NEW! Picos Mountains and Meseta Plains

Wonderful Spanish birding with many key species

Destination
Focus
2024 Dates
  • 07 Jun - 14 Jun 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
Price TBC
2026 Dates
  • 05 Jun - 12 Jun 2026
Duration8 Days
2026 Price
Price TBC
Max Group Size12

A great late-spring tour designed to maximise our chances of seeing many key Spanish species. This two-center holiday combines the breeding birds of the steppe and Dehesa around the Meseta Plains close to Zamora, with the specialist breeding species of the high peaks of the Picos de Europa, and its surrounding lush valleys.

For the first part of the tour focusses on the vast rich agricultural plains of North Meseta, within the Castile Y Leon province. One of the best places in Spain for Great Bustard, the strong supporting cast of Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Black and White Stork, Black-shouldered Kite, Eagle Owl, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Iberian Magpie, Red-necked Nightjar, Pallid and Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Sardinian, Dartford and Western Bonelli's Warbler plus a variety of shrikes and larks make the Plains a premier birding destination. Our base here is ideally placed for us to explore steppes, plains and farmland, seasonal wetlands, and riverine habitats, and also the extensive ‘Dehesa’ with holm oak, as we extend our birding as far as the Portuguese border.

Leaving the Meseta Plains we travel north towards the Picos. There are several key species in the alpine habitats of the Picos, and we target them all. Wallcreeper is a species which will always feature highly on any birders ‘most wanted’ list, and we visit one of the best locations in Spain for them. At this time of year, adult birds should be actively foraging on the rocky plateau and with luck we can watch birds coming and going to nests higher up the mountain face. Lammergeier is another target, having been recently reintroduced here and reputedly now breeding! On the slopes, Alpine Accentor can be amazingly confiding, and in the same area White-winged Snowfinch may also be seen. Other attractions include Citril Finch, Egyptian Vulture, Alpine and Red-billed Chough, Water Pipit, and at lower levels Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Middle-spotted and Black Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Iberian Chiffchaff, and both Cirl and Rock Bunting. We stay in a tiny mountain village where time appears to have been left behind; the air is full of lingering wood smoke, and there is the constant sound of running water from the rapid river that flows through the middle of the village.

A superb Spanish adventure with a large number of iconic species, and brilliant birding throughout in a wide variety of habitats.

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office! Read more about our Pre-flight Service here!

Day 1: Fri 3 June - Bilbao to Villalpando
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Lounge, we fly from Gatwick to Bilbao, arriving mid-morning. Leaving the airport, we drive south-west our journey towards Zamora in the region of Castile Y Leon, a journey of around 3 hours, though longer with birding stops! Passing through a variety of habitats, at La Nava de Fuentes wetland on the edge of the vast plains, part of the huge over-drained basin is now managed especially for wildlife, particularly its scarce breeding birds. If time permits, we should be able to spend a couple of hours in this bird rich area, some of the land being farmed in a sympathetic method for many of the special breeding birds. Such habitats promise Great and Little Bustard and indeed this area holds the largest populations of Great Bustard in Europe! Other key species include Stone Curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Short-toed and Calandra Lark and Tawny Pipit. A great start to our birding tour, we travel a further hour to our hotel in Villalpando, where we stay for 4 nights.

Day 2: Sat 4 June - Villafafila Plains           
Our first full day birding on the plains around Lagunas de Villafafila, where our top target birds will be Great and Little Bustard again, as well as many of the key Spanish steppe species. We may visit The Information Centre overlooking Laguna de Barrillos which with a range of hides gives us excellent chances of finding Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Stone Curlew, Zitting Cisticola, Spectacled Warbler, Calandra and Short-toed Lark and Spotless Starling. Another area to visit is the abandoned village of Otero de Sariegos, for Rock Sparrow and Little Owl. During the tour we visit a variety of habitats including the Dehesa woodlands, seasonal lagoons and the riverine habitat around the Duero and its tributaries and later in the day may explore some of these.

On one evening, we may offer an optional night-time excursion for Eagle Owl or to try a suitable place nearby for Red-necked Nightjar, the latter having a lovely nocturnal call.

Day 3: Sun 5 June - Arribes de Duero Park
Our destination today is the Arribes del Duero International Park, which lies along the Spanish-Portuguese border. This is a very extensive area with a variety of habitats, including open Dehesa woodland interspersed with grassland grazed by cattle and sheep. Near the village of Fariza we can take a stroll in the open woodland, listening for calling Hoopoe and Turtle Dove or maybe a Wryneck This habitat creates a rich environment for several scarce species, including Rock Sparrow, Woodchat and Iberian Shrike, Black-shouldered Kite, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller and Iberian Magpie. In other areas we investigate scrubby ground for Dartford, Western Orphean and Western Bonelli's Warbler and perhaps Thekla Lark too. In the afternoon we can cross the border into Portugal to a river site for Crag Martin, Alpine and Pallid Swift and possibly Red-rumped Swallow too. The high sided cliffs around the river can also be good for raptors and we may see our first Golden and Bonelli's Eagle, Peregrine and vultures here.

Day 4: Mon 6 June - Villafalia Reserve and Riberas de Castronuno
Today our aim is to revisit several locations, catching up on any species missing from our list around the Villalfafila  reserve. Driving off road on good quality tracks we can use the vehicle as a hide and cover more ground on the vast plains. Among our targets will be Greater Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit and Spectacled Warbler to name a few. Another area worthy of a visit is the Riberas de Castronuno along the Rio Duero, where the riverine woodland alongside the banks of the river has been dammed to create a small shallow reservoir with reed beds, willows and poplars. We expect to find plenty of breeding herons, egrets and possibly Little Bittern with Great Reed and Savis Warbler, Penduline Tit and Golden Oriole all likely.

Day 5: Tue 7 June - Transfer to the Picos de Europa
Leaving the vast plains for the high peaks of the Picos, a complete contrast to the last 4 days in Spain will be apparent as we travel. Taking quiet roads, we travel north towards the high mountains with ever changing scenery en route planning a stop at Laguna de la Nava for new species. Approaching Cervera de Pisuerga, we enjoy another change of scenery with extensive Beech Forest and mountains towering up to 2,500 meters above sea level. Convenient stops may give us Black Woodpecker or perhaps a singing Western Bonelli's Warbler, and further north at a height of 1375 meters on the Piedrasluengas Pass we make another stop at an altitude of 1375 meters to look for any raptors or choughs. The day's journey finishes at Espinama, a village set back in a time when many houses still have a part of their ground floor given over to cattle and horses, kept inside during the snowy winter months. On a walk around the village, we should find singing Serin, Common and Black Redstart in gardens and Dipper on the fast-flowing river Deva. On the steep meadows which surround, Red-backed Shrike can be abundant, with Northern Goshawk, Common Buzzard and Black Woodpecker possible overhead. Overnight Hostal Puente Deva for 3 nights.

Day 6: Wed 8 June - Espinama & Fuente De
If the weather forecast is favourable, we take our earliest opportunity to visit the high peaks via cable car. A spectacular journey, taking us to an elevation of 1823 meters above sea level in just four minutes. We aim to spend the full day birding at this high elevation to maximise our chances of finding our key targets - namely Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor! We also look out for raptors, with vultures and eagles frequently seen moving over the mountains or flying through the valleys. The whole area offers good chances for wandering Lammergeier too, wild, immature birds having been relocated here from the largest breeding population in the Pyrenees. Other birds in this alpine zone include Alpine Chough (perhaps in large flocks), Red-billed Chough, and Water Pipit. The Pipit can be a skittish bird, though with luck we should be able to see the pink suffusion on its breast, a real treat. We aim to take our time gently walking on the best tracks, among awe inspiring mountain scenery. A day up in the clouds is always a memorable one of exceptional birding, and with luck should see Chamois (an agile goat-antelope) grazing on the mountainside. If time permits and our targets found easily, we can explore a local valley where we have a chance of Wryneck breeding in an area of ancient Chestnut trees. Nearby we listen for singing Iberian Chiffchaff and in good conditions, raptor activity might include Short-toed and Booted Eagle, plus Egyptian and Griffon Vulture.

Day 7: Thur 9 June - La Vega De Liebana
Today we explore the valley around La Vega La Liebana, taking a scenic route away from the high peaks into an area of lower mountains with lush valleys and thickly forested hillsides. We should find plenty of Red-backed Shrike and Cirl Bunting, perhaps Pied Flycatcher too and as the day warms should witness plenty of raptor movement. Honey Buzzard may take to the thermals, slowly rising alongside Common Buzzard offering a great comparison. Other sightings might include Golden Eagle, both morphs of Booted Eagle or even a Short-toed Eagle carrying a snake! On more open slopes we may hear Tree Pipit singing, the scolding calls from Common Whitethroat all the while scanning for Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush which frequently breed. At Puerto San Gloria there is a magnificent viewpoint with stunning views of the surrounding high mountain peaks, and we can set up our scopes to scan the mountain side for any movement. We might be very lucky here and see Brown Bear, a memorable encounter! On a visit to this site in 2021 at this site, we located three Citril Finch in a pine plantation and further checks may reveal a breeding location for this species. Further along the valley, we lookout for Rufous-tailed and Blue Rock Thrush, plus Rock Bunting.

Day 8: Fri 10 June - Birding the coast to Bilbao
Leaving Espinama, we travel north to the coast via the breath-taking Hermida Gorge, where the River Deva has carved out a twisting route through the mountains - not for the feint hearted! On reaching the coast the scenery changes again to lush green rolling hills and sandy beaches, and at our first stop in the small seaside town of of San Vicente de la Barquera we may find a Shag or perhaps a passing Gannet at the harbour mouth. At the nearby estuary waders, terns and gulls are all likely, and if time allows can stop again at Santona, where there is a good hide overlooking this vast tidal zone. We aim to arrive at the airport early evening for our flight back to the UK.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • scheduled return flights between London and Bilbao, including all airport taxes.
  • ground transportation as outlined including all transportation in Spain in a modern air-conditioned vehicle,
  • accommodation and all meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • the services of your leaders 
  • entrance fees to parks and reserves, and tips to hotels and restaurants.
  • The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions. 

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • Travel insurance
  • alcoholic drinks
  • laundry
  • optional tips guides
  • any other costs not specified as 'included'

More Holiday Information

Accommodation is in comfortable hotels or guest houses with all rooms en suite.
Food and drink. Toast, jams and preserves, yoghurts and fruit are available for breakfast, they tend to be rather Spartan (which is typical for Spanish mountain hotels) though each hotel varies slightly with eggs, cheese and cold meat as alternatives. Most days we will take a packed lunch from our hotels to allow as much field time as possible. We will make stops for coffee and formal facilities at least once a day too. Cold, bottled water will be provided. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome.
Walking is generally light/moderate. There will be some uphill track and road walking, though generally an average level of fitness is required. 
Weather. Temperatures will vary from 6 - 12 degrees C in the cooler mornings, but will quickly rise as the day goes on. Temperatures between 19-26 degrees C are the norm for this time of year. Hot summer weather in the mountains can lead to thunderstorms and heavy rain, especially in the afternoon and evening, though when we are in the high passes any wind will often feel cold. As we are in the mountains, the weather can be changeable at short notice. The weather can be very changeable in the mountain, therefore need plenty of layers may be needed.
Insects. There may be biting insects at times, so a good mosquito repellent is recommended.
Group size is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights are by scheduled airline, from London.

YOUR GUIDE

Bernie Forbes - Bernie is a highly experienced tour leader with a deep love of nature and birding, and his groups enjoy great birding in his company, learning from his vast experience of bird calls and songs. Bernie has led many groups in Europe, North Africa, Turkey and Texas, and has been a Heatherlea Guide for several years, in a number of destinations including Scotland as well as overseas. Popular and in great demand, Bernie still leads field trips around Sussex when not working for Heatherlea! Bernie will be joined by another from the Heatherlea team with more than six clients.

Other birding and wildlife holidays in Spain

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).
Tour Details

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

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