Spain

Wolves, Bears, Wildcats... & Wallcreepers!

An 8-day, small group birdwatching & mammal tour to Northern Spain

Limosa’s late summer birding tour to northern Spain focuses primarily on searching for three very special mammals: Wolf, Brown Bear and Wildcat. With the help of our team of specialist local guides, we have the best possible chance of finding these sought-after but highly elusive creatures. Key birds to watch for include Griffon Vulture and Iberian Green Woodpecker, whilst a day in the beautiful Picos de Europa mountains adds chances of Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor - and perhaps even Lammergeier. The 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 & Prices

Wed 1st September 2021

Wed 8th September 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 8 Days from £2295* inc return flights from London Gatwick

Deposit: £400Single Supp: £130*Land Only: £2170*Group Size: 10Leaders: TBA
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* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • English-speaking Spanish wildlife guides
  • Return flights - London Gatwick to Bilbao, nonstop with British Airways
  • 7 nights accommodation in Spain (5 nights Boca de Huérgano, 2 nights Pola de Somiedo)
  • All main meals - with drinking water provided
  • Complimentary house wine at lunch and dinner
  • Transportation by minibus and 4WD vehicles
  • Cable car ride at Fuente Dé
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (local guides, drivers) & taxes
  • Map & Limosa Checklist of birds, mammals & butterflies

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature.

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Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • A quest for Wolves in the remote Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain
  • Brown Bears foraging in Somiedo National Park
  • Wildcats hunting in valley meadows...
  • Plus a wealth of special birds and butterflies within walking distance of our two hotels
  • Griffon Vulture, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Iberian Grey Shrike, Iberian Chiffchaff, Rock Sparrow
  • The Picos de Europa for Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor - and possibly Lammergeier
  • Magnificent mountain scenery that’s amongst the finest in all Spain
  • Two traditional, family-run hotels giving a real sense of rural northern Spain
  • Expertly led by Limosa's David Walsh and specialist English-speaking local wildlife guides

Outline Itinerary

  • We fly London Gatwick-Bilbao. Transfer to the Cantabrian Mountains. Night Boca de Huérgano

  • Three days looking mainly for Wolves and Wildcats early and late, and birds and butterflies in between. One full day in the Picos de Europa. Four more nights Boca de Huérgano

  • After a final morning at Boca, we transfer to Somiedo National Park. Night Pola de Somiedo

  • Morning and evening looking for Brown Bears, in between searching for birds and butterflies. We spend a second night Pola de Somiedo

  • We return to Bilbao today, taking the coastal route via Santoña. Fly Bilbao-London Gatwick

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
Brown Bear 2.JPG
In September, we’ll watch for Brown Bears foraging the slopes for berries and hazelnuts before hibernation © WildWatching Spain

This exciting 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 rare species in their natural habitat in the beautiful Cantabrian Mountains - where there will also be plenty of birds to enjoy!

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 move west to Somiedo National Park where, with local knowledge, we hope to find Brown Bears fattening up for the winter on berries and hazelnuts.

Our early morning and evening watches for wolves and bears 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 may also see Iberian Ibex, Pyrenean Chamois, Wild Boar, 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 the localised Iberian Chiffchaff as well as both Middle Spotted and Iberian Green Woodpeckers. Rock Sparrows, Ortolan, Rock and Cirl Buntings, and both Red-backed and Iberian Grey Shrikes inhabit the more 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 Pied Flycatchers in particular.

On one day we will travel up into the Picos de Europa mountains, 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, Booted and Short-toed Eagles. If we are very lucky, we might even find Lammergeier here!

A range of colourful late summer butterflies adds to the variety of wildlife on offer during our trip. Species seen on David's previous visits here include Great Banded and Tree Graylings, Queen of Spain and High Brown Fritillaries, Southern Gatekeeper, Oberthür’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 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 very 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 in 2019, our 2020 tour will be David Walsh’s fifth 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 another super Limosa trip!

Wildcat 3.JPG
Our 2019 group enjoyed super views of Wildcat on this tour, as here at Boca de Huergano © WildWatching Spain

Day 1
BILBAO TO BOCA DE HUÉRGANO

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

We first head west along the coastal highway past Santander, then swing 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, 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 departure from the hotel at (approx.) 6.30am, having enjoyed coffee and cake 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 elusive, much sought-after and iconic mammal through our telescopes. We will need to be patient of course, but perseverance often brings rewards which will live long in the memory. We may spot groups of Red Deer, or a scouting 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 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 Pied Flycatchers as well as Whinchat, Common Redstart, 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 present here in small numbers. Iberian Green Woodpeckers can usually 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, Rock Thrush and Citril Finch all breed locally in the hills and it is possible we may encounter them whilst we are out and about looking for mammals. The woodlands also harbour Black Woodpecker, Firecrest and Crested Tit, while in more open areas we will search for Dartford Warbler along with Red-backed and Iberian 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 Oberthür’s Grizzled Skipper and both Long-tailed and Lang’s Short-tailed Blues, and nearby we also hope to find Southern Gatekeeper, 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 along 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 some higher 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 to watch for in this area include Griffon Vulture, Alpine Chough, Water Pipit and Eurasian Crag Martin. Plus, if we are very lucky, we might encounter a Lammergeier.

Butterflies are few and far between at this altitude in September but possiblities include Clouded Yellow, Chalkhill Blue and the localised Lefèbvre’s Ringlet. On the mammal front, sure-footed Pyrenean Chamois are relatively common in the mountains, and groups of heftier Iberian Ibex can be located in some years. 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 aim to arrive in time for a late lunch there. We stay in Pola for the next two nights.  

After a siesta, we’ll head out late afternoon to spend the evening looking for Brown Bears! At this time of year, they are active, feeding up on wild 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 here is now up 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 plenty of time to enjoy the other wildlife of this superbly scenic area. Birds of prey may include Golden and Short-toed Snake Eagles, with Red-billed Choughs also likely over the ridges. Flowering meadows abound with butterflies: Cardinal, High Brown, Silver-washed, Weaver’s and Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Berger’s Clouded Yellow, Marbled White and the stunning Adonis Blue are among the many species recorded 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 here 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 after an early breakfast this morning and take the coastal route back to Bilbao. The drive to the airport will take around 4.5 hours, but flight schedules permitting we will pause to stretch our legs at Santoña and have a quick look for birds on the estuary there. Possibilities include Slavonian (Horned) and Black-necked Grebes, 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 afternoon flight back to London Gatwick, where our Wolves, Bears, Wildcats & Wallcreepers tour concludes.

20 2019-09-02 La Peral scenery David Walsh.JPG
View at La Peral - the Cantabrian Mountains are not only a great place for wildlife but beautifully scenic, too © David Walsh, Limosa

WHAT TO EXPECT
This late summer birding tour to Northern Spain focuses primarily on searching for three very special mammals: Wolf, Brown Bear and Wildcat. With the help of our team of specialist local guides, we have the best possible chance of finding these sought-after but highly elusive creatures.

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

The 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.

The weather in northern Spain in early September is often fine and settled, and the maximum temperature on our tour is likely to be around 25°C (77°F) and could even be a little higher.  However, first thing in the morning it can be surprisingly cold, but it generally warms up quite quickly - please pack accordingly. Experience suggests that rain is unlikely to disrupt our plans significantly, but it is certainly possible so it’s essential to pack waterproofs, too.

Good photo opportunities for scenery plus some of the birds and butterflies.  Please note that the main mammal targets are usually too distant for serious photography - however, digiscoping often produces nice record shots.

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 usually do, the three-course meals involving a choice of home-cooked fare and served with complimentary house wine at lunch and dinner are sure to be another distinctive feature of this holiday.

On some days we will have breakfast at our hotel; on others we take a packed breakfast into the field with us. We will take a picnic lunch on the day when we visit the Picos de Europa; the arrangements for lunch on our last day, when we travel back to Bilbao, can 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.

Keep in mind that - especially in rural Spain - lunch is generally taken between 1.30pm and 2.30pm, with dinner traditionally 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 paths may involve an ascent.

Our late morning and afternoon birding from the hotels on mammal watching days will mostly be done on foot.

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.

Ground Transport  Minibus transfers to and from the airport.

On our excursions to look for Wolves we use 4WD vehicles - travelling over unmade tracks where the going can be rough and bumpy at times - in order to reach the best sites, with our local guides driving.

Transit between hotels, on our trip into the Picos de Europa and at Somiedo will be by minibus.

18 2019-09-01 Short-toed Eagle Peter Smart.jpg
A fine view of a Short-toed Snake Eagle circling just above us on our September 2019 visit © tour participant Peter Smart

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