So, our five days of lynx-searching in Sierra de Andujar went pretty well.
We arrived at Malaga at about lunchtime on Sunday, tracked down our hire car after much shenanigans and headed north to Cordoba then east to Andujar, and finally north again to the place where we were staying - a casa rural called Villa Matilde, on the edge of the Sierra de Andujar natural park. We only had time for a short walk that day but found Crested Tits in the casa grounds, plus swarms of Azure-winged Magpies everywhere.
On Monday morning we headed for La Lancha, probably the best site to look for Iberian Lynx. The area has a population of more than 200, in other words more than 80% of the total world population. Intensive conservation efforts have seen lynx numbers here double in about five years, although of course it is still extremely vulnerable (Critically Endangered by IUCN Red List criteria). Despite its extreme rarity it is relatively easy to see (for a wild cat) as its habitat is quite open and it is active on and off in the daytime.
Here's part of the view at La Lancha. The dusty little road sweeps around the edge of a huge bowl of land, full of undulations, ridges, stream valleys and hillocks, and colourful with shrubs, small trees and lichen-crusted boulders. The view is daunting - there is so much to scan and so many places where a lynx could lose itself. We didn't even have a scope. When we arrived there was just one other person at the point we picked (though we could seee other cars further around). Clearly a dedicated lynx-watcher, this Spanish fellow was equipped with scope, folding chair and walkie-talkie.
I sat on one of the concrete bollards and Rob stood nearby. We'd been there for 15 minutes, and the Spanish guy had wandered some distance along the road. I took a break from scanning the most distant hillsides for movement and glanced down the road. Standing there, about five metres from me and regarding me with mild curiosity was a lynx, backlit but absolutely unmistakeable.
I turned immediately to Rob behind me, who was looking the wrong way. I hissed his name, saw him turn and see, and looked back at the lynx, who had lost interest in me and was strolling towards the fence. With shaking hands I fired off about half a dozen clumsy shots before it reached the fence, climbed through a gap in the wire and slipped away through the bushes and rocks below, giving us just a glimpse of spotted coat as it went.
About 10 minutes later, after we'd celebrated with hushed yelps of joy and our heart rates had begun to slow, Rob spotted a second lynx, this one a youngster about half the size of the first. If it had crossed the road we missed it, but it was heading down the slopes close to us.
It's a boy! He took a different path to lynx no. 1, walking across our line of sight and pausing in the shade of a bush before walking across a gap where we got some clear-ish shots, though not in good light.
The Spanish guy returned some time after this second lynx had disappeared. Owing to lack of Spanish and reluctance to grip him off we didn't mention the sightings. Then he found a third lynx, this one way off in the middle distance. I didn't manage any photos at all but Rob did.
This, apparently, is a more typical view than our previous two!
Over the rest of the week, we visited La Lancha several more times and also a few other spots apparently good for lynxes but drew a complete blank, missing another close sighting by half an hour on Thursday. We're not complaining though, that first sighting alone was the most wonderful moment. And the other wildlife around was excellent too. I'll do a part 2 for other mammals and birds :)