Other Participants: Emma Packer, Roger Musgrove, Brian Gibbs
All photos copyright James Packer or Brian Gibbs where indicated (BDG)
The main aim of this trip was to attempt to see Iberian Lynx. We were well aware that there was a high possibility that we may fail, but coupled with the chance of seeing some good birds, this was a risk that we were prepared to take. We were inspired to visit the area by others trip reports, so thanks to all those who took the time to provide information that we used to plan this short trip.
The result was that we saw three different Iberian Lynx from distances ranging from about 3 metres to no more than 40 metres. We spent four days looking for them constantly and we consider ourselves to have been extremely lucky (or very skilled, probably the former!). Before our visit, the last two groups to stay at Villa Matilde for a week each apparently failed to see any Lynx.
It's important that anyone reading this realises just how important the Iberian Lynx are. They are rare; very rare. They are now found in only two areas of Spain, the Coto Donana and the Sierra Morena. Donana is notoriously difficult to enter and there are only thought to be about 24-33 adults here and therefore the better option to see them is the Sierra Morena where the remaining global population exists. This isn't quite as optimistic as it sounds as the remaining population numbered only about 60-110 adults in the Sierra Morena in 2008. This makes a global population of Iberian Lynx numbering about 143 adults. It doesn't take a genius to realise that this is not good news, and this species is now defined as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, which means that this species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild (more recent data suggests that the population between 2008 and 2012 has increased a little bit, due to recent conservation efforts but this has not affected the status).
The main problem for the Iberian Lynx is that they feed almost entirely on Rabbits, and therefore the effects of Myxomatosis and Rabbit VHD on the Rabbit population also affects their predators, especially one that doesn't eat much else! Combine a decline in Rabbits with habitat fragmentation and deterioration, pressure from hunting and an increase in roads and traffic and a magnificent animal becomes tainted with a threat of global extinction.
To put this into perspective, the last feline to become extinct was the Sabre-toothed Tiger. To see Iberian Lynx become extinct would be 'unacceptable'. When, or if, you've seen one, you'll realise just how unacceptable this actually is.
During our time in the Sierra Morena we stayed at Villa Matilde (http://www.villamatilde.org). We can not recommend staying here highly enough, it's excellent. The villa is ideally situated for Lynx watchers, and Lynx have sometimes been seen in the garden! The villa is surrounded by pine forest, which certainly had no shortage of Lynx scat. There were signs of Wild Boar around the villa, and the garden had Azure-winged Magpie, Crossbill, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch, Crested Tit and a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles displayed right over the villa. The owners Merche and Roland were very knowledgeable and great hosts. Their cooking was superb, especially for vegetarians that can sometimes be hard to please in Spain!
12 Feb 2012 - Evening flight to Malaga arriving at Villa Matilde at midnight.
13 Feb 2012 - La Lancha track in morning and evening with visit to dam, food shopping in Andujar and lunch at Rio Jandula in between.
14 Feb 2012 - La Lancha track in morning and evening with Rio Jandula in between.
15 Feb 2012 - Rio Jandula in morning, La Lancha in evening.
16 Feb 2012 - La Lancha track in morning, Rio Jandula dam in evening.
17 Feb 2012 - Drive to Malaga via Laguna de Zonar and Laguna de Fuente de Piedre.
18 Feb 2012 - Morning flight back to Bristol.
Where and how we saw Iberian Lynx
There are two main places that most people look for Lynx, these being the La Lancha track and the track along the Rio Jandula. The excellent map here shows how to find these sites. We spent days scanning at and between these sites and all three of the Lynx we saw appeared when we were least expecting it. Two were seen when driving up to La Lancha and one was seen on the road at one of the La Lancha watchpoints as we were about to pack up and go back to the villa. The Google map below shows these locations, however Lynx appear to rarely do the same thing twice, and therefore it is very difficult to predict where they will appear. You just need to be out in the field looking, and don't forget to look close. Eventually I gave up scanning distant hillsides with a telescope, instead choosing to walk up the road and peer into roadside bushes! I reckon each would be just as (un)likely to result in a Lynx encounter.
This Iberian Lynx was watched for at least an hour. We left it asleep in the sun! It's a very old male called Cerrajero.
This is one of the largest Iberian Lynx in the Sierra Morena, he weighs about 19kgs. There's a couple of videos of him below:
Garden Dormouse - one seen from the La Lancha track in the evening.
Spanish Ibex - Three near the La Lancha dam.
Iberian Moufflon - groups of up to 10 La Lancha
Wild Boar - lots of signs around Villa Matilde but we didn't see any!
LL=La Lancha area, including dam
RJ=Rio Jandula area, including dam LFP=Laguna de Fuente de Piedre
LZ=Laguna de Zonar
Common Shelduck One or two LFP
White-headed Duck About 20 LZ
Red-legged Partridge Very common Sierra Morena
Common Quail One near the visitors centre LFP
Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe Just two, LZ
Night Heron One immature RJ throughout
Cattle Egret Small number near Cordoba
Great White Egret One RJ on 16th
White Stork About 20 near Cordoba
Greater Flamingo Large numbers LFP
Lesser Flamingos, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
Lesser Flamingo Two easily visible from the visitors centre LFP on 17th
Black Kite About 10 LZ
Griffon Vulture, middle of nowhere
Griffon Vulture Abundant Sierra Morena
Black Vutture, La Lancha
Black Vulture Up to three together Sierra Morena, mainly from LL
Marsh Harrier About 5 LZ
Goshawk Several sightings Sierra Morena, including a male perched on a pylon near Villa Matilde
Imperial Eagle, La Lancha track (BDG)
Spanish Imperial Eagle Sightings most days in Sierra Morena, usually of two together and a displaying pair over Villa Matilde
Golden Eagle Less frequently seen than Imperial, again usually in pairs
Booted Eagle One from LL
Purple Gallinule Two LFP on Cantarranas lagoon
Common Cranes with Laguna de Fuente de Piedra in the background
Common Crane About 50-100 LFP
Avocet Single LFP
Temminck's Stint Single LFP near visitors centre
Woodcock Three observed around Sierra Morena
Green Sandpiper One RJ
Little Gull One first winter LFP on Cantarranas lagoon
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Spotted Cuckoo One RJ near the dam on 15th
Tawny Owl One calling LL
Long-eared Owl At least two calling males LL
Wintering Wryneck at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
Wryneck One near the visitors centre LFP
Iberian Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Thekla Lark One or two in cattle fields along LL track
Yellow Wagtail Small numbers LFP
Bluethroat at Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
Single female at LFP
Black Redstart, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra
Blue Rock Thrush
Sardinian Warbler, Rio Jandula (BDG)
Dartford Warbler Fairly common Sierra Morena
Firecrest Very common Sierra Morena
Crested Tit Frequent at Villa Matilde
Short-toed Treecreeper, Rio Jandula (BDG)
Common Sierra Morena, especially Villa Matilde and RJ
Southern Grey Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie, Rio Jandula
Azure-winged Magpie Very common Sierra Morena
Chough At least one pair LL
Rock Sparrow One or two at several sites in Sierra Morena, particularly RJ dam