Urdaibai reserve, Gautegiz Arteaga
Winter birding in the Spanish Basque region
Location of area covered
Euskadi (Spanish Basque) 4/1/2013 gallery
Returning from the southern Costa Blanca, this year we decided to break the journey with a visit to Euskadi. Covered by Rebane/Garcia
2008 edn., we headed for Urdaibai, a river estuary about 30 kms north-east of Bilbao. This area promised a mixture of habitats within a small area, as we only had one full days birding. In the event we failed to cover all the sites mentioned in the book - two full days or even a week would be good here. There is also a new site not in the book - Urdaibai Bird Centre and reserve.
As the sea was clearly devoid of birds during our visit (Bermeo harbour was a good indicator) we concentrated our birding on the estuary and upland forest. The landscape - estuary, coastline and mountains, is very picturesque. One aspect we did overlook is the high population density. Because of the close proximity to Bilbao, this is commuter belt, with that comes busy roads (BI-2235 and BI-3234) and much traffic in both Bermeo and Gernika-Lumo. Overall, though, a fascinating area with varied habitat, great scenery and some good birdwatching facilities.
SITES VISITED Page numbers refer to Rebane/Garcia where covered - see reference sources.
Bermeo harbour Page 284
Obviously sites like this depend on current weather trends and luck. As there hadn't been any severe winter weather we saw little here. The parking can also be difficult. With the right weather no doubt this sheltered harbour pulls in many good birds. Good sea-watching potential from the end of the long jetty.
San Kristobal Page 284
Details of access to this excellent site are rather vague in Rebane/Garcia.
The pink star shows position of pink house.
The green triangle shows position of hide, the access trail also in green.
On the main BI-2235 on the west side of the estuary between Gernika-Lumo and Bermeo. At the village of San Kristobal (NOT sign-posted on the main route) there are two roads off east towards the estuary. On the one to the north, the hide is sign-posted with an egret symbol pointing towards the estuary. More noticeable is a large pink painted house visible even from the main road. Take this road down to San Kristobal railway station and park. Walk over the railway line and follow the trail signs out onto the estuary to the hide. This area looks good for migrants, and the views of the estuary are extensive. The hide probably isn't good in the mornings - it faces east.
Urdaibai Bird Centre/reserve
Urdaibai Bird Centre
This is a superb site (good website above) that is obviously new since Rebane/Garcia
2008. The bird centre itself is closed to sole visiting birders but open to groups by appointment. The reception area and shop are open, with friendly English speaking staff that were very helpful. Fortunately the two hides on the reserve are always open to the public and are sign-posted from the centre - see also website. These give great views over the freshwater marsh, where over the past two years more than 200 bird species have been recorded.
Mountains above Axpe
Our accommodation was half-way up a mountain to the west of the main BI-2235 near the village of Altamira. The area is called San Bartolome, the accommodation sign-posted at a roundabout on the BI-2235. We spent the morning of the 4th January walking the area on marked footpaths, tracks and metalled roads. The habitat is mainly pine forest, but there are also stands of eucalyptus, presumably to stabilise steep slopes where trees have been felled or otherwise lost. Any mountain roads, tracks or footpaths around here should produce good numbers of woodland species once above a certain altitude.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus) San Bartolome
Agroturismo Iturbe, Bº San Bartolome 20, 48350 BUSTURIA ( BIZKAIA ), EUSKADI.
An old farm split into cottages and currently still worked as a small-holding. Superb setting, nice people, and dog-friendly.
Where to watch birds in Northern & Eastern Spain. Michael Rebane. Helm, 1999. There was a revision/reprint in 2008. Area visited is covered on pages 282 - 284 (2008 edn.).
Urdaibai Bird Centre
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) Urdaibai Bird Centre
SPECIES LIST - BIRDS 66 SPECIES
All sightings 4/1/2013 unless stated
Gavia stellata 1 ad-winter San Kristabal hide and off Axpe beach further north.
Tachybaptus ruficollis 10+ Urdaibai reserve.
Bubulcus ibis 4 Urdaibai reserve.
Egretta garzetta 10+ throughout.
Platalea leucorodia 1 adult Urdaibai reserve. Listed here as scarce.
Cygnus atratus 4 estuary.
Anser anser 8 Urdaibai reserve. Listed here as rare.
Branta bernicla 4 San Kristabal hide. Listed here as rare.
Anas platyrhynchos 20+ Urdaibai reserve.
Anas strepera 10 Urdaibai reserve.
Anas acuta c12 Urdaibai reserve.
Anas penelope 50+ Urdaibai reserve.
Anas crecca c20 Urdaibai reserve.
Aythya ferina 2 Urdaibai reserve.
Milvus milvus 1 Busturia accommodation.
Buteo buteo 2+ Busturia accommodation.
Accipiter nisus 2 (1 adult male) Urdaibai reserve.
Rallus aquaticus 1+ heard Urdaibai reserve.
Gallinula chloropus 2 Urdaibai reserve.
Fulica atra Common Urdaibai reserve.
Vanellus vanellus 6+ Urdaibai reserve.
Arenaria interpres 1 Bermeo harbour 3/1/13.
Tringa nebularia 22 Urdaibai reserve.
Limosa limosa 1 Urdaibai reserve.
Numenius arquata 30+ San Kristabal hide.
Scolopax rusticola 1 near Busturia accommodation.
Gallinago gallinago 4+ Urdaibai reserve.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Larus fuscus 10+ San Kristabal hide, inc. 2 ssp. Intermedius.
Great Black-backed Gull
Larus marinus 2 adults San Kristabal hide.
Uria aalge 1 Bermeo harbour 3/1/13.
Strix aluco 2 heard Busturia accommodation.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Dendrocopos major 1 female near Busturia accommodation.
Anthus pratensis 3+ near Busturia accommodation.
Prunella modularis 1 near Busturia accommodation.
Turdus iliacus 6+ on berries outside hotel 3/1/13.
Turdus viscivorus 2 near Busturia accommodation.
Sylvia melanocephala 2 near Busturia accommodation.
Phylloscopus collybita 4+ throughout.
Regulus regulus 2 near Busturia accommodation.
Regulus ignicapilla Very common near Busturia accommodation.
Parus cristatus Common near Busturia accommodation.
Corvus corax 2 near Busturia accommodation 3/1/13.
Passer montanus 1 Urdaibai reserve.
Pyrrhula pyrrhula 1 male near Busturia accommodation.