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Ciudad Real & Andújar - in search of Iberian Lynx and steppic birds

John Muddeman
15/05/2012 10:12:19

Observations and a few pictures from a personal visit to both areas, plus a SEO/BirdLife day trip to Ciudad Real, principally for its steppic birds

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


A quick family trip in mid January saw us miss Red-Deer - Cervus-elaphus © John MuddemanStag Red Deer
Cervus elaphus
© John Muddeman
observing an Iberian Lynx by just a few seconds, but with the lovely sunny and often warm conditions, it was simply a pleasure to be in the hills and enjoying the wildlife and countryside.

Apart from excellent views of the still rutting Red Deer -and incredibly this behaviour continued until March, despite normally peaking in early October!- we saw the other 'usual' large mammals such as Fallow Deer and Mouflon, but even more remarkably it was the variety and number of butterflies which most caught our eye. Small Heaths, Brimstones, a male Cleopatra, a few Clouded Yellows and the first Western Dappled Whites were at one or other of the main lynx-watching viewpoints, with a Large Tortoiseshell noted en route, and at one rough grassy area high in a local village, the 'hill-topping' effect saw us finding over 30 individuals of 9 species. Not bad for January!


Horseshoe-Whip-Snake - Hemorr © John MuddemanHorseshoe Whip Snake
Hemorrhois hippocrepis
© John Muddeman

More evidence of the warm weather came from the sad discovery of a recently killed Horseshoe Whip-snake Hemorrhois hippocrepis on one of the tracks.

A fine Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops at least posed well to get a nice shot from the car, though a range of other birds seen, including a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles Aquila adalberti and various Black Vultures Aegypius monchus and my first Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius of the year were also enjoyed, but not via the camera lens!

Jonquil-daffodil - Narcissus- © John MuddemanCommon Jonquil daffodil
Narcissus jonquilla
© John Muddeman

One of the other special finds in January was a few spikes of a tiny daffodil growing on some of the slightly shadier banks. Iberia is undoubtedly the centre of diversity of the genus Narcissus, but while the plant looked puzzling, posting a couple of pictures onto the Biodiversidad Virtual website came up with a really surprising possibility, with it being morphologically identical to the recently described N. cerrolazae of the more southerly alkaline sierras of Andalucía!

That said, given the important differences between the ecological conditions where the plants are growing (acidic sands) and also the small size of the plants (my thanks to G. Schreur for going and measuring a few specimens a few days after I was there and once the identification problem had been raised!), they are presumably 'simply' an interesting morphotype of the Common Jonquil.

Hoopoe - Upupa-epops © John MuddemanEurasian Hoopoe
Upupa epops
© John Muddeman
Having been introduced to the steppic birds of an agricultural area of Ciudad Real a few years ago, especially in winter when large concentrations of Great Bustard Otis tarda occur and mixed flocks - numbering into the many hundreds - of wintering Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata amalgamate into just one or two flocks, it was time to take a group there! Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Tetrax tetrax and Pterocles alchata © John MuddemanLittle Bustards & Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
Tetrax tetrax & Pterocles alchata
© John Muddeman


Though constituting a long day trip from Madrid, mid January saw a coachload of observers from SEO/BirdLife walking along one of the many (fortunately still dry) tracks in the area. Despite being a huge area, thanks to recent scouting by Santiago Villa, we very quickly located a large group of Great Bustards off to one side, and we watched in awe as nearly 200 hundred birds flew across from one field to the next when disturbed by a local in a car who got to close! When we weren't watching a quartering Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus that is!
Great Bustards - Otis tarda © John MuddemanGreat Bustards
Otis tarda
© John Muddeman


With vast areas available, it was perhaps no surprise that the Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse were not in exactly the same spot, but both were also seen distantly behind these as the flew, and the next two stops in different areas nearby did reveal these birds, though not quite as close as we'd hoped, probably due to weekend disturbance.

The chill stiff breeze also kept small bird activity down, but a large steaming dung heap near a local farm provided a crucial food supply for the wintering insectivorous species, including several Common Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and Black Redstarts Phoenicurus ochrurus.

We finished off the day with a terrific walk down to the Tablas de Alarcos wetland nearby too, which to our delight came up trumps with a host of good records. The local Purple Swamphens Porphyrio porphyrio were one of the main goals, and performed well, but a wide range of species varied from a Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos soaring overhead as we approached, my first Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica of the year, a mobile flock of Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus and, of most note as a local rarity, a super Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis! The latter had a nasty habit of disappearing into the emergent vegetation only to be 'replaced' by one of the several Greenshanks Tringa nebularia also present, but did reappear fortunately for those who'd missed it earlier. Staying as late as we could, the huge number of Western Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus coming in to roost had to be seen to be believed, and over 60 had gathered and were present simultaneously either in the air or sitting on the ground an hour before sundown!



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