Bay of Biscay
We aim to meet at the Portsmouth harbour in the mid morning and we will have a briefing in the harbour terminal with your zoologist escort. The ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao are overnight and leave in the last afternoon (16:30) so we will grab some lunch in the harbour terminal. Once we board the ferry you will be shown to your cabins and settle in as our accommodation, level – private berths (Cap Finistere). During the late afternoon and evening you are welcome to join the zoologist on the deck to see if we can spot any whale, dolphin or bird activity. This part of the cruise is not the most productive for whale watching so you may not miss anything if you wish to stay inside and have a drink at the bar. We will eat in one of the ships restaurants before spending the night onboard.
Bay of Biscay
The majority of the day will be spent travelling through the Bay of Biscay towards the harbour town of Bilbao. The whole day is dedicated to whale and dolphin watching with our breakfast and lunch being taken in one of the restaurants or cafes onboard. You are free to spend as long as you which on deck searching for blows and porpoising dolphins. The Bay of Biscay is such a productive body of water for whales and dolphins because it harbours a variety of habitats. From shallow waters such as estuaries and natural harbours and shallow fishing grounds just off shore to the deeper flat continental shelf a little further away and then the very deep drop offs which can be several kilometres deep. These very deep waters force nutrient rich cold water up to the surface and this brings a wealth of life with it; from phytoplankton and zooplankton to schooling fish and squid and then the top predators, dolphins, porpoises and whales. We expect to find fin whales (the second largest animal ever to have lived), minke whales, short-beaked common dolphins and striped dolphins in the deeper waters a couple of hours away from Bilbao. Then as we get closer to the shore we travel over some very deep trenches, here we will search for two more elusive species. Instead of looking for tall sprays from large fin and minke whales as they travel at the surface or the heavy splashing and bow-riding of large pods of dolphins as they speed through the water; we will now look for the much more subtle rolling dives of the small, dark harbour porpoise and the larger scarred bodies of Cuviers beaked whales. The harbour porpoises are only at the surface for a very short time and can be hard to spot, but your zoologist escort has spent time working with this species in Scotland and has a knack of spotting them on their short surfaces. But perhaps the most interesting and unusual species we will spot here is the Cuviers beaked whale. Beaked whales are a large and successful group of whales and dolphins that are very little understood. They are seldom ever seen as they are deep ocean dwellers usually, but in a couple of special spots throughout the world the sea floor drops off to great depths close to shore and the elusive beaked whales are then seen with some regularity. The Cuviers beaked whale is a large (6-7m) brown whale that seem to inhabit the Bay of Biscay in good numbers. They are heavily scarred from male / male conflicts and old males can appear more white than brown-grey. The best way to spot the Cuviers beaked whale is by looking close to the ferry (usually closer than you would expect) as they rest at the surface breathing heavily in between deep dives. This behaviour is called logging as they sit like logs at the surface. Whilst searching for the marine mammals from the ferry we will also spot numerous sea birds such as northern gannets, Eurasian cormorants, northern fulmars, various gull species and as well as Manx, Bealeric and sooty shearwaters. Once we arrive in Bilbao (17:30) we will be met at the harbour by our local biologist guide and transferred to our accommodation, level – 3/4* guest house, in the rugged Cordillera Cantabrica (Cantabrian Mountains) (~2 hours). These mountains form the largest continuous mountain chain in Spain and ranges from the north-west tip of the country in Galicia to the western edge of the Pyrenees. We will search for wildlife en route but after a long day onboard the ferry we will take it easy once we arrive at our accommodation.
Days 3 & 4
For the next two full days we will drive and hike around these spectacular mountain in search of the 30-40 endangered Cantabrian brown bears. These are a subspecies of the much wider spread brown bear that ranges all the way east to Canada and the USA. But through hunting and habitat destruction they have been reduced the edge of extinction in Spain. These mountains are the last great stronghold for the species and we have a good chance of spotting them amongst the rugged grey rocks and lush green scrubs. Also around here are European roe deer, Pyrenean chamois, capercaille and northern goshawks. We will try and find all of these species and hopefully get very good close up views of the bears over the 2 days here. But even if we fail in the pursuit of the bears the wonderful landscape here will be sure to have you falling in love with this most rugged of Spains landscapes. We will have our breakfast and evening meals at the accommodation, level – 3/4* guest house and will probably bring a packed lunch so we can head further out into the hills and mountains. This will increase our chances of spotting the elusive and endangered brown bears.
Sierra de la Culebra Game Reserve
This morning will be our last chance to find the brown bear as we will have half a day or so around here before heading south-west towards the best remaining wolf habitat in Spain. Our destination in Sierra de la Culebra Game Reserve (3-4 hours) and here the mountain range stretches over into north-east Portugal and there are thought to be a couple of dozen wolves here. Today we will relax and enjoy the scenery of this smaller and more gentle mountain range. Once we arrive at the accommodation, level 3/4* guest house, we will scan the skies for black kites, Eurasian griffon vultures and short-toed eagles before planning our wolf spotting tomorrow.
Days 6 & 7
Sierra de la Culebra Game Reserve
For the next couple of days we will be based at our accommodation, level – 3/4* guest house, close to the reserve and head into the wilderness equipped with spotting scopes, binoculars and patience. The Iberian wolf has been hunted so much here in the recent past that they were once thought to be extinct throughout Spain and Portugal. However sightings are increasing and they are now fully protected. However the hunting history of the wolf from this part of the world lives on in the wolves genes. They are very skittish and hard to see, the only wolves to have survived this long are the ones that have made it their mission to avoid humans at all costs. We have a very good track record in finding wolves here (in fact we have never failed so far) and are confident of keeping this record going. As well as the wolves here we will also have great chances of seeing red deer, European roe deer, European rabbits, Iberian hares and dozens of birds. We will split the day between dedicated wolf watching in he early morning and later afternoon, with bird watching during the hotter part of the day. We will take our meals at the accommodation and will possibly take a packed lunch so that we can maximise our time in the field.
Monfrague National Park
This morning we will head into the hills and scrub forest of Sierra de la Culebra for one more wolf spotting trip. After a couple of hours here we will head further south to our accommodation, level – 3* guest house (Rural Hotel Montefragoso) which is located close to the wonderful Monfrague National Park (4.5 hours). En route to the national park we will stop at Lagunas de Villafafila, this series of lakes is the most important wetland area in northern Spain and a very valuable stopping point for migratory birds. There are three main lakes here Salina Grande, Barillos and Salinas as well as many smaller wetland areas. As well as the hundreds of wading and shore birds that call these wetlands home we will also be on the look out for some of the 2000 or so great bustards. This is the best place to see this huge species and we hope to see at least one of the worlds heaviest flying bird along with their smaller cousin the lesser bustard and other birds such as lesser kestrels, black-bellied sandgrouse, Montagus harrier and marsh harriers; before carrying on to Monfrague National Park.
Monfrague National Park
Monfrague is a birding hotspot and the countries most recent national park, located in Extremadura this park is a mecca for bird watchers all over the world. We aim to find some of the many raptor species here, there is over 15 breeding species of raptors here including the worlds highest concentration of Eurasian black vultures in the world. We also hope to see Eurasian griffon vultures, Spanish imperial eagles, golden eagles, Bonellis eagles, black storks, Eurasian eagle owls, white-rumped swifts and the very numerous azure-winged magpies. Today we will spend the day birding in the park and around the Salto del Gitano before returning to the accommodation, level – 3* guest house (Rural Hotel Montegragoso) for your evening meal.
Sierra de Andujar National Park
This morning we will have half a day in Monfrague National Park bird watching before packing up and leaving for the Iberian lynx capital of the world, Sierra de Andujar National Park (~5 hours). We will first head to our accommodation, level – country hotel (Los Pinos Hotel). We will not head into the park today as tomorrow we will want to get an early start so we can try and find a lynx. Your local guide will converse with some local people and other lynx watchers and decide where best to visit tomorrow. At Sierra de Andujar there are two fantastic lynx spotting locations, one is located close to a river and a dam, here the lynx can be seen crossing the river either by a manmade bridge or large rocks in a natural crossing. The second location is from various lay bys on the mountain roads, from here there are fantastic vistas across the scrub and we have great chances of seeing lynx over the valleys. As these two locations are a couple of hours apart we will pick one of the places for the morning or afternoon spotting session and spend the next few hours there. We have never failed to see Iberain lynx here and with the help of two trained guides we have excellent chances of spotting more.
Sierra de Andujar National Park
The mornings and afternoons over the next 3 full days will be dedicated to spotting the rarest cat species in the world, the Iberian lynx. This is a hotspot for them and they are probably seen here more than anywhere else in all of Spain. Also here we will look for Eurasian otters, wild boars, red deer, fallow deer, Iberian hare, rabbits, mouflon, Egyptain mongoose and a whole host of bird life including golden orioles, blue rock thrushs, black wheatears, crested tits, Eurasian kingfishers and golden eagles. Whilst not searching lynx we have the option to explore the park further and search out some of the many reptiles and amphibians that live here. Spanish and European pond terrapins, snub-nosed vipers, ladder snakes, horseshoe whip snakes, ocellated lizards, spotted fire salamander, Boscas newt, marbled newt, Iberina midwife toad, natterjack toad and Mediterranean tree frogs to name a few. We can also walk through a manmade tunnel in the large dam here, the small crevices and holes in the narrow tunnel are home to 4 or 5 species of bats, we take a spotlight seo you can see these small mammals as they roost during the day in impossibly small crags. If the local conditions allow we can also try some spotlighting after dark along the roads around here. This give us a chance of spotting the lynx at night as well as some nocturnal animals like garden dormouse and lesser white-toothed shrews. All this wildlife watching will be done using our accommodation, level – country hotel (Los Pinos Hotel) as a base.
Torcal de Antequera National Park
After a last morning spotting for the Iberian lynx around Sierra de Andujar National Park we will travel south again for a couple of hours. Our destination today is the amazing landscape of Torcal and the flamingo filled Fuente de Piedra Lagoon. On arrival at the accommodation, level – 3* hotel (Hotel Villas de Antikaria) we will have lunch before visiting the amazing limestone rock formations in Torcal. These rock formations date back to the Jurassic period and the incredible shapes and formations that have been eroded and weathered here make this one of Europes most spectacular landscapes. Whilst scanning the limestone rocks and cliffs here we will be looking for the majestic and endemic Spanish ibex. This is a great place to see this well adapted mountain goat as well as various bird species such as Bonellis eagles, crag martins, Eurasian griffon vultures and little owls.
Fuente de Piedra Lagoon / Bahia de Cadiz
This morning we will visit the largest natural lake in the Iberian peninsula to see the thousands of birds that make this place their home. There are literally dozens of species of wading birds as well as Europes second largest colony of greater flamingos. We will also keep an eye out for white-headed ducks, red-crested pochards, Montagus harriers and black-necked grebes. After a couple of hours here we will carry on our journey south, today reaching the southern coast of Spain at the amazing and beautiful Bahia de Cadiz (2-3 hours). The historical harbour town of Cadiz was once one of the most powerful and richest ports in the world; during the Spanish Empire millions upon millions of pounds worth of gold and gem stones arrived here from the Americas. Now the city is past its prime it may not have the same grandeur of old but the town is still an impressive place to base our selves for the next couple of nights. On arrival in Cadiz we will unpack and have lunch at the accommodation, level – 3* (Hotel Marismas de Sancti Petri) before spending some time around the beautiful Bahia de Cadiz.
Donana National Park
Today we will explore some of Spains most famous national park. The coastal wetlands and lagoons of Donana National Park are one of the best bird watching locations in all of Europe. We will spot the multitude of waders, white-headed ducks, slender-billed gulls and numerous other species at Bonzana Saltpans and the Tarelo Lagoon. If you wish we can look to do the 3 hours walk to the stunning 1,339m high viewpoint. From here you can across the Straits of Gibraltar to Algeria in one direction and across the whole of Torcal in the other, if the weather is clear. After the day around Bahia de Cadiz and Donana National Park we will come back to the accommodation, level – 3* hotel (Hotel Marismas de Sancti Petri) for our evening meal.
This morning we will leave early and start our journey east to Tarifa (1-2 hours) at the very tip of Spain. En-route we will visit the la Janda Lagoon (1 hour) and here we will look to spot some bird life that we may have missed so far. This lagoon is very good for Eurasian spoonbill, Caspian terns, great egrets, purple herons, glossy ibis, northern bald ibis, purple swamphens and black-shouldered kites. After visiting this lagoon we will carry on to Tarifa. This is the main ferry town to Algeria and the town is pretty industrial by nature. However the town harbours a great secret. Tomorrow we will enjoy a whale watching excursion out into the Straits of Gibraltar, but for this afternoon we will just head to the accommodation, level – local guest house (La Torre Tarifa Playa) and have our evening meal as today is our last full day on the tour.
Tarifa / Home
Early this morning you can enjoy some bird watching along the coast and try and spot some shearwaters, gannets and other marine birds from the beaches here. The narrow passageway of water in and out of the Mediterranean here means that all the fish life that comes and goes from this enclosed sea and this bottleneck produces some of the richest waters in the whole Mediterranean Sea. During the afternoon we will enjoy a 2-3 hour whale and dolphin watching boat trip. Throughout the year there are many species of marine mammals here. Common bottlenose dolphins, short-beaked common dolphins, striped dolphins as well as long-finned pilot whales and fin whales are all commonly seen at any time of year but there are two species that are the reason why we run this tour when we do. April to July is the season of the sperm whale here and July to September is the time that orca come here to feed too. But despite the amazing diversity of marine mammals here there are other animals that we will be looking out for, loggerhead turtles are seen here as are oceanic sunfish. The loggerhead turtles rest at the surface in between dives to feed on crustaceans and the sunfish bask at the surface so that gulls and petrels can come down and clean their bodies of parasites in between their feeding forays into the deep ocean. We will finish the whale watching by mid afternoon and then head to Malaga straightaway (~1 hour) so that we can catch your return flight home.
Please note that the itinerary stated above is correct as our planned intentions for the tour. However adverse weather conditions and other local considerations can necessitate some modifications of the itinerary during the course of the tour; any changes will be made to make the best of the time and weather conditions available to us.
This tour is available on different date (subject to availability) please contact us for more details about running this tour on a date which suits you more.