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.
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.
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.
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 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 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,