Thursday, 22 November 2018

Newsletter September 2018

Newsletter September/ October/November 2018.

September started off exceptionally well with regular wolf sightings and our first clients of this month, Heidi and Ingbert, were delighted to have good wolf views on every day of their tour. After heavy thunderstorms over night, day one of the tour began with good sightings of eight wolves, and this set the tone for the rest of the week. Each day on either the morning or the evening watch or on occasion  both, John, Heidi and Ingbert were watching up to 11 wolves, enjoying being witness to their undisturbed interaction as they greeted and played. On one occasion on day three, they watched as a wolf stalked a red deer, after seeing eight other wolves further away on the hillside.

Wild boar sightings were plentiful too

The heavy thunderstorms had washed away a lot of tracks but there was plenty of fresh scat to discover. Birds seen on the first day included pied flycatcher, plenty of these here at this time of year, honey buzzard, common buzzard, short-toed eagle, Iberian green woodpecker and stonechat. These good views were continued through the tour, with upwards of 100 griffon vultures being seen circling above a local village along with black vulture on the second day. Also present was booted eagle, and Ingbert and Heidi enjoyed watching the crag martins at the dam, along with spotting whinchat, stonechat, cormorant and grey heron. Blue rock thrush was a special sighting on day three along with lots of house martins, crag martin, booted eagle, raven, griffon vultures, red kite and they heard Cetti's warbler. Two red-rumped swallows were spotted on the final day's activities along with whinchat, wheatear, long-tailed tit, yellow wagtail, crested lark, Montague's harrier, nuthatch, lesser spotted woodpecker and a lovely little tree frog.

The Browsing for Bears tour began on 11th September and John was delighted to spend time again with John, Janet and Andrew. For John and Janet this was their third tour with Wild Wolf Experience having undertaken both a wolf and a lynx tour in previous years, and it was Andrew's second tour with us after his Looking for Lynx tour in April 2017.

Ros and Terry, who were back in the Sierra de la Culebra for their annual "fix",also joined the group in the hotel and during the watches in Somiedo. The first evening gave great views of wildcat for over an hour to be followed by superb lengthy sightings of  a large young male Cantabrian brown besr the next evening feeding up on the hillside fruits before the winter, in stunning sunshine. I bow to Andrew, John and Janet's recording skills and as with their lynx tour last year, I make no excuse for simply reproducing their extensive list below. As well as the mammals and birds, the array of butterflies seen during this tour is truly rewarding. Thank you John, Janet and Andrew for your work post-tour in identifying so many of these.

Brown Bear
Red Fox                               
Red Deer
Roe Deer
Wild Boar
European Wildcat           
Common Noctule
Common Pipistrelle
Red-legged Partridge
White Stork                                             
Griffon Vulture         
Golden Eagle
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Common Sandpiper
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Tawny Owl
European Nightjar
Iberian Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Crag Martin
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Meadow Pipit
Tree Pipit
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Black Redstart
Northern Wheatear
Mistle Thrush
Sardinian Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Pied Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Marsh Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Common Treecreeper
Red-backed Shrike
Red-billed Chough
Alpine Chough
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Rock Bunting
Reptiles & Amphibians
Spanish Psammodromus
Iberian Wall Lizard
Large White 
Clouded Yellow 
Berger's Clouded Yellow 
Brown Hairstreak
False Ilex Hairstreak
Small Copper 
Long-tailed Blue
Lang's Short-tailed Blue
Southern Brown Argus
Chalkhill Blue
Spanish Chalkhill Blue
Adonis Blue
Southern White Admiral 
Red Admiral
Small Tortoiseshell
Silver-washed Fritillary
Queen of Spain Fritillary
Meadow Fritillary
Spanish Marbled White
Rock Grayling
Meadow Brown
Spanish Gatekeeper
Small Heath
Speckled Wood
Large Wall Brown
Grizzled Skipper
Silver-spotted Skipper
Large Skipper
Lulworth Skipper
Hummingbird Hawkmoth
Jersey Tiger
Silver Y
Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Yellow-winged Darter

As mentioned above, we were delighted to have the company of Ros and Terry here in the Sierra de la Culebra again this September; since their Watching for Wolves tour in 2013, they have returned to this fascinating area each year, a journey often requiring great effort on their part, and we were delighted that this year they were both able to enjoy such wonderful wildlife views of both wolf and bear during their stay. We always enjoy their lively interest in everything and everybody that combine to make this the place that people just have to come back to!

Linda, who arrived into Asturias airport on 15th September for her fifth  consecutive Watching for Wolves tour, is also testament to the magnetic quality this little corner of rural Spain possesses. Every year, Linda has seen wolf during her Watching for Wolves tour, but this year surpassed the previous tours with wolves seen every day of Linda's extended tour. As well as revisiting some favourite sites, Linda enjoyed the tranquility when just taking time out at two hermitage sites deep in the forest which were new to her.  Local residents welcome Linda as a friend and it was good time spent together, with tremendous sightings of one particularly successful pack. Each day brought new views and offered greater understanding of the workings and behaviour of this particular pack as they hunted, played and generally showed the care evident between pack members.

Linda also enjoyed getting to know our newest addition to the Cional family, and 4 month old Tyke was there to wave Linda off as she flew back from Asturias airport, both hoping this was just au revoir and not adieu.

Bill and Joan arrived into Porto airport on 24th September and noticed how sparsely populated the  countryside was as we drove further away from the city lights,with the full moon being the only light to be seen. Again, like Linda the week before, Bill and Joan were treated to spectacular views of wolf every day of their extended tour, at times upward of ten wolves were to be watched interacting, hunting, carrying carrion away, playing and at times just lying out on tracks. They were always acting in total ease, as can be observed from all of John's videos.

 The alpha breeding pair, plus other pack members, sub-adults and this year's young, were all out at various times and it was a privilege to have an insight into the lifestyle and mannerisms of these wonderful large predators as they roam their territories in this most special of places. Days spent walking the forest paths gave up good tracks and scat, along with some interesting birds, including spotted flycatcher and pied flycatcher.

On one occasion a flock of over 60 griffon vultures were to be seen, as Bill, Joan and John were out looking at the splendid Iberian water frogs.

The trip to Villafafila gave Bill and Joan their first Great Bustard sightings along with marsh harrier, green sandpiper, peregrine, common buzzard, rock sparrow, wheatear, lesser kestrel, cormorant, crag martin and the spectacular sight of thousands of house martins resting momentarily on their migration. Bill, Joan and John felt lucky to be part of this scene as on their return journey from Villafafila, the house martins were gone without trace.

Saturday 29th September was a particularly good day for Bill and Joan. Early that morning Bill spotted a lone wolf moving purposefully across the open land with a leg of a deer in its mouth , a sight which was appreciated by all the other watchers.Later that day Joan pointed out a golden eagle being mobbed by kestrels while enjoying two stunning sites on the Douro gorge. Other birds seen while at the Gorge sites included red-billed chough and griffon vulture. All in all, Bill and Joan returned to Porto airport with some superb memories and the feeling that so much had been achieved in the week's tour.

The next day John and I were reunited with Alan and Jacqueline who had enjoyed a Watching for Wolves tour during a previous February, and now they were about to enjoy some tremendous wolf sightings in much warmer weather. On their first night's wolf watch a family party of 12 wild boar came well into view; a sight which had eluded Bill and Joan the week before. Along with some nightjars very close by, this was an auspicious start to Alan and Jacqueline's Watching for Wolves tour. Indeed the sights exceeded expectations as the following morning, Alan and Jacqueline could watch seven wolves from 07:45 until everyone decided they should leave for some breakfast at 11;00! Two red kites hovered around expectantly also throughout the morning watch giving some impressive views. A red fox was also occasionally to be seen, but this was one creature keeping a low profile that morning. During the day, lots of griffon vultures could be seen and John noted up to three Western Bonelli's warblers, while Alan and Jacqueline were able to see, and smell evidence of pine martin along with badger,wild boar, fox, roe and red deer tracks. To cap off an impressive first full day of the tour, Jacqueline saw two wolves cutting across the track that evening. The tour continued in this exciting vein, with wolves being watched for upwards of four hours on occasion;

Alan and Jacqueline could delight in seeing the pups playing, watch the interaction between the pack hierarchy right up to the final watch when everyone could get onto two individuals moving about the valley which had offered up so many good views that tour for Alan and Jacqueline.As well as seeing the wolves, on two occasions everyone could hear the howls as the alpha male gathered the pack around for the evening's hunting, and the sense of readiness that surrounded them all is very evident in their behaviour. Black and griffon vultures were present much of the time, at times up to 180 griffon vultures circling around overhead, with ravens and red kites in evidence too. On a lovely warm day, Alan, Jacqueline and John enjoyed looking around some of the old villages where oscillated lizard and Iberian water frog were seen, plus a viperine snake in the river at Rio Onor. Also noted were grey wagtail, white wagtail, great crested grebe, dipper, short-toed tree-creeper, Iberian grey shrike and red-rumped swallow during the daytime activities.

Yet another successful tour full of stupendous sightings in this most rich area for interesting wildlife watching.

The weather had changed by the time we greeted Darren and Sarah from Porto airport in November and the forecast was not promising. However, they were delighted to listen to the howl of a lone wolf on their first watch that evening of day 1, hauntingly carried over the mist towards the vantage point. on this very wet and misty evening, everyone counted themselves lucky to see an Iberian shrike an, grey heron and red kite, and Sarah was delighted to be able to study an Iberian hare as it ran across in front  of the Landrover then John was able to get the Darren and Sarah onto it as it sheltered in the grassy verge.

The next day dawned brighter and during the morning wolf watch. Darren, Sarah and John were able to watch  a lone wolf as it trotted down a track. A hen harrier was also spotted along with red and roe deer. Later in the day all three could watch the spectacle of a red kite mobbing a griffon vulture, along with sights of common buzzard, crested tit, great tit, coal tit and great crested grebe.

The third day of the tour reverted to the more changeable weather, but despite these conditions, John, Darren and Sarah were able to watch three wolves on the morning watch and finish off the day with good views of two individuals during the evening wolf watch. Well done John in such inclement conditions! During the day, John Darren and Sarah delighted in watching several hundred cranes and large numbers of great bustards at Villafafila plus red kite and marsh harrier. En route to Villafafila, a stopover by the Rio Esla  gave views of grey heron, griffon vulture, black vulture, great white egret, little egret, little grebe, cormorant, crag martin, mallard, coot, marsh harrier, raven and Sarah spotted an otter close by!

The forecast for the final day of Darren and Sarah's tour was not promising but the early morning light was good and so it was in very clear conditions with sunshine highlighting the autumn colours, that John, Darren and Sarah were treated to views of three wolves as they moved across the tracks and weaved amongst the heather. What a finale to a tour where John had found some truly memorable wildlife moments for Darren and Sarah whose upbeat determination paid dividends with such sounds and sightings to remember for a long time.

The first watch for Matt and Liz was in even worse weather, with torrential rain making the prospect of any wildlife sighting seem remote. Fresh wolfscat had been spotted close to the vantage point,  and Iberian grey shrike and Jays were spotted, plus a couple of red and two roe deer, but visibility soon became impossible.. But rather than give up, John decided to go off road  and further along the valley, both John and Matt saw a movement to the right. Upon closer inspection, from the inside of the Landrover as the rain was still torrential, they could watch a lone wolf about 300 metres away in a clearing in the valley below. The wolf stopped and turned, interested to see the Landrover, before sloping away across the clear ground to aim for shelter among the heather and bracken. Totally unexpected and hence so totally in the character of wolf watching! The evening watch gave us brambling,stonechat and meadow pipit.

The next day John, Matt and Liz braved the weather conditions again and were duly rewarded with a truly memorable experience; a wolf howling. This tremendous experience was bettered later in the week when on the evening of the third day wolves could be heard howling from three different points in the valley and John, Matt and Liz felt privileged to hear this age-old communication. The viewing conditions may have been misty, but the valley offered up something truly precious for Matt, Liz and John as they just stood and absorbed. Over the tour, more howling was heard by Matt and Liz, both on the same second evening when a lone wolf offered up a howl, and on the very last night of the tour, when the conditions had not lent themselves to easy viewing, but just as John, Matt and Liz were packing up, there began a howl which opened out into the whole pack in howl; higher- pitched, sharp howling from the younger members pf the pack and the individual howl pitches from each of the other members, all in one cacophony of primeval sound. This was indeed a wonderful finale to a superb tour, with good results owing to everyone's determination and spotting ability.

Wolf sightings during this extended Watching for Wolves tour continued from the lone wolf on the first wet watch, through the good views of three wolves on the morning of the third day followed by two individual sightings on that same evening. On the following morning watch Liz spotted one of what was eventually four wolves in the heather and John was able to video their undisturbed movement through this area where their camouflage truly aids their ability just to move and disappear from view.

 By day 5 of this tour where the weather had been a challenge on most of the watches, Matt was becoming fluent in two of the most heard words in Spanish that week, namely " Hola!" and "Agua." However that day was to offer to Matt and Liz views to be remembered for a lifetime. In the morning Liz saw  a movement she identified correctly as a wolf coming out of the forest and John got onto this plus three more followed!That evening, after a tremendous day at the Douro Gorge which I shall mention later in this blog report, Matt, Liz and John finished their day off with superb views of seven wolves eating a recent kill and everyone could observe the body language, pack interaction until the lack of good light meant such tremendous sights could no longer be watched. But forever in the memory!

Daytime activities within the reserve gave up plenty of very fresh tracks and scat which Matt found very photogenic, and a useful total of bird species considering the time of year and the weather conditions. Birds spotted within the Sierra de la Culebra included great tit, coal tit, blue tit, black redstart, firecrest, dunnock, stonechat, robin, tree sparrow, raven, griffon vulture, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, dartford warbler, great spotted woodpecker, short-toed treecreeper, cirl bunting, rock bunting, serin, while the visit to the Douro Gorge in clear blue skies enabled Matt, Liz and John to watch  woodlark singing and pecking on the ground, along with a kettle of 29 red kites, two golden eagles with one of them displaying, and 30 griffin vultures at close quarters.

Matt spotted a natterjack toad, which was extremely well camouflaged on the rocky pathway. It was good to see the crag martins performing their aeronautical acrobatics by the dam site too.

On a dull misty cold day 4 of the tour, where the evening watch gave good views of fox and a charmingly trusting mouse, but was otherwise quiet, Matt and Liz had an excellent day at Villafafila with John, plus a useful stopover at the Rio Esla. This peaceful place had plenty to spy including three great white egrets, cormorant and  curlew.

Added to the other birds spotted that day, it was an interesting and satisfying day's viewing considering the weather conditions. Birds noted included crane, great bustard, pintail, rock sparrow, goldfinches, blue rock thrush, hen harrier, gadwall, mallard, wigeon, teal, shelduck, shoveller, greylag geese, lapwing, green sandpiper, ruff, yellow-legged gull, corn bunting, skylark, crested lark, linnet and a possible lesser white-fronted goose.

It is now the end of our tours for 2018 and it has been such a varied and successful year! John and I would like to thank all of those who have put their faith in Wild Wolf Experience to give them some truly memorable wildlife moments. We have enjoyed meeting new people on bear, lynx and wolf tours and have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the company of those of you who return for further experiences, knowing that wildlife is never repetitive and always has a further ultimate to offer. We look forward to sharing further wonderful times throughout 2019 either via John's Wild Wolf Experience Facebook page or through my blog reports. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous 2019.

Margaret. Nov. 2018.