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IBERIAN LYNX and BIRDS IN SOUTHERN SPAIN - Friday 8th - Tuesday 12th February 2013

Friday 8th
We all met bright and early at Gatwick Airport for our flight down to Spain, which although 15 minutes late taking off, arrived on schedule in a very sunny Malaga.

After picking up our baggage and through passport control, we met with our guide for this tour and were soon driving northwards, away from Malaga through a beautiful area of coastal hills. Our first destination was only 45 minutes away, making an ideal lunch stop, especially as we’d had an early breakfast at Gatwick. At the Laguna Dulche we found a good group of RED-CRESTED POCHARD along with COMMON POCHARD loafing in front of the hide, whilst in nearby scrub a pair of BLACKCAP, HOUSE SPARROW and SONG THRUSH were seen.

Scanning the lagoon proved productive with a superb flock of around 20 WHITE-HEADED DUCK, as well as BLACK-NECKED & GREAT CRESTED GREBES, GADWALL, SHOVELER, TEAL and female WIGEON, a scarce bird in these parts. A MARSH HARRIER caused havoc amongst feeding COOTS and on the open water, large numbers of BLACK-HEADED & LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS congregated.

After lunch we drove a short distance along the road to where we had seen a couple of possible Little Bustards and found a flock of around 30 birds including some splendid males with their distinctive neck markings. Delighted by this find we then visited Laguna de Fuentre de Piedre. This massive brackish lake held good numbers of GREAT FLAMINGO including some very smart birds displaying on the waters’ edge. Before we checked out the main part of the lakes, we visited farmland close by that yielded 16 COMMON CRANE and two roosting LITTLE OWL on an earth bank. Small numbers of both SWALLOW & HOUSE MARTIN hawked over the fields before eventually drifting north.

Retracing our steps we reached the main part of the lake and had excellent views of the FLAMINGOS both in flight and on the deck. Several hundred SHOVELER fed in the shallows and on smaller lagoons were GOLDEN PLOVER, LAPWING, BLACK-WINGED STILT, AVOCET and BLACK-TAILED GODWITS. Close to the carpark we noted WHITE WAGTAILS and COMMON SNIPE.

With time getting on we drove north stopping for facilities at a convenient service station. The fields at the back were alive with LAPWING and GOLDEN PLOVER and we did well to find a female HEN HARRIER hunting at the back of the pools. CALANDRA LARKS were heard although difficult to see on the muddy fields.

We drove northwards to Cordoba noting a small number of RED KITE but also around 250 BLACK KITES, which were very unusual to see this early in the year. Other species seen on our travels included COMMON BUZZARD, SPARROWHAWK, CATTLE EGRET, NIGHT HERON and a couple of WHITE STORKS.

Eventually arriving at our accommodation, we had a short time to settle in before meeting for dinner which went down very well. After completing the bird list, we retired for the night, very much looking forward to the next day.

Saturday 9th
We met for a 7.15am breakfast which we all enjoyed, surprisingly, as most of us had indulged in rather a large meal the previous night! After boarding the van we drove about 15km to La Lancha, a watchpoint that is renowned for Iberian Lynx. During the journey we found a small herd of FALLOW and a few RED DEER and further on a LITTLE OWL sitting close to the road before flying off. We reached the site and within 5 minutes we located a male IBERIAN LYNX sitting atop a distant rock and we were thrilled to get good scope views of the worlds’ rarest cat for 10 minutes, before it wandered behind bushes. Eventually it came out again and disappeared, not to be seen again.

Also in the same area sat a superb SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE atop a small tree and as the sun came over the ridges, a few GRIFFON and BLACK VULTURES drifted over. The rest of the morning was spent here and we were rewarded with IBERIAN GREEN WOODPECKER, SARDINIAN WARBLER, IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE, RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE and plenty of WOODPIGEONS!

Scanning the ridges gave great rewards with three MOUFLON on the horizon, along with a few RED DEER. Small numbers of SERIN and LONG-TAILED TITS of the race Irbii were seen in the scrub. There were also interesting plants with IBERIAN MILK-VETCH, MASTIC TREE and PETTICOAT-HOOP NARCISSI noted.

With things quietening, we moved location down to the Embalse de Jandula, where a roadside stop produced a pair of FIRECREST. Close to the dam we watched a pair of GOLDEN EAGLES displaying over the hillside and then explored a tunnel where we did well to find both DAUBENTON'S and GREATER MOUSE-EARED BAT. It was much warmer outside the tunnel and we heard from a couple of British birders that they had found an interesting snake nearby. Hot footing it along the track, we arrived to find a brilliant HORSESHOE WHIP-SNAKE basking in the sunshine before disappearing into a hole in the rock.

Deciding to have lunch in the warm sunshine proved a good idea, when we spotted three Spanish Ibex taking it easy on the rock faces opposite, as they enjoyed the warmth. Delighted by this find we tucked into a great lunch and afterwards wandered around the area seeing several species of butterfly including WESTERN DAPPLED WHITE.

The time soon came to return for the afternoon shift of ‘lynx watch’ but despite prolonged viewing couldn't see any during the first hour or two. We wandered up the road and found a WILD BOAR which we all managed to see and then back down the track, following a bit of excitement by other people we watched yet another IBERIAN LYNX sitting on a rock in full view!

The views were brilliant as it enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine and again, the same as the earlier male, it slinked off into undergrowth. Eventually Steve spotted it coming out and we watched it walk along the ridge before sitting down again.

We felt things couldn't get better as below us sat a pair of LITTLE OWLS, a WOODLARK flew past and up to six CRAG MARTINS flew around.

With temperature dropping we headed back to base and once again enjoyed a fantastic meal washed down with a nice drop of red wine. It had been a brilliant day and we wondered what was in store for us tomorrow.

Sunday 10th
We met for the usual 7.15am breakfast and again headed to spend the morning at La Lancha. At Los Escoriales we found a GREEN SANDPIPER feeding in a small pool close to the road. After around 30 minutes, Steve spotted an amazing IBERIAN LYNX about 30 feet from the road. It was sitting close to the road and after getting up, it casually walked past the van and across the road behind us, stopping briefly before continuing along a ride and out of sight. Wow!!!!!

A few hundred yards later we watched a young WILD BOAR foraging in the undergrowth and we felt the rest of the day was going to be an anticlimax after this, but we carried on nonetheless. Good numbers of AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES flew through the valley and warblers seen included quite a few SARDINIAN and BLACKCAPS. Aa male SPARROWHAWK perched on a distant ridge, a single HAWFINCH flew through and IBERIAN GREEN WOODPECKERS called in the trees below us.

With things quiet we left the trail and retraced our steps along the road making a stop close to Los Escoriales. Here we photographed some ancient granite feeding bowls for the fighting bulls which make this area their home. After a brief stop for facilities at the accommodation we took a new route down to Encinarejo and along the River Jandula. A CIRL BUNTING sang from the hillside but we couldn't locate this bird, although we did find a pair of HOOPOE along the track and had good views as they fed in the grass. A brief walk along the track also produced plenty of AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES, whilst overhead flew COMMON BUZZARD, male GOSHAWK and a lone HAWFINCH.

By now we were quite peckish so stopped for lunch at picnic tables adjacent to the river, where AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES came down to take crumbs from us and overhead a GRIFFON VULTURE circled with a RAVEN.

Driving further along the track we stopped and took a walk, but being Sunday it was pretty busy with locals enjoying lunch in the sunshine. CLOUDED YELLOW, SMALL COPPER and SMALL HEATH BUTTERFLIES flew in sheltered spots although birdwise it was quiet until we reached an area close to the dam.

We were shown some lynx tracks in the sand and a little further on, an IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE sat atop a pylon and on the opposite side of the valley, a pair of GOLDEN EAGLES circled. With afternoon wearing on a decision was made to head back to La Lancha and have another look for lynx.

Our journey was disrupted several times by a male BLACK REDSTART and also by a LITTLE OWL perched close to the road. During the next couple of hours we saw BLACK VULTURES, two SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLES, a female BLUE ROCK THRUSH but unfortunately no lynx this time.

Opting for an earlier return to base, we found some RED DEER close to the road which proved quite photogenic. After time for a hot shower, we all met for a pre-dinner drink and to do the bird list before enjoying another fantastic meal.

Monday 11th
The usual breakfast at 7.15am was enjoyed and we spent our last time at La Lancha. The wind was much stronger this morning and at times was quite cold. Raptors were very much in evidence with good numbers of SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLES, GRIFFON and BLACK VULTURES as well as male GOSHAWK and KESTREL.

Despite a good search, we could not find Iberian Lynx and counted ourselves lucky to have enjoyed such fabulous views over the last few days. We did however see four WILD BOAR, five MOUFLON and to locate both RED and FALLOW DEER.

At around 11am we drove back to base for a warming coffee and a spot of cake and on arrival found 17 SISKIN in a small tree close to the buildings, before spending the rest of the day at Encinarejo. With a bit of baiting with bread, we had outstanding views of about 30 AZURE-WINGED MAGPIES on and around the picnic table and a NUTHATCH in a nearby pine. Overhead were several more SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLES, COMMON BUZZARD and plenty of GRIFFON VULTURES.

With Otter missing from our mammal list we spent time walking along the river but got slightly waylaid on finding FIRECRESTS, LONG-TAILED TITS, CHIFFCHAFF, CRESTED TIT and SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER in the same tree which was quite fabulous.

After lunch we sat down on an area of rocks to search for Otter, but were rewarded with a KINGFISHER which went flashing by and in the nearby trees were plenty of SERINS as well as GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER and overhead CRAG & HOUSE MARTINS.

We decided to take a bit of exercise and took a walk up towards the dam, stopping to see several WOODLARKS, CHAFFINCHES and at least three CIRL BUNTINGS feeding in a rough field and on nearby power lines sat a cracking IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE.

The day concluded at a bridge, where three KINGFISHERS, GREY WAGTAIL, CORMORANT and a GREY HERON rounded off the day nicely.

On the return journey, a SOPRANO PIPISTRELE flew over riverside pines and a little later, after a warming hot shower we enjoyed yet another fantastic meal.

Tuesday 12th
We met at 7.15am for a slightly later breakfast and after loading up the van, were soon saying our goodbyes to the Sierra de Andujar and heading southwards to Malaga.

The journey was very good and birds en-route included CATTLE EGRET, COMMON BUZZARD and good numbers of LAPWING. We stopped for a break and around the service area were a couple of CALANDRA LARKS, SHELDUCK, GOLDEN PLOVER, MALLARD and plenty of BLACK-HEADED and LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS.

After another forty minutes we were arriving in Malaga and at our last site of the tour, which was the Rio Guadalhorce close to Malaga Airport. After parking we heard the calls of MONK PARAKEETS as a small group flew past us. Walking out to a couple of hides was hard going in the strong winds but the sight from the first made it worthwhile with good views of WHITE-HEADED DUCKS as well as POCHARD and SHOVELER.

The next hide was even more productive with good numbers of CRAG & HOUSE MARTINS hawking over the waters’ surface and on and around the many islands were male WIGEON, WHITE-HEADED DUCK, SHOVELER and BLACK-NECKED GREBE amongst the more common birds. Waders included COMMON SANDPIPER, SNIPE and a LITTLE-RINGED PLOVER. With time getting on, we headed off to the airport and said our goodbyes after what had been a cracking tour with so many special highlights!