Thursday, 29 October 2015

Newsletter October 2015

Newsletter October 2015

Bright days of sunshine and blue skies have been punctuated by some lengthy periods of heavy rain and mist this month, so we were delighted when the rain stopped and the sun broke through on the afternoon of 6th October as Jane stepped off the train from Madrid at the picturesque station of Puebla de Sanabria. Throughout her time with us the sun shone and it was perfect walking and viewing weather and Jane enjoyed watching the magnificent stags in particular.  It was ironic that the one morning, 9th, that Jane decided to stay abed was the very morning when John and Wil were able to watch a wolf for upwards of 1 1/2 hours from 09:30 to 11:00 but as we all know sometimes to your cost, you've got to be there to see anything there!

Richard and Ros had their first wolf-watch on the morning of 17th October and a lot of activity could be seen and heard from their viewpoint as they began to accustom themselves to telescopes and the terrain. About forty red deer were active in the valley with stags bellowing their message of supremacy through the early morning mist and three roe deer were spotted too. This timeless autumn activity was repeated during the evening watch where we enjoyed watching young stags sparring in between bouts of wet weather.

A walk around the village brought evidence of wild boar rooting and wolf scat was seen on the outskirts. Birds spotted included red kite, common buzzard, jay, robin and nuthatch. The next day, further village walks were explored in rather wet conditions and Richard, Ros and John were interested to watch the circling of eight griffon vultures.

The trunks of the ancient sweet chestnut trees were a study in texture.

Dartford warbler was both seen and heard and the weather did not really improve, merely settling into a damp mist for our evening wolf-watch. It certainly lent an even greater sense of timelessness as we listened to the primeval sounds of the rutting stags around us; sounds which have echoed across these valleys since time immemorial. However, there was visual excitement too as at 19:40 we all managed to watch four large wild boar,looking very dark in these conditions,parrying playfully together for several minutes. They were clearly visible despite the poor light and it was exciting to watch them running, then stopping,locking heads for a few seconds, then jumping and scurrying further along the track.

A good view of black-winged kite, one of three this tour,started off a superb day for bird viewing on 19th October where so many species new to Richard and Ros were seen I can only pick out a few. Richard has the full list of what amounted to 30+ new birds for them.

By the Rio Esla there were stunning views of an obliging kingfisher, plus gadwall and great white egret and when John, Richard and Ros moved on to Villafafila they were treated to fabulous views of hundreds of elegant cranes and of course, the tremendous great bustards. Both species were closely observed feeding and in flight.

This great bustard was enjoying a good scratch!

Griffon vulture, hen harrier, marsh harrier, raven, red kite and black kite were amongst other fabulous birds spotted today in clearer conditions. However, the evening wolf-watch was once again very wet and although we were able to watch red deer for a while, these were difficult viewing conditions. But, difficult viewing conditions meant ideal conditions for salamander spotting and a tremendous day culminated with Richard, Ros, John and I closely watching a large fire salamander as it made its characteristic earnest strides towards a nearby wall, a potential source for winter seclusion.

A perfect specimen, we were able to observe the red dorsal line running between the yellow patches as it endeavored to find a hole in the wall large enough for this sizable example of a fabulous little amphibian.

En route to Portugal, Richard and Ros were appreciative of the welcome at the pottery workshop where Ros watched some pots being made with skill and accuracy.

The visit to the stunning Douro gorge gave up views of two golden eagles and plenty of griffon vultures against breathtaking backdrops, but even more exciting was the find en route of a kill with a large Mastine present accompanied/pestered byover a hundred griffon vultures and 20+ red kites, hovering around for their portion of the red meat. I have already featured some wonderful photographs and video from this encounter on our Wild Wolf Experience Facebook page and I urge you to look at these; they are  truly amazing!

I make no apologies for attaching another photo and a different video of this memorable scene witnessed here in the Sierra de la Culebra.

At the end of the month we welcomed Eva back with her partner Matt. Eva had seen wolf with us before in January 2015 but this was to be Matt's first attempt. In changeable weather conditions, we tried morning and night, and after three days we had seen several red deer, roe deer and some distant wild boar, but the wolf presence was eluding us.  However, as a real climax to their visit, in the last ten minutes of reasonable light on their last evening's wolf watch,

Matt whispered that he could see not one but two wolves!

In fact, three wolves were seen that evening and we were delighted at such a finish when both Eva and Matt had never missed a watch despite fairly strong downpours  John was able to video these three wolves and I attach two of his videos above.The wolf at the top of this Newsletter is also from this view, being the darker, third wolf  seen.. What a wonderful finish to the month!

"Dear Margaret and John

....We really enjoyed our wild wolf experience... and the tours of the regional villages which we found absolutely fascinating.  Thank you also for your company and the stimulating conversations.

Very best

Ros + Richard"

(All photos and videos taken in this Newsletter were taken by John here in the Sierra de la Culebra. All taken in the wild.)


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Newsletter September 2015

Newsletter September 2015

I write this newsletter surrounded by the sights and sounds of autumn here in the Sierra de la Culebra; fruit has ripened well and the slightly fractious stags of August are now fully into their rut with the bellowing to be heard echoing through the valleys from dusk till dawn and beyond.

Our first tour of the month started on the first of the month and Paul and Zoe soon became adept at viewing through telescopes so that after a few hours of focusing on crows and then a fox with excitement, there were less mis-identifications and indeed on their second evening, both Paul and Zoe were able to enjoy good views of several wild boar flicking their  tails as they rooted in the short, light grass.
We also saw several red deer with young and one roe deer during that watch; scenes which were repeated with greater numbers the next morning.  By the evening of 3rd September, the presence of one  black and fifteen griffon vultures signified carrion of some sort, so our hopes were high for the morning watch. The next morning's mist cleared to reveal both species of vulture waiting with intent. The magnificent sight of about 35 red deer running apace in the same direction was certainly enough to signify something was afoot - and sure enough Paul, Zoe and John were able to watch three wolves come down onto the rocks, raising concern among the vultures, and then travel the various tracks until lost amongst the pine trees that skirt the river valley. All in all, an excellent sighting lasting about 12 minutes- and Paul and Zoe were justifiably delighted. After seeing fresh scat and tracks the day before close to this viewpoint, they had now seen "their " wolves!

There were some very interesting birds around the village for Paul and Zoe to spot on their walks, which included short-toed eagle, lesser spotted woodpecker, spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher and serin around the hotel tracks with rock bunting, Iberian grey shrike,

stonechat, Eurasian kestrel, nuthatch, short-toed treecreeper and crossbill all seen in the vicinity of the village, plus a mismatched pair of antlers!
Photo taken by Zoe.

During visits to neighbouring villages on 3rd September,Paul and Zoe enjoyed watching  this obliging hoopoe,

as well as seeing black-winged kite, crested lark, Northern wheatear, common buzzard and a lovely pair of hen harriers whilst the trip to the Douro gorge reaped wonderful sights of golden eagle, booted eagle, Egyptian vulture, red kite, Dartford warbler, house martin and crag martin to pick out only a few examples, plus an American crayfish - unfortunately more common than ever now, by the clapper bridge.

Red billed chough was heard but not seen on this occasion.

Luckily Paul and Zoe's timetable allowed them a morning walk before they left to explore other areas of Northern Spain, and they were rewarded with good views of black-eared wheatear and Iberian water frog.

Zoe took a photograph of a red deer of which she is rightly proud. Thank you Zoe, for sharing your photos with all our Wild Wolf Experience Facebook friends earlier this month.

              "We had such a special few days with you -  thank you".       Paul.Sept 2015.

As we drove to the hotel with Mike and Meg on 6th September, we all were excited to see a short-toed eagle with a snake in its talons flying just above us. The evening watch allowed Mike and Meg to get accustomed to telescope viewing by focusing on close views of stag, roe deer and five wild boar!

The evening watch of 7th September was atmospherically overcharged when as early as 20:30 a lone wolf was seen. The presence of a stag confidently grazing nearby persuaded some of us that the wolf was gone, but Mike persisted with his viewing and at 20:45 the wolf reappeared allowing us to follow its progress through varied heather and scrub-land until lost from sight in an undulation.

The next morning was terrific at the same
viewpoint with one wolf seen at the corner of the wood, one other wolf spotted by Meg loping across the field behind us and another wolf crossed right in front of us merely 250 metres away! We seemed to be surrounded by wolves going about their business! All this to the background of restless stags fighting and roaring further off. Throughout much of this watch Mike, Meg and John could also watch the dramatic mobbing of a persistent sparrowhawk by several crows.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
Subsequent watches were less eventful, giving us wild boar sightings and plenty of red deer, but how wonderful to have seen the wolves here so clearly in such a special atmospheric setting. Mike was very happy to write his sighting on the board that evening.

During daytime tracking activities and walks around some of the quaint villages in this area - places that still are living, working villages although they seem to be relics from a former century - Mike and Meg were lucky to see new species which included pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher and  lesser spotted  woodpecker by the village cemetery plus great tit, blue tit,

chaffinch, black redstart, Iberian grey shrike, robin, Dartford warbler,

booted eagle, black vulture,black kite and also a Lataste's viper sunning itself by the village allotments.

Honey buzzard was seen at Folgoso on 8th September and a visit to Villafafila on 9th offered up some wonderful sights of about 30 great bustards, plus hen harrier, marsh harrier, lesser kestrel, cormorant, mallard, kingfisher and common sandpiper.  Mike,Meg and John enjoyed watching two otters at the Rio Esla.

We have again enjoyed the company of former clients now regular visitors and friends Terry and Ros on many occasions this month and John and Terry were amazed to be able to look down on raven, griffon vulture,

short-toed eagle and chamois amidst the stunning Somiedo scenery during 12th/15th September where the prime target was Cantabrian brown bear.  One morning a large, dark female bear, possibly with one cub could be seen ambling across open ground but she had almost unbelievably disappeared from view by the time Terry was able to scour the hillside with his telescope.  However, Terry seemed to make other four-legged friends during those days packed with super walking in surprisingly settled weather.

Later in September John was delighted to be able to show Terry, Ros and Linda Eurasian otter en route to Villafafila. It has been lovely this month to have Linda with us again for her second successful Watching for Wolves tour and as well as enjoying the antics of the otter, they spent time watching kingfisher, purple heron, grey heron, gadwall, mallard, coot and moorhen, plus several hundred house-martins gathering pre-migration. The intrepid party of John, Linda, Terry and Ros all enjoyed excellent views of about 60 great bustards, plus lesser kestrel, common buzzard, Montague's harrier and marsh harrier.

Linda's tour started in earnest straight after her Madrid collection with clear views of two black vultures and several red and black kites. This pattern of interesting bird sightings continued throughout the week with black vulture,

griffon vulture, raven, red-rumped swallow and Iberian green woodpecker near Riomanzanas and tremendous views of golden eagle at the Douro Gorge. on 22nd September, plus four azure-winged magpies and a kingfisher at the ancient clapper bridge.

But of course wolves were Linda's main focus, hoping to repeat her success of last year. On the morning of 18th September, one day before Linda arrived, three wolves were seen at 09:00 sniffing the air as stags were fighting and roaring some distance away,and on her first wolf-watch on the evening of 19th, we enjoyed excellent views of wild boar,and watched the drama between a hopeful stag pursuing a not-so-interested hind, but no wolves. Red deer were of course very evident this week at the height of the rut and we have all been treated to some lively episodes involving stags chasing hinds, stags chasing stags and stags attacking random trees and bushes.
Over the first couple of days, Linda and John found several examples of fresh wolf scat, even locating some good wolf tracks despite this month's very dry conditions.

On the evening of Monday 21st, Linda told us, " Well, it was the Tuesday morning last year when I had my first wolf of the tour." So no pressure there then!! However, almost as if scripted, the next morning Tuesday 22nd, Linda and John found themselves watching three wolves in wonderful sunshine, loping along the trails to be eventually lost to sight in the pine copse by the water source. It was back to the same viewpoint that evening when at 20:15 the large,dark male wolf made an appearance coming out from the river bank and progressing through the heather to the brow of the hill.

Linda saw four wolves the next morning 23rd and was able to watch the interaction between them as the early morning mist cleared with the rising of the sun which augured another fabulous day.

So a week for Linda of wolves, renewing old friendships and making new ones, revisiting some familiar territory while exploring plenty of new areas.

Photo by Linda
The final bird noted was a light-phased booted eagle spotted on the way back to Madrid airport on the afternoon of 26th September, meaning that Linda had seen three species of eagle during her wolves on three occasions too of course!

"Thank you again for a wonderful time; I am already pining for San Pedro.....John's enthusiasm and love of wildlife especially wolves really shines through and makes every day a great experience - I can't wait for next year!"  Linda September 2015.

This September of "mists and mellow fruitfulness" ( apologies to Keats) has been a busy month packed with wonderful wolf sightings and John and I have had a super time sharing these with friends and clients alike.

This newsletter must merely be a digest of some of the more memorable times...too many to recount in detail here...but I hope you have enjoyed my way of sharing these here with you too.


  ( All photos taken by John during September 2015 except the two credited to Linda and Zoe.)