Gourmet Birds was born in France in September 1984. Following a short trip to what became known to birdwatchers as the French lakes - Chantecoq and la lac du forét d'Orient - our small group stopped in Epernay for a champagne tasting. Over a flute or two of champagne, debate followed as to what our fledgling company might be called, and the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name of Gourmet Birds was decided on.
The Gourmet Birds concept was for holidays combining good birds with good food and wine, at the time a surprisingly original concept. Nearly 30 years on, we remain true to our original ideals. We still put emphasis on eating interesting local food, and drinking local wines, while never neglecting the fact that finding birds is our main focus.
We try and avoid using large, impersonal hotels, but favour small establishments, endeavouring to stay in rural areas close to the best birdwatching sites. Many of the hotels we use don't have menus, but they do produce wonderful dinners, created with fresh local produce, every evening. Wine is essential to a good dinner, and for all our European holidays (and often elsewhere) it is included at both lunch and dinner.
Red Backed Shrike
Though Gourmet Birds has been running a lot longer than most bird-tour companies, we have resisted the temptation to expand. All trips in our small programme are devised and led by David Tomlinson, a professional writer on wildlife and countryside subjects. Our prices are kept low due to minimal overheads: we don't publish fancy colour brochures, for example, while we never advertise. Instead we rely on repeat business, and on personal recommendations.
Birds may be our principal wildlife interest, but every opportunity is taken to see mammals, too. Past European GB tours have watched brown bears in Bulgaria, elk in Estonia, wild boar in France, beavers in Lithuania and ibex in Spain. In Africa we have seen all of the Continent's most exciting animals, ranging from mountain gorillas in Uganda to leopards in Kenya and lions in Namibia.
Butterflies are one of David's specialist interests, and European GB tours have delighted in watching clouds of nettle-tree butterflies, finding such rarities as large blue and large copper, and enjoying such spectacular species as Camberwell beauty and poplar admiral.
Gourmet Birds tours have recorded close to 3,000 species of birds in the following countries:
The combination of blue seas, blue skies, warm sunshine and migrant birds is an alluring one, so we now include a Mediterranean island in our programme every year. We have visited Cyprus many times, while in the past we have also taken trips to Menorca and Crete. In 2013 we visited Sardinia for the first time, and in 2014 are planning a trip to Sicily.
We try hard to avoid planning holidays that are unlikely to run. Most GB holidays go to places that people have said they are keen to visit. We like to return to old favourites, such as Spain and Greece, and visit new islands, and are prepared to run trips with just a few participants.
Dawn at Mandraki, Greece
Beach in Sardinia
In 2014 we are currently considering visits to Estonia, Sicily, Greece and Georgia. The latter is a new destination for GB, but promises some of the best raptor watching in the world as thousands of birds of prey head south from their breeding grounds in Asia to wintering areas in Africa and India. The autumn weather is much more predictable than it is in the spring, so we are planning a September visit. The Gourmet Birds programme for 2014 will be published in September.
Serious photography on a bird tour is difficult, but digiscoping is easy and great results are possible. David is an experienced digiscoper, and in 2012 won first prize in British Birds magazine's annual Bird Photographer of the Year competition for a digiscoped picture of a wryneck, photographed during a GB trip to Poland. He is happy to help and advise anyone who wants to learn how to take photographs with a compact camera through their telescope.
David keeps a detailed and illustrated diary during every holiday: all participants are sent a copy. Diaries (in PDF form) from recent trips are available here to download.
Gourmet Birds prices are fully inclusive of everything except flights. We advise on which flights you should book, which you can do either on the Internet or through your travel agent. We include all meals, with beer or wine at both lunch and dinner; also included are pre-dinner drinks, even afternoon ice creams. You do have to buy your own postcards and arrange your own travel insurance.
When booking we ask for a deposit of £100, then invoice for the balance eight weeks before the holiday takes place. You can pay by cheque, or by transfer direct to our bank account.|
Our holidays provide plenty of exercise, but are not generally very taxing. Pre-breakfast excursions are always optional. In all European countries we use a self-drive minibus or hire car for transport, or occasionally a minibus provided by a local guide. David has driven many thousands of miles on the Continent, and ensures that passengers are always driven as smoothly and steadily as possible. He also ensures that the vehicle is cleaned every day - travelling in a dirty vehicle with grubby windows is not conducive to a good holiday.
Grilled Fish for Supper
Watching in the Mountains, Bulgaria
|David always brings a top-of-the-range Swarovski telescope on trips, for use by everyone, so if you don't want to bring your own scope, don't worry. However, your own scope is essential for digiscoping. Checklists are provided for each destination.|
If you have any special dietary needs, do let us know beforehand.
Gourmet Birds like to support projects it believes in. Donations have been made in recent years to Butterfly Conservation, and to Birdwing, a small organisation that has done much to promote bird conservation at Lake Kerkini and at other sites in North East Greece.
You can email David at dhtomlinson @ btinternet.com without the spaces, or phone on 01359 269657.
Gourmet Birds has been rated as No. 1 Bird Tour Company by British Birds Magazine.