DAY 1 HOTEL ANGIZ IN URDAIBAI
Bilbao Airport is certainly convenient for flights and gives us the chance to visit the once industrial city that is now a well-known tourist destination, with the iconic Guggenheim Museum. Here we will take the opportunity to have our first Basque experience, the local tapas called “Pintxos”. This is a delightful snack consisting of a topping on a small slice of bread, held together with a cocktail stick. We will have a short walk around Bilbao, to see the architecture of the Guggenheim Museum and the Nervion River, where we will hope to have our first briding encounters with yellow-legged gull, black kites, black redstart and white wagtail.
From Bilbao, weather conditions permitting, we will drive to the Cape of Matxitxako. This peninsula is the most northerly extension of land into the sea in the Basque Country and an excellent location to search for Balearic and Manx shearwater, gannets, shag and marine mammals such as the fin whale and common dolphin. Near the Cape of Matxitxako, we will see the spectacular and iconic Chapel of San Juan de Gastelugatxe. Used as a filming location for Game of Thrones, this beautiful red-roofed chapel is situated at the very top of a rocky outcrop, linked to the land by a narrow isthmus with a picturesque elevated path and steps leading up to the chapel.
After our stop at the Cape of Matxitxako, we will drive through the traditional fishing villages of Bermeo and Mundaka, where, time permitting, we may have a brief stop, before continuing on to our first hotel in Busturia, on the Urdaibai estuary of the Oka river. We will be staying here in the heart of the famous Urdaibai UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This area is so designated for its vast biodiversity, the greatest in the Basque Country. After settling into our rooms, we will have dinner together and our tour briefing. The evening will provide an opportunity for us to socialise and get to know each other.
DAY 2 URDAIBAI-HOTEL ANGIZ
After a wonderful healthy breakfast, we will start our day at 8.30 AM with a short drive of only a few minutes down the road to the San Cristobal bird hide. When we arrive, we will start with a walk in the grass meadows where we could potentially see Iberian yellow wagtail, Iberian green woodpecker, quail, whinchat, common scoter, melodious warbler, zitting cisticola, common buzzard and peregrine falcon. From the bird hide overlooking the marsh we might see little egret, curlew, whimbrel, cormorant, common ringed plover, gull-billed tern, stonechat, raven dunlin, red knot, sanderlin, common tern and great black-backed gull.
Then we will drive on to the Urdaibai Bird Center, a nature museum and visitor centre on the edge of the Orueta marsh. We will learn about the Osprey project taking place in Urdaibai and its connection with the Rutland Water project. There is an observation tower at the centre which gives fabulous views over the Urdaibai estuary. From the Bird Centre, we may be able to spot water rail, snipe, wood sandpiper, black-tailed godwit, spoonbills, little grebe, common teal, gadwall, red crested pochard, wigeon, great heron, grey heron, Cetti´s warbler, reed warbler, great spotted woodpecker, hobby, marsh harrier, osprey, goshawk, and, if we are lucky enough, the endangered reed bunting.
Next we will move on to the town of Gernika, where we will visit the local Basque Government Assembly House and the Oak Tree, which symbolises the freedom of the Basque people. The Lords of Biscay swore to protect the liberties of the Biscayan people under the original oak tree on this site, which was planted in the 14th century. Whilst in Gernika, we will also enjoy some pintxos in the central plaza.
In the evening we will visit the Bodega Txakoli Berroja, a local white winery. From here we will keep a lookout for griffon vultures and mistle thrush. After tasting the wine, we will return to our hotel for dinner and to list the birds we have seen today.
DAY 3 URDAIBAI- URKIOLA-SALBURUA- HOTEL LOS ROTUROS
This morning we will check out of our hotel in Urdaibai and head off to explore other local hot birding spots, in the hope of finding some more elusive birds such as the dipper. We will then venture on to Urkiola Natural Park. Weather permitting, we will stop at Oiz mountain en route, to search for water pipit, citril finch and crossbil.
In the heart of Urkiola we will enjoy a walk through a beautiful old mixed forest, up to a view-point for a spectacular vista. From here we will have an excellent chance of spotting griffon vulture, red-billed chough, bullfinch, crested tit, long-tailed tit, marsh tit, coal tit, goldcrest, garden warbler, siskin, nuthatch and short-toed threecreeper.
From the Urkiola mountains we will leave the ocean behind us and drive south into Alava province. On the outskirts of Vitoria, the capital of Alava, we will visit the Salburua Wetlands. These superb wetlands were once drained for agriculture, but fortunately they have recently been restored to their former glory and are now the richest wetlands in the Basque Country.
Boardwalks across the wetlands will allow us to search for water and woodland birds including the purple heron, night heron, little bittern, white stork, black-winged stilt, tufted duck, shoveler, common pochard, garganey, ferruginous duck, great crested grebe, northern pintail, greylag goose, whiskered tern, spotless starling, lesser-spotted woodpecker, golden oriole, firecrest, sand martin, blue tit and great reed warbler. The wetlands are also an essential place for the scarce local population of the endangered European mink and agile frog.
A further half hour of driving will bring us to our second hotel, Los Roturos in Maeztu, on the edge of the Izki Natural Park. After settling into our rooms we will have dinner in the hotel.
DAY 4 IZKI NATURAL PARK- AÑANA- NERVION WATER FALL
In the morning we will venture into the Izki Natural Park, famous for its large areas of Pyrenean oak forest, the perfect habitat for the middle-spotted woodpecker. Besides the middle spotted woodpecker, we will also be hoping to see many other species including the Egyptian vulture, Western Bonelli´s warbler, crested tit, hawfinch, sparrowhawk, or even bigger birds of prey such as the golden eagle or, if we are very lucky, the Bonelli´s eagle.
From Izki we will go to the nearby town of Marquinez, boasting a beautiful Romanesque chapel and excellent opportunities to spot skylark, woodlark and gliding griffon vultures.
We will move on westwards to visit Salinas de Añana, a site of natural salt flats that are over 7000 years old. You will see the brine wells and salt pans that are used to collect the salt from the natural brine springs and you will have opportunity to purchase some of the salt. Near the salt flats we will find the Caicedo natural lake, where we will have high chances of seeing marsh harrier and less commonly spotted crake, sedge warbler, honey buzzard and Montagu’s Harrier.
Continuing west, we will come to Salto del Nervion, the highest waterfall on the Iberian Peninsula. Plunging some 220 metres off the edge of a sheer cliff face into the head of a narrow valley, this is a spectacular free-falling waterfall. A viewing platform next to the waterfall protrudes over the precipice, from where we can sense the drop and spend some time watching the resident griffon and Egyptian vultures soaring across this fabulous landscape. We may also be lucky enough to see short-toed eagle, peregrine falcon and Alpine and red-billed chough.
To reach the waterfall, we will be strolling through some meadows, affording us the opportunity to see cirl bunting, yellowhammer, northern wheatears, ortolan bunting and tree pipit, amongst others. We will also be walking through beech forest here, with the potential for black woodpeckers.
After a pleasant day’s birding, we will return to our hotel for dinner.
DAY 5 LAGUARDIA
Today we will be driving to Laguardia in the outer southernmost tip of the Basque Country in Alava. This region has a dry, mediterranean climate. Laguardia itself is a hilltop walled town, surrounded by plains of vineyards in a wide, open valley. It is famous for the production of the renown Rioja wine. All over this landscape there is evidence of thousands of years of human activity. This flat terrain is already influenced by the continental mediterranean climate region resulting in the abundance of lots of vineyards and wineries. In addition, thousands of years of human occupancy are evident as seen in the dolmens and the old city of la Hoya. After visiting some of these ancient sites, we will presently do a walk round of the permanently flooded fresh water lagoon called La Paul. It is a comfortable walk with many orchids and birding opportunities. We can see species such as, golden oriole, nightingale, purple heron, bee eaters, greenfinch, penduline tit, bearded tit, serdinian warbler, corn bunting, rock sparrow, serine, hen harrier, western orphean warbler, red legged partridge and Iberian chiffchaff.
From there, we will drive around some other lagoons that are sometimes dry. One of them is called Carravalseca, a name which has been lent to one of the wines that we will be savouring at our private barbeque in the local vineyards. Along with the superb wines of the Casa Primicia winery, we will get to try the local cuisine as well. A combination the senses will thank you for. We will also be exploring the historical winery located in the medieval city of Laguardia.
After having satiated our palettes, we will make our way back to the hotel after a great day out. Provided you are up for it, we could try a late evening sit-out in the hope of spotting some local mammals such as fox, roe deer, or even the very elusive wild cat which roams the local area.
DAY 6 URBASA- ARANTZAZU- ZUMAIA
We will start our day driving up the mountain pass road to Lizarraga in the Urbasa Natural Park. From the top we will search for rock thrush, hawfinch and redstart while praying for the stellar presence of lammergeyer, which are a treat to spot flying overhead.
Moving on into Gipuzkua, we will visit the Arantzazu Sanctuary, which is a well located piece of art in the Aizkorri Natural Park. We will then pay a visit to a local cheese factory where a local label is produced under the name of Idiazabal, made from the native breed of sheep called Latza. These places offer good opportunities to get sightings of crack and house martin as well as alpine swift and egyptian vulture plus botted eagle and firecrest.
After visiting Arantzazu, we will head back to the coast, this time in Gipuzkua. Before reaching the hotel, we will visit Sakoneta beach, a superb lookout with amazing views and good opportunities for birding with likely sightings of whitethroat warbler, comon chifchaf, the lesser backed gull, common kestrel, dunnock, and plants such as the tongue orchid.
Towards evening, we will head to the Hotel Jesuskoa, which will be our last. Here, we can put up our feet for a while making the most of its peaceful surrounds or continue our quest for birding with good opportunities for photographing new species such as the spotted flycatcher, and turtle dove. To round off day, there will be an excellent dinner at the hotel.
DAY 7 TXINGUDI- SAN SEBASTIAN-HOTEL JESUSKOA
We will be leave Zumaia heading towards to the border of Spain and France along the Txingudi marshes that run the natural limit of the Bidasoa River. These highly humanized saltmarshes offer excellent opportunities to take really good pictures of common birds and others not so common that may surprise us. A comfortable path will lead us in a loop shaped walk along the edges of three different pools and canals enabling us to spot some birds of appeal such as kingfisher, cattle egret, comon redstart, common swam, red backed shrike, turnstone, redshank, greenshank, oystercatcher, godwit, and depending on the season some rarities such as red necked grebe, black shoulder kite, bluethroat, sedge warbler, grey plover, squacco heron and pied avocet.
From Txingudi we will drive to San Sebastian city where you will have time off to explore the city at your own pace. Some of the most iconic parts are the old town, famous for its amazing pintxos (tapas). The Concha beach is just a stone’s throw from here, and time permitting, we could all visit el Peine del viento together and later take the funicular up to Igeldo mountain to delight in the stunning views over the city and its beaches.
In the evening, we will get back to Zumaia just in time to freshen up for a sumptuous evening meal at the hotel.
DAY 8 PAGOETA NATURAL PARK- ELORRIAGA- ZUMAIA-HOTEL JESUSKOA
In the morning we will drive to a nearby location called Elorriaga where we will get excellent views of the ocean and marvel at the wonders of the physical earth while observing the geological Flysch formations this area boasts. We will then go on a beautiful walk keeping our eyes peeled for linnet, willow warbler, blue thrush, goldfinch, stonechat, gannets, iberian green woodpecker and if we get really lucky, the grasshopper warbler and tawny pipit.
Later on, we will go up to the Pagoeta Natural Park to see a traditional iron water mill in Agorregi, whose river also hosts dipper. Near this there are some woods in Iturraran with good opportunities for spotting woodpecker as well as wryneck while further up the road there is some scrub allowing sightings of datford warbler or pied flycatcher during migration.
After this, we will go for some pintxos and have a look at Zumaia town in order to see the old part of the city and its amazing church. Depending on sea conditions, we could also take a boat trip to see the cliffs from the ocean side. This latter option is highly recommendable.
At the end of a high packed day, we will get back to the hotel for our last dinner and gathering to go over the check list together.
DAY 9 IÑURRITZA BILBAO DEPARTURE
Depending on our flight schedule, and only if we have time during the morning, we will go to Zarautz town to partake in a beautiful walk around the Iñurritza wetlands, which is an ideal spot to see the breeding population of little ringed plover, common sandpaper, as well as the tree sparrow and stonechat.
Setting off from Zarautz, we will have an hour’s drive back to the airport, while in the meantime reflecting on the 9 days of intense birding we have experienced in this timeless land; The Basque Country.