Thursday, 31 October 2013

Real life Hallowe'en in Sierra de la Culebra.!

Visiting Sierra de la Culebra this month, friend Wil found some things that go bump in the night using his stealth camera. (2 Wolves and a Wild Boar)

Happy Hallowe'en!!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Watching for Wolves Tour 17th/22nd September 2013.

Watching for Wolves 17th/21st September.

Tuesday 17th September.

Carren, Jean,Irene and Anne are four ladies who were determined to give 100% when looking for wolves whilst also devoting the same amount to having a jolly good time together. They arrived full of praise for the John Lennon Airport at Liverpool and also very happy with the Easyjet team who had flown them into Madrid. They met John and arrived at the hotel in  good time to settle in to their rooms and enjoy their first evening meal here. As bed-time approached, we had the unusual sight of the normally inscrutable Antonio senior being asked to fill Anne's hot water bottle, (ambient temperature 21'C) which was lovingly ensconced in a furry cover.  Such a device Antonio had never met before, but he was ready each night after that to fill Anne's "hot rabbit" to the brim!

Wolf Watches.

Early morning mist, although beautiful, did limit viewing possibilities in the first half of the tour.  The stag rut was getting to a climax however, and every watch brought stunning views of these proud creatures, with their roars and barks resounding through the valleys even when mist impeded good views. On the first evening watch, 18th September, we were excited to locate the source of so much vulture interest. We watched at 20:00, several GriffonVultures and a Raven feeding,until the Black Vultures came in to get rid of the rest. The full moon became easily visible by 20:15 in an almost violet sky as we watched these birds, so graceful in flight yet so ungainly on land, to the background of roaring stags. At 20:45  seven Wild Boar were grazing in the light grass and 5 minutes later two more Wild Boar ran across the track.  Nightjars and crickets had begun their evening wall of sound as the diminishing light meant that we had to leave this scenario.

The next morning (Thursday 19th September) Wolf was seen fleetingly but we couldn't all get onto it. Irene pointed out Wild Boar to us all. plus a beautiful Stag.By this evening, when our watch produced nothing bigger than an Iberian Hare, a little despondency was beginning to creep in, voiced at dinner by Carren's ironic toast to the "Spanish Buggerall".

Friday evening's watch changed all that negativity however.As we settled at la pista by 19:00 noting Crossbill on the wire and the inquisitive Dartford Warbler nearby, most of us managed a view of a solo Wolf moving intently across the fields on the horizon at 20:15.  As some of us were concentrating on four Wild Boar rooting about some distance away at 20:40, we were also delighted to see three young Wolves and two adults in playful mode on the distant hill fields. From that watch on, good views were more frequent, with an excellent opportunity beginning at 09:20 the next morning (21st September) to watch a pale-pelted adult Wolf interact with several Red Deer.  We were focused on the deer in the light grass when suddenly one deer went "Boyng" (Carren's words) and  three others were showing signs of being startled. No wonder, because a large Wolf came out onto the track!

The changing skies on both the morning and evening watches were something for us all to enjoy.

Up to the very last minute, on the last wolfwatch of the tour, everyone was watching as the deer performed this "pronging" action as if to demonstrate its fitness to any predator, while a Stag remained totally transfixed amongst running hinds. We watched as they were being chased by a Wolf and we all were able to follow this thrilling episode for some time.  We left la pista after this last wolfwatch of the tour in high spirits after several excellent views and glimpses into the natural life and behaviour of this apex predator, the Iberian Wolf.

Tracking for Signs.

Of course, although watching for wolves is the main purpose of our time on tour, there is always much to do in between watches, and on the very first day we noted some fresh wolf scat positioned on top of some older foxscat at the crossroads of a path during a walk around our base village of San Pedro.  The portly bumblebees were busy on the ivy and blackberry bushes, along with a huge blue/black flying insect which Carren later identified, thanks to Irene's photographic skills, as a Violet Carpenter Bee, aka Mijas Bee.(xylocopa violacea). We could identify White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Rock Bunting much more readily and our searching in the skies led us to notice five GriffonVultures soaring around San Pedro...a number which increased to about seventy by the end of our walk.  Iberian Wall Lizard and Iberian Water Frog were seen, plus Clouded Yellow, Mountain Clouded Yellow and Rock Grayling butterflies. The blue, and occasionally the red, Grasshoppers were displaying their colours before our feet as we walked the paths around the village, noting  Red and Roe Deer tracks, and Carren attempted to handle a large Cricket until it bit her...which is probably what that Spanish person had been trying to tell her!

It being a Wednesday, the "Sausage and Cheese-with-a-little-bit-of-fruit-Man" was visiting the village and he was keen to regale us with tales of his sights on his travels around the byways in Sierra de la Culebra.  He was also very happy to share his produce with us and it meant that Jean was able to buy her holiday bananas: a bit of a tradition amongst these ladies I understand.

Later that day we did find a Praying Mantis at Boya and it was a pleasure to watch it watching us. In the same area we noticed wolf tracks in the sandy part of the firebreak going up the hill in a typically direct, straight line. Lunch at the Remesal that day was preceded by some wolfscat evidence along the Roman Road and some pretty close views of the Mastins there. Luckily for us they were intent upon relaxing in the forest shade away from the midday sun.

"Surely not THAT big!", Irene is amazed.

Village Visits.

Carren, Jean, Irene and Anne loved visiting the traditional villages of Flechas and Riomanzanas, noting a young Stonechat, Black Redstart, Rock Bunting, Iberian Grey Shrike and Common Kestrel at the first village stop of Flechas where Anne climbed up the bell-tower to see if she would be eligible for the role of bell ringer, but soon realised she was about 30 years too young. Irene noticed the strong smell of recent Wild Boar activity during our walk behind the village, where we spotted Escher's Blue, Meadow Brown and Fritillary Butterflies.

As we left Flechas for Riomanzanas, four Red-legged Partridges scuttled over the road. Soon after this we stopped to survey the vast area of uninhabited countryside from a lay-by viewpoint, appreciating the time to drink in the peace and quiet of this rural idyll.

Crossing the ford at Riomanzanas with Marguerita insisting we look at the village swimming pool facilities, we disturbed a Smooth Snake which subsequently swam across into some nearby reed. Marguerita was in mischievious mood and we all found the visit to Riomanzanas entertaining, although we kept a safe distance away from the river as our resident hostess seemed intent on making one of us find out about the swimming pool from closer quarters!

Returning to our hotel after a tasty plato combinato at Otra Cosa, we had more good views of Short-toed Eagle perched on a nearby telegraph pole.

After spotting Griffon Vultures and Spotless Starlings en route, we spent quite some time looking at the variety of Iberian Water Frogs in the depleted pool at Codesal. This muddy area also gave us good evidence of Wild Boar wallowing sites.

The time spent in Portugal is always fun and as we set off to Alcanices we saw several Common Buzzards and Crested Lark,  before having a short stop to look at the pottery at Moveros.  Soon after this we had excellent views of two Griffon Vultures, plus Iberian Grey Shrike and Spotless Starlings.The sharp-eyed amongst us saw the Schreiber's Green Lizard as it streaked across the road, and soon after we almost had to perform an emergency stop to avoid an Iberian Wall Lizard. Looking at the scene of devastation after the huge fire on both sides of the gorge at Aldeiea Nova we saw Crag Martins, Jay and marveled at the ingenuity of the Wood Ants as they moved their nests. The residents of the village of Aldeiea Nova were happy to talk to us about their lifestyle, living totally from their produce, and even the 15 year old donkey played a major part;  eating the weeds, pulling the plough and fertilising the ground!

 This donkey, like any valuable piece of equipment, was well cared for and appreciated. Everyone was able to watch the roosting Griffon Vultures through their scopes or binoculars and it was thrilling to look down on these magnificent masters of the air as they floated on to jostle ungainly for a resting place on the crags around Fariza.  We were also delighted to see Honey Buzzard, plus Crag Martin and Skipper butterfly. For some of us, the enduring memory of that visit will be Carren's exploding whale account,but hopefully, we will also remember our feelings when we were in a place where the beauty and atmosphere has remained constant  for centuries, watching the similarly unchanged daily ritual of these huge vultures, themselves relics of ages long ago.

The return journey to Madrid airport was  topped with excellent Great Bustard, Marsh Harrier and Red Kite sightings at Villafafila, so all in all a glorious climax to this tour!

Margaret .  25.10.13.

  "Fantastic location,stunning scenery, great hotel,good food, excellent trips between wolf watches, very generous with your time and knowledge, small groups give an exclusive feel,good lunch stops,I enjoyed all the parts from local history and culture to bird-spotting...thanks again-it was a great holiday , and wolves!"

"I loved the area...beautiful scenery,peace and tranquillity...loved the rustic hotel and the totally unspoilt village, also Antonio 1 and Antonio 2 who looked after us so well. As well as the wolves, it was lovely to the opportunity to see such a variety of other wildlife and birds in their native habitat, also fantastic sunrises and sunsets. Much enjoyed our trips out to other areas and being able to see the totally unspoilt rural villages of the area.Thanks again for all your time and effort to give us a good and varied holiday."

Sunday, 20 October 2013

And they just kept coming closer....!

In Sierra de la Culebra on a September/October Watching for Wolves tour we spotted a family party of Wild Boar trotting along the firebreak.

They just kept coming closer,

and closer,

and closer,

"They will definitely go into the wood now they've got to the end of the track!"

But, they just kept coming closer,

Crossing the railway line...10 minutes before the next train,

And into the bushes just 4 metres in front of us.

Too close for the camera!

Then up onto the track, within an arm's reach of where we were sitting silently,

Trotting off with a snort of recognition,

Unaware of the thrill they had given us .

Photos by John on tour with Terry and Ros, who said at the beginning they would like to see Wild Boar!!!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Wolf/Bear Tour September 2013

Watching for Wolves/Browsing for Bears Tour.

sub titled:- Peter and the Wolf(ves)

 7/14th September 2013.

Wolf Watches.

A Wild Wolf Experience Wolf/Bear Tour  was part of quite a European trip for Peter and Rosemarie,driving to Sierra de la Culebra from Frankfurt via Bordeaux. A stormy drive through Southern France had led into more settled weather and both Peter and Rosemarie were ready to relax over a beer or coffee as we met in Villardeciervos.

After settling into our hotel in San Pedro, we set off for the first wolf watch of the tour; La Pista had been the most reliable source this season, and so this is where we went. There was a bit of a heat haze, but the presence of a Black Vulture on a rock near the firebreak, and several Griffon Vultures either in flight or congregating in this area raised our  expectations still further.  The sky was looking stormy now and there were thunderclaps and lightning flashes from about 20:00 onwards, with the end of the rainbow signifying a pot of gold at Mombuey?! By 20:20 we were able to watch, and listen in awe to, Red Deer stags as they roared their rut through the valley  and we were delighted by a family of Wild Boar, seen clearly within our scopes. Not long after this treat, John got us onto a Wolf by this year's den site, to be followed by 2 cubs clearly identifiable by their playful body language.So, on our first evening, about 20 Red Deer, 2 Roe Deer, Wild Boar, Black and Griffon Vulture..and 3 Wolves!

This wonderful first wolf watch set quite a benchmark for the rest of Peter and Rosemarie's time in Culebra,but in general the watches even excelled this promising start. The following morning,Sunday 8th September,we were able to watch 5 Wolves playing on sunlit rocks for hours,whilst the Griffon and Black Vultures still waited around, looking morose and ungainly in this morning's superb sunshine. They had been joined by Ravens and we saw Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush near to our watch.

Monday 9th September's morning watch was uneventful wolf-wise, but repeated the Rock Thrush views, both an adult and a juvenile,plus Wild Boar and stags and hinds in tip-top condition.However,a Wolf returned to our scopes at 08:30 on Tuesday morning 10th September;  at first only John saw this, but a short time later Peter alerted us to another individual sighting and we were soon treated to 1/4 hour of 3 young Wolves playing only 200 metres in front of us.  We also saw Short-toed Eagle.

The evening watches were truly atmospheric with their stunning sunsets sinking behind the mountains of Sanabria,which were keeping their secret of the encroaching bear population. We saw Wolf at 20:30 on Sunday 8th by the close-cut fields at the top of the hill, and at 20:15 on Tuesday 10th,in good visibility and with 3 Black and 13 Griffon Vultures plus Ravens hanging around, 2 Wolves ran in front of them as 2 Roe Deer raced away through the heather. Earlier that evening we had enjoyed watching good long views of 3 Wild Boar in the light-coloured grass at 20:00, but this wolf sighting outranked that! The evening watch at Boya on Monday 9th September was a quiet one, following up the tracks and wolf-scat we had found there during our foray on Sunday. But Rosemarie returned with a hefty bag of large pine cones,so it was constructive in one sense! 

The final watch of the wolf part of the tour was certainly an impressive finale and one which prompted Peter to exclaim,  "This place is better than Yellowstone for wolves!"  The evening watch on Tuesday 10th September started peacefully enough, giving us time to appreciate the purple heather,interspersed with dashes of violet,blue and yellow;  a true artist's palette of colours in this evening sunshine. The vultures by now were gorging and squabbling over something in the dry grass, when Peter whispered "Wolf!"and 2 Wolves were first crossing the track before coming straight toward us;  they then went unhurriedly into the wood bordering this firebreak track. As the lightening started to flash, a huge stag stood transfixed, a 16-pointer at least,silhoutted in the lightening flashes as we drove off, lifting a couple of Nightjars in our headlights. We felt fully satisfied with our excellent 5 sightings from 7 watches.  What could top that? Well, only Antonio's paella, and when we returned for dinner...paella it was!

Daytime activities.

The walk around the tranquil village of San Pedro on Sunday 8th September had meaning both for Rosemarie, who found her namesake in a large rosemary bush,only to be matched by Peter, who felt rather proud to be in Calle la San Pedro.We enjoyed scouting out the wild boar trails in the lichen-encrusted oak wood by the cemetery and we admired both the cultivated harvests of ripening apple-trees requiring support as their fruit grew heavy, and the natural harvest of burgeoning sweet-chestnut trees.

As well as discovering the wolf scat and tracks at Boya, we also found some wolf-scat by the tree nursery.After watching 3 Iberian Water Frogs in the pond at Villardeciervos Roman Road, an excellent lunch was enjoyed at Otra Cosa with local beef, peppers and tomatoes.

We were shocked at Aldeia Nova to discover that a strong fire had caused devastation on both sides of the gorge,and it was still smouldering. We stared at this beauty spot laid bare and black by the ravages of the recent fire.  We were only there 10 days ago ( see trip report Wolf/Bear August 2013).The little white church stood out even more now against the charred background. 

However, at Fariza, we had a very close view of a Golden Eagle, plus excellent views of about 16/20 Griffon Vultures and Black and Red Kites...not to mention the wonderful pottery shop at Moveros, always a treat.

Our walk around the fascinating village of Flechas was relaxing and enjoyable, to be followed by a thoroughly entertaining time with Margerita at the traditional village of Riomanzanas. This feisty lady enjoyed showing Peter and Rosemarie her produce, her traditional way of life. the facility of the village swimming pool, and we were left in no doubt as to how to handle an angry,spitting cat!!Dinner that evening was a lively affair as we enjoyed the lovely home cooking from Antonio and we recalled both the fun events of today, and also the fact that we had been witness to a part of living a life lived closer to nature than any self-suffiency course in our native countries could offer...and to a life which will in all probability be defunct within another generation.

Margerita and father Francisco, two lovely people.

Browsing for Bears.

Somiedo was beginning to hint at its autumn beauty as the leaves were showing signs of changing hue.  The Alpine Buckthorn was ripe and ready for picking as Peter and Rosemarie were treated to excellent lengthy views of 3 different individual Cantabrian Brown Bears during their morning and evening watches during 11th/14th September.

 These views started with a large  bear in the valley to the left of La Peral and Peter, Rosemarie and John could watch in the excellent sunlight as this magnificent creature scrambled across the scree.  They also counted at least 20 Chamois, and Red-billed Chough were notable amongst the birds spotted on this first day. Each day brought good bear sightings in the bright, clear conditions, with the best watch probably being on Friday September 13th...certainly not an unlucky date here! a different large Cantabrian Brown bear crossed the scree on the right hand side of La Peral , moving with determined stride then stopping to demolish some buckthorn branches en route. This wonderful opportunity lasted for nearly 2 hours, with close sightings of several Chamois and a Red Deer to boot.

Indeed we were thankful for the excellent quality of clear light here in Somiedo;  not always a feature in this mountainous micro-climate! Such nigh perfect conditions meant that the view from Perluna with griffon vultures checking out Peter, Rosemarie and John at pretty close quarters, was seen to full advantage and the drive to Villar de Vildas was enjoyed immensely.

The locals in this traditional working village welcome interested visitors and Peter and Rosemarie enjoyed buying some wooden spoons made by the village carpenter.  They also enjoyed a good lunch as Peter made friends with the most important regular at the bar.
Peter and Bar-mate.

On Saturday September 14th, still on a high from the "Friday 13th Bear-watch", the lucky trio of Peter, Rosemarie and John enjoyed watching yet another individual bear until breakfast, after which they left the mountains of Somiedo for the flatter terrain of Villfafila, arriving in time to look around the information centre, then off to the Observaciones des Aves where several Great Bustards were spotted.The lack of water limited a number of species, but they had good views of Marsh and Montague's Harrier, Rock Sparrow, Crested Lark, Wheatear,Common Buzzard and Lesser Kestrel.

It was still sunny and clear when Peter and Rosemarie got back to their car which had been parked at San Pedro for the duration of their Wolf/Bear tour.  They set off in good spiirts for Santiago, the next stop on their Spanish sojourn,having satisfied an ambition to see both Bear and Wolf, in the stunning surroundings of their wild European habitat.

Margaret Hallowell.

"It was a really great time. Thanks for everything!"