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Northern Spain has a very great dealto offer the naturalist. The dramaticlimestone peaks of the Picos deEuropa in the heart of the CantabrianMountains are justly famous for theirscenery and birds. Less well known, butonly a relatively short distance to thesouth, are the wide open plains of theupper Duero Valley, which offer a strikingscenic contrast to the mountains andsome very different but equally excitingbirds. Add to this a sea crossing thatprovides some of the best seabird andwhale-watching possibilities that Europehas to offer and you have the makings of avery memorable trip indeed.Our holiday starts with the ferry crossingfrom Portsmouth to Bilbao, a journey whichat this time of year regularly producessightings of an exciting range of whale anddolphin species. The ship is large andstable and provides a good vantage-pointfor scanning the sea ahead for that tell-talefin or that column of spray, as one of theseimpressive creatures surfaces momentarilyand 'blows'. The ship crosses thecontinental shelf during the night and themorning will find us in the southern Bay ofBiscay, a particularly rich feeding groundfor whales. Here we have a chance ofencountering such exciting species as Fin,Sei, Minke, Killer and Long-finned PilotWhales and Bottlenose, Common, Stripedand Risso's Dolphins. Seabirds are verylikely to be in evidence too, and at thistime of year we have a good chance ofseeing Balearic, Sooty, Cory's and GreatShearwaters, up to four species of skua,Sabine's Gull, Grey Phalarope and petrelsthat may even include Wilson's.Once in Bilbao, we will make the shortjourney inland to Espinama in the heart ofthe Picos de Europa mountains. From ourpleasant hotel here we are well positionedto explore the best that this remarkablyunspoilt region has to offer. Amongst thehigh limestone crags and screes, reachedby a short but spectacular journey on theFuente Dé cable car, we will search for arange of high mountain specialists. AlpineChoughs, Water Pipits, Alpine Accentors,Crag Martins and the attractive Chamoisare all common here and, with luck, we willfind Snowfinch, Rock Thrush, Rock Buntingand even Wallcreeper. Raptors are aconspicuous feature of the Picos and,amongst the Griffon Vultures which are sooften to be seen cruising effortlessly alongthe skyline, we must keep an eye open forEgyptian Vultures, Golden and Short-toedEagles and Peregrine Falcons.Lower down, in the valleys, we will discovera very different landscape. Here there aremixed woodlands, tumbling streams, flower-filled meadows, orchards and quiet,timeless villages. Amongst them we willlook out for Black and Middle SpottedWoodpeckers, Woodlark, Dipper, Short-toedTreecreeper, Firecrest, Bonelli's Warbler,Red-backed Shrike and Cirl Bunting.Overhead we could see Booted Eagle, RedKite, Honey Buzzard or Goshawk, whilst atour feet the meadows dazzle us with theirflowers and a range of butterflies that mayinclude Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra andthe strange Black Satyr. After our time in the Picos we will headsouth-westwards towards Zamora. In thecourse of an easy but remarkablemorning's drive which takes us over acouple of passes and through a series ofpicturesque valleys, we will descend fromhigh mountains onto the wide open rollingvastness of the Dueroplains. Our destination is alovely hotel in Zamora. Here,in accordance with European Uniondirectives, a large area of the plains isbeing farmed in a manner sympathetic to arange of sensitive and declining grasslandbird species. The result is one of thelargest concentrations of Great Bustards inthe world, together with good populationsof Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu's Harrier,Lesser Kestrel and Calandra Lark. Withluck we will see all of these during ourvisit. Additionally, to add icing to the cake,the area has a series of saline lagoonswhich, provided they have a little water inthem at this, the driest time of the year, willbe full of migrant waders and otherwaterbirds. After this contrasting feast of scenery andbirds in two rather forgotten parts of Spain,we will have to return to Bilbao, where pastgroups have squeezed in a visit to theGuggenheim. Counting the MediterraneanGulls as we leave the harbour, we can lookforward to more whales, dolphins,shearwaters and skuas as we once againcross the continental shelf out in the Bay of Biscay. Whatever we see, it is likely tobe a fitting finale to a satisfying andmemorable holiday.137Outline itineraryDay 1/2Ferry journey fromPortsmouth to Bilbao.Day 3Arrive Bilbao; transfer toEspinama, Picos deEuropa.Day 4Picos de Europa.Day 5/7Zamora, Duero Valleyplains.Day 8 Bilbao.Day 9 Depart Bilbao by ferry.Day 10 Arrive Portsmouth.AccommodationTwin-bedded cabins aboard theferry. Comfortable hotels in Spain;all rooms with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price, except formeals aboard the ferry and eveningmeal in Bilbao.GradingEasy day walks. Grade A/B.FocusBirds and mammals (particularlywhales and dolphins).LeadersPeter Dunn and Byron Palacios.Single room supplement(in Spain)£115.Web quick search: ESP05FRANCE PORTUGAL SEVILLE BILBAOPICOS SANTANDERDE EUROPA ESPINAMA ZAMORA MADRID ATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEAN SEA SPAIN Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationPicos & Plains - TheBest of Northern SpainA 10-day tour in search of whales, dolphins and seabirds in the Bay of Biscay and the special birds of the Picos de Europa mountains and the Zamoran plains.Sunday 4th August - Tuesday 13th August Cost: £1,295Picos de EuropaStriped DolphinBlack-eared Wheatear

Northern Spain, rugged and green, hasa great deal to offer the naturalist.Here, in the Cantabrian Mountains,which extend for about 180 miles from thePyrenees to Galicia, two isolated populationsof European Brown Bear occur. The majority,about 100, live in the wildest, steepest andmost wooded parts of the little-visitedwestern end of the range. Of these, about 20live in the deep valleys, forests andmountains of Somiedo Natural Park, one ofNaturetrek's favourite European retreats, andvery little known. Established in 1988,Somiedo protects almost 30,000 hectares ofsome of the highest and most scenic peaksand valleys of the region, and is regarded asthe best-preserved montane environment inthe Iberian Peninsula. The CantabrianMountains and their outlying ranges alsohold the vast majority of Spain's 2,500 to3,000 Wolves and are the stronghold of thespecies in Europe. This is a population thathas increased markedly since an estimatedall-time low of just 500 individuals in 1970.The depopulation of Spain's rural regions, asSpaniards have increasingly migrated to thecities, has benefited both the Wolf and theBear, as has a changing attitude towardsthese two species which were once viciouslypersecuted. Our holiday begins with a ferry crossingfrom Portsmouth to Santander over theBay of Biscay, a journey which at this time of year regularly produces sightings of an exciting range of whale and dolphinspecies. The ferry provides a goodvantage-point for scanning the sea aheadfor tell-tale fins or 'blows'. Our shipcrosses the continental shelf during thenight and the morning will find us in theBay of Biscay, over a deep underwatertopography that creates a particularly richfeeding ground for whales. Here we have achance of encountering such excitingspecies as Fin, Sei, Minke and Long-finned Pilot Whales, plus the deep-divingCuvier's Beaked Whale and a variety ofdolphins including Bottlenose, Common,Striped and Risso's. In September it isalso sometimes possible to see migratingSperm Whales; at this time of year we alsohave a good chance of seeing Balearic,Sooty and Cory's Shearwaters, up to fourspecies of skua, Sabine's Gull, GreyPhalarope and petrels that may eveninclude Wilson's. On reaching northern Spain andovernighting in Santander, we will drivesouth to the rolling hills of Zamora, wherewe'll spend three nights. Now our focusswitches to finding one of thesemountains' iconic mammals, the Wolf. Thisis a region of rolling hills and broad valleyswhich affords excellent opportunities toscan wide areas of open land and whichmay easily be accessed via an extensivenetwork of metalled roads and gravelledforest tracks. Birds of prey are much inevidence and include Red Kite, HenHarrier, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard,Kestrel, Merlin and even the occasionalGolden Eagle. Coniferous forests are filledwith Firecrests, Coal and Crested Tits, andJays, while the heaths hold Woodlark,Stonechat and Dartford Warbler. Goodnumbers of both Red and Roe Deers arehere too - good news for us, as they formthe main prey for the focus of our visit, theWolf. Looking for Wolves involves lengthyscanning sessions from strategic vantage-points and requires a great deal ofpersistence, patience and stealth. Havingsaid that, 90% of our Wolf-watching toursin this area to date have been successful,so we'll be hoping to maintain this record.From Zamora we will drive north to thevillage of Pola de Somiedo, situated withinSomiedo Natural Park, where we'll bebased for the next three nights. DuringSeptember, Brown Bears will be feeding onthe seasonal glut of fruits, nuts and otherfood sources in order to fatten up for theirlong winter hibernation. To stand a chanceof seeing a Bear we must put in longhours of patient scanning from one spotduring the early mornings and lateevenings. A successful Bear quest will alsorequire a hefty dose of luck, not least withthe weather! There are Chamois, plus Roeand Red Deers in the park and we'll alsoenjoy the other wildlife we see from ourvantage-points, and during gentle-pacedwildlife walks, as well as during ourleisurely and lavish al fresco lunches setamongst the beautiful Cantabrianscenery. Before long it will be time to drive toSantander to enjoy some more cetaceanand seabird-watching on the ferry home toPlymouth.FRANCEPORTUGAL SEVILLE BILBAOSANTANDERZAMORA MADRID MEDITERRANEAN SEA SPAIN CANTABRIAN MOUNTAINSSOMIEDO138Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Ferry from Portsmouthto Santander.Day 2Arrive Santander.Day 3/5Zamora (in search ofWolves).Day 6/8Somiedo Natural Park(in search of Bears).Day 9 Depart Santander byferry.Day 10Arrive Plymouth; transferPortsmouth.AccommodationTwin-bedded cabins aboard theferry. Comfortable rural hotels inSpain; all rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price, except onferry crossings.GradingA/B (easy/moderate).FocusSearching for Brown Bears, Wolves,whales, dolphins, seabirds andother wildlife.LeaderGerald Broddelez.Single room supplement(in Spain)£115.Web quick search: ESP27Spain's 'Big Three': In Searchof Whales, Wolves & BearsA 10-day holiday in search of whales, dolphins and seabirds in the Bay of Biscay, as well as Bears and Wolves in the Cantabrian Mountains.Tuesday 3rd September - Thursday 12th September Cost: £1,295Somiedo Natural ParkFin WhaleIberian Wolves