Sunday, 26 October 2014

Newsletter October 2014

It's mushroom season here now, and locals are out in the forests collecting the delicious wild mushrooms which are then exported as a delicacy to gourmet restaurants in Italy, France and UK.  Mushrooms play a major part in the local economy here, and also in the local gastronomy. There are courses available  in the villages here to educate people about which mushrooms are safe to collect and the most desired variety, the Boletus, can sell for 28 Euros per kilo in Madrid!

The Boletus mushroom tastes a lot better than it looks!

Ignacio's photo.

Thank you friend and fellow wolf enthusiast Ignacio, for letting us share this wonderful photo of an osprey which was resident in nearby Sanabria during September and October this year.  It has now flown off for warmer climes, but not before giving Ignacio some fantastic views.

Watching for Wolves.

This month started off promisingly with views of 8 wolves( 2 groups of 4 wolves simultaneously) on the morning of the first of the month.  Joe, Romita and John watched them and John's video of this can be seen on our Facebook page for Wild Wolf Experience.

A few days later Gary and Colin were in the area hoping for wolf sightings and they enlisted John's help. They too counted themselves lucky with views of three wolves at 11:30 in the morning! They also enjoyed tracking and learning about the status of the wild Iberian wolf. No photos of their wolves, but a preying mantis proved more static and less camera shy!

The journey from Madrid airport was eventful for Jane and John with very good views of male and female great bustards,griffon vultures and red kites. The great bustards were a first for John and Jane who were incorporating a Watching for Wolves tour into a more general exploration of Northern Spain. After a brief interval to settle into their hotel room,we all met up for our first wolf watch together- and what a successful evening!

 As we set up our scopes, the stags were already sending out their rutting calls and could be seen clearly in a nearby field. It was not long before we were watching a large wild boar rooting around beneath trees in a ploughed area well within view. This was another first for John and Jane. But our attention was mainly focused on the large numbers of griffon vultures and several black vultures and ravens too.

Several of these huge birds were attempting to roost by balancing on some of the smallest pine trees,normally using the same tree, and others were feeding on a dead deer on the ground.However, at 19:45 the avian attitude changed in a second and they took to the air. Fifty great vultures acting almost as one bird and for why? Well it was the presence of wolf of course, and we watched spellbound as not one but four wolves approached the carcase time and time again as dusk fell, We could watch them for as long as the light allowed and then we packed up our equipment with hushed excitement, amazed at such a wonderful day of wildlife.

Some mornings were wet during the rest of Jane and John's tour but that didn't stop the intrepid wolf-watchers! A highlight of the tour was the visit to the Douro Gorge where short-toed eagle was to be spotted amongst several griffon vultures, red kite, common buzzard, red-billed chough and Iberian grey shrike.

Jane was able to see a Mastine dog at close quarters as a young dog proved surprisingly approachable.

Duncan's photo.

Both Jane, John and Duncan who arrived later this month for a Watching for Wolves tour, enjoyed close views of crag martins at the dam at Miranda do Douro and Duncan's views at the gorge included three golden eagles,plus griffon vultures, cirl bunting, Iberian grey shrike, Iberian green woodpecker and crested tit, a very special first for Duncan.  He also managed to see the Iberian water frogs by the clapper bridge and two smooth snakes at Aldeia Nova

We do not often see many people at our gorge viewpoints, but when we do meet people they invariably have a story to tell, and Duncan's visit was no exception. A French speaking lady was delighted to regale the history of her parents' courtship days in the gorge, when her Portuguese future father would swim across the gorge to charm his Spanish sweetheart, her eventual mother,and in true entrepreneurial spirit, he made his efforts worthwhile by simultaneously smuggling quantities of tobacco over the border whilst ostensibly courting his senorita.

The weather was more settled for Duncan's Watching for Wolves tour and during some excellent tracking and village walks, he found fresh wolf tracks and scat plus clear otter tracks.There were also several  sightings of rock bunting,

There were still some remnants of stag rutting calls during our wolf watches and we were lucky to see a large family party of about 11 wild boar travel through the heather and cross the firebreak one evening.

Roe deer were out aplenty this week too and John and Duncan could regularly check the progress of a male hen harrier in the valley.However, the most exciting sight during this tour was reserved for Duncan as he noticed the sudden appearance  of a wolf travelling from left to right across the track close to us. Within seconds it had disappeared behind a copse of trees and could have traveled anywhere in the heather there without being located, but it was Duncan's first wolf! We scoured the area with telescopes,knowing that it was there, but without any more success. That view was Duncan's very own, and very special too.

The skies here are wonderfully clear and we had a good time one evening with the Starwalk app trying to put names to the constellations filling this night sky.Upon looking down, there was further interest as we watched a fire salamander searching out a winter hibernating hole.

Duncan's photo.

Earlier in his tour, Duncan had enjoyed very clear views of 50/60 great bustard, plus lesser kestrel, common kestrel, common buzzard, red kite, spoonbill, marsh harrier, avocet and seven cranes newly arrived at Villafafila. At the Rio Esla bridge, where the water was surprisingly choppy, John and Duncan spotted a great white egret.

Duncan's photo.

Another month of super sightings, and who knows?...We may yet get a Hallowe'en wolf!

"Thank you very much for the great time I had. It truly was an experience to treasure.
I have learnt so much about wild wolves, mostly that there is so much more to understand.
Thanks, once again, for your company and shared knowledge."       Duncan.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Newsletter September 2014.

Newsletter September 2014.

What a busy, fun and successful month! And now,all of a sudden, it's autumn with the tremendous surround-sound of the stag rut, with the apples, pears and quince trees heavy with ripening fruit and the Fire Salamanders coming out to find a winter retreat.

Browsing for Bears Tours.

The very first few days of September, John, Robert and Sally were treated to wonderful views of 6 individual bears in Asturias, including a mother and her 3 cubs, the video of which can be viewed on our Wild Wolf Experience Facebook page. Above are some further examples of these compelling characters enjoying the autumn Alpine Buckthorn.

They also had plentiful wildcat sightings, videos of which can again be seen on our Facebook page.  I attach a video here of a wildcat they were able to watch whilst it was out hunting.

                                                                    The stunning scenery of Somiedo was at its autumnal best.

Later in the month, Bob and Myra were treated to tremendous vulture views here, plus 15/20 chamois and good sightings of wildcat.

The weather, notoriously fickle in this part of Spain, was indeed changeable for Bob and Myra's tour, but on their final night in Asturias, as dusk approached and further clouds threatened, a large, leggy dark male bear came out to eat. He was a delight for Bob and Myra to watch on this, the last night of their incredibly successful Wolf and Bear Tour.

"Thanks to John & Margaret's expertise we saw both wolf and bear along with a plethora of other mammals,birds and amphibians....It was an experience which we loved and one which we are glad not to have missed."                 Bob.

Watching for Wolves Tours.

Any glimpse of a wild wolf is exciting, but for Bob and Myra there was a special lupine treat in store. After a couple of days with the watches enlivened by some tremendous stags trying to cope with the urges of the rut ( again video of this on our Facebook page) under the light of a powerful moon, the morning of the 12th September wolf-watch gave totally exhilarating views as John, Bob and Myra watched 4 wolves playing, greeting, teasing each other and chasing for upwards of 30 minutes - absolutely incredible!

In the latter half of September the nights were drawing in and Linda, who arrived into Madrid 20th September for a week long Watching for Wolves tour, savoured the special atmosphere of the autumn wolf-watch,with its gradual crescendo of rutting stag sounds.  By the middle of her time here, wet weather had set in,but John was still out searching for signs of wolf,while Linda and I remained dry in our vehicle.  However, at 20:00, the rain eased off and we joined John to set up our scopes to watch.

(Linda's photo)
At 20:15,with thunder rolls,lightning flashes and under heavy grey skies lined a fiery red, a large wolf appeared on the firebreak.  He made his gender all too apparent by cocking his leg to urinate on a bush, then strolled unconcerned up the track.  At the top, he surveyed the area then moved directly into a nearby copse to be lost from view.

Wonderful! Linda was delighted to have  tracked, waited and eventually seen her first truly wild wolf in such a dramatic setting.

But with Linda, the  connections with wolves continued on Thursday,with the morning watch showing 3 wolves! While a lone wolf was to be seen on flat ground not far from the viewpoint, two wolves were also spotted by Linda walking down the track. Nonchalantly,one of these stopped briefly to drink from a pool on the firebreak before they both continued down to join the single wolf still waiting in the low heather on the right of the track. This was a wonderful view and what a start to the day! The evening watch, which started promisingly with 2 large wild boar rooting in a nearby ploughed field whilst 2 roe deer grazed behind them was equally exciting. As the light faded and we began to consider packing up, a mournful howl pierced straight through the rasps of the rutting stags, and the howling from 2 individual wolves continued for at least 15 minutes, as the darkness enveloped us increasingly. We merely stood, rapt, in silence as  against a backdrop of a stunning fiery sunset,

we were granted access to sounds which had remained unchanged for thousands of years, and the goosebumps ran down our spines.

Linda's nexr wolf encounter, still of dramatic ilk, occurred on her final morning wolf-watch when a solitary individual was to be seen amidst swirling mist as the sun rose over the mountains of the Sierra de la Cabrera. For several minutes, John and Linda could study this grand specimen as it first stood, then sauntered off over the top of the ridge. A wonderful finale to a most successful week of Watching for Wolves.

The Douro Gorge.

The beauty of this vast gorge, the natural border between Spain and Portugal, never fails to impress, and Bob, an amateur archaeologist, also enjoyed the link with his home in Northumberland,noting at Aldeiea Nova that  a Roman legion had camped there en route for Hadrian's Wall. Here John, Bob and Myra enjoyed excellent views of male,female and juvenile golden eagle - in total 6 different golden eagles were seen on this day-plus northern wheatear, many griffon vultures, kestrel, black kite, dunnock and several Iberian water frogs.  At San Vitero as they set off on their very successful cross border trip, they were able to watch a short-toed eagle catch a snake and proceed to eat it while still on the wing.

(Linda's photo)
Linda too, appreciated the contrast of culture evident immediately upon crossing the border, and didn't think too much road-rage would be caused by the typical traffic jam experienced in these villages.

Territorio Lobo- Festival of the Wolf. 5/7th September 2014 in Villardeciervos, Zamora, Spain.

The overwhelming impression of this 3 day festival was of positivity, and of the vision and vitality of the local 16 strong group, calling themselves Interior Legendario, who worked together to organise this festival to focus upon wolves and to take people free of charge on wolf watches. A large group of people,including our friends from Northumberland Andrew and Jane, were lucky to be on just such a watch on the Saturday morning. Modesty forbids me to say who first spotted the wolf, but indeed everyone was treated to an enthralling view of a fine example of this apex predator walking confidently down the firebreak, right in front of their viewpoint only 500 metres away.

Farming practices were of course mentioned both in a display and a lecture by the eminent Spanish biologist Carlos Sanz who lauded the Iberian wolf as a “joy on our natural inheritance which must be observed and maintained” but not enclosed within artificial boundaries. The use of Mastine dogs is of course widespread here in the Sierra de la Culebra, and the benefit of including a donkey amongst the flocks for both its exceptional hearing and kicking ability, was expounded. Carlos Sanz was representing “Project Wolf- Wild Life and Rural World” which spearheads work done by eleven groups active in Spain, Portugal, Estonia and Romania to look for solutions to enable co-existence between farmers and the wolf.

As well as the wildlife, the festival also hosted sporting activities organised by which included kayaking on the Rio Tera and a challenging 67 km mountain bike trail, culminating in a gathering to enjoy the local dish of arroz a la Zamorana. 

Less active visitors could enjoy an illustrated talk about traditional architecture of the area by Esther Isabel Prada Llorente from the University of Alcala, or discuss the novel “Beatrice y la Loba” with the author Concha Lopez. It wouldn’t be a Spanish festival without excellent music and the Saturday night of live music did not disappoint. The Portuguese singer Malfalda Veiga sang her own compositions for the first time in Spain, with a very versatile backing group, followed by a synthesis of musical talent called El Naan, who could even create exciting sound out of a kitchen table! On the Friday night, visitors were treated to a night of astronomy with Joaquin Tapioles after enjoying a theatrical performance by Candido de Castro challenging the roles of the wolf in traditional storytelling, “Cuentes de Lobos” alongside a display of local pottery by ” Numa”

John with Carlos Sanz.

This weekend in September witnessed a wonderful occasion where locals worked in harmony to try to display the essence of this vibrant part of a colourful country, with the wolf always at the forefront. We are already fielding questions about “Next year…?”but at the moment are happy to have raised awareness and to have engendered discussion, whilst certainly helping the hamlet of Villardeciervos and its TerritorioLobo become a flagship for the continued survival of the Iberian Wolf in the wild.

I do not apologise for the lengthy Newsletter this month; it is but a resume of life in this area, where every day brings new sights and experiences and I am happy to be able to share some of them with you here.
Thank you Linda...we are together on a photo!


"Thank you both so much for looking after me so well and going the extra mile for me...still suffering 'wolf withdrawal' but looking at my photos helps!...Please give my thanks to Antonio for the wonderful food and wine."    Linda.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Stag at the Height of the Rut!

September/October is the time of the rut here in the Sierra de la Culebra and this stag is so full of energy and aggression!