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NEWS IN BRIEF: SPITSBERGEN, SWITZERLAND, MULL & THE PYRENEES

Polar Bear, Sara Frost

Polar Bear, Sara Frost

In Spitsbergen ...
Clients on board Naturetrek’s 2015 (exclusive charter) wildlife cruise around the Arctic island of Spitsbergen were once again treated to a superb variety of polar wildlife! Highlights included observing 3 male Polar Bears (and an accompanying group of Ivory Gulls) feeding on a Bearded Seal for over 5 hours, a visit to an outstanding Brünnich’s Guillemot colony (of 60,000 pairs) at Cape Fanshaw and watching Blue, Fin, Humpback and Beluga Whales from the ship along the way. Zodiac cruises and tundra walks further provided superb views of Walrus, Arctic Foxes, Svalbard Reindeer, Long-tailed Skuas, Pomarine Skuas, King Eiders, Grey Phalaropes, Ptarmigan, Arctic Terns and a memorable visit to a thriving Little Auk colony. In addition to wildlife, guests were spoiled with stunning glacial scenery and outstanding on-board lectures from expedition staff, including Ian Stirling, the world’s leading Polar Bear biologist. Our next cruise to Spitsbergen departs 7th July 2016, please call Paul Stanbury on 01962 733051 or email paul@naturetrek.co.uk for more information on this tour.

In Wengen, Switzerland ...
Naturetrek clients joining our ‘Wengen - Alpine Flowers of the Swiss Alps’ tours, based in the idyllic mountain village of Wengen, enjoyed two fantastic weeks of botany in June. Guests on the first of the two tours described the mountain scenery 'as parts of a puzzle – each appearing in turn through the cloud on a different day!' During the second week, however, the sun came out with a vengeance, and our group enjoyed stunning views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, alongside incredible botany in the mountain pastures, down the valleys, and along the glacier edges. Highlights included fields of Spring and Trumpet Gentians, hundreds of Primulas, Alpine Pasque Flowers, beautiful Aquilegia alpina, some exciting high-altitude pioneers such as Viola cenisia, a visit via the 100-year-old rack railway to the alpine garden at Schynige Platte, and a mountainside of Lady’s Slipper Orchids. Noisy marmots were spotted throughout the week, and our group enjoyed lunch with (a suspiciously well trained?) Nutcracker that seemed to enjoy the ends of their Gruyère – how very Swiss! Each day was totally different, and full to the brim with fantastic alpine flowers, stunning views, good walking and great company. Our next 'Wengen - Alpine Flowers of the Swiss Alps’ holiday departs 19th June 2016. Please call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email kerrie@naturetrek.co.uk for more information about this tour.

In Upper Engadine, Switzerland ...
A Swiss heat-wave in early July resulted in beautiful weather and incredibly pleasant temperatures up at altitudes of 1,800m+ for the Naturetrek group staying in the mountain resort of Pontresina, in the Upper Engadine valley this summer. They enjoyed travelling to their site of choice each day on the ‘Bernina Express’ – one of only three UNESCO heritage train lines in the world – and spent the week marvelling at the incredible alpine flora that this area boasts. Highlights included: mountainsides adorned with Primula latifolia, Primula integrifolia and Dwarf Snowbell (Soldanella pusilla); walking along a ridge at 3,000 metres to find the 'King of the Alps' (Eritrichium nanum); tiny Dwarf Orchids; the rare Twin Flower (Linnaea borealis); stunning Alpine Rock-jasmine; and, one evening, a guest appearance from tour leader David Tattersfield on Swiss TV! Perfectly planned coffee breaks and picnic lunches, wonderful walks and a gorgeous hotel to return to each evening resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable week in the mountains for all. Our next 'Alpine Flowers of the Upper Engadine' tour departs on the 3rd July 2016. Please call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email kerrie@naturetrek.co.uk for more information about this tour.

On the Isle of Mull ...
Among the highlights on our 'Magic of Mull' holiday this summer were Otter, Corncrake, White-tailed Sea Eagle and Golden Eagle ... and a memorable trip to the tiny island of Lunga, one of the Treshnish Isles. After disembarking onto the rocky shore of Lunga and hiking up a cliff trail, our group was greeted by a noisy 'carpet' of Puffins ahead of them. Seemingly oblivious to human presence, the hundreds of the Puffins continued their domestic squabbles and pair-bonding rituals before their captivated audience of Naturetrek clients. Our group watched some of these charismatic birds scattering soil skywards as they deepened their burrows, and others ripping and tugging at cliff-top grasses before disappearing below ground. Our next 'Magic of Mull' tour departs on 13th June 2016. Please call Dan Free on 01962 733051 or email dan@naturetrek.co.uk for more information.

In France ...
Once again, after an absence of three years, the Gavarnie Blue, Agriades pyrenaicus, was once again found and photographed on our July butterfly special to the French Pyrenees. This diminutive, but beautiful silvery-blue butterfly is probably one of the rarest in the world, being restricted to two small areas of the mountain range, so to know that it is still prospering here was very encouraging. Many other blues were also seen including Large, Mazarine, Escher’s, Turquoise, Silver-studded, Adonis, Short-tailed, Provence Short-tailed and Long-tailed, while some of the larger and more colourful species were seen in impressive numbers, including Apollo, Clouded Apollo, Swallowtail, Purple Emperor, Black-veined White, many fritillaries and also some of the specialist alpine ringlets including a new species for the week, the Gavarnie Ringlet! In total, our group recorded over 80 species during their week-long stay here in these beautiful mountains. The alpine meadows were bursting with flowers, including many orchids such as Small White and Vanilla, along with various saxifrages, pinks, gentians and lilies to name but a few. Our next 'Butterflies of the Pyrenees' tour departs on 5th July 2016. Please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email andy@naturetrek.co.uk for more information.