Spain’s Enigmatic Wildlife: Iberian Lynx and Iberian Birds

This is one of our new series of tours that we are calling Enigmatic Wildlife Tours (EWT). While most birding and wildlife tours focus on seeing as much as possible, very few focus on quality encounters with the least known and most charismatic wildlife on the planet. Tropical Birding’s new EWT tours focus on encounters with some of Earth’s most desirable and poorly-known species, and we shall use our time to make sure we maximize our chances of unforgettable encounters. While we do so, we shall certainly enjoy all the other wildlife around us, and not neglect all the other surrounding beauty. It’s important to mention that while we will do everything we can do to find these rare animals, nothing is guaranteed.

NOTE: At this stage this tour is only open to participants from UK and Europe that can travel free from quarantine in Spain. For more information on our COVID-policy, please see: http://www.tropicalbirding.com/covidustours2020/.

There are few places in Europe that compare to Spain when it comes to wildlife watching and none other where you can encounter one of the rarest cats on the planet, the majestic Iberian Lynx. We will immerse ourselves in the realm of this endangered wild cat, dedicating a full four days in an area seldom visited by tourists and boasting the highest density of Lynx on the Iberian Peninsula. We are avoiding some of the more heavily visited Lynx areas and hope to both enjoy encounters with few other tourists, but also to remain away from other people as much as possible whilst we enjoy the open air of Spain’s countryside.



Meeting at the capital, Madrid, we will start our Spanish sojourn south soaking up the beautiful views and birds along the way. Our base for all but one night of the tour will be just outside of the Peñalajo Estate, famous for its Manchego cheeses, olive oil, game and Iberian Lynx. Optimising our time here, making use of hides, lookouts and 4WD vehicles, we will give ourselves maximum chances to encounter our most elusive of targets. As if the Lynx weren’t enough, we can also enjoy sightings of some of Spain’s most iconic birds, including Spanish Eagle, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Bustard, Eurasian Hoopoe and many more to boot. No trip to Spain would be complete without experiencing its wonderful culture and we will be indulging in local delicacies throughout. Our final day will be spent birding the Tablas de Daimiel National Park, where we can hope to find endemics such as Iberian Gray Shrike, Iberian Green Woodpecker, hundreds of wading birds, ducks and many other fantastic species, including Eurasian Penduline-Tit and Bluethroat. This short but bountiful tour will undoubtedly blowout the cobwebs and have us re-engaged with incredible species and wildlife once again.

Iberian Lynx is on of the World's rarest cats
Iberian Lynx is on of the World's rarest cats (Sam Woods)

An Iberian Lynx takes a rest between hunting exploits
An Iberian Lynx takes a rest between hunting exploits (Sam Woods)

Day 1: Arrival in Madrid. After our arrival in Spain’s capital, we will be picked up from the airport and make our way south to the historic municipality of Santa Cruz de Mudela, in the province of Ciudad Real. If time allows on the journey, we’ll stop off at Campo de Criptana. A picturesque area, famous for its windmills and of course, birdwatching! Here we will be on the lookout for Black-bellied and Pin-tailed sandgrouse, majestic Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Eurasian Thick-knee, Calandra Lark and Iberian Grey Shrike amongst a wealth of other speciality species found on the Calatrava Steppes. We’ll then continue south arriving in Santa Cruz de Mudela, our superb base for the next five nights.

Firecrest, one of Europe's most beautiful songbirds
Firecrest, one of Europe's most beautiful songbirds (Lisle Gwynn)

One of Europe's most enduring families, the Eurasian Hoopoe
One of Europe's most enduring families, the Eurasian Hoopoe (Lisle Gwynn)

Day 2, 3, 4 and 5: The Peñalajo Estate. Our Santa Cruz de Mudela base is a stone’s throw away from the acclaimed Peñalajo Estate. We’ll take full advantage of spending a full four days exploring the 2,260-hectare estate, in 4WD vehicles, which boasts the highest density of Iberian Lynx found anywhere in the country. Peñalajo can sustain such a large population of this endangered species, due to the sheer abundance of their favourite prey, Eurasian Rabbit and Red-legged Partridge! This will put us in good stead to locate and watch this endemic wild cat during our time there as we take our time stopping at numerous observation points. The Iberian Lynx are without doubt our main target here but we can also be treated to views of the estate’s resident Spanish Eagles, Golden Eagle, Black-winged Kite, Little Bustard and Black-bellied and Pin-tailed sandgrouse to name a few. Peñalajo is not only famous for its Iberian Lynx and fantastic birds, but also produces of some of the best Manchego cheeses and olive oil in Spain. We will enjoy our open-air picnic lunches, full of delicious local produce like Iberico ham, cheeses, salads, sandwiches and wines all served in the dehesa under an oak tree. A real taste of Spanish culture. We will wrap up the day’s wildlife watching by trying to locate the Iberian Lynx in the golden hour, as well as searching for other elusive mammals like Wild Boar and Egyptian Mongoose.

An Iberian specialty,  Spanish Eagle
An Iberian specialty, Spanish Eagle (Lisle Gwynn)

Lift off for a Griffon Vulture
Lift off for a Griffon Vulture (Lisle Gwynn)

Hulking Cinereous Vultures are more often seen on their massive wings cruising the airwaves
Hulking Cinereous Vultures are more often seen on their massive wings cruising the airwaves (Lisle Gwynn)

Day 6: Tablas de Daimiel National Park. Today we will leave the wonderful Peñalajo Estate behind and make our way north where we will find the special and unique ecosystem of the Tablas de Daimiel National Park. Here we will spend the full day exploring the tracks and hides in search of Common Cranes, hundreds of waders that make their way here to winter, such as Greater Flamingo, Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper and Northern Lapwing. The wetlands can also provide views of duck species including, Common and Red-crested Pochard, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler. Other target species here will be the endemic Iberian Green Woodpecker and Iberian Gray Shrike, Eurasian Penduline-Tit, Dartford Warbler and Bluethroat. We will spend the night in the nearby town of Daimiel in beautiful surroundings to indulge in more fine Spanish cuisine.

Hawfinch is locally common in Spain
Hawfinch is locally common in Spain (Lisle Gwynn)

Blue Rock-Thrushes are rock-loving flycatchers
Blue Rock-Thrushes are rock-loving flycatchers (Lisle Gwynn)

Blue Tit is a gloriously common European bird
Blue Tit is a gloriously common European bird (Sam Woods)

Spain is decent for raptors like this Short-toed Snake-Eagle
Spain is decent for raptors like this Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Lisle Gwynn)

Day 7: Depart from Madrid. Today we will make our way back to Madrid Airport in time for our departing flights.

Iberian Lynx is endemic to Spain
Iberian Lynx is endemic to Spain (Sam Woods)

Eurasian Thick-knee creeping through the brush
Eurasian Thick-knee creeping through the brush (Emma Juxon)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Easy. This is not a physically-demanding tour (see Physical Difficulty section below), but the days will be pretty long. One of the many benefits of cool winter Iberian climate (see Climate section below) is that we can use the entire day for activities; it’s neither too cold in the morning nor too hot in the middle of the day to be out and about! Sunrise is at 8:30am, so we’ll be departing the hotel between 8am and 8:30am each day. Participants can expect to make multiple birding stops throughout the day, and we’ll aim to be at our place of lodging with time before dinner to let people rest. Please note Spaniards eat dinner late, and so dinners are difficult to get before 8pm. There will be time to rest in the van as we move between locations, and we’ll have a field lunch on most days to avoid restaurants and crowds. Any lunches eaten at restaurants will be eaten outside.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. All of our stops will require light to moderate walking, but we’ll rarely cover more than a mile at a stretch. The pace will be very mellow, and the footing should be level everywhere we go. There won’t be steep hikes on rocky trails, and anyone in average walking shape will do just fine on this tour. Elevation is not a concern. We will be below 1,500ft (460m) the entire time, and the vast majority of our birding is at sea level.

CLIMATE: The Iberian Peninsula offers virtually perfect climate during the autumn. There is only a low chance of rain, and daily temperatures vary from 50 to 80F (10 to 27˚C). The early mornings could be cold, but autumn is generally a sunny season.

ACCOMMODATION: All the hotels we utilize are fully-modernized with hot water and wireless internet. Importantly, and because of COVID-19 concerns, we have deliberately selected a small boutique establishment with very few other guests. This will minimize time in communal spaces like lobbies and hallways. All lodgings are high-quality with an emphasis on customer service.

WHEN TO GO: This tour is specifically designed for an autumn-winter schedule, in order to look for the Iberian Lynx and target birds.

PHOTOGRAPHY: While not a dedicated photography tour, there will be opportunities to take pictures as we view wildlife. The light is usually great, but there are not, for example, feeders to lure birds at any of the reserves we visit. We might have very close views of mammals, so weigh that into your equation as you decide what photographic gear to bring.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For EU/UK citizens, there are no special travel requirements. For all foreign citizens, please check the ever-changing restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Tropical Birding cannot be responsible for changes in entrance policy or restriction levied by home or Spanish governments. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodations from the night of day 1 through the night of day 6; meals from the night of day 1 through to breakfast on day 7 (if you do not leave too early for that); all park and excursion fees to sites stated in the itinerary; one airport transfer for the entire group at the start and end of the tour (this will be by private bus to and from the estate); Tropical Birding tour leader from the night of day 1 through to the night of day 6; ground transport (bus transfer to and from Madrid airport and estate, and 4WD vehicles while covering the estate for much of the tour) for the group to all sites in the itinerary, with the Tropical Birding tour leader present.

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area; any flights; optional tips to the tour leader; tips to any baggage handlers if used anywhere; any passport or visa fees; excess baggage fees; snacks; any drinks other than drinkable water; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.