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Spain- In search of the mising lynx


kittykat23uk
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This trip report was written by my friend Jo and is illustrated with my photos and videos. The trip was run by Jo Thomas- Wild About travel and was led by Jo and Julian Sykes.

 

Iberian Lynx is reported to be the world’s rarest cat with the last census of the wild population being 311 in November 2012. In recent years this enigmatic feline has become easier to see in the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park which forms part of the Sierra Morena mountain range. Thankfully, due to the conservation efforts of the local authorities, the population of Iberian Lynx has been increasing year on year.

Now for the not so good news… rabbits, which are part of this cat's staple diet, have declined in the Sierra de Andujar area of late, due to myxomatosis. It seems this has had a local effect on the breeding success of Lynx, at least for this year, as no kittens have been reported in the La Lancha valley in 2013.

Despite this disappointing news we knew we had the best possible chance of seeing this charismatic cat in the company of Julian Sykes, our expert guide. He has spent hundreds of hours scanning the local hillsides and has an excellent sighting success rate.

Here are some highlights from our short trip in early December to the area of Sierra de Andujar where the Iberian Lynx population is estimated to be approximately 23 individuals.

3rd December


Having arrived at Malaga the evening before, we spent the morning birdwatching on the outskirts of Malaga at the mouth of the Rio Guadalhorce where highlights were White-headed Duck, Penduline Tit, Zitting Cisticola, raucous flocks of the introduced Monk Parakeets, excellent views of Booted Eagles and many other species.

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PC037647 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037693 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037722 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

The journey to Sierra de Andujar took about 3½ hours and we admired White Storks on the way. A flock of stunning Iberian Magpies (a recent split from Azure-winged) greeted us on arrival at Los Pinos Hotel. Room check-in didn’t take long and we were keen to head out (around 1600 hours) to begin our search for Iberian Lynx in the ‘bulls’ area (Los Escoriales), just a 20-minute drive from the hotel. This is one of several prime locations to check for the species; a female often frequents the area and regularly uses a latrine locally. However, on this evening, it was not to be. Two of us did hear a cat-like call, but nothing emerged.

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PC037726 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037729 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037731 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037739 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037746 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC037750 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

4th December

In December it gets light around 0730 hours so breakfast wasn't until 07.00. Full of expectation, we drove beyond the ‘bulls’ area to La Lancha (about 25-30 minutes in total). It really is a matter of parking by the roadside (Julian knows the best places) and scanning the compelling vistas with binoculars and telescopes. As we patiently scanned we enjoyed excellent views of large numbers of Griffon and Black Vultures (estimated counts this day were 400+ and 50+ respectively) and heard, then saw Dartford Warbler as well as the more widespread Sardinian Warbler. Then about 1000 hours - eureka! Brief views, and only for some of the group, but there was a Lynx. Ed. I spotted it (and quickly put my camcorder on it) as it walked along a track. It was distant and became more difficult to see as it left the track; it was incredibly well camouflaged against a backdrop of grass, shrubs and boulders of all shapes and sizes. Just three of us saw it before it disappeared over what looked like a small ridge. We all waited patiently for it to show again on the other side, but much to our disappointment it never materialised.

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PC047801 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC047779 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC047800 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

We had lunch at a nearby viewpoint where we saw a Golden Eagle and heard Short-toed Treecreeper.

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PC047805 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We drove on a little further, to Embalse (dam) de Jandula and from here had further views of Golden Eagle, good views of 7 Spanish Ibex (naturally colonised from Sierra de Cazorla, about 100 km to the east of Andujar), Blue Rock Thrush, Hoopoe and a Clouded Yellow butterfly. Julian showed us both Daubenton's and Greater Mouse-eared Bats in a tunnel nearby.

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PC047837 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

 

After this interlude we returned to La Lancha to scan again for the Lynx, staying until it was dark (around 1830 hours) and we could no longer see. Despite the disappointment of those who missed the Lynx, it had been a good day, with at least 3 Spanish Imperial Eagles, Iberian Green Woodpecker, the irbii race of Long-tailed Tit and distant views of 8 Wild Boar and 2 Mouflon added to the ever-growing species list.

The area was still incredibly dry for the time of year with levels in the reservoirs lower than usual and an absence of running water in some areas. Could this also have affected the habits of local Lynx, maybe forcing them to go further afield in search of water? None of us knew the answer to that question.

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5th December

We decided to head for La Lancha again in the hope of repeating yesterday's performance. The drive through cork and holm oak forest was stunning as the sunrise gave a pink-

champagne hue to the distant hills. We saw various species including two more Mouflon, another two Spanish Ibex, a Southern Grey Shrike and Chough, but no Lynx.

At lunch time we ventured down to the River Encinarejos, another favoured location for Lynx. Julian knew where they cross the river and he showed us some old scats; I just had to take a photo! No fresh signs, though, but we continued on regardless. We added a few new species including Red-veined Darter dragonfly and the lovely sight of three Red Deer swimming across the river. But again, no Lynx. By now it was almost dark, so very slowly we headed back to Los Pinos in the minibus and continued on to the 'bulls' area in the hope of seeing something in the headlights (Genet and Lynx being the targets), but it wasn’t meant to be.

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PC057839 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC057842 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC057852 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC057861 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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6th December

It was La Lancha again this morning. Many other people did the same thing, all based on local knowledge and the most recent sightings, one of which was ours from two days earlier. There were better views of Wild Boar and Mouflon today (estimated about 15 of each), although still distant, and Julian heard a Rock Bunting. Back at Embalse de Jandula we all had lovely views of at least 2 Hawfinch which came down to drink in a small puddle under a bush at the base of the dam wall and we all enjoyed good views of 2 Golden Eagle, 2 Spanish Imperial Eagle and 8 Spanish Ibex.

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PC067866 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC067888 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Returning to La Lancha we were determined to give the Lynx another try. It was getting late when another group gestured they’d had a brief sighting of Lynx in what was already fading light. One of our group (Ed, me again!) had the briefest of views (yet again) as one crossed a pale open track, but by then the light was so awful no one else could pick it up against the vegetation. We hoped it would come back onto a track and become visible, but sadly it didn’t. Our final chance for good views, or for some of our group a first sighting of Lynx, was going to be the next morning.

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7th December
We left a little earlier this morning and, as we had done each morning, we strained our eyes scanning both sides of the road and straight ahead as we drove along, hoping for a sighting from the minibus. Then suddenly, there they were. Not one but two. I can’t tell you how delighted we were as (Ed. Yep Me AGAIN!!) spotted them close to the road in typical boulder-strewn scrubby grassland just before the ‘bulls’ area. The nearest cat was probably about 10 metres from us and the other was only slightly further away. What a result! They didn’t stick around for very long, but the views we had were fantastic and everyone in the minibus saw them, thank goodness. Their size suggested they were young from the previous year, perhaps a male and a female, but it's difficult to be sure.

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iberian lynxes in the twilight of dawn. sierra de andujar. by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Feeling jubilant and hoping we might get some prolonged views if they showed on the other side of the hill, we drove up the road and parked.

Soon several vehicles drew up behind us, but neither we nor anyone else saw the Lynx there again this morning. We managed excellent views of another Hawfinch perched on the top of a wild Olive and some of us saw a Rock Bunting briefly along with 6 Woodlark (new for the trip list), 3 Dartford Warbler, 3 Mouflon and more of the of the widespread species we'd already seen.

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PC077905 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Triumphant from our Lynx sightings we left Sierra de Andujar for our return journey to Malaga Airport, stopping at Laguna de Fuenta de Piedra, the largest natural lake in the Iberian Peninsula. Well known for its breeding Greater Flamingo population, hosting the second largest colony in Europe after the Carmargue, this picturesque location is the only inland breeding site for the species in Europe. We saw hundreds of Flamingos and at least 30 Common Cranes and many other wetland species. Clearly it would be well worth visiting this location again from late February onwards when thousands more Flamingos arrive for the breeding season.

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PC077916 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC077933 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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PC077945 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

A more detailed trip report may appear on Jo's website at some point..

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Can't see the first Lynx video - could you check the link please, Jo? Thanks!

 

Very nice tapestry photo and the stag silhouette is a classic! Well done.

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Try it now?

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Love the third stag sunset. A perfect pose.

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Got it, thanks! But completely missed the lynx on the first run through. Saw it on the second run, only after you mentioned the pale green bush on the right! Nice job with the capture :)

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Yes it was very distant! :)

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@@kittykat23uk

Very interesting to see a european report! You had some good sightings. The stag and sunset pictures are great.

Interesting birds and I am glad you saw your Lynx.

I really like the bats!

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Thanks @@TonyQ. The one on its own is the mouse eared bat and the group are all daubentons.

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