Spain 2021 - Iberian Lynx and the wintering birds of Doñana
Spain 2021 - Iberian Lynx and the wintering birds of Doñana
Duration: 6 Nights
Date: January 2021
This tour will be led by myself and European cat specialist, Michael Willett, with a focus on maximising your chances of encountering Europe’s rarest terrestrial mammal; the Iberian lynx. Michael has worked with both Eurasian and Iberian lynx, along with European wildcats, and together we have led several tours to Andalucía, where the Iberian lynx has a stronghold, and boast a proud 100% record of seeing at least one lynx on each trip. Seeing an Iberian lynx in the wild is a magical experience, and each encounter has left us open-mouthed and awestruck. They truly are a magnificent animal. We will be visiting Andujar and Doñana, two of the very best places to see Iberian lynx, spending three nights in each location. Andujar and Doñana are two very different locations, with Andujar being mountainous, wetter and cooler (5-10 °C), and Doñana being coastal and warmer during the winter (11-16 °C), when we will be there (be sure to pack accordingly). We will ensure you are in the right place, at the right time, to enhance our chances of encountering this endangered and enigmatic felid.
The Iberian Lynx suffered a cataclysmic population crash in the late 20th century and was staring extinction in the face. The threats that drove the IUCN to red list them as critically endangered included hunting pressure and habitat loss, but mainly a dramatic decline in the number of their main prey species, the European rabbit. The European rabbit is native to the Iberian Peninsula and is considered by many to be a keystone species. When the population crashed, by up to 90% in some areas, due to the human introduced diseases of myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, it had a knock-on effect which saw Iberian lynx numbers decline to just 150 left in the wild. Thankfully, conservationists took control and a large scale, European-led conservation effort was put in place to halt the downtrend. The conservation project (which we were proudly part of), considered one of the most successful of all time, saw the establishment of captive breeding centres, in Spain and Portugal, and large scale reintroduction programmes, focusing on releasing them back into regions where they were once historically found. The Iberian lynx is still IUCN red-listed as endangered, but its future is looking a lot brighter than it was just a decade ago. Come along with us this January 2020 and be in with a chance of a magical encounter with an Iberian lynx yourself.
On day one we will make our way from the airport at Malaga, towards Andujar and deep into the Sierra Morena mountains, taking in the scenery of rural southern Spain along the way. Andujar was the last stronghold of the Iberian lynx population before the hugely successful captive breeding and release project was undertaken just over a decade ago. Andujar is still the best place in Spain to see these once critically endangered cats. We’ll spend three days, scouring mountain roads and wide-open vistas, looking for tell tale signs, such as squawking Iberian magpies, and hopefully encounter one of these enigmatic predators. Whilst looking for the, we will have great opportunities to see other things, as the Sierra Morena is rich in wildlife, and on past trips we have seen griffon and black vultures, otters, Spanish ibex, mouflon, eagle owl, and even a genet on a camera trap, and more. The habitat is mostly Mediterranean oak forest and scrub, with the pastures being grazed by toro de lidia cattle, the Spanish fighting bull breed of cow. Scattered around, under the ancient oak, are stone water vessels, handcrafted from local rock. They look like a remnant from Neolithic man. This area was historically hunting grounds, so expect to see plenty of deer, including red, roe, and fallow. Our accommodation, in a villa in the heart of the mountains surrounded by wildlife is full board. We’ll have an early hearty breakfast, and take out packed lunches, before returning to a home cooked meal.
Moving on to the Southwest of Spain, Coto Doñana National Park and the surrounding areas are a wildlife watchers paradise. Quite simply, Doñana is a biodiversity hotspot, and a last refuge for some of Europe’s rarest and most endangered species. Rightly so, it is considered one of the most important protected areas in the whole of Europe. Sitting on the western banks of the Guadalquivir river, and its estuary with the Atlantic Ocean, the ecology and habitats are shaped by two primary ecosystems, pine forest and Mediterranean shrub and marshland and lagoons. As such, the park is home to a plethora of wildlife, and on past visits our species list has been huge, from Andalucían dehasa and woodland residents such as hoopoe and bee-eaters, to flamingos and spoonbills on the lagoons and marshlands. Other noted species include Spanish imperial eagle, white-headed duck, red-crested pochard, marbled duck, Montagu and marsh harrier, common crane, black-crowned night heron, Eurasian scops owl, and Egyptian mongoose.
Our target animal for Doñana is the Iberian lynx. We have been lucky (and I shouldn’t really say this out loud, for fear of jinxing it) because, incredibly, on every Iberian lynx trip we have led, we have managed to see at least one individual. On our last trip, lady luck was certainly looking down on us; literally two minutes after driving through the National Park gates at dawn, we came within 20 metres of a splendid male, who hung around just long enough for everybody to see him, below.
We will spend three days in Doñana, getting up before first light, and heading to local spots, to maximise our chances of spotting ‘Lince Iberico’ as the Spanish say.. Then we’ll bird until lunch, exploring the pine forests, sand dunes, marshes, and lagoons, on the fringes of the National Park, before heading into the nearest town or village for tapas. We’ll spend the afternoon exploring, adding more species to our lists, before making our way to prime Iberian lynx habitat before dusk. In the evenings we will have a delicious meal, either at our hacienda style lodge or in a local restaurant. On one of the days we will explore the National Park with a registered and licensed guide on a safari-style tour in a 4x4 vehicle, to handle the sandy and uneven terrain. These guides know the park like the back of their hands, their knowledge is incredible. If an Iberian lynx has been spotted recently, our guide will know where to take us. We’ll start the safari from El Rocio, a town that looks like a filmset for a spaghetti western. It must be seen to be believed!
This trip will be mind-blowing, jam packed with once in a lifetime experiences which will leave you yearning to return to Andalucía, time and time again. Trust us, this will happen, we know because it happened to us.
The price of this tour is £950. If you are travelling alone and require a double room to yourself, then there will be a single person supplement of £150.
To confirm your place you can pay a 20% deposit now, and the rest in instalments. Or, you can simply pay the full amount now.
Flights not included. Please email to discuss flights and further arrangements, or simply to register your interest in the tour without making a formal booking.