It had been an ambition of mine to see the World's most endangered cat for some time, The Iberian Lynx has made a comeback from being close to extinction. In 2002 only 94 individuals survived in two isolated in Andalucian subpopulations. Conservation measures have been implemented since then, which included improving habitat, restocking of rabbits, translocating, reintroducing and monitoring Iberian lynxes. By 2012, the population had increased to 326 individuals, to 855 in 2020, and to 1,111 in 2021. A success story.
This success doesn't mean however that they are easy to see. I knew my friend and wildlife guide Mick Richardson had been successful in finding them in the Sierra Morena near Andujar in Jaen Province, so I asked him to show me where and to give me an opportunity to see this magnificent animal., which he duly did. We stayed at La Caracola, a very pleasant Country Guest House close to the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park.
Our expedition to find the Lynx involved a long 4x4 drive up into the Sierra where the chances of finding our target species were greatest. Eventually we came to a few viewpoints from where the landscape can be scanned for the presence of the big cat.
After some time without luck I noticed a small group of people some distance further along the track observing something intensely with binoculars and long lens camaras. I walked along to them and was told they had spotted two Lynx in the dehesa below our position. Shortly afterwards I spotted a pair of tufted ears behind a low bush and realised I was looking at my first Lynx.
Incredibly the two animals were fairly close and they subsequently moved onto a large rock in open view where we all marvelled at their stunning beauty and took photographs as they virtually posed for us. One of the group that I made contact with had a small dog on a lead which the larger, male lynx took an interest in and he left the rock and crept through the wild flowers towards us. It was all quite surreal, these close and prolonged views of such rare and stunning animals was quite an emotional experience, one never to be forgotten. In all we were treated to twenty five minutes of this amazing wildlife experience.
I feel it important to add here that this was an extremely lucky event. Mick had been here on numerous occasions and sometimes missed out completely or only managed fleeting or distant sightings. No-one should expect to get so fortunate as we were that day.
As well as the iconic Lynx we had several other target species here in the Sierra Andujar Natural Park. Otters can be seen below the dam on the Embalse del Encinerejo on the Jandula River. We did get good views of a pair swimming and I was fortunate enough to see one slide off the bank into the water, unfortunately I was too slow to capture this on camera but it was a nice wildlife sighting nonetheless.
The Sierra here is known for Iberian Imperial Eagle which in fact was about the first bird we saw on our arrival as there was one perched on an electricity pylon. We did see it several times thereafter flying around the area but the only photo I managed was on the pylon.
Our main bird target species was not an eagle but a diminutive woodpecker. The Lesser-spotted Woodpecker is a hard bird to get in Spain. It does breed in a few locations but it is scarce and notoriously difficult to see, not least because of it's small size and that it likes to nest and forage up high in very tall trees. After some searching we finally located a solitary bird and were lucky enough to hear it drumming as well as emitting it's unforgetable ringing call. I was quite pleased with these photographs in the circumstances, the bird was very high up and the light was not great, so getting anything worthwhile was difficult. This bird is a male as can be seen from the red spot on the crown.
As well as the L S Woodpecker there were other birds to be seen. I grabbed a quick shot of a Cirl Bunting, a Black Vulture passed overhead, numerous Jackdaws were nesting nearby and a pair of Kingfishers frequently flew up and down the river, often perching on rocks or low overhanging branches.
Hide Photography at La Caracola
As well as being a comfortable country hotel conveniently located for wildlife watching in the Sierra Andujar, La Caracola also benefits from having a very nice photographic hide in the gardens complete with a bird bath and feeding station. It was great fun sitting inside watching and photographing the various bird species that visited to feed, drink and bathe.
The most numerous and conspicuous visitors were the Iberian Magpies, a wonderfully exotic looking bird that can often be quite wary of human presence, but not here. I soon discovered that I was "over-lensed" as Mick put it, I couldn't get such large birds to fit in the frame with my 500 mm lens so switched to an old 400mm f5.6 with more success. Even this proved to be too long for the closer birds so I was forced to pick out the ones on perches slightly further away from the hide. Even so I am quite pleased with the results and post some of the better quality images here.
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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