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I have been to Spain several times and it is one of my favourite countries in Europe: for the mammals, the food and the people.
Until the mid 2000s I thought that the Cota Donana National Park in Spain was the only place that offered any chance of seeing the Iberian (or Pardel) Lynx. Even here they were not easy to find. But then I began to hear about a site near Andújar in Andalusia, 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.
Andújar is two hours’ drive north-west of Granada and about an hour north-west of Jaen. I stayed at the Los Pinos hotel, which is the closest accommodation to the lynx area and 14km north of Andújar along the road to Los Vinas. The restaurant 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 itself was quiet, comfortable and 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.
There are several good areas Lynx spotting and more recent trip reports will give the latest information. I focused my efforts on two: a lookout over the Rio Jandula, and a quiet back road north-east of Los Pinos.
Site 1: Rio Jandula
This spot 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 past several picnic areas. After about 500 m 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 is the vantage point recommended by Richard Webb. I met a guy from the National Park here one evening who also confirmed it was good for Lynx watching. The animals often come down to the river to drink in the early morning and evening. Two days running I spent several hours here at dawn and dusk.
You can see a good slab of country from the lookout, and 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. But I was unlucky. I did however see many Red Deer, not quite so many Fallow Deer and several sounders of Wild Boar.
A small hill close by that overlooks the reservoir is another good vantage point. A few hundred metres further along the road from the Rio Jandula site you come to a dam wall. Park at the base of the wall and climb a small hill to your left. Phil Telfer saw an animal (or animals) several times from up there. I spent a couple of hours here but decided that there was little to chose between here and the other site, and decided 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.
Site 2: The Road to La Lancha
Take the first turn on the right after Los Pinos. The JH5001 road winds past cattle properties for about 8 km 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.
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 spotlight session I saw an Iberian Lynx on the road at 1.30 a.m. 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. 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 was particularly good nor allowed time for photos.
I set 10 live mammal traps along the road side near Los Pinos and caught my first Garden Dormouse, in some rocky scrub. It escaped before I could get my camera out.
Back in Granada in 2008 I had an afternoon to spare, so I headed up to the Sierra Nevada along the A395 out of town. Spanish Ibex are common in the higher reaches of the park and though much more easily seen in the early morning and late afternoon I saw several during the mid-afternoon without too much trouble.
Stuff I Missed
Other species I might have seen included Egyptian Mongooses (reported around Andujar occasionally – Jan Kelchtermans tells me you should drive up to the monastry and then towards El Neuvo Mirador, and they often cross the road around the 12 KM mark). Otters are seen quite often in the Rio Jandula and Iberian Hares are around too (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 – but 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 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 1 a.m., put the kids to bed, grabbed 20 minutes’ sleep and drove an hour into the mountains. The research team 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 3 a.m. 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 5 a.m. I was driving back to get some sleep stopping briefly to look at a Beech Marten. Woof!
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. We took it to the vet for a check up and released it. A beautiful animal with a very bleak future.
Bay of Biscay
During the late 1990s the Bay of Biscay emerged as one of the world’s best cetacean viewing areas. The ferries than run from Portsmouth in the UK to Bilbao in Spain spend the last third of their journey running along deep canyons that are teeming with sea monsters in the summer. II took the trip once in August 1998. In the first 12 hours returning from Spain to the UK I saw False Killer Whales (unusual), many Fin Whales, many Long-finned Pilot Whales, many Striped Dolphins, an Orca, a couple of Northern Bottle nosed Whales and a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (that cruised right past the ferry). And that is by no means an unusual trip. The ferry timetable used to leave Bilbao in the early morning but as of now (2016) it leaves in the evening and so while the cetaceans may remain, the chance of seeing them from the ferry has gone.
Castille & Leon
In July 2020 I was driving from Bordeaux to Madrid and wanted to look for an Iberian (Granada) Hare. I had no flashlight, binoculars or even a camera so needed a spot where one might run across the road in front of me. Carlos Bocos recommended I drive around agricultural land around Valladolid and after an hour’s search after sunset I saw one here. The area around Duraton Canyon, near Sepeulveda, was also recommended as a reliable spot for this species.
Technically not Spain, but – biologically – its a lot more Spanish than British. I stopped for a few hours in this peculiar city. The introduced Barbary Macaques were easy to see at the top of the cable car. I saw a couple in the city centre too.