RFI: Europe (?) in July
Our July travel plans have recently fallen through. We have about a week and a half available in early to mid July and I wouldn’t mind spending it in Europe someplace. My wife and grown daughter love our travel trips as long as there is a modest bit of comfort, a fair bit of activity like hiking (so sitting in a hide or on a ship are out) and we focus more on the mid to large size wildlife rather than say a rodent and bat expedition. So given ALL of those constraints, would anyone be kind enough to recommend a destination as well as a tour company?
We are open to other suggestions, but I have only been to Europe once (Norway) and would love to see more. I have been looking through Jon’s site and the various trip reports posted by various contributors. Thank you in advance for your time.
John Van Niel (USA)
If you want to see a lot of large mammals cheaply and easily in such a short time, a combination of NW Spain and Sierra de Andujar in southern part of the country would probably be the optimal choice. You don’t need a travel company to arrange such a trip. Other options would be going to Gran Paraiso or Abruzzo in Italy (excellent hiking in both places), or to the French Pyrenees. I think there are detailed trip reports for all these places on this site.
I’ve visited Southern Spain many time. July is very hot and dry, something like Anza Borego (CA) or Saguaro NP (AZ) in full Summer. Let me know if you plan a trip in southern France, especially South-East (Mercantour NP = Chamois, Ibex, Marmot, Stoat … a lot of birds, good trails, …)
Europe has a lot to offer. Spain is fantastic. In about a week time you could see a lot in Sierra de Andujar (including three deer species, mouflon, wild boar, Iberian ibex, fox, Iberian lynx, dormouse, otter …). Other regions in Spain have different wildlife (bear, wolf, wildcat…). But keep in mind that Spain is a really big country and although the new roads are good, travelling from one area to another can take up a lot of time. The summer is also pretty hot (not ideal for hiking), but if you look for wildlife in the morning and evening/night, the afternoon is perfect for a nap as long as you hotel has airco. Our trip report is on this website (we visited in August).
Another great option is Poland. In the far east you could see a lot in Bialowieza and Briebza (red deer, wild boar, moose, wisent, fox, raccoon dog, otter, beaver and maybe even wolf and lynx). The summer is a bit challenging to find wildlife because the forest is very dense, and the animals are dispersed in the forest. There is plenty of opportunity to hike (but mainly flat paths through the forest). Our trip report is on this website (we visited Bialowieza in September).
The Alps are super beautiful with many flowers in summer and endless hiking trails. I’ve been twice to Arolla on a student’s field course and saw fox, roe deer, chemois, ibex, marmot, stoat and some small rodents. This movie summarizes it all, but you will have to skip some parts as it contains some images of the students that are pretty boring for anyone who doesn’t know them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnNuXE2pgUM
Being from Belgium, I’d also like to advertise my country a bit. It is a perfect place to stay for a week or so. Apart from corrupt politicians, scary ISIS-lovers and a very crowded countryside we also have chocolate, waffles and quite a bit of wildlife to offer! The south of the country is hilly with extended forests (Ardennes). There are high concentrations of red deer, roe deer, wild boar, foxes etc. It’s also a good place to see wildcat and badger. In the North (and just across the border in The Neatherlands) it is really easy to see grey seal and harbor seal as well as harbor porpoise from the shore. The beginning of July you can also see the last stag beetles and maybe still fireflies. Check out https://mammaling.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/mammal-big-day/ and https://mammaling.wordpress.com/2015/10/20/mammal-weekend/
If you should decide to visit here, let me know and I’d be happy to show you around the first week of July.
Good luck with planning your trip!
Hi John, lots of good advice here. My other addition would be Scotland can be surprisingly good: the Ardnamurchan peninsula can be good for seals, otters, pine martens, a small chance of wild cat, deer, Minke Whales, a few dolphin species .. and badgers and hedgehogs are easy to see elsewhere in the UK. You won’t get the weather or the food and wine of France,Spain, Belgium or Italy though!
I agree with what other people have said about Spain: probably the most rewarding country if you want to see a lot of mammals in a relatively short period of time.
July is not the best month for southern Spain (Andujar), but Spain is interesting in any month of the year. Combining Sierra de Andujar (lynx, deer, etc.) and Somiedo (beer, wild cat) and Sierra de Culebra (wolf) in 10-12 days would probably be the best combination to try for the larger fauna but would require quite a bit of driving and you would have less time for hiking.
If you want a more leisurely trip and start from Madrid, Sierra de Andujar is probably easier to combine with Sierra de Gredos (great hiking, great scenery and Iberian Ibex pretty much guaranteed, but don’t expect to see a large variety in mammals in the Gredos, although surprises should be possible especially around dawn and dusk). You could also make a loop and include the Extremadura (Monfrague, otter and try for badger).
If you rent a car from Malaga or Sevilla, you could combine Andujar with Donana (and Torcal and a few other smaller areas), although you would have to spotlight or be out very early/at dusk in Donana to see the more interesting stuff. I personally thought Donana was disappointing but others have had more luck.
Somiedo and S. de Culebra could easily be combined with Picos de Europa (or even the Basque Pyrenees).
Italy does not have a great reputation for mammalwatching and seeing mammals is significantly harder than the areas in Spain, but visiting a string of national parks in the central Apennines, the Italian Alps and maybe a sidetrip to Le Marche/Tuscany for crested porcupine would be a fun trip with superb hiking. In the Apennines I would consider visiting PN de Abruzzo (Abruzzo chamois is very easy), Majella, Monte Velino (we heard wolves nearby at night while camping up in the mountains), Gran Sasso and/or Monti Sibillini. Also great mountain villages with superb food. Ibex, two chamois subspecies, marmot, badger, several deer species, 1-2 marten/weasel species, red fox, hares, hedgehog, etc. should be doable on an Italy trip. You need luck to see polecat, porcupine and wild cat. Bear is difficult and wolf very difficult.
If you are mosquito-tolerant, I would also consider:
Finland (esp. Kuhmo area) for bear, wolf, wolverine, moose, forest reindeer, flying squirrel, Saima seal, etc. Long hikes are possible but scenery-wise it is fine and great in some national parks but overall not sensational imho. Not the cheapest country but not nearly as bad as it used to be.
Poland (apart from the areas that Stephanie mentioned in the east of Poland, one could also include Bieszczadzki in the south east, see the reports for details)
Both Finland and Poland could be combined with Estonia depending on which animals you need to see.
For all of the above destinations I would not hire a guide and just rent a car, unless you must see a specific mammal that cannot easily be seen without the information in the trip reports.
I have not yet visited Romania and Bulgaria but the area has great scenery and hiking and several hides for bear, deer, etc. But hiring a local guide could be helpful in those countries to get the most out of the trip. Greece has a great mammal list, but seeing a decent number in 10-14 days would be quite hard and it wouldn’t be my first choice.
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Bird forum has subforums on lots of European countries, I had a lot of luck re Switzerland. Not surprising, lots of birders are tuned into mammals, too.