Thursday 31 March 2016

Newsletter March 2016.

There are wolves at the end of that rainbow!

Our March tours began straightaway with the arrival of Tim and Ann on 1st March, and both of them were soon engrossed in watching large flocks of great bustards in flight and on parade on the ground, plus a beautiful marsh harrier at Villafafila. Such fascinating avian sights were followed by good otter views en route.  All this before they even reached the hotel!

The next morning (2nd March) dawned misty but it cleared in time for Tim and Ann to appreciate the views from the highest point in the Sierra de la Culebra, namely Pena Mira. Both on their walk up to this fabulous viewpoint and on further walks that morning, fresh wolf scat was found plus some tracks.

This red-rumped swallow seen by Ann,Tim and John at Boya was reported by John and it holds the record for the earliest recorded sighting of this species in Zamora this year, so well done for spotting this early arrival!

March is an exciting month indeed as each week brings yet more migrants into our area and Tim and Ann were our first people with us this year to see the newly-returned Egyptian vultures (three of them) during their day visit to the the Douro Gorge on 3rd March.

Spending a pleasant, sunny day there, Tim, Ann and John enjoyed good views of golden eagles perched on a rock, crag martins and house martins, rock bunting, serin and good close views of griffon vultures.The evening wolfwatch that night gave us good views of red deer but the highlights were a fleeting glimpse of a wild boar crossing the road ahead of our car and a chirpy young Iberian hare which raced along the road in our headlights for several metres, interrupting its familiar speedy loping with an incredibly high jump twisting its rear end with aplomb before landing and bringing truth to the phrase " to hit the ground running."
Ann and Tim at the river which is the border between Spain and Portugal.

Dear Margaret and John,

Thank you so much for giving us such an amazing experience of life in Sierra de Culebra.  We had such a good time....  What we loved was being outdoors in such beautiful and remote surroundings , walking in the hills and valleys and learning what life is like in that area.
We saw some wonderful birds too, and of course the little Iberian hare was an added bonus!
                                                                             Ann and Tim. March 2016.

Black vulture was seen by all as they made their way back to Madrid, a wonderful capital city and a notable contrast to the old villages explored merely a few hours earlier where the livestock housed below heat the living quarters above, and where the pace of life could be from generations ago not just a few hours away.

Cuckoo calls and skylark sounds are commonplace now at the end of the month,but our first call of the common cuckoo was heard on the morning of March 18th, whilst I was able to hear the unusual, insistent spring call of the great spotted cuckoo on the morning of 22nd March here in Cional.

Colin and Mike from Scotland are becoming members of the Returning Regulars Club, and John and I always enjoy their company and companionship.  Arriving on 18th, both Colin and Mike saw a group of 4 wolves at long distance as they raced through the heather ( the wolves, not Colin and Mike!) on their first day  and once again their appetite was whetted for yet better, closer views. They decided to take John's advice and for the next few days concentrated at a site where the vista is not so panoramic, but if granted a view of wolf, it could be closer. Friends Roberto, Jose and Inaki had seen wolves here on 20th March, but Colin's and Mike's determination and patience was tested almost to surrender point.  However, they were rewarded, at 07:02 on their last morning watch en route to Madrid airport, with good, clear views of a lone wolf loping across a nearby field.

"We had a great time as we always do in Culebra. It's always fine margins which adds to the excitement. If we hadn’t happened to be looking in the right direction ... or if we had arrived ...30 seconds later…. But that’s part of  the fun of it.

I hope you keep enjoying your Spanish lives. We appreciate your enthusiasm and your generosity with all that fabulous knowledge you have built up over the years. Its truly inspiring what you do but I’m quite sure its not always sunshine and wolves. We could see the hard work that lies behind it all." 
                                                                                        Colin. March 2016.

During a cold, Easter weekend, such tales of "it ain't over until..." were parried about as Gavin joined us to try to see wolves.  Through cold winds, heavy rain and general chilly air, Gavin kept on looking and his positivity is to be commended. And it reaped rewards! Having tried to see wolf in other parts of the world, Gavin was treated here to a long sighting of three wolves interacting from 08:30/09:30 on his final wolfwatch on the morning of March 28th, again, like Colin and Mike, just before packing up and setting off back to Madrid airport!
Seen them! It was worth it!

John's videos of these three wolves also show the weather conditions on the Easter Monday morning, but John and Gavin were more than delighted with the rewards of their efforts. 

Previous to this sighting, Gavin and John had spotted good examples of wolf tracks and fresh scat, and the increasing number of summer migrants appearing meant that Gavin managed to see several very interesting bird species which included black vulture, griffon vulture, azure-winged magpie, great white egret, hen harrier, marsh harrier, lesser kestrel, corn bunting, rock bunting, avocet, shelduck, shoveller, short-toed treecreeper, hoopoe, corn bunting, firecrest, nuthatch, red kite, black kite, short-toed eagle,

skylark, black-winged kite, rock sparrow, Dartford warbler, golden eagle, blue rock thrush, Alpine swift, crag martin, red-billed chough, sand martin, house martin plus about 400 great bustards.  These are merely a selection! 

During times tracking,John and Gavin also spotted red deer, roe deer, Iberian water frog, fox, Iberian hare and two voles crossing the road in our headlights as we returned to enjoy dinner with other enthusiasts at our hotel.

Here we have John's video of a lively firecrest spotted when out tracking with Gavin.

The journey back to the airport gave Gavin and John excellent views of black-winged stilt and gull-billed tern plus large numbers of ardent great bustards in full lek, as seen here in John's video.

I shall finish this March Newsletter with another of John's videos from this month, simply because it is a beautiful scene of a white stork wading in the river by our nearby clapper bridge amidst spring blossom, hopefully finding a frog or two!

Margaret. ( All photos and videos taken in the wild by John during this month March 2016.)

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Newsletter February 2016

Newsletter February 2016.

February has given us some wonderful blue skies and cold clear days, as can be seen in this video of young red deer on a very frosty early February morning.

However, there was warmth in the sunshine during daylight hours and John and I were surprised to see an Iberian wall lizard out sunning on our stone walls as early as February 4th. The relative warmth of that day also brought out various caterpillars and millipedes.  Our first wolves of the month were seen on the morning of February 6th; watch them as they feed on a recently dead red deer.

 The closest lupine encounter this month was on 13th February at 17:30 as John was battling against a strong head wind while attempting to walk our dog Sheeba, just outside our village of Cional.  A roe deer sped across the road just in front of John in obvious panic, and John didn't need to look far to see the reason - a lone wolf on the prowl and loping across the sandy soil into the heather 200 metres away.

On the first morning of Roger and Silvia's tour, indeed on the car journey from the airport to our base here in the Sierra de la Culebra, John was able to show them both several great bustards and they were all delighted to watch otter during a stop en route. The next day (17th) gave everyone a good view of Iberian hare and then two foxes during the morning watch, plus large numbers of red deer stags and hinds at all watches.At one time we were all able to watch three red deer with two roe deer also in our scopes,thereby clearly highlighting the differences between these two species.

Scenes such as this almond blossom against a clear blue sky

gave Roger and Silvia some clear but cold morning wolfwatches

where they spotted badger tracks recently made in the morning's snowfall.

Roger and Silvia were ready to warm up by the log fire each breakfast time back at the hotel!

This month of February has given us interesting morning bird song and we have welcomed back several migrants already.  Crossbills were seen on 11th February and Roger and Silvia also enjoyed seeing them on 18th February along with rock bunting,great spotted woodpecker, Iberian green woodpecker and short-toed treecreeper mostly seen while walking some of the tracks. They also heard a nuthatch and indeed, from Roger's clear description of an encounter in the wood just behind the hotel, it is very likely that he was watching a wildcat on the morning of 20th February.

"John was such a star looking after us so well.
Thank you so much for a wonderful experience." 
                                                                Roger and Silvia.Feb 2016.

During their trip to the Douro gorge, John, Roger and Silvia were interested to see house martins as well as the more familiar crag martins, at the dam at Miranda de Douro, along with Iberian grey shrike and stonechat also seen on that day(19th February).Larger birds seen during their visit to the gorge sites included common buzzard, griffin vultures at close quarters and a spectacular sight of two golden eagles,a male and a female,with the male performing several displaying dives to entrance his potential mate. 

Another interesting raptor spotted during Roger and Silvia's final watch on the morning of 20th February, was a peregrine falcon perched on the crag behind us.

No-one recognised this apha male as John chose a very relevant costume for the Carnaval weekend at Villanueva del Valrojo in early February! During the day many people enjoyed the sound of the traditional piper playing in Otra Cosa.

Alan and Jacqueline thoroughly enjoyed close views of many great bustards both on land and in flight as they travelled from Madrid to our base here in the Sierra de la Culebra.  They also saw shoveller, grey heron, great egret and little egret plus marsh harrier; not a bad start to their tour!

It was dark by the time we were driving along the road to the hotel, but it was exciting to catch the shine of deer eyes in the dark, plus a young Iberian hare which ran alongside the car for several yards and was clearly visible in the headlights. Despite their first day (26th February) being decidedly wet, Alan and Jacqueline were very lucky to see several interesting bird species at close quarters while walking around some of the quaint,working villages near their hotel. These bird sightings included our first hoopoe of 2016,  with snow falling,


Iberian grey shrike,


white stork,

rock bunting, Iberian chiff-chaff, serin, siskin, common buzzard, raven, white wagtail, grey wagtail, black redstart, red kite and a memorable sight of a sparrowhawk taking off with its freshly captured prey, possibly an unfortunate chaffinch. 

During that evening's cold wolfwatch, we took notice of a grand stag who posed proudly as if totally aware of his beauty and his incredible headgear until, just as dusk was falling, Jacqueline wondered what the moving, large dark shape was caught in her telescope.  It was a wild boar and we were all able to watch  as this large male trotted fairly rapidly through the short, yellowing grasses, to be eventually lost owing to poor light and heavier undergrowth.

The next morning started well with good views of marsh harrier and indeed a wolf was seen, albeit fleetingly, by the ranger on the evening's wolfwatch. Ravens were able to be seen and heard along with good views of red deer and three roe deer.

This proved to be a wonderful day along the Douro gorge with excellent views of blue rock thrush at the dam at Miranda. 

The golden eagle pair were still involved in display flights... a joy to watch at such close quarters During this video taken by John you can see the golden eagle twisting its head from side to side before speeding down out of sight in a dramatic display dive. Such a great day of memorable moments finished off that evening with good views of black-shouldered kite both in flight and roosting.

The journey back to Madrid airport on 29th February gave Jacqueline superb views of three black vultures which provided a cyclical satisfaction to the whole tour; on the original trip away from Madrid airport 5 days ago, Jacqueline had missed seeing black vulture which John and Alan noticed. This time, no-one missed out on a good view of such an impressive bird.

"I just wanted to thank you again for a wonderful weekend, I hope we can do it again sometime"
                                                       Alan and Jacqueline. Feb2016


 ( All photos and videos taken by John during this month of February 2016 in the Sierra de la Culebra)