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On a recent autumn visit to this little-known sierra in the foothills of thecentral Pyrenees, we initiallyexplored by car for a full day, almostcircuiting the Guara using the back roadsbetween the villages of Alquézar and Bara.During over 12 hours on these roads weencountered not a single other vehicle -an astonishing achievement in today'sage, especially within Europe! However, asany map of Spain will indicate, the Sierrade Guara, protected as a parque naturalsince 1990, is one of Spain's quieterregions and, although it does become ahaven for canyoning and climbingenthusiasts during the summer months, wehope to find plenty of peace and quiet,and an abundance of birds and plants, aswe explore its valleys, gorges and uplandmountainsides during the course of thisexciting holiday.The Sierra de Guara is not a high range -Tozal de Guara, at 2,077 metres, being itshighest summit - but, being protected bythe high Pyrenees just to the north, itssouthern slopes, in particular, receive littleprecipitation and are consequently verydry. At lower altitudes it offers a prettypatchwork of rolling oak woods, almondorchards, olive groves and small, irregularwheat fields, traditionally farmed. Attractivelimestone villages and their splendidchurches ride the flanks of the sierra; theirpopulations, like virtually all in rural Spain,are dwindling today and allowing natureback in. Above them lies a rugged land,clothed in stunted oak forest and maquisscrub and characterised by numerousspectacular gorges, canyons, cliffs andpinnacles fashioned from limestone andconglomerate. This is a land beloved ofbirds of prey. Griffon Vultures arenumerous, whilst other resident breedingbirds include Lammergeier, Golden Eagle,Bonelli's Eagle, Red Kite and Peregrine,and these are joined in summer byEgyptian Vulture, Short-toed and BootedEagles, Honey Buzzard and Hobby.On this 2-centre holiday, we will exploreeach day on a series of gentle walks,breaking each day with a traditionalNaturetrek picnic lunch! It is the southernslopes of the sierra that we will focus onduring the first part of this holiday, andduring it we will be based in the magicalfortress town of Alquézar, built around aspectacular 8th century Moorish citadelwhich sits on a pinnacle above the gorgeof the Río Vero. This quaint and ancienttown, with its narrow streets, sits like aneagle's eyrie on a shoulder of the sierraand is a perfect centre from which toexplore on foot the surrounding valleys,gorges and higher slopes . and fromwhich to watch for passing birds of prey.The fortifications at Alquézar are typical ofmany forts built in this area, to the south ofthe Pyrenees, by the Moors or Christiansas they wrestled for control over thesenorthern limits of Muslim Spain throughoutthe Middle Ages. Today, like many of thedeserted villages, they now provide ahome for Hoopoes, Black Redstarts,Spotless Starlings and Rock Sparrows.The maquis-like vegetation of the southernslopes is dominated by dense, low,evergreen oak scrub, mixed with junipers,pines, Strawberry Trees and Rosemary. Itis a habitat favoured by such birds as BlueRock Thrush, Red-backed and WoodchatShrikes, Melodious, Subalpine andBonelli's Warblers, and Cirl, Ortolan andRock Buntings. Overhead, Alpine Swift,Crag Martins and abundant birds of preyare to be seen whilst, lower down, gorgesand rivers lined with poplars supportbreeding Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles,and little fields hold Crested Larks, TheklaLarks and Tawny Pipits.The northern slopes of the Sierra de Guara are very much damper, sustainingheavy winter snowfall. Consequently thevegetation they support is quite differentfrom that of the arid southern slopes. Theextensive oak forest and scrub here islargely deciduous, containing also Beechand maple, whilst the higher slopes areawash with rose and bramble cover. Toexplore this area during the second phaseof our holiday, we will base ourselves in thevillage of Nocito. This remote and isolatedvillage, situated towards the end of a longtrack, boasts fewer than 10 inhabitants andis an hour's drive from the nearest shops!From it, we will explore almost entirely onfoot, though we may include a night driveto look for the Wild Boar, Polecat and PineMarten that may sometimes be seen on theroad after dark. We will also enjoy a peace,solitude and magnificent night sky that isnot easily found elsewhere in Europe.Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Zaragoza andtransfer Alquézar.Day 2/4Sierra de Guara(southern slopes), fromAlquézar.Day 5/7Sierra de Guara(northern slopes), fromNocito.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA comfortable family hotel inAlquézar, and a simple, friendlyhotel in the very isolated village ofNocito. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Easy to moderate daywalks, though some tougheroptions may be offered.FocusBirds, plants and butterflies.LeaderByron Palacios.Single room supplement£140. Web quick search: ESP13Spanish FestoonSierra de GuaraTOULOUSEBARCELONACATALONIA LLEIDAHUESCASIERRADE GUARAZARAGOZATARRAGONAANDORRA BILBAOMADRIDFRANCE SPAIN130Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItinerarySpain's Sierra de Guara -Land of the Lammergeier An 8-day holiday of gentle walks focusing on the birds, plants and butterflies of the little-known Sierra de Guara, the most thinly populated and under-developed region of Spain's Pyrenean foothills -a land of gorges, cliffs and canyons beloved of the Lammergeier. Tuesday 7th May - Tuesday 14th May Cost: £1,295Lammergeier

Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking Information131Despite its small size, the autonomousregion of Navarra offers starkcontrasts in scenery, from lushlyforested Pyrenean hillsides, broad rivervalleys and towering limestone canyons inthe north, to the plains of the Ebro Rivervalley in the south; the latter enjoying amore Mediterranean influence - a land ofscented maquis, olive groves andvineyards! A visit to this region gives onethe feeling of having stumbled across awell-kept secret, and Navarra offers somefine wildlife habitats, its arid semi-desertsand majestic rock formations, unspoiledwetlands and dense forests all providing ayear-round haven for an impressive diversityof birds. We begin our holiday in the 42,000-hectareBardenas Reales Natural Park, anextraordinary semi-desert landscape ofgullies, rocky outcrops and plateauxsculpted by erosion. This rather surrealgeology provides a splendid backdrop toour excursions within the park, where thesteppes and plains are home to many birdspecies including the shy Dupont's Lark,Stone Curlew, Great and Little Bustards,Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse,and many species of lark (Crested, Thekla,Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, Calandraand Wood) and wheatears (Black, Black-eared and Northern). The park is also hometo one of the largest populations of GriffonVultures on the Iberian Peninsula.Having explored the dramatic landscapesof Bardenas we head north towards thePyrenees, stopping en route to explore themarshes and grasslands of the serenelybeautiful Laguna de Pitillas, a large salinelake where Bearded Tits and Bittern may befound, plus a host of migratory species inboth the reedbeds and surrounding steppe.A superb variety of birds is found herethroughout the year and by May the air willbe full of bird song. We'll listen for suchsummer visitors as Hoopoe, Turtle Dove,Bee-eater and Nightingale, as well as thesongs of resident birds, all proclaiming theirterritories among the reeds and surroundingwheat fields and woodlands. Egrets, Red-crested Pochard plus other duck speciesare among the many residents we'll findhere, while summer arrivals include Black-necked Grebe, Little Bittern, Purple Heron,the exotic-looking Black-winged Stilt andbirds of prey such as Short-toed andBooted Eagle.Before we leave the Mediterraneanlandscapes of south and central Navarra,we'll sample the excellent wines of the area.Bordering the world-famous Rioja region,the vineyards to the south and north-west ofthe River Ebro form the centre of Navarra'swine industry. Vineyards have been presentin the province since Roman times andNavarra boasts a fine selection of rosés,whites, both young and barrel-aged redwines, as well as sweet wines. As we headnorth we'll visit a couple of these vineyards,and also have plenty of opportunities fortasting a good variety of wines,accompanied by the area's manifoldgastronomic delights!For the remainder of our tour we will focuson the forested limestone gorges anduplands of northern Navarra. TheMediterranean influence of the plains andwine-growing south gives way to extensiveoak and pine forest as we travel northwardstowards our next location, the Foz deLumbier. This spectacular limestone gorge,cloaked in Beech and Holm Oak woodlandand low Mediterranean scrub, is home tosuch species as Blue Rock Thrush, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, Melodious,Subalpine and Bonelli's Warblers, and Cirl,Ortolan and Rock Buntings, while overheadAlpine Swifts, Crag Martins and abundantbirds of prey may be seen. Lower down, inriverside poplar groves, Bee-eaters andGolden Orioles breed, and surroundingfields hold Crested Larks, Thekla Larks andTawny Pipits. Lastly, we'll explore the higher slopes of thenorth-western Pyrenees. Here we will focuson the magnificent Irati Forest, the secondlargest and best-preserved Beech andSilver Fir forest in western Europe.Presenting a vast green mantle of some17,000 hectares of pristine forest, this is avaluable refuge for a wealth of wildlife - aplace where mature trees tower to 40metres, making this a natural paradise forwoodland birds, especially woodpeckers(among them Black and the rare White-backed Woodpecker). Nearby, among therocky summits above the forest,Lammergeiers, Citril Finches, Snowfinchesand Alpine Accentors may all be found,together with Chamois and Alpine Marmotsand an abundance of glorious alpine flora.This tour to Navarra offers you an excitingand varied range of little-explored Europeanhabitats and their associated wildlife, allwashed down with some first-class wines.We're sure you're going to like it as muchas we do!Spain - Birds &Wines of Navarra A 7-day holiday to sample the heady mixture of birdlife and wines found among thedense forests, uplands, steppes, canyons and wetlands of Navarra in northern Spain. Tuesday 14th May - Monday 20th May Cost: £1,195ZARAGOZAIRATI FOREST/ISABAVALTIERRABARDENASREALESLOURDES TOULOUSE ANDORRA BILBAO MADRID ORDESSANATIONAL PARKFRANCE SPAIN Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Zaragoza; transferValtierra.Day 2/3Exploration of BardenasReales, Pitillas and Olitefrom Valtierra.Day 4/6 Exploration of theLumbier Gorge and IratiForest from Isaba.Day 7Transfer Zaragoza; flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable family-run hotels, allrooms with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy day walks only.FocusBirds, other wildlife and localwines.LeadersByron Palacios and Julian Gayarre.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ESP24Pin-tailed SandgrouseBardenas Reales Natural ParkDupont's Lark