Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Where the Wildcats roam

Another day spent just outside the Picos de Europa watching Wildcats. Today they were generally more distant and skittish, though quite surprisingly were still out hiunting in the middle of the day. This one in the evening was much more photogenic, though it did have a dodgy eye.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Wildcat heaven

Sadly the following morning and evening in Somiedo were rather less fruitful than Friday evening, with the wind picking up and squally showers setting in, followed by torrential rain overnight and unsurprisingly no further bear or wolf sightings. The male Black Redstart that had been singing in Caunedo every morning finally posed for some photographs on the rooftop opposite the bedroom window after a couple of days of frustrating me.

Male Black Redstart in full voice

Following a post on a Mammal Watching Europe group on Facebook of a possible Wildcat spot over towards the Picos de Europa where we were planning on heading next anyway, we left Somiedo and it's amazing memory behind and headed off. A stop for lunch and a quick look around a couple of roads in the Montana de Riano Regional Park produced a rather unexpected Lammergeier near the village of Liegos, along with many Chough and an Osprey circling over the road by the Embalse de Riano and then carried on to Los Espejos to check in to our accommodation.

Having found our accommodation and had a short rest, we set out for a quick early evening drive to check out the area along the road between Boca de Huergano and Guardo where the post had suggested. Amazingly, we had been driving for little over five minutes when we saw our first Wildcat sitting in a roadside meadow, and in the next field was another one! We had no idea they would be quite this easy, and quite so early in the evening!!! Unfortunately this road is quite a fast road and doesn't have many places where it is easy to pull of the road with bends and/or barriers causing problems for would-be photographers! We ended up having to drive several miles past the cats to turn round and then back to the Boca de Huergano and then go back to find them but thankfully they were still in the same spot and one quite close to the road was by a wider part of the road where we could pull off. Unfortunately I wasn't quite as ready as Toni who was sat in the back of the car clicking away and by the time I had unfastened my seatbelt and got my camera up into position, the cat gave me a stare and then ran off a short way down the field.

After another drive up and down the road, seeing a third cat as we passed, we returned to the original cat who had now moved to the field slightly further away and now was completely unconcerned by our presence as it stalked across the field searching for Montane Water Voles which live in burrows in the fields. 

At one point, it successfully caught a vole and quickly dispatched and ate it before carrying on hunting, so we left it in peace to look for its next meal.

In total we saw 5 different Wildcats in just a 6 mile stretch of this road, we thought we'd be doing well to see one! Most though inconveniently were in fields where there were barriers and so no chance of being able to stop near them, though we have another day in this area, so will certainly be having another go in the morning when hopefully the light will be at a better angle.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

A howling experience


Somiedo National Park, on the border of Asturias and Castile y Leon has become the go-to place to look for Brown Bears, along with the outside chance of Iberian Wolves, in Spain. With four days here we hoped to be successful, and our accommodation in Caunedo, in the heart of the park with views of likely hillsides giving us ample opportunity. Along with the view from the window are several well known viewpoints from where bears can often be seen, especially at this time of the year when they are fattening up on berries ahead of hibernating.

Having spent a morning and evening staring out of the bedroom window at the hillsides north of the village with nothing but a few bellowing Red Deer and a distant Chamois to look at and then a morning visiting one of the known stakeout viewpoints at Puertos de la Farrapona, again with lots of Chamois, but no bears or wolves, we were starting to wonder if we would be lucky.

After a gruelling, and not very exciting walk up to Braa de Mumián in the afternoon heat in the feint hope of finding a Wallcreeper, my legs were glad of a short break before heading back out for another bear hunt in the evening. A mile north of Caunedo is the village of Gua, which has a viewpoint behind the chapel near the Mirador de Gua. There is no parking in the village itself, but there are a few convenient pull-ins along the road, which soon fill up with would-be bear watchers. As we arrived, Toni realised in her rush to get moving, she had left her binoculars at the house and so went back, while I walked up the short, sharp hill to the viewpoint, much to my legs’ dislike. As I arrived, a gathering of bearwatchers were at the viewpoint, excitedly looking at the hill to the west, and a quick scan with the binoculars revealed why, there was a Brown Bear sat on the hillside, a few hundred yards away!! As I hadn’t expected to see anything close enough to warrant needing a camera, having lugged it up the Braa de Mumián hill, I had decided to leave it in the car! This turned out to be a big mistake and so I rushed back down the hill, getting back to the car just as Toni returned, I grabbed the camera and, fuelled by adrenalin since my legs clearly weren’t enjoying the experience, went back up to the viewpoint but by the time we got back up there the bear had wandered off.

We sat at the viewpoint for a while as the light began to fade, and over the talking I heard faintly what I assumed was just a bellowing Red Deer on the hillside on the opposite side of the river, but it sounded a bit too high pitched. One of the bearwatchers also heard the noise and then uttered the word “Lobo”, which is Spanish for Wolf! I thought he too was being overeager, but then as the voices silenced to listen, we heard it again and it was indeed the unmistakable sound of a wolf howling. A frantic scan of the hillside then ensued and despite the distance, the unmistakable ears of a wolf were visible sticking above a rock right along the crest. After a few minutes, the wolf revealed itself fully, and walked along the ridge, stopping for a brief stretch and a scratch and then stopped and began to howl, which echoed around the valley. The atmosphere at the viewpoint was electric as everyone enjoyed watching the wolf work its way along, stopping occasionally to howl for the rest of its pack, as another wolf nearby began to howl in reply. Even though it was quite a way off and the lens had to be handheld, or rested on my knee, I still managed to get some acceptable photos (well, with a fair amount of cropping in needed) and video, and learned a firm lesson in always take your camera with you.

It may not look like much but the first proper view of a wolf is always special!

Starting its walk along the crest of the hill

I call this, the "Downward Wolf" pose

Howling for its pack

Howling wolf in habitat