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Day 1: Friday 3 June Bilbao to Espinama
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Lounge, we fly from Gatwick to Bilbao, arriving mid-morning. Leaving the airport, we drive to a river estuary for some introductory birding, amid lush green farmland and rolling, wooded hills. The estuary is very sandy with open views and several good viewpoints, and we begin birding with a few common waders, gulls and terns, Black Kite or even a singing Melodious Warbler. After lunch in the seaside town of San Vicente de la Barquera we move inland, collecting our first mountain birds perhaps including Griffon and Egyptian Vulture and Crag Martin. As we drive, the valley opens up with stunning views of the countryside, then onto the tourist town of Potes and our destination at Espinama in the high Picos de Europa, where we stay for four nights.
Day 2: Saturday 4 June Espinama-Fuente De, the high peaks
If the weather forecast is good, we take our earliest opportunity to visit the high peaks via cable car, hopefully as soon as possible in the morning. The journey is spectacular, taking us to an elevation of 1823 mts in just four minutes. We aim to spend all day birding at this high elevation to maximise our chances of finding our key targets, Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor. We also check flying raptors, as vultures and eagles are frequently seen moving over the mountains or flying through the valleys, and we have good chances of Lammergeier. Wild, immature birds have 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 decent tracks in awesome mountain scenery up in the clouds. Through careful scanning Chamois are normally found grazing on the mountainside. A memorable day, and with luck good chances of exceptional birding.
Day 3: Sunday 5 June Birding the Lebena valley
A more relaxed, slower-paced day after our mountain adventure. After breakfast we enjoy a walk around our fascinating 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. In the village we should find singing Serin, plus Common and Black Redstart in gardens, with Dipper in the fast-flowing river Deva. On the steep meadows surrounding the village Red-backed Shrike abound, with Bullfinch and Spotted Flycatcher around the woodland edges. Overhead Goshawk and Common Buzzard are possible, with a chance of flyover Black Woodpecker. We explore some local valleys where we have a chance of adding more species, and on a delightful hillside with open woodland we have an excellent chance of finding Wryneck breeding in an area of ancient chestnut trees. Nearby we look for singing Iberian Chiffchaff, and with majestic views of a sweeping panorama below, good conditions at this point should find plenty of raptor activity with Short-toed and Booted Eagle plus Egyptian and Griffon Vulture in the skies. Another spot with old orchards is a favourite place for Middle-spotted Woodpecker. In another valley off the Hemida Gorge we take a high mountain road checking out very isolated meadows and steep rocky gorges for other birds of interest including Rock Bunting and perhaps both species of Rock Thrush.
Day 4 Monday 6 June La Vega De Liebana
Today we explore the valley around La Vega La Liebana, taking a very 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, and perhaps Pied Flycatcher. As the day warms up we should witness plenty of raptor movement: Honey Buzzard may be out on the thermals slowly rising alongside Common Buzzard, offering a great opportunity for comparison. Other raptors may be found, with a good chance of Golden Eagle, both morphs of Booted Eagle or perhaps even a Short-toed Eagle carrying a snake! On some of the lower more open slopes we may hear singing Tree Pipit or the scolding of Common Whitethroat. At several sites we look out for Rufous- tailed Rock Thrush, which frequently breed around the rocky slopes. 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 experience!
Day 5: Tuesday 7 June Transfer to the Meseta Plains
Today we depart the high Picos De Europa for our journey south-west towards Zamora in the region of Castile-Leon, a journey of around four hours, though longer with birding stops! We drive through extensive beech forest and via the Piedrasluengas Pass at 1375 mts, and onwards through a variety of habitats, perhaps including La Nava de Fuentes wetland, part of a huge over-drained basin now managed for wildlife. Eventually we reach the plains, where vast areas are given over to growing crops. Some of this land is farmed in a sympathetic method to many of the special breeding birds, and this habitat promises Great and Little Bustard, indeed this area holds one of the largest populations of Great Bustard in Spain. Other key species include Stone Curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Short-toed and Calandra Lark and Tawny Pipit. During the next few days we visit many varied habitats, including the Dehesa woodlands, seasonal lagoons set in the vast farming area, and the riverine habitat around the Duero and its tributaries, adding to our bird list as we travel. Overnight near Zamora for three nights.
Day 6: Wednesday 8 June Villafafila Plains
Our first full day birding on the plains around Lagunas de Villafafila, where our top target birds are both Great and Little Bustard as well as many of the key Spanish steppe species. We have excellent chances of finding Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Stone Curlew, Fan-Tailed and 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. Later in the day we might visit the River Elsa area for a few more species, with luck including Purple Heron. Tonight we may try a suitable place nearby for Red-necked Nightjar, which has a lovely nocturnal song.
Day 7: Thursday 9 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. This creates a rich environment for several scarce species, including Rock Sparrow, Turtle Dove, Woodchat and Iberian Shrike, Black-shouldered Kite, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller and Azure-winged Magpie to name a few. In other parts we check out scrubby areas for Dartford and Western Bonelli's Warbler, plus Western Orphean Warbler and perhaps Thekla's Lark. In the afternoon we can cross the border into Portugal to scan for Alpine and Pallid Swift, Crag Martin and possible Red-rumped Swallow. Along the river are high sided cliffs where we may find Golden and Bonelli's Eagle, Peregrine and vultures.
Day 8: Friday 10 June return to Bilbao and depart
After breakfast we head back towards Bilbao, a journey of around six hours including lunch and birding stops. Taking the scenic routes, we should be able to enjoy relaxed birding in a few suitable locations, aiming to arrive at the airport early evening, for our flight back to the UK.