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Andalucia, Spain - mega mammals in the med - 20th - 28th March 2010

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT hows.org.uk)


More images and video on Mark's site


Introduction

We flew with Easyjet from Stansted to Malaga, and hired a Vauxhall Zafira from Argus which was OK for our needs, we stayed in the Hotel los Pinos for the first four nights and then just found suitable accommodation along the way so we were flexible. Mike Richardson and John Sadler arrived at my house late on Friday night in preparation for the trip to Spain with my wife (Anna) and I. After a quick spotlight of Common frog, common newt and great crested newt in my pond and common toad on the road it was off to bed.

Lesser Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel © Dr Mark Hows.

Saturday 20th March

Nothing of note on the way to the airport but it was cold dark and wet. On arrival in Malaga we struggled a little to find our hire car place but we were soon off and running in a Zafira which was roomy for four adults. A petrol station lunch later and we were on the way to the Sierra Nevada along the A395 where the snow was still quite plentiful. We quickly located our target of Spanish ibex with three females on the slopes high up the road, coupled with a bonelli's and a booted eagle this little diversion was quite productive. We eventually reached Andujar and stocked up on essential supplies such as Pepsi Max, crisps and mouse biscuits (all will become clear later on) before heading up to the Los Pinos Hotel, a stop for a few birds spotless starling, serin, cattle egret etc. on the way. We somehow managed to check in to the hotel despite the language barrier, but decided against a quick dip in the pool (they were cleaning it out later in the week), the rooms were good if a little small, the shower was particularly cramped, but it was fine for what we needed and were very reasonably priced so no complaints. After Russian roulette with menu (all in Spanish, we omitted a phrase book and there were no English speakers in the staff) we all got a good meal and then headed off to Rio Jandular track for a short spotlighting session, the weather was a little drizzly so we thought amphibians may be our only reward. We quickly encountered natterjack toads on the road which we dutifully moved from harm. We turned off the road and drove along the track, Mike quickly had eye shine and I called mongoose but he quickly corrected the ID as Common Genet (well I was driving!). It was feeding along the riverbank and the fallen trees along it. It showed well allowing some pictures to be taken before we left it feeding happily a couple of minutes later. We carried on the track encountering more toads and hearing plenty of frog calls before eventually locating one a stripeless treefrog in a small drain of water. It allowed close inspection and photos before we moved on. We encountered little else apart from a couple of deer. We found a suitable spot for our mammal traps near the hotel and returned to the hotel for some urgently needed sleep.

Sunday 21st March

We were up early to check our traps, two were tripped and both held inmates, one heavy and one light, but both were wood mice, a monster which I refused to hold! and a youngster. After we headed up the Rio Jandular to have a quick look at the watchpoint which already had a couple of observers and an otter was showing which was shortly joined by two large cubs. We left for a daylight drive up the track but nothing of note. We returned to the watchpoint which was now quite busy with watchers and the otters showed again. Bird activity was high with a couple of Spanish imperial eagles showing well a couple of great spotted cuckoos tormenting the azure winged magpies all the usual stuff was about, but the weather was a bit poor with light drizzle on and off with a couple of heavier showers. By lunch time most of the watchers had drifted off but a few remained including us and it was John and Mike who spotted the Lynx as the wife and I were at the car, I ran the 20 yards but was too late and we could not refind it, but 15 mins later it was refound by the other watchers and I got the briefest of views before it disappeared. After some lunch we continued our vigil and the other watchers from the morning returned for the evening shift, we got talking and they had missed two lynx at the La Lacha watchpoint having driven there for lunch. As dusk approached we checked the traps and then headed for some more random food from the restaurant opposite the hotel similar fare to the hotel but just slightly inferior. Mike had the spotlight charged and we were raring to go, this time we drove the La Lacha road quickly picking up some red deer and then a party of wild boar. We had another boar on the road and then a wildcat which proved to be a domestic moggie of which there were loads about the area. Then we had the call from Mike who had a lynx, in some rocks, we all got on it (Pheww!!) before it moved off to the right, we followed it off and on for 30 seconds or so before we lost it. We continued the road to the end encountering a tawny owl and lots of red deer. The return journey was more deer including some fallow and the same boar on the road again.

Orphean Warbler
Orphean Warbler © Dr Mark Hows.

Monday 22nd March

Another early start with cuckoo and crested tit in the hotel car park. We headed for the traps again and two were trapped and the same (probably) wood mice were inside, so we collected up the traps and would find another site later. A quick look at the Rio Jandula watchpoint and we headed to Andujar for some more supplies and a Spanish dictionary. We were too early for the supermarket so we popped across the road for a McDonalds breakfast but they did not open until lunchtime. After a quick drink we stocked up on supplies and headed back up the La Lancha road. We made a stop where Mike had some gen on pond turtles in a stream, we had some Spanish terrapins and a couple of Iberian wall lizardson a wall before Anna spotted a snake at the base of the wall hidden in some vegetation> It was a Montpellier snake. We encountered a good looking pond which we would investigate later for amphibians. The watchpoint produced nothing and everything was much more distant then the La Lancha watchpoint so we headed to the dam, here we searched the tunnels for roosting bats and found 22 in total including one greater mouse eared and loads of Schreiber's and some which we were unable to ID but photos are currently being studied. Our first blue rock thrushes of the trip were here along with a couple of rock buntings, Mike had a wander for herps but found some black wheatears, we checked out the watchpoint again but still nothing and headed back to the hotel. We found a suitable area to set our traps not far from the hotel, and baited with raisins, sunflower seeds and mouse biscuits we headed back to the hotel for some food this time knowing what we were about to eat. The night drive was mainly deer again but we stopped at the pond and saw two types of newt, a small species like our common newts which were Bosca's Newt and several monster sharp ribbed newts almost a foot in length. We reached the area where we had the lynx the previous night and amazingly a little further along we saw it again, a brief view but we knew where it lived. We reached the dam and had a few pipistrelle bats flying and based on other reports were probably soprano pipistrelles. We revisited the pond for newt photos and they obliged, I went to get a good look at one end of the pond and had to step near a puddle which contained a viperine snake, Mike quickly caught it and we kept it overnight for some photos the next morning. We had some scops owls but nothing more than flight views. We had views of wild boar and again loads of deer, but no mouflon which was now concerning us. I could not avoid a wood mouse as it ran across the road and the rest of the team gave me a hard time over it.

Tuesday 23rd March

We were up early again and took the viperine snake back to its home for release and a photo shoot, then headed for the traps. Two was obviously the magic number as one of our three tripped traps was a false positive, the smaller trap contained a wood mouse, the larger one contained a garden dormouse, which looks like a bandit with its eye stripe and it fought like one to avoid my grasp but I got it and we had good views as it furiously bit my gloved hand, a cracking mammal. The traps reset we headed to the Rio Jandula watchpoint for a full day, there were no other watchers to help us and as the hours drifted by our attention was drawn to other things, the warmer weather had woken a few lizards, an Oscellated lizard in a tree! was a surprise and a couple of Large Psammodromus were also located, we wandered down the road for another Large Psammodromus and found a Spanish festoon which John and I were photographing, Mike having no interest in butterflies walked back up the road, we heard the shout of Lynx and ran up the road, Anna joined us from the watchpoint and we all had good views of the Lynx walking down the track. It was a cracking view and we had views of it between each gap in the trees before it finally disappeared after a couple of mins. We staked it out for a while after but had no further sightings. We drove up the track and stopped by the dam for a while to cool off in the shade and found a nuthatch but little else before dusk and the traps were empty. After another fine meal of chicken and chips we surreptitiously (not) borrowed the hotels pool net to catch some newts. The net did not fit into the car and it ended up being quite calamitous, good job we are not bank robbers. With the net finally in the car we headed off for our last night drive again up the La Lancha road, we still needed mouflon and this was deemed our biggest target. It was quiet until the pond where we had a couple of sharp ribbed newts and a frog sp but we could not catch any. A couple of daubenton bats were feeding over the pond and came very close attracted to the spotlight and its attendant insects. We continued our drive and almost immediately found a flock of about 20 mouflon one fully horned ram was present, but they were quite skittish and we lost them. We approached the Lynx site from the previous evenings and once again the Lynx was present this time sat down washing and showing well. I got out of the car and got some photos (but it was distant and dark and they are not great) and we watched it for a couple of minutes washing until it turned its back to us and settled down for some sleep, we took the hint and left it in peace - magic. The rest of the drive was uneventful apart from a nice scops owl. We returned to the pond and again failed to catch any newts but did get a western spadefoot toad on the road, exhausted we headed for bed.

Wednesday 24th March

Our last day in the mountains and it was time to check the traps for the last time, we collected them up and had five that were tripped, two small traps and 3 large ones but we were one trap short. We did a major search but could not find it anywhere. Our first small trap was a wood mouse the second somehow was a garden dormouse squeezed in. The three large traps also held garden dormice. Mike tried to hold the first one but was a bit tentative and it got loose, Anna and John held the others successfully and Mike had another go at the last one which was a real beast and a vicious one at that, perhaps it was the one we caught the day before but anyway Mike could not hold it and off it went. We continued our search for the missing trap over a wider area but it was gone and we had to give up, we thought a dog may have found it and carried it away or maybe a policeman! We drove the couple of hours to Laguna De Fuente De Piedra in pouring rain and increasing winds. Which were very strong when we arrived and it made it very difficult to scan the greater flamingo flock for Lesser flamingos as did the fact there were well over 10,000 present and the lake was much larger then I had imagined. We did boost the bird count with black winged stilt and garganey to name a few. A bit further we had a good selection of ducks, the white headed ducks the pick. The weather was poor and we retreated to the hides near the visitor centre but nothing much apart from a brief view of a mammal probably a water vole but we were not totally certain. So we drove round the lake stopping at the viewpoints, we had a large flock of mixed yellow wagtails and the first lesser kestrels of the trip. We stopped for a good lunch at a small restaurant, and encountered an oscellated lizard in a rock pile at the side of the road as we left but it was very weary, we did find another smaller one under some wood. Another look at the visitor centre hides but nothing much. We drove down a few of the local tracks but again nothing of real note. Time for a hotel but all in Fuente De Piedra were closed so we drove towards Antequerra and stumbled across a Montagu's harrier on a kill, a nice hotel was found nearby and we booked in. After a quick wash and brush up we went back to the lake for a night drive. We found loads of foxes and several Iberian hares amongst the rabbits. Back to the hotel for some food only to find it worked to British hours and the kitchen was closed, but they rustled up some toasties to soak up a couple of pints of beer.

Thursday 25th March

We checked our traps but we had no success and continued our search for the lesser flamingos and water voles but no luck and with the weather still poor we gave up and headed for the coast, hopefully for some better weather. Our afternoon session was at La Janda near Tarifa and the weather had improved and we finally had some birds, purple Gallinule, woodchat shrike, spoonbill and great white egret to name a few. Then it was off to find a hotel and off to Tarifa for the 5pm dolphin watching boat trip with Turmares, arriving at 4pm we were told the boat was about to go, so a quick park and negotiation as they only had two spaces and there were four of us (two would probably forego lifejackets if we sank) and we headed down to the dock. I was assured that the water was calm which was important as I am a very poor seaman I took tablets anyway. I was happy until we got out of the harbour, and either the water was rough and they lied or it gets really bad out there. Anyway we sailed into hell, the boat was all over the place, I was feeling terrible and then the party of French teenagers on board started chain smoking. There were a few moments when I felt like giving in and throwing up my lunch but somehow I kept it together for the whole trip. Anyway we were hoping for some cetaceans and they performed well a small pod of long finned pilot whales came to investigate the boat and posed for photos - brilliant prolonged views, I was happy. Then came a massive pod of striped dolphins and we encountered them several times performing well for us. A great trip but I was ecstatic when I reached dry land and everyone knew it. I went for the celebratory ice cream as there was a dearth of fish and chip shops in the area. We stopped at a beach on the way back to the hotel and had a wander around and picked up a few new birds black eared wheatear and sanderling of note. After some excellent food in the hotel we headed back to La Janda for a night drive of with a little spotlighting but we encountered little. Our journey back to the hotel was halted by police looking for a mass murderer or a car spotlighting it sound like penalties for both are equal, but we could not work out which it was, as there was a significant language gap the officer waved us away.

Friday 26th March

Our Hotel picked at random had a derelict area of land adjacent to it with a pile of junk of rocks, as we left Mike started flipping a few rocks and quickly caught a large horseshoe whip snake and very pleased with it he was. We drove around the area looking for the introduced bald ibis but despite a good search we could not find them but we encountered some peacocks near the golf course which even I could not tick, but I did get a few photos. A large cattle egret breeding colony was also found which was worth a look. The rest of the day was spent on Gibraltar, the traffic queue was not too bad and after a quick show of passports we were in and drove up to the nature reserve on the high rock. We quickly had views of our target Barbary macaque and then noticing the cafe sign we headed for some brunch, the all day breakfast looked good so we ordered four to be told they did not serve until noon, not quite the same understanding of all day breakfast as we had. A quick look in the caves then eventually our breakfast and we headed for a walk up the rock. A much better day weather wise and the reptiles were out, both Moorish gecko, Large Psammodromus and Andalucian wall lizards were plentiful and we started to encounter some butterflies including Moroccan orange tip. A few fly-past raptors on their way northbound, booted eagle, osprey, black kite and short toed eagle, but passerines were very scarce blackcap and black redstart of note. After plenty of encounters with the macaques, ice creams on the top and some tacky souvenirs we headed for the cemetery through some very narrow streets and some chaotic traffic. The cemetery was in a poor state of care with abandoned vehicles and junk and the most disgusting public toilets you could imagine. But it would be good for reptiles in the right conditions, however the strengthening wind and cooling temperatures made it hard to find them, a young Oscellated lizard was the only one found. A couple of redstarts were also seen. Gibraltar seems to be a mix of the worst of Spanish and British culture but there was one plus point fish and chip shops and we did indulge. Our attempts in looking for Barbary partridge were thwarted by the local youths in their "keved up cars" driving in the area we were looking at. We had had enough and headed to Malaga for the night and a few beers.

Saturday 27th March

We headed to Rio Guadalhorce not far from our hotel, a good reserve but being a weekend was busy with dudes, walkers and cyclists but there was plenty of wildlife around, we had a few new birds for the trip common waxbills, whiskered tern and orphean warblers but the weather was hotting up and the reptiles were about, lots of geckos a couple of Large Psammodromus and we managed to find a couple of horseshoe whip snakes as well. With the good weather the warblers were very active with bonelli's, cetti's, fan tailed, willow, Sardinian as well as chiff chaffs all present. It was time to head off but we got a probable viperine snake swimming across the river. We had a spot of lunch then headed to Sierra De Las Nieves high up in the mountains. We encountered a few griffon vultures but little else on the drive up apart from John stringing a goat into Spanish ibex. We did locate some proper Spanish Ibex including a male with horns, some nice bee eaters but little else, we used all our bait and mouse biscuits in one area hopefully to lure out something but nothing was hungry. Our night drive along this road was also poor as there was still a lot of traffic on it probably a weekday would be better. Our only results were fallow deer and rabbit and our baited area was still untouched. Our first foray into fast food at McDonalds before some well earned sleep.

Sunday 28th March

Our last day and after the complications of daylight saving time sorted we checked out and headed back to Rio Guadalhorce which was busier then the previous day, we met a local who we thought was mist netting but we misunderstood and he was photographing so we left him to his foray. We had a brief view of a black headed bunting but not enough to be certain of the ID (village weaver also a possibility) but one had been seen in the same spot over the last couple of days. The birds were very similar to the previous day but with large numbers of bee eaters moving through. We met a young Danish lad on a school trip who asked us about some birds and when he found out we had seen some snakes was very interested. He went off searching and came back later with directions to a large Oscellated lizard. We bumped into him again at the lizard he had caught up with the snakes and we all had cracking views of a real large male Oscellated lizard. We drove the 40km or so to Rio Velez in the hope of finding an exotic, plenty of monk parakeets a few med gulls and two collared pranticoles were all we could muster although at the nudist camp Mike did get a view of something exotic but not what we were after! Tired and exhausted we all had a siesta before a drive up into the hills but we found nothing new and headed back to Malaga via Burger King and home after a pretty amazing and eventful trip.

Species Lists

Shelduck
Ruddy Shelduck
Scaup
Tufted Duck
Garganey
Gadwall
Mallard
Pintail
Shoveler
Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
Common Scoter
White-headed Duck
Red-legged Partridge
Pheasant
Black-necked Grebe
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Balearic Shearwater
Cormorant
Shag ssp desmarestii
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork
Spoonbill
Greater Flamingo
Griffon Vulture
Osprey
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Short-toed Eagle
Booted Eagle
Bonelli's Eagle
Black Kite
Marsh Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Sparrowhawk
Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel
Moorhen
Coot
Purple Swamphen
Avocet
Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Lapwing
Sanderling
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Redshank
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Sandwich Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Cuckoo
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Little Owl
Scops Owl
Swift
Pallid Swift
Hoopoe
Bee-eater
Green Woodpecker ssp sharpei
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Skylark
Crested Lark
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Meadow Pipit
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail ssp flavissima
Yellow Wagtail ssp iberiae
Yellow Wagtail ssp flava
Robin
Redstart
Black Redstart
Black-eared Wheatear ssp hispanica
Black Wheatear
Stonechat
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Blackbird
Blue Rock Thrush
Blackcap
Western Orphean Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Spectacled Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Cetti's Warbler
Reed Warbler
Willow Warbler
Western Bonelli's Warbler
Chiffchaff
Wren
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Crested Tit
Long-Tailed Tit ssp irbii
Nuthatch
Woodchat Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Magpie
Jay
Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Raven
Spotless Starling
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Chaffinch
Linnet
Goldfinch
Greenfinch
Serin
Hawfinch
Corn Bunting
Rock Bunting
Monk Parakeet
Common Waxbill
Nightingale

Mammals - 21+

Iberian Lynx
Common Genet
Red Deer
Fallow Deer
Spanish Ibex
Otter
Wood mouse
Garden Dormouse
Wild Boar
Soprano Pipistrelle
Daubentons Bat
Brown Rat
Iberian Hare
Rabbit
Red Fox
Mouflon
Long Finned Pilot Whale
Striped Dolphin
Barbary Macaque
Greater Mouse Eared Bat
Schreiber's Bat
Shrew sp (probably Greater white toothed)
Probable Southern Water vole
Mouse sp

Herps - 16

Horse Shoe Whip Snake
Viperine Snake
Montpellier Snake
Bosca's Newt
Sharp Ribbed Newt
Red Eared Terrapin
Spanish Terrapin
Iberian Water Frog
Andalusian Wall Lizard
Stripeless Tree Frog
Western Spade Foot Toad
Natterjack Toad
Ocellated Lizard
Large Psammodromus
Iberian Wall Lizard
Moorish Gecko

Butterflies - 12

Swallowtail
Red Admiral
Cleopatra
Spanish Festoon
Bath White
Clouded Yellow
Large White
Small White
Moroccan Orange Tip
Painted Lady
Dingy Skipper
Striped Grayling