Thursday, 16 May 2013

Trip report Sierra de la Culebra April 2013

Trip report Sierra de la Culebra April 2013.

Subtitled: "And Sally saw a nun ...with a chainsaw!?"

Saturday 13th April.

With a Kestrel hovering overhead, John and I met Robert and Sally at Valladolid Gran Campo railway station in strong afternoon sunlight, and with the presence of Black Kite and White Stork soaring to the right of our vehicle as we left the city, plus a Crested Lark spotted by Sally in the industrial area  of Valladolid, all seemed very promising for the rest of the tour. But no-one could have predicted the wonderful views we were to be treated to this week! Noticing a Stonechat atop a pole at Villamajor,we were all ready for refreshments at Villalpando where we enjoyed tortilla whilst watching Spotless Starling, Common BuzzardLesser Kestrel, Corn Bunting and Northern Wheatear to the sound of  Skylark. Not a bad beginning!

Our entrance to the Villafafila nature reserve gave us Black Kite amid Storks with Red Kite above and pretty soon we were treated to Great Bustards on both sides of our track, intent on their lekking display. With their mutton-chop whiskers clearly visible drifting in the early evening breeze,the male Great Bustards were strutting around
believing themselves to be for all the world the most desirable must-have for any young female willing to notice them. Our attention was drawn away for a while to watch the easy flight of a male Montague's Harrier flying low over the fields,
until the Great Bustards,displaying and flying in large numbers demanded our attention once again. Robert and I were reminded of the lines from "Charge of the Light Brigade",as it seemed at one time as if we were almost surrounded by these huge birds:-

"Bustards to the right of them,
 Bustards to the left of them,
 Bustards in front of them,
 Volleyed and thundered,...

          Rode the six hundred."

     with apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson.

As we walked along a side track in this wonderful reserve,now full of water birds after the recent spell of torrential rain has resurrected the previously thirsty lagoons, Robert pointed out Avocet and Lapwing, amongst Carrion Crow, Raven, Northern Wheatear and Crested Lark. Great Bustards were on all sides of us, plus a Gull-billed Tern and Montague's Harrier.

At the Observacion des Aves post we first saw Northern Wheatear on a close-by rock, and another Crested Lark with its crest full up in the low grass.It was a most profitable stop for bird sightings,which were male and female Sub-alpine Warbler, Willow Warbler, male and female Blackcap,Spotless Starling,White Stork,
Woodchat Shrike,Jackdaw, Coot, Shoveller,Marsh Harrier,Black-winged Stilt, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Magpie, Pochard and Little Ringed Plover. There was little peace in this countryside,with Stork bills clacking, frogs croaking,bees buzzing and amongst this we saw Gull-billed Terns and Great Bustards in flight.

As we spent some time in Otero de Sariegos we were able to savour the atmosphere of this part of the reserve amongst the Lesser Kestrel colonies. We also saw drake Shoveller, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Barn Swallow, Jackdaw, Cormorant , Lesser Black-backed Gull, Hoopoe, Black Redstart,House Sparrow and Spotless Starlings showing their "bubblegum feet" according to Sally and Robert. A couple of  Red-legged Partridge tried to run under our wheels as we left this haven, casting a farewell glance at the White Stork nesting on the old church steeple, surrounded by about 40 Lesser Kestrels flying in and out of their distinctive, former dovecote homes.

The holm oak landscape around the Rio Esla marked a change in habitat, and we stopped at the bridge to look at the sunset plus Pipistrelle Bats, Grey Heron and Crag Martin to the sound of a Cuckoo. It was dark when we spied the eyes and then the outline of a Fox at the entrance to the village. As Robert and Sally settled into their rooms before dinner, Stansted airport seemed a long way away !

Sunday 14th April.

Blue sky at 07:00,with light mist patches nestling into the lower ground. We set up our scopes at la pista with the valley resounding to the calls of Cuckoos. By 07:30 two Red Deer came into view,with Carrion Crow above. The Iberian Green Woodpecker joined in the morning bird calls, while two Wrens were throwing calls to each other very close to us and we enjoyed being part of their Spring morning ritual. We could hear Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus watch a bold Dartford Warbler flying around our seats and it was soon obvious that there is always something happening,some situation being played out, if only we have the time to watch. By 09:00 we were enjoying the sight of two Roe Bucks in excellent light,having also spotted Dunnock, Mistle Thrush,Blackbird ,Coal Tit and  Jay whose piercing calls we had been listening to earlier. We left the deer grazing peacefully in the valley as we returned at 09:40 for breakfast, noting a Blackcap busily feeding on insects in the orchard at the hotel. Even when we needed to return to la pista for an impromptu visit to retrieve a lost room key a little later, there was a new sight for the tour, as a splendid male Bullfinch was perched on a top tree branch, looking very fine.

At 11:30 we began our stroll around the village very quickly registering Black Redstart on the hotel roof and Barn Swallow  in the sky. A Great Tit was very close to us in a little apple orchard, where we also heard a male Blackcap singing. Along the Paseo de Hirondelle we watched White Wagtail, Cock Linnet, Robin,Blue Tit and Songthrush, plus identifying Brimstone, Large White and Clouded Yellow Butterflies. An Iberian Wall Lizard on the cemetery wall was a hopeful sign for future reptile views this week,and we looked among the lichen-encrusted woods to find a Short-toed Tree Creeper.We found it! Plus Blue Tit,Blackcap,Jay, Common Buzzard,Hoopoe (foraging between the village goalposts)
 and Cirl Bunting. By the allotments we noted Goldfinch, male Stonechat along with several wild pansies and violets coming into bloom plus Holly Blue, Peacock and Green Hairstreak Butterflies. 

Fox scat was noted at a junction of tracks, and there were plenty of deer tracks. Sally and Robert were interested to watch a Green Tiger Beetle,which has extremely strong mandibles for its size I am informed! It didn't frighten us though!

A Raven was calling as we looked up to appreciate the clear,blue sky behind flurries of mimosa and we watched White Wagtail, Blackcap and a stunning Brimstone Butterfly to complete a relaxing and fruitful morning's stroll.

 After a tortilla lunch at Villardeciervos, we tracked along a former Roman road where we soon found some wolf scat which clearly showed wild boar hair. It was not particularly fresh however, but only a little way further along, some much fresher examples were found, again indicating a diet primarily of wild boar. Looking up we saw Woodchat Shrike and Woodlark, and Sally saw a beautiful Hen Harrier displaying over the short heather nearby, with a Black Kite further up in the cotton-wool clouds.The pond along this walk was very full and frogs were able to be seen but not with great detail as the muddy banks were well beneath the water,owing to the recent rainy weather. Such torrential rain had smoothed out  or submerged quite a few areas where prints could have been, and we had to walk some way along the track before Robert called out that he had some!
Certainly he had located some excellent tracks leading in both directions and all this near some more very fresh scat. There were also tracks from Red and Roe Deer. Add to these findings some clear sightings of Crossbill, Red-legged Partridge and Greenfinch and our walk had been very productive. We also looked at the destructive cocoons made by the Pine Processionary caterpillar, realising why the cuckoo was so successful in this area, with such a ready food source.Two Red-rumped Swallows were the
only note-worthy sight at a very waterlogged Boya viewpoint, and we returned to our hotel for a short rest before our evening's wolf watch,once again at la pista at 18:55.

With a slight breeze and very clear light,we began our watch to the sound of Dartford Warbler,Cuckoo and a gradual crescendo of croaking from frogs which could not be seen in the valley,but were certainly making themselves heard. This chorus continued sotto voce through the evening! Just after Sally had put us onto some magnificent Red Deer, Robert directed us all to a Wild Boar which was moving in and out of our vision owing to the various heights of the heather, but we were delighted to see this large creature move into lower vegetation and then trot out onto the track to give us a clear view for some considerable time. We enjoyed this view until he was once again lost in the undergrowth, but we were soon diverted by the Red Deer Stags enjoying a bit of a tussle, in preparation for the rut later this year.

A stroll through the village after dinner allowed us to appreciate the lack of light pollution in this area, as the stars were outstanding, and we noted the Pipistrelle Bats flying around the illuminated steeple.

Monday 15th April.

At 07:00 we set off for a wolf-watch at Ferreras, with the temperature a heady 6'C. Despite a bit of cloud cover, the stunning sunrise promised a clear morning's viewing and we settled to the sounds of Raven, Cuckoo and Roe Deer barks. Red Deer started to appear by about 08:00 and Robert noticed a Black Kite circling above. We enjoyed seeing Crossbills flying around our site with insistent Coal Tits making their presence known to us. Sally saw a stunning Iberian Grey Shrike and we returned to our hotel in good spirits, to learn that Wolf had been seen at la pista!

By 11:30 we were refreshed and ready for a trip to the medieval small town of Puebla de Sanabria. En route we stopped along the Boya/Cional road to check out la pista from  another angle, and saw White Wagtail, Chiff-chaff, Common Buzzard and Cuckoo plus some wolf scat. We had to spend some time at the village pond at Cional where a colony of Bee-eaters were just arriving after their migration.

We watched these stunning little birds in their iridescent plumage as they literally outshone the Jay, Cuckoo and Blackbird that were in the treetops for quite a while until Sally spotted an Iberian Tree Frog in the bank-side grasses. It was accommodating enough to pose for photographs but we left before causing it any undue stress. 

Several Red Deer ran across in front of our vehicle as we turned towards the direction of the embalse road, but as if to illustrate that it is very difficult to go anywhere quickly in Culebra, we came across a family's attempts to herd their cattle...and just had to stay and watch.
Mother, father and helpers were all involved very closely with these feisty, long-horned cows with their calves, plus the accompanying rather large bull, and a flighty Arab horse who in the manner of the beast seemed to enjoy creating disruption. All this to the stream of instructions shouted from a little boy of no more than 4 years old, from the relative safety of the back of their pick-up truck!

The embalse is a  good place to spot Crag Martin at close quarters and we saw these aerobatic masters along with White Wagtail, but a lot of our time was spent enjoying the scents of the herbs and the delicate beauty of the miniature pansies and forget-me-nots that graced the rocky edges here. We also saw Dartford Warbler, Sub-alpine Warbler and Red-legged Partridge plus Clouded Yellow Butterfly as an Iberian Wall Lizard ran across the road when we returned to our vehicle.

A pleasant salad lunch at Puebla de Sanabria preceded a little time watching the river in full flow, and our search for a Dipper eventually proved fruitful. The speed of the rushing river was not conducive to easy spotting of these birds, but we all managed to get on to one on the other bank-side, along with sights of Stonechat,Jay, White Wagtail, Bonelli's Warbler and a Blue-Tit feeding young in the stone wall of the little building by the car park.

. The same river was obviously going to be fast flowing at Ribadelago but we still managed to see  Red-billed Chough, White Wagtail, Rock Bunting, Common Buzzard and Robert spotted a Rabbit, much to his delight! Sally and Robert were also successful in finding Iberian Wall and Iberian Rock Lizard at the little bridge here.

There was no doubt in our minds where we would be watching for wolf this evening, and at 18:45 we were in position on a clear, sunny evening,and saw Fox hunting amongst the light grasses. By 19:30 the bubbling call of Bee-eaters announced that they were back for the spring/summer season, and with the addition of Cuckoo calls and Bees buzzing we had a true summer feel to our watch tonight.

This was to be a totally memorable evening for us all, and it started with the call of "Wolf!" at 20:00. We could all easily get onto the large, light-coloured alpha male Wolf  walking,sitting, rolling over and grooming himself, defecating, even standing on his hind legs to stretch his front paws up into the branches of a nearby tree! We feasted our eyes on this display of power and calmness gleaming bronze in the evening sunshine until, after about 15 minutes, he was lost to our sight in the taller heather. But only lost to us for 5 minutes!   He reappeared walking the tracks through the valley

and we watched scarcely daring to breathe as we saw the reactions of the Deer nearby. Five hinds began to run at great pace up the hill, but the stag which was very near to "our" Wolf stood totally still, transfixed and almost becoming part of the heather itself, until the Wolf, which did not seem concerned with prey at the moment, strolled away only to reappear at 21:00 walking down the side of the firebreak track,sniffing at bushes, before turning right into higher undergrowth.

Hugs and delight all round at this astounding experience; but this was not the end of the evening.

                                                At 21:15, just as we were regaining our composure, John hissed,"Wolf!" and there was another, different Wolf at the beginning of the firebreak track about 200 metres directly in front of us.  This was a wolf with darker pelage and he too was a large specimen. What followed next was  one of those moments which remain totally clear in the memory for years,so unusual was this incident.The Wolf settled down on the track in full view of us but obviously feeling no fear, and proceeded to watch us with a full stare for 15 minutes, occasionally turning his strong neck to look into the neighbouring copse, but without moving from his chosen position of lying face-on to us. At 21:30, he calmly arose and walked off into the undergrowth, with a backward glance to us and no element of concern. Well, this defeated even the most eloquent of us,and we were literally left speechless!

Dinner that night was as lovely as ever..thank you Antonio..and there was a celebratory atmosphere at the table that night!

Tuesday 16th April.

In a cooler 5'C  we assembled for our watch at la pista, and were quickly involved with some excellent views of sparring stags. Watching two Dartford Warblers very close to us in the heather showing their intense red eyes very clearly,we also appreciated the spectacular rising sun, to the sound of Bees buzzing, Roe deer barking and a singular Cuckoo with a slight speech impediment. A Sparrowhawk paused its dashing flight to alight momentarily on a small conifer only to resume its hunt. After last night's success, even the Iberian Green Woodpecker's mocking call did not sound so harsh. As we returned for breakfast, we noticed some activity around our hotel walls, and it turned out to be a Short-toed Treecreeper collecting nesting material.

At 11:00 we set off to visit the village of Flechas spotting a Songthrush and Serin by the local church. Passing the pond by Mahide, we noted Grey Heron, Mallard with ten ducklings, White Wagtail and Spotless Starling. The road to Flechas was productive,

giving us Sub-Alpine Warbler,Stonechat, Magpie, Dunnock, Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike,Linnet, Dartford Warbler,Iberian Grey Shrike,Great Tit,Hoopoe,Black Redstart,and Red-rumped Swallow at the old quarry site.

On our return from an interesting walk around the village with its predominantly old buildings,and equally predominantly old inhabitants,we could see Red Kite and Montague's Harrier above us

Later we dawdled 
along the Gallegos road noting Stonechat, Chaffinch,Grey Heron and Common Buzzard, before stopping to look at the plentiful Iberian Water Frogs which were deafening in the midday sun.
Our patience paid dividends when we waited by a rock pile to be rewarded with a wary Oscillated Lizard. 

Fascinating episodes of wildlife were on all sides here, and we were busy drawing each others' attention to as many of these as we could,including a Black Kite being mobbed by Lapwing, Bonelli's Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Common Buzzard, red Dragonflies, Woodchat Shrike,Rock Bunting, Hoopoe,Raven, Carrion Crow,male and female Montague's Harrier,Red Kite,White Stork,and to cap it all off before lunch, Sally saw a Booted Eagle
as we approached SanVitero. We also saw Holly Blue,Clouded Yellow and Green Hairstreak Butterflies,and noticed much evidence of Wild Boar rooting.

After a tapas lunch we returned to our base for some free time until the wolf-watch tonight.  During this time,Sally and Robert walked along one of the many inviting tracks around the village,to be treated to a wonderful sight of several Wild Boar, oblivious of their presence, wallowing in the mud very close to them.They also found several examples of the spectacularly spotted Oil Beetle which burrows its way along the paths in this area.

On an absolutely fabulous evening for sheer warmth and clarity of light, we reconvened at 18:45 and started to become acquainted with the Fox duo which regularly appeared in the early evening amidst the Spanish Broom. It was a quiet evening's watch,with lovely views of Rock Bunting and BlueTit on nearby wires, plus a stunning male Crossbill with two females. Several Red and Roe Deer were clearly able to be seen running across the track, and we enjoyed a relaxing watch until the light began to fade at 21:30. As we returned for dinner we were impressed by a Roe Deer very close to us on the hotel road.

Wednesday 17th April.

Noticing a Mistle Thrush singing by the side of the road on this clear morning with a temperature of 9'C, we set off to watch near Villardeciervos for a change after noting the evidence on one of our tracking forays. As we watched cattle grazing in the back field, we could hear Jay,Iberian Green Woodpecker and Cuckoo,while three Stags and two Hinds could be seen closer to us. Throughout the morning's watch, there was barking and general wandering of the three Mastin dogs which accompanied the cattle. However, the 12 Red Deer gathering by the small copse did not seem unduly troubled by such disturbance but this was the morning's total mammal count. We enjoyed watching at close quarters the displaying and posturing of two Cuckoos as the female was literally leading the male a merry dance,
and we noted Wood Pigeon,Crossbill, Robin, Iberian Grey Shrike, 
Dunnock and Serin in the clear sunshine before we packed away to return for breakfast,noting Red-rumped Swallow and Jay at Boya on the way.

On our way to collect the stealth camera John got us all onto a Crested Tit which was flying in the copse by the track,plus a Whitethroat on a sapling beside us.We also had Blackcap singing, Dunnock and Dartford Warbler. Our attempts to see the master of ventriloquism, the Nightingale,as it sang close to us,was unsuccessful however.

Today we were aiming to add to our already impressive bird-count with a trip to Portugal. Almost immediately as we neared Mahide we could see a White Stork flying overhead, with Northern Wheatear, Common Buzzard,
Iberian Grey Shrike and Common Kestrel, plus a Lataste's Viper which we narrowly avoided on the road.At SanVitero we spotted Booted Eagle,Black and Red Kite, White Stork,Montague's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel,Carrion Crow
and Corn Bunting. Reminiscent of a scene from a Disney movie such as 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians', we had to stop the car as a large pack of little dogs came racing yappily along the road towards the car, only to pass us by and continue on their obviously very urgent business at nearby Moveros. One can only suspect food was involved.

Our first bird in Portugal was a very respectable Linnet,closely followed by Crested Lark on the wire, and two Montague's Harriers soaring around and twisting their slim wings for maximum effect. At Ifanes to the sound of a donkey braying,we watched Cuckoo,Jay and Booted Eagle. 

Immediately in the car park at Aldeia Nova,we spotted a Rock Bunting on a bush and a Common Kestrel above us as we set up a scope at the breathtaking viewpoint.

The time spent at this peaceful and inspiring place reaped great rewards as we were able to feast our eyes on close views of adult and sub-adult Egyptian Vultures,plus Crag Martin, Lesser Kestrel,Red Kite, Goldfinch,Alpine Swift,Booted Eagle, Red-billed Chough and two Golden Eagles! It was a case of "Look right!"then "Here,on the left!" as such avian delights almost competed for our attention along with lovely specimens of Small Copper and Spanish Festoon Butterflies. I also had a fleeting view of  Blue Rock Thrush.

After an excellent salad lunch at Miranda do Douro which was enjoyed with the view of two Egyptian Vultures soaring by our window table plus Sally's incongruous sight of a nun loading her transit van with a chainsaw?!?, we were off to Fariza.  En route, we looked at an ancient bridge,
which Robert recognised as a 'clapper' bridge similar to those  specimens in Dartmoor, and where we could see Woodchat Shrike,followed by an interesting episode of three Black Kites sparring mid-air. At Fariza, another lovely peaceful spot, we could see the Egyptian Vultures' nest site. Sally got us onto a better view of| Blue Rock Thrush,and we could watch a pair of Golden Eagles flying around our viewpoint. By 17:45 it was getting near to our time to return and we had not seen a Griffon Vulture yet. But just as we were leaving, they started to return in large numbers and we were treated to close sightings of several Griffon Vultures,plus good views of Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Iberian Grey Shrike and Montague's Harrier.

No time for a rest today; it had been so eventful that we were straight out upon our return at 19:10 for our evening wolf-watch at la pista. By 19:40 we were watching the two Foxes as they came out to hunt, but apart from Crossbill, Rock Bunting, two Red Deer and one Roe Deer,it was a quiet evening and by 21:00 we were ready to return for dinner after an exciting and satisfying day.

Thursday 19th April.

With the temperature dropping to 2'C as we passed the 07:10 school bus , we noticed some low-lying mist in the valley by Ferreras.  We had had close views of Red Deer by the roadside at Villanueva, but as the light and warmth improved we saw Red Deer in all their rich colours, with Carrion Crow above them. The deer were looking very relaxed as they lay in the grass, flicking their ears and preening themselves, with only an occasional Roe Deer bark from the forest behind us. A Dunnock was singing on top of the tallest pine at the edge of the track. It was proving to be a very peaceful, quiet watch at Ferreras this morning, but when we walked around the other side of the wood, we were able to see fresh tracks from Wolf,Badger,Fox, Deer and Wild Boar. Birds spotted nearby were Cuckoo, Black Kite,Common Buzzard, Raven and Red-rumped Swallow. We also appreciated seeing a Green Hairstreak Butterfly and an Iberian Tree Frog.

Appearance at breakfast was delayed however, when we noticed a Wryneck in the orchard by our hotel.

Later that morning we set off to explore some of the old rural villages in this area, noting Crested Lark on the road at Mahide, with Black Kite in the air and White Wagtail atop a telegraph pole.  We took our time to appreciate a Dark-phased Booted Eagle near our first stop at Riomanzanas, by the old sweet-chestnut trees, which also proved to be a haven for Linnet,Serin and Rock Bunting, plus Orange-Tip Butterfly. After chatting to village resident Margarita, who as ever seemed determined to sell us a 4 bedroomed house(!), we strolled around the atmospheric village

with its juxtaposition of quaint/shabby and ostentatious new-build.

To the background buzz of bees in the pear-tree blossom,we watched Black Redstart, Linnet,Barn Swallow and White and GreyWagtail. The river was full which was no longer any surprise,but we could still make out some decent sized Trout, and Robert and Sally picked out Iberian Wall and Rock Lizards at the bridge. Once again,a Nightingale was heard but not seen. The Black-shouldered Kite was proving very elusive this tour too, as we searched along the Mahide road, noting Carrion Crow,Iberian Grey Shrike,White Stork, Northern Wheatear and Stonechat.   
Travelling along the 'straightest road this side of the States', John pointed out Short-toed Eagle and two Booted Eagles,

but such was their flight speed,by the time we had all got out of the car,they were out of sight. The smooth sight of a Montague's Harrier gliding past us on our left was a longer spectacle however and there was also an excellent view of Great Spotted Woodpecker as we drew up at Villanueva for a lunch which just kept coming! Sally and Robert were allowed to "sign the book"(?) as they had seen a wolf and this ceremony was treated with the appropriate gravity when handed the worthy tome with the pen chained to it. Narrowly missing a snake on the road,we returned to our hotel for  some free time before the evening's wolf-watch,arranging to meet at 19:00 for a watch at la pista.

An Iberian Wall Lizard was sunning itself on the wall by our vehicle as we set off for la pista, and the action started quickly with Wild Boar moving across the low grass at 19:45.  He was soon lost to view however in deeper undergrowth, but only to re-appear at 21:05 in the same area. In between these views we had enjoyed watching Hen Harrier,Wren, Dunnock, Crossbill, Rock Bunting,the seemingly-resident Fox,one Roe Deer and two Red Deer. It had been a lovely warm evening watch,and we returned in good spirits to our dinner of courgette soup, tortilla and fresh fruit.

Friday 19th April.

La pista gave us excellent views of several Red and Roe Deer from the very start of our watch this morning, including a couple of hinds cautiously sniffing the bushes along the track. We all got on to Sally's Hen Harrier quartering along the back fields and we noted a Crossbill closer to us. In a quest to see Iberian Hare, we diverted along the Boya/Cional road, where we saw  Larks rising from the grasses, Red-legged Partridge, Black Kite,Crow,Stonechat, eight Red Deer and two Roe Deer,but no hares. The chilly,strong wind that was blowing around the valleys here this morning may have been responsible for this paucity of hare activity. However, we were treated to an excellent sight of a stationary Cuckoo on the rock along the Cional road. The return trip to breakfast also reaped a Short-toed Treecreeper, Blackbird and Goldfinches.

After breakfast we set off to walk the tracks

to the back of Codesal, interested to see la pista from another angle. On the way we spotted White Wagtail and Common Kestrel, plus two Short-toed Eagles. At the village of Codesal, Robert asked us to stop, and we waited for a short while,until he delightedly pointed out a Nightingale for us! Never an easy bird to locate,this meant that we started our walk in high spirits! Obviously Manuel's carrot soup was having an

effect as Robert's eyes were working very sharply today;
a little further along he located a Greater White-toothed Shrew on the path. We did not allow ourselves to be threatening to this bright-eyed little creature, but merely took a few photographs for identification and then left it hopefully to scuttle back for better cover. There was a strong, musky smell  at certain points along the walk
and very fresh wolf-tracks were found plus wolf-scat. We noted Blackbird,White Stork,Short-toed Eagle,Red Kite,Raven, Stonechat, Serin and we flushed out a Stag and two hinds from the heather."Could just as well have been a wolf", was the mantra we were all becoming accustomed to hearing from John, but despite our jesting, we knew it was true. We noted the lines of Pine Processionary Caterpillars and thought this behaviour may be to act as a deterrent to the Cuckoo,

as these caterpillars are tasty morsels to the birds individually, but they look remarkably like a snake when travelling in tandem.

We appreciated sitting by the pond listening to the full- throated croaking of the Iberian Water Frogs in such an undisturbed,idyllic setting,

before heading off to Bar el lobo for their wonderful patatas bravas, plus their slant on Welsh rarebit! Two Common Buzzards lifted up very close to us as we left this friendly little bar to try a little
pond-dipping at Boya. Here we managed to find a young Bosca's Newt and three- pronged Stickleback before returning to our hotel for some free time before the evening's watch.

The final wolf-watch of Robert and Sally's tour had to be at la pista,where we had experienced that incredible Monday night,and we settled to enjoy the antics of the two hunting Foxes in the evening sunshine,plus plenty of Red and Roe Deer action  Even Sally's Hen Harrier put in an appearance,flying in front of the nearby copse and as a finale,a large Wild Boar trotted into our sight at 21:05, sniffing through the open heather and remained with in our view for five minutes. An excellent and relaxed evening at this most atmospheric of sites!

Saturday 20th April.

The early morning temperature was reading minus numbers as we took our leave but the sun soon rose, and hence the temperature gauge, as we drove through Ferreras listening to Nightingale and seeing Red Deer aplenty plus Collared Dove and Rabbit. Waving to two pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, we had allowed ample time to stop and watch at the Rio Esla bridge.
This restful place provides abundant wildlife opportunities every month of the year,and this morning we were still adding new species to the tour tally as we had good views of Rock Sparrow, Cormorant,Raven, White Wagtail, Kingfisher, Grey Heron and Common Sandpiper. An American Mink was swimming nearby and we watched this for quite some time to ascertain its true identity. 

We passed the interesting dovecotes by Villarin de Campo at just the right time as we were lucky enough to witness about 50 Lesser Kestrels fly out of their nesting holes ready to find the morning's food. Several Montague's Harriers were sitting on, or beside,the road to warm up as we  drove through flocks of Lapwing and Mallard with flying Great Bustards in the distance.  The lagoons of Villafafila were busy with Greylag Geese, Gull-billed Terns, Mallard, Gulls being mobbed,White Storks frogging and Great Bustards displaying.  Such a rich wildlife area, and the sights kept appearing, so it was all too quickly that we arrived in the outskirts of Valladolid intent on getting to the Gran Campo railway station. A Red Kite soared above the renfe station as we said our "Au revoirs"...not 'Goodbye' as Robert and Sally are determined to return for the wildlife watching within total relaxation which is such a speciality of the Sierra de la Culebra!


"We had such a good time thanks to your friendly and expert care.  Thank you...for your photographic skills-we were delighted with the results...Together with pictures we took for ourselves we have a memorable set of images from a great holiday."