Iberian Lynx extravaganza
In this news item we highlight, in words and images, four of the nine sightings we made of Iberian Lynx. All this last month – February 2023 – in southern Spain. Apart from the classic, well-known animals of La Lancha, we also observed the species near Seville. In the future, we will certainly combine the Sierra Morena lynx with the Donana lynx. After all, the prospecting tours we carried out for this upgrade was 100% successful!
A bilingual detailed report
Both reports of the February trip can be found in the REPORTS section: one in Dutch; the other in English. The reports give a detailed description of the exceptional sightings we made of the Iberian Lynx. Apart from an atmospheric picture of the sightings themselves, both reports are written in a broader context of the species. After 15 years of following this feline closely, we can add a lot of extra news regarding the resurgence of this once critically endangered predator. We wish you a lot of reading pleasure.
The link to the report in English:
The link to the report in Dutch:
First atmospheric picture of the nine sightings we made of Iberian Lynx
Friday February 24 Donana. In the afternoon we go looking for lynx in a completely different habitat compared to Andujar. This time no rocky slopes with Holm Oaks, Lavender or giant Fennel. We are now in a flat area characterised by permanent sand dunes, running dunes, scrub and the typical umbrella pines. And not only the vegetation and the landscape look different.
So are the lynx – their fur is lighter in colour and more spotted. We wonder aloud where we will find lynx in the adjacent areas. Outside the NP, everything here looks completely artificial. The entire habitat of the lynx is fully used by humanity. We meander through a patchwork of olive groves, greenhouses, meadows, holiday villages and fields ploughed for crops. Despite our disappointment, lynx must be here.
Everywhere we notice traffic and information signs that clearly indicate that the Iberian lynx is part of the landscape here. The many speed bumps, fences and tunnels are also aimed at preventing lynx from falling victim to the heavy traffic. This is a big problem during the summer when beachgoers flock from their holiday homes back and forth towards the coast. Or how everything here is mainly dominated by sun, sea and beach… We have been told that lynx are relatively tolerant in these types of disturbed habitats. This as long as their main prey is present: rabbits. It doesn’t take long before we actually bump into our first lynx here.
It is a young animal that is sleeping right next to a dirt road which runs through a recreational forest in the area we are driving through. The enthusiasm that arises in the minibus hardly disturbs the lynx. Not even when the window and sliding door of the minibus are opened. It briefly stands up and stretches, decides to lie down again two meters away. After yawning and staring at us, the lynx closes its eyes, dozes off and continues to sleep. We are so close to the animal that even the smallest details are visible. The scratching behind the ears has its reasons as some big ticks are visible!
Second atmospheric picture of the nine sightings we made of Iberian Lynx
Monday 20 February After having lunch again near the La Lancha mirador, we decide to continue to the Jandula river. This is the second most famous place in the area for lynx spotting. It turns out to be a masterstroke! Once there, we first stop near the famous white blocks that give a view of the private domain of Encinarejo. The estate appears to have been bought quite recently by a South African whose plans for the development of an ecolodge are well advanced. Apart from the lynx present, he also introduced a herd of wisents (European Bison) in the area to boost the safari content of the area. We don’t see lynx (yet), neither the wisents. We do spot a foraging European Otter in the still water of the river.
Once it retreats to a bank hole under a thicket of overhanging shrubs, we continue towards the dam and the bridge. More specifically, we wait on the rocky outcrop from where, in February of last year, we observed and filmed another otter fishing nearby. Against all odds, it is an Iberian Lynx and not an otter that suddenly appears on the scene.
On the other side, suddenly, completely out of nowhere, a sturdy lynx stands on a rock. The animal must have been sleeping there all along. The territorial, natural behavior the animal exhibits is to lick paws and claws. Then the lynx marks a rock with its cheeks and it urinates, with its buttocks in the air, another rock. Moreover, with its hind legs flat on the ground, it scrapes up some loose sand. That, too, is typical of marking by territorial male felines. Afterwards we can follow the animal as it continues its journey along the fence that runs parallel to the Jandula river bordering the private domain of Encinarejo.
Third atmospheric picture of the nine sightings we made of Iberian Lynx
Saturday February 25 After a visit to the city of Seville we get lucky again. We decide to spend the late afternoon and evening again in the area where we observed the close lynx yesterday. Hardly on the road, we notice a shape in a waste field in our view just ahead of us. When the shape starts to move, we immediately know that we have once again spotted the main target of the trip: Iberian Lynx! But it remains, at least so far, only a shadow. The animal immediately runs away. We just see one of its hind legs and the short black-tipped tail dive into an adjacent ditch. The car is parked and the ditch is approached in silence. It turns out to be very wide and is full of blackberries and shrubs. The fact that the lynx was here is clearly not a coincidence as rabbit holes can be seen everywhere. When searching the wide ditch we doubt for a moment whether the animal is still there. Did it run super fast when parking the car and has therefore disappeared from sight? Or, just as it disappeared quickly into the ditch upon its discovery, has the animal moved on to the adjacent pasture? But that turns out not to be the case. What we then experience is pure magic!
The lynx emerges from one of the brambles right in front of us. The next half hour we walk with an Iberian Lynx as it hunts rabbits. Our close presence does not disturb the animal at all. He cares only about one thing: getting supper. The animal fixes on and inspects all rabbit holes it encounters on its hunting path. Since having only 400 mm lens with me, I need to keep some distance to get a full screen image of the animal! We imagine ourselves in Africa where camera crews shoot the same kind of scenes with big cats hunting ungulates! Unbelievable! Crouched for shooting, the animal sometimes passes at two or three meters! When it makes a turn towards the adjacent pasture, it’s time to make way. After all, the animal approaches us head-on, looks us angrily in the eye and raises its whiskers. Goosebumps!
Once passed, the young lynx continues its search for supper. The rabbits that shoot away between the vegetation, shrubs and trees, cause him to freeze for a moment and wag his tail. Catching prey effectively is something we don’t witness. In the end the lynx also seems too relaxed for that. When the animal disappears from view, we take the time to catch our breath. We realise all too well that, for the umpteenth time this trip, we are once again witnessing a top-notch nature experience. We are so intensely happy! We tumble from one pink cloud to another!
Fourth atmospheric picture of the nine sightings we made of Iberian Lynx
Wednesday February 22 Today we decide to do something different, we plan a visit to a private area. Because the biggest downside of all that searching for the lynx of La Lancha is you do it continuously from behind a fence. Something that is not always pleasant at times, especially from the vantage points. The private areas do not only offer an exclusive feeling when it comes to searching for lynx. It is also an opportunity to see different animals than those that are around La Lancha. We more or less know those. Sitting on some rocks behind a farm, this time within the fence of one of the vast farmlands, we scan around 4:30 pm down a hill consisting of countless rocks with Holm Oaks and scrub. Alex, the German from La Lancha, joins us during the excursion. In this lynx session he sees a link with a kind of similar-looking hills in Rajastan, India. The only difference is the cat species itself: in India, leopards are the main bird to shoot instead of lynx. Grazing of the area by the cattle present clearly leaves its mark. The domain looks less wild compared to the estate of Los Escoriales. Still, it is quite pleasant to stay here. We are immersed in it all alone. Moreover, not a single vehicle passes us. As a result, we are spared from residual dust clouds that would otherwise attack our optical equipment: binoculars, telescopes and cameras.
After an hour of scanning, we suddenly hear the sound of a lynx calling. Where we initially hear the call only a few times briefly, it soon becomes more regular. In addition, the call also sounds louder at times. It is clear that the animal in question is either turning its head or that it is moving. When we discover the animal, it almost immediately rushes to a bush to catch a rabbit. Sitting on its haunches and with a choking rabbit in its mouth, everyone has the lynx in their sights pretty quickly! A truly sensational discovery and sighting! After the lynx had choked the rabbit, it lays down to eat the lagomorph. Agitated magpies and Great Spotted Cuckoos provide a unique Iberian-looking decor! Blessed! Once the rabbit had been completely eaten, the lynx stands up again and starts calling loudly. Unbelievable! It is clear that this is a young female calling for a mate. We have also witnessed this kind of vocal mating behavior in the past (February 2009, February 2013 and February 2020). Also this year the mating period of the lynx is not over yet! After its call for a mate the animal decides to rest for a while. This for digestion of its consumed meal. A little later we see the animal drinking from an artificially constructed lynx drinking pool. It then continues down the hill that borders the open area where the rabbits are. Once there, sitting on a large rock, the lynx starts calling loudly. Since there is no immediate response from a nearby male, the animal decides to curl up and doze off.
Around the turn of the year, in 2023, crowd scenes are not exceptional and are in fact quite normal. This is because of the many wildlife travel agencies that stay there with clients looking for the Iberian Lynx. Moreover, the number of local enthusiasts is also growing. Year after year we see more and more local Spaniards here who, especially from a photographic point of view, visit the region to spot the Iberian Lynx. That is not surprising since January/February is the mating period of the lynx. The animals are then much more mobile, often active during the day and are vocal. For years we prefered to visit La Lancha either in February or late October – early November. The mega bustle of all the agencies is then absent and the lynx are, of course, also there. All year round actually. Moreover, with the success of Donana, we have a quality supplement to combine with Andujar’s lynx! We’ll be back next year! That is beyond dispute!
In practice, this results in a search for lynx from dawn to dusk – and it never gets boring. The spring song and courtship of many bird species in late winter is a delight to the ear and eye: The yodelling and fluting flightcall of Wood Larks, the powerfull descending klu-klu-klu-klu-klu call of the Iberian Green Woodpecker, the lovely chattering and squeaking sounds of the Iberian Great Grey Shrike, the chirping and jingle like glass splinters made by displaying Serins, the Spotless Starlings immitating the call of Golden Orioles, the sudden startingly loud burst like a stuttering engine of the Sardinian Warblers and the deep, slighty goose like gakh of the Spanish Imperial Eagles displaying in the sky. Just marvelous to watch and hear!
Marshes teeming with birds
For the purpose of observing lynx, it is actually better to ignore the NP. After all, of the total number of ninety individuals of the relict population here, only eight to nine individuals can be found within the boundaries of the NP. The absence of rabbits the missing link with the lynx. In addition, large parts of the NP are strictly nature reserves. The few access roads are also difficult to drive on because of the loose sand. Many things mean that the chances of success to effectively spot a lynx are very minimal here. Many have returned from here without seeing a lynx. But, if the adjacent swamps are not dry, they can be teeming with birds. You can marvel at the birdlife here from the local esplanades and wooden boardwalks in the area. Having become accustomed to tourists, many birds can also be admired from very close at times. Definitely a place to visit from a photographic point of view. Apart from the various large, migrating groups of White Storks, the resident birds have already occupied almost all nests locally at the end of February. Branches to repair the nest are brought in and pairs court before mating. Very pleasant and entertaining to admire these photogenic birds!
All text and pictures © Jan Kelchtermans
Thanks to John Wright for proofreading this NEWS item