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.

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