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News in brief: Madagascar, Spain, The Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, India & Bhutan

Lynx, Stephen Debenham

Lynx, Stephen Debenham

In Spain …
1. Lynx-watching in Spain
This 2-centre tour in late October (write tour leaders Simon Tonkin and Niki Williamson) took in the atmospheric misty woodlands and wetlands of Doñana Natural Park, as well as the sweeping Cork Oak forests of the Sierra Morena near Andùjar. The group was thrilled by close encounters with Wild Boar, rutting Red and Fallow Deer, Egyptian Mongoose, Iberian Hare and two species of bats, as well as an impressive array of mountain, wetland and farmland birds, including Blue Rock Thrush, Azure-winged Magpies, Eurasian Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike, Cinereous Vulture, Crag Martin, Black-winged Stilts, Eurasian Spoonbills, and European Eagle Owl. But the outstanding highlight was our intense, prolonged experience with Fraile, a 9-year-old male Iberian Lynx with whom we shared enthralling times at dawn and dusk in Coto Doñana as he rested and preened between bouts of devouring a recently killed Red Deer.

Our next 6-day Lynx-watching in Spain holiday departs Sunday 21st January 2018. Please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email andy@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.

Griffon Vultures

Griffon Vultures

2. Ronda & the Strait of Gibraltar
Our November tour to southern Spain’s Ronda Valley and the Strait of Gibraltar had two bases – a mountain hotel with outstanding food in the quirky and fabulous blue village of Jùzcar, and the tranquil eco-lodge of Huerta Grande in the village of Pelayo near Tarifa (write tour leaders Simon Tonkin and Niki Williamson). It yielded a high quality bird list from mountain habitats, coastal and inland wetlands, salt pans, farmland and Cork Oak forest as well as views of thousands of migrating and resident Griffon Vultures. Highlights included Ring Ouzel, a huge ‘chougheration’ of Red-billed Chough and the vortexes of migrating Griffon Vultures crossing the Strait. The group also had encounters with many other species including Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrow, Crag Martin, Hawfinch, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Northern Bald Ibis, Audouin’s Gull, Purple Swamphen, huge flocks of White Storks and some exciting Spanish rarities including a Yellow-browed Warbler. Non-avian stars came in the form of Spanish Ibex sauntering along a cliff face and encounters with Monarch Butterflies.

Our next 7-day Ronda & the Strait of Gibraltar holiday departs Monday 5th November 2018. Please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email andy@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.

Bryde

Bryde's Whale, Tom Brereton

In The Canary Islands …
Our autumn trip to La Palma, one of the lesser known and visited of the Canary Islands, proved another awesome wildlife experience (writes tour leader Tom Brereton). This leisurely trip combines land-based excursions for endemic Macaronesian wildlife, especially birds and butterflies, with boat trips in search of whales, dolphins and seabirds. All of the target birds were seen including Little Shearwater, La Palma Blue Tit, Plain Swift, Berthelot’s Pipit, Barbary Falcon, Dark-tailed and White-tailed Laurel Pigeons and Canary Island Chiffchaff, whilst butterflies included African Grass Blue, Plain Tiger, Monarch, Canary Red Admiral, Canary Blue, Canary Speckled Wood, Canary Island Large White and La Palma Brimstone. What makes this trip so special though are the days at sea. The friendly crew are superb observers and the boat provides a tremendous observation platform, which includes easily accessible glass bottom viewing areas. Over the course of our three sea trips, we had absolutely stunning above and below water views of Bryde’s Whale, False Killer Whale, Rough-toothed Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin and Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. In previous years we have had similar views of several other highly sought after species, especially Blainville’s Beaked Whale, making the tour a truly unique experience!

Our next 8-day The Canaries: Whales, Dolphins & Other Wildlife of La Palma holiday departs Tuesday 25th September 2018. Please call Tom Mabbett on 01962 733051 or email tom@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.
 

Giraffe Weevil

Giraffe Weevil, Madagascar

In Madagascar …
Our October birding tour to Madagascar explored four key forest zones in order to find as many of the island’s many endemic birds species as possible (writes tour leader Aniket Sardana). Additionally, we were fortunate enough to sight many of the island’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and plants, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Our first stop was the spiny desert in the island’s south-west where we managed to find all of our key targets including some highly localised specialities like the Long-tailed Ground-roller, Subdesert Mesite and Red-shouldered Vanga. Progressing north, our luck continued with some excellent views of Velvet Asity, Common Sunbird-asity and Pitta-like Ground-roller in Ranomafana, and a fleeting Bat Hawk in Isalo National Park. Mammals, amphibians and reptiles were also well accounted for with several chameleons including Belted, Angel’s, Oustalet’s and O’Shaughnessy’s being seen amongst others, and 22 mammal species including the critically endangered Greater Bamboo Lemur in the wet zone. Our final stop was Ankarafantsika where the group enjoyed two extremely productive days and were treated to sightings of White-breasted Mesite, Schlegel’s Asity, Red-capped Coua and the critically endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle.

Our next 16-day Madagascar’s Endemic Birds holiday departs Tuesday 2nd October 2018. Please call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email kerrie@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.

Gelada Baboon

Gelada Baboon

In Ethiopia…
Ethiopia is a unique country in so many ways, including for its extraordinary wildlife (writes tour leader Terry Goble). It is home to many mammals and birds found nowhere else on the planet, and our November ‘The Best of Ethiopia’ trip was designed to visit all the unique habitats where this endemic wildlife can be found. One of the highlights of our trip was the time spent with gentle Gelada Baboon families. We had the opportunity to sit quietly with these beautiful primates and observe their interactions and behaviour, from the delightfully playful infants tumbling over rocks and somersaulting out of trees to the sparring of magnificent males and even mating behaviour, all the time listening to their wide range of vocalisations and watching their articulate body language! This was truly a magical experience, which was further enhanced by some magnificent and bizarre birds overhead. Verreaux’s and Crowned Eagles vied for airspace with Thick-billed Ravens, Lammergeier and a host of other eagles and buzzards, all set among the backdrop of the jagged, sheer and spectacular Simien mountains. Other wildlife highlights of the tour included: a very rare Cheetah on the Ali-Dege Plains; Oryx, Gazelles, Hyena and Bustards on the Awash Reserve; being face-to-beak with the less than beautiful Marabou Stork in the Rift Valley Lakes; very close encounters with Ethiopian Wolves in the Bale Mountains – we watched a pair greet each other playfully before hunting Giant Mole Rats.

Our next 19-day The Best of Ethiopia holiday departs Friday 9th February 2018. Please call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email kerrie@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.

Asian Leopard, Mukesh Hirdaramani

Asian Leopard, Mukesh Hirdaramani

In Sri Lanka…
Participants on our November ‘Sri Lanka – Blue Whales & Leopards’ holiday saw Blue Whales on all three of our days based at Mirissa, as well as several mega-pods of Spinner Dolphins (writes tour leader Mukesh Hirdaramani). The sight of an Indian Paradise Flycatcher, with its long white ribbon-like tail streaming out behind it as it flew from tree to tree was a highlight while birdwatching at the Kirala Kele Sanctuary, along with Peregrine, Yellow Bittern and Watercock. On our way to Yala National Park we visited the Tissamaharama reservoirs where massive colonies of Indian Flying Fox roost on Rain Trees at the water’s edge. The many reservoirs, known locally as ‘tanks’, are hotspots for water and forest birds alike and we acquainted ourselves with Baya Weavers, Black-crowned Night-herons and Marshall’s Iora. An Indian Scops Owl at its roost was also an exciting sighting for many. The Lunugamvehera and Yala National Parks were teeming with activity on both our safaris. The famed Leopards of Yala didn’t disappoint us and we had our first sighting during our morning session at around 10am! We also saw Sloth Bear, Asian Elephant, Wild Boar, Spotted Deer and Water Buffalo, whilst Blue-faced Malkoha, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Sri Lanka Woodshrike, Jerdon’s and Golden-fronted Leafbirds and Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl were among the avian highlights. The extension to the Sinharaja Rainforest in search of the island’s endemic birds was very successful with sightings of Sri Lanka Myna, Orange-billed Babbler, Spot-winged Thrush, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Drongo,  Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Black-capped Bulbul, Ashy-headed Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Spurfowl and Green-billed Coucal.

Our 10-day Sri Lanka – Blue Whales & Leopards holiday departs Saturday 3rd February and Saturday 3rd March 2018. Please call Rajan Jolly on 01962 733051 or email rajan@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.

Tiger, Dhanya Venkatesh

Tiger, Dhanya Venkatesh


In India & Bhutan…
Our holiday to Bhutan, Darjeeling & Assam in November turned out to be a fabulous one (writes tour leader Sujan Chatterjee). The weather in Bhutan at this time of year is at its very best – the snowy summits of the Himalaya providing a truly stunning backdrop to every day of this tour. On the Chele Pass we enjoyed not just these fabulous views, but some fantastic Blood Pheasants as well! Our walk up from the Paro Valley to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery was another high-point for some of us, while the Ibisbill on the Paro River below was a highlight for others. Punakha Dzong is not just an imposing building, but it is set at the junction of two Himalayan rivers in a most beautiful valley. It was here that we encountered one of the tour’s avian highlights, the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (of which there may be fewer than 100 in existence) on the Pho Chu River, even though he was disturbed by the local rafters. Yellow-rumped Honeyguide was another sought-after species that we were fortunate enough to find.
 
Another tour highlight combined the country’s culture and a very special winter visitor to Bhutan, the Black-necked Crane. The annual Crane Festival celebrates the arrival of Bhutan’s Black-necked Cranes to the upland mire in the Phobjika Valley at Gangtey Gompa (Gangtey Monastery). The dawn chorus of the cranes in the frost-gripped Himalayan valley was a sound never to be forgotten.
 
Darjeeling had already provided us with its famous views of Kanchenjunga (the world’s third highest mountain) and pretty Red-billed Leiothrix and Chestnut-crowned Laughing thrushes. Another high-point there was our ride along the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on the tiny 100-year-old steam engine known as the 'Toy Train'. We then enjoyed Kaziranga, the ‘mega national park’ of India’s east. It was superb! We saw so many One-horned Rhinos here that we stopped counting, plus Asian Elephants, wild Water Buffaloes, Hog Deer, and the very rare and endangered Eastern Swamp Deer. A sighting of some beautiful and playful Smooth-coated Otters was short-lived but special. A charging Rhino encountered on the road provided us with a little adventure, while early mornings amongst Kaziranga’s grasslands were magical. Even the Hoolock Gibbons and Malayan Giant Squirrels were unusually co-operative, staying close to the road and for long enough to give us superb views. And finally, the King of the Jungle – the Tiger – appeared one evening as the light faded. For some this was their first Tiger ever. For those extending their holiday on our Sunderbans extension, further good fortune was in store in the form of a Tigress on the mudbanks amongst the mangroves. There, a couple of Estuarine Crocodiles, several Water Monitors and myriad kingfishers – Common, White-throated, Collared, Black-capped, Pied and Brown-winged – completed a special show.

Our next 19-day India – Assam, Darjeeling & Bhutan holiday departs Saturday 17th February 2018. Please call Rajan Jolly on 01962 733051 or email rajan@naturetrek.co.uk for further details.