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Iberian Lynx tour - Andújar & La Mancha trip report

John Muddeman
09/02/2015 11:32:47

A short report on a recent 5-day tour to Andújar to search for the critically endangered Iberian Lynx and also some impressive birdwatching both there and en route.

Posted in: Flora, Butterflies and Moths, Amphibians, Birds, Mammals, Endangered Wildlife and Habitats | Andalusia, Castile-La Mancha | Mainland Spain, Southern Spain, Central Spain

This tour had a bit of everything, with A common roadsign REMEMBER! © John MuddemanA common roadsign - REMEMBER!© John Muddeman the 'top' highlights including some sublime winter weather, virtually all the mammals and birds that could be expected or hoped for, and generous quantities of the region's excellent cuisine. On the down side, a concentration of motorcyclists the first weekend within the park (creating disturbance on the roads and plenty of noise in general), a large hunt in the huge estate adjacent to the main watching area on the Sunday -with small groups of hunting dogs wandering the area from early afternoon onwards-, and the often truly freezing conditions, as witnessed by the iced-up windscreen on two mornings and even a few snowflakes falling on the Wednesday morning -snow is a rare event here!-, made it tricky, but not impossible to concentrate fully 100% of the time!

Indeed, unlike all the other watchers we came across at the time, we were also hugely luckier in actually gaining a fine sighting of a male Iberian Lynx, though we certainly put in the hours and the effort necessary, and so were rightly, I feel, rewarded!

With 'iffy' weather forecast for the whole time we were to be there, I decided to spend much of the first day, during the long transfer down to the Andújar area from Madrid, birding around the lakes and agricultural land of La Mancha. After a first fail along a very slippery and muddy track, which was a helpful warning for the conditions elsewhere, a total of 41 Great Bustards, including a fine flock of 37 huge males were the first major find and one of the 'most-wanted' species. The strong chill wind put us off getting out, but even watching from the vehicle also revealed a superb adult female Peregrine on the ground and a flighty group of Calandra Larks amongst numerous small birds.

Purple-Swamphen - P-porphyrio © John MuddemanA close feeding Purple Swamphen
Porphyrio porphyrio
© John Muddeman
After finally finding a bar for a late lunch, we later headed off to a nearby lake, where new species came thick and fast, including of most note Common Shelduck, Ruff, a few Greater Flamingos, Western Marsh Harriers, a superb male Spanish Sparrow amongst Crested Larks, two wonderfully close Purple Swamphens, a couple of Black-necked Grebes and most surprising, a small flock of five wintering Whiskered Terns.

Time was pressing so again we moved on to another area of fields en route to our destination and in a fortunately nearly roadside field were the final two 'targets' for the day, with a flock of c. 400 Little Bustards and smaller numbers of gorgeous Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, the latters' orange breasts almost glowing in the sunshine.

There was still a little light left once at our destination and so we headed straight down to the Jándula River for a quick watch just before dusk. And perfect timing it was too, with A fine Eurasian Otter swimming upriver to greet us, before fishing just below us and then swimming off again, silhouetted the whole way against the dimming sky in the gorgeous and still evening conditions.

Our three full days at Andújar varied from A family of Otters - Lutra-lutra © John MuddemanA family of Otters
Lutra lutra
© Pete Yendel
sublime in the bright, chill but still early morning conditions, to bitterly cold in a moderate wind, under threatening cloud and even light rain on occasions. Fortunately, the only really heavy rain fell one wild evening after dinner when we went out for a short drive, and struck lucky with a superb Natterjack Toad wandering across the road! This was a lifer for Dave, as had been the semi-torpid Western Common Toad we'd come across a couple of evenings before while driving back in the dark.

Apart from the Iberian Lynx, the mammals of this scenically beautiful area are enough in themselves to visit the region, and we had daily views of Red and Fallow Deer, small herds of Mouflon most days, including some colourful males, part of the easiest group of Spanish Ibex to encounter in these Sierras where they are generally very elusive, just one Wild Boar this time, but we also recorded both Greater Mouse-eared and Daubenton's Bats, more European Rabbits than I've seen for a while there (good news for the Iberian Lynx of course!) and last, but certainly not least, Eurasian Otters. Apart from the first evening's sighting noted above, the lull after the storm saw us watch a female and two well-grown cubs come up river to within just 20m away very early one morning, and we spent at least 20 minutes enjoying the sight of these playing and hunting in the river, including one boisterous cub chittering loudly at its mother for food! A very special moment indeed!

Black&GriffonVultures - Aegyp © John MuddemanBlack & Griffon Vultures
Aegypius monachus & Gyps fulvus
© John Muddeman
But the presence of numerous special birds also makes it a pleasure to visit, with the hundreds of Iberian Magpies being a real feature, and several of the flocks were well over 100-strong. Abundant Griffon and regular Cinereous Vultures, a few Eurasian Sparrowhawks, at least two pairs and a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle, an all too high and brief Golden Eagle, plenty of Little Owls (albeit mostly heard rather than seen), a few Eurasian Hoopoes, several elusive Iberian Green Woodpeckers, discordant Iberian Grey Shrikes, Red-billed Choughs 'dancing' along the cliffs, several flocks of Woodlarks creeping under the trees, single early Barn Swallow and House Martin amongst the wintering Eurasian Crag Martins, a few confiding Dartford and Sardinian Warblers, 'non-stop' Firecrests, Short-toed Treecreepers, abundant Spotless Starlings, numerous wintering Black Redstarts of just about all plumages possible, sometimes elusive Blue Rock Thrushes, plentiful finches, including daily Hawfinches and fine single male Rock and Cirl Buntings meant that this is a hard trip to beat for general wildlife!

It was generally cold, but really warm sun one Beautiful-restored-Don-Quix © John MuddemanBeautiful restored Don Quixote windmills© John Muddemanday drew early emerging Western Dappled White and Iberian Wall Lizard, and the cold winds seemed to have little effect on the marching hordes of Winter Webworm caterpillars noted in bulk at one site, especially as they crowded together to keep warmer! A large Spanish Terrapin moving slowly but surely along the edge of the river below us one day was probably an indication of the generally fine and unseasonably warm weather which had been prevailing until shortly before our visit!

Our return was marked by gale-force ice-cold winds, which increased in force as we headed into La Mancha. Indeed the car was rocking as we visited a ridge top crowned by a castle and beautifully restored windmills in the heart of Don Quixote country, but the views were superb and a Thekla Lark even braved it out! Ahead of us a black wall of heavily falling snow under a vigorous storm cell fortunately pulled away in front of us as we headed to one lake, and our final proper stop en route back, and certainly didn't detract our last highlight. A fine group of 6 White-headed Ducks bobbing in the shelter of some reedbeds, with White Storks, Greater Flamingos, a few Black-necked Grebes and a remarkable number of Western Marsh Harriers making a fine supporting cast.

But the sighting of a large adult male Iberian Lynx, Lynx-symbol-adorning-town-s © John MuddemanIberian Lynx symbol adorning Andújar town sign© John Muddeman some 30m or so from the vehicle, was definitely the highlight. Although only brief, the beard was so big that in profile it was first mistaken for a radiocollar! But as it walked up a short slope and then sat for a few moments under the trees, it clearly didn't have one and we got lovely views. All too quickly though it walked down the back of a this slope, disappearing permanently from view as we manoeuvred the car for a clearer view, but leaving us elated, and, truthfully, a little relieved given the changeable weather conditions and the time we'd put in to try and see one! No photos, but fantastic memories!!

Species Lists

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Gadwall Anas strepera
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Colourful-hillside-scrub-An © John MuddemanColourful hillside scrub Sierra de Andújar© John Muddeman
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephalus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Black-necked/Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Red Kite Milvus milvus
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Cinereous/Monk/Black Vulture Aegypius monachus
[Western] Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Common/Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Earthstar-fungus - Geastrum © John MuddemanA fine earthstar fungus
Geastrum? sp.
© John Muddeman

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Great Bustard Otis tarda
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian/Common Coot Fulica atra
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia
[Common] Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Tawny Owl Strix aluco Hoop-petticoatN - N-bubocodiu © John MuddemanHoop-petticoat Narcissus
Narcissus bulbocodium
© John Muddeman

Little Owl Athene noctua
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus sharpei
Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Northern/Common Raven Corvus corax
Great Tit Parus major
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
[Common] House Martin Delichon urbicum
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Eurasian/Common Skylark Alauda arvensis
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Mixed-flock - Tetrax-tetrax © John MuddemanMixed Little Bustard + Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flock
Tetrax tetrax + Pterocles alchata
© John Muddeman

Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia
Dunnock / Hedge Accentor Prunella modularis
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Snowy-hillside-in-La-Mancha © John MuddemanRare shot of snow on La Mancha hillside!© John Muddeman
European Serin Serinus serinus
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus
Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra
Greater Mouse-eared Bat Myotis myotis
Daubenton's Bat Myotis daubentonii
Eurasian Wild Boar Sus scrofa
Red Deer Cervus elaphus
Fallow Deer Dama dama
Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica
Mouflon Ovis orientalis WniterWebworm-tide - Ocnogyna © John MuddemanA 'tide of Winter Webworms!
Ocnogyna baetica
© John Muddeman

Spanish Terrapin Mauremys leprosa
Iberian Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanica

Western Common Toad Bufo spinosus
Natterjack Toad Epidalea calamita

Barbel sp. Barbus sp.

Western Dappled White Euchloe crameri

Winter Webworm Ocnogyna baetica

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