Birding in Navarra
Relatively small it may be but insignificant it most certainly is not: Navarra has an awful lot of biodiversity to offer the travelling birder, with a representation of virtually all the biotopes present in Spain (except coastal ones), and surprising and often abrupt contrasts.
The northeast corner of Navarra is the only part of the province-community with peaks reaching over the 2,000m mark, and this fact is reflected by its being the western limit to the ranges of several birds occurring in the high Pyrenees of Spain such as Wallcreeper, Ring Ouzel, Ptarmigan and Snowfinch.
Follow the Roncal Valley up to and beyond the French border to try for some of these and other species like Alpine Chough, Citril Finch, Lammergeier, Black Woodpecker, Rock Thrush, and Alpine Accentor, appreciating at the same time how a valley of inspiring bucolic beauty takes on a more rugged natural demeanour once past the Rincón de Belagua.
These same youthful Pyrenees lose height as they pass westwards through Navarra towards the Atlantic Ocean, which is precisely why a large number and variety of migratory birds can be seen from its mountain passes, especially those of Etxalar, Ibañeta (Lindúx), and Urkiaga, in the autumn months: thousands of Cranes, Honey Buzzards and Red Kites, along with regular Ospreys, Hen Harriers, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Black Storks and others.
Woodpecker drill is another interesting feature, bearing in mind the good number of Black Woodpeckers present in Navarra's areas of mature deciduous and mixed forest, and above all the fact that this part of the Pyrenees also holds by far the greatest part of the Spanish population of White-backed Woodpeckers (the endemic Pyrenean race lilfordi), estimated at between 60 and 70 pairs.
The forest of Irati stands out as the main destination for avid woodpecker watchers visiting the Spanish Pyrenees, although the species could perhaps be seen at Quinto Real or even in the Roncal Valley.
As we pass south through some spectacular limestone gorges (Foces), wooded hillsides and rushing rivers we should expect to encounter many of the birds common to other similar areas in the autonomies of Aragón and Catalunya (Catalonia): Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Dipper, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Red-backed Shrike, Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon.
In this respect the foces of Lumbier, Arbayún and Burgui certainly deserve the passing birder's attention, equally so in the winter months when the possibility of coming across the dazzling Wallcreeper can never be discarded.
Before long everything seems to change as the vast expanses of the Ebro Valley open up before the traveller.
The Bardenas Reales Natural Park in the southeast of the province, bordering Aragón, protects the most striking archetype of an Ebro Valley steppe landscape that you are likely to find anywhere.
Although many of its most characteristic species have suffered important declines, the park's almost 56,000 ha still hold varying numbers of steppeland birds such as Little Bustard, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Dupont's Larks, as well as Black Wheatears, Egyptian Vultures, Spectacled Warblers and Red-necked Nightjars.
Navarra's wetlands are few, but the Lagunas of las Cañas, Pitillas and Dos Reinos are worthy of mention for their interesting breeding colonies of Purple and Night Heron, and smaller numbers of Red-crested Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, Little Bittern, Great Bittern, Little Crake, Bearded Tit and Penduline Tit.
Further birding interest is to be discovered in the Sotos of the River Ebro near Tudela, gallery woodland along meanders and river islands supporting an interesting array of birds such as Kingfisher, Fan-tailed Warbler, Cirl Bunting, Booted Eagle, Wryneck, Great Reed Warbler, Penduline Tit and Golden Oriole.
So don't forget, there's much more to Navarra than the festival of San Fermín!