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News in brief: Morocco, Spain, the UK, France, Sweden & Portugal

Capercaillie, Barry Madden

Capercaillie, 'Sweden in Spring' tour by Barry Madden

In Morocco …
Over 200 bird species were seen on our late March/early April holiday to southern Morocco along with a supporting cast of other flora and fauna. The tour covers a wide range of habitats from stony to sandy desert and from the High Atlas to the waters of Ourzazate and the Atlantic coast. Highlights included Goshawk, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Tristram’s Warbler,  Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser, Temminck’s Horned Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear, Thick-billed Larks and Atlas Crossbill. However, a Fennec Fox in broad daylight was the show-stealer this year amidst a feast of Saharan specialities that included Spotted Sandgrouse, Egyptian Nightjar, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Desert Sparrow, plus no fewer than 50 Hoopoe Lark sightings! A nesting Pharaoh Eagle Owl was observed through scopes, and our group also came face to face with one of these fabulous birds while exploring a wadi in the Jbel Saghro. Non-avian highlights included Fat Sand Rats (more attractive than they sound), and a desert drive to the brilliant orange sands of Erg Chebbi, which never fails to delight and surprise.

Our next 10-day Southern Morocco holiday departs Thursday 22nd September 2016. Please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email for further details.

In the Isles of Scilly …
Highlights on our May ‘Wild Flowers & Gardens of the Isles of Scilly’ holiday included perfect specimens of the huge Furbellows (Saccorhiza polyschides) and Daisy Anemone (Cereus pedunculatus); tiny native treasures such as Dwarf Pansy (Viola kitaibeliana) and Least Adder’s-tongue Fern (Ophioglossum azoricum); the exotic giants Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) and triffid-like Mexican Lily (Beschorneria yuccoides). One of the great joys of a botanical visit to these islands is the fact that tender exotics and rare natives can be found on every island, and the lines between gardens and wild areas are blurred.

For details about our 8-day Wild Flowers & the Gardens of the Isles of Scilly holiday please call Dan Free on 01962 733051 or email for further information.

In France …

Our April ‘Provence in Spring’ holiday begins in the Vaucluse, where highlights included a wealth of interesting plant-life including plenty of orchids; butterflies such as Swallowtail and Scarce Swallowtail; and views of Griffon Vultures soaring on thermals at close range. In the Camargue, a Wild Boar sow with piglets; Cleopatra and Southern White Admiral butterflies; the vibrant blue colours of Beautiful Flax; Rush-like Scorpion Vetch; and a stream of Greater Flamingoes passing right overhead in stunning light were among the highlights.

Our next 8-day Provence in Spring holiday departs Thursday 20th April 2017. Please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email for further details.

In Portugal …

Members of the Natural History Society of Northumbria travelled with us as a Private Group to southern Portugal this spring. Botanical highlights included 13 different species of orchid, wild Iris, Tassel Hyacinth, Gladioli, Ornithogalum, Campanulas, and travelling through fields ablaze with Purple Bugloss and Corn Marigolds. In total 148 different bird species were recorded on the trip. These included a large flock of Montagu’s Harriers swooping to feed on insects, Bee-eaters, cliff-nesting storks, listening to Scops Owls and Nightingale song, and huge flocks of Whimbrel on the Algarve.

To enquire about Private Group holidays please contact Antony Barton on 01962 733051 or email

In the Channel Islands …

Our first spring tour to Alderney at the end of April was timed to coincide with peak bird migration. Northerly winds were holding up their passage at the time of our group’s visit, and highlights included Whimbrel, Ring Ouzel and Whinchat. Our group was able to observe three ringing demonstrations at the new Alderney Bird Observatory which were educational and enthralling, and included: Blackcap, Willow and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Common Redstart and Pied Flycatcher, as well as resident species such as Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Robin and Great Tit. Our group was also able to see the huge Les Etacs Gannet colony. Other highlights included Glanville Fritillary caterpillars and a demonstration by local entomologist David Wedd on how huge female Emperor Moths attract mates by releasing pheromones … and achieve an instant response from all the neighbouring males! After dark local expert Suzie Weir led our group to some close encounters with the island’s ‘blonde’ hedgehogs. This beautiful island enjoys a slow pace of life and our group was able to relax in the comfort of the wonderfully appointed 4-star Braye Beach Hotel, and also to learn a little of the island’s history during their stay.
Our next 5-day Alderney – Wildlife & History in Style! holiday departs Monday 20th June 2016. Please call Dave Shute on 01962 733051 or email for further information.

In Spain …

Navarra – Realm of the Wildcat

During our 6-day holiday in the Spanish Pyrenean province of Navarra our group watched two different Wildcats (one for more than an hour) as they hunted and fed. Avian highlights included superb views of Lammergeier, Wallcreeper, Egyptian Vulture and Golden Eagle, as well as other treats such as Stone Curlew and Common Cranes stopping en route during their northbound migration. Being amongst beautiful snow-clad scenery and enjoying wonderful local food at our comfortable hotel in Burgui added to the pleasures of this late winter holiday.

Our next 6-day Navarra – Realm of the Wildcat holiday departs Sunday 5th March 2017.

Spring Flowers of Western Andalucia

Highlights on our March ‘Spring Flowers of Western Andalucia’ holiday included good numbers of most of the delightful small Narcissus (Daffodil) species, a variety of orchids and the beautiful Spanish Festoon butterfly. On one morning, our group was fortunate enough to witness many Black Kite, plus Booted Eagle and Short-toed Snake Eagle, all of which were on migration. The handsome Spanish Ibex was also seen in good numbers throughout the trip.

Our next 8-day Spring Flowers of Western Andalucia holiday departs Wednesday 15th March 2017.

Spain – The Best of Coto Doñana in Spring

Doñana National Park is particularly spectacular in spring. Highlights from our April holiday to this special wetland included Short-toed Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, Subalpine Warbler and Black-eared Wheatear as well as a wide variety of migrant waders. Our group relaxed each evening with delicious Spanish food and wine at the end of a wildlife-filled day.

Our next 5-day Spain – The Best of Coto Doñana in Spring holiday departs Monday 3rd April 2017.

For further details about any of the above holidays to Spain, please call Andy Tucker on 01962 733051 or email

In Sweden …

Our ‘Sweden in Spring’ tour in mid-May was hit by unseasonably cold weather, but still managed a feast of avian highlights in the beautiful and peaceful Black River Valley (Svartadalen) of central Sweden. Grey Great Owl was a highlight for all, seen very well on two different evenings hunting over a quiet meadow surrounded by old spruce forests. Pygmy, Eagle, Ural and Short-eared Owls were also seen well during the tour. Other highlights included lekking Ruff in resplendent breeding plumage, a beautiful solitary Black-throated Diver, White-tailed Eagle and Osprey both carrying fish, and a rare vagrant in the form of a Black-winged Pratincole. Our ‘woodpecker day’ in the forests (that were heavily burnt in the summer of 2014) will live long in the memory, as we saw Three-toed, Black, Grey-headed and Great-spotted Woodpeckers all in the same day, as well as all of the possible tits – Long-tailed, Marsh, Willow, Crested, Coal, Blue and Great. Red and Roe Deer, Elk, Wild Boar and Beaver provided mammalian interest, and a magnificent male Capercaillie displaying deep in the forest vied with Great Grey Owl for overall top bird. We managed to see Ortolan Bunting on the way back to the airport (which was thronged with Eurovision song contest attendees!) and on the way home reflected on all of these great birds, quiet roads and forests, warm hospitality and superb local guidance and leadership from our team in Sweden.

Our next 4-day Sweden in Spring holiday departs Thursday 11th May 2017. Please call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email for further details.