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Worldwide Birding Tours - Birding Ecotours

Birding Tour Spain: Central and Northern Spain 2018

Next on our birding calendar is an exciting ‘Birding Tour Spain’ adventure. Spain has long been an extremely popular destination for birders, offering as it does a wide range of typical Mediterranean habitats, along with easy, safe, and excellent birding. Many sites are in beautifully scenic settings, featuring Romanesque architecture and ancient, fortified hilltop villages. Much of interior Spain is very rural and way off the tourist trail. This is the finest region to sample a large array of southern European species and is especially good for raptors, with 23 species possible. Our very comprehensive Birding Tour Spain itinerary provides a great diversity of birds, concentrating on three major and distinct habitats: the semi-arid steppes and cork-oak dehesas (a multifunctional agro-sylvo-pastoral system and cultural landscape) of the central and northern Spain interior, the scenic sierras and high, alpine Pyrenees to the north in Catalonia and Aragon, and the Ebro River delta wetlands and marshes on the Mediterranean coast. During spring the many resident and breeding birds of this region are joined by migrants en route from Africa to nesting areas in the north and the Arctic.

All the important bird areas in central and northern Spain are incorporated, and there has been an impressive list of birds recorded over the past 20 years. The current total is 265 species, with 220 species regularly recorded on each tour. This superb itinerary is combined with vital local knowledge of where special and localized birds are to be found each year, giving maximum chances and many backup sites for the difficult and scarce species.

First on this Birding Tour Spain adventure we visit the hills and cork-oak dehesas south of Madrid in the Monfragüe region. Our target species, which will not be found further north, include Black Stork, Cinereous Vulture, Black-winged Kite, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red-necked Nightjar, Red-rumped Swallow, Azure-winged Magpie, Spanish Sparrow, Pallid Swift, and, most importantly, Spanish Imperial Eagle – a recent split from the Imperial Eagle of Eastern Europe and the only full endemic species in Iberia.

The Ebro Delta, the estuary of one of Spain’s largest rivers, is one of the most important wetlands in Western Europe. The delta is a huge complex of easily watched coastal dunes, saline lagoons, fresh marshes, reed beds, and rice fields. Some of the many highlights include large numbers of waterbirds: Red-crested Pochard, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Water Rail, and seven species of breeding heron (Little Bittern and Purple and Squacco Herons are common). The ten or more tern and gull species include abundant Slender-billed and Audouin’s Gulls, both very localized Mediterranean birds. Shorebirds include a mix of breeding species such as Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover, Common Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, and Collared Pratincole. Migrants may include Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, and Eurasian Oystercatcher. Western Marsh Harrier and Greater Flamingo are also common here. Passerine specialties include typical marshland and coastal scrub birds: Zitting Cisticola, Savi’s and Moustached Warblers, and Great and Eurasian Reed Warblers.

To the west, the Spanish steppes are a habitat rapidly being lost to arable agriculture. Certain areas have been protected by international efforts and are now splendid reserves that we will visit. It is a land of flat stony plains, mesas, scrubby river valleys, and maquis vegetation not unlike some semi-desert regions of the southwestern United States. Primary birding goals will be Great and Little Bustards, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-legged Partridge, Little Owl, Lesser Kestrel, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Spectacled Warbler, and eight species of Lark, including the elusive Dupont’s. White Storks are common, found nesting on village rooftops or precariously perched on ancient church spires.

The Pyrenees and the foothill sierras offer some of the most spectacular scenery of the tour. At lower elevations are unspoiled habitats of box scrub, olive groves, and stunted oak forest amidst impressive steep, deep limestone gorges and massifs of pink, red, and gray. Here are many classic Mediterranean species such as Eurasian Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Black-eared and Black Wheatears, European Serin, Cirl, Ortolan, and Rock Buntings, plus many Warbler species including Sardinian, Western Orphean, Subalpine, and Western Bonelli’s. Here, too, is one of the greatest concentrations of raptors found anywhere in Europe, with 20-plus species virtually guaranteed. Griffon Vultures are abundant, while we’ve never failed yet to find Egyptian Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Golden, Booted, and Bonelli’s Eagles, Short-toed Snake Eagle, and Red and Black Kites. The area has magnificent, ancient, fortified villages, massively built of stone with immense protecting walls. And there are old cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and castles dating back to the 12th – 16th centuries, when Spain was divided into the separate states of Castile, Aragon, and Catalonia, and occupied in some areas by the moors from northern Africa. We try to make time to visit these if participants wish.

At higher elevations are true alpine habitats of coniferous forests, fast-flowing streams, open, flower-rich meadows, and splendid, craggy mountain peaks, some still snow-covered. Further specialties we hope for here are Alpine Accentor, Red-billed and Alpine Choughs, Ring Ouzel, White-throated Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Alpine Swift, Citril Finch, Black Woodpecker, and the fabulous Wallcreeper. If lucky, we may find White-winged Snowfinch, though this usually requires more serious hiking.

Your guide will be driving you in a comfortable vehicle. Optional pre-breakfast birding and after-dark owling are offered. The tour does not require a great deal of walking or steep hiking to see the bulk of the birds, though there are opportunities for longer hikes if you wish. The highest altitudes involved are usually between 1800 – 2100 meters (6000 – 7000 feet), but only for one or two days of the tour. Being a private tour, you may wish to adapt the daily itinerary and schedule, do more or less birding, or add in historical sites as you wish and as it is feasible within the given framework of the tour.

Food is generally good and plentiful, and it is customary in Spain to provide plenty of wine free with the evening meal. Your accommodations all have private bathrooms and range from 4-star to small, simple, family-run rural hotels. Many are delightfully individual in pleasant and beautifully renovated ancient stone farmhouses nestled in quiet, charming villages, where Eurasian Scops and Tawny Owls, Common Nightingale, Black Redstart, and Woodlark sing outside our windows at night!

Duration: 16 days

Limit (Group Size): 4 - 8

Date Start: April 28, 2018

Date End: May 13, 2018

Tour Start: Madrid

Tour End: Barcelona

Climate, Clothing:  The weather at this time of year may vary from hot, dry, and sunny to cooler (or, if unlucky, cold!) with some rain. Snow is possible in the high Pyrenees. Most of the time, light cotton clothes, t-shirts, and light walking shoes will be fine. However, for the evenings and at higher altitude carry a light raincoat, a sweater, and an anorak. A sun hat and sunglasses are advisable, plus a light rucksack. Although there is no requirement for any long or arduous walking, you may wish to wander further off the trails, so a pair of walking shoes or boots is advisable as well as lighter shoes or trainers. Laundry services are available at some locations during the tour.

Currency: Euros – €, bring either a small amount of euros with you or change money on arrival. There is access to ATMs during the tour. You may want a little cash for drinks and small items.

Documents: A passport valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure from Spain is required. Visas are not required for entry by holders of EU passports or by United States citizens. Others should check at http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Consulados/LONDRES/en/Consulado/Pages/CheckPassport.aspx 

Equipment: The guide will have a spotting scope for your use; but if you have one and wish to bring it, please feel free to do so

Health:Spain is free of all the tropical diseases requiring inoculations, as compared to more exotic destinations. There should be plenty of bottled water available, although tap water is considered safe. Bring sunscreen and perhaps a little mosquito repellent (though these are not usually a problem, especially at this time of year). Access to shops and pharmacies may be somewhat limited. If you are taking prescription medication or over-the-counter medicine, be sure to bring an ample supply that will allow you to get through the tour safely. Please consult your physician as necessary.

Departure Tax – none
Electricity – 220 volts, 50 cycles, round 2-pin plugs
Language — Spanish (Castilian), Catalan, Galician, and Basque
Time – CEST (Central European Summer Time)

Suggested Reading: If you are interested in a particular subject (flowers, mammals, reptiles etc.), please let us know prior to departure and we will try to bring along relevant guides.
Svensson, Lars, Peter J. Grant, Killian Mullarney, and Dan Zetterstrom. Birds of Europe. Princeton University Press, 2009. This field guide to the birds of Britain and Europe is undoubtedly the best produced for Europe. It is packed with 3500 color illustrations, masses of detail on identification, beautifully produced.  Highly recommended!
Jonsson, Lars. Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Princeton University Press, 1996 (Reissue edition).  A good field guide with lovely illustrations.
Peterson, Guy Mountfort and P.A.D. Hollom. A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin, 2001.  Somewhat outdated, but still perfectly adequate if you already own a copy and don’t want to purchase a new book.


Price: €4331 per person sharing, assuming 6 – 8 participants €5218 per person sharing, assuming 4 – 5 participants

Single Supplement: €305

Price includes:
Meals (lunch on day 1 to breakfast on day 16, including wine with the evening meals)
Ground transport while on tour
Price excludes:
Insurance (including tour cancellation insurance)
Alcoholic drinks (except wine with the evening meals)
Any personal expenses, e.g. laundry, gifts, phone calls, etc.

Polar bear © Jette Bjerregaard Kristensen

Mammal and Birding Cruise Norway: Svalbard (Spitsbergen) - Polar Bears and Seabirds 2018

Duration: 8 days
Limit (Group Size): The group sizes of cruises are a function of the capacity of the ship, so our usual small group size policy naturally can't apply here.
Date Start: June 19, 2018
Date End: June 26, 2018
Price: Variable, see Costs under tour details
Details: You arrive in the world’s northernmost town, historic Longyearbyen (previously known as “Long Year City”), deep within the Arctic Circle, and we have time to explore this small city

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Northern Hawk-Owl - Jari Peltomäki

Finland: Arctic Owls

Details: Please peruse our Birding Tour Finland: Owls, Taiga and Fjords 2018 details, but ask us if you want to custom-make it just to owls.

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Birding Tour Turkey - Marbled Duck

Birding Tour Turkey: Birding and Culture Extravaganza 2018

Duration: 20 days
Limit (Group Size): 4 - 8
Date Start: May 23, 2018
Date End: June 11, 2018
Price: €4964 sharing, assuming 6 – 8 participants, €6185 sharing, assuming 4 – 5 participants
Details: This expansive ‘Birding Tour Turkey’ adventure will cover the following fascinating areas of Turkey: Istanbul, Belgrade Forest, Oymapinar Dam, Göksu Delta, Aladaglar National Park, Sultan

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Black Grouse - Birding Tour Sweden

Birding Tour Sweden: Spring "Long Weekend" Birding Adventure 2018

Duration: 4 or 5 days
Limit (Group Size): 4 - 8
Date Start: May 06, 2018
Date End: May 09, 2018
Price: £1394 per person sharing based on 6-8 people (4 days), £1549 per person sharing based on 4-5 people (4 days), £411 additional day (5 days).
Details: Sweden’s Taiga forests and wetlands around Svartådalen make for fantastic birding in the springtime. The Black River Valley of Västmanland hosts waves of migrating birds that arrive from late Apri

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What our clients say

Finland for bird photography: About Finland I can tell you that we had very good opportunities to take photos. We got superb photos of species such as Western Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse, Great Grey Owl, Ural Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Pygmy-Owl, Short-eared Owl, Common Goldeneye, Whooper Swan, Common Crane, Parrot Crossbill, Red-flanked Blue-tail, Rustic Bunting, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-necked Grebe, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Willow Tit, Honey-buzzard, Temminck’s Stint, Common Redshank, Baltic and Little Gulls, Eurasian Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Arctic Tern, Common Cuckoo, Three-toed Woodpecker and Pied Flycatcher. We also take nice photos of Dotterel, Black-throated Diver, Ruff, Sedge and Icterine Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Fieldfare, Eurasian Wryneck, Common Redpoll and some other birds. We missed Terek Sandpiper (we saw it but we can’t take any photos) but another group took very good photos of it before we arrived to the place where the bird was. To me, it has been an excellent trip to take photographs, plenty of good chances. Undoubtedly it has been the best trip I have made ever in Europe from this point of view.

Luis Mario and Belen Velasco, Spain

We can run any of our tours privately any time and we can also arrange custom itineraries - send us your wish-list and we'll put the itinerary together! Please click here.

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