Trip report - south and north west Spain

14th September 2010
Dates: 6th to 13th September 2010

Destination: south and north west Spain

Purpose of trip:

The main purpose of my trip was to see 2 very rare and endemic mammals of the Iberian peninsula: the Iberian Lynx in the Sierra de Andújar in the Jaen province of Andalucia (approximately 200 miles south of Madrid) and the Iberian Wolf in the Sierra de la Culebra in the Zamora province of Castille y Leon (approximately 200 miles north west of Madrid).

Both these mammals are highly elusive even in their known ranges and there was no guarantee of seeing either. As it turned out, lengthy dawn and dusk stake outs at recognised watch points over vast tracts of open country proved to be fruitless.

However, a trip to any region of Spain does guarantee seeing many birds that can not be seen in the UK.

Primary target areas:

The 2 primary target areas for wildlife watching were:

Andalucia: Sierra de Andújar. This Natural Park (Parque Natural) includes a large sector of the central Sierra Morena, the east-west line of mountains which divides Andalucia from the rest of Spain. The Sierra de Andújar stretches for 45 miles with a highest point of 4230 feet and it is densely wooded boasting one of Andalucia's best preserved expanses of Mediterranean woodland and scrubland. The Sierra de Andújar is one of two of Spain's last refuges for the elusive and highly endangered Iberian Lynx.

Castille y Leon: Sierra de la Culebra. This is a 40 miles long mountain range in north west Spain forming a natural border with north east Portugal and with a highest point of 4077 feet. These mountains are well known as one of the few remaining strongholds of the Iberian Wolf.

In addition, I visited the following sites:

Castilla La Mancha: Las Tablas de Damiel. This is an important floodplain wetland nature reserve in an arid part of south central Spain with National Park (Parque Nacional) status and international recognition as a wetland on the list of the Ramsar Convention and European Union designation as a Special Protection Area for birds (Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves).

Andalucia: Despeñaperros. This Natural Park (Parque Natural) includes a magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop to the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia. As the only natural break in the 300 mile long Sierra Morena mountain range, it used to be one of the main routes into Andalucia from the north and Madrid. Its 7,649ha area covers mostly rugged upland terrain and Mediterranean woodland and scrubland.

Andalucia: Aldeaquemada. This is a part of the Sierra Morena mountain range to the east of Despeñaperros characterised by deep ravines, waterfalls and Mediterranean woodland and scrubland.

Castille y Leon: Estepas y Lagunas de Villafáfila. This is a large, semi-arid, treeless plain and steppe area with seasonal saline lagoons designated as a Ramsar Convention site, a European Union Special Protection Area for birds (Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves) and a special conservation area under the EU “Life” programme

Castille y Leon: Lago de Sanabria. This Natural Park (Parque Natural) includes a large glacial lake surrounded by the woodlands and mountains of the Sierra Segundeira and Sierra de la Cabrera Baja.

Castille y Leon: Arribes de Duero. This Natural Park (Parque Natural) and European Union Special Protection Area for birds (Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves) comprises the deep gorges and high river cliffs of the Rio Duero which forms the border between Spain and Portugal.

Castille y Leon: Azud de Riolobos. This is a reservoir occupying a shallow basin the cereal croplands in the north east of Salamanca province and is an important wetland site in Castille y Leon.

Castille y Leon: Estepas de Madrigal. This site is part of what was formerly a large steppe area which is now largely used for cereal production although some remnant steppe habitat still occurs.

Castille y Leon: Laguna del Osa. This is a small lake east of Salamanca surrounded by remnant steppe habitat.

Madrid: Sierra de Guadarrama (Puerto de la Morcuera). The Sierra de Guadarrama is a mountain range forming the eastern half of the Sistema Central in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula running south west to north east and extending into the province of Madrid to the south. Puerto de la Morcuera is a mountain pass situated at 5890 feet located in the Sierra de Guadarrama. The area comprises mountains, lakes, forests and montane grassland, pasture and scrub.

Getting there:

I flew from London Luton to Madrid Barajas with Easyjet for £76 return.

Both flights departed and arrived on time. The flight time was just over 2 hours.

Getting around:

At Madrid Barajas airport, I hired a Peugeot 207 for 8 days from SIXT via ebookers for £130.

This proved to be a very reliable and economical vehicle returning somewhere between 50 and 60 mpg and with diesel at an equivalent £0.90 per litre compared with £1.18 per litre in the UK the cost of driving in Spain was significantly less than I had expected.

Driving in to, out of and around Madrid was a challenging experience with extremely busy, congested and chaotic routes. However, the autovias/autopistas (motorways) outside the capital and the National Carretera “N” roads were much quieter than their UK equivalents and the rural country and mountain roads were generally empty.


Prior to my trip, I had pre-booked the following accommodation:

Sierra de Andújar (3 nights - £30 per night): Villa Matilde

Las Rozas, Madrid (1 night - £17 per night): Travelodge – Las Rozas

Sierra de la Culebra (2 nights - £26 per night): Centro de Turismo Rural La Veniata

Central Madrid (1 night - £40 per night): Hotel Vincci So Ma

The rural accommodation in Sierra de Andújar and Sierra de la Culebra both provided easy and convenient access to the main areas inhabited by Iberian Lynx and Iberian Wolf respectively.

Research and planning:

Prior to my trip, I had undertaken a significant amount of research and planning and therefore had a detailed itinerary which I largely kept to.

Apart from miscellaneous Internet trip reports, the following proved to be particularly useful:

“Where to watch birds in northern and eastern Spain” by Michael Rebane and Ernest Garcia

“Where to watch birds in southern and western Spain” by Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson

Both these books provide detailed site information including habitat, access, species to be seen and location maps.

I also used Michelin regional maps 575 covering Castille y Leon and Madrid, 576 covering Castilla La Mancha and Madrid and 578 covering Andalucia in addition to my trusty TomTom satnav.

Impressions, experiences and memories:

Since my 2 bases for wildlife watching were 200 miles south of Madrid and 200 miles north west of Madrid, I was able to visit or travel through a large area of central Spain.

This provided a diverse range of Mediterranean habitats including mountains, gorges and ravines, rivers, woodland and scrubland and enabled me to see a wide variety of species, many for the first time and many unique to southern Europe or endemic to the Iberian peninsula.

Whilst the Sierra de Andújar and Sierra de la Culebra are home to the 2 rare and elusive mammals which were of particular interest to me, neither area felt as remote as I had expected.

One of the memories that I will retain will be the sheer variety and number of raptors that I saw during my trip. The following represent the minimum numbers as I saw many others which went unidentified due to distance, heat haze or very brief views from the car whilst driving.

4 eagle species: Spanish Imperial Eagle (2), Short-toed Eagle (3), Booted Eagle (9), Golden Eagle (1)

3 vulture species: Griffon Vulture (c.350), Black Vulture (3), Egyptian Vulture (8)

2 kite species: Black Kite (1), Red Kite (25)

2 kestrel species: Lesser Kestrel (2), Kestrel (48)

2 buzzard species: Honey Buzzard (1), Common Buzzard (60)

1 or possibly 2 harrier species: Marsh Harrier (9), unidentified harrier species (Hen/Montagu’s) (2)


The majority of every day was sunny and very hot. Only on one day was there a cloudy start with a 5 minute rain shower before the hot sunshine returned. Temperatures reached highs of up to 36 degrees in the mid afternoon although early mornings ranged from 14 degrees in the south to 8 degrees in the north before the sun quickly warmed things up.

Wildlife highlights:

During my trip, I was able to record 104 species of birds although this included an unidentified sandgrouse species and an unidentified harrier species.

Trip records - south and north west Spain

Of these, I saw 11 species that I had not seen before. In addition, I saw 25 notable species i.e. birds seen before either as a single UK vagrant or on a few occasions in the UK plus birds seen before in Spain and/or elsewhere in Europe.

The 11 “lifers” were:

Egyptian Vulture
Black Vulture
Short-toed Eagle
Spanish Imperial Eagle
Booted Eagle
Lesser Kestrel
Red-necked Nightjar
Red-rumped Swallow
Black-eared Wheatear
Azure-winged Magpie
Citril Finch

The 25 other notable species were:

Squacco Heron
Great White Egret
Black Stork
White Stork
Honey Buzzard
Black Kite
Griffon Vulture
Great Bustard
Black-winged Stilt
Gull-billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
Alpine Swift
Crested Lark
Crag Martin
Blue Rock Thrush
Sardinian Warbler
Red-backed Shrike
Southern Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Spotless Starling
Rock Sparrow
Cirl Bunting

During my trip, I was also able to record 5 species of mammal:

Wild Boar
Red Deer
Fallow Deer
Unidentified bat species

The highlight was the Wild Boar which I had not seen before (4 in Sierra de Andújar and 7 in Sierra de la Culebra).

In addition, the sunny and very hot weather ensured that there were still large numbers of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies on the wing plus there was a large group of what I think were Iberian Green Frogs in Aldeaquemada.


The obvious and massive disappointment was the failure to see either Iberian Lynx or Iberian Wolf despite the long hours put in at dawn and dusk. It was never going to be easy and so it proved.

However, Dave and Laura Pierce from Kingussie in northern Scotland, and who also stayed at Villa Matilde whilst I was there, were fortunate enough to see Iberian Lynx on 2 separate occasions in the Sierra de Andújar. They have kindly allowed me to use 2 of their photos which can be seen at the bottom of this trip report.


Finally, I must give enormous credit to the people who invented satellite navigation and air conditioning for cars. Without you, I would still be trying to find my way out of Madrid or gone in to complete meltdown with the heat or both!


Photos from my trip can be found in the European trips gallery.

The following photos are courtesy of Dave and Laura Pierce:

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