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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

There still remain corners of rural Spain,far from the reality of this fast-developing and increasingly urban-dwelling country, that have been forgottenby time, largely abandoned by all but theolder generation, and which are beingreclaimed by a wildlife no longer sopersecuted by man. The Montaña Palentina- the Palentian Mountains - is one suchplace: a wild, unpopulated region of highand chilly ridges, rounded summits,sweeping valleys and magnificentpanoramic vistas extending southwards tothe great plains of Castile and Léon.Nestling in the shadow of northern Spain'sCordillera Cantábrica, not far from thejagged limestone peaks of the Picos deEuropa, the Palentian Mountains aredominated by the majestic Sierra de PeñaLabra, essentially a high mountain ridgeboasting a handful of 2,000-metre summits.The ancient Palentian villages of the regionare largely deserted, with hardly anoccupied house in each. For this reason, sotoo are the Palentian Mountains . left forreclamation by Wolves, Brown Bears, WildBoar, and numerous Chamois, Red Deerand Roe Deer, not to mention a host ofsmaller mammals such as Iberian andBrown Hare, Beech Marten, Pine Marten,Wildcat and the elusive Genet.We will be based in one such village duringthis week-long Spanish-speakingexploration of this little-known mountainwildlife haven, guests of our guide andfriend Tino and his charming wife Rosa,who have sympathetically restored threeterraced farm cottages in a remote andtumbledown hamlet. Tino speaks almost noEnglish, but his clear Spanish and extrovertand bubbly personality make him theperfect travelling companion. Leading thetour with Tino will be our own ByronPalacios. Byron became known toNaturetrek through his expert leadership ofour birding groups in his native Ecuador.Now settled in England with his British wife,Byron has a great rapport with Tino and thispromises to be, above all, a fun week ofwildlife, food and wine that provides theperfect environment in which to practiseand improve your spoken Spanish(although Byron will use English with youwhen stuck!). Situated not far to the north of Aguilar delCampo, the cottages lie on the doorstep ofa truly wild landscape, comprising highmountain ridges rich in alpine flora, jaggedcrags and cliffs, and vast oak and beechforests which support a high percentage ofthe endangered eastern population of theEuropean Brown Bear. Much maligned,these magnificent creatures are notoriouslydifficult to see, roaming elusively over vasttracts of difficult terrain. Nevertheless, wedo stand a chance of a sighting if we put inthe effort at dawn and dusk, when theBears are most active. We will be made tofeel very much at home by Tino, who willshare a rich passion for, and knowledge of,these mountains . as well as regaling uswith tales and photographs of his closeencounters with both Bears and Wolves. Interesting mammalian encounters are notreserved, however, for the remote valleys,for our hosts will proudly show us images ofWildcat and Beech Marten taken by aremote camera not feet away from our frontdoor (and will no doubt demonstrate thispiece of kit during our stay)! The cottages are very much central to ourdaily outings, with the majority of each dayspent on foot, either walking from our base,or in quiet locations accessed by minibus.A range of habitats can be found in closeproximity, with a full suite of raptors present,including resident Golden Eagles andPeregrines and both Griffon and EgyptianVultures. Black and Middle SpottedWoodpeckers both breed here, the latterpossibly being easier to see in this locationthan throughout much of the rest of itsrange. Another highlight is the Wallcreeperwhich, although probably proving elusive athigh altitudes during this season, drops tothe dam walls of the region's reservoirs atthe onset of colder weather, and can fromthen on be seen quite easily.On one day we will drive further afield toexplore the steppes and plains of themeseta, home to Great Bustard, StoneCurlew and other grassland birds, and alarge (depending on rainfall) reed-fringedlake which supports good numbers ofducks, geese, waders and such interestingpasserines as Penduline Tit andMoustached Warbler. Flexibility will be the key to this tour and,whatever time we arrive back at ourcottages, we can be sure that a heartymeal, freshly prepared by Rosa, will bewaiting for us on our return each day fromthe wilds of this forgotten corner of Europe.It will be hard to leave!Learn Spanish in Wild Spain! - LaMontaña Palentina An 8-day opportunity for aspiring Spanish speakers to improve their Spanish and enjoy the birds,mammals and other wildlife in La Montaña Palentina, a wild and beautiful corner of northern Spain. Thursday 12th September - Thursday 19th September Cost: £1,195Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFRANCEPORTUGALSEVILLEBILBAOSANTANDERCORDILLERACANTÁBRICAAGUILARDEL CAMPOMADRIDATLANTICOCEANMEDITERRANEANSEASPAINOutline itineraryDay 1Fly to Santander; driveAguilar del Campo.Day 2/7Daily programme ofnatural history walksand excursions from ourbase.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation Three old terraced farm cottages,beautifully restored. Food and wineAll included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Day walks only.Focus Birds, mammals, other naturalhistory . and speaking Spanish!LeadersByron Palacios and Tino Garcia.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ESP22139Curavacas, Montaña PalentinaBlack Woodpecker