Thursday 28 November 2013

Watching for Wolves Tour 29th September/4th October 2013.

Watching for Wolves Sept/Oct 2013.

Sunday September 29th.

John and I met Ros and Terry at Villardeciervos in the afternoon and over coffee we discussed our hopes, plans and arrangements for this week's tour.  We mentioned that we would hope to get some good views of the majestic stags which were in the full throes of their rut, when we were "treated" to a rather closer view than we would have liked as a visiting hunter was loading the back of his shiny SUV with the trophy of a grand stag's head shot that morning.  He was uncommunicative as we looked at this magnificent beast...I refer to the stag and most certainly not the hunter!.. and he quickly paid his bar bill and left.

After settling into our hotel situated deeper still in the heart of wolf country,  we appreciated a short break before getting ready for our first wolf watch under leaden skies.This was primarily to get our bearings at this most promising of sites this year, la pista,and as such was time well spent.  By the end of the watch, Terry in particular could locate potential viewing spots in preparation for some good views we hoped.

Wolf Watches.

We were extremely unlucky with the weather for most of the wolf watches this week, as heavy rain certainly hampered our chances of good sightings. The first morning watch on Monday 30th September was interesting as we spotted a Red Squirrel to the right of the track, but the rain was really the victor for most of our watches.  The evening watch on that first full day was in clearer, drier conditions as we watched below heavy, threatening clouds.  Thankfully there was no mist, but also no sun! However we were able to watch several fine Stags that night, including a large Stag and Hind out on the track.Just as the light,such as it was,began to diminish at approximately 20:20, we could just make out a family party of adults, sub-adults and young Wild Boar which were rooting around in the low fields on the adjacent hillside. Terry was delighted with this as he had always wanted to see Wild Boar in their natural habitat and we intimated that we would hope to get him closer views.  Little did we suspect just how close those views were to be later in the week. During an evening watch later that week we spotted a family party of Wild Boar trotting and exploring down the firebreak track.

We were all delighted to watch them and our delight turned to amazement, which in turn developed into one of those moments when no-one dared breathe or move a muscle, during this wildlife encounter which will remain with all four of us for the rest of our lives.  Reaching the end of the firebreak track, we assumed the Wild Boar entourage would veer off into the neighbouring

copse.  But, to our total surprise,they climbed up the embankment, crossed the railway line in single file and stepped into the bracken and blackberry bushes right in front of us.  We could hear them moving closer and could see the bushes being disturbed when suddenly the leader burst into view within 3 paces of us!This leader only then acknowledged us with a slightly startled grunt and trotted sharply across our path to the opposite bank side.  The remaining wild boars, obviously by now fully cogniscent of our presence, went just a little further through the bushes and then followed their family leader across the track and up the other bankside. Check out the photos on this blog under the October heading  "And they just kept coming closer!" for all of the photos of this amazing wildlife encounter.

After this experience we could allow ourselves to breathe and move again, and share our excitement at such a close encounter. Later that same watch we  were able to give Terry his first  sight of an Iberian Grey Wolf albeit quite some distance away as this large predator moved in a straight line across the cropped fields on the far hillside. Terry could see the distinctive  movement  and single-minded purpose of this great predator as he was able to get onto it with his binoculars.  We were also delighted that Antonio senior and friend Jaime were with us for this first wolf sight of the tour. This wonderful evening ended for us with a beautiful double rainbow over the distant mountaintops.

Over the week, the weather improved and consequently,so did the sightings.  These culminated in an astounding morning with the full pack of 9 Wolves (5 adults and 4 young )in view for over an hour, greeting, playing and then we watched seven of them separate from the rest to lope off in a line across the valley. Time just flew by as Ros, Terry and John were treated to some of the best views here in wonderful morning light.

Rural Walks.

Our walk around our village of San Pedro was undertaken amidst heavy rainstorms, but we still could see Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and Robin whilst hearing a Nuthatch.The lichen-covered oak copses gave shelter where  several clear Wild Boar and Deer tracks could be seen at Boya, plus wolfscat, and at the Villardeciervos pond there were dragonflies plus Iberian Grey Shrike, Stonechat and Dartford Warbler.

The Boya/Cional road gave a wonderful display of two Golden Eagles being mobbed by a Common Buzzard with Carrion Crow and three young Hobbies also taking to the air in this rare moment of drier weather.  A large Red Deer Stag roared as he stood proudly on a ridge nearby and we also had good views of an Iberian Green Woodpecker.

At Flechas, John saw,and Ros and Terry heard,  an enormous Wild Boar whilst walking behind the village. Both here and at Riomanzanas, Ros and Terry appreciated the chance to talk with the local people and they enjoyed learning about the local's reliance on subsistence farming/gardening.  The residents of these villages have a pretty low carbon footprint I suspect.

After exploring the architecture of the charming medieval market town of Puebla de Sanabria whose castle is well positioned to dominate the whole area, John, Ros and Terry enjoyed lunch at the scenic village of Ribeldelago, having taken time to study the monument to those unfortunate victims of the dam burst.  The names listed testify to whole families,indeed a whole community, wiped out in the tumult.  This is a beautiful area and luckily the clearer weather that afternoon allowed Ros and Terry to appreciate the quality of the scenery here plus admiring several Griffon Vultures and a Golden Eagle.

The highlight of the trip to the Douro gorge was at Fariza where despite the fact that the main viewpoint was under several inches of water, Ros and Terry were able to get good, close views of several Griffon Vultures perched on rocks close by.

Both John and I take our hats off to Ros and Terry who maintained a totally positive attitude throughout the days of torrential rain, and how pleased we were when that optimism was rewarded with the excellent Wolf and Wild Boar encounters, plus a couple of final days of good weather! Terry and Ros enjoyed the company at our hotel base, and were complimentary about every meal,however we all particularly appreciated the evening when friend Jaime took over the kitchen and Terry, Ros, John and I plus Antonio(s) were his guests for a lovely meal of tasty food and Spanish hospitality, all offered in the relaxed manner which I hope typifies the whole Wild Wolf Experience for Ros and Terry.


"We talk all the time about our time with you and how we enjoyed it - despite the weather.  We completely fell in love with the North and the area of Sierra de la Culebra. We were impressed with your knowledge and experience and hope we may meet again next year....Thank you both for a fantastic wild wolf experience.  We appreciate how lucky we were to see 8/9 wolves on the move...Best wishes and good viewing!"   Ros.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Wolves,Cranes and Great Bustards.

Wolves, Cranes and Great Bustards.

A great weekend with 3 wolves seen here in the Sierra de la Culebra and a short drive to Villafafila to see the arrival of the wintering cranes, plus the resident Great Bustards.

 Also saw a magnificent Golden Eagle along with thousands of wintering wildfowl and a fantastic display of aerobatics by a male Peregrine Falcon stooping unsuccessfully into a flock of Lapwings,but showing its mastery of the air. Good numbers of Marsh Harriers quartering the lagoons and upwards of 30 Red Kites. Here in Culebra as well as the wolves, we watched a fabulous 16 point Red Stag with a harem of hinds and a Golden Eagle hunting low over the valley at la pista.

 Wonderful in every season!


Friday 15 November 2013

Win a WWE Watching for Wolves Tour!

 Watching for Wolves Tour....Prize Draw!

Stop Press...John and I are offering one  standard 5 night/6 day Watching for Wolves tour as a major prize in the December Draw organized by Rewilding Europe. Details are below, but please visit for further details.

Watching for Wolves tour.  

We could  provide you with a 5 night/6 day holiday in this area of Spain   As well as focusing on the Iberian Grey Wolf, we also will be actively looking for red deer, roe deer, red fox, wild boar, otter,  possibly wildcat, Iberian hare ,pine marten and depending on the weather a variety of reptiles and Schreiber’s green lizard, oscillated lizard, fire salamander, tree frog . There is a wealth of birdlife in the area with up to 14 species of raptor.  The tour also includes a visit to Lagunas de Villafafila, a vast area famed for holding the largest population of Great Bustards outside Russia. Other specialities of the reserve are black-bellied sandgrouse and large numbers of raptors. The surrounding hills and forests of our village base hold interesting species such as , crested tit, firecrest,  black redstart, short-toed treecreeper, rock bunting, cirl bunting, serin,  crossbill, Dartford warbler, Iberian grey shrike, griffon and black vulture, golden eagle, to name but a few!
The hotel is set in a small village in the heart of the forest from where you can walk straight out along numerous trails and tracks. As well as wolf watching, we visit local traditional villages and sample the culture of this unique backwater of rural Spain. On one day, we cross the border into Portugal and visit the mighty Douro gorge. a haven for vultures and eagles. 

We work around your preferred times so we do not have set tour dates;  this means that that each tour is arranged to best fit your personal arrangements. John and I pride ourselves on providing individually tailored tours, and we are your contacts and guides throughout all your arrangements and your tour.  We are not merely acting as agents, using hired guides.

The tour on offer includes all land travel in fully air-conditioned vehicle, pick-up and drop-off at Puebla de Sanabria railway station which runs direct trains from Madrid Chamartin station every day,  en-suite accommodation in a rural hotel , breakfast, light lunch and 3 course evening meal with drinks, morning and evening  watches at the most promising locations, days tracking and searching the area for signs of our target species, day trips to places of local birding and wildlife interest , plus the services of John and myself as your guides throughout the whole tour(s). There are no hidden “extras!”.

Good luck, and we hope to see  you next year when you claim your prize!


Wednesday 13 November 2013

Watching for Wolves tour 23rd/28th September 2013.

Watching for Wolves Tour 23rd/28th September 2013.

On a sunny  Monday morning 23rd September, John met Jo and Angus at Madrid Airport. They had enjoyed a couple of night's city life, but  were now ready for the main purpose of their visit to look for the Iberian Grey Wolf.  The journey to our base in the Sierra de la Culebra allowed for a substantial amount of time to be spent at the excellent reserve of Villafafila, where Jo and Angus were treated to very good views of several Great Bustards

plus Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Wheatear, Crested Lark, Greylag Goose, Green Sandpiper, Rock Sparrow and Raven. Everyone was interested in the former dovecotes which now serve the excellent purpose of  providing important breeding sites for Lesser Kestrels and lend a peculiarly oriental flavour to the surrounding landscape.  Lesser Kestrels were plentiful as Jo, Angus and John explored the deserted former village of Otero de Sariegos.

After settling into their hotel, it was time for the first wolf watching session of this tour.  The valley of la Pista was peaceful with only the occasional stag roar, and we were able to get our bearings for future watches whilst following 2 Stags with accompanying Hinds.

Dinner that evening had a truly local touch; it was cauliflower soup, Ternera de Aliste with Antonio's tomatoes, followed by a yoghurt dessert, plus of course the local tempranillo vino tinto. We always enjoy the home cooking with local produce that Antonio(s)serves us;  on this tour a favourite was the scrambled eggs with morcilla, followed by Secreto Pork and Antonio's lovely Lemon Mousse.

The wolf watch the next morning(Tuesday 24th September) was again at la pista and surpassed all expectations of Jo and Angus as in clear morning light they spent quite some time following 4 Wolves including one lying down yet still visible.  What a start! Also seen during this morning's watch was Short-toed Eagle, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, 5 Nightjars, up to 10 Wild Boar, Roe Deer and several large Stags.

During the evening wolf watch, Angus followed a Griffon Vulture to see it roost with others of its kind by the firebreak track. A Hobby also flew across this track and we were interested in a young Stag running through the heather, but were unable to locate any lupine cause.

Other wolf watches this tour treated Jo and Angus to wonderful opportunities to watch wolves interact with Stags, Hinds and each other.They were able to watch the different reactions of Stags, Hinds and Roe Deer when Wolf was around, and to follow them along the zig-zag track, running through the low heather only to be tantilisingly lost to view in higher vegetation, and perhaps in the most memorable moment when the cubs greeted their returning mother with licking and playful body language.  In addition to the species already mentioned, our watches also gave us Fox, Crossbill and a pretty convincing Steve Coogan lookalike.


The 'celebrity' spotting theme seemed to continue throughout this tour as a very good likeness of Super Mario was pushing a wheelbarrow in the traditional Portuguese village of Aldeiea Nova.  Here the ladies go about their daily business in their traditional black garb, giving us a welcoming greeting as ever. We had seen at least 4 Red Kites around San Vitero on our way here, and as we headed down to our first gorge stop in a very peasant 31'C we were relieved not to be swathed in the heavy black tights and scarves which seem to be de rigeur here. The site at Aldeiea Nova was stark after the huge fire which had raged over both sides of this part of the gorge earlier this summer and the scarred land was laid bare and devastated. We look forward to charting the reconstructive powers of Nature over the coming months here.

We noticed the traditional Aliste donkeys near the clapper bridge en route to Fariza. plus a pale-phased Booted Eagle.  At the stunning Fariza viewpoint where Jo saw Dali-esque features in the crags, we spent some time observing the colony of Griffon Vultures soaring in the air and roosting on the cliffs below and opposite us.The almonds were dropping from the trees just inviting us to taste them, so we obliged and enjoyed such delicate tastes which totally complemented the wonderful natural aromas reaching us from the herbs and bushes around us.

Village life in the Sierra de la Culebra.

During our stroll around our base village of San Pedro after breakfast on Tuesday 24th September, we were delighted to notice Serin, Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher amongst the birds in the surrounding woodland, plus 3 Griffon Vultures and a Black Vulture soaring above.

A short trip to Boya later that day was very rewarding with fresh wolfscat and tracks easily visible. Iberian Water Frogs hopped away from our feet into their pond sanctuary and we disturbed a Grey Heron by the water's edge.

Everyone enjoyed the picturesque walk towards Pena Mira behind the village of Flechas, and Jo was delighted with her photographic evidence of a grand Stag at pretty close quarters. I am grateful to Jo for allowing me to use her photos as well as our own on this report, as my aged and normally sturdy Panasonic Lumix was proving a little temperamental, so "Thank You Jo!"

Villages such as Flechas and Riomanzanas show us a way of life unchanged for several decades and Jo and Angus also appreciated the walk behind Codesal, almost in the tracks of the wolves they had so enjoyed watching this tour. As well as clear, fresh wolf tracks, they also saw Stonechat, Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier and amazing views of a Hobby chasing insects.

Windscreen wipers at top speed for  all of the journey back to Madrid airport could not dampen the spirits of Jo and Angus as they returned from their successful and eventful Watching for Wolves Tour. No urgent plans for a Yellowstone trip needed any more - at least not for wolves- as everyone reflected upon the wonderful opportunities enjoyed this week to watch the pack at chase, at rest and at play.


"Thanks for a great week and for looking after us so well...and showing us lobos!"    Jo.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Cat in the Bag!

Seen yesterday morning at the end of our Looking for Lynx tour, a fitting climax to an excellent time with good views of Spanish Ibex, Eurasian Otter and Spanish Imperial Eagle to name but a few. Full Trip report later this month.

Monday 4 November 2013

Guadarrama Wolves

Thanks to Ros and Terry who have forwarded to us this article from their local newspaper "CoastRider" 22/10/13, detailing the successful settlement of a wolf pack in the Guadarrama national park less than 90 km from Madrid.  We hope the sympathetic attitude of the authorities continues.