Something that crops up frequently in reviews from our guests is the beautiful location of La Cazalla and the wildlife that can be seen in and around the grounds. With this in mind, we asked our resident artist to create a map of the estate, to both help our visitors explore the property to its fullest extent and to demonstrate the flora and fauna they may encounter there. Although it's difficult to view the map fully on a small screen, we wanted to share with you how fabulously it turned out:
As you can see, there's plenty to discover within our secluded country setting and wildlife abounds, even though we are located only 10 minutes from popular, historical Ronda! The unique geography of La Cazalla's location is simply perfect for a wide variety of birds and animals. The steep cliffs and mountains bordering the gorge attract birds of prey, such as the pair of Peregrine Falcons that nest every year in the rocks at the top of the property. Water continuously runs down from the mountain tops into the valley, even during the hot summer months, and joins the stream at the bottom. This provides a valuable water-source for wildlife and keeps the valley lush and green all year round.
Some of the creatures that benefit from the stream and general fertility of the gorge are red deer, goats and sheep, wild boar, badgers, pine martens, foxes and the elusive common genet.
Red Deer in Andalusia
The red deer (Cervus elaphus) is one of the largest deer species and until around five years ago they were quite rare in this area. However conservation efforts, combined with the general movement of people from living in rural areas into the towns, have allowed the deer undisturbed room to breathe, feed and reproduce. The male (stag) red deer is typically 175 to 250 cm (69 to 98 in) long and weighs 160 to 240 kg (350 to 530 lb); the female (hind) is 160 to 210 cm (63 to 83 in) long and weighs 120 to 170 kg (260 to 370 lb). The tail adds another 12 to 19 cm (4.7 to 7.5 in) and shoulder height is about 95 to 130 cm (37 to 51 in).
Standing so tall, most fences present absolutely no problem whatsoever to a fully-grown deer that wishes to enjoy the lush gardens and orchards of Andalusia. When we moved into La Cazalla a few years ago we erected new fences in an attempt to protect the younger oak trees and gardens of the property. A great success... recently there have been two large stags making the most of the shade under the oaks at the top of the property and as you can see from the video below, the odd intruder crosses the stream into the orchard from time-to-time! (Please excuse the night cam quality!)
In summertime we encounter the red deer close to the house more frequently, but the rutting season is where the action's really at. From late August through to early December you can hear the stags roaring and fighting in the oak forest on the other side of the gorge and some time spent patiently with binoculars reaps excellent rewards. Having either succeeded or lost in their battles, the stags shed their antlers later in winter, meaning that a stay at La Cazalla during spring can offer the most unusual souvenir of antlers found around the property or in the forest surrounding it.
Wild Boar in Andalusia
Wild boar are the ancestors of domestic pigs, and are so adaptable and successful in reproducing (the average litter consists of 4–6 piglets, but they can give birth to up to 12) that they are considered to be something of a pest in many countries around the world due to their destructive feeding habits. Boars are typically social animals, living in female-dominated 'sounders' consisting of barren sows and mothers with young led by an old matriarch. Male boars leave their sounder at the age of 8–15 months, while females either remain with their mothers or establish new territories nearby.
The absence of water is usually the limiting factor in their population, because all pigs lack sweat glands and cool themselves by wallowing in mud. Well, we have plenty of water at La Cazalla, and where it runs off from the albercas, there's a supply of cooling mud too! Of course, we have fences, but wild boar have very large heads with a structure well suited for digging. The head acts as a plow, while the powerful neck muscles allow the animal to upturn considerable amounts of soil. Fences? What fences?
Badgers and Pine Martens
Heard a rustle in the bushes during the night? It could be either of these two nocturnal visitors. Badgers are not as common in Spain as they are in the UK, with an estimated 1-2 badgers only per square kilometre. Sadly, their populations are thought to be declining, so you're quite lucky if you get to see one during your stay at La Cazalla.
Pine martens (Martes martes) are another creature that has benefited from country areas becoming less populated. The body is up to 53 cm (21 in) in length, and its bushy tail can be 25 cm (10 in). Males are slightly larger than females; on average a marten weighs around 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). Their fur is usually light to dark brown and grows longer and silkier during the winter months. They have a cream to yellow coloured "bib" marking on their throats.
Their habitats are usually well-wooded areas, like the oak forest across the gorge from us. Pine martens have semi-retractable claws, which enable them to lead more arboreal lifestyles, such as climbing or running on tree branches, although they are also relatively quick runners on the ground. They are mainly active at night and dusk. They have small rounded, highly sensitive ears and sharp teeth adapted for eating small mammals, birds, insects, frogs, and carrion. They have also been known to eat berries, birds' eggs, meat, nuts and honey. They are not common in this area and therefore we were delighted to view this visitor caught on the night cam using the old walnut tree to cross the stream into our orchard:
The Common Genet (Genetta genetta)
As impressed as we were by the sighting of the pine marten, the nocturnal visitor that surprised and delighted us the most was the cat-like common genet. Slightly smaller than the pine marten, they have dense, soft fur, and the coat is pale grey, with numerous black markings. The back and flanks are marked with about five rows of black spots, and a long black stripe runs along the middle of the back from the shoulders to the rump. There is also a black stripe on the forehead, and dark patches beneath the eyes, which are offset against the white fur of the chin and throat. The tail is striped, with anything from eight to thirteen rings along its length.
As they prefer to live in areas with dense vegetation, such as bushes, thickets, and evergreen oak forests, this could explain why we see them crossing the stream from the oak forest, just as the pine martens do. Genets have a varied diet comprising small mammals, lizards, birds, bird eggs, amphibians, centipedes, millipedes, scorpions, insects and fruit, including figs and olives. Well, we certainly have plenty of fruit, figs and olives and are happy to share our bounty with this beauty:
The original nature trail map has been framed and is displayed in the dining room at La Cazalla, and guests can purchase their own copy for a minimal cost. We have also provided a copy for use during your stay, together with laminated information sheets to help you discover and learn more about the surrounding nature and wildlife.
Along with the above marvellous creatures, we've seen plenty of the weird and the wonderful during our ownership of La Cazalla:
Of course, we also have friendly horses roaming around the estate and there's rescued cat 'Britney', so if you love animals and nature, come and stay with us for a perfect relaxing holiday surrounded by peace and wildlife.