Northern Spain – Holiday Report

June 29, 2013 in ChrisLuv's Birding Blog, Featured, Holiday and Trip Reports by ChrisLuv

It’s nice to have something to write about on here, even if it isn’t anything local.

We have just got back from two weeks in “Green” Spain, where we stayed in Noja near Santander on the Northern Coast. It was a family holiday but gave a good chance to get out with the camera and see something different on the wildlife front.

The wildlife watching began on the journey there, the 24 hour Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry offered a good chance to see Whales and Dolphins, as well as the chance of some birds. Dophin’s obliged in the Bay of Biscay where the calm crossing made it easy to pick out two separate groups of splashing Adult Dolphins, some with young I think. On the bird front it was very quiet, keeping an eye on two small children makes see watching difficult, but Gannets and what I think was a Shearwater sp. (Balearic maybe?) were on my list.

Having arrived it was obvious why this part of Spain is called Green Spain, the rugged, undulating craggy coast is a lush green, and the scenery is spectacular. Obviously that much green needs to be watered and so the holiday started and ended with 3 days of heavy rain (not unusual for this area of Spain due to the geography of the mountains). Fortunately in the middle of the holiday we were treated to perfect temperatures and managed to get out and about locally around the campsite and further afield to explore.

The highlight of the trip was the amazing Cabarceno Wildlife Park , set in nearly 2000 acres reclaimed from an old iron mine. The craggy mountain scenery has been sculpted to form large, natural enclosures for the 100 or so animals, comprising lions, tigers, puma, giraffes and elephants, among the many others. The 15 miles or so of roads around the park mean you can drive and / or walk, and enjoy the park in all its glory, the size of the enclosures making it appear as if you were in Africa rather than Spain. My own personal highlight was the amazing Bird of Prey show, having been to these in the UK I nearly didn’t bother but I’m so glad we did. The kids watched in awe as birds like Andean Condor and Lammergeier, with massive 3m  wingspans flew literally inches over our heads. Bird after bird was brought out, unfortunately with commentary in Spanish it was hard to keep track of what was what, but as the Black Kites came out I recognised these, we’d seen them regularly during the trip already. I wasn’t expecting though to see 8 or so birds being fed by the keepers only feet in front of us, they’d throw morsels of meat and the birds swooped, dived and grabbed them in the air. Click, click, click went the camera as I tried desperately to work out which birds to concentrate on, often finding them too close too focus. After that specacle the main keeper said something and all eyes turned to the mountains, suddenly, over the hill, came an enormous bird, with jesses, maybe a black chested Buzzard (I lost track), and we watched as it came into the small arena and caught its dinner from a rope trailed behind the keeper. This continued with several other birds being released over the mountains, including a Bald Eagle, which caught it’s fish dinner from a pond in the middle of the arena – Splash!


A Black Kite swoops for a morsel



The Peregrine didn’t get a showing


Black Kite




Black Kites grapples and food passes were fairly common


I was too slow for the bald eagle!

Well what could top that? Well soon we were experiencing wild birds as we found a massive Griffon Vulture circling with the wild Black Kites, it’s size making it stand out immediately. Add to the the pair of Eygptian Vultures that had made their home in the craggy sides of the Brown Bear enclosure and we were very happy. In fact the Bear enclosure was very enticing for the birds, especially at feeding time when the spectacle of 60 Brown Bears fighting for food would have been great in itself without the addition of the similar number of wild Black Kites circling, diving and bombing and trying their luck to grab any morsel they could – clearly these scavengers had adapted to the feeding time and knew when to arrive. By now the camera was nearly smoking through overuse – more desperate clicking as I tried to catch the spectacle. See below for some vulture record shots, and some of the wild Kites.


Griffon Vulture


Eygptian Vulture


And finally some wild Black Kite images….




The rest of the park was just as exciting, and there were a few birds of prey which went unidentified, including a possible Golden Eagle. If you’re in the that part of Spain then I’d recommend the park for both its captive, and wild, animals.

Bird-wise the rest of the holiday was good, the campsite at Playa Joyel in Noja was pleasant and hosted Serin and Firecrest among its more glamorous species. The regular flyovers of the now ubiquitous Black Kite and Cattle and Little Egrets were also interesting, I eventually tracked the Egrets to an island off shore which hosted roughly 60 – 80 Egrets, offering them a good roost / breeding area. Black and Common Redstart adorned the cliffs, but despite a cat and mouse game with a Black Redstart I didn’t get a decent photo. Peregrine offered killer views along the coast and at Santander’s Península de la Magdalena, where they manager to avoid my camera except when facing the wrong way.

Butterflies were just as interesting, if a little more difficult to find. Clouded Yellow were very common, as were Painted Lady. Other species such as the Adonis Blue and Long Tailed Blue were very welcome. Some photos below.

Small Copper

Small Copper


Painted Lady


Long Tailed Blue (and below)



Clouded Yellow

Butterfly Blues

I think this is an Adonis Blue (and below)



Finally other wildlife, such as Lizards and Hummingbird Hawkmoths were expected but always welcome. Hope you enjoyed the photos and write up.