Newsletter May 2015.
May is a fabulously colourful month here in the Sierra de la Culebra as each week welcomes new summer arrivals and the landscape bursts with colour; vivid green from poplars protecting nesting golden orioles, acres of purple and white heathers stretching out alongside white and yellow Spanish broom.
The lavender fields in Northern Portugal are at their peak too.
On 1st May John took this video of a rock thrush.
Our friend Wil started his week's visit with good sightings of 2, and possibly 3, wolves on the evening of 2nd May. Later that week, John was able to video part of this pack and it is interesting to see the interaction between the pack members.
The weather was not good however in the early stages of this month and indeed torrential rain on 4th May hampered the morning watch. However, it cleared in the afternoon and John and I enjoyed a beautiful walk at the embalse. We were excited to note various examples of very fresh wolf scat indeed and felt the lupine presence was not far from us when we intercepted a fox using the same track as us. It was obviously raiding a site of a kill as it carried some part of a kill in its jaws; perhaps the wolves were just lying up in the heather around us after eating their fill from the kill?
By 6th/7th May the weather was changing for the better and it continued to improve throughout the rest of the month. Morning and evening watches have been very cold however for most of this month,with daytime temperatures being nicely warm with a pleasant breeze - perfect walking conditions.
On 6th May I spotted this female slow-worm in our garden, trying to warm up in the increasing heat of the morning sun.
Three members of a different pack of wolves were seen on 9th May,one day after hearing our first golden oriole of the season.
and by the time Brent and Laura arrived from U.S.A. on 16th, there were new migrants displaying nearly every day.
Brent and Laura were hoping for a sight of the Iberian grey wolf; they were also wanting to amass a healthy, new species, bird-list before their return to Virginia eight nights later.
On this first weekend of wolf watching, Brent and Laura met the confident duo of Dartford warbler and dunnock who demanded attention at any opportunity throughout the tour!
It was dusk on that Sunday evening wolf watch when I spotted a wolf, part obscured by pine tops, as it stood on some rocks; it lowered its head and then sauntered off the rocks to be lost amidst the pine forests. It was not possible in the short time to get others onto this wolf, but such evidence of this presence gave us all strong impetus to scour further through our scopes. Scopes were not needed however, for Brent's sighting of two stunning foxes close to our viewpoint and we enjoyed watching them both for several minutes. There were red and roe deer aplenty; indeed roe deer are more numerous than last year, to the annoyance of local mushroom pickers as the forest mushrooms are a desired delicacy to deer as well as humans it seems!
The evening of Monday 18th May was clear and free from wind, and as the sun began to drop, John drew our attention to some particularly skittish behaviour from deer,formerly grazing. As we focused our scopes on the field, Laura noticed a movement in the scrub surrounding that field and yes, it was one, two, three wolves which came out into full view from the cover into the field,obviously tracking these deer! We could watch their pattern of movement and even when our gazing was obscured, Brent caught sight of one wolf now on the path leading up to the field. Wonderful to watch their movement and interaction in such clear conditions,luckily before the light faded!
|Laura and Brent sign the board after their first Iberian wolf sighting|
Discussing such a view was a major talking point over an excellent dinner that night at the hotel and then the conversation moved onto the interesting local architecture, with John happy to explain to us the age-old template for the roof-tiles on these archaic buildings. It seems that the tiles were moulded around a man's thigh to create the right shape in a particularly individual way; some quite lively discussion ensued as you can no doubt imagine!
On 19th May after an eventful day in Portugal, details of which are later in this Newsletter,John and I were driving to the hotel later than usual to meet Brent and Laura for the evening wolf watch when a massive, dark wolf burst straight into the road about 4 metres ahead of our car, and hurtled across the road, dwarfing the bonnet of our car,and soon it reached the heather on the other side. John was quick enough to dive out of the car and take several photos of this huge specimen. Several of the photos are already on our Facebook page and here are a couple more too:-
A tremendously close view of an impressive,healthy male wolf...we counted ourselves very lucky indeed!
"Laura and I want to thank you both again for such a wonderful time. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with you and watching for wolves and all the other great wildlife. This definitely ranks as one of our favorite vacations."
Brent S. Virginia U.S.A.
The chilly conditions during the evening wolf watch of 20th May meant that we may have considered packing up earlier,but thank goodness we did not,because at 21:30 John got us all on to a large,dark, male wolf - probably the same animal as we had encountered the previous evening on the road. Scarcely daring to breathe we watched as it loped down the firebreak, and it just kept coming!
With occasional sorties to left and right for scenting,it came close enough for Brent and John to get some superb photographs,and for Laura and me to watch astounded at our good fortune. Fantastic!
The cold wind's effects were forgotten as we discussed the fact that this apex predator had come so close to us. We had indeed watched in total silence all that evening and had also been standing still; all practices which increase your chance of a close sighting.
John also managed this short video of the wolf sighting.
When Laura commented on Brent's camouflage dress code of autumnal colours, mentioning that he looked like a big leaf, his wry retort was that he'd " rather be a big leaf here than a big deer tonight!"
So the wolf sightings had surpassed Brent and Laura's hopes, combined with good scat and tracks found despite hard conditions, and they were equally happy with the quality and quantity of bird, reptile and other mammal species they saw- a small selection of which I mention now.
John, Brent and Laura will each individually have their particular highlights from the village walks,but I just pick out the oscillated lizard at San Pedro, Montague's harriers sky-dancing at Flechas,turtle doves, and the elegant butterflies enjoying the heather nectar.
Black vulture was photographed at Boya on 18th May plus skylark, hoopoe, coal tit, Sardinian warbler and corn bunting on the same walk The nuthatch was spotted at Santa Cruz and Brent spotted a wild boar on the morning of 21st May. After a morning when peregrine falcon was seen, everyone was pleased to find melodious warbler at Riomanzanas. As he drove into the village, John's way ahead was blocked by a tractor towing a low-sided trailer ;complete with horse atop. This combo was parked, or rather abandoned, outside the local bar and after a while, the owner of the set-up emerged to move everything along a few yards to allow John's car to pass. He then went back into the said bar and the walk around Riomanzanas was to the accompaniment of the neighing cargo.
The visit to the Douro gorge provided excellent raptor views against a stunning backdrop.
At one point, John, Brent and Laura were looking up from watching a blue rock-thrush to see red-billed chough mobbing golden eagle with black stork and Egyptian vulture soaring overhead at the same time.
Brent and Laura enjoyed the centre at Villafafila and their views included ringed plover, little ringed plover, Kentish plover, black-winged stilt, redshank, booted eagle and a rather smart yellow wagtail.They also got good views of great bustard, lesser kestrel and little owl,plus Montague's,hen and marsh harrier. En route to Villafafila, Laura in particular was delighted to get views of Eurasian otter swimming in the Rio Esla, along with close views of black kite, raven, rock sparrow and crag martin. It is a wonderful peaceful place to spend some time,and this stop was very fruitful.
The early morning start, essential when catching their mid-day transatlantic plane from Madrid, did not mean that wildlife watching was ignored. Just after 05:00, about 6 kilometres from the hotel,, John, Brent and Laura were able to add a new mammal to their tour list as a badger was to be seen crossing in front of the car. Brent followed it with the torchlight until it disappeared into the dark undergrowth. Everyday something new...even at 5am!
In the final days of May,honey buzzards have been evident around our village and the young wagtails are feeding. Blackbirds are busy feeding young too,and generally the wildlife is less intent on attracting attention...with the exception of the irrepressible Dartford warbler which is still under the misapprehension that we spend hours at the viewpoint solely to see and hear him!
John has continued filming our local pack during these final May days.On the evening of 27th May, he was transfixed to watch one lone wolf howling and then wait until another pack member arrived with both wolves then setting off along the track, to the accompaniment of roe deer barking and cuckoo calls. In this video taken taken just before the howling started, note the erect tail of the second wolf, asserting dominance.
We are indeed lucky to be able to catalogue these sightings and movements of this large, proud predator and hope our records are of interest and use to the many friends of Wild Wolf Experience.
(All photos and videos taken by John or myself during May 2015)