Sponsored Content: The Best Places to Spot Wildlife in Spain

Sponsored Content: The Best Places to Spot Wildlife in Spain
SpainA Spanish imperial eagle with its next meal. Photo by Shutterstock

For wildlife travelers from the United States, Spain offers a range of interesting habitats and an equally fascinating array of species, all carefully contained in an area only slightly smaller than Texas. Due to its position, connecting North Africa and Southern Europe, Spain encompasses a diverse topography and an assortment of climates. These give rise to a unique collection of ecosystems and some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Europe.

Spain’s regions cover globally significant coastal wetlands, montane forests, savannah grasslands, deserts, scrubland, deciduous forests and coniferous forests. The country is also one of the main migration routes from Africa to Northern Europe. It is home to around 85,000 different animals and plants, including over 620 species of birds and around 30% of Europe’s endemic species.

Great bustards. Photo by Wang LiQiang/Shutterstock

North of Spain

If you fly in Barcelonayou can easily reach the historic regions of Aragon and Navarre. Covering an area of ​​18,424 square miles, Aragon’s terrain ranges from permanent glaciers to verdant valleys, rich pastures and orchards, and the arid steppe plains of the central lowlands.

Aragon home to the Aneto, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees, as well as the Ebro River which flows into the Mediterranean via the Ebro Delta, just south of Barcelona. This rice-growing area of ​​rice paddies and salt marshes is a haven for wetland birds. Large flocks of glossy ibis roam the fields along with Eurasian Spoonbills, Gray and Violet Herons, White Egrets, Little and Cattle Egrets, Great and Little Bitterns and Black-crowned Night Herons.

Few places are better to view Spain’s vulture populations than a site near the hilltop village of Alquezar in Arragon. A feeding station here attracts large gatherings of Griffons and significant numbers of Egyptian vultures, with excellent photography opportunities at a relatively close distance.

Griffon vultures. Photo by Jose Luis Sanchez/Blue Sky Wildlife

Despite its small size, close Navarra presents striking geographical contrasts – from the Pyrenees mountain range to the plains of the Ebro Valley. It is home to some of Europe’s most spectacular birds, including the bearded vulture (bearded vulture), Egyptian vulture, treecreeper, black woodpecker, capercaillie and white-winged finch.

You can also see great and little bustards, as well as thousands of common cranes on the plains in fall and winter. The plains are also home to the very rare and elusive Dupont’s Lark. Mammals in the mountains include the Pyrenean chamois, the Alpine marmot and it is possible to find the European wildcat.

bearded vulture. Photo by Jose Luis Sanchez/Blue Sky Wildlife

To the west of Navarre, the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country stand between the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian Mountains. This region is nicknamed Green Spain due to its lush vegetation growing in the humid and mild oceanic climate.

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In the eastern range, the Picos de Europa National Park contains the most spectacular mountains, culminating at 8,687 feet at the top of Torre de Cerredo. Here there is a high chance of seeing the Eurasian brown bear, as well as the Iberian wolf, wild cat and wild boar. The most commonly encountered fauna includes Spanish ibex, Cantabrian chamois, red deer and roe deer and red squirrel.

White storks. Photo courtesy of Inglorious Bustards

Central Spain

In you fly in Madridthe vast territory of Castile and Leon lies to the north and west. It is a large central plateau known as the Meseta, between 2,300 and 3,300 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains. Halfway between the northern Atlantic and the southern Mediterranean, Castilla y León has the best of both worlds in terms of biodiversity and the highest populations of great bustard and Iberian wolf in the country.

Despite the existence of a large city of five million inhabitants, the surrounding countryside Madrid still preserves remarkably preserved and diversified habitats. The area has mountain peaks rising above 6,500 feet, a holm oak dehesa (open Iberian cork oak forest) and low plains.

The slopes of the Guadarrama extending to the west of the town are covered with dense forests of Scots pines and Pyrenean oaks. The Lozoya Valley is home to a large colony of Cinereous Vultures and the Spanish Imperial Eagle is found in the Southwest Regional Parkjust south of town.

Eurasian Eagle Owl. Photo by Jose Luis Sanchez/Shutterstock

The harsh environment of Extremadura belies the rich local wildlife and historical significance of the area. The picturesque towns in this least populated part of Spain developed around an important trade route dating back to Roman times. Here they offer an experience of heritage buildings and fine dining, with some of the best birding on the plains between them.

In the ancient city of Trujillo, as in other urban areas of the region, a large population of white storks nest among towers and chimneys. Another particularly interesting place to see them is around the Acueducto de los Milagros, the ruins of a Roman aqueduct in Merida.

Extremadura is also arguably the best place in Western Europe to see raptors, including Imperial Spanish and Bonelli’s eagles, black, Egyptian and griffon vultures and black-winged kites. The best location is around the Peña Falcón escarpment and Monfrague Castle. From this point of view, the vultures parade at eye level. Eagle owls are also found in the gorge below the castle.

In Extremadura expect good numbers of great and lesser bustards, white and black storks, black-tailed and black-bellied sandgrouse, eagle owl, Iberian magpie, spotted cuckoo and European roller.

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Common cranes. Photo by Martin Kelsey

Between November and early February, common cranes inhabit paddy fields, corn stubble and open grasslands, semi-arid plains, dehesa and the margins of water bodies. There is a Crane Visitor Center at Moheda Altaeast of Trujillo.

As well as being exceptional for birds, Extremadura has a wealth of other wildlife. Mammals include red deer, Spanish ibex, otter, wild boar, beech marten, a small number of Egyptian mongooses and the secretive common genet, usually sighted fleetingly at dawn and dusk.

White-headed duck. Photo by Simon Tonkin/Blue Sky Wildlife

southern spain

Madrid is again your destination to reach southern Spain, unless you fly to Portugal and cross the border. Travel time by train or car will be slightly longer than visiting the north of the country, but the rewards are great.

Andalusia offers the marismas of Coto Donana National Park. It features rugged mountain gorges with rich flora, the Mediterranean coast, at least 125 species of breeding birds and numerous butterflies. Spain’s biodiversity is probably greatest in Andalusia, and it is on a major migratory route between Europe and Africa.

In early September, the most spectacular visible migration of storks and raptors in Europe occurs, involving astonishing numbers of white storks, griffon and egyptian vultures, Jean-le-Blanc and booted eagles, honey-combed buzzard and Montagu’s harrier.

In the Coto Donana wetlands some of Europe’s most localized birds are found including the marbled and white-headed duck, black-winged kite, Spanish imperial eagle, swan swan, Audouin’s gull and Iberian magpie . In addition, you will be able to see spectacular birds such as the flamingo, the black vulture and the golden eagle.

Iberian lynx. Photo by Jose Luis Sanchez/Blue Sky Wildlife

Off Doñana, cetacean watchers can see killer whales (mid-August to early September), long-finned pilot whales, common bottlenose dolphins, and short-beaked common and striped dolphins. A small population of Bald Ibis – one of the rarest birds in the world – is found in Barca de Vejer in Cadiz.

Other wildlife found here include Spanish ibex, Iberian lynx, wild boar, red deer and the lucky European mouflon and Egyptian mongoose.

Make the most of your vacation in nature

The key to seeing the greatest variety of animal species wherever you choose to go in Spain is to hire a local guide.

Blue Sky Wildlife has put together one of the best collections of wildlife tours in Spain from local guides, making it easy to book your next birding adventure in Spain directly. Day trips start from just €75 (around $88) and multi-day trips from €220 (around $260) per person.

Feature article sponsored by the Spain Tourist Board in New York in association with Blue Sky Wildlife.