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  • Photograph of Brown Bears

    Brown Bears by Chris Townend.

    NORTHWESTERN SPAIN

    Best Wildlife in Northwestern Spain

    Mammals
    Spanish (Iberian) Ibex, (Cantabrian) Chamois, Red and Roe Deer, and Red Squirrel. Also a chance of Brown Bear, Wolf, Wild Boar and Wild Cat.

    Birds
    The species listed below are usually present during the summer breeding season, with many also possible during the late summer.
    Great Bustard, (Iberian) Azure-winged Magpie, Wallcreeper, Spotless Starling and (White-winged) Snowfinch, as well as Purple Heron, White and Black Storks, (Eurasian) Black, Egyptian and (Eurasian) Griffon Vultures, Montagu’s Harrier, Red Kite, Booted, Golden and Short-toed Eagles, Lesser Kestrel, Little Bustard, Common Crane (mostly Nov-Feb), Stone Curlew (Eurasian Thick-knee), Black-winged Stilt, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Golden (European) Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Black, Iberian (Sharpe’s) Green and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Iberian (Southern) Grey, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, (Eurasian) Golden Oriole, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Calandra, (Greater) Short-toed and Thekla Larks, (Eurasian) Crag Martin, Crested and (Eurasian) Penduline Tits, (White-throated) Dipper, Firecrest, Iberian Chiffchaff, (Western) Bonelli’s, Dartford, Great Reed, Sardinian and Savi’s Warblers, (Western) Black-eared Wheatear, (White-spotted) Bluethroat, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Rock Bunting and Rock Sparrow. Also a chance of Black-shouldered Kite, Spanish Eagle, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Black Wheatear and Citril Finch.

    Invertebrates
    There are 154 species of butterfly in the Picos de Europa, in the Cantabrian Mountains, alone.

    Plants
    The rich flora of the Cantabrian Mountains, which includes gentians and many orchids, is usually at its best in June.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Northwestern Spain

    Best Times for Wildlife in Northwestern Spain

    The peak times to look for bears are dawn and dusk in early July when they venture out of the forests to forage on spring grasses and late August to mid-September when they do the same in search of bilberries and blackberries. June is the peak time for butterflies, flowers and most birds. Wolves may be seen virtually all year round, especially at bait stations (muladars) where dead donkeys and horses are put out for them. Wild Cats are most likely to be seen during late August-early September when they have kittens and the farmers cut hay, which makes hunting small mammals easier, enticing the cats out of the woods, especially during the first hour after dawn and the last hour before dusk. People wishing to see Great Bustards displaying will need to visit between March and May.

    Recommended Books etc. for Northwestern Spain

    Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by S Aulagnier et al. Helm, 2009.

    Mammals of Britain and Europe by D McDonald and P Barrett. Collins, 2005.

    Collins Bird Guide by L Svensson et al. Collins, 2010 (Second Edition).

    Birds of Europe by L Jonsson. Helm, 1999.

    Finding Birds in North Spain by D Gosney. Easybirder, 2010 (book and/or DVD).

    Where to watch Birds in Northern and Eastern Spain by E Garcia and M Rebane. Helm, 2008 (Second Edition).

    Where to watch Birds in Spain by J A Montero and SEO/Birdlife. Lynx Edicions, 2006.

    Collins Butterfly Guide by T Tolman and R Lewington. Collins, 2009 (Third Edition).

    Butterflies of Britain and Europe: A Photographic Guide by H Aarnio et al. A & C Black Publishers, 2009.


    Apps etc.

    Collins Bird Guide.

    Where to watch birds in Europe & Russia by N Wheatley. Helm, 2000.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Europe? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Northwestern Spain

    Many trip reports, some for Northwestern Spain, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Northwestern Spain. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Northwestern Spain' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Northwestern Spain

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.


    Accommodation in Northwestern Spain

    Some Organized Tours to Northwestern Spain

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours or can arrange custom tours to Northwestern Spain include the following.