Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Penelope Cruz of wild cats

 ...is the Iberian Lynx, a sexier, latina version of a bobcat. I knew about the Iberian Lynx from reading one of the Cannon ads on the back of a Nat Geo when I was a kid. Never could I have anticipated searching for one!!!

We hadn't really planned to try for this rare and seldom-seen cat on this trip, but when you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you have to seize it, otherwise this blog would not have its name. 
Azure Magpie
I give myself credit for taking the initiative to row up the group to go for this crazy gamble. Due to our limited schedule and having committed to meeting my folks for a beach holiday, we had only 1 day available. We also had to sacrifice Moustached Warbler and Marbled Duck but decided that even a 5% chance at the Lynx would be favourable over those species, so we debated for a while and it was a unanimous decision to give it our best try with no regrets.

Steve receives credit for securing the number of a local guide through his friend 'Jaime Colebras', a crazy character apparently. The company is called Iberus Medio Ambiente, who do biological work as well as ecotourism on the side. Whether you see a Lynx or not we highly recommend them to enrich your visit. http://www.iberusmedioambiente.com/ecoturismo

The main guides were not available so they sent Francisco (same name as one of the owners, different guy) who is a local botanist, guide and all-round top notch guy about our age who picked us up in a Rav4 and drove us to all the best Lynx spots in Sierra de Andujar.

We arrived in the park at dawn and began our epic search, cruising around and sitting at stakeout spots for 14 hours. The first spot was the damn where we had a fleeting view of an European Otter swimming across the Jándula river! We had so much fun driving around but search took it's toll after a while:
This is not how you find a lynx!

Luckily Francisco had us covered: just as our energy and rage levels were depleted he pulled over, pulled out a pop-up table and some lawn chairs and we were soon enjoying partridge paté sandwiches with pickles and local cheese washed down with some whine made at his own family vineyard. Salud! His strategic deployment of the wine instantly revitalized our morale and we re-intensified our Lynx search.
Occelated Lizard
We were down to the last couple of hours with no lynx but spirits were still high as Francisco still had one trick up his sleeve. He took us to an estato privado (a private ranch with a conservation easement) where a lynx family was known to live and which he had seen recently. We cracked out the lawn chairs again and I have never scoped so intensely before with three of us glued to the swarovski, kowa and zeiss, respectively, for about  2 or 3 hours. Our non-stop surveillance of the hillside was only interrupted when I had to chase away a strange horse which was standing in front of a leashed dog. The horse was getting entertainment out of infuriating this dog who was going absolutely bonkers being leashed up to an abandoned truck with this stupid horse stubbornly standing in front of it sticking its dumb face right in front of the dog, mocking it. The horse having been chased away, the dog calmed down and we could resume maximum concentration. 
Maximum concentration
By this point, a silent competition ensued over who could spot it first, if anyone. Francisco said the female always emerges to hunt at exactly the same time each evening, at about 19:29 or something like that. It was 19:27. Holy smokes, this could be happening! I scoped at maximum intensity, gleaming every rock and patch of grass, roughly 400-500m from us. 19:28...I scoped the grassy area in front of the goat pen, where I though it mostly likely to emerge from. I withdrew for 3 seconds to rub my eye... "I SEE THE LYNX!" It was Francisco! Dammit! after 2+hours of hardcore scoping Francisco swoops in and gets the glory. A gorgeous female Iberian Lynx walks right across the exact spot I had been scoping. We could see her spooky yellow eyes and long ear tufts which make this feline one of a kind. She emerged at exactly the MINUTE Francisco predicted. Just as our excitement pinnacled, she walked into a bush and emerged with a wriggling rabbit kicking about, which she duly finished off and began ripping apart. Seconds later, she disappeared into some willows and emerged with a second rabbit! She seemed to cache this one somewhere in the bushes. Could the kittens have been in the bushes? We never found out, as she didn't come back out and the sun set on one of the most amazing days of our lives all thanks to Francisco and Iberus Medio Ambiente. 

The take home of the story is that on a trip, don't be afraid to dream big and even if it is a longshot or costs money, you should always go for it! Yes, there are many times we've gone after tough species in vain...think of Dom's 80 km hike for the Spotted Owl where he couldn't find one. But obviously, nothing ventured, nothing gained as my good old Opa says. This applies as much to birds or cats as it does to jobs, women, or anything in life for that matter. So, readers, I leave you with that piece of advice as your scheme your next adventure, whatever that may be! 

OMG...
Francisco says he gets THIS excited every time he sees a Lynx - and he has seen many! 
IBERIAN LYNX!!!
AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

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