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Iberian Lynx, Spanish Imperial Eagles and other mammals and raptors in the Sierra de Andújar, December 2011

John Muddeman
16/12/2011 23:44:47

Sightings during a couple of recent trips to this remarkable mountain area of the eastern Sierra Morena, including the critically endangered Iberian Lynx, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Eurasian Black Vulture, Black-shouldered Kite and Black Wheatear amongst plenty of others. The La Mancha lakes en route were rich in birds too, including White-headed Duck and, surprisingly for December, Whiskered Terns!

Posted in: Butterflies and Moths, Amphibians, Birds, Mammals, Endangered Wildlife and Habitats | Andalusia | Mainland Spain, Central Spain

The Sierra de Andújar and adjacent mountain areas Dusk-Andújar2-4web © John MuddemanEvening light on the Stone Pine Pinus pinaster forest© John Muddeman currently contains the largest of the two sub- popula- tions of Iberian Lynx Lynx pardina that exist. With c. 280 or so individuals here - the remainder occurring in the Doñana area - this has become THE place to come and try and observe them, especially at a couple of key sites where visibility is particularly good.

The first, a family visit for two-and-a-half days over a Spanish holiday weekend early in December was excellent, since we combined a moderate amount of mammal and bird watching with simply visiting a number of sites in the eastern side of the park. The second I have just finished while guiding a client, Martin, on 14th and 15th December (and many thanks Martin for accepting the change of itinerary on the spot when I picked you up!).

Mouflon-herd-4blog © John MuddemanA small Mouflon Ovis gmelini herd© John MuddemanOne of the principal characters of the area, which to a large degree enabled the Iberian Lynx to survive here when it disappeared from many other areas of C and S Spain -and to the brink of extinction-, is the presence of a large number of vast bull-rearing and 'large game' hunting estates, consequently with very low levels of human disturbance. The latter specialise principally in Red Deer Cervus elaphus, Fallow Deer Dama dama, Mouflon Ovis gmelini and Wild Boar Sus scrofa trophy hunting. Consequently, the number of Wild Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa can be high, and the former in particular forms around 90% of the normal diet of the Iberian Lynx. Not surprisingly, since rabbit is also the principal prey of Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti and readily taken even by Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus as carrion, then it comes as no surprise that all are relatively common here in world terms.

The weather on the first trip was remarkably good, though with still conditions and temperatures dipping at night, thick fog formed in the lower parts of the Jándula river valley and sometimes took until late morning to completely Fire-Salamander - Salamandra- © John MuddemanFire Salamander Salamandra salamandra© John Muddeman clear. The final day remained very misty and foggy until midday, though finally cleared. It got very warm mid afternoon each day and this was clearly the reason for the appearance of a few butterflies, including a remarkably late male Cleopatra on 6th and also a Red Admiral drawn out by the sun on 15th!

Coming in from the north on the second trip, a weather front with associated cloud was clearing out as we arrived, but in fact at the main lynx watching areas the visibility remained very poor all day. This undoubtedy accounted in part for the complete lack of lynx sightings that day, whereas 1-2 individuals (at least) had been sighted daily since 5th for 10 days! There's always a huge element of luck/chance while watching for lynx though, and we fell foul of this on the first trip, AIberian-Lynx-4blog © John MuddemanIberian Lynx Lynx pardina© John Muddeman turning up just 5 minutes after a male had been out in full view walking around for some 20 minutes before disappearing and not reappearing for at least the next hour that we were there.

The second trip was quite different, with the moisture of the first afternoon even drawing out a spectacular Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra, but day two dawned fine and sunny with fog in the valley bottom, as 10 days earlier. But as chance would have it, as we drove out towards the main viewing area, just a few minutes from our accommodation I saw a 'half-sized' individual, with a somewhat baby-like face sitting on a rock just a few metres from, and below, the road. With another car just behind us, it immediately jogged up the slope and sat in the 'shadow' of a small oak bush. As we waited just opposite, it turned, walked down towards us, paused on a rock (where the only photo of the ten or so I took, and not ruined by camera shake due to the excitement!!, came out), then jogged down in front, passed under the road through a culvert, and then up the other side. A simply fabulous start to the day!

Santuario-above-fog-4blog © John MuddemanSantuario Virgen de la Cabeza above fog© John Muddeman The remainder of the morning was spent waiting for the fog to clear, but this proved to be more persistent than expected, and with no thermals forming for several hours, we had to wait it out patiently. A quick trip in the middle down to the Jándula river produced a fine male Black Wheatear, and on returning we decided to take another track to get above the fog and obtain better views to the east. The views were astonishing, with the rugged peaks of the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas rising up in the distance above a sea of fog cloaking square mile upon square mile of Mediterranean woodland and olive orchards.

We immediately found our first Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus circling with a Peregrine Falco peregrinus, and a distant eagle flapped ever closer and finally spiralled up close us enough to confirm that it was a Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos. Big cousin of our main target! A stream of vultures were now coming along the ridge from the N, including the first of several impressively large Eurasian Black Vultures, but no eagles... With time running out, we returned to a favoured viewing area, where several groups of vultures were circling low. A couple of scans, and there, finally, was a beautiful adult Spanish Imperial Eagle spiralling up on a thermal, its white forewings gleaming white as it turned into the sun. Cazorla-from-Andújar-4blog © John MuddemanSierra de Cazorla from Andújar© John Muddeman But it was only the first of four in the next 10 minutes, with a 'checkerboard' near adult-plumaged bird next, and then two juvenile-plumaged birds as well!

Our return was as quick as possible, with just one more lake in La Mancha really visitable in the time available. being at around half the distance back to Madrid though, this was ideal, and after grabbing a snack lunch, we took a small road and track down, and were immediately struck by the large numbers of birds present. A quick scan from the roadside, and apart from a couple of male Spanish Sparrows Passer hispanicus in roadside thistles, a group of 4 fine White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala -including a colourful fully white-headed male- were immediately obvious amongst numerous other ducks, grebes and coots present. In fact, the scope revealed that at least 35 were present in the lee of the reedmace beds, but at least 6 Whiskered Terns Chlidonias hybrida hawking over the lake were surprisingly present, a couple of Water Pipits Anthis spinoletta flew over and past, and a smart male Red-crested pochard Netta rufina fed with some Mallards in an open field.

The final tally for these latter two days was just over 100 species, including a number of superb species, and reinforcing just how good C Spain is in winter (as well as during autumn and spring too!). Please click on the following link for further information on longer Iberian Lynx watching tours to Andújar, including the La Mancha lakes, while for tailor-made options, please contact me by phone or by email via my personal page.

Species lists
A = Andújar ; L = La Mancha ; h = heard only

Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa A
Greylag Goose Anser anser L
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna L
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea L
Gadwall Anas strepera L
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope L
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos L
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata L
Northern Pintail Anas acuta L
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca L
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina L
Common Pochard Aythya ferina L
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala L
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis L
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus L
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis L
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus L
White Stork Ciconia ciconia L
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis L
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea A, L
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo A, L
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus A
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus A
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus A
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus L
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus L
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus A
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo A, L
Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti A
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos A, L
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus A, L
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus A, L
Great Bustard Otis tarda L
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus Lh
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio L
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus A, L
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra L
Common Crane Grus grus L
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus L
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus L
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa L
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus A, L
Little Stint Calidris minuta L
Ruff Philomachus pugnax L
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus L
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus L
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida L
Common Pigeon Columba livia A, L
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus A, L
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto A, L
Little Owl Athene noctua A
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops A
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major A
European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis A, L
Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis A, L
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius A
Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki A
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica A, L
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax A
Western Jackdaw Coloeus monedula L
Northern Raven Corvus corax A
European Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus A
Great Tit Parus major A, L
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus A
Crested Lark Galerida cristata L
Woodlark Lullula arborea A
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis L
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris A
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti Ah, Lh
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus A
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita A, L
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis L
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla A
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata A
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala A
Common Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla A
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes A
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea A
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla A
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris L
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor A
Common Blackbird Turdus merula A, L
Redwing Turdus iliacus A
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos A
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus A, L
European Robin Erithacus rubecula A, L
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros A, L
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola A, L
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura A
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius A
House Sparrow Passer domesticus A, L
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis L
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia A
Dunnock Prunella modularis A
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea A
White Wagtail Motacilla alba A, L
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis A, L
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta L
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs A, L
European Serin Serinus serinus A, L
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris A, L
Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus A
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis A, L
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina A, L
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra A
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes A
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra A, L
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia A
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus A

Red Deer Cervus elaphus A
Fallow Deer Dama dama A
Mouflon Ovis gmelini A
Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus A
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes A
Common Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus A, L

Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra A
Iberian Midwife Toad Alytes cisternasii Ah

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