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124Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryAs any map of Spain will indicate, theSierra de Guara, protected as a parque natural since 1990, is one ofthe quietest of regions in the SpanishPyrenees and its outlying foothills. On itsrolling lower slopes, a pretty patchwork ofoak woods, almond orchards, olive grovesand small, irregular wheat fields,traditionally farmed, is to be found.Attractive, limestone villages and theirsplendid churches ride the flanks of thesierra; their populations, like virtually all inrural Spain, are dwindling today andallowing nature back in. Above them lies arugged land, clothed in stunted oak forestand maquis scrub and noted for itsnumerous gorges and canyons, andspectacular cliffs, columns and pinnaclesfashioned from limestone andconglomerate. In high summer the regionattracts French 'canyoners'; during thecolder months this magnificent landscapebecomes the winter capital of Spain'sWallcreepers! It is also a land favoured byLammergeiers, huge numbers of GriffonVultures, Golden Eagles, and theoccasional Bonelli's Eagle, Hen Harrier orPeregrine.Just a few hours away, to the south ofZaragoza, lies a very different 'avianhotspot'. Laguna de Gallocanta is a giantsaltpan, the largest natural lagoon in theIberian peninsula. It lies in a vast, shallowdepression surrounded by distant hills and,although its water levels are dependent onregular seasonal rainfall, at the time of ourvisit it is to be hoped that winter rains willhave replenished them. Gallocanta attractsthe greatest concentration of CommonCranes in western Europe. The largestnumbers, 20,000-50,000, come through onpassage, but increasing numbers arestaying to winter here. Our February visit istimed to coincide with the moreconcentrated spring migration when thelargest concentrations are generally to befound, prior to the Cranes' northboundmigration over the Pyrenees to theirbreeding grounds in northern Europe. Waterlevels permitting, Gallocanta can alsosometimes host good numbers of winteringduck and other waterbirds. The area alsosupports a variety of wintering birds of prey,amongst them Hen and Marsh Harriers,Red Kites, Peregrines and Merlins. GreatBustards breed in this area and althoughthe majority leave in winter, a few individualsare sometimes still present at the time ofour visit.The high páramo, or steppe, surroundingthe lake is also attractive to birds. Here,Black-bellied Sandgrouse and such larkspecies as Calandra, Lesser Short-toed,Crested and Thekla Larks as well as manywintering Skylark may all be found.However, for the best steppe habitat we willspend some time during our transfer dayaround Belchite. Here, 40,000 hectares ofsteppe habitat - including within it theSociedad Española de Ornitología's (SEO)645-hectare El Planerón nature reserve,part-funded by proceeds from the 1992British Birdwatching Fair - present thebest habitat of its type in northern Spain.This windswept, arid land of dusty, red,scrub-covered plains and eroded plateaux,more reminiscent of Morocco orAfghanistan than western Europe, holdslarge percentages of the Spanishpopulations of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse,Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Lesser Short-toed Lark and the elusive and enigmaticDupont's Lark.This 2-centre holiday is designed to offerthe best of these two magnificent regions.First, in the Sierra de Guara, we will bebased in the magical fortress town ofAlquézar, built around a spectacular 8thcentury Moorish citadel which sits on apinnacle above the gorge of the Río Vero.This quaint and ancient town, with itsnarrow streets, sits like an eagle's eyrie ona shoulder of the Sierra, the impressivecliffs that surround it a haven for winteringWallcreepers. From this base, we willexplore the slopes of the Sierra, whereLammergeiers and Wallcreepers will beforemost amongst our target species, andwe will visit the Embalse de la Sotonera, areservoir that attracts thousands of Craneseach spring as they make a final stop torest and feed before crossing the Pyrenees.By contrast, at the Laguna de Gallocanta,we stay in a modern, glass-fronted hotel,set in an isolated position that commandsmagnificent views over the entire lake;views that can be enjoyed equally from thebar, the bed or the bath! The movementsof Cranes at dawn and dusk arespectacular, and will be a highlight of thetour, but for the cultural buffs, so too willbe a visit to the nearby 8th century walledtown of Daroca.Wallcreepers & Cranes in Northern SpainA 7-day winter break, looking first for Wallcreepers, Lammergeiers and other birds of prey in the pre-PyreneanSierra de Guara (Europe's Wallcreeper capital), then at the spectacle of Cranes and waterfowl at the Laguna deGallocanta, and for bustards, sandgrouse and the enigmatic Dupont's Lark in the steppes around Belchite. Monday 22nd October - Sunday 28th October 2012 Cost: £1,195Monday 18th February - Sunday 24th February 2013 Cost: £1,295Monday 21st October - Sunday 27th October 2013 Cost: £1,295Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Zaragoza andtransfer Alquézar.Day 2/3Sierra de Guara, fromAlquézar.Day 4/6Gallocanta and Belchite,from Gallocanta.Day 7Fly London.AccommodationA very comfortable family hotel inAlquézar and a modern, glass-fronted hotel at Gallocanta whichoffers great comfort together withunrivalled views of the lake and itsbirdlife. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Optional short walks willbe taken during the course of theholiday, but much of our time willbe spent watching and enjoying theavian spectacles. FocusBirds.LeaderJohn Willsher or Byron Palacios.Single room supplement£165. Availability limited.Web quick search: ESP17TOULOUSEBARCELONACATALONIA LLEIDAGALLOCANTAHUESCABELCHITESIERRADE GUARAZARAGOZATARRAGONAANDORRA BILBAOMADRIDFRANCE SPAINEl PlanerónCommon CranesWallcreeper

Andalucía lies at one of the world'sgreat crossroads, where Europemeets Africa and the Mediterraneanjoins the Atlantic. Here, across the Straitsof Gibraltar, a constant ebb and flow ofspecies has occurred over the Ice Ages toendow Andalucía with a great diversity offlora, fauna and human culture. Today, over2,300 vascular plant species representing140 families are found here, of which onethird are endemic to the region. EgyptianMongoose, Genet and several butterflyspecies, all with essentially Africandistributions, also occur. Further, theclimate of Andalucía during the late IceAge, being milder than in areas to thenorth, permitted the development of earlyhuman populations in the region. Indeedtoday many traces of their presenceremain, notably in some impressive cavepaintings. A succession of civilisations thenfollowed. The Phoenicians and Greeks setup trading colonies and were followed bythe Carthaginians, Romans and eventuallythe Moors, who brought with them highcivilisation and Islam, and left behind a richarchitectural legacy.Andalucía is further blessed by afascinating diversity of geology, landscapeand climate, from the gentle sun-drenchedsandstone hills above the narrow coastalplain to the dramatic, jagged limestonepeaks of the Serrania de Ronda. Deepriver valleys and spectacular gorgesdissect the area and, scattered aboutthem are characteristic Andalucianvillages, the dazzling whitewashed wallsof all their houses and the Arab designof their narrow winding streets reflectingthe long Muslim domination of the area.Best of all for the botanist, the landscapeis surprisingly green in this well-wateredpart of southern Spain and little influencedby modern farming practices.We begin our tour with a flight to Málaga.We then drive north, through orangegroves and vineyards, before climbingonto the scenic ridge-top route towardsRonda, with its constantly unfolding viewsof mountains and wooded valleys. Ourbase for the week is a traditionalfarmhouse, Finca la Guzmana, lovinglyconverted to provide comfortableaccommodation and a relaxed atmospherefor the exclusive benefit of small groups.Situated just east of Ronda, it is setamongst its own vineyards and olivegroves, and provides a perfect base forour week-long exploration of the area.We have timed our holiday to coincide withthe peak of the early spring flowers andwill make daily excursions to explore thewide variety of the region's habitats insearch of their special plants and birds. Close to Ronda lies Grazelema, arguablythe most perfect of the Pueblos Blancos(white mountain villages), whereHemingway wrote part of 'For Whom theBell Tolls' and Oleg Polunin based himselfwhilst writing 'Flowers of SouthwestEurope'. The Natural Park of Sierra deGrazelema is one of Andalucía's foremostprotected areas, and was declared a'Biosphere Reserve' by UNESCO in 1977.The largest stand of the rare Spanish Fir(Abies pinsapo) occurs here, on the highlimestone ridge of the Sierra del Pinar,whilst the grasslands, rocks and screessupport a diversity of orchids and localpopulations of daffodils, Narcissus spp.Shaded rocks and cliffs are home toseveral saxifrages, the spectacularendemic crucifer, Biscutella frutescens,and the endemic Centaurea clementei. Onother excursions, we will travel through thelargest woodlands of Cork Oak (Quercussuber) in Europe, watch Griffon Vulturessoaring overhead, and visit the Cueva dela Pileta with its stunning stalactites,stalagmites and perplexing Palaeolithicpaintings, leaving time to visit Ronda, in itsspectacular cliff-top setting, high above itsfamous gorge.The Sierra de las Nieves, alittle way to the south, offer acomplete contrast. Here, themaquis-covered lower slopes rise to openwoodland, where Paeonia broteroiandPaeonia coriaceaflourish. Higher up, wewill walk amongst the Spanish Firs where,in early spring, the ground is carpeted withthe large-flowered Narcissus hispanicus.Spanish Ibex range freely over thesummits and Golden Eagle, Chough,Alpine Accentor and Crossbill are amongstthe breeding birds of the park. From suchheights the views over the Straits ofGibraltar and the Rif Mountains inMorocco are quite tremendous. Further east, in the Baetic Cordillera, theforces of nature have created bizarrelandscapes of eroded rocks. Above ElChorro, the Rio Guadalhorce has carved adramatic defile through the sandstones,and today hosts a complex of hydro-electric dams. Around these the dense oakwoodland and deep valleys provide amosaic of habitats full of both plants and birds. Our final highlight of the holiday will be avisit to El Torcal de Antequera whichrepresents a dramatically eroded karstrising to over 1,300 metres. The flutedspires and bastions of gleaming whitelimestone that rise from the bright greenturf form a surreal landscape and are hometo such exciting endemic species as thepale blue toadflax, Linaria antequera, andthe deep blue bearded iris, Iris subbiflora.Spring Flowers ofWestern AndalucíaAn 8-day holiday of gentle walks and botanising in the mountains of western Andalucía.Wednesday 13th March - Wednesday 20th March Cost: £1,295Wednesday 20th March - Wednesday 27th March Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFRANCE PORTUGAL SEVILLE GRANADA RONDA GIBRALTAR MÁLAGAALGECIRAS FINCA LA GUZMANA CADIZ GUADALQUIVIR RIVER MADRIDATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEAN SEA SPAIN Outline itineraryDay 1Fly to Málaga andtransfer to Finca laGuzmana.Day 2/7Driving and walkingexcursions in search ofplants and other naturalhistory.Day 8Fly UK.Accommodation A charming, family-run convertedfarmhouse, all rooms with privatefacilities.Food All included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Easy/moderate daywalks only.Focus Plants, and other natural history.LeaderPaul Harmes.Single room supplement£165.Web quick search: ESP14125GrazelemaOphrys tenthrediniferaNarcissus assoanus