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Spain NEW! Wolves, Bears, Wildcats... & Wallcreepers!

An 8-day mammal & birdwatching tour to Spain

Join us for an exciting new tour to the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain, with our primary focus on searching for three very special mammals: Wolves, Brown Bears and Wildcats. With the help of specialist local guides from our friends at WildWatching Spain, we have the best possible chance of finding these sought-after but elusive creatures. Key birds to watch for include Griffon Vulture and Iberian Green Woodpecker, whilst a day in the beautiful Picos de Europa should add Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor - and perhaps even Lammergeier. The stunning scenery here is regarded as amongst the finest anywhere in mainland Spain - and all to be enjoyed at its best during warm and sunny late summer days. 

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
3

2020

Available

Leaders
David Walsh
local guides

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £2095

includes return flights London Gatwick-Bilbao, with British Airways or Vueling Airlines

Deposit: £400

Single Supp: £125
Land Only: £1995

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Brown Bear in Somiedo National Park, Spain © WildWatching Spain

This exciting new holiday to northern Spain is different from the majority of Limosa tours in that it primarily focuses on three very special wild mammals: Wolf, Wildcat and Brown Bear. With the help of expert guides from our friends at WildWatching Spain, we hope to see these species in their natural habitat in the beautiful Cantabrian Mountains.

For the first five nights of our trip we are based close to the mountain village of Riaño, 175 km west of Bilbao - and one of the best places in Europe for observing family groups of Wolves. We visit at the end of the summer, when the cubs generally remain close to their ‘den’ and so are easier to locate than later in the year when they start to roam more widely. While in valley meadows not far from our hotel, we will search for Wildcats as they hunt rodents in the early mornings and evenings.

Later in the week, we continue west to Somiedo National Park where, with local knowledge, we hope to find Brown Bears feeding on berries and hazelnuts.

Early morning and evening Wolf and Bear watching in this part of Spain will require patience, time and good optics - but the rewards will undoubtedly live long in the memory! A number of other interesting mammals inhabit the mountains and we could also see Spanish Ibex, Pyrenean Chamois, and both Red and Roe Deer.

During the middle part of each day we shall have plenty of time to find and enjoy the special birds of the region. From our first hotel, in the picturesque village of Boca de Huérgano, we can stroll to a fast-flowing river which is home to Dipper and Grey Wagtail. The riverside trees hold Iberian Chiffchaff as well as both Middle Spotted and Iberian Green Woodpeckers. Rock Sparrows, Ortolan, Rock and Cirl Buntings, and both Red-backed and Southern Grey Shrikes inhabit the open bushy areas, with Firecrest, Crested Tit and Black Woodpecker to watch for in the woods. And with migration in full swing we are also likely find good numbers of European Pied Flycatchers in particular.

On one day we travel up into the Picos de Europa, where the scenery alone is awe-inspiring. Here we hope to have close encounters with Wallcreepers, Alpine Accentors, Griffon Vultures, and Alpine and Red-billed Choughs. Raptor possibilities include European Honey Buzzard along with Golden and Booted Eagles, and Short-toed Snake Eagle. If we are very lucky, we might even find Lammergeier!

A range of colourful late summer butterflies adds to the variety of wildlife on offer during our trip. Species seen on David's previous tours here include Great Banded and Tree Graylings, Queen of Spain and High Brown Fritillaries, Southern Gatekeeper, Oberthur’s Grizzled Skipper and Lang’s Short-tailed Blue. The stunningly orange male Scarce Copper is sure to bring a ‘wow’ even from those who haven’t previously specialised in insects!

A visit to the Cantabrian Mountains in late August and early September is usually characterised by sunshine and pleasant temperatures, with good light conditions for looking for wildlife both during the middle of the day and in the early mornings and evenings.

The amazingly beautiful scenery is widely regarded as some of the best in the whole of mainland Spain and will provide a splendid backdrop to our search for the region’s very special wildlife.

Although new to the Limosa programme this year, our 2019 tour will be David Walsh’s fourth visit to the Cantabrian Mountains in search of Wolves, Wildcats, Bears and Wallcreepers. His excellent knowledge of the birds and butterflies of the area complements that of our specialist English-speaking mammal guides from WildWatching Spain - and we warmly invite you to join us for what promises to be a superb new Limosa tour!

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Wolf in the Cantabrian Mountains, Spain © WildWatching Spain

Day 1
BILBAO TO BOCA DE HUÉRGANO

We catch the morning British Airways flight from London Gatwick nonstop to Bilbao, where we will be met by our driver. The journey from the airport to our first hotel takes around 3.5 hours, and there is some fine scenery to enjoy along the way.

We first head west along the coastal highway past Santander, then south on another motorway with impressive viaducts and tunnels. Having turned off onto a quieter road, we keep a look out for Common Buzzards and Red Kites. Passing through increasingly remote landscapes en route, we arrive in the early evening at the picturesque village of Boca de Huérgano near Riaño, where we stay for five nights. Night Boca de Huérgano

Days 2 - 5
CANTABRIAN MOUNTAINS: BOCA DE HUÉRGANO & THE PICOS DE EUROPA

The main focus for the first part of the tour is our quest for Wolves and this is likely to occupy us for several early mornings and/or evenings, when the animals are active. Our normal routine will be a 6.30am departure having enjoyed coffee and cake at the hotel a little earlier; we generally take a packed breakfast with us to eat later.

Our specialist local guides from WildWatching Spain are likely to know of a few areas to which groups of cubs remain faithful until later in the autumn. Observing from an appropriate distance in order not to disturb these shy wild animals, we hope to enjoy sightings of this much sought-after and iconic mammal through our telescopes. We will need to be patient, but perseverance usually brings rewards which will live long in the memory. We may spot groups of Red Deer, or a Red Fox, whilst scanning for the Wolves.

In open riverine meadows not far from our hotel we will seek out Wildcats. There is a large population in this part of Spain and, although easier to find in some years than others, they can often be seen hunting small rodents. With luck, we hope to obtain some good, close range views.  Usually we remain in our vehicles but, from time to time, a Wildcat is sufficiently distracted by its quest for prey that it doesn’t notice us as we quietly disembark for a better view!

Having spent the first part of each morning looking for mammals, we return to our hotel for a coffee and a chance to change out of the ‘winter plumage’ needed whilst being out early and into some lighter clothes more appropriate for the warmth of a late summer day in northern Spain. Our routine here is likely to involve a pre-lunch stroll from our hotel, and we have a number of possibilities. 

We can expect to see Black Redstart and European Serin as we wander through the narrow lanes down to the river, which is frequented by Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. We also hope to find Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and a singing Iberian Chiffchaff in the taller trees. The timing of our tour coincides with the southerly migration of passerines through Spain and we may well encounter significant numbers of European Pied Flycatchers as well as Whinchat, Common Redstart, Common Nightingale, Spotted Flycatcher and perhaps a Golden Oriole.

Just across the road from our hotel, fields give way to gentle slopes with scrub and pines. In some years Rock Sparrows are found here in small numbers. Iberian Green Woodpeckers can be heard calling noisily in this area; they are often hard to spot, but we hope to find one sitting out in the open so we can discuss how different this recently split species is from its relative in the UK. Other birds of note might include Rock and Cirl Buntings, and it will be worthwhile keeping our eyes to the skies, with Booted Eagle, European Honey Buzzard and Egyptian Vulture among raptor possibilities.

There are a number of other special birds in the Cantabrian Mountains. Bluethroat and Citril Finch breed locally in the hills and it is possible we may encounter them whilst we are out and about looking for mammals. The woods also harbour Black Woodpecker, Firecrest and Crested Tit, and in more open areas we will search for Dartford Warbler and both Red-backed and Southern Grey Shrikes.

Although early September falls towards the end of the butterfly season, a number of interesting species should still be on the wing. The meadow right next to our hotel holds Oberthűr’s Grizzled Skipper and both Long-tailed and Lang’s Short-tailed Blues, and nearby we hope to find Southern Gatekeeper, Brown Hairstreak, Bath and Wood Whites, Wall Brown, Scarce and Sooty Coppers, Mallow and Red Underwing Skippers, as well as Great Banded and Tree Graylings. We are unlikely to see many dragonflies here but Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Keeled Skimmer and Beautiful Demoiselle are all possible - the latter on the river near our hotel.

Weather permitting, we will spend a full day in the stunning Picos de Europa mountains. A cable car allows us to reach high elevations where we hope to find Wallcreeper. This species often allows very close observation in the Picos, as does another high altitude specialist: Alpine Accentor. Other key birds in this area include Griffon Vulture, Alpine Chough, Water Pipit and Eurasian Crag Martin. And if we are very lucky, we might encounter a Lammergeier or White-winged Snowfinches.

Butterflies are few and far between at this altitude in early September but possiblities include Clouded Yellow, Chalkhill Blue and the  localised Lefèbvre’s Ringlet.

On the mammal front, Pyrenean Chamois are relatively common in the mountains and on the way back to our hotel we can scan for groups of Spanish Ibex as they clamber about on the rocky slopes. Four further nights Boca de Huérgano

Day 6
BOCA DE HUÉRGANO & TRAVEL TO POLA DE SOMIEDO

We have a final morning in and around Boca de Huérgano to look for any species we may have missed before heading west to our second hotel, in the village of Pola de Somiedo. Allowing for a short break along the way, the journey should take around 2.5 hours and we will plan to arrive in time for a late lunch. We stay in Pola for the next two nights.

After a siesta, we head out late afternoon to spend an evening looking for Brown Bears! At this time of year, they are active feeding up on berries or hazelnuts before most hibernate during the winter months. Bear conservation in Spain has been amazingly successful and it's great to report that the population of the country is now in the low hundreds. Night Pola de Somiedo

Day 7
SOMIEDO NATIONAL PARK

We will continue our search for Brown Bears in the early morning and evening today. Once again, as with all mammal watching, patience and concentration will be required as we scan the mountain slopes with our binoculars and telescopes.

As in the first part of our holiday, during the middle part of the day there will be time to enjoy the other wildlife of this remarkably scenic area.  Birds of prey may include Golden and Short-toed Snake Eagles, with Red-billed Choughs also likely along the ridges (on which we have a small chance of encountering a Rock Thrush).  Flowering meadows abound with butterflies, with Cardinal, High Brown, Silver-washed, Weaver’s and Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Berger’s Clouded Yellow, Marbled White and Adonis Blue among many species David has recorded on his previous tours here.

The small villages we pass through are examples of a way of life that is fast disappearing in rural Spain. The houses are stone built, with thatched roofs and windows that seem ill-equipped for the cold that winter brings. Farming is still carried out as it has been for centuries, with sheep grazed on the high summer pastures, tended by a shepherd and dogs, and the flocks being brought lower as the cold weather arrives.

In Pola de Somiedo there is a locally run ‘Bear Museum’ which is well worth a visit at the end of our afternoon siesta. Night Pola de Somiedo

Day 8
POLA DE SOMIEDO TO BILBAO

We leave Pola de Somiedo first thing after breakfast this morning and take the coastal route back to Bilbao. The drive to the airport will take around 4.5 hours, but time permitting we will pause to stretch our legs at Santoña and have a quick look for birds on the estuary there. Possibilities include Horned and Black-necked Grebes, Eurasian Spoonbill, Little and Western Cattle Egrets, Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gulls, plus a number of familiar waders such as Whimbrel.

Continuing on to Bilbao, we catch our return flight to London Gatwick, where our Wolves, Bears, Wildcats & Wallcreepers tour concludes.

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View across the village of Boca de Huergano, where we stay for five nights of our tour © David Walsh

What To Expect

New and exciting tour to the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain, with our primary focus on searching for three very special mammals: Wolves, Brown Bears and Wildcats.With the help of specialist local guides from our friends at WildWatching Spain, we have the best possible chance of finding these sought-after but elusive creatures.

Key birds to watch for include Griffon Vulture and Iberian Green Woodpecker, whilst a day in the beautiful Picos de Europa should add Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor - and perhaps even Lammergeier.

The stunning scenery here is regarded as amongst the finest anywhere in mainland Spain - and all to be enjoyed at its best during warm and sunny late summer days. 

Birds

80-100 species 

Mammals

8-10 species

Butterflies

25-30 species (depending on the weather and season)

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation in Spain, beginning with 5 nights in Boca de Huérgano and concluding with 2 nights in Pola de Somiedo. Both are small, family-run hotels, typical of this part of Spain. All rooms have en suite facilities.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on Day 1 and concluding with lunch on Day 8.

Whilst the meal times in Spain may take some getting used to, with the Spanish eating later than we do, the three-course meals involving a lovely choice of home-cooked fare and served with complimentary house wine at lunch and dinner are sure to be another popular feature of this holiday.

On some days we will have breakfast at our hotel; on others we take a packed breakfast with us. We will take a picnic lunch on the day when we visit the Picos de Europa; arrangements for lunch on our last day, when we travel back to Bilbao, may vary according to flight schedules. On all other days we have a three-course lunch at our hotel or a nearby restaurant. Dinners are similar three-course affairs.

Bear in mind that especially in rural Spain lunch is generally taken between 1.30pm and 2.30pm, with dinner being served from 9pm. This may sound rather late but it does fit neatly with our evening mammal watching excursions!

Walking

The sites for watching the Wolves vary from year to year. Our local guides will, of course, only take us to places to which we can walk without significant issues, but it is possible we may have to walk for 1-2 kms and the paths may involve an ascent.

Sturdy waterproof walking shoes with good corrugated soles for comfort and grip are advised (and if you like to walk with a pole it is a good idea to bring it).  For our birding strolls around the village and its environs during the middle of the day, more lightweight footwear will suffice.

Travel

We fly London Gatwick to Bilbao, nonstop with British Airways, returning from Bilbao to London Gatwick nonstop with either British Airways or Vueling Airlines (Iberia), according to airline schedules and contracts.

Ground Transport  Minibus to and from the airport. On our excursions looking for Wolves we use 4WD vehicles to reach the best sites, with local guides driving. Transit between hotels, to the Picos de Europa and at Somiedo will be by minibus. Our late morning and afternoon birding from the hotels on mammal watching days will mostly be done on foot.

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Riano reservoir © David Walsh

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