6 February 2010

The lynx effect

Arrived back early this morning from a five day trip to southern Spain to try and see the world's rarest cat - the Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus. Now classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, the population has crashed over the last couple of decades, with surveys estimating only around 150 individuals remaining, and just 40 breeding females! Today there are only two known isolated breeding populations, both in Spain - one in the Coto Doñana and the other, the species stronghold, in the Sierra Morena. Both areas are vast, but regular sightings over the last few years from the Sierra de Andújar Natural Park in the Sierra Morena prompted me, Rachel, Jaffa and Helen to try and connect with one.

After four long intense days scanning endless boulder strewn dehesa hillsides (photo below) we managed two Lynx sightings. The first was a very distant animal found by Jaffa and seen for just a few seconds walking along a hilltop track on the evening of 2nd. Lucky as we felt about seeing such a rare animal, it wasn't the view we wanted, and the image of Steve Bird's irritatingly awesome photo of a Lynx lying on a rock, taken last year from the very same road we were standing on, just wouldn't stop haunting us! So the scanning intensified, the night-drives got later and the number of sites visited increased. Two days later and we'd had no further sign - this was hard work! Then at dusk on 4th, our last evening, just as we were heading back to the car, a Lynx suddenly appeared on the hillside just a few metres from us! We expected it to bolt but instead it just looked at us nonchalantly, then slowly swaggered down the hill and across the car park, passing within four metres of Rachel who was sitting in the car (who first saw it in the side mirror!), before ambling across a bridge that we had been standing on just a short while before! The sighting lasted for about 10 minutes and has to be one of the best wildlife experiences of my life! Frustratingly I couldn't get a photo, but for some great footage that sums up our elation visit Cream Tea Birding.

Other mammals seen include 1 European Otter, Mouflon, 2 Wild Boar and lots of Red Deer and Fallow Deer (first photo below). The best birds were 2-3 Spanish Imperial Eagles, 4 Golden Eagles, Black Vulture, Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush, Hoopoe, Hawfinch, Woodlark, Iberian Grey Shrike, loads of Black Redstarts and hundreds of Azure-winged Magpies. Also noteworthy were small flocks of overwintering House Martins (or early migrants), 2 Barn Swallows, a few White Storks and an unseasonal Red-backed Shrike. Other highlights include a Horseshoe Whip Snake Hemorrhois hippocrepis (second photo below), Southern Tree Frogs Hyla meridionalis (last photo) and Natterjack Toads Bufo calamita. A full trip report will follow soon.

For more information about the Iberian Lynx see the IUCN Red List. To find out what is being done to try and save them visit SOSLynx.org.