Monday, 30 January 2017

The Land of the Lynx

Iberian Lynx in the Sierre de Andujar, plus the Campo de Calatrava and Laguna de Fuente de Piedra

January 19th-23rd 2017

Together with Coto Donana, the Sierra de Andujar in southern Spain provides about the only real prospects of seeing Iberian Lynx in Spain (and indeed, the world). With concerted conservation efforts, populations at both sites are apparently on the up following a dramatic decline, and Andujar is becoming an increasingly popular destination for seeking one out.

And so, four of us set of from the UK towards the end of January 2017 in an attempt to see what is the world’s rarest felid, and to do some birding if time permitted. At four nights, the trip was a relatively short one, staying at the pleasant and comfortable Gran Hotel Spa in Marmalejo, a short drive from the main Lynx area.

We had two full days in the Sierra, split either side of a day in the Campo de Calatrava where we enjoyed some excellent steppe birding. We also enjoyed some time at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra whilst travelling back to Malaga airport, which we flew in and out of (on cheap easyJet flights).

Iberian Lynx

Our main source of information when searching for Lynx was a trip report from 2010 produced by Lee Dingain, and this remains the best source of information for the area. Other trip reports can be found on www.mammalwatching.co.uk. Fellow Notts birder John Hopper provided some more up-to-date information based on a successful visit he had had in November 2014.  

We began our first morning on the El Encinarejo trail. After a quick stop at the first viewing point described by Dingain, we carried on to the dam at the Embalse del Encinarejo, positioning ourselves on the slope level with the top of the dam, again as described in Dingain. Almost immediately I had a tail-end view of a Lynx walking behind a bush, on a slope to the south-east. However, it didn’t reappear, and eventually we got sufficiently cold to require a trip to Los Pinos to find some coffee. So a slightly frustrating start.

The dam at the Embalse del Encinarejo
Looking downriver from the dam at the Embalse del Encinarejo

In the afternoon, we tried the La Lancha track, heading for the viewing area as per Dingain. We stopped short of this, enjoying a wide panorama looking west, from which we could monitor the activity of fellow Lynx-spotters further along the track. Scanning revealed plenty of deer (Red and Fallow), Rabbits and a single Mouflon, but no Lynx. However, late afternoon, we then noticed a sudden movement of people at the main viewing area, and decided it would be prudent to join them!

Male Mouflon
Fallow Deer
The La Lancha track
The view from the La Lancha track

We arrived to be told that a Lynx had been seen, but had walked out of view a moment before our arrival. After a tense 10 minute wait, the Lynx (a male lacking a radio collar – see below) reappeared on a hillside to the west, up which it walked, moving in and out of view, before it reached the crest of the hill and disappeared from sight. A little distant, but fantastic! This sighting is marked in red on the map below, with the cross our viewing location and the red line the approximate route that the Lynx took.

Iberian Lynx!


The hillside up which the Lynx padded
Moderate your speed

Our second day looking for Lynx began again on the El Encinarejo trail; after a successful Otter encounter (see below), we moved on up to the dam. However, it was a Sunday and there were at least 20 people stood on the bridge – across which Lynx will apparently cross (although clearly not today). We gave up fairly soon, and headed back to the La Lancha track, via a coffee stop in Los Pinos and on to the dam at the Embalse del Jandula (complete with Spanish Ibex – see below).

A misty, frosty start

Arriving back at the main Lynx viewing area for lunch, we settled in for the afternoon. After a while, word reached us that a couple had seen a Lynx walk across the track just north of our position, and disappear into a bush just below it. And so we waited for it to emerge, along with maybe 20 other people. And we waited… 

Lynx habitat as far as the eye can see
Our viewing location
Our viewing location from the opposite direction

Then, after at least 2 hours (by which time it was late afternoon again), some observers opposite us became rather animated, and following a bit of unintelligible gesticulating, we all dashed round to their position. And there, on a slope no more than 15 metres below the track we had all just walked along (and along which cars had been driving) was a male Lynx


The radio collared male, enjoying the late afternoon sun...

Clearly having just emerged from an adjacent bush, he was sat admiring the view down the valley. After a while he curled up and went to sleep, then woke, yawned, and padded off down the valley, dipping in and out of view before we lost him. 

... lying down...
... having a nap...
... and just about to head off

The Lynx twitch
More Lynx twitchers

To see such an animal, barely 50 metres away, and for a relatively prolonged period (half an hour or so) was a real treat. The fact that this animal was sporting a rather battered looking radio collar slightly spoilt the aesthetic, but he remained a wild animal, and one of the rarest. Incredible! The location of this sighting is marked in purple on the map; shortly beforehand, two observers had seen another Lynx in the approximate location of the blue cross/line.

Lynx sighting locations on the La Lancha track


Otter and Spanish Ibex

On our second day in the Sierra de Andujar, we began at first light by looking for Otters on the Rio de Jandula, along the El Encinarejo trail. Just before reaching the dam, there is an area between the track and the river called the Observatorio Dona Rosa, which has a small wooden viewing screening. Within minutes of arriving we were enjoying good views of two Otters feeding in the river (see map). They became more elusive as more people arrived. 

Otter
The Rio Jandula
Otter location, below the Embalse del Encinarejo dam

Mid morning we drove to the end of the La Lancha track (the Embalse del Jandula). On a corner of the track overlooking the dam and the valley below it, we stopped to scan, locating a group of 10 Spanish Ibex on a slope immediately below the first pylon below the dam. They remained in this area for around an hour and a half, and were also visible from the dam itself (see map).

Spanish Ibex
The dam on the Embalse del Jandula
Ibex location, below the Embalse del Jandula


Birds in the Sierra de Andujar

Whilst waiting for Lynx, we saw a good selection of birds, of which the following are worthy of note:
  • Spanish Imperial Eagle – a pair from the El Encinarejo trail, and another pair on the La Lancha track; a 2cy bird also seen at the latter
  • Golden Eagle – a pair (male displaying) just north of the Embalse del Jandula dam, plus a 2cy bird over the La Lancha track
  • Griffon Vulture – c.40 off to the north from the La Lancha track, with some drifting overhead
  • Black Vulture – 2 close birds over the La Lancha track
  • Goshawk – a female seen along the La Lancha track
  • Chough – 2 over the La Lancha track and 2 pair at the Embalse del Jandula
  • Azure-winged Magpie - common
  • Dartford Warbler – two seen/heard along the La Lancha track
  • Firecrest – several
  • Crested Tit - one, heard on the La Lancha track
  • Hawfinch – multiple sightings

Adult Spanish Imperial Eagle
2cy Golden Eagle
Black Vulture

Other things included Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Crag Martin, Serin, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Iberian Woodpecker, Woodlark, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Blue Rock Thrush, plus a range of more common/familiar species (of which Magpie and Robin were particularly abundant).

The Sierre de Andujar has some of the best Mediterranean forest going


Birds on the Camp de Calatrava

The Campo de Calatrava is an agricultural area within striking distance of the Sierra de Andujar, just south of Ciudad Real and west of Pozuelo de Calatrava. There is very little information about this area available (and it did not feature in the ’Where to Watch Birds’ guide we were using), and I only became aware of it when looking around for Natura 2000 sites (the area is a ZEPA and IBA). I managed to find some fairly general information on a couple of Spanish tour websites, which suggested the area would be worth a visit.

So without really knowing much about the area, we arrived mid-morning, beginning by scanning from a parking area at the junction of the CM-4111 and the CRP-5121. We were treated to huge numbers of Calandra Larks (1000s), Spanish Sparrows and Corn Buntings (100s each), plus our first Sandgrouse – a few fly-over Pin-tails (a long awaited tick for me).

The Campo de Calatrava - heaving with Calandra Larks and Corn Buntings
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - tick!

We then drove a short distance (just over 2.5km) further north on the CM-4111, before turning right onto a track, which we then followed east until hitting the CM-45 (see map). We stopped at multiple locations along the track, seeing around 110 Great Bustards, c.35 Little Bustards, and flocks of Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, some of the latter appearing close to the track when we retraced our route in the afternoon. Also seen were a couple of Marsh Harriers, Southern Grey Shrike, and small parties of Golden Plover and Lapwing, as well as a Red Fox

The start of the track we took across the Campo
Great Bustards
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - what a stunner
The route we took across the Campo de Calatrava

We also visited the Laguna del Prado, on the eastern side of Pozuelo de Calatrava. It is possible to drive around the lagoon, but unobstructed viewing was only possible from the north-eastern corner; the site is fenced and the gates to the hides were locked. The Laguna held good numbers of Shoveler, as well as lesser numbers of Shelduck, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall, whilst waders included single Kentish Plover and Green Sandpiper, two each of Black-winged Stilt and Dunlin, and at least 6 Little Stints. A single Water Pipit was also present, along with another Red Fox. Over Pozuelo itself, we noted 8 White Storks.

The Laguna del Prado, with Pozuelo de Calatrava beyond

Just south of the Campo de Calatrava, we drove up to the Santuaria Virgen (Notra Senora) de los Santos, which is just west of the CM-4111. This is located in a hilly area adjacent to the plains, with scrub and woodland. Here, 2 Zitting Cisticolas in the roadside ditch and 2 Sparrowhawks were new for the trip, whist several hundred Corn Buntings came into a pre-roost. We also picked up a Firecrest, and there were plenty of Azure-winged Magpies around.

The road to Santuaria Virgen de los Santos
Don't tun any Lynx over

Birds at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra

Heading back to the airport on our last day, we noted several White Storks already at nests on pylons by the A-4, and a few parties of Cattle Egrets in flight near Cordoba. Arriving at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, we began by birding the pools around the visitor centre at the eastern end of the lake. New birds included Snipe, Ringed Plover, Pochard, Little Grebe, White-headed Duck (2 males), Rock Sparrow (4 by the lagoon next to the access road), and Stone-curlew (28 in the field with the yellow tower). Also present were c.200 Shoveler and 9 Greater Flamingos.

The small lagoon by the entrance to Fuente de Piedra visitor centre
Looking west over Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
White-headed Duck

We then drove to the western end of the lake, visiting the two miradors. Here, we could see 200 Cranes on the near shoreline, but just 66 Flamingos in the middle of the lake; despite it being mid winter, water levels were very low in the laguna, and it seems unlikely that they will breed this year. A few Black-winged Stilts were also present, along with several thousand Lesser Black-backed Gulls (I failed to find anything else amongst these).

The western end of Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
Cranes on the shoreline

Arriving in Malaga, we added Yellow-legged Gull and Ring-necked Parakeet to our list, before catching our flight home.

Mammal list:
  1. Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus - 1 seen on 20/1 for a moment from the dam at the Embalse del Encinarejo. 1 for c.10 minutes late afternoon on 20/1 on the La Lancha track, with another (radio collared) individual there on 22/1
  2. Red Fox Vulpes vulpes - 1 on the Campo de Calatrava and one at the Laguna del Prado (Pozuelo de Calatrava)
  3. Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica - a party of 10 below the dam at the Embalse del Jandula
  4. Mouflon Ovis musimon ­- 1 from the La Lancha track
  5. Red Deer Cervus elaphus – frequent in the Sierra de Andujar
  6. Fallow Deer Dama dama – frequent in the Sierra de Andujar
  7. Otter Lutra lutra – 2 on the Rio Jandula, near the dam on the Embalse del Encinarejo
  8. European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus ­– daily in generally small numbers

Bird list:
  1. Shelduck Tadorna tadorna – several at the Laguna del Prado and Fuente de Piedra
  2. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos­ – seen at the Laguna del Prado and Fuente de Piedra
  3. Shoveler Anas clypeata – sizeable flocks at the Laguna del Prado and Fuente de Piedra
  4. Gadwall Anas strepera – 7 at the Laguna del Prado
  5. Teal Anas crecca – a few at the Laguna del Prado and Fuente de Piedra
  6. Common Pochard Aythya farina­ – c.10 at Fuente de Piedra
  7. White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala – 2 males at Fuente de Piedra
  8. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis – c.10 at Fuente de Piedra
  9. Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa – seen daily, locally numerous
  10. Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – small numbers at the two Embalses and along the Rio de Jandula; lso seen in Malaga.
  11. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – individuals in the Sierra de Andujar
  12. Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis­ – c.15 near Cordoba and 2 at Fuente de Piedra
  13. White Stork Ciconia ciconia­ – 8 over Pozuelo de Calatrava; 3 on nests just east of Cordoba; one at Fuente de Piedra
  14. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus – 75 at Fuente de Piedra
  15. Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus – up to c.40 looking north from the La Lancha track
  16. Black Vulture Aegypius monachus – 2 close over the La Lancha track, others distantly to the north
  17. Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus­ – 2 at Santuaria Virgen de los Santos, 1 at Fuente de Piedra
  18. Goshawk Accipiter gentilis – a female on the La Lancha track
  19. Buzzard Buteo buteo – small numbers at Laguna del Prado and at Fuente de Piedra
  20. Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti – a pair on the El Encinarejo trail and another pair from the La Lancha track, where a 2cy was also seen
  21. Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos – a pair (male displaying) just north of the dam at the Embalse del Jandula, with a 2cy over the La Lancha track
  22. Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus – small numbers on the Campo de Calatrava and at Laguna del Prado
  23. Kestrel Falco tinnunculus­ -  small numbers
  24. Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri – 3 flew across the road in front of us in Malaga
  25. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus – several at Fuente de Piedra
  26. Coot Fulica atra - several at Fuente de Piedra
  27. Crane Grus grus – around 200 at Fuente de Piedra
  28. Great Bustard Otis tarda – c.110 at the Campo de Calatrava
  29. Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax – c.35 at the Campo de Calatrava
  30. Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta – 5 at Fuente de Piedra
  31. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus - a few at Laguna del Prado and at Fuente de Piedra
  32. Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus – 1 heard on the Campo de Calatrava, 28 at Fuente de Piedra
  33. Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula­ – at least 2 at Fuente de Piedrae
  34. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus – 1 at Laguna del Prado
  35. Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva – several small parties on the Campo de Calatrava
  36. Lapwing Vanellus vanellus – several small parties on the Campo de Calatrava
  37. Dunlin Calidris alpina – a couple at Laguna del Prado
  38. Little Stint Calidris minuta – 6 at Laguna del Prado; a distant party of small waders at Laguna del Prado were probably this species
  39. Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus – 1 on a stream along the La Lancha track, 2 at Fuente de Piedra
  40. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucus – 1 at Fuente de Piedra
  41. Snipe Gallinagi gallinago­ – 2 at Fuente de Piedra
  42. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis – seen in Malaga
  43. Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus – 1000s at Fuente de Piedra
  44. Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus­ – seen at Laguna del Prado and Fuente de Piedra
  45. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata­ – many on the Campo de Calatrava
  46. Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis – many on the Campo de Calatrava
  47. Feral Pigeon Columba livia­ – noted in several places
  48. Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus – frequent in the Sierre de Andujar
  49. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto­ – seen in towns and villages
  50. Little Owl Athene noctua – several in the Sierra de Andujar, also on the Campo de Calatrava
  51. Hoopoe Upupa epops – regularly seen in the Sierra de Andujar
  52. Kingfisher Alcedo atthis – 1 on the Rio de Jandula, along the El Encinarejo trail
  53. Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major – heard or seen on several occaisions in the Sierra de Andujar
  54. Iberian Woodpecker Picus sharpei – heard or seen on several occasions in the Sierra de Andujar
  55. Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis – seen in small numbers in the Sierra de Andujar and on the Campo de Calatrava
  56. Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus – common in the Sierra de Andujar, also seen at the Santuaria Virgen de los Santos
  57. Black-billed Magpie Pica pica - common in the Sierra de Andujar
  58. Jackdaw Corvus monedula – only seen at Fuente de Piedra
  59. Raven Corvus corax – up to 4 at any one time in the Sierra de Andujar
  60. Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax­ – 2 from the La Lancha track, with another 2 on the dam at the Embalse del Jandula
  61. Crested Lark Galerida cristata – plenty on the Campo de Calatrava
  62. Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra­ – 1000s on the Campo de Calatrava
  63. Skylark Alauda arvensis – several heard on the Campo de Calatrava
  64. Woodlark Lullula arborea – several heard in the Sierra de Andujar
  65. Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris – small numbers daily
  66. Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus – 1 heard on the La Lancha track
  67. Great Tit Parus major - frequent
  68. Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus - frequent
  69. Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus­ – parties seen in the Sierra de Andujar
  70. Nuthatch Sitta europaea – heard in the Sierra de Andujar
  71. Short-toed Treecreeper Cethia brachydactyla  - 2 encountered at the end of the La Lancha track above the Embalse del Jandula dam
  72. Wren Troglodytes troglodytes – 1 heard on the dam at the Embalse del Jandula
  73. Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla – encountered daily in small numbers
  74. Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti – 1 heard at the Laguna del Prado, another on the Rio Jandula along the El Encinarejo trail
  75. Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita - common
  76. Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla – small numbers daily
  77. Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata – at least 2 on the La Lancha track
  78. Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala - frequent
  79. Zitting Cisticola Zisticola juncidis – 2 in a roadside ditch on the way up to the Santuaria Virgen de los Santos
  80. Robin Erithacus rubecula - common
  81. Black Redstart Pheonicurus ochruros - frequent
  82. Stonechat Saxicola torquatus – several on the Campo de Calatrava and at the Laguna del Prado
  83. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius – small numbers in the Sierra de Andujar
  84. Blackbird Turdus merula - frequent
  85. Song Thrush Turdus philomelos – small numbers daily
  86. Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus – several in the Sierra de Andujar
  87. Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor - frequent
  88. Dunnock Prunella modularis – 1 by the Rio de Jandula, next to the El Encinarejo trail
  89. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea – one or two daily
  90. White Wagtail Motacilla alba – small numbers daily
  91. Water Pipit Anthis spinoletta – 1 at the Laguna del Prado, 1 at Fuente de Piedra
  92. Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis – small numbers daily
  93. Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra – 100s on the Campo de Calatrava
  94. Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs – small numbers in the Sierra de Andujar
  95. Greenfinch Carduelis chloris – seen daily, in good numbers at Fuente de Piedra
  96. Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis – small numbers daily
  97. Linnet Carduelis cannabina – several on the Campo de Calatrava
  98. Serin Serinus serinus – seen daily
  99. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes – small numbers in the Sierra de Andujar
  100. House Sparrow Passer domesticus – seen daily
  101. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis – 100s on the Campo de Calatrava, small numbers elsewhere
  102. Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia – 4 at Fuente de Piedra
Butterfly list:
  1. Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas - one along the La Lancha track
  2. Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus - several along the La Lancha track
  3. Clouded Yellow Colias croceus - one along the La Lancha track

Reptile list:
  1. Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis - one along the La Lancha track 

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