A report by Roy van Grunsven, Dick Groenendijk and Tim Termaat. From the 5th to the 15th of January 2023, we did a tour through Andalusia with Florent Prunier (G3-guides). The main goal was to see Iberian Lynx but also see some other wildlife such as birds and amphibians. This was very successful and pleasant, to a large extent thanks to the good care and knowledge of our local guide.
Wildlife trip “Three kings and six lynx” in Andalusia (2023-01).
We were picked up by Florent in Sevilla and went to the hotel but the town was chaotic as apparently they were celebrating three kings (Epiphany) in the streets. After dinner we went out to visit some temporary ponds where we found Triops mauritanicus and some other large Branchiopods (if you don’t know Triops, check the fairy shrimp page on this website) and some nice amphibians like Iberian Treefrog. We spend the next two days in and around Southern and Eastern Doñana were we watched birds in different habitats and saw many great species ranging from Balearic and Yelkouan Shearwater and Audouins Gull at sea to Little Swift, Collared Pratincole, Slender-billed Gull and White Headed Duck along with lots of waders, Flamingos, ducks and Purple Swamphens. Along the way we again ran into three kings festivities, apparently a big thing here.
Collared pratincole at Brazo del Este.
We left Doñana for Cordoba where Florent showed us the Fire Salamander that is endemic to the Sierra Morena, Pygmy Marbled newt and Ribbed Newt along with different cool animals like giant centipedes and “weird” beetles (of which Florent could tell us the names).
A pair of Pygmy Marbled Newts, female on the left watching a displaying male, in Sierra Morena.
We arrived in Sierra Morena in the afternoon, this area is known for its population of lynx. On the first stop we already saw Spanish Imperial Eagles and Golden Eagles displaying. On the second stop we saw a Iberian Lynx walking on a hillside and after quickly moving to another path found it about a hundred meters away sitting under a tree giving excellent views in the telescopes. We celebrated with a special “three kings cake”, Roscón de Reyes, complete with a little king hidden inside and a (paper) crown. We stayed in a cabin where Florent cooked some very nice meals and from there explored several parts of the area. This resulted in two more sightings of Lynxes, once a family of 4 that we could watch interact and play for 45 minutes and a single animal on a private finca that first majestically sat on lookout and then walked along quite close to our position.
The first Iberian Lynx of the trip in Andújar.
Besides lynxes there were lots of nice birds such as the mentioned eagles, Black Vulture, Cirl Bunting, Thekla’s Lark, lots of Red-legged Partridge and many others. Amazing was what we found when we turned some rocks in a spot Florent suggested. We found Iberian Newt, Moorish Worm Lizards, Scorpions (Buthus aff. ajax), giant centipedes and several other “creepy crawlies”. Before leaving Andujar there was one species still on the wish list, the elusive Otter. Knowing where and at what time of day they were seen lately definitely paid off as we quickly saw one swimming in the river.
The Moorish Worm-lizard, Blanus vandellii,one of the most curious European reptiles.
Leaving Andujar we went back towards Doñana with a big loop. The first day this included the area around Osuna where we saw lots of Calandra larks and Great Bustard, Fuente de Piedra with Lesser Flamingo, lots of nice ducks such as White Headed, a beautiful group of Stone Curlews and a spectacular sight of 1.766 Common Cranes coming in to roost (yes, we counted them). The next day was spent looking for small things near a stream with some nice dragonflies, grasshoppers and an Iberian False Smooth Snake as some of the surprises. The day ended in the amazing landscape of El Torcal between the Ibexes, Blue Rock Thrushes and the shy Black wheatears.
Spanish ibex in Antequera.
A big wish of one of us was to see Bonelli’s Eagle, for which Florent knew some good locations in the Sierra de Grazalema. This area has rock formations with large groups of Griffon Vultures but also another (sub-)species of Fire Salamander that we found together with a Painted Frog. Here the Black Wheatears were less shy and we could see them very well along with many other species, such as Ring Ouzel and Iberian Grey Shrike to name just two. To our delight, Flat-leaved iris are already in full bloom in the month of january in Andalusia. At the last stop overlooking a cliff an adult Bonelli’s eagle finally came over, a very impressive animal.
Flat-leaved iris (Iris planifolia) in full bloom
After some more short stops at lagunas we came back to Doñana focusing on the Western and Northern part. Large numbers of waterbirds were seen including some highlights such as a Caspian Tern, two Eurasian Dotterels, a group of 92 night herons but also Marbled Teal and a Red-knobbed Coot hidden among the large numbers of Common Coot, two Doñana specialties.
Caspian tern wintering in Doñana.
We finaly watched the sun go down at the beautiful Charco de la Boca in El Rocio, a classic site where we enjoyed watching numerous bird species in the evening light, before going back to our cabin for a last evening with some nice food and wine and packing for the flight back home.
Charco de la Boca in El Rocio recently, flooded and yet in sunny weather.
Overall it was a great trip with 172 bird species (in winter!), lots of hard to find amphibians, weird Branchiopods and some nice mammals, including awesome sightings of the iconic Iberian Lynx. We had not prepared much as Florent had arranged everything, including transport, lodgings and he made sure we had a nice meal three times a day. It is true that you can find a lot of info on where to watch birds in Andalusia online but this is much harder for other groups such as amphibians. Furthermore, you do run into cool things like giant centipedes, weird grasshoppers or a nice flower and Florent knows [often] which species they are. This absolutely makes it much more interesting. Maybe even more important: we simply had a great and relaxed time enjoying the beautiful Andalusian nature as a group of four friends.
More pictures of this trip are available on Dick’s Observation.org observer page.
Hello “Three kings team”. It was a great pleasure to travel with you… and the last sentence of this report directly went to my heart. How easy and pleasing it is to travel with nice and helpful people. Of course, it helps when we see our target under sunny weather, and even more when we are able to check all the target species !!! It was trully an impressive and succesfull trip.
I was also so much impressed by your skills in the field. Spending time with top notch fellow naturalist is both humbling and motivating. There is only one truth… To spend hours in the field.
From an Andalusian perspective this trip was excellent with a few excellent sightings: the very rare Red Phalarope at the coast (with an influx this 2022/2023 winter in Andalusia, but still very exciting) ; the unexpected Jack snipe at Laguna Fuentes de Piedra with beautifull views of the animal displaying its “seating” habits (another new species for me) ; The young Imperial Eagle at El Chorro, a uncommon species in this area and generally increasing in Southern Andalusia. It was nice to count cranes at their roost and usefull since our numbers were very close but different from recent census.
ANd of course, what can we say about seing lynxes three days in a row in three different sites… we call that “Andujar’s hat trick”… and I don’t expect to repeat this feat before a while. But who knows…
Thank you again for your interest and time and effort in writting this little piece.
I look forward Dick for the next three kings cake. 😉