Tuesday 8 September 2015

Wildcats, Wolves & Wallcreepers

I have recently returned from a Wise Birding Holiday trip to Northern Spain in search of Wildcats, Wolves and Wallcreepers. It certainly did not disappoint with a minimum of 9 individual Wildcats seen (including kittens) plus 3 Iberian Wolves (including cubs) and many good birds including the beautiful Wallcreeper. 

This was my first trip to look for European Wildcats and I was amazed at just how many different animals we saw! It seemed an exceptionally good year for small mammals in the meadows and therefore perhaps no surprise there were so many cats! I had a cautious approach to the possibility of hybrid cats, but all animals seen seemed to show the key characters:
thick bushy tail
black blunt tipped tail
clear black rings on tail
thick black nape stripes
black shoulder markings
clear black dorsal strip ending abruptly at root of tail

Some animals had slightly differing tail thickness and markings but this seemed to change a lot on pose. Also some animals had pale throat patches, but this is supposedly a trait of the European Wildcat race Felis silvestris silvestris and may be different to that of animals found in Northern Scotland Felis silvestris grampia
All in all, they are probably some of the best looking Wildcats you are likely to see in Europe and they were fantstic to watch hunting!

The Wolves were impressive too and it was a real privilege to watch the cubs playing together. Wolves are always more distant (as often hunted), hence no photos, but we all had great scope views at around 700M range - I shall put up some video in due course.

I shall be running this trip again in 2016 if anyone is interested....

Male Wallcreeper, Picos de Europa

Male Wallcreeper, Picos de Europa - note black throat markings

Wallcreeper and Alpine Acentor habitat at the top of the cable car at Fuente De

Cantabrian Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica parva), Picos de Europa

Cable Car at Fuente De - luckily it was clear at the top!

Alpine Accentor - at least half a dozen birds were seen at the top of the cable car

Alpine (Yellow-billed) Chough in the clouds!

European Wildcat - this was our first sighting of an animal that swiftly disappeared after a heavy downpour!

This was our second sighting of a different animal - the light was poor but check out that lovely thick bushy tail!

This male is again a different cat to the above two animals and showed very well on our last morning as it hunted voles

Same animal as above in mid pounce!

Same animal as above

Same animal as above with prey

This is a different animal again and seemed to be bringing prey items to an area of thick cover where we later found 2 kittens!

We were in the right place at the right time on our last morning with these two Wildcat Kittens taken by tour participant John Nadin

Western Bonelli's Warbler seen on a walk near the hotel

Short-toed Eagle over the hotel

European Honey Buzzards were regularly seen close to the hotel and were surprisingly vocal. Adult male showing tail moult.

European Honey Buzzard - Probably adult male based on distinct primary tip and trailing edge markings and
widths between tail bands, but possibly female? Translucent inner primaries supposedly not shown in male?

These paw prints are from a Brown Bear that I found whilst taking a call of nature! Note the classic "human-like" back paw print and the front paw with claws

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