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Spain NEW DATES! Spanish Pyrenees

An 8-day, small group 'Birds & Butterflies' tour to Spain, staying at just one hotel

With pine forests and high peaks to the north, and the towering rock pinnacles of Riglos to the south, the Spanish Pyrenees make a truly spectacular setting for a wildlife holiday. We visit in late May, when Lammergeier and Wallcreeper are nesting and the rare and exquisite Lady’s Slipper Orchid should be in flower - highlights on all our recent tours here. This is also an excellent time for butterflies. We are based throughout at a comfortable and conveniently located hotel in the mountain town of Jaca, with easy access to all the key sites - north, south, east and west.

Tour Dates

2019

Full

Leaders
Mike Crewe

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1695

inc return flights London Heathrow-Bilbao, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £165
Land Only: £1565

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This is an excellent tour for those seeking Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

With snow-capped mountains to the north and pine-clad rocky hills rising dramatically from the floor of the Aragón Valley to the south, the Spanish Pyrenees make a spectacular setting for a wildlife holiday. The area is one of the very best in Europe for birds of prey: Black and Red Kites, Booted Eagle and Griffon and Egyptian Vultures soar overhead; Short-toed Eagles hunt the open hillsides for lizards and snakes; and Golden Eagles scour the highest peaks.

But for most birdwatchers, one of the major goals of a visit to the Pyrenees is to see that most rakish and dashing of vultures, the Lammergeier (or Bearded Vulture). This is one of the best places in Europe to see this threatened species and most years we encounter individuals on several occasions during our stay.

High alpine meadows - where Water Pipits pick their way through sheets of buttercups, gentians and orchids - are the birth place of ice-cold mountain streams, frequented by white-bibbed Dippers, and soon to become cascading torrents as they crash through pinewoods and plummet into deep gorges that have to be seen to be believed. The massive chasms of rock, sprinkled with endemic Ramonda and Pyrenean Saxifrage, are home to Rock Buntings and the fabulous Wallcreeper, which nests here in summer, eking out its existence in a vertical world.

As the landscape opens out, the influence of the Mediterranean is immediately apparent. Warmed by the Spanish sun, the air here is heavy with the scent of gorses and herbs, and the likes of Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike and Bee-eater start to appear. South of the Pyrenees, the landscape unfolds as a series of craggy sandstone outcrops, each with its own different hue of pink or brown. Between these ridges runs the pretty Aragón River, with its gravel beds, cultivations and mixed woodlands harbouring Golden Oriole, Short-toed Treecreeper and Western Bonelli’s Warbler.

Such a variety of landscape and habitat ensures that we always have somewhere new to go each day - whether its up into the hills in search of the impressive Black Woodpecker in cool stands of pine, or out onto the limestone scarps in pursuit of an impressive array of Pyrenean butterflies and to admire the rare and magnificent Lady’s Slipper Orchids, which flower at this time.

We’re based throughout at a good and comfortable 3-star hotel in the town of Jaca. Conveniently located at the hub of the central Spanish Pyrenees, Jaca sits at an elevation of 820m (2690 ft) above sea level and lies within easy reach of both the high mountains to the north and the impressive rock pinnacles of Riglos to the south. Staying here also helps to keep our daily travel time to a minimum by obviating the need to journey up and down a winding side valley simply to reach Jaca and access the key birding and butterfly sites that lie beyond. With lush green forests, breathtaking ravines, warm scented hillsides and a fabulous range of alpine and Mediterranean wildlife to enjoy, this really is 'Wild Spain' at its best!

Limosa has been operating a wide-ranging programme of birdwatching tours to Spain for more than 30 years now. Our guide Mike Crewe is not only a first-rate bird tour guide, botanist and author but an excellent all-round field naturalist, too. Mike is a veteran of more than 20 tours to the Pyrenees and our May 2019 visit for Birds & Butterflies in the Spanish Pyrenees at Jaca will be his seventh trip there for Limosa.

CK MC DSCN0571 Ladys slipper Orchid

A highlight on all our recent tours has been the exquisite and increasingly rare Lady’s Slipper Orchid. This year’s trip runs over similar dates so we shall keep our fingers crossed that they will be blooming again then! © Mike Crewe, Limosa Holidays

Day 1            
FLY BILBAO, TRANSFER TO JACA

Our birdwatching tour to the Spanish Pyrenees begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Bilbao. It is a 3 hour drive through increasingly rugged landscapes until we reach the picturesque Aragón Valley and the small town of Jaca, where we stay for the week. Even on this day of largely travel however, we are likely to see Griffon Vultures, for Aragón and adjacent Navarra have perhaps the highest densities of this species anywhere in the world.

Our hotel in Jaca is a good 3-star, offering comfortable rooms and good food. By staying here - plum in the centre of the region, with roads radiating out in all directions from town - the amount of travelling each day is cut to a minimum. And with no changes of hotel to worry about, we shall have plenty of time to get to know the area well.

For those who enjoy an early morning stroll, the hotel is ideally situated. Nightingales serenade us as we step out in the early morning sun, with Bee-eaters, Spotless Starlings and Golden Orioles among likely companions. Even the nearby town park can hold surprises, with scampering Red Squirrels, Firecrests, Crested Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers all waiting to be enjoyed - and Scops Owl possible as an after dinner treat! Night Jaca

Days 2 - 7                                         
SPANISH PYRENEES: JACA, RIGLOS & THE ARAGON PLAIN

Starting at the high tops, Water Pipits scurry across the short turf in the shadow of majestic 3000 metre peaks. Where the last patches of winter snow are still retreating, Spring Gentians enliven the scene as we scan the skies above the now sleeping ski resort for birds of prey.

Golden Eagle is possible here, but our main quarry is the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier (the latter a Dutch word meaning ‘bonecrusher’), which scours the slopes for fallen sheep and the endemic Pyrenean Chamois. With their enormous wingspan and long diamond tail, these huge birds are magnificent to behold. Numbers are slowly increasing in the Pyrenees and most years we see individuals on several occasions during our stay.

Where barren scree covers the ground, we’ll search for Black Redstart and the dazzling Rock Thrush. Open stands of Western Mountain Pine are home to another high altitude specialist, the delightful Citril Finch, often to be found feeding in summer on dandelion heads. Even at this height, Crag Martins can be found hawking insects. The valleys echo to the shrill, bird-like cries of Alpine Marmots and the extraordinary whistles and trills of playful Alpine Chough.

At this time of year, the high alpine pastures should be coming into bloom, with endemic specialities such as Pyrenean Fritillary, Pyrenean Lousewort and Pyrenean Bluebell in flower, as well as Elder-flowered and Broad-leaved Marsh Orchids, Dragonmouth, Narcissus-flowered Anemone, White Pasque Flower, Birdseye Primrose, Pyrenean Kidney-vetch, Alpenrose - and many more! A highlight on all our recent tours has been a visit to enjoy the exquisite and increasingly rare Lady’s Slipper Orchid. This year’s trip runs over similar dates so we shall keep our fingers crossed that they will be blooming 'on time' again then!

Moving lower, we find ourselves enveloped in majestic alpine forests, dominated by Beech and Silver Fir. Many of the birds here - including Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Bullfinch - are typical of those to be seen at home, although in Spain this is their main outpost. Firecrests are frequent in these woodlands, where we’ll also try for the imposing Black Woodpecker.

Before long, we are down amongst stands of familiar Scots Pine and the warm air is laden with the scent of resin. Crested Tits trill overhead, Grey Wagtails haunt the streams and the panoramic views are ideal for scanning for raptors. Griffon Vultures seem to be ever-present in the skies and we can also hope to encounter the declining Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle and Short-toed Snake Eagle, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Honey Buzzard and maybe Goshawk, too.

Over the millennia, the rushing watercourses have carved deep fissures. Here, where the sun doesn’t penetrate, scrubby oak, lime, alder and maple grow impossibly from clefts in the rock. Such places hold Western Bonelli’s Warblers, while the flat terraces alongside - which are warmer and rich in showy asphodels, gorse and box - provide good habitat for Woodlark, Dartford and Western Subalpine Warblers, Red-backed Shrike and Cirl Bunting. We have a good chance of finding Rock Bunting too, with its jangling Dunnock-like song. But it's the bare rock faces that will be of greatest interest, for it's here that we have our best chances of finding the elusive Wallcreeper.

We’ll walk some of these limestone gorges, looking up at the Red-billed Choughs, together with Alpine Swifts and Blue Rock Thrushes, while Rock Sparrows wheeze from the crevices. In one particular spot, we have enjoyed stunning views of the remarkable Wallcreeper less than ten metres above us, and we’ll hope that this pair returns again. (Our track record for finding this species to date must surely be second to none - but we also have a second site up our sleeves, just in case!) Flowers to enjoy include several orchids, violet Ramonda and glorious cascades of endemic Pyrenean Saxifrage clinging to the rock faces.

We shall have plenty of chances to explore the high valleys during our stay - but we won’t want to ignore the areas beckoning from below either!

Nestling at the foot of the Pyrenees, the flat alluvial Aragón plain bustles with avian activity, its patchwork of ripening cornfields interspersed with crumbling ‘badlands’ of grey marl forming a splendid wildlife habitat. Birds here are characteristic of the Mediterranean region and include Hoopoe, Sardinian and Melodious Warblers, Tawny Pipit and Serin. Crested Larks are common, while Black and Red Kites, and rainbow-hued Bee-eaters swoop gracefully overhead. Loud-voiced Cetti’s Warblers shout at us from secluded streamsides as we pass, Great Reed Warblers grunt from the reeds and Golden Orioles flute from the orchid-rich poplar groves. Here we know of a flower-rich hillside that is home to a good number of Ortolan Buntings.

The southern slopes now reflect a true Mediterranean environment, as the heavenly scent of thymes, Rosemary and Gum Cistus lay siege to our senses. Travelling through this lovely countryside, we reach the almost surreal, pink sandstone pillars that are the towering Los Mallos de Riglos. The village below these amazing cliffs sits amidst fields that can be swarming with butterflies, while the seemingly barren scree has somehow provided ground for villagers to cultivate orchards of fragrant almonds and olives. With vultures in constant attendance above, it is in this chequerboard landscape that we’ll search for Peregrine and Rock Dove, smartly dressed Black and Black-eared Wheatears, furtive Western Orphean Warblers and the showy Woodchat Shrike.

This tour can be excellent for butterflies, too! Given sunny weather, we have recorded as many as 75 species during the week. Past tour highlights have included Common and Iberian Swallowtails, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Camberwell Beauty, Spanish Fritillary and Purple Emperor as well as a host of fritillaries, blues and hairstreaks. On the high slopes, slow flying Apollos drift across open, flowery meadows; in sunny woodland glades, Duke of Burgundy and Southern White Admiral enliven our walks; while on flower-filled banks in the foothills, handsome Spanish Gatekeepers, stunning Cleopatras and sublime Black-veined Whites vie for our attention.

As with any tour to mountain regions, our daily itinerary will remain flexible to allow for possible vagaries in the weather. But we shall be sure to visit the full range of habitats available, to get the best from our week in this special area. Six further nights Jaca

Day 8                        
RETURN TO BILBAO, FLY LONDON

We have time for a last look around Jaca today before making our way back to Bilbao.

Late afternoon check-in for our evening flight home from Bilbao to London Heathrow, where our spring 'birds and butterflies' tour to the Spanish Pyrenees concludes.

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Wallcreepers breed in the high valleys above the town of Jaca, where we stay in the Spanish Pyrenees © Stephen Daly/Daly Wildlife

What To Expect

An 8-day, small group 'Birds & Butterflies' tour to Spain, staying at just one hotel.

With pine forests and high peaks to the north, and the towering rock pinnacles of Riglos to the south, the Spanish Pyrenees make a truly spectacular setting for a wildlife holiday. We visit in late May, when Lammergeier and Wallcreeper are nesting and the rare and exquisite Lady’s Slipper Orchid should be in flower - highlights on all our recent tours here. This is also an excellent time for butterflies.

We are based throughout at a comfortable and conveniently located hotel in the mountain town of Jaca, with easy access to all the key sites - north, south, east and west.

Typically warm and sunny here in late spring, with temperatures in the range 12-26C (53-79F), but it can be chilly early morning. As with any upland area, periods of rain or showers, low cloud or poor visibility are possible at any season. In summer however, we find it's often possible to avoid localised bad weather by moving to a different altitude - either up or down!

Good photographic opportunities for birds, butterflies and plants. Highly scenic!

Birds

100-140 species

Butterflies

45-75 species, depending on the weather of course!

Accommodation

7 nights at a good 3-star hotel in Jaca, chosen for the convenience of its central location within the Aragón Valley and ease of access to all the key sites. All rooms are en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with either lunch or dinner in Spain on Day 1 (according to flight schedules) and concluding with a packed lunch on Day 8.

Buffet breakfasts and three course dinners (with mineral water and some wine included) at the hotel, where the restaurant offers original and varied local cuisine. Lunches will usually be picnics, taken at some wonderfully scenic spots. 

Walking

Easy, covering up to about 3 miles in any one day, over mainly easy terrain. This tour is not strenuous and should be suitable for anyone of reasonable fitness and used to a little regular walking. As one would expect of any visit to the Pyrenees, there may be occasional short walks on steeper slopes but always at a gentle pace.

Walking boots with corrugated soles for grip advised in the mountains. Comfy walking shoes are suitable at lower elevations.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow to Bilbao, nonstop with British Airways. *1

Ground Transport  By minibus

 

*1    Based on current airline schedules, flights for this year's tour will be from London-Bilbao; (Bilbao is our preferred choice of destination airport for this tour as it reduces the journey time between the airport and our hotel). Depending on airline schedules however, which do vary year on year, we may occasionally fly London-Barcelona. If you are booking this tour on a 'land only' basis (i.e. making your own travel arrangements, joining the tour in Spain), please be sure to ask our office to confirm which of the two airports we are using this year!

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The towering pink limestone outcrops of the Mallos de Riglos © Mike Crewe, Limosa Holidays

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2 BH, Spanish Pyrenees tour Great job Mike, well done! [empty string]
3 AP, Spanish Pyrenees tour A really great trip! [empty string]
4 SM, Spanish Pyrenees tour ... I feel lucky to have been part of a small friendly group, since we all got on so well from our meeting at Gatwick. And David was very generous with his time; and in helping me take better photographs... [empty string]
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