An 8-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching tour to the Spanish Pyrenees
Limosa’s summer birding tour to Northern Spain will get you off the tourist track. 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 early June, when birds such as Lammergeier, Wallcreeper and Citril Finch are nesting, and the rare and exquisite Lady’s Slipper Orchid should be in flower. This is also an excellent time for butterflies. Our Spain birding tour is 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 & Prices
Tue 1st June 2021
Tue 8th June 2021
5 Spaces Available
Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1695* inc return flights from London Heathrow
* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)
- Limosa Tour Leader
- Return flights - London Heathow to Barcelona, nonstop with British Airways
- 7 nights accommodation in Spain, staying at a good hotel in the mountains at Jaca
- All main meals - with drinking water (and some wine with evening meals) provided
- Minibus transport
- All excursions, entry fees, permits
- All tour-based tips (hotels, meals etc) and taxes
- Map & Limosa Checklist of birds
Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature.
The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights
- The Spanish Pyrenees - one of the most scenic and exhilarating places we visit!
- From snow-capped Pyrenean peaks, south to the towering rock pinnacles of Riglos
- Alpine Swift, Scops Owl, Melodious and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Wallcreeper, Water Pipit, Citril Finch
- One of the best areas in Europe for birds of prey
- Lammergeier, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed, Booted and Golden Eagles
- Up to 75 species of butterfly possible, including Cleopatra, Spanish Fritillary and Spanish Gatekeeper
- Spectacular floral displays - many alpines and orchids, including Lady’s Slipper
- Small group tour - maximum of 7 participants
- Expertly led by Limosa's all round naturalist guide and author, Mike Crewe
We fly London Heathrow-Barcelona. Transfer west to our hotel for the week at Jaca, in the beautiful Spanish Pyrenees. Night Jaca
Jaca is the perfect location for our tour, giving easy access north, south, east and west into the Spanish Pyrenees and down to the Aragón plain below - without the tedium of having to backtrack daily along a winding side valley. Six further nights Jaca
We return to Barcelona, fly London
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 truly spectacular setting for a wildlife holiday.
The area is one of the very best in Europe for birds of prey: both Black and Red Kites, Booted Eagle, and Griffon and Egyptian Vultures soar overhead, while 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 Spanish 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 oft-elusive Wallcreeper, which nests here in summer, eking out its existence in a vertical world.
As the south-facing 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 birds such as 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 it’s up into the hills in search of the imposing Black Woodpecker in cool stands of pine, out onto the limestone scarps in pursuit of an impressive array of Pyrenean butterflies, or enjoying a special trip to admire the rare and magnificent Lady’s Slipper Orchids, which flower at this time.
We are 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 throughout Spain for more than 30 years now. Our leader 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 trips to the Pyrenees and our June 2020 and 2021 tours in search of the birds and butterflies of the Spanish Pyrenees at Jaca will be his eighth and ninth trips there for Limosa.
FLY BARCELONA, TRANSFER TO JACA
Our birdwatching tour to the Spanish Pyrenees begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Barcelona. It is a 3.5-4 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 at Jaca - plum in the centre of the region, with roads radiating out in all directions from town - the amount of travelling required 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 during our stay.
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 colourful Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles, Black Redstart, Rock Sparrow, Serin and ‘oily’ Spotless Starlings among likely companions. The nearby town park is well worth a look, with scampering Red Squirrels, and resident Firecrests, Crested Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers all waiting to be enjoyed - and with 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-shaped 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 particular 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 soon 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 large and 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 along with Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Common Buzzard, 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 the appealing Rock Bunting here 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. Flowers to enjoy include several orchids, violet Ramonda and glorious cascades of endemic Pyrenean Saxifrage clinging to the rock faces.
In one particular spot, we have often enjoyed stunning views of the remarkable Wallcreeper less than ten metres above us, and we’ll hope that this pair returns again. However, climate change does seem to be affecting this bird, which appears to be retreating from many of its former haunts across the Pyrenees and the Alps to breed at higher elevations in recent years. Whilst success with Wallcreeper cannot be guaranteed, over the years our tours have a good track record for finding this species - and we do have a second site up our sleeves, just in case!
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 highly 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 also know of a flower-rich hillside that is home to the declining Ortolan Bunting.
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 different species here 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 may vie for our attention.
As with any tour to mountain regions, our daily itinerary will remain flexible throughout to allow for possible vagaries in the weather. But we shall be sure to visit the full range of Pyrenean habitats available, to get the best from our week in this very special area. Six further nights Jaca
RETURN TO BARCELONA, FLY LONDON
We should have time for a last look around Jaca today before making our way back down to the coast at Barcelona.
Late afternoon check-in for our return flight from Barcelona to London Heathrow, where our summer tour to the Spanish Pyrenees concludes.
WHAT TO EXPECT
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 early June, when birds such as Lammergeier, Wallcreeper and Citril Finch are nesting, and the rare and exquisite Lady’s Slipper Orchid should be in flower. 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.
The climate here in early June is typically warm and sunny, with daytime temperatures in the range of 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 any localised bad weather by moving to a different altitude - either up or down the mountains!
Good photographic opportunities for birds, butterflies and plants. Highly scenic!
45-75 species, depending on the weather before and during our visit, of course!
7 nights accommodation in Spain, based at a good and comfortable 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.
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with either a light lunch or dinner in Spain on Day 1 (meal plan can vary according to flight schedules) and concluding with a packed lunch on Day 8.
Buffet breakfasts and three-course dinners at the hotel, where the restaurant offers original, tasty and varied local cuisine (with mineral water and some wine included). Lunches will usually be picnics, taken at some wonderfully scenic spots.
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 of course, there may be occasional short walks on steeper slopes but these will always be taken at a gentle pace.
Walking boots with stout corrugated soles for grip advised in the mountains. Comfy walking shoes are suitable at lower elevations.
We fly London Heathrow to Barcelona, nonstop with British Airways.
Ground Transport By minibus