Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Trip report 5/12th July 2011 Sierra de la Culebra

Iuesday 5th July.

12:30pm.  27'C Sunny. Valladolid airport.  We took delivery of a very useful little Citroen Berlingo van - ideal for purpose

The first bird seen was a Barn Swallow and the first one heard was a House Sparrow.  On the road out of the airport we spotted Buzzard, Collared Dove, Crested Lark, Black and Red Kites, Swifts and Storks. The grain fields were now being harvested and acres of sunflowers were beginning to blossom.

At our lunch stop at Villapando, whilst enjoying cerveza, tortilla and coffee, we watched Greenfinches plus shot an excellent video of a Pale Phase Booted Eagle eating a pigeon on a tree branch, whilst being harried by a Lesser .Kestrel. I shall attempt to put this video on this blog soon.  promise!!

On the road to Villafafila a very pastoral scene stretched out with Red Kites in abundance, flying over the newly -cut fields.  Here we had our first Northern Wheatear of the trip.  Spotless Starlings were feeding insistent young at Tapioles where we also noted Crested Lark and House Martins.

The temperature gauge clocked 35'C at the Observaciones des Aves with the warm wind blowing up the dry sandy soil mimicking mini-tornadoes across the flat plain.  Here we watched about 8 Storks frogging, plus Marsh Harrier, Whiskered Terns and a Raven balancing atop the observation tower with a fishy meal. Two soaring, Paled-faced Booted Eagles were talon grappling, watched by an accompanying juvenile.  Frogs croaked in the diminishing ponds where we saw a stunning red Dragonfly and 2 young Coots.  The Rock Sparrows were still being noisy inside the observation tower, and we watched with some concern as a Stork tried to free itself from some netting entangled around one foot.  It eventually flew away to free itself soon, we hoped. Further along the track we had very close views of 2 Montague's Harriers and 1 Marsh Harrier.  These fabulous birds were effortlessly hunting the fields with their buoyant flight..  In addition, we saw Crested and Calandra Lark. About 8 Great Bustards were in the neighbouring field and took to the sky as we approached.

Only a few minutes observation at the Rio Esla bridge reaped 2 Egyptian and 1 Griffon Vulture, 1 Purple Heron, Mallards, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Swifts, Crag Martins and a Cormorant, while we heard Bee-eaters.

These beautiful birds were later seen at Ferreras de Arriba, along with 2 Dartford Warblers, Tawny Pipit and Northern Wheatear.

The family group of feeding White Wagtails we saw at San Pedro could well be the result of the dramatic breeding display we watched last May.

At la piste that evening a warm breeze wafted around us as we scanned until sundown at around 10:15 when the air got decidedly cooler.  During the evening watch we were treated to good views of 2 separate family groups of Wild Boar, each consisting of male, female and 4 youngsters.  We also saw 3 Stags, a Hen Harrier and a Dunnock. All the wolf sightings at the end of June at Mahide, Villardeciervos and La Piste were adult wolves:  no young cubs had been seen yet.

At around 10:30 the chirring of the Nightjars started to sound and we soon returned to Antonio's lentil soup, salad and pork chops, finishing with melon. Quite a full first day!!

Wednesday 6th July.

6:15am. 9'C La Piste.  Just breaking light on an unseasonably chilly morning, we were treated to good views of Stags, Rock Thrush, Black Kite and Dartford Warblers.

After breakfast we enjoyed a wander around the wildlife haven of San Pedro, walking amongst ripening cherry and apple orchard groves and revelling in sights of Serin, Goldfinch, Blackcap, Black Redstart, Cirl and Rock Bunting, Red-rumped Swallow, Whitethroat, Grey Wagtail. Iberian Green Frog, Wall Lizard and Butterflies. A Griffon Vulture was being mobbed by a Buzzard and possibly also a Goshawk

The logging activity near Villardeciervos did not seem to be adversely affecting wolf presence in that area as 5 examples of wolf scat - all within 4 weeks old and some very fresh - were evident on forest pathways. The erstwhile damp ground was now dried out so spotting tracks was not an option here.  Interestingly, there was no wolf scat evident at the top of the hill by the telecommunications masts - any recent activity seemed to be in the lower reaches of this area.  The view from this hilltop, however, was another breathtaking example of the vast, wild beauty of this area...and the huge acreage shrouded in forest and high heather available to our wolf packs. Jay and Tawny Pipit were the most obvious birds on our drive up this hill.

Birds at the Villardeciervos Playa included Chaffinch and Woodlark, but the real treat for us was the chance to be here amongst so many Bee-eaters, so active in their flight for food that we almost had then bouncing off our car! Certainly one of the most memorable moments of this trip, giving ample opportunities for some stunning photographs.

The evening wolf watch at La Piste gave us 2 Stags but was otherwise quiet.

Thursday 7th July.

6:30am. 6'C! Sunny and surprisingly chilly for July. But the excellent light at our Villardeciervos watch provided large numbers of Red and Roe Deer.  Birds present were Great Tit, Blackbird and a soaring Black Kite.

After breakfast, and time watching Blue Tits at San Pedro in a more pleasant temperature of 20'C, we spotted Stonechat and Red Kite at the nearby quarry along with some recent wolf scat. On the road to San Vitero we saw a Southern Grey Shrike, Jay, Buzzard and several Storks feeding.  The return journey offered a Woodchat Shrike.

More recent scat was evident at Flechas as wolf was obviously keeping a close check on the herds of goats and sheep in the area.  The fertile enclosures around the village of Flechas offered fruit trees laden with cherries, apples or pears whilst tomatoes, beans, peas, courgettes, melons and potatoes were flourishing in neat, planted rows.  We disturbed a Red Deer Hind in one of these tended areas, and were able to appreciate the strength and agility of this creature at relatively close quarters.

After spotting a Corn Bunting on our return, our next deer encounter was to occur at the entrance to San Pedro where we disturbed a Buzzard on what we initially thought was road kill.  Upon closer inspection, it was the leg of a Red Deer! A lot of speculation, Animal Detective style, ensued...we HOPED that meant wolves were  around having made a kill nearby...but all this could only be speculative.

The wind was blowing in the right direction for our sunny evening's wolf watch near Villardeciervos.  From the beginning, there was bird activity with Ravens in the low heather and a Black Kite circling overhead.  Mammals spotted were an Iberian Hare and a splendid Fox trotting and mousing along the path towards us.  It came within 15 metres of us, then disappeared into the heather, but only after remaining stationary enough for a photo call!

Friday 8th July.

6:50am 9'C.  Sunny, clear skies.  After the various bouts of activity at the Villardeciervos site, we felt confident to try this again.  Both a Red Deer Hind and a Rabbit crossing the road in fornt of us en route seemed to fuel our hopes for this morning.  There were several Ravens, Red and Roe Deer seen in the clear morning light, then off to Fariza after breakfast.

On the way we enjoyed seeing Montague's Harrier, Southern Grey Shrikes and tumbling Kites, with our first bird in Portugal being a Crested lark.  The road to Fariza did not disappoint - it never does! - with several Jays in the hay pastures and Golden Orioles heard in the oak copses.  Rock Doves and Crag Martins flew around at Miranda del Duoro, and we watched 2 Woodchat Shrikes on the wire at Barilla.

At Fariza we stopped to digest the spectacle of about 100 Griffon Vultures riding the thermals with 2 Bonelli's Eagles, 2 Egyptian Vultures and Red and Black Kites and we were treated to the goldenball dive of a Golden Eagle

After hearing Golden Oriole again, we had beautiful views of a male and female which flew across the road on our return to Miranda del Duoro  We also spotted Alpine Swifts and Goldfinch.

A particularly atmospheric stop on our Duoro day is at Aldeia Nova where we enjoyed watching a young Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Egyptian Vulture, Red-rumped Swallows, Great Tits, Black Redstarts, Alpine Swifts and Magpies whilst hearing a Blue Rock Thrush..

The evening's wolfwatch near Villardeciervos was quiet but our day had certainly been satisfying.  We were delighted to meet Colin, Katherine and Isla from Scotland at our hostal, who were keen to see their first Iberian wolf. As Colin is a skilled wildlife watcher, we felt our chances had increased and welcomed his input.

Saturday 9th July.

6:30am 15'C. Cloudy but therefore a little warmer and still reasonable visibility.  We did not have long to wait at the Villardeciervos site before a pack of 3 adult Wolves appeared silently out of the trees like phantoms of the forest, loping on single file through the short heather. The obvious leader was well ahead and setting the pace, occasionally stopping to look behind ensuring his 2 followers were still keeping up. After some minutes they entered a copse and were lost to view .

Exhilarated at such a sight we then contented ourselves with watching several Ravens feeding young until at 8:50am a solo male Wolf strolled into view from the opposite side of the heathland and, although obviously aware of our presence, strolled, sniffed, defecated and urinated before again disappearing into woodland. What a fabulous 2 hours resulting on some fantastic views of our main target species...the Iberian Wolf.

After a more exhuberant breakfast than usual we set off for the road to Gallegos, full of treats for birdwatchers, and we saw some Crested Lark, Nuthatch, Bonelli's Warbler, Short-toed Tree Creeper, Serins, Northern Wheatears and Great and Blue Tits. On the grassland on either side of the road in excess of 40 White Storks were feeding.

Along the road to Flechas in a short distance we spotted Kestrel, Ravens, White Wagtail, Woodchat Shrike, flocks of Barn Swallows and 2 Little Grebe chicks. The fresh wolf scat at Flechas also contained wheat kernels and straw - undigested matter from the prey?

Our suspicion that there may have been a kill near our village of San Pedro was underlined by the presence of a Griffon Vulture soaring over that area.

Reports of 2 wolf cubs in the early hours of the morning at the fuente at Villardeciervos tempted us to look for evidence.  In a very reasonable 28'C we enjoyed watching Robin, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Tree Creeper, Bonelli's Warbler, Jay, Black Kite, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Black Redstart.

After the morning's superlative wolfwatch the evening in the same place was very quiet.

Sunday 10th July.

6:30 13'C. Cloudy.

Word travels fast in these isolated areas it seems and 9 people plus Domingo the ranger settled at the site near Villardeciervos hopefully to repeat the activity of yesterday morning. We heard a Golden Oriole and saw 5 Stags and 2 Hinds, but no lobo!

A pleasant stroll around San Pedro after breakfast revealed plentiful fresh fox and wolf scat and a close encounter with a Roe Deer. On the road to Villanueva  we watched 15 Red Kites circling in the clear azure sky.

The wolf tracks and scat at Ferreras de Arriba were old but much fresher scat was found on the track to L'Hermita. where a wolf had been reported earlier that week. We decided to stay up near L'Hermita at an excellent viewpoint in pleasant 30'C at 6:15pm. By 9:30 that evening however, we were looking into strong sunlight so we moved further down to settle along a forest track near Villardeciervos until the calls of Nightjars at 10:30 signalled our return to another excellent evening meal at Veniata.

Monday 11th July.

6:30am 14'C.  The mist at our site near Villardeciervos did not really lift that morning, so after hearing warning barks of a deer but frustratingly being unable to view much, we relocated to Flechas quarry where our only sighting was of a Turtle Dove getting grit for its crop. At Flechas site itself our hopes at seeing a Black-shouldered Kite were raised, but it disappointingly turned out to be a Kestrel hovering then landing halfway up the lamp posts where in previous visits we have photographed the Black-shouldered Kite.  Sightings this morning were proving to be nothing extraordinary, albeit very interesting, with the various Southern Grey Shrikes, Corn Buntings, Spotless Starlings, Magpies, 4 Wood Pigeons, 1 hunting Montague's Harrier and 2 Hen Harriers when out flashed a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo affording us a clear and close view.  This proved to be John's bird of the trip, and quite a treat for us all.

It was 9:30 by now and breakfast was required before our visit to Tawny Rock.  A very interesting Lizard was willing to be photographed beside the Veniata;  we think it is Bocage's Wall Lizard, but we are open to suggestions.

Tawny Rock produced a Tawny Pipit and 3 Iberian Green Woodpeckers were seen flying together at Cional. One example each of fox and wolf scat was found, then after a tasty lunch at El Lobo, Manzanal de Arribes we tracked around Boya - only finding fox and deer tracks.

The evening wolf watch near Villardeciervos was ominously  quiet.  In 3 hours we saw only 1 Stag, 1 Black kite and several Ravens.  No sounds...no sights...so it was with delight and relief that we shared Colin's excellent news upon our return to the Veniata that he had seen Wolf at La Piste.

Tuesday 12th July.

The brooding nature of last evening's silence was explained as the early morning was torn apart by fork lightening and thunderous blasts followed by sharp torrents.  By 6:50am the storms had abated in our area and we set off for a final watch near Villardeciervos before the airport run.  5 impressive Stags ran over the road ahead of us, but apart from that the last morning was a birder's treat with close sightings at Villafafila of 2 Great Bustards flying just ahead of us, multiple Montague's Harriers making use of the freshly combined fields and the last bird of the trip - a beautiful Black Kite soaring over our airstrip at Valladolid.

Once again a full array of bird, reptile and mammal life explored this week, with Saturday morning's Wolves being the image to overshadow all the others remembered this week.

Mgt H

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