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Until the mid 2000s I had thought that the Cota Donana National Park in Spain was the only place that offered a chance of seeing the Iberian (or Pardel) Lynx. And even here they were not easy to find. then I began to hear about a site near Andujar where Lynxes were reliably seen. I visited for a weekend in June 2008, though I was told that March through May is the best time to look for Lynxes.
Andujar is 2 hours drive north-west of Granada and about an hour north-west of Jaen. March to May is allegedly the best time to see Lynxes there. I stayed at the Los Pinos hotel, which is the closest accommodation to the Lynx area. The restaurant here is good and very busy until late, especially at the weekend (I am always surprised in Spain to see families with small children rocking up at midnight to sit down to dinner). But the hotel was quiet enough, comfortable and very cheap. They are also Lynx-obsessed and there was no shortage of advice from the manager and the guys in the bar on where to look. Los Pinos is 14km north of Andujar along the road to Los Vinas.
There are several areas which are good for Lynx spotting. I focused my efforts on the two most tipped: a lookout over the Rio Jandula, and a quiet back road northeast of Los Pinos.
The Rio Jandula Site is about 10 minutes further along the A6177 from Los Pinos heading north. At about the 22km post there is a roundabout. Go straight across, cross the river on a single lane bridge and immediately to your right is a track that runs along the river and several picnic areas. After about 500m or so the road rises and at the crest of the small hill you will see some concrete blocks on the right hand side of the track that act as a crash barrier. This was the vantage point recommended by Richard Webb (see report below) and I met a guy from the National Park here one evening who confirmed it was good for Lynx watching. The animals often come down to the rive to drink in the early morning and evening. I spent several hours here from dawn on 2 mornings and also the last couple of hours of daylight for two evenings.
You can see a good slab of country from the lookout so apart from regularly scanning with binoculars I also listened for bird alarm calls. When Richard saw a Lynx coming down to drink it was being mobbed by magpies and this is quite common. But I was unlucky. I did however see many Red Deer, not quite so many Fallow Deer and several sounders of Wild Boar here.
Another spot close by that is also reputedly good is a small hill that overlooks the reservoir. The damn wall is a few hundred metres further along the road from the Rio Jandula site. Park at the base of the wall and climb a small hill to your left. This is another good vantage point and Phil Telfer from the UK saw an animal (or animals) several times from up here. I spent a couple of hours here but decided that it was probably largely a matter of luck between there and the other site, so decided just to stick with the one spot.
I spent 40 minutes spotlighting around this area and saw a couple of Rabbits, some Wild Boar and what may well have been a Wild Cat crossing the road, though I cannot be sure.
The Road to La Lancha is the first turn on the right after Los Pinos. The JH5001 road winds past cattle properties for about 8km until a well signposted farm "Los Escoriales", after which a small road goes off to the left eventually reach the top of a damn wall at La Lancha. The manager of the Los Pinos hotel recommended the middle of this stretch of road (Los Escoriales to La Lancha) as a good spot to look, because several Lynxes were around.
I drove the road a few times in the early morning and early evening and spotlit along it once. Red and Fallow Deer were very common and Moufflon were also common at night, including one group of about 30 animals. I also saw a couple of Red Foxes and several Rabbits . During my spotlighting drive I saw an Iberian Lynx on the road at 1.30am. It was carrying a rabbit and I saw it only for a couple of seconds before it jumped off the road and up the hill. A minute or so later I carried on driving and found it back on the road again. It jumped into the bush and disappeared. I drove on, saw it on the road again, lost it, found it again on the road before finally losing it. Unfortunately none of the sightings were particularly good and certainly no time for photos.
At La Lancha - and at the damn wall - the road runs through a rocky tunnel that was being used by at least three species of bats in the day. I saw what I guess were Greater Mouse-eared Bats and probably Geoffroy's Bats in the weepholes and perhaps another species. I need to spend time looking at the photos more carefully.
I set 10 live mammal traps along the road side near Los Pinos and caught my first Garden Dormouse, in some rocky scrub. It managed to escape before I could get my camera out.
Stuff I missed included Egyptian Mongooses (reported around Andujar occasionally - Jan Kelchtermans tells me you should drive up to the monastry and then towards El Neuvo Mirador with the area around KM 12 a spot where they often cross the road). Otters (seen quite often in the Rio Jandula) and Iberian Hares, which I had hoped to see (Richard Webb saw one between Los Escoriales and La Lancha at night). Phil Telfer saw a Polecat on the road between Seville and Andujar. And I suppose Wolves are also a possibility but a long shot.
My thanks to Richard Webb and Phil Telfer for some great advice when I planned this trip.
The Ebro Valley
I'd visited Hiumaa Island in Estonia twice looking for - and failing to see - European Mink. I missed the Mink but the contacts I made there were kind enough to arrange for me to tag along in October 2011 for some trapping in Spain that was part of a conservation project. Not only were Mink possible but so were Pyrenean Desman, some parallel trapping was underway for that species too which was high on my most wanted list. The scientists working on both highly endangered species are understandably sensitive about me giving too many details about where I saw them so this is just a brief report.
I'd planned to arrive in the valley on a Saturday after driving from the South of France. Unfortunately the Friday was the last night of Desman trapping . So..... I left Paris at lunchtime, took a train to the south of France, collected my kids after school and then drove the 7 hours to my friends' house. They were kind enough to let us stay at their place and also for me to leave the kids there. I arrived at 1am, put the kids to bed, grabbed 20 minutes' sleep and drove an hour into the mountains. They were checking the Desman traps every 3 hours. They had caught nothing at midnight but amazingly there was an animal in the first trap we checked at 3am. What a fantastic critter. After a brief photo opportunity, and a DNA sample, it was released and swam at impressive speed down the stream. By 5am I was driving back to get some sleep stopping briefly to look at a Beech Marten.
They caught a second animal later that night.
The Ebro valley is dry, full of vineyards and surrounded by mountains. The mountains form a barrier to incoming American Mink, which is probably why the area is a last stronghold of European Minks. Unfortunately American Minks are starting to arrive and one has to wonder how long the couple of hundred European Minks left here have left. We spent Sunday morning checking the 39 traps that had been put out. A few animals had been caught over the past 10 days (the success rate there is something like 1 animal per 100 trap nights) and there was just one in a trap that day. A beautiful animal with a very bleak future.
Iberian Wild Boar and other mammals on camera (May 2012) near Valencia.
RFI - mammals in France and Spain (Sep 2011).
Other People's trip reports
Spain, 2013: Mike Richardson, 3 days & 7 species including Wolf and Iberian Hare.
Spain, 2012: Ian Loyd, 2 weeks & 15 species including Iberian Lynx, Eurasian Otter and Iberian Hare.
Spain, 2012: Stefanie Lahaye, 2 weeks & 26 species including Iberian Lynx, Common Genet and Egyptian Mongoose.
Iberian Lynx trip, 2012: John Wright, 3 days & several mammals including Lynx and Iberian Hares.
Andalucian Lynx and Mega Mammals of the Med, 2010 : Mark Hows, 1 week and 21 species including the Lynx.
Sierra de Andjuar, 2010: Lee Dingain, 4 days and 7 species including the Lynx. Lots of very useful detail in this report.
Spain & Gibraltar 2009: Tom and Steve Bird, 3 weeks and 24 mammals including Iberian Lynx, Wolves and Orcas.
Sierra de Andujar 2009: Steve Davis, 4 nights and 12 mammals including Iberian Lynx.
Sierra de Andujar, 2008: Richard Webb, 3 days and 9 mammals including Iberian Lynx.