Friday, May 18, 2018

The Return of “Mr. Orange”

Greetings Everyone,
"It’s Mr. Orange!" Marc exclaimed today while trying to photograph one of our favorite birds, a Golden-winged Warbler in Geprag’s Community Park in Hinesburg. Through my binoculars, I could see an orange band on his left leg. We had heard he had returned but it was a thrill to find him ourselves. This bird has a very special place in our hearts.

Mr. Orange on May 18, 2018

While birding last year on May 12, Marc and I observed a beautiful Golden-winged Warbler singing his characteristic bee-buzz song. Marc photographed this rare songbird whose numbers have been declining. When we examined the photo we discovered that this bird had an orange band on his left leg and a metal band on his right. 


Mr. Orange on May 12, 2017

We frantically texted Margaret Fowle, a conservation biologist with Audubon Vermont, that we had located a banded Golden-winged Warbler! She texted back that her coworker, Mark LaBarr, also a conservation biologist with Audubon Vermont, was currently onsite and we rushed off to find him. 

Mark and graduate student Steven Lamonde were attempting to find and recapture banded birds as part of an Audubon Vermont Conservation Project. We found Mark and excitedly showed him the photo of the banded bird. He exclaimed "He has a backpack!" "A backpack?" we enquired. "Yes," Mark replied, "actually a geolocator strapped to the bird's back!".

Mr. Orange with Geolocator on His Back


A geolocator periodically records ambient light level (solar irradiance) to determine a location and is used in bird migration research for tracking. Mark, Margaret, and Steven were particularly interested in recapturing birds with these tiny devices for information as to where they spend the winter. Beginning in May of 2016, Margaret and Mark started the process of placing geolocators on a total of 19 Golden-Winged Warblers and 18 Blue-winged Warblers and now they were trying to recapture them to retrieve these devices. To read more about this project and how you can help go to



We took Mark and Steven to the location we had seen the bird and sure enough there he was singing his heart out to attract a mate. Margaret joined us and along with Mark quickly set up a mist net to capture the bird. To lure him into the net Mark used a decoy and an audio recording of a female.

Mark and Margaret Set Up the Mist Net

We all waited breathlessly for the Golden-winged Warbler to fly into the net. It didn’t take long before he fell for the bait and flew straight into the net! Mark gently untangled him and there in his hand was the first winged warbler with a geolocator to be recaptured!

The First Winged Warbler with Recaptured Geolocator!


The geolocator was carefully snipped from his back and put in a film canister for safe keeping.

The Geolocator Has Been Removed


I couldn’t believe how small and fragile this warbler was. How could a creature weighing only 8-10 grams travel such long distances not once but twice in a year?

A Golden-winged Warbler

The experience was so overwhelming that it brought tears to my eyes. Mark said that since I was crying that I could release this tiny migrating marvel! He gently handed him over showing me how to hold him. This little guy has been through so much that the last thing I wanted to do was hurt him.

I Get to Release the Golden-winged Warbler!


I opened my hand and in a flash, he disappeared hopefully to find a mate and start the next generation of Golden-wings.


We’d have to wait for months until the data contained in the geolocator was deciphered by a graduate student from the University of Maine. Nearly a year later on May 10, 2018, Mark and Margaret gave a talk entitled “There and Back Again, Migration Patterns of Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers in the Champlain Valley”, finally revealing where this little guy had spent the winter. Our 8-10 gram dynamo had flown nearly 2300 miles all the way to the South American country of Colombia to spend the winter! Although not his exact route the map below gives a sense of the incredible feat performed by our endearing Golden-winged Warbler now affectionately dubbed “Mr. Orange” for the orange band on his left leg. 

Mr. Orange's Approximate Migration Route 


Today the story has come full circle with the return of Mr. Orange. Many people visit Geprag's Community Park to see the Golden-winged Warblers and now some take note of Mr. Orange. Our sincere thanks to Margaret and Mark for all their hard work to protect these imperiled birds and their habitat. I hope we see more of Mr. Orange throughout the summer and in years to come.

We hope all is well with everyone,
Peggy and Marc

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Exploring the Biodiversity of Cuba

Greetings Everyone,
We have long been intrigued with visiting Cuba but strained relations with the United States had prevented us from doing so. Things have changed in recent years, opening a window of opportunity to visit this island nation. When we saw that Earthwatch, an organization that we have traveled with in the past, was offering a trip there, we jumped at the chance and signed on to Team II. Earthwatch is an organization that pairs volunteers with scientists and on this expedition, we’d have the opportunity to map some of Cuba’s amazing array of biodiversity. To learn more about Earthwatch and this project, in particular, go to:


We flew from Newark, NJ directly to Havana and in 3 hours it felt like we had stepped back in time. Havana is known for its vintage American cars and there was no shortage of them on the streets.


Old Cadillac in Havana

The next morning our team assembled at the hotel. It consisted of 9 volunteers from all over the United States and our assistant Principal Investigator or PI, André Baumgarten who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York City. He was filling in for Dr. Natalia Rossi, our lead scientist, who was unable to be with us at the start of our project. We were also joined by Tomas Cabrera, a Cuban herpetologist and Ariadna, a Cuban tour guide, who would accompany us on our entire trip.

Leaving Havana

We took a short detour to the town of Palpites, the home of Bernabe Hernandez Ulloa, where the world’s smallest bird is known to frequent. Here we met more members of our team: Jeff, a videographer from WCS, and Maydiel Morera, a Cuban bird guide. A garden had been planted with Firebush (Hamelia patens) and many hummingbird feeders had been set up to attract the birds. We were seeing the more common Cuban Emerald but where was the Bee Hummingbird? Finally, a female made an appearance and then a male with his brilliant ruby throat!

Male Bee Hummingbird

The Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is endemic to Cuba and is the smallest living bird. Females weigh 2.6 g (0.092 oz), are 6.1 cm (2.4 in) long, and are slightly larger than males with an average weight of 1.95 g (0.069 oz) and length of 5.5 cm (2.2 in). Bernabe handed me one of the hummingbird feeders and this tiny gem came right to my hand to feed. What a great start to our expedition!


Feeding a Bee Hummingbird (Courtesy of André Baumgarten)

We finally reached the Jarico Research Station in the Lomas de Banao Ecological Reserve around 5:30 in the evening and checked into our very comfortable rooms.

Jarico Field Station

We met even more members of our team, Maikel Morera, an ornithologist and his wife Lucia Schwesinger, a botanist. What a privilege to be working with so many Cuban experts in the field! We were eager to get started but that wouldn’t happen until the morning. After a hearty breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, we assembled in the visitor's center for an orientation. Chino, the technical specialist for the reserve, gave us an overview. Created in 2010, the Lomas de Banao Ecological Reserve protects 6138 hectares of the Guamuhaya Mountain Range. The Reserve harbors a staggering 500 species of plants, 88 species of birds, 24 species of reptiles and 17 species of amphibians many of which are endemic to Cuba. Maikel gave a talk on birds, Tomas gave a talk on reptiles and amphibians and Dr. Pedro Gutiérrez, the last member of our team gave a talk on plants.

Morning Briefing

Armed with all this new information we were now ready to start our field surveys but not before passing one critical test. That afternoon Maikel took us out on a trail behind the station to practice spotting birds in the dense forest and judging their horizontal distance from the trail. It sounded easier than it was. The twist was that the birds were nonvocal and stationary and were actually beer cans or rum bottles that Maikel had placed along the trail. After locating the pseudo-avians we had to estimate how many meters from the trail they were. We all passed the test more or less and were now prepared to perform our bird counts over the next few days.

Rum Bottle "Bird"

We divided into three teams and were given a survey schedule. Allyn, Marc and I formed Team Trogon. The following morning we joined Tomas to survey reptiles along Transect 2, a 0.5 km stretch of trail north of the research station. We had to wait until mid-morning in order for the lizards to warm up. During our survey, we counted a total of 35 reptiles, all Anole lizards representing three species: the Cuban Brown Anole, the Cuban White-fanned Anole and a single Cuban Green Anole.

Cuban Green Anole

The males would extend a flap of skin, normally folded under their throats, called a dewlap during territorial disputes with other males or perhaps to entice a female. I referred to this behavior as “dewlapping” which Tomas liked and decided to adopt. Marc was then challenged to photograph a male while he was “dewlapping”!

Cuban Brown Anole "Dewlapping"

During our survey, it was hard to ignore the Cuban Trogons, a beautiful bird endemic to Cuba. During this time of year, they are very vocal and active as males compete with each other for females and prime nesting spots.

Cuban Trogon


After lunch, we reassembled to plant Firebush. By now we had learned that this plant is an important food source for birds as it has fruit and flowers year round. Thirty-seven bird species including 6 endemics use Firebush and hopefully, these plants will attract some of these species to the research station.

Planting Firebush

After dinner, we returned to Transect 2 to conduct a night survey. A whole host of different herps come out at night. Maydiel joined us and found a Giant Trope also called a Cuban Dwarf Boa. Although by no means giant as they only grow up to 100 cm in length, it is the largest of Cuba’s Trope species.

Cuban Dwarf Boa

As we resumed our survey, Maikel came running up to us with a white bucket. Excitedly, he revealed the contents, a Cuban Tree Boa that he found near the Research Station. Up to four meters long, the Cuban Tree Boa is the island’s largest snake and a top predator. In May 2017, a study from the University of Tennessee was released indicating co-operative hunting of fruit bats in this species, the first documented instance of deliberate pack behavior in snakes!


Cuban Tree Boa 

The next day was "Plant Day." We helped Pedro, Lucia, and Chino survey two 20 x 20-meter plots along Transect 3. The area was very steep and it was difficult for Chino and Allyn to mark off the plot with red tape. 


Plant Transect 3

Now we had to record all the trees within each plot that had a diameter at breast height (DBH) of >7cm. Marc took the measurements while I recorded the data with the help of Lucia who identified the tree species. She also took note of the bushes growing within the plot.


Marc Measuring a Tree Diameter at Breast Height

The following morning we helped Maikel survey birds along a 1-km stretch of Transect 1. One of the highlights was a Pygmy Owl being harassed by a Cuban Green Woodpecker. In all, we counted 184 individual birds representing 23 species.


 Pygmy Owl and Cuban Green Woodpecker

Early the following morning we prepared for our transfer to La Sabina Field Station at over 600 meters, about a climb of 400 meters from the Jarico Field Station. We traveled on foot while our gear was carried by mules. We followed Chino and asked him to point out the tree where a hutia was known to live. I had never heard of these animals before and learned that there are 7 species of these rodents living in Cuba. We stopped at the tree but the resident wasn’t home - bummer! Just then he poked his head out from a higher hole. Yes, it was a Prehensile-tailed Hutia (Mysateles prehensilis), a new mammalian species for us!


Prehensile-tailed Hutia (Mysateles prehensilis)

We arrived at La Sabina around noon and sat on the front porch admiring the stunning view. After settling in and having lunch it was time to get to work. We were on plant duty so set off with a group of 11 to survey two plots along Transect 1. The first was in the area of an old cattle ranch. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s cattle were grazed here and Caribbean Pine trees (Pinus carribbea) were planted. The cattle were removed but the pines were allowed to stay although they aren’t native to this area or Cuba. 


La Sabina Field Station

Early the next morning we woke to a dense fog. It delayed the start of our surveys. The herps were slow to get moving today and we only saw 14 individuals but we did find two new species: the Escambray Blue-eyed Anole and Blue-eyed Twig Anole.


Escambray Blue-eyed Anole

When we returned to the research station Natalia had arrived and we finally got to meet her. That night we did our final herp survey along Transect 3. As Tomas predicted there were many frogs in this area. I counted around 57 individuals representing 7 species including 5 species of frog that were new to us. They were very tiny making them difficult to spot. 


Cuban Grey's Frog

The following day we conducted our final survey of the expedition. We helped Maikel and Natalia count birds along Transect 2. We saw only 16 species but around 88 individuals. To see a complete list go to the following link:



The next morning we prepared to leave La Sabina and hike back to the Jarico Research Station. We assembled for a group photo on the front lawn of this spectacular place.

Earthwatch Team II Group Photo (Courtesy of Jeff Morey)

On the way down we passed by the "hutia tree" but he was asleep deep inside. When we arrived back at Jarico, a surprise awaited us. A pair of Cuban Giant Anoles were spotted on a palm tree near the kitchen. They were quite close to the ground and Marc got great photos.

Cuban Giant Anole

After lunch, we played tourists and visited Trinidad, an old colonel town in the heart of Cuba. Known for its cobblestone streets, grand colonial buildings, museums and the Iglesia de la Santísima, a 19th-century cathedral, it’s a fun place to explore. 


Trinidad, Cuba

We finished the evening at a rooftop restaurant to watch the sunset. 


Sunset over Iglesia de la Santísima 

We recounted the adventures we had and the number of plant and animal species we found. We hope this data will be useful in helping to protect the Lomas de Banao Ecological Reserve. A heartfelt thanks goes to Earthwatch, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Cuban scientists who made this project possible.
Warm Regards,
Peggy and Marc



Postscript: When I returned home I created a project in iNaturalist, an online database where you can log wildlife observations. I titled the project "Mapping Biodiversity in Cuba" and entered many of our observations including birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. To get the Latin names and to see photos of the species we encountered go to:



Our route map:



Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wild Goose Chase!

Hello Fellow Bird Enthusiasts,
We thought you would enjoy this story. On Sunday, March 11 we drove up to Essex County in the northwest corner of Vermont to look for Snow Geese. We have always seen them in the fall when they are on their way south from their Canadian Arctic breeding grounds to their wintering grounds along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

Migration Route of Greater Snow Geese (shown in blue)

We had seen reports of them at the Missisquoi Bay Bridge so we drove north to locate them. They weren’t at the bridge so we drove further west to Mud Creek WMA. Here we ran into fellow birders who told us that Snow Geese were seen in a field near the Price Chopper supermarket in Champlain, NY. We explored Mud Creek WMA first seeing thousands of Greater Snow Geese flying north in "V-formation" along the Atlantic Flyway.

Greater Snow Geese Flying Over Mud Creek

Other than the geese overhead, Mud Creek was quiet so we decided to drive to New York to find the large flock on the ground. We drove over the Rouses Point Bridge into New York along the Canadian border and continued west to Champlain, NY where we had no problem finding the Price Chopper supermarket. We located some nearby corn fields but they were empty. We assumed that all the geese had flown off so started to head back to Vermont. We could see flocks of geese overhead and some appeared to be landing nearby. We followed them in our car and located them in a cornfield in a residential area. At first, there weren’t many but more and more came flooding in.

Snow Geese Arriving in the Corn Field

Some even ventured into the yard of a neighboring home. No one in the neighborhood seemed to take notice but us. Maybe they’ve become oblivious to these noisy neighbors?

Greater Snow Geese

I noticed a goose with a yellow tag around her neck. Through my binoculars, I could see she was XM 22. Of all the hundreds of geese in the field, she was the only one with a yellow neck band.

XM 22

I also noticed two individuals that looked different from the rest. They were darker, smaller and had a white eyering. Could they be a different species? No, they turned out to be juvenile blue morphs.

Juvenile Blue Morph

We watched the flock for 45 minutes but it was getting dark and time to get going. When we returned home Marc did a search on “banded bird reporting” and came up with this site administered by the USGS:



He entered the appropriate information and a day later received the results and a certificate of appreciation!


Marc's Certificate of Appreciation

It turned out that this bird was banded near Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada on August 13, 2017! We had visited there in June 2016 and knew the region where this bird had come from and where she was most likely headed. In fact, she could have hatched the very year we were visiting the floe edge near Bylot Island.  Here is a photo of Bylot Island from our 2016 visit.

Bylot Island


To read more about our trip to the floe edge go to our blog post at:


It was great to see that XM 22 was still alive. Even though Snow Geese can live up to 15 years in the wild, they face many hazards - hunters, colliding with buildings, storms, disease, pollution and predators during migration. We wish her well on the next 1967 miles of her long journey!


Only 1967 Miles to Go!


Fly safe!
Peggy and Marc

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Breaking the Lynx Jinx!

Greetings Everyone,
This year started off with a quick trip to Spain in mid-January. We had booked a 6-day tour with a British travel company called Naturetrek to look for one of the rarest cats in the world, the Iberian Lynx! Since we were traveling from the United States and needed some time to adjust to the 6-hour time difference, we booked an additional 3 days before the arrival of the rest of our group. We flew to Spain by way of Newark, New Jersey and Lisbon, Portugal arriving midday on January 18. We took a taxi from Seville to El Rocio, a curious town on the northeast edge of Doñana National Park. The village is a destination unto itself with magnificent whitewashed buildings and an immense cathedral. We noticed that all the streets in town were unpaved and when we inquired why we discovered that El Rocio is very much a Spanish horseman’s town, seemingly straight out of a spaghetti western film!


The Hermitage of El Rocio

After settling into our hotel we set off to explore the nearby lagoon. At this time of year, the wetlands were filled with Eurasian Coot, Greater Flamingo, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal and other waterfowl.


Greater Flamingos

We walked along the shore and veered off to stop at the visitor center of Doñana National Park. It was closed but we could still walk the boardwalk trails and visit the hides overlooking a series of marshes.


Boardwalk at Doñana National Park

We stayed until dusk but had to return to the hotel before dark. On the way back we noticed a rather large cat sitting by the side of a dirt track below us. At first, I thought it was just a domestic cat and paid it little heed but as we approached its behavior seemed more like that of a wildcat. It kept a wary eye on us and when we tried to approach closer it ran off. I did some research when I returned to the hotel and thought that it may have been a European Wildcat!


European Wildcat or Domestic Cat?

Early the next morning we returned to the park to see if we could catch any mammals on the trail. It was very cold but we did manage to see an Iberian Hare at the very end of the boardwalk. The Iberian Hare is also known as the Granada Hare and is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. 


Iberian (Granada) Hare

We walked back to the hotel to warm up and have lunch. We decided to return to the park in the late afternoon and stay past dark to search for nocturnal animals. We walked to the end of the boardwalk but did not encounter any mammals. We followed a dirt track through scrubland and frightened some Red Deer who were crossing the track, our second mammal! 


Red Deer

We waited for sunset before returning to the boardwalk where we pulled out our lights to look for nocturnal mammals. I was hoping to see European Badger, Red Fox, Egyptian Mongoose or Common Civet but we saw nothing. We returned to the hotel for dinner and bed after walking nearly 18 miles!

The next morning we were picked up by Irene, our guide from Doñana Nature Tours. We were to visit a different part of the park where Iberian Lynx are known to frequent. With a population of around 90, Doñana National Park is one of the best places to see wild Iberian Lynx. Here is a map of the park to get you oriented.  We had walked the trails west of El Rocio over the last couple of days.  Irene took us on the roads east of town to look for the elusive cats.


Map of Doñana National Park

It was very foggy and it would be difficult to see anything. I was surprised to see large swaths of Stone Pines (Pinus pinea) cut down. They aren’t native but were planted here hundreds of years ago to provide wood for building ships. There was a bad fire here last year so many trees were felled to create a firebreak. I couldn’t imagine seeing a lynx in this disturbed habitat but Irene said they were here.

We did see Red Deer and Red-legged Partridge despite the dense fog. Because the visibility was so poor we decided to drive to a marsh and the José Antonio Valverde Visitors Center. We entered a restricted area where Doñana Nature Tours had permission to operate their tours. Lynx are also seen here but we saw none. We passed a ring of giant tree trunks. Irene explained that they were the trunks of Eucalyptus trees that had been removed from the marsh in an attempt to return it to a more natural state.


European Rabbit Enclosure

They were placed to create an enclosure for European Rabbits, the main prey of the lynx. Rabbit numbers have been decreasing due to two viral diseases, myxomatosis, and viral hemorrhagic-disease.  The enclosures won’t protect against disease or predation by lynx but will prevent horses and cattle from trampling their burrows. We did see both Iberian Hares and European Rabbits so the stump enclosures appear to be working.


European Rabbit

Perched on the fence posts along the marsh were Eurasian Kestrels, Common Buzzard and European Stonechat. 


Eurasian Kestrel

We patrolled the dirt tracks for the remainder of the morning but did not encounter a lynx. We returned to town for lunch and a little down time before returning to the park in the afternoon. We cruised the same roads but had no luck in spotting our quarry. Being a Saturday there were lots of people in the park - hikers, horseback riders, people in mule-drawn wagons and mountain bikers. It was no wonder that the lynx remained hidden. We’d try again tomorrow.


Weekend Traffic in Doñana National Park

Irene picked us up at before dawn at 8:00 AM and we entered the park. It was clear today and all systems were "go" but the lynx failed to reveal themselves. We returned to El Rocio for lunch and walked around town which was packed on a Sunday. There were walkers, some horseback riders, mule-drawn wagons and in the square kids were being given pony rides.


Sunday Afternoon in El Rocio

We returned to the park and searched in vain for the rest of the afternoon. That evening, we met our trip leaders, Niki and Lara and the rest of our group. Hopefully, our luck would change in the morning. 

Two vans from Doñana Nature Tours arrived in the pre-dawn darkness at 8:00 AM and as expected there was a lot of commotion deciding which van to go in and what seat to take. We ended up in Jose’s van with Marc squeezing in the front with Lara and I took a seat in the middle row. All the windows were covered with condensation so no one had a clear view. Just past the entrance to the park, Jose, Lara, and Marc spotted a lynx standing on the other side of the fence just 30-40 feet from our vehicle! She walked to the road just ahead of our van. Marc was trying to take photos but it was before sunrise and he didn’t have enough light for a good picture.


First Lynx Sighting

I got an ok view from the back. Jose radioed the other vehicle and they arrived just as the lynx was disappearing into the grass on the other side of the road. All this took place within 2-3 minutes. I was ecstatic to have finally seen a lynx but wished it had a bit later in the morning with more light. At least everyone in the group had seen this rare cat, some better than others. We drove back and forth along the main road but the lynx did not reappear. 

We returned to town for lunch and watched with amusement as a local man arrived on horseback and sat at a table near the door so he could hold onto his horse’s reins. 


Lunch in El Rocio

We returned to the park in the afternoon and this time the other van saw the same lynx in the same location as this morning. By the time we arrived at the scene, the lynx was heading for the tall grass and we saw only her rear end.


Second Lynx Sighting!

Amazingly we had a third lynx sighting, presumably a male, but he was in the tall grass so we didn’t get a great view.


Third Lynx Sighting!

In between our lynx sightings, we did get in some birding. On one such occasion, I heard something rustling in the bushes and a lone wild boar burst out and thundered past our group.


Wild Boar

The next morning we searched for the lynx one last time but today they chose to remain hidden. Later that morning, we traveled to Sierra de Andujar Natural Park, the second location in Spain where lynx are readily seen. After settling into our hotel, Los Pinos, and getting a good night's rest, we were ready to search for lynx in the morning. We drove to a dirt road above an area called La Lancha where we began our scan by foot. Although there are now 200 Iberian Lynx in the park, close to half the world’s population, their territories are large and we’d be lucky to glimpse one along this 1-km stretch of road.

The View of La Lancha

We spotted Red Deer, European Rabbits and Niki found a lone European Mouflon on a ridge a great distance away but no lynx. We slowly walked to the other end of the lynx-spotting area where we stopped to scan.


Scanning for Lynx in La Lancha

I noticed three men rush off back toward the other end of the road from which we had come. I thought that something may be up. We got word that two lynx had been spotted and we rushed back to our starting point. By the time we arrived the lynx had moved off. Bummer! We waited for an hour and a half but they did not reappear. Niki decided to leave and after lunch, we went to the Embalse del Encinarejo, a dam where a female lynx was known to cross in the evening. We waited patiently until dusk but the elusive feline did not show up so we left disappointed. 


The Low Dam of Embalse del Encinarejo

There was always tomorrow but when we awoke we were greeted by a thick fog. We decided to drive to La Lancha anyway but with the visibility severely reduced we were hard-pressed to find a lynx or anything else for that matter.


Walking Above La Lancha

We persevered until noon but reluctantly had to admit defeat and returned to Los Pinos. After lunch, the fog appeared to be lifting so we returned to La Lancha one last time. As we pulled up, a flock of Griffon and Cinereous Vultures soared overhead. 


Griffon Vultures

We hoped that there may have been a lynx-kill nearby but we weren’t so lucky. The rain set in and we had to admit defeat one more time. We drove to the very end of the road where a high dam contained the water of a rapidly shrinking reservoir. Niki said ibex were often seen here and we spotted a few high on the ridge on the other side of the dam.


The High Dam of Embalse del Encinarejo

The next morning we drove back to Seville where most of our group were catching flights home. Marc and I were to stay the night before flying back home in the morning. After much discussion, we decided to extend our trip by one week. We really wanted to get a better photo of an Iberian Lynx and so we decided to return to Sierra Andujar Natural Park. Being a weekend, Los Pinos was booked so we spent two nights in Seville before returning to Andujar on Sunday. This gave us time to explore this scenic and historic city. Our hotel was in the old quarter where only pedestrians were allowed so we were able to stroll about enjoying the many sights. We climbed to the top of the Torre del Oro, a 13th-century military watchtower with magnificent views of this vibrant city.


Torre del Oro

We strolled past the Seville Cathedral, a gothic church with its impressive flying buttresses, completed in the early 16th century.


Seville Cathedral

On Sunday we returned to the airport and picked up our rental car for the drive back to Andujar. We checked into Los Pinos and returned to La Lancha in the afternoon. It was nice to be on our own and to travel at our own pace, stopping whenever we wanted to take photos. When we arrived there were about 30 other “lynx-seekers” and we set about on our quest. We searched with a variety of methods, staying stationary, walking along the road or driving along the road but the lynx remained elusive. We stayed until the sunset but other than Red Deer, Fallow Deer, European Rabbits, and birds we didn’t see much. We weren’t discouraged knowing that we had the whole week to find a lynx. Surely our luck would change.

Fallow Deer

We returned bright and early the next morning but all was quiet until early afternoon when five European Ibex were spotted relatively close by. The rams entertained us with their head-butting and Marc was able to get some good photos.


Sparring European Ibex Rams

I was taking a break in our vehicle when I heard a shout. A lynx had been spotted about 100 meters behind our car! A woman from a group from the UK had seen it come up on the road briefly (10 seconds) before returning to the bushes. We all searched in vain but the lynx did not reappear - foiled again!

It was now Tuesday and along with the UK group that we had befriended, we were all eager to break the “Lynx Jinx”. Once again the morning was quiet so after lunch, we drove to the dam to look for ibex. They weren’t there but the British group had arrived and invited us to see some bats in a tunnel on the other side of the dam. They turned out to be Schreiber's Long-fingered Bat, a near-threatened species. 


Schreiber's Long-fingered Bat

We returned to La Lancha and parked at our upper parking spot. Not far away we heard an unusual noise. It was hard to describe, not a growl, grunt or yowl but it did make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. On the other side of the road, I noticed two small pools of water that the birds were using as a bath. We noted one of the pools was large enough for a lynx to drink from and that we should keep an eye on this spot.


Bathing Song Thrush

It was our second 10-hour day in a row with no lynx sighting. Surely our luck would change tomorrow. We were the first to arrive the following morning and the other usual lynx-seekers began to show up. By now we were all desperate to see a lynx. Again the morning was quiet and in the afternoon we walked up the road to check out the pools where there were only birds. Four raptors soared overhead. Two turned out to be Spanish Imperial Eagles endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and listed as vulnerable by the ICUN.


Spanish Imperial Eagle

The sun set as our third 10-hour day was coming to a close and the “Lynx Jinx” had not yet been broken. What would tomorrow bring? When we arrived at La Lancha our friends from the UK were already there. It was their final morning and they were just as desperate as us to find a lynx. Later in the morning, we decided to walk back up the road to check the pools. There was something compelling about this area. We stopped to photograph some tiny birds drinking from the pools when Marc suddenly whispers “Lynx!”. Sure enough, a lynx appeared out of nowhere not more than 10 meters from us! He slinked toward the road never acknowledging us but I’m sure he was aware of our presence.


Lynx sighting at La Lancha

He walked down to a culvert just below us but did not enter.


Lynx Approaching Us

The stunning feline climbed a small hill and disappeared into some bushes.


One Last Look

We hung back expecting him to cross the road but he didn’t so we moved forward and I just caught his rear end as he entered the next culvert. He reappeared briefly on the other side of the road but disappeared quickly into the thick bushes. The whole encounter was only 3 minutes but we had him to ourselves and it was spiritual! Finally, after searching for over 35 hours, the “Lynx Jinx” had been broken! 

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to the people and governments of Spain and Portugal for all their hard work to protect the Iberian Lynx and for bringing it back from the brink of extinction! May their efforts continue to bring positive results so that future generations can experience the magic of encountering an Iberian Lynx in the wild!

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:



Postscript

On January 17, our friend Anke whom we had met in Ecuador last November, sent us this clip from “Rewilding Europe’s” Facebook page:




A great and also a horrible year for the Iberian Lynx in Spain and Portugal - a total of 58 traffic mortalities, while the population is growing to over 500 animals now (2017 data not completed). 


Mammals
Common name Scientific name Comment
1 Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus Donana, Andujar
2 Red Fox Vulpes vulpes Andujar
3 Western European Red Deer Cervus elaphus elaphus Donana, Andujar
4 Fallow Deer Dama dama Andujar
5 European Mouflon Ovis orientalis musimon Andujar
6 Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica Andujar
7 European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus Donana, Andujar
8 Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis Donana, Andujar
9 Wild Boar Sus scrofa Donana
10 Egyptian Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon Donana
11 Schreiber's Long-fingered Bat  Miniopterus schreibersii Andujar

Birds
Common name Scientific name Comment
1 Greylag Goose Anser anser Donana
2 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Donana, Andujar
3 Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata Donana
4 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca Donana
5 Common Pochard Aythya ferina Donana
6 Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa Donana, Andujar
7 Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Donana
8 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus Donana
9 White Stork Ciconia ciconia Donana, Andujar
10 Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Donana
11 Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Donana, Andujar
12 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Donana, Andujar
13 Great Egret Ardea alba Donana
14 Little Egret Egretta garzetta Donana
15 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Donana, Andujar
16 Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Donana, Andujar
17 Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Andujar
18 Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti Donana, Andujar
19 Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Donana, Andujar
20 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Donana, Andujar
21 Western Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio Donana
22 Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Donana, Andujar
23 Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Donana
24 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Donana
25 Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Donana, Andujar
26 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago Donana
27 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Donana
28 Rock Dove Columba livia Donana, Andujar
29 Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Donana, Andujar
30 Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius Donana
31 Little Owl Athene noctua Donana, Andujar
32 Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Donana, Andujar
33 Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops Donana, Andujar
34 Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Donana, Andujar
35 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Donana, Andujar
36 Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis Donana, Andujar
37 Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki Donana, Andujar
38 Eurasian Magpie Pica pica Donana, Andujar
39 Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Andujar
40 Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus Donana, Andujar
41 Crested Lark Galerida cristata Donana
42 Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris Donana, Andujar
43 Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Donana, Andujar
44 Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Donana, Andujar
45 Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Donana, Andujar
46 Common Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla Andujar
47 Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla Donana, Andujar
48 Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor Donana, Andujar
49 Common Blackbird Turdus merula Donana, Andujar
50 Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Donana, Andujar
51 European Robin Erithacus rubecula Donana, Andujar
52 Bluethroat Luscinia svecico Donana
53 Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Donana, Andujar
54 European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola Donana, Andujar
55 House Sparrow Passer domesticus Donana, Andujar
56 Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia Andujar
57 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Donana, Andujar
58 White Wagtail Motacilla alba Donana, Andujar
59 Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Donana, Andujar
60 Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Donana, Andujar
61 Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Andujar
62 European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Donana, Andujar
63 Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra Donana
64 Rock Bunting Emberiza cia Andujar