Watching wildlife does not often result in instant gratification. It requires patience and, even when surrounded by natural beauty, can lead to long days of disappointment. However, when you do find what you’ve been looking for, that frustration is forgotten and you feel like you have earned that moment of wonder.
We have been trying to see lynx for a few years. We had previously spent seven days in the Carpathians Mountains in Romania and five in the Naliboki Forest, Belarus looking for Eurasian Lynx and made a trip to Donana National Park in southern Spain looking for their smaller Iberian cousins, all without success. So to start 2019 we headed back to Spain and to the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park in Andulusia, home to largest population of this rare and endangered creature in the Iberian peninsula. To make sure that we had the best possible chance of success, we booked a five day tour with Iberian Lynx Land, a local nature and eco-tour company.
After driving to the Natural Park from Seville and checking into our hotel, La Caracola Hotel Rural (included in the tour price), we met up with Jose Luis, who was to be our guide. Straight away took us in his 4×4 up in to the Sierra Morena mountains to begin our adventure. We soon saw a car stopped by the side of the road and we decided to check on what had caught their eye and were happy that we did, as there was a cute Little Owl perched on a boulder in a field. We headed off again, passing dozens of people lining the road that wound around the range, with their scopes, long lenses and binoculars who were also hoping to see the “gato” as the locals seem to refer to the lynx. Jose Luis said we’d be joining them later on, but first we were off to the hydro-electric dam for lunch and to see what else we could see. As we sat and had lunch by the river, Jose Luis set up his scope and spotted saw some ibex on the cliffs on the opposite bank. We then checked out a tunnel next to the dam and, with the use of a torch, saw a barbastrelle bat and some greater mouse eared bats. After lunch, it was back to the road-side watch points and we joined the crowds in their hope of spotting a lynx. We spent the rest of the afternoon sat by the road, looking down across the valley with our binoculars, looking for movement or shapes in the shadows and listening out for the cat calling out or magpies in distress. After many hours, the sun slowly sank behind the far hills and called time on day one.
Early the next morning, Jose Luis picked us up again and we drove out to a different dam. It was cold, minus two, as we walked on to a bridge over the river. Almost straight away Jose Luis spotted an otter down stream, so we headed that way for a closer look. We watched as this otter ate his fish breakfast on a rock and then saw a couple more as they swam across the mist-laden water. We stayed for a while longer, but then is was time to try to find our little big cat back at the roadside watch points. We spent another eight hours on the roadside and we saw Spanish Imperial Eagles, a Black Vulture, a number of Griffin Vultures, Red Deer and Fallow Deer, but alas, again no lynx. It was beginning to feel like another of those trips where we would end up being frustrated, even though we had seen some lovely animals.
Day three would surely be different, especially as we would not be going back to the public watch points, but have access to a private estate which was part of a habitat enhancement project and frequented by a number of lynx. The project attempts to make the land more habitable for rabbits, which make up 70% of the Lynx’s diet, and therefore improving the environment for the Lynx. We drove round the estate slowly and soon heard some magpies calling in distress off to our left. We parked up and kept a watch in our mobile “hide”. After a few minutes, a lynx jumped down on to the road, not from our left but from the right hand bank of the road and strolled slowly across in front of us. I managed to take a couple of snaps before she disappeared in to the overgrowth. Finally, we had seen a lynx and so close too. Yes, the moment only lasted a matter of seconds, but we felt lucky to see this beautiful creature.
We spent the rest of the day on the estate with no more luck and, to be honest, in spite of our many hours both back on the estate and on the roadside we did not manage to see another cat. Was it worth it? Yes of course! These are truly incredible animals and to finally see one was very special.