Please note: this page gives details of our 2010 trip.
For details of our 2011 trips please click here
THE PICOS DE EUROPA
AND SPANISH STEPPES
"We would like to thank you for a wonderful week in Spain. We are still in awe of your spotting skills and vast knowledge of our avian friends and nature in general."...... Mr and Mrs A, West Yorkshire
Spain is famous for its mountains and plains. No finer examples can be found than the mountains of the Picos de Europa and the plains around Zamora, to the north-west of Madrid.
High altitude birds such as Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor are fairly easy to find in the Picos, and there is an excellent chance of seeing the enigmatic Wallcreeper. Great Bustards are nowhere more common than around the steppe lakes of Villafafila. These lakes are also the temporary home of thousands of waders, ducks, gulls and terns. Nearby river cliffs have nesting Black Storks, Bonelliís Eagles and Egyptian Vultures; in Spain you are never far away from a good raptor area.
We will spend four nights at Zamora in the plains, followed by three nights near Potes in the Picos de Europa. By flying to Madrid and returning from Bilbao we will keep the travelling to a minimum.
Having arrived at Madrid we will make the two hour drive to Zamora, our base for the first four nights.
One day will be spent visiting the open arid plains around Villafafila. This area has one of the largest concentrations of Great Bustards in the world. A scan from almost any fixed point produces sightings of up to a 50 Great Bustards; mainly displaying males. Other steppic species include Lesser Kestrel (which is benefiting from an extensive nest-box programme), Montaguís Harrier, White Stork, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Quail, Stone Curlew, Calandra Lark, Tawny Pipit, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear and Rock Sparrow. There are small numbers of Little Bustards in the area too, but they can be difficult to find.
Huge steppe lakes at Villafafila offer spectacular birding. We visit at the optimum time of year, with high water levels and abundant birdlife. There are hundreds of Black-winged Stilts and Avocets, plus smaller numbers of Little Grebe, Gadwall, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Gull-billed Tern and Whiskered Tern.
On another day we will search olive groves for Azure-winged Magpies, and a reed-fringed stream for Great Reed Warblers, Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles and Melodious Warblers. An evening stroll near our hotel should yield Scops Owl, possibly Red-necked Nightjar and even a few Long-eared Owls.
Our third full day here will be spent visiting the upper reaches of the Rio Duero. The Duero forms the border between Portugal and Spain and is quite remote. Spectacular river cliffs and gorges are home to breeding Black Storks as well as a suite of raptors including Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Bonelliís Eagle, Peregrine and numerous Griffon Vultures. Thekla Lark is common, as is Rock Bunting, Spotless Starling, Blue Rock Thrush, Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Martin.
On an early morning excursion we will try to see the elusive Dupontís Lark. They are infamous for only singing during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, and their terrestrial habits make them very difficult to see. However, at a site we discovered it is possible to get good views. Even if we only hear them, they have a wonderful song and the habitat of hillsides covered in lavender and dwarf broom is beautiful in its own right.
On day five we will drive north into the Picos, for a stay of three nights.
Rising to over 2600m, the Picos de Europa is the most impressive part of the Cordillera Cantabrica, a mountain chain which runs the length of Spainís north coast.
Our hotel here is the excellent Hotel Del Oso in the village of Cosgaya near Potes. A cable car at nearby Fuente De will take us to over 1800m in the heart of the mountains. This is Wallcreeper country. Although never guaranteed, this is one of the best places to look for them; they can often be seen at eye-level on the boulder scree.
Both Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor should also be found above Fuente De, along with Water Pipit, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough and Black Redstart. The pretty Chamois, an alpine antelope, is common here.
Another day will be spent lower down in the beech woods near our hotel. On one visit we saw Iberian Wild Cat and Pine Marten! Birds present include Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Black Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Western Bonelliís Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Crested Tit. The Citril Finch is rather scarce, but we have found one site where they sometimes come to drink at a permanent pool at the edge of a pinewood.
On day eight we will leave the Picos and head for Bilbao for our flight home. En route a short stop on the coast should yield a few Spoonbills as well as migrant Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin, all in smart summer plumage. From there it is just a short but spectacular drive along the coast to the airport.
Breakfast will be taken at about 7.30am most mornings. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field and short to medium length walks on the flat will be undertaken regularly. In the Picos there is a small amount of uphill walking, although normally we can get to the desired altitude by vehicle and cable car.
Full-board accommodation is provided, with four nights at the Hotel Sayagues in Zamora and three nights at the Hotel del Oso near Potes. Both have en suite bathrooms. Packed lunches will be taken every day.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 22nd, ending with breakfast on 29th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, cable car fee, reserve entrance fees, return flights and airport taxes.
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Scheduled flight with British Airways from London Heathrow to Madrid, returning with Clickair from Bilbao to Heathrow. Outbound flight departs mid-morning, return flight arrives back mid-afternoon. Shuttle flights are available on this tour for £70 return (due at time of booking), from Manchester and other regional airports.
Maximum group size:
Cost with discount
(if you book before
6th February 2010):
22nd to 29th May 2010
Paul J. Willoughby
7 clients with one leader or
12 clients with two leaders
£1325 per person sharing
£1425 per person sharing
Here are some photographs taken on this tour..
Western Orphean Warbler
Male Red-backed Shrike
Griffon Vulture colony in the Duero Valley
Great Bustard at Villafafilla.
Scanning for Wallcreepers in the Picos de Europa.
Alpine Choughs are very obliging.
Alpine Accentors are very reliable here.
This chamois gave a much closer view than most.
Spot the Wallcreeper!
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