Spring is the season of love for humans. In some species of the animal world, like red deer, the blood levels are altered after summer. Specifically, between September and October, when the first rains arrive, the stags fill the forests of Spain with sounds and brawls.
A buck stays alert to rivals © Roger Baulenas
It is known as the bellowing, a wonderful display of nature. Its name comes from the sounds made by bucks to attract does and deter other rivals during mating season, and each year, it attracts a larger number of curious tourists.
If you want to see this magnificent display, you have 12 natural areas at your disposal, that during autumn, become the territory of the fight for the perpetuation of this species.
Nattule will tell you where:
1. Los Alcornocales Natural Park, the Last Andalusian Jungle
Located in the south of Cádiz and situated between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, it is one of the most unique ecosystems in the Spanish geography. With more than 167,000 hectares, Los Alcornocales Natural Park harbors large forests of cork oaks, wild olive trees, oak and upholstered oak trees with a thick undergrowth of heather, lichens and ferns.
These places look like they’ve been taken from others latitudes. In addition, due to the proximity of the sea and the relief of these areas, the fog is a common phenomenon that adds beauty.
Thick forests in Los Alcornocales © Rafael
To witness the natural performance of the rut, you must go to the area of La Sauceda and Aljibe Peak. From the road C-3331 of Cortes de la Frontera you can access the trail that takes you to the cottages of La Sauceda, a place that houses forests that are listed as Singular Groves of Andalusia and where you can also spend the night.
While heading up to the Aljibe, the thick forest makes way to more open areas that will allow you to have good views and many possibilities to catch sight of these deer from Cádiz at the peak of their courtship season. You might also see the elusive Morisco roe deer. In order to do so, bring your binoculars, and get there quietly and early in the morning or you can also await nightfall.
Moorish roe deer © J. Joaquín Aniceto
Near the towns of Tarifa and Algeciras, the Fates and Cabrito Ranges harbor the southernmost population of red deer in Spain. While it is not as abundant as in other areas of Los Alcornocales, being able to hear them and hopefully almost see them on the waterfront, with Africa in the background, gives an extra plus and a touch of uncertainty while waiting.
Jebel Musa Mountains, in North Africa © Rafael
2. Dehesa del Camarate, a Dream Forest
The Sierra Nevada National Park is not only known for hosting some of the highest peaks of the Iberian Peninsula. Sierra Nevada is much more.
About 6 kilometers away from the village of Lugros, on the north side of this National Park, we find Dehesa del Camarate, one of the best preserved mixed forests of Andalusia, locally known as the Enchanted Forest. In it, are plentiful Pyrenean oaks, dogwoods, maple trees and other deciduous species. With the arrival of autumn, they offer a melting pot of shades of ocher, red and green.
The Enchanted Forest. Dehesa del Camarate © Eleni R.D.H.
From Lugros a detour begins to the Horcajo del Camarate, a magnificent setting where several ravines flow their waters into the Alhama River. You must continue walking down a track that climbs gradually to the hill of the Carneros. A sensational carpeted area will begin to appear before your eyes.
Continue up until reaching the hill where you can expect a breathtaking view: the hill of Mirador Alto (2,684 meters above sea level) and the Picón de Jérez (3,088 meters). Further along the horizon, you’ll see the shapes of Sierra Mágina, Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and las Villas, Sierra de Castril and la Sagra.
Views of Dehesa del Camarate © Verónica
Every autumn, in this stunning setting, surrounded by peaks and ridges, the bellowing deer echos. A species that, although is not extensive in this area, makes itself apparent. Males choose these forests to carry out their ritual of seduction and territoriality to perpetuate the species.
The rest of the varied fauna inhabiting these shady corners remain in the background, as dwarfed by the strength demonstrated by the deer.
3. Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas, the Karstic Colossus of Andalusia
These rugged mountain ranges in the province of Jaén, which form the largest Natural Park in Spain, hide unique places away from the main roads that cross it, and are almost oblivious to tourists, maps and the passage of time.
Situated between the Guadalquivir and Segura Rivers, on the east side of this range, you’ll find that there is a unique type of mountain wilderness. The imposing Campos de Hernán Perea rise there in the middle of these mountains, more than 40 kilometers away from any population. A plateau of more than 5,000 hectares that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The wildest of nature dominates this area.
In order to really enjoy the bellowing, visit the outer areas, where forests impose on their bare ground. You can access them from the A-317 road that connects Santiago de la Espada with Puebla de Don Fadrique, or from the A-319 in Vadillo Castril towards Navas de San Pedro. Do not forget your binoculars, because it’s possible that you might also spot some bearded vulture, golden eagles and other raptors. It is essential to take warm clothes and extra supplies.
Red deer in the Natural Park © Diputación de Jaén
A little further north is the course of the Madera River and an area known as Peña Rubia and Cerro del Espino, which can be accessed from Hornos de Segura by the JF-7039 road. The locals call this part Sierra Escondida (Hidden Mountain Range), whose thick pine forests and deep valleys and crags make up a landscape that will not leave you indifferent.
You can walk the circular trail that starts from the youth hostel Los Negros that will take you from the river to the highlands. Here, your chances of hearing a concert of howls and getting a front row sight of the races and the clash of antlers deer, will increase. In addition, if the rain has been generous, these mountain landscapes are an explosion of autumn colors, whose beauty you will not forget easily.
Valdeazores Lagoon. Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas © Ana
4. Sierra Morena, the Big Holm Oak Forest of Southern Spain
Sierra Morena is undoubtedly one of the best Spanish areas to enjoy the bellowing. An area of 400 kilometers long, with a large population of red deer and the existence of several Natural Parks, that virtually guarantee a successful enjoying of the bellowing, without even leaving your car. There are several companies that provide jeep tours in private farms to see the most emblematic wildlife areas.
On the other hand, if you prefer the road less traveled and want to learn about the bellowing on your own, in the heart of Sierra Morena, you can visit El Centenillo, which is accessed from the village of La Carolina or from Andújar. On the same path departing from El Centenillo, you will reach another area known as Selladores and Contadero and the path to Encebras. Apart from the rutting deer, it’s possible that you’ll see other faunal treasures such as the imperial eagle, black vulture or even the Iberian lynx.
El Centenillo © Andrés Buendía Garzón
Another lesser known and highly ecological Mediterranean area is the upper Guarrizas River. You can access it from Guarromán or by taking the road between La Carolina and La Fernandina Dam.
In Eastern Sierra Morena, in the heart of the Despeñaperros Natural Park, the hills of Aviación and Jardines are two places that you should not overlook in this protected area. You won’t have any problems accessing them from Santa Elena and from Aldeaquemada. The spectacular views of Despeñaperros are another incentive to go there.
In the province of Córdoba, near the town of Cardeña, a path departs from the village of Cerezo. The path is known as the Vegueta del Fresno, taking you to the Yeguas River. This river will surprise you, it hides a perfectly preserved Mediterranean forest and untouched nature overflows. It is one of the best natural areas of Andalusia and the habitat of some of the most emblematic species of the Iberian fauna such as the Iberian wolf, lynx, imperial eagle, black vulture and otter. In order to walk the trail you’ll need prior authorization.
Iberian lynx in Sierra Morena © Esteban Ureña
5. Monfragüe, the Great Mediterranean National Park
Located in the province of Cáceres, the National Park of Monfragüe is a vast Mediterranean oasis in Extremadura. Crossed by the Tajo and the Tiétar Rivers, in its more than 18,000 hectares, there are more than 290 species of vertebrates registered. Birds, mammals and amphibians that are found in this area are in an ideal habitat.
Monfragüe National Park © Gonzalo Blanc
Once autumn arrives, groups of hinds chased by stags and the strife and bellowing of the males are the dominant note in these forests and meadows. For a few weeks, nature becomes a procreation frenzy before the arrival of winter.
In this protected area there are multiple options to enjoy the bellowing.
From the village of Serrejón, a track of about 16 kilometers ending in the National Park offers a good chance to spot deer in full rut. With the arrival of the rutting season, large males can be seen clearly in the forest in their search for the hinds. You can follow the track on foot or by car. The choice is yours. It is advisable to bring binoculars because the animals are at a considerable distance.
Another recommended route is the one leaving the village of San Carlos to the lookout of Tres Caños, from which a vast expanse of pastures is contemplated. It is also possible to make it there on foot or by car.
Doe and fawn in Monfragüe © Gonzalo Blanc
If, however, you prefer to get deeper into the thick woods and enjoy a pleasant walk, you can make a visit to the Sierra de las Corchuelas. This route runs through the northern side of the mountains, protected from the sun, and where thick heather, oaks and cork trees line the slopes. The track connects the Francés spring, located next to the road, with the tower of the Moorish castle. This fortification, located at a strategic point, is one of the best viewpoints in the park to enjoy a day of wildlife watching.
Black vulture © Gonzalo Blanc
6. Sierra de Cuenca and Montes Universales, the Unknown Mountain Ranges
Those who understand nature and mountains weep at how little known the Sierra de Cuenca is, but this also makes crossing it such a unique experience. It is possible that the lack of visitors is the reason for these rugged mountains, one of the largest in Spain, to preserve some ecological and unique landscape values.
In these mountains, which seems like they’re not on a map, deer, at the beginning of the courtship season, leave the most remote areas to get to the sunny and clear areas of almost all of these forests to proclaim their hegemony over the rest of the herd.
Stag with its harem © Jaime Rodríguez Estival
Near the village of Mohorte, we find the Natural Monuments of Tierra Muerta, Torcas de Palancares and Lagoons of Cañada del Hoyo; some rough spots with a beauty that will surprise you. The marked trails to access them offer an unbeatable bellowing scenario to enjoy a fruitful day watching the bellowing. You can also see species of forest birds and raptors.
Another very favorable location is the imposing dam of Toba, supplied by the Júcar River. Nearby is the Uña Lagoon, which surprises everyone with the clarity of its waters. Contemplating the sunset and enjoying the sound of the bellowing in the rocky cliffs that surround these water is a proposal from Nattule that you have to accept.
West of Teruel, in the area of the Tajo River birth location, Montes Universales are the natural continuation of the Sierra de Cuenca and have a good population of red deer. One of the places that stands out greatly is the Valley of Valtablado, which can be accessed from the villages of Frías de Albarracín and El Vallecillo. It is a striking landscape carved by the River Cabriel.
Sierra de Cuenca © Jaime Rodríguez Estival
7. Valsaín Mountains, Forests of Royal Tradition
The Mountains of Valsaín, in the province of Segovia, are the least known face of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Among the Eresma, Acebeda and Peces Rivers we find the Matas and Pinar Mountains, they share genes without being identical. In one of them, wild pines prevail. In the other, the pine tries to prevail, but is unsuccessful at gaining land from the oak.
His indomitable character and extraordinary nature earned them the favor of nobles and kings, who found in them a singular area for hunting deer and even bears.
This intense hunting activity diminished the number of deer. However, you can still witness passionate life during autumn in the summits of Valsaín, where the protagonists are the red deer, roe deer and wild boar.
The impressive nature of Valsaín © Daniel
A good place from where to watch is the hill of the Camorca. You can reach it by following a forest track that leaves the road between La Granja de San Ildefonso to the pass of Navacerrada. The track begins at approximately kilometer 130, next to a house of forest guards.
In a meadow, past the fountain of la Reina, you must leave it to take a path that departs from the right and begins to gain altitude to reach the hill. There are wonderful views of the Mountains of Valsaín and the entire Sierra de Guadarrama waiting for you. The background music is provided by the bellowing.
8. Sierra de la Culebra, the Land of the Wolf
Sierra de la Culebra is mostly known for hosting the largest concentration of wolves in Spain, and possibly in Europe. Undoubtedly, to this contributes the large population of roe deer, wild boar and red deer that live in its 65,891 hectares. A full pantry for these predators.
Sierra de la Culebra © Adrián Quirogas
Although the red deer became extinct in the early twentieth century, it was reintroduced in 1973 and, today, there are a thousand distributed in the area, which makes this mountain range one of the best places to enjoy the bellowing.
Magnificent buck in Sierra de la Culebra © Adrián Quirogas
One spot to take into account is along the road between the villages of Rihonor de Castilla and Puebla de Sanabria. If you stop your car halfway, about 6 kilometers from Puebla, it will be possible to hear the bellowing of the male deer around you.
A little further west, near San Pedro de las Herrerías, you also have a chance to observe them. Nearby, in the ZA-912 road towards Villardeciervos and Otero de Bodas, is one of the most visited lookouts in the mountains, with great views over the area.
Bucks fighting for the territory © Mario García Rebollo
9. Fuentes Carrionas y Fuente Cobre-Montaña Palentina, the Millenary Yew Forest
Deep in Palencia, right where the province meets with Cantabria, we find the Natural Park of Fuentes Carrionas and Fuente Cobre-Montaña Palentina. The relief is marked by a spectacular mountain range of more than 2,500 meters high, forming a beautiful environment of gorges, valleys, lakes and dams.
Dam of Requejada © Daniel
In this natural setting, and with over 78,000 hectares to move around, the spectacle of conquests and confrontations that hosts the forest in autumn is worth your while. You have the option of hiring specialized guides, but if you prefer to walk on your own, you can do that as well.
A simple but very attractive route is the one departing near Cervera de Pisuerga. The beginning is located just 5 minutes from the village, on the road leading to Guardo. You can leave your car in a car park that has information panels. This route crosses the Valley of Tosande to reach one of the most important yew forests of Castilla y León.
Autumn at Fuentes Carrionas © Carmen Rodríguez
In the valley, it is normal to hear the bellowing of the deer. But if you decide to continue and cross the yew forest, you can climb up to the peaks surrounding the valley, where you have more chances to see these ungulates.
A walk along the road known as the Marshes Road will also give you opportunities to observe them. From Cervera, you will first pass by the Ruesga dam to later arrive at the lookout of Alto de la Varga, two good points for watching.
10. Somiedo, the Lair of the Brown Bear
Somiedo Natural Park stands as one of the last redoubts of the Iberian Peninsula where to find pure nature. Its extensive forests, ranges, and lakes harbor some of the most emblematic species of the Iberian fauna, such as the Cantabrian capercaillie, the Iberian wolf and the brown bear.
Specimen of brown bear © José Rico Teba
In this wonderful natural area of Asturias you have many options to witness the bellowing. You can decide on one of the guided tours that are available, or venture alone and go to one of the many lookouts that are distributed throughout the Natural Park. From any of them you will certainly get to see something, and especially hear the bellowing.
La Collada Pineda, a natural balcony with stunning views over the Orticeda Valley, is a key location to admire this show. It is within walking distance from the village of Pineda, after a short but steep climb.
You can connect this point with Aguino Hill, near the towns of Pola de Somiedo and Perlunes, from where you can also listen to, and hopefully see, some deer.
Another alternative is to climb to the height of Rubio, it offers a magnificent view of the Valley of Pigüeces, another classic location for lovers of the bellowing in Somiedo.
View of Pigüeces Valley, Somiedo © Alan Berthelot
11. Selva de Irati, the Largest Spanish Beech Forest
As in the Sierra de la Culebra, red deer had to be reintroduced in Irati in 1957, after the species was wiped out by hunting.
The Irati is a vast forest of beech and fir which expands over 17,000 hectares in Navarre Eastern Pyrenees. It is the second most important area of beech and fir in Europe, after Germany’s Black Forest.
Autumn is an ideal time to visit it, because, besides the bellowing, it offers unique colorful trees changing foliage.
Autumn colors in Irati © Rogelio Carrero
Upon arrival, near the information point of Arrazola, which is accessed by the Orbaizeta road, you can probably hear some stags. Then you just have to follow one of the many trails leading into the forest, because the bellowing can be heard by almost anywhere in Irati.
One of these roads depart from the point of information and reaches the top of the Azalegui Hill, located at 1,165 meters high, where surely you will be able to watch some deer.
12. Sierra de Boumort, Pre-Pyrenean Paradise
The National Game Reserve of Boumort, in the Lleida Pre-Pyrenees, is an area of about 15,000 hectares and is located between the valleys of the Noguera Pallaresa and Segre. From Barbastro or from Lleida, in just over one hour, you will arrive at La Pobla de Segur and Salàs de Pallars, villages surrounding the dam of San Antonio. From there you can go to the nearby village of Hortoneda, where a circular route of about 7 hours long begins.
Surroundings ranges of Pobla de Segur
This route runs through the small Mountains of Banyader, Segan and Travessa and finally arrives at the Boumort Peak of 2,077 meters. Of course, it is not necessary to complete the itinerary to enjoy the spectacular scenery and, at the right time, to hear the roars, races and fights that the stags give us in these stunning mountains. Get there early in the morning. Binoculars and silence are all you need.
Red deers mating © Josep Monsó
You must know that in these mountains, as in the surrounding areas of Carreu, Cuberes and Batsacans, we find the largest population of this ungulate in Catalonia. In addition, it is the only natural area in Europe where you can find the four species of scavengers of the continent: griffon vulture, black vulture, Egyptian vulture and the bearded vulture.
Bearded vulture in the Reserve of Boumort © Josep Monsó
Boumort also is highlighted for its abundance of roe deer, chamois and wild boar. Other birds that you can see there are the Pyrenean capercaillie, golden eagle and Tengmalm’s owl. In addition, there are wolves, repopulated species after more than 70 years.
If you come, you can go on your own on a network of tracks and trails open for general use, but you can also arrange guided tours with several local companies that perform 4×4 tours.
Diversity is one of the charms of nature. The roar of a rutting deer is not as melodious as the chirping of a goldfinch, but in the forest, it fits like nettle and violet. As pastoral is the flutter of a butterfly as the fight of two adult bucks disputing over the does with nobility. The bellowing is less like a bar fight than a duel between gentlemen.