Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Newsletter November 2011

Hello to you all,

This is not to be a "wordy"newsletter; just some quick updates and then giving room to some excellent photographs.

If you recall I was concerned last month that funding for Lifelince was due to finish in 2011...well the good news is that a reported 34 million euros has been allocated to continue the excellent monitoring, and indeed to attempt recolonisation of the Iberian Lynx into more areas of inland Spain.  Positive vibes all round during our recent tour in Andujar, where we made the very best of the time there despite some pretty unfriendly weather.  Never mind, I see its now back to 24'C and sunny . Hmm.

A very interesting article by Michael Viney in the Irish Times of Saturday November 5th has just been sent to me ( thank you Jane! ) entitled  "How our Wolves were ushered into History."  he balances an historical summary of wolf presence countrywide with neat reports of individual encounters , drawing an interesting comparison between locals living with wolves for generations and those who colonised the land:-

"The attitudes to wolves of the native Irish were quite different from those of the island's colonists.  The first accepted them as part of the natural landscape, to be hunted now and then for various reasons; people were used to having them around, even if not everyone was comfortable with this.  The colonists were appalled by their presence in "Wolf Land" and sought to exterminate them, even ready to kill horses to use as bait in the forest."

During our time spent in Culebra we see a people who manage their rural economy alongside wolves.  As in all relationships, there are tense times, but the balance and toleration seem to be general bye-words.  perhaps the very controlled hunting of wolves in Culebra could be replaced by sensitive tourism...a source of many post-dinner debates here?!

We are off to Sierra de la Culebra early December and look forward to our landing at Valladolid;  if ever the adjective "rural" can be attached to "airport", this is surely the place to do it.  However, we are aware that Stansted/Ryanair is not easy for all, and this month I intend to check the feasibility of also offering regular collections from Madrid airport too;  please keep checking our website for changes if this affects you, or just drop us an e-mail.

I am delighted that Rick, one of our party last May/June in Culebra, has given us a short gallery of his photo impressions of that trip to share with you.  Thank you for this Rick, and John and I are delighted to have you and Steve on a return tour - this time "Looking for Lynx" next June.

So, best wishes to you all, and enjoy the pictures!

Back in time.

Black Redstart

2 Black Storks.

Booted Eagle

Bosca's Newt.

Pine forest.

Gorge de Duoro.

Iberian Water Frog.

Crested Lark Chicks in the nest. Can you spot them?

Common Buzzard in flight

Rock Bunting.

Rock Thrush.

Short-toed Eagle.

And was certainly worth it!  Wolf!
Mgt H.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Trip report Sierra de Andujar

Sunday 23rd October.

Temperature in the 30's and no rain since May...until this week when the forecast looked decidedly damp!  John and I set off for Malaga airport at 9:45am with low cloud looking threatening, and we just had to accept that the Kestrel we were watching was against a leaden grey sky as opposed the azure blue of previous weeks. Our clients  on this lynx tour were newcomers to all aspects of wildlife watching in general and had never visited rural inland Spain so we were hoping to give a good impression of the area...however fickle the weather patterns may be in mid-autumn. We collected Kieran and Lyz from their flight, and on our journey out of Malaga, the weather and hence our spirits brightened.  We enjoyed pointing out Grey Heron, Red Kite, Blackbird, Collared Dove and House Sparrow, and Lyz saw her first black Spanish Bull  White villages nestled amidst acres of olive groves and the oleander bushes were still flowering, plus ...the Visitor Centre was actually open!  This was most useful as it enabled Kieran and Lyz to learn about the different wildlife we hoped to see in the Sierra de Andujar.

Our way up to our hotel was punctuated by several sightings of Azure-Winged Magpies...a bird which never fails to impress and which is abundant in this area of Spain
After settling in and a light tea, we began our first Lynx watch at Encinarejo at 6:00pm where recent showers had resulted in herbs and pine releasing their heady scents to the air.  We got good, close views of several Red Deer, Stags, Hinds and Fawns, including one intrepid little Fawn crossing the river.  Girded by a double rainbow, and to the frequent splash of large fish jumping, we saw White Wagtail, Rock Sparrow, 2 Kingfishers ( much to Lyz's delight as she had always wanted to see a kingfisher...then just like buses they all come at once...), 9 Cormorants flying in V formation, Moorhen and later, Pipistrelle Bats.

Homemade onion soup, seafood paella and choice of homemade puds was appreciated by us all.  To a couple more used to city breaks, this had been quite an unusual day, but the peace and beauty felt when we just sit still and let the evening draw in around us as it has done for generations, was not lost on Kieran and Lyz.

Monday 24th October.

The weather was against us as we watched early morning rain over an 7:30 breakfast. Fairing up at 8:20, only to pour down again at 8:44, and this was the pattern for the day.  We just had to make the best of it...which indeed we did.

Still raining heavily at 10:00, but we had seen good, close views of family parties of red deer,  Great Tit,  Blue Tit, Red Kite, Jay and heard an Iberian Green Woodpecker. Cormorants, Drake Mallard and Grey Heron were all in the river valley.  Red-legged Partridge scurried along the tracks and a perky Dartford Warbler made an entrance.  The stag rut had apparently been delayed because of the excessively dry conditions,so of course it was now in full-throated intensity.

Lunch was local cheese and the melt-in-the-mouth Iberico ham and time shopping in Andujar was time well spent during rainstorms, but as the sun broke through in early afternoon, John pointed out the amazing drama of a Spanish Imperial Eagle harassing a bull making it race headlong down the hillside.  The eagle was duly mobbed by 2 Ravens and we felt honoured and excited to witness such a scene.  We were able to follow the activity closely for 10 minutes at least, after which we enjoyed Golden Eagle, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Red-legged Partridge and more sedentary bulls eating from their traditional granite feeding bowls/troughs near La Lancha.

While John, Lyz and myself were following  a Mistle Thrush eyes right, Kieran was amazed at his first sight of a Hoopoe to the left of us.  The sheer, obvious eccentricity of this bird means that you always remember your first Hoopoe!

Checking out views of Black Redstart and Robin en route, we paused for a picnic during a window of clear weather at 3:30 to be rewarded with 1 Golden Eagle and about 30 Griffon Vultures circling and checking us out.

At the embalse de Jandula, we spotted 2 more Griffon Vultures, Crag Martins, 3 Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, 5 Cormorants and 2 Kestrels. The journey back to our base for the evening lynx watch reaped an Iberian Green Woodpecker, Woodlark and 3 Mouflon.  The elegant, Spanish, thoroughbred Horses grazed alongside the Bulls, their adversaries in the bullring and we were treated to the sight of about 20 Red Deer crossing the road.

Although lynx had been reported 30 minutes earlier that day at Encinarejo, there was no evidence of its continued presence while we watched that evening but over a tasty dinner of pumpkin soup, veal casserole and apple pie, our talk wasall about our avian sights, particularly the Spanish Imperial Eagle and Griffon Vultures...and of course, the Hoopoe too!  After dinner, we were fascinated to learn the identity of the female Iberian Lynx  John has photographed on several previous occasions and to learn of the excellent work Lifelince has done in pursuance of their aim to consolidate the presence of the Iberian Lynx. The elegant female lynx which appears in several  pictures in our website can now be identified as Carranca, born in 2006, and the male was probably Lorca.  Both are still active in their respective territories.

Tuesday 25th October.

8:30.  The river valley was swathed in mist as we took our places, noting quite a few Rabbits, Deer, the Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Chaffinch and a particular Spotless Starling with an impressively accurate mimicry of a Golden Oriole! The atmosphere was still and tense...when an acorn fell it startled us!...when I spotted a shape across the river  whose movement and silhouette told me "Lynx".  However I was defeated by excessively misty conditions and was unable to make a definite identification.  Within a few minutes  the same area produced an earsplitting cacophony of Jay and Magpie shrieking, plus a frenzy of activity with Azure-winged Magpies, unfortunately  as this was all in the blanket of  mist we could only assume the presence of lynx without any possibility of a view.

Later, when stalking the paths alongside the river, and enjoying much Kingfisher activity, we found extremely fresh lynx scat and tracks; evidence which served to consolidate our view that lynx had been there that morning but we had been denied a sighting by the mist.  Just to see such recent evidence was thrilling however, and we spent a long time savouring the atmosphere with the almost permanent calls of the rutting stags plus a rewarding, albeit brief, sight of Otter and Male Sparrowhawk.

Our pilgrimage to the Sanctuario de la Virgen de Cabeza felt even more eerie when we went to view the cloisters, only to find them totally gutted by a fire only the day before.  Whatever your personal beliefs, to stand in that blackened husk with the smell of smoke still clinging to the remnants of a roof now totally open to the elements, looking at the few remaining, charred photographs and "L" plates, this created an even stronger aura of uneasy solitude.  However, not to be discouraged, we noted in the corner a set of crutches freshly offered and obviously no longer needed  - placed here in the cloister since yesterday's inferno, so perhaps the power continues undiminished. Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, 2 Griffon Vultures and a party of Fallow Deer were out and about, thereby outnumbering the people in the coffee shop at the camping site in the village.

Our evening watch delivered up grey Heron, Cormorants, 2 Moorhen, Kingfisher, Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler and the highly entertaining episode of a testosterone fuelled stag furiously bullying an oak tree.

Dinner was chicken, chips and salad after a starter of venison pate and  broad bean pate served with grilled aubergine and courgette.  This was followed by a selection of homemade desserts, and we retired after a full and interesting day.

Wednesday 26th October.

What a beautiful morning with the sun breaking through some fascinating cloud patterns watching stags going head to head, and getting the scopes on Iberian Green Woodpecker, 6 Hawfinch and a female Blackcap.  Under a sky dotted with Cormorants flying in their V formation, Lyz spotted an excellent, fresh Badger track on the bridge and lynx scat from various times was also found.

More Iberico ham fuelled Lyz's desire to see the black pigs which spend their time foraging free range amongst the Spanish oaks eating the acorns from which this delightful taste sensation originates.  En route, Kieran was pleased to get good views of Griffon Vultures and we  found that the pigs were just as interested in us as we were in them. Our stop at a Mirador to overlook the Sierra - with the almost expected Griffon Vultures - plus Mistle Thrush and Stonechat and several deer parties, once again gave us the chance just to stand, watch and listen...hopefully  to be remembered when the hurly burly of city life returns.  However, Lyz spent a lot of her time trying to fend off the attentions of over-amorous, mating flying ants. Hmmm.

We then enjoyed a short trip out of Andalucia into Castille y La Mancha noting the importance of the cork oaks to the area. Surely no cork will pop without Kieran or Lyz thinking of this age-old, totally sustainable practice and memories will flood back.

Back in the Sierra de Andujar,  "Fox?" queried Lyz;  and sure enough she had spotted 2 foxes out mousing.  One disappeared quickly but the other, although obviously aware of our presence, continued with his successful hunting exploits.  It was good as ever to watch a wild creature go about its business, and spirits were high at dinner that night.  The meal was a spaghetti starter, followed by salmon steak and salad with fresh fruit to finish. That night when we showed Mercedes the photographs of the fox, we were congratulated because the fox is outnumbered, in fact, is driven out, by the much more territorial lynx.

Thursday 27th October.

Heavy overnight rain cleared by breakfast and our hopes were raised when we saw movement over the bridge...but alas only a deer.  Our poll this morning was 2 Grey Heron, Cormorants, Grey and White Wagtail, Blue Rockthrush, Black Redstart, Kingfisher, 6 Griffon Vultures and Otter.  The heavy early morning rain had put paid to finding any lynx track or scat.

Farewells to Roland and Mercedes, our excellent hosts, were more an "au revoir" than "goodbye" and the rain began again as we enjoyed our last lunch of the tour.

The journey to Malaga had much to offer us with several Cattle Egrets near Canal del Rumblar, plus Kestrel, Red Kite and Common Buzzard.

We all agreed that, although we had not had any definite lynx sighting, the 5 days had been full and personally John and I enjoyed the challenge of seeing our 2 companions emerge from complete novice into enthusiastic students of wildlife. I think it is best summed up in Kieran's words:-

"We  both thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It opened our eyes to another way of holidaying....Thanks again...for a very memorable time."

Mgt H. 06/11/2011.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Newsletter October 2011.

Hello Everyone,

I hope you find time to scroll through our latest trip report in Sierra de la doesn't get much better than that!

Time spent in local coffee bars, purely for research purposes of course, perusing L'Opinion the local newspaper, is often time well spent. Even in Culebra where wolves and farmers have co-existed for centuries, there are concerns  During our last visit, two articles appeared about the problems of being a cattle farmer in Sanabria with its wolf population.  We arrive back to the UK to find images of snarling wolves staring out from front pages of The Times...but thankfully only illustrating Ed Miliband's Predators/Producers conference speech!

However, the wolf...or its public image, however erroneous,...does sell papers and much has been made of reported sightings of wolves in the Netherlands close to the German border and also in Belgium.  . If so this is the first such appearance for more than a century.  There have also been articles this month regarding the colonisation of southern regions of France by some 200 wolves, again after being hunted to virtual extinction there in the 1930s.  The "Big Bad Wolf"  engrained in our psyche is the obvious scapegoat for herd casualties , despite in one case being in an area of France where there is 1 pack of 15 wolves and 8,000 feral dogs!

BBC Wildlife magazine is mainfeaturing the wolf in its December edition whilst at the same time, early December, a mini-series about the wolf is featuring on BBC1. I look forward to hearing your views after watching these programmes.

It seems so long ago since our August weekend at the International Bird fair at Rutland, but we smile every time we recall meeting "old" friends who travel across many borders to come to this event each year, plus finding new friends and contacts. We really enjoyed swapping tales together then, as always.

We are preparing now for an Iberian  Lynx tour later this month.  This has been a successful year for Iberian Lynx sightings but we are concerned for the future of this rarest of all wild cats as the funding of the wonderful work of LifeLince ends its 5 year allocation this year.  Hopefully we shall have good news to report back to you, and the future of this beautiful creature, rarer even than the snow leopard, will continue to be supported.

So, off to the sunshine of Andalucia, leaving the autumnal chill  that is starting to pervade here,and we shall try our utmost to return with evidence of excellent Iberian Lynx  views!

Best wishes to you all, and keep in touch,


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Trip report 15th/22nd September 2011 Sierra de la Culebra

Hello Everyone,

We have recently returned from another successful wolf watching trip in Sierra de la Culebra. We arrived at Valladolid in brilliant, warm sunshine and left a week later with the same conditions having prevailed all week.  Crested Lark was our first bird...the first of many such birds on our route. Buzzards and Crows soared above plains of sunflowers ready for harvesting, and at our lunch stop at Villapando  we watched Collared Dove, Barn Swallow, Black-eared and Northern Wheatear plus visiting our regular Little Owl roosting at Tapioles.  Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and Marsh Harriers were noted plus a lovely view of a young Pied Flycatcher on the roadside fence.

The trip continued well with good sightings of Great Bustards en route to the Sierra and obvious signs that migration was in full swing with the presence of 2 Black Storks and 1 newly "touched down" Crane at the lagunas at Villafafila.  The water levels of the laguna were precariously low due to a very dry summer  - unlike Britain! Other species seen at our stop were Melodious Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Crested Lark, Red Kite, Fantailed Warbler, Hoopoe, Whinchat, 6 Grey Herons, 10+ Avocets, Redshank, Lapwing, female Marsh Harrier and Eurasian & Lesser Kestrel.

Mallards and Coots were on the Rio Esla which wound alongside fertile plots of big, orange, football-like melons.

After greeting Antonio, our choice of evening watch was La Piste through convenience perhaps, but also for its serene beauty and relaxing spell it invariably casts.  The primeval sound of rutting stags echoed across the valley eventually to nightjar accompaniment whilst watching a Sparrowhawk hunting along the hedgerow. Here there is always something to watch and ponder.

Upon our return, Antonio presented us with a superb homemade vegetable soup followed by gammon steaks and totally ripe tomatoes.  Vino de casa was very pleasant too.

Friday 16th September.

At first light....which sounds impressive but actually wasn't really until 7:30!... we set off in the clear, warm air to Villardeciervos. Overnight heavy showers helped accentuate smells of herbs as we prepared for the wolfwatch.  We could hear Buzzards, Ravens and cowbells, and were joined as usual by the seemingly ubiquitous Dartford Warbler at our feet.

By 8:40 we hit bingo when a Wolf materialised  in the middle of the heather-clad valley we were scanning.  What a fantastic start!  We watched it loping silently across the pine-dotted plain and again marvelled at how such large, impressive carnivores can still be found roaming these Sierras. Several majestic Red Deer Stags were bellowing out their challenges across the valley and strutting belligerently through the heather.

Returning for a well-earned breakfast at Antonio's, seeing Southern Grey Shrike and Jay en route, we then had a walk around the village enjoying the pleasant autumn sunshine. In the many gardens and orchards that adjoin the houses were huge, glistening bunches of grapes, hanging temptingly from the vines, and apples were ripening on the trees.  At the edge of the woods the sweet chestnuts were producing a fine crop. Amongst this bounteous harvest were Blackcaps, Blue Tits, Great Tits, White Wagtails, Black Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and Serins feeding up for the oncoming winter.

Fresh wolf tracks and scat were spotted at Villardeciervos and at Ferreras de Arriba which also yielded Honey Buzzard and Iberian Green Woodpecker with older scat near L'Hermita, where we saw Spotted Flycatcher and Stonechat.

The evening watch at Villardeciervos gave us a good view of a circling Booted Eagle, then back for homemade potato soup and tortilla.

Saturday 17th September.

Still dark at 7:25 but beginning to clear on a cooler morning, we set off for Villardeciervos. Thick mist was rolling along the road and settling in valleys.  Our decision to give it a go here despite the mist paid dividends when we heard playful yelps of Wolfcubs to our right, quickly silenced by a more wary adult. Sightings included a Booted Eagle, Crested Tit,a young Spotted Flycatcher and several Roe Deer.

A picnic lunch in Sanabria gave us Dipper, Crag Martin, Grey & White Wagtail and  Bonelli's Warbler while we were almost engulfed by the Sand Martins catching food around the bridge over the embalse.  Helicopters were collecting water from the already depleted reservoir to help quell a fire in the Lago de Sanabria area which was evident for a couple of days.

We got back to the Villardeciervos site by 6:45pm to see Fox, Buzzard, Raven, 2 Booted Eagles, Nightjar and Mistle Thrush, then the evening meal was Antonio's paella...and those tomatoes!!

Sunday 18th September.

A clear, cool 7:40 start as we listened to the insistent stag rut at Villardeciervos, plus Roe Deer barking on occasion. A silent Sparrowhawk rested in a tree alongside 2 Ravens  Along with these birds cronking, dogs barking, cattle lowing and cattlebells ringing...quite a cacophony! View of the morning was the magnificent rutting Stag, alternating between calling and then attacking heather clumps ,his 12 pronged antlers raised high on a thick, strong head and neck.

Our daytime activity produced Great Tit, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Stonechat and Red-legged Partridge at Flechas.  Along the Gallegos road we saw Hobby, Northern Wheater, Whinchat, Crested Lark, Rock & House Sparrow aplenty, 2 Yellow Wagtails, Serin and Short-toed Lark. Red Kite, Nuthatch and Magpie  were seen near San Vitero. We returned to San Pedro to see a Preying Mantis resting upon Antonio's car!

Our evening watch at Ferreras produced 2 Red Deer Hinds at about 15 metres plus a Nightjar.  Two more Hinds jumped in front of our car at San Pedro!

Monday 19th September.

After another episode watching a younger, more cautious Stag rutting at Villardeciervos this brighter, cooler morning, we hit Aldeia Nova and Fariza at a hot, high noon.  En route we saw Red Kite, Eurasian Kestrel and Buzzards and noticed the river at Badilla was totally dried up.  Red-billed Choughs were the high spot at Aldeia Nova whilst Fariza gave us Buzzard, Rock Bunting, Crag Martins, Griffon Vultures aplenty, 4 Choughs, Cormorant and Rock Dove. A Short-toed Eagle was flying at Miranda do Douro.

After deliberations, we settled on a evening watch at La Piste, enjoying once again the Stag ruts and Nightjar.

Tuesday 20th September.

Over the morning watch and subsequent post-breakfast drive, we spotted Hen Harrier, 1 Stag with 3 Hinds and Coal Tit plus a Sand Lizard at San Pedro. A visit around Sarracin and Ferreras yielded 2 Red Kites, Sandmartins and Sparrowhawk.  A little boy was proving particularly fractious at a supposedly quiet lay-by, and he insisted on jumping and running along the country path ignoring mum's repeated calls to return...until mum threatened that the wolf would get him.  Immediate reaction! The mental image of a snarling, big, bad wolf is so engrained and powerful, and so much at odds with our experience of this shyest of large predators.  But overall, this was a quiet, relaxed, sunny day leading up to our second wolf sighting of the week....

Wednesday 21st September.

Our sighting today truly serves to show the unpredictability of wildlife. After the sights and sounds of the stag rut during our morning watch at Villardeciervos, and noting the presence of Hobby, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite, we returned to walk the tracks after breakfast. At 11:30am we chanced upon the massive alpha male crossing a nearby track, after stopping to check us out.  Not brilliant photos, as we were taken unawares, but we have a sequence of 5 or 6 showing him pausing, checking us then loping across the heather - nearly at midday!

Well, after all this and sunshine too, we needed to cool off and went to enjoy a dip in the beautiful, deserted Villardeciervos playa, deserted but for a Grey Heron, Woodlark and Pied Flycatcher.

Our last evening watch of the tour finished with an excellent view of a family group of about 15 Wild Boar scurrying along the track where just a short time previously a wily fox had slunk across.

Thursday 22nd September.

On a clear morning, we grasped an hour's watch at Villardeciervos where there was once again stag rutting activity, before setting off to the airport avoiding a Doe Roe Deer crossing the road.  We heard the calls of 2 Booted Eagles at the Rio Esla bridge, and the ploughed fields of Villafafila once again proved a reliable area to see flocks of Great Bustards.

Another wonderful trip with memorable views, superb company and weather...and just enough surprises to make sure we never, ever get complacent about wildlife watching.

With best wishes to you all,

Mgt H.