Sunday, 22 January 2017

A week in Andalucia in search of Lynx

Sorry if this post appears fraudulent, but it is neither about birding, nor Murcia!

For various reasons I have had to spend the best part of the last year back in the U.K., so when a trip to return to Andújar, Jaen in Andalucia, Spain was suggested, I jumped at the opportunity.  The reason for the visit was to be to look for mammals in general, and Lynx in particular.  In the end, it was just myself and John Wright (also from Southend) who went.  John was one of the original crew that I went with on my last trip for 3 days back in January 2012 (was it really 5 years ago!).

We flew direct from 'London' Southend airport in the early hours of Friday 13th January 2017 to Malaga where we picked up a hire car, and eventually got out of Malaga and headed for the town of Andujar in the 'Sierra Morena' mountains, calling in en route at the 'Laguna del Fuente Piedra'.

We got to what was to be our 'digs' (Villa Matilde) in the late afternoon - and had just enough time to drop off our luggage and then go off and reconnoitre the area (not that much had changed in the previous 5 years, except the potholes in the tracks had got bigger).

Then it was back to the 'digs' for a freshen-up and supper, and listen to the tales of the other people staying at our bed & breakfast, who'd been there for a while, and an early night so as to be fresh for the next morning.

We were told that the Lynx were being seen at all times of the day, but we were keen and it was our first day, so we wanted to be up at the main track viewpoint at first light.

There are two main viewing tracks for the Lynx; one is the track along the JF-5004 that leads to the dam across the Émbalse del Jándula (which I have called the 'main track'), and the other which runs alongside the 'Rio Jándula' from where the A-6177 crosses the river (which I have called the 'river track' and which leads to the 'Embalse del Encinarejo').

So Saturday 14th January, our first full day saw us setting out at about 7-20 (although it took about 10 mins. to defrost the car as it was -5º outside).  The slow drive up to the viewing area took us about half an hour, stopping on the way to look at the multiple Red and Fallow Deer on both sides of the track. By the time we go to the viewing area, the sun was just about creeping over the horizon, and we got our scopes out and got stuck in.  For a while the most entertaining event was watching a multicoloured male Mufflon on the side of a hill until that disappeared.  It was pretty cold to start with, but once the sun came up on a cloudless day, the temperature soon crept up to about 10ºC, and fingers and toes finally thawed out.

Several hours later (when we reckoned there were about 80 people looking), the call went out - a cat had been seen. Everyone moved round to the same area, where the cat could be seen not too far away, hunting through some rocks on the hillside.  It caught a rabbit and was then seen to finish it off very rapidly, and then surprisingly instead of sitting and cleaning itself, it wandered off and was eventually lost to view.  Brilliant! Our first sighting, on the first day, of a probable immature female, and seen well over a total period of about 50 minutes.  There were no further sightings of Lynx, so at dusk we left the lookout area, dropping down to the 'Los Piños' bar on the main Andujar road to celebrate what we'd seen during the day, and then back to our b&b for supper at 8 and write up notes & process photos.

Sunday 15th January was very similar except there were no sightings of Lynx, but for a bit of variety, we went to the dam at the end of the main track (from where we had 3 male Spanish Ibex), and had a look in the holes in the roof of the tunnel there, famous for bats.  We saw at least 8 bats, of we think at least 2 different species and possibly 3 (I am still waiting on John for confirmation as this is his speciality).

Monday 16th January, just for a change, we decided to look for Otters on the Rio Jandula.  We'd found out that these had been seen over the past few days between 8 and 8-30, so another early start as it took us about 30 mins. to get to the famous 'bridge' by the dam where they'd been being seen from, along the river track.  And it was another bitterly cold morning,  -5ºC again to start!  But the Otter didn't disappoint, and at about 8-20 on a very still morning we noted the ripples and lines of bubbles that pronounced its presence. And then the Otter actually climbed out of the water and over some rocks directly below us on the bridge, presumably searching for prey before once again returning to the water and swimming downstream.  And every so often it would pop up and we'd see the characteristic ripples and bubbles.  An excellent start to the day.  Shame the sun wasn't up enough to get anything more than just record photos.
We spent the rest of the day along the river hoping to see a Lynx or more of the Otter, and in actual fact at about 3 in the afternoon the Otter did show again for about 10 minutes, and while I was watching it a group came across a Lynx on the other riverbank.  They got me on to it, and I followed it along the riverbank for some way until it got lost in the undergrowth.  As I watched it, I could hear it making a high soft growling sound.  Unfortunately, John was looking out for Lynx some distance away on a hillside, and didn't get to see it.

On Tuesday 17th January, we decided to try for the Otters again on the Rio Jándula, but this time we were out of luck, and our sighting of the day there was an Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanica), one of the newly split species of Wall Lizards.  We decided to go back to the main track for the last few hours of the afternoon, and here we struck lucky, John sighting a Lynx on a distant track which we followed for a couple of minutes with the scopes before it disappeared over a hill.

Wednesday 18th January saw us again on the main track, and again we struck lucky early on with a Lynx as soon as we got there - people had been watching it for about 10 mins. before we arrived, probably the same young female of our first day, and we watched it for a further 10 minutes before it wandered off.  And then a couple of hours later from the same watchpoint we had a second Lynx, possibly the same one that John had found the previous day, as well as another Mufflon.  In the afternoon we thought we'd try one last time for the Otters on the Rio Jándula river track, but our luck wouldn't quite run that far, so we had an early finish as the sky clouded over and a little bit of snow started to fall, and we just stopped off at the bar on the way back to celebrate our '2 Lynx' day.

Thursday 19th January was our last full day (and our first cloudy one), and we took a very easy run up to the main track watchpoint area checking out all the fields on the way, but without success (apart from the now normal Red and Fallow Deer).  However after about an hour or so, a Lynx was spotted and everyone there (about 30 people) got to see it - quite distant to start with, it came forever closer to us until it disappeared into the undergrowth at the bottom of the track that we were watching from.  We stayed a while longer (seeing a group of 7 male Mufflons lounging around in the process), and then decided to head off to the dam at the end of the track to look for more Ibex and bats.  These we did find (a single female Ibex and 7 bats, species still to be determined).  In the afternoon we decided to have a bit of an explore on some other trails that we'd not tried yet and we did actually go quite a long way, but then the snow started to come down quite heavily, so we cut short our explorations and headed back to the bar.

Friday 20th January, and we had to hand the car back at Malaga airport at 9-30, so we had a very early start at 4am, did some torch spotting for an hour without much success (just Red and Fallow Deer and something small with a long tail scuttle across the road), and then headed off back to Malaga, and finally got back to Southend at about 1pm local time.

Birds seen:  Although our visit was principally to see mammals, we obviously made note of any birds seen.  Here the list of the 80 species we identified during the whole of the week.

Shelduck; Gadwall; Teal; Mallard; Pochard; White-headed Duck; Grey Heron; Cattle Egret; House Sparrow; Linnet; Goldfinch; Chaffinch; Greenfinch; Short-toed Eagle; Common Buzzard; Kestrel; White Stork; Greater Flamingo; Common Crane; Meadow Pipit; Songthrush; Stonechat; Monk Parakeet; Red Kite; Spotless Starling; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Black-headed Gull; Hoopoe; Magpie; Iberian Magpie; Jackdaw; Robin; Blackbird; Songthrush; Black Redstart; Green Sandpiper, Coot; Moorhen; Little Grebe; Crag Martin; Raven; Collared Dove; Rock Dove (Domestic pigeon); Red-legged Partridge; Sardinian Warbler; Mistle Thrush; Little Owl; Blue Rock Thrush; Southern Grey Shrike; Spanish Imperial Eagle; Griffon Vulture; Sparrowhawk; Dartford Warbler; Green Woodpecker; White Wagtail; Firecrest; Long-tailed Tit; Great Tit; Blue Tit; Cormorant; Chough (heard only); Grey Wagtail; Black Vulture; Golden Eagle; Serin; Woodlark; Nuthatch; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Hawfinch; Tawny Owl (heard only); Rock Sparrow; Blackcap; Cettis Warbler; Wren; Crested Tit; Corn Bunting; Crested Lark; Jay; Yellow-legged Gull; Booted Eagle.

Mammals seen:  The main purpose of our visit, the commonest mammal was Red Deer, followed by Fallow Deer.  Mufflon were surprisingly scarce with two singletons and a group of 7 males, and the Spanish Ibex around the dam at the 'embalse del Jándula' even more so, with only 2 sightings of a group of 3 males and a single female.  Lynx we saw on 5 out of the 6 days, with two sightings of different animals on two days.  Other mammals were presumed Wood Mice, and the bats, whose identity still have to be confirmed.

Trip photos:

 Lynx seen on the first day

Blue Rock Thrush in typical habitat
 Red Deer being severely harrassed by a Magpie

 Typically skulking Dartford Warbler

 More Red Deer

 Lynx terrain

 Bat sp. ?

 Bats sp. ?

Embase del Jándula dam



 Grey Wagtail

 Immature Spanish Imperial Eagle


 Wall Lizard

 Azure Winged (Iberian) Magpie

Embalse del Encinarejo dam

Rio Jándula

 Fallow Deer

 Black Vulture

 Griffon Vulture

 Spanish Imperial Eagle
 Adult Griffon Vulture

 Adult Golden Eagle

 Immature Golden Eagle

 Fallow Deer

 Red Deer

Icebow (or White Rainbow)

Corn Bunting at takeoff

 Last day Lynx

 Some very distant Mufflon

 Bat sp. ?

 Bat sp. ?

 Bat sp. ?

Bat sp. ?

Trip Costing (per person):

Accommodation & meals (7 nights, 2 people sharing a room; picnic lunches & evening meals) - 353€
Petrol - 50€
Car Hire - 42€
Flights - £98.96
50% annual car excess insurance - £20
Total (using £1 = 1.15€) - £505-92p  (€582) + drinks!