.
Saturday 12th May.
The road to Caceres displayed exactly why this Extremadura is quite unmatched by any other area of Spain, indeed in Europe, for number of raptors. Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Montague's Harrier and Black Kite all came clearly into view as the temperature rose to 33'C. Azure-winged Magpie, Corn Bunting, Raven, Mistle Thrush, Stonechat, Red-legged Partridge, Southern Grey Shrike, Bee-eater, Calandra Lark displaying, Spotless Starling, Jackdaw, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Rock Thrush, Hoopoe, Roller, Mallard and Crested Lark plus an Iberian Hare all kept our attention riveted on the way to Merida. At Cruce de las Herrerias we watched about 25 Griffon Vultures in the sky as we enjoyed a lunch of freshly- cooked tortilla, with coffee and local hospitality. Spanish Sparrows rested below roofs whilst Alpine and Common Swifts screamed along the sundrenched streets.
As we drove across the Rio Guadalquavir, Cliff and Suretha were overwhelmed by the size of the plains surrounding the historical city of nearby Cordoba and the sheer acreage of a lynx's territory hit home. Sardinian Warbler and Longtailed Tit were to be seen as we left the town of Andujar to settle in at our hotel amidst Azure-winged Magpies and an overhead Griffon Vulture.
Certainly a lot to talk about over dinner which was chard soup, chicken peas and chips, followed by flan or strawberries.
The sights started early when Cliff spotted a Scop's Owl in the grounds during one of his nocturnal wanders. The morning lynx watch was to be at Encinarejo and we set off at 06:15 on a stunning morning, feeling privileged to be in such a place with an atmosphere of idllyic calm, and already the temperature was warming up. It was predicted to go above yesterday's 38'C,but in this early morning we could just relax to the area alive with chirring, twittering, warbling ...and expectation. At 08:00 we were a little despondent to see a man walk directly across the bridge and into the area we were concentrating on watching from a distance for the previous 90 minutes, and although delighted for him when he came up to us later with photographs of a lynx he had been able to see on this walk, we did wonder if it had scuppered our chances for that morning. By 08:40 the sun was getting stronger, frogs were beginning to croak and we watched a Terrapin relaxing on a rock. Blue Rock Thrush and Iberian Green Woodpecker both flew above us and we also had good views of Crested Tit, Golden Oriole, Subalpine Warbler and Sardinian Warbler. Looking along pathways which were too dry and hard to give up many clues as to any Lynx activity we counted ourselves lucky to find clear, recent footprints and fresh scat, underlining the definite presence of our target.
Our trip to the Information Centre gave us views of Serin, Azure-winged Magpie, Blue Tit, Rock Sparrow and Bee-eater, and we were impressed by the displays in this centre. We resisted the urge to buy lynx souvenirs however, feeling that it may be tempting fate; we all wanted no obstacles in our way to see a lynx.
The afternoon heat hung heavy and we were all tired, so a siesta was decided upon. needless to say, Cliff occupied his time partly with walking on the grounds, spotting some old lynx scat and he saw his Nightingale! He also had good views of a Melodious Warbler, before thunder began to roll.
We decided upon earlier dinner to allow greater flexibility for our evening watch, and we felt recharged after enjoying scrambled egg with sugarsnap peas and ginger, followed by salmon steak with wild rice and vegetables, and rounded off with fresh fruit salad with eucalyptus honey.
Our 19:00 evening watch started well at La Lancha with about 30 Red-billed Choughs flying around our viewpoint and a Spanish Imperial Eagle putting on several soaring shows. Plenty of Red and Fallow Deer and Rabbits were grazing , but the very strong sunlight impeded our viewing until after giving forth one last fierce blast of light, it surrendered to the mountain horizon. A gentle breeze fanned the grasses where we sat and the heat remained but without the former ferocity, for the last hour of our watch. Two hinds ventured out onto the track...why could they not be a Lynx? was the thought in all our minds to be sure. However, in the gathering dusk, as Tawny Pipit flew over us, two Moufflon slowly emerged from the hilltop. Suretha saw another one on a further hillside, so we were exhilarated to have these views.
Monday 14th May.
Our 6:15 start towards Encinerejo saw us in good spirits as the air was slightly fresher and the clear blue sky was punctuated with dots of cloud. Very good viewing conditions indeed and we set up our scopes to the plummy sounds of Golden Oriole and Cuckoo, watching several red deer graze close by us. Huge, slow-moving Carp and Small-mouthed Bass swam in the Rio Jandular as Bee-eater and Iberian Green Woodpecker flew around our site.
We were witness to the awakening of this gentle haven as the warmer air encouraged Frogs, Toads and Terrapins to wake up and warm up Suretha saw her first glimpse of Kingfisher, exciting shaft of electric blue as it whirrs along the river course, and we hoped to get her a better view of this beautiful bird. We presumed one of this duo was sitting on eggs, so our chances were reduced for views of Kingfisher, but we continued to scan and with success. Half an hour later, at 9:15, the Kingfisher flew the length of the river again and Cliff and Suretha were fortunate to see this view as they were checking out further along the riverbank.. We also saw Common Buzzard, Woodchat Shrike and Bee-eater, plus Rock Bunting outside our hotel as we returned ready for breakfast.
After sampling the famed Iberico Ham from the Iberian Black Pigs which feed on the acorns, we still managed to do justice to the tasty dinner of pate, cold meats and salad , with main course of veal and mash. dessert was flan and fresh fruit salad again by popular request. Tension was increasing as Cliff realised how unpredictable these truly wild creatures are and the phrase "needle in a haystack" was mentioned as he considered the vast, territorial area the Iberian Lynx patrols. But the over-riding concern was that we had only three more lynx watches to go...Cliff and Suretha had planned this trip for a long time and had travelled from South Africa to see this rarest, large feline in the world, and now it was dawning that they may have to go back having not seen this creature.
So it was a very determined party of four, plus friend Bob, a lynx and wildcat expert who had arrived from France that day, who set up their scopes at La Lancha that evening at 18:50. Conditions were pleasant with a warm breeze wafting the grasses and all was calm until shrieks from Cliff as he performed a lively dance clutching his shorts. The language was universally understood, as Cliff demonstrated his bite from some unidentified crawling insect. We were just dealing with this, to the mocking call of the Iberian Green Woodpecker, when Bob called out "Lynx!" Bob had seen a lynx on a rock and then moving slowly left, so as we scoured the hillside against the strong sunlight all thoughts of creepy-crawly bites were forgotten. We were shaking with excitement as we knew that our lynx was there, but the light was the winner in this case as after forty minutes scanning in to the sun, we had to admit that our target could be anywhere by now. Returning to our original positions, we had several enjoyable views of a male Moufflon resting in the evening sun, plus two further females with four Griffon Vultures overhead. Suretha saw Wild Boar family group move along the track and as we packed up at 21:40 the calling and wing-clacking display of the Red-necked Nightjars was a treat to watch.
|Photo: C.Dorse. May 2012.|
Tuesday 15th May.
|"This is great! There are just SO MANY snakes in here!"|
At a roadside stream we were excited to get good views of three lizards; two were definitely Oscillated Lizard and the third was too quick for identification. Cliff enjoyed river-dipping, happily knee-deep amongst about 8 Viperines, some chasing Crayfish, others just exploring his toes. .
At a stop in Castille la Mancha, watching Subalpine Warbler amongst cork oak dehesa, we noticed the ponds drying up in the drought. Tadpoles were stranded and alongside these ponds, now just puddle status, were some interesting tracks. Upon close inspection we were excited to identify them as Genet footprints. This shy, nocturnal creature was obviously feeding on the tadpole harvest. An impressive find!
Two individuals on two consecutive days...and what close views! John and I were delighted for Cliff and Suretha who had travelled so far and put in so much effort to see their Iberian Lynx, and to say they were overjoyed is an understatement.
Wednesday 16th May.
7:00. After sampling our final breakfast sensation from Roland, we set off for the journey to Madrid to arrive in time for Cliff and Suretha's long haul back to South Africa, via Dubai. Watching Common Kestrel and Spotless Starling, Cliff was still scouring for a possible Sandgrouse although we all felt very satisfied with our results from the week's activities.
At our stop at the bridge near Alcazar de San Juan, Cliff saw what he identified as Marsh Warbler; a good view both in flight and at rest, but upon checking with the Collins guide, it did not seem possible. This was the right habitat, the right sound, it ticked all the boxes, but not according to the field guide. I would welcome comments re this, but I tend to go for Cliff's identification as being correct.
Horizons of Don Quixote windmills gave way to 21st century wind turbines as we joined motorway traffic and got to Madrid airport in good time for the flights. It was a rushed farewell as always at the airport, but we all said our goodbyes feeling that the aim of the long trek for Cliff and Suretha had been fulfilled and this week would live in their memories for the rest of their lives.
Margaret June 2012.
"...We just wanted to thank you profusely again for all your effort, patience and hard work! You were both such a pleasure to be around and you made our Spain experience even more memorable. We will certainly recommend your tours!"
Suretha. May 2012.