Thursday, 21 June 2012

Newsletter June 2012

Male Great Bustard
Hello to you all,

"Sharp-shooter Ottway is employed by a refinery in Alaska to shoot the wolves that sometimes target the rednecks as they carry out their exhausting work.  After a gruelling five-week shift, Ottway boards the plane home only  for a brutal storm to wrench the craft apart, depositing the widower and 7 other men into the Alaskan tundra.  The men huddle together...but the local wildlife quickly encroaches on the crash site, attacking one of them.  With the howls of the wolves chilling the survivors even more than the icy blasts of wind, Ottway tries to galvanise his co-workers into action."

Stirring stuff, aimed to entice punters into the cinema to watch "The Grey";  what a combination! Wild animals intent on human kill...and Liam Neeson. We fool ourselves sometimes that we have progressed beyond the Grimm Brothers but it seems the Big Bad Wolf is still an easy target. This misnomer can hopefully be counteracted with education and responsible wildlife filming/tourism.

Dartford Warbler

 Our philosophy here at Wild Wolf Experience is that we aim to observe and study animals in the wild and try to learn about them respecting their own parameters. Our sightings may not always be the closest or the longest therefore, but they are truly thrilling when the hours of responsible tracking and waiting come to fruition, and for John and me it is made even more thrilling when we can show and share these moments with you too.

Wolf Country!
We have just returned from the Sierra de la Culebra where John and I spent our time walking new routes, discovering  new viewpoints and gleaning information to further ensure that you as our clients get the best chance of success during your time in the area. It was not all rushing around and research of course...much of this has to be taken by necessity over a cerveza or cafe con leche! The atmosphere in the local bar was electric during the recent Spain/Italy football match and  we are to be there again in time for the final on July 1st.  It seems highly unlikely to be a match  between Spain and England, and that is probably for the best in our case.

Traffic jam...Northern Portugal style.

This was not specifically a wildlife watching tour so I was relieved not to be constantly writing the trip report, but habits die hard, so I did list the species seen  (including Wolf!) and these are at the end of this newsletter.  We missed seeing two wolves by ten minutes on the first night of our arrival but gained a view of a single Wolf walking then loping across the heather at a later date on a clear, beautiful evening at La Piste, where there have been several reliable sightings reported. 

The majestic castle at Puebla de Sanabria.

It is a busy summer ahead  and John and I are looking forward to sharing our  wildlife experiences with all of you via this blog, or even better on one of our tours.

 Even Liam Neeson is invited!  

All best wishes,


Species spotted during our visit were:-

Rock Thrush
Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Red Kite, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Goshawk, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Hen Harrier, Montague's Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel.

Spanish Sparrow, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Sandmartin, Housemartin, Cragmartin, Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Spotless Starling, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Woodlark,  Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Tawny Pipit, Black Redstart, Serin, Dunnock, Bee-eater, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Jay, Raven, Magpie,Wren, Red-backed Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike, Nightjar, Bluethroat, Golden Oriole, Northern Wheatear, Stonechat, Blackbird, Rockthrush,  Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Dartford Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Whitethroat, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Linnet, Mistle Thrush, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Cuckoo, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Robin, Great Bustard, Cormorant, Black-headed Gull, Mallard, Lapwing, Grey Heron, White Stork.
Rock Sparrow
Red Deer, Roe Deer, Wild Boar, Oscillated Lizard,  Iberian Wall Lizard,
Iberian Water Frog.
Wild Boar track

Clouded Yellow Butterfly, Dark Green Fritillary, Common Blue Butterfly, Demoiselles, Water Vole, possible Wildcat....and WOLF!


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Looking for Lynx May 2012

Looking for Lynx 10th/16th May 2012.

Thursday 10th May/Friday 11th May..

Cliff, Suretha, John and I enjoyed an 07:00 breakfast  in bright sunshine at the Holiday Inn near Madrid Airport, in itself a new experience for all four of us before departing for Extremadura for a few days birding "en route" to Sierra de Andujar. Although well provided with big cats in their native South Africa, Cliff and Suretha were very keen to see this most elusive of wild cats, the Iberian Lynx, and made it quite clear that this creature was the over-riding reason for their journey.  Hmmm, no pressure there then! Very experienced wildlife watchers themselves, Cliff and Suretha acknowledged the unpredictability of wildlife watching but as always John and I resolved to do our best. I am not prepared to allow the Spotless Starlings seen by Cliff on the scrubland outside the hotel on his arrival last night as being first birds of the trip , so the soaring Barn Swallows and Swifts will be counted as our premier sights.  Negotiating the Madrid traffic to get out of the conurbation ,  Magpies, Spotless Starling and Red-legged Partridge were spotted by the roadside.

Once out of the general rush, we were soon courted by   Black Kite, Common Buzzard and  aptly named Swifts.  A foolish Goldfinch was trying to cross the A5 with Crested Lark also on the road. Barn Swallow, Black Kite and White Stork were seen flying over the road at El Casas de Escalone; the Storks obviously aiming for their nest of young  perched atop a high chimney. We turned towards  a horizon of snow-capped mountains to be delighted by 2  Black-shouldered Kites hunting close to the roadside.

The generally dry conditions meant that a lot of wetland had become dessicated but we still managed to see Black-winged Stilt and Little Grebe at a small patch of wetland at Legatera, with Corn Bunting and Black Kite  on the wires. Here, Red-rumped Swallow and White-rumped Swift hurtled over and under the road bridge, with good views of House Martin, Collared Dove and Booted Eagle also. Fields of solar panels vied against dehesa of holm oak for our attention...each area interesting and important in differing ways.  A kettle of Kites in trees and by the roadside, surrounded by Swifts, White Stork, Greenfinch, Little Egret and a darkish Common Buzzard kept our interest until our view of a Black Vulture and Griffon Vultures circling around near the Navalmoral junction  Three more Griffon Vultures and several White Storks in the trees  were interesting to chart until  near Trujillo. Cliff saw our first mammal of the trip...Rabbit!!!  Hopefully not the most exciting mammal of the next week, but it's a start.

Today we were aiming for Extremadura, not a usual stop en route for Wild Wolf Experience, but as Cliff and Suretha had travelled so far they  wanted to make the most of their Spanish expedition so we were staying in this most scenic area, confident of good raptor and other birdlife sights.

It was an all-action two-night stay in our comfortable, welcoming hotel very close to the National Park. On our journey to Torrejon el Rubio our bird list was swelled by seeing Jackdaw,Goldfinch, Serin, Blackbird, House Sparrow, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Iberian Grey Shrike, Bee-eater,Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Hoopoe,  Azure-winged Magpie, White Wagtail, Crested Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Chaffinch and Woodchat Shrike whilst the raptor count  started to rise as we watched Lesser Kestrel, Pale-phased Booted Eagle,Griffon Vulture and Black Vulture. At a blissful little river spot, where we enjoyed looking at  Iberian Water Frog, Terrapin, Viperine Snake, a Large Psammodromus Lizard and Clouded Yellow Butterfly, we spotted  Iberian Black Pig whose succulent hams we were to experience later in our tour. Views of several Griffon Vultures soaring overhead were exciting, but we had to acknowledge that even better than that was not far away.

At Penafalcon Cliff heard a sound which was to follow him throughout much of the tour ie the song of the Nightingale, and this little brown bird which produces such exquisite tones proved quite a tease for Cliff  This site did provide views of Blackcap, Rock Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Red-rumped Swallow, Grey Heron, Wren, Rock Bunting, Short-toed Tree Creeper, Black Redstart, Blue Rock Thrush, Serin, Black Wheatear, Black Kite, Griffon Vulture and Short-toed Eagle. Two pairs of Black Storks glided past giving good views of their striking plumage and huge red bills and feet.

Views from the top of the Castile de Monfrague surpassed expectations looking down on  about 50 Griffon Vultures, Black Vulture and  a Booted Eagle, whilst  standing alongside Woodchat Shrike, Blue Tit, House Martin, Crag Martin, Common Swift and White-rumped Swift. It was hot work climbing up all those steps, but we felt pretty inadequate when we were overtaken by local workmen going up the same path with bags of concrete on their backs.

The road to the Tietar Cliffs showed water levels to be very low and we saw 3 Grey Heron plus a Great Egret standing  in shallow water  which was populated by hundreds of fish stranded in drying pools, or even worse left to die on the river side as the waters evaporated even further.  The spectacle of so many fish throwing themselves onto the bankside in a suicidal mission to get some oxygen and fresh water supply was totally new for us all  and the birds, full of their fish supper, joined with the Terrapins and a Red Deer Hind which was cooling off in the river, to studiously ignore all this action. An Egyptian Vulture scanned from above as we continued towards the cliff viewpoint hearing the plummy tones of Golden Oriole.

During our time watching at the Tietar Cliffs, we became well acquainted with two Eagle Owl chicks which watched us for their own amusement, along with their near neighbour, the Griffon Vulture chick. A young Egyptian Vulture was practising his flight doing short bursts towards treetops.  Spotting Red-legged Partridge, Blue Rockthrush, Sardinian Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Long-tailed Tit to the persistent song of the Nightingale again put Cliff into search mode for this little bird.  Our second visit here produced stunning views of two Spanish Imperial Eagles, soaring then landing to pant in the beating sun....but still no little brown Nightingale for Cliff!  As notetaker and general scribe, I was beginning to notice a theme appearing throughout all this!

Our one full day in Extremadura began before breakfast as we started on our search for Great and Little Bustard  and by 7:23, as well as a Pied Flycatcher, Cliff had spotted a Great Bustard in flight. Several Red-legged Partridge tried to masquerade as Little Bustards by the roadside and although we were not taken in by these activities, they did just mean an occasional double-take as we travelled along a road of open dry grassland, ideal Bustard country. We were not to be disappointed...under a sky with a little more welcome cloud cover, Cliff caught sight of a Little Bustard in full display mode, puffing up,jumping footstamping  and wing flashing in an attempt to attract some female attention. Some suitably uninterested females were to be seen  getting on with their lives whilst this male specimen continued puffing and jumping, much to our appreciation at least.

We left the Little Bustard to his activity, and drove a short way along the A58 from Trujillo noting Goldfinch, Stonechat, Cattle Egret, Hoopoe, Short-toed Eagle and Black Kite until turning off on the C521 to Santa Marta de Magasca, where we were happy to watch a very photogenic Corn Bunting along with a pair of Montague's Harriers, Blue Tit, Azure-winged Magpie, Southern Grey Shrike, Cattle Egret, Spanish Sparrow, White Stork and more Red-legged Partridge when our attention became fixed upon several groups of Great Bustard. To the sound of larks in abundance, we were also treated to excellent views of Little Owl, Bee-eater and Woodchat Shrike. The count of Great Bustard sightings was increased later that morning when, upon returning towards Trujillo for breakfast, we saw three more of these incredible birds, along with Yellow-legged Gull, Montague's Harrier, Hoopoe, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lesser Kestrel, Woodchat Shrike, the seemingly inevitable Red-legged Partridge and the interesting sight of several Rollers inhabiting nestboxes set up on roadside poles. Not a bad count for before breakfast!

Our next venture of the day took us away from the crags and spectacle of Monfrague to a wetland area near Saucedilla.  Sightings were quite sparse en route as the sun was at its height, but we enjoyed seeing Griffon Vulture, Little Egret, Purple Heron,  Grey Heron, White Stork, Mallard,  and Spanish Sparrow as we drove through the site based around the nuclear station of Almaraz.  Despite the low water levels in the majority of Spain this Spring/Summer, this wetland reserve is kept full of water, it being a prerequisite for the nearby nuclear site, and the journey was voted worthwhile when we had a beautiful , close view of  3 Spoonbills, Cormorant, Night Heron, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Purple Gallinule, Coot, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Marsh Harrier, Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Gull-billed Tern, Common Sandpiper and Bee-eater. Cliff and Suretha inspected some interesting Orchid flowers  and some fairly large Puffball Fungi could also be seen here.

The national "sports" of bull fighting and football were represented in close proximity at Castelajada where the bull-ring was directly opposite the football pitch and we were saddened to see a dead  White Stork nestling which must have fallen from the nests towering above the village atop the church steeple. Whilst looking at the cork oaks at Torrejon, Cliff saw Spanish Sparrow and we were interested to see the Bee-eater breeding colony holes in the sand banks nearby. Bee-eaters here there were aplenty, along with Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Spotless Starling, Corn Bunting, Blue Tit and Black Kite. Interesting little encounters during that afternoon included an angry Scorpion at La Bascula while we were supposed to be watching a Short-toed Eagle on a pylon and John being very generous with his biscuits in an attempt to befriend a Fox at La Malavuela.  Still one encounter not open to Cliff was to see that little brown bird, the Nightingale, whose song continued to haunt him at most stops, where we could delight in sights of Azure-winged Magpie, Woodchat Shrike, Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Barn Swallow, Blackbird, Alpine Swift, Wren, Blackcap, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Serin, Griffon Vulture, Black kite, Black Stork and fo course, the Red-legged Partridge, but Nightingale we could see not.  An expert in vocal ventriloquism, this little bird was not willing to come into view at all!  Suretha was delighted to find 3 Fire Salamanders in water troughs beside the Rio Tajo and they posed well for their photo opportunity.

We returned  for dinner at 21:00.  We were all looking forward to this as the food at our hotel is always very good and the translation on the menu is also a topic of conversation.  Tonight was no exception;  we enjoyed "grilled vegetables whith"(sic), followed by "Stewed Iberian".  The latter, true to its name, was slowly cooked and was a succulent, melt-in-the-mouth dish, all beautifully presented. The air was balmy as Cliff and Suretha walked out after dinner to listen to the frogs vying for territory, whilst spotting Sharp-ribbed Newts and a Large Viperine Snake in the nearby pond.

What a day!!! Certainly a successful one by unanimous opinion, and full of lifetime memories in such spectacular, natural surroundings...but the main purpose for our tour beckons...our search for the Iberian Lynx.

Saturday 12th May.

The early light cloud broke to reveal strong blue sky as we enjoyed an excellent breakfast watching Short-toed Eagle and Great Spotted Cuckoo before checking out at 09:00.  A Black Vulture and a Black Stork soared overhead as we put our bags into our vehicle and our arranged prompt start had to be delayed when Cliff found a family of Southern Marbled Newts in a drainage pit. After rehydrating them, and the obligatory photographs, they became much more lively and we were able to leave knowing that they had been replaced in more comfortable conditions for their survival.

The road to Caceres displayed exactly why this Extremadura is quite unmatched by any other area of Spain, indeed in Europe, for number of raptors. Short-toed Eagle,  Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Montague's Harrier and  Black Kite all came clearly into view as the temperature rose to 33'C. Azure-winged Magpie, Corn Bunting, Raven, Mistle Thrush, Stonechat, Red-legged Partridge, Southern Grey Shrike, Bee-eater, Calandra Lark displaying, Spotless Starling, Jackdaw, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Rock Thrush, Hoopoe, Roller, Mallard and Crested Lark plus an Iberian Hare all kept our attention riveted on the way to Merida.  At Cruce de las Herrerias we watched about 25 Griffon Vultures in the sky as we enjoyed a lunch of  freshly- cooked tortilla, with  coffee and local hospitality. Spanish Sparrows rested below roofs whilst Alpine and Common Swifts screamed along the sundrenched streets.

As we drove across the Rio Guadalquavir,  Cliff and Suretha were overwhelmed by the size of the plains surrounding the historical city of nearby Cordoba and the sheer acreage of a lynx's territory hit home. Sardinian Warbler and Longtailed Tit were to be seen as we left the town of Andujar to settle in at our hotel amidst Azure-winged Magpies and an overhead Griffon Vulture.

A cursory walk around the grounds , which can often produce evidence of Iberian Lynx scat, drew a blank for lynx clues, but did reveal Jay, Whinchat, Hobby, Barn Swallow and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  After this walk we set off for La Lancha at 19:15 in still hot conditions. En route Cliff and Suretha were delighted to see  Little Owl, the first of several good sightings here of this lovely little bird, when it flew across the road to settle on a nearby rock. We also had Red-rumped Swallow, Serin, Hoopoe and Red-legged Partridge whilst driving this atmospheric road always on the lookout for our target.  Two Spaniards, local experts when looking for Iberian Lynx, were already present with their telescopes and we learned that they had observed a Lynx moving across the valley bottom an hour before we arrived. "Oh, Dear!" and "My goodness! " were expressions similar to what was uttered.. We saw Fallow and Red Deer and enjoyed watching Red-billed Chough to the sound of Cuckoo and Iberian Green Woodpecker and felt happy at the healthy Rabbit population...Lynx bait!  A treat for us all was the low-flying Honey Buzzards, thirteen in total, which seemed to wish to investigate us pretty closely, and soon after this Cliff spotted his first Wild Boar family party.  Two adult and five young Wild Boar moved at fairly slow pace for such a private creature across clear ground. A different family group was seen later and these various sightings, many of them a first for Cliff and Suretha, meant that we packed up our scopes feeling elated and hopeful. On our drive back to the hotel at 21:30 we stopped on the dark road to become acquainted with a Ladder Snake as it wended on its way  and had excellent views of the haunting Red-necked Nightjar at Les Escoriales. We had yet further excitement on our return journey as we caught  a young feline in the headlights of the car.  It was very young and moved up into the rocks beside the road, and even though we all were  experienced wildlife watchers and therefore sceptical in many instances, we were tempted to consider if we had been fortunate enough to see Wildcat.  It cannot be verified, but we await a verdict on Cliff's photographic evidence...until then the jury is definitely "out" on this one.

Certainly a lot to talk about over dinner which was chard soup, chicken peas and chips, followed by flan or strawberries.

Sunday 13th May.

The sights started early when Cliff spotted a Scop's Owl in the grounds during one of his nocturnal wanders.  The morning lynx watch was to be at Encinarejo and we set off at 06:15 on a stunning morning, feeling privileged to be in such a place with an atmosphere of idllyic calm, and already the temperature was warming up.  It was predicted to go above yesterday's 38'C,but in this early morning we could just relax to the area alive with chirring, twittering, warbling ...and expectation.   At 08:00 we were a little despondent to see a man walk directly across the bridge  and into the area we were concentrating on watching from a distance for the previous 90 minutes, and although delighted for him when he came up to us later with photographs of a lynx he had been able to see on this walk, we did wonder if it had scuppered our chances for that morning. By 08:40 the sun was getting stronger, frogs were beginning to croak and we watched a Terrapin relaxing on a rock. Blue Rock Thrush and Iberian Green Woodpecker both flew above us and we also had good views of Crested Tit, Golden Oriole, Subalpine Warbler and Sardinian Warbler. Looking along pathways which were too dry and hard to give up many clues as to any Lynx activity we counted ourselves lucky to find clear, recent footprints and fresh scat, underlining the definite presence of our target.

Over breakfast at 10:30, we recalled the sounds of the avian chorus that morning, and I hope that the memory of this lives on for Cliff and Suretha when they return to the hurly burly of their "real" world. We learned about the way this area tries to combat the disastrous effect of the Pine Processionary Caterpillar, mentioned in my last trip report for April 2012, by use of a black box which emits pheremones to divert  and trap the males.  This is effective on a small scale in the grounds of the hotel here in Sierra de Andujar but would not be feasible for a  large forestry area such as Sierra de la Culebra.

Our trip to the Information Centre gave us views of Serin, Azure-winged Magpie, Blue Tit, Rock Sparrow and Bee-eater, and we were impressed by the displays in this centre.  We resisted the urge to buy lynx souvenirs however, feeling that it may be tempting fate; we all wanted no obstacles in our way to see a lynx.

The afternoon heat hung heavy and we were all tired, so a siesta was decided upon.  needless to say, Cliff occupied his time partly with walking on the grounds, spotting some old lynx scat and he saw his Nightingale! He also had good views of a Melodious Warbler, before thunder began to roll.

We decided upon earlier dinner to allow greater flexibility for our evening watch, and we felt recharged after enjoying scrambled egg with sugarsnap peas and ginger, followed by salmon steak with wild rice and vegetables, and rounded off with fresh fruit salad with eucalyptus honey.

 Our 19:00 evening watch started well at La Lancha with about 30 Red-billed Choughs flying around our viewpoint and a Spanish Imperial Eagle putting on several soaring shows.  Plenty of  Red and Fallow Deer and Rabbits were grazing , but the very strong sunlight impeded our viewing  until after giving forth one last fierce blast of light, it surrendered to the mountain horizon. A gentle breeze fanned the grasses where we sat and the heat remained but without the former ferocity, for the last hour of our watch.  Two hinds ventured out onto the track...why could they not be a Lynx? was the thought in all our minds to be sure. However, in the gathering dusk, as  Tawny Pipit flew over us, two Moufflon slowly emerged from the hilltop.  Suretha saw another one on a further hillside, so we were exhilarated to have these views.

By 21:35 the light quality had gone so much so that we were starting to see frogshaped pebbles as we packed up to begin our drive back, avoiding the Red-necked Nightjar in the road at La Lancha village.. A Vole scampered in front of the car, too quick for specific identification, unlike the grand sight of a large Tawny Owl atop the fence on the vergeside, just proving that on every journey, in any weather condition, there is always something of interest in such an area rich in wildlife.

Monday 14th May.

Our 6:15 start towards Encinerejo saw us in good spirits as the air was slightly fresher  and the clear blue sky was punctuated with dots of cloud. Very good viewing conditions indeed and we set up our scopes to the plummy sounds of Golden Oriole and  Cuckoo, watching several red deer graze close by us. Huge, slow-moving Carp and Small-mouthed Bass swam in the Rio Jandular as Bee-eater and Iberian Green Woodpecker flew around our site.

We were witness to the awakening of this gentle haven as the warmer air encouraged Frogs, Toads and Terrapins to wake up and warm up Suretha saw her first glimpse of Kingfisher, exciting shaft of electric blue as it whirrs along the river course, and we hoped to get her a better view of this beautiful bird.  We presumed one of this duo was sitting on eggs, so our chances were reduced for views of Kingfisher, but we continued to scan and with success. Half an hour later, at 9:15, the Kingfisher flew the length of the river again and Cliff and Suretha were fortunate to see this view as they were checking out further along the riverbank.. We also saw Common Buzzard, Woodchat Shrike and Bee-eater, plus Rock Bunting outside our hotel as we returned ready for breakfast.

By 11:30 we were out again, spotting a super Little Owl and a female Moufflon en route to L'escoriales.  We had to stop the car suddenly as 2 Oscillated Lizards were enjoying the warm tarmac. Twisting down winding roads, along an avenue of eucalyptus trees, Red-rumped Swallows performed impressive aerial manoeuvres in this scenic splendour. The midday sun was beating fiercely as Crag Martins  were even stopping on ledges for a rest and Blue Rock-thrush was to be seen with mouth agape for respite from the heat.  It was therefore all the more welcome to enter the cave where Mouse-eared, Schreiber's and Mediterranean Horseshoe Bats were roosting. Our aim was not to disturb these creatures unduly , so we moved through the cave...just to see what was at the other end.  Little did we expect a close view of a female Spanish Ibex, who seemed less phased about our presence than we were at her's! She was very pretty, in excellent condition and seemed to be lactating, but once we got too close for her flight distance, she calmly turned and walked away. On our return to the car, John located this ibex again in his scope, resting in a cool fissure on a sheer rock face high up the mountainside.  For about 5 minutes we turned to look at a Jay and then a Stag which was nearby , but when we turned back to watch our Spanish Ibex, she was gone from sight.

After sampling the famed Iberico Ham from the Iberian Black Pigs which feed on the acorns,  we still managed to do justice to the tasty dinner of pate, cold meats and salad , with main course of veal and mash. dessert was flan and fresh fruit salad again by popular request. Tension was increasing as Cliff realised how unpredictable these truly wild creatures are and the phrase "needle in a haystack" was mentioned as he considered the vast, territorial area the Iberian Lynx patrols. But the over-riding concern was that we had only three more lynx watches to go...Cliff and Suretha had planned this trip  for a long time and had travelled from South Africa to see this rarest, large feline in the world, and now it was dawning that they may have to go back having not seen this creature.

So it was a very determined party of four, plus friend Bob, a lynx and wildcat expert who had arrived from France  that day, who set up their scopes at La Lancha that evening at 18:50. Conditions were pleasant with a warm breeze wafting the grasses and all was calm until shrieks from Cliff as he performed a lively dance  clutching his shorts.  The language was universally understood, as Cliff demonstrated his bite from some unidentified crawling insect.  We were just dealing with this, to the mocking call of the Iberian Green Woodpecker, when Bob called out "Lynx!"  Bob had seen a lynx on a rock and then moving slowly left,  so as we scoured the hillside against the strong sunlight all thoughts of  creepy-crawly bites were forgotten. We were shaking with excitement as we knew that our lynx was there, but the light was the winner in this case as after forty minutes scanning in to the sun, we had to admit that our target could be anywhere by now. Returning to our original positions, we had several enjoyable views of a male Moufflon resting in the evening sun,  plus two further females with four Griffon Vultures overhead.  Suretha saw  Wild Boar family group move along the track and as we packed up at 21:40 the calling and wing-clacking display of the Red-necked Nightjars was a treat to watch.

Photo: C.Dorse. May 2012.
The reptile count on our return journey was impressive, with stops for two different varieties of snake on the road, namely Ladder Snake and Southern Smooth Snake. We spent quite some time investigating these attractive creatures before returning them to the roadside, for us to continue back to the hotel. "Stop!", hissed Cliff as he had been scanning the sides with his torch, "There are eyes there!...Iberian Lynx!"  His voice was hushed, not just with necessity of wildlife watching, but also with excitement, as we emerged form our vehicle slowly and silently, and while Suretha kept an admirable steady hand on the torch, Cliff and John photographed and videoed this incredible, stunning feline as it watched us from only a distance of six metres by the roadside.  We shared this experience for about 8 minutes, after which we felt it was right to leave the lynx,.The effect of such a close and atmospheric view was electric as we returned  to our hotel very keen to share our astounding discovery...but we had been so long that everyone was in bed!!.

What a day!!

Tuesday 15th May.

Spirits were obviously high, and the atmosphere decidedly relaxed as we set off at 6:15 to Encinarejo,  and the myriad of birdsong floated over to us as we saw Kingfisher within half an hour, plus Mallard and 4 ducklings, Sardinian Warbler. Longtailed Tit, Crested Tit, Blue Tit and Azure-winged Magpies. A Eurasian Pond Terrapin was sunning itself upon a rock, but we preferred to rename it the rare Iberian Smiling Terrapin such was its benign facial expression. Two Oscillated Lizards were also taking the already warm air, and White Wagtail, Subalpine Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Jackdaw, Greenfinch and Griffon Vulture put in two Nightingales making Cliff wonder what had been the big problem with seeing them earlier this tour!  My limited descriptive powers cannot do this little Eden justice; it has a unique atmosphere of calm and beauty that can only be experienced, not written about.

After a hearty breakfast, we drove to the north of the park stopping at several viewpoints. At the Sanctuary we spotted Crested Lark, Golden Oriole, Blackbird, Serin, Bee-eater, Mistle Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Red-rumped Swallow and six Griffon Vultures.  The rarely seen Iberian Worm Lizard, a direct link between snake and lizard, was found at Mirador Mingorramus, and Cliff and Suretha felt they had hit the jackpot with this find.

"This is great! There are just SO MANY snakes in here!"
At a roadside stream we were excited to get good views of three lizards;  two were definitely Oscillated Lizard and the third was too quick for identification. Cliff enjoyed river-dipping, happily knee-deep amongst about 8 Viperines, some chasing Crayfish, others just exploring his toes. .

At a stop in Castille la Mancha,  watching Subalpine Warbler amongst cork oak dehesa, we noticed the ponds drying up in the drought. Tadpoles were stranded and alongside these ponds, now just puddle status, were some interesting tracks. Upon close inspection we were excited to identify them as Genet footprints. This shy, nocturnal creature was obviously feeding on the tadpole harvest.  An impressive find!

Returning for a dinner which consisted of spinach & chick pea starter, rabbit stew & chips followed by home-made chocolate mousse or flan, we returned to Encinarejo for the second time that day. A tribe of young Long-tailed Tits were flying around in their very sociable groups and a Grey Heron was looking hopefully for a fish supper.A Kingfisher flew left to right and landed on a small tree by a sandy bank, probably also after some fishy food. We were happily watching birds such as House Martin, Subalpine Warbler and  Great Spotted Cuckoo by the dam when we  almost could not believe our eyes. An impressive Iberian Lynx was stretching out and slowly walking over the rocks on the opposite river bank to ourselves, and she stalked along the bankside for about 150 metres as we watched speechless. (We later identified this stunning specimen as the same female that John had photographed three years ago when she was intent on hunting for her cubs.  Her hunting exploits and indeed her cubs are amongst the lynx photographs on our website.) Her silent, unhurried progress opposite us, obviously being aware of our presence but in total control, made us appreciate why the local description of this rarest of rare cats is "ghost of the Sierras."

Two individuals on two consecutive days...and what close views!  John and I were delighted for Cliff and Suretha who had travelled so far and put in so much effort to see their Iberian Lynx, and to say  they were overjoyed is an understatement.

The light was fading by 21:20 as we watched bats flying around and Suretha found a young Viperine hatchling stranded on the bridge. After reinvigorating it,and returning it to a more suitable habitat, we returned to our hotel, also reinvigorated after another exceptional evening. This time, we were able to share and celebrate our views  with friends at our hotel.

Wednesday 16th May.

7:00. After sampling our final breakfast sensation from Roland, we set off for the journey to Madrid to arrive in time for Cliff and Suretha's long haul back to South Africa, via Dubai. Watching Common Kestrel and Spotless Starling, Cliff was still scouring for a possible Sandgrouse although we all felt very satisfied with our results from the week's activities.

At our stop at the bridge near Alcazar de San Juan, Cliff saw what he identified as Marsh Warbler;  a good view both in flight and at rest, but upon checking with the Collins guide, it did not seem possible.  This was the right habitat, the right sound, it ticked all the boxes, but not according to the field guide. I would welcome comments re this, but I  tend to go for Cliff's identification as being correct.

Horizons of Don Quixote windmills gave way to 21st century wind turbines as we joined motorway traffic and got to Madrid airport in good time for the flights. It was a rushed farewell as always at the airport, but we all said our goodbyes feeling that the aim of the long trek for Cliff and Suretha had been  fulfilled and this week would live in their memories for the rest of their lives.

Margaret                         June 2012.

"...We just wanted to thank you profusely again for all your effort, patience and hard work! You were both such a pleasure to be around and you made our Spain experience even more memorable.  We will certainly recommend your tours!"                      

                                                                                  Suretha.  May 2012.