Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Trip Report - Mammalwatching special: Iberian Lynx

This winter’s “must-do” European nature trip seems to have been a visit to the Sierra de Andujar to look for one of the continent’s most endangered mammals, the Iberian Lynx. My Twitter feed has been filled with photos of this stunning animal and various friends had been discussing a trip. Deciding I wanted a piece of the action, I tried to organise an NGB long weekend trip but this unfortunately fell through. I thought that this meant my opportunity to search for lynx this winter had passed. However, when Ashley Howe messaged me saying he was going to try to get lynx in a single weekend and asked if I’d like to come, I jumped at the chance.

Our evening flight from Stansted arrived in Malaga without a hitch and after picking up our hire car, we arrived in the Sierra de Andujar at around 2 am. The drive did produce Wild Boar, Hedgehog, Red Deer and Little Owl, all early signs that this would be a good trip. After a sleepless, freezing night in the car, we started our search at the Mirador de la Jandula in the heart of the area where lynx can be found. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours searching here but without any success. Despite this, the birding was very good including three lifers (Spotless Starling, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Iberian Green Woodpecker), as well as Short-toed Treecreeper, Firecrest, Hawfinch, Sardinian Warbler and Griffon Vulture.

We decided to drive up the road a bit and join fellow NGB, Oli Reville, who had also made the trip with his boss, Richard Campey (One Stop Nature Shop). Oli had been there several hours and had no luck, although he did manage to “grip” me with his sighting of a couple of Thekla Larks. A fruitless nine hour vigil then ensued, only punctuated by an unsuccessful trip to La Lancha dam to look for a herd of ibex that Oli had seen there. Although we had enjoyed views of Moufflon and Fallow Deer, as well as birds like Azure-winged Magpie, Blue Rock Thrush, Iberian Grey Shrike and Dartford Warbler, there was no hiding our disappointment as we made the 1 hour 30 drive back to our accommodation, the Hostal Plaza in Marmolejo. Our mood was not helped by a report that the lynx had been seen by one individual who did not think to share his sighting with the assembled watchers.

We were not optimistic the next morning and the first few hours were unsurprisingly frustrating, especially as the lynx had been seen by another observer at the other side of the valley. Nevertheless, the birding was still good as we added Chough and Rock Bunting to the trip list.

Then came the moment we had been waiting for as a Belgian young birder, who had walked up the road to check out my Rock Bunting sighting, shouted that fated word “Lynx!

Panic then ensued and I was too busy running to notice it slip behind a rock. A nerve-wrangling 20 seconds or so but what felt like 20 minutes followed before I noticed it slip behind another rock. A further 30 seconds followed as Ash ran from the other side of the valley and Oli ran up the hill before the lynx came out again briefly but long enough for the assembled crowd to see it. Oli even managed some stunning shots! The lynx then proceeded to show intermittently as it moved through the scrub for the next five or so minutes. The lynx then moved over the hill so the crowd dashed round the other side only for one observer to see the lynx cross the road behind us and disappear in to the valley! 

Our luck did not stop there as we returned to La Lancha to enjoy distant views of 3 female Ibex before finding a Golden Eagle and a Black Vulture, the latter a most-wanted lifer for me. The rest of the day was unsurprisingly a bit of an anti-climax as we headed off to do some birding at Laguna de la Fuente Piedra. This was disappointingly quiet, although we did see flocks of both Black-winged Stilts and Cranes, as well as White Stork and several Crested Larks on the journey down. A check of Teba Gorge was fruitless on the bird front but we enjoyed excellent views of a very approachable herd of Ibex. After that, we had to head back for our flight but the trip had been an excellent way to spend the weekend!

I’d like to thank Ash for driving and making the trip possible, Oli for all his help with the information and logistics, all the assembled watchers for the effort they put in and, in particular, the Belgian young birder who spotted the prize! I did mention NGB to him so fingers crossed that he’ll join and I’ll be able to thank him properly!

-Oliver Simms
Oliver is a 21 year old Classics graduate from Durham university, living in London and patching Hampstead Heath. When he is not watching the world's rarest feline, he likes to spend his time birding and hill walking. 

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