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Euskadi (Spanish Basque) - A brief visit 3-5/1/2013

Urdaibai reserve, Gautegiz Arteaga
Urdaibai reserve, Gautegiz Arteaga

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.


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.


Agroturismo Iturbe, Bº San Bartolome 20, 48350 BUSTURIA ( BIZKAIA ), EUSKADI.

Agroturismo Iturbe

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

BIRDS - 66 species

All sightings 4/1/2013 unless stated

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata - 1 ad-winter San Kristabal hide and off Axpe beach further north.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis - 10+ Urdaibai reserve.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis - 4 Urdaibai reserve.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta - 10+ throughout.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia - 1 adult Urdaibai reserve.

(Black Swan) Cygnus atratus - 4 estuary.
Greylag Goose Anser anser - 8 Urdaibai reserve.
Brent Goose Branta bernicla - 4 San Kristabal hide.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos - 20+ Urdaibai reserve.
Gadwall Anas strepera -10 Urdaibai reserve.
Northern Pintail Anas acuta - c12 Urdaibai reserve.
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope - 50+ Urdaibai reserve.
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca - c20 Urdaibai reserve.
Common Pochard Aythya ferina - 2 Urdaibai reserve.

Red Kite Milvus milvus - 1 Busturia accommodation.
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo - 2+ Busturia accommodation.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus - 2 (1 adult male) Urdaibai reserve.
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus - 1+ heard Urdaibai reserve.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus - 2 Urdaibai reserve.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Common Urdaibai reserve.

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus - 6+ Urdaibai reserve.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres - 1 Bermeo harbour 3/1/13.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 22 Urdaibai reserve.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa - 1 Urdaibai reserve.
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata - 30+ San Kristabal hide.
Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola - 1 near Busturia accommodation.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago - 4+ Urdaibai reserve.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
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.

Common Guillemot Uria aalge -1 Bermeo harbour 3/1/13.

Feral Pigeon Columba livia
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Tawny Owl Strix aluco - 2 heard Busturia accommodation.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major - 1 female near Busturia accommodation.

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis - 3+ near Busturia accommodation.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba

Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock Prunella modularis - 1 near Busturia accommodation.
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Redwing Turdus iliacus - 6+ on berries outside hotel 3/1/13.
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus - 2 near Busturia accommodation.
Blackbird Turdus merula

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala - 2 near Busturia accommodation.
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita - 4+ throughout.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus - 2 near Busturia accommodation.
Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla - Very common near Busturia accommodation.

Great Tit Parus major
Coal Tit Parus ater
Crested Tit Parus cristatus - Common near Busturia accommodation.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus

Magpie Pica pica
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Raven Corvus corax - 2 near Busturia accommodation 3/1/13.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus - 1 Urdaibai reserve.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula - 1 male near Busturia accommodation.