Newsletter September 2002

During the last 10 years we have run Gourmet Birds holidays to most of the old Eastern Bloc countries, including Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovakia, but somehow Bulgaria has eluded us. We plan to make up for this next spring, lured by the promise of exceptional birdwatching, excellent wine, and decent hotels. This holiday is being designed in conjunction with the Anglo-Bulgarian Friendship Society; following a long discussion at the Bird Fair about where to go and what to see, a provisional itinerary is now being worked on. We are aiming at the best hotels we can find (thereís rumoured to be some good new ones on the Black Sea), while we will be using the top local bird guides. Thereís even a promise of a wine-tasting evening to add a touch of variety.

Full details and itinerary to come, but do let us know if you are interested in what promises to be a fascinating holiday. We can expect a good variety of birds, ranging from south-eastern specialities like Dalmatian pelican and pygmy cormorant to long-legged buzzard and pied wheatear. We will also be visiting one of the biggest bee-eater colonies in Europe, which should be a memorable experience. This will be an eight-night holiday, and the provisional dates are April 26 through to May 4. If this holiday proves as successful as we hope, we might well go back for a winter visit in search of red-breasted geese next year.

Tanzania Ė too expensive!
We are not, after all, running any autumn trips this year. Deep involvement with an event in London on September 22nd has taken up too much time and energy for other commitments. We had also been planning a trip to Tanzania, but despite putting a great deal of effort into plans for the latter, we never managed to get a reasonable quote for a suitable itinerary. Ironically, Tanzania is one of the worldís poorest countries, but it is one of the most expensive in the world to travel in. Very frustrating.

No plans for Corsica
Jan and I were also a little frustrated during our visit to Corsica in June. We had a good time, saw lots of interesting birds, ranging from ospreys to Corsican citril finches, but we didnít find anywhere that we thought would make a suitable base for a GB holiday. Corsica is mountainous, the roads winding and tortuous, and the prospect of grinding around them in a minibus failed to inspire. As a result, we are not going to include a Corsican holiday in our plans for the time being.

Andalucia in January: birds and sunshine
Instead, for our traditional January break, we are planning to head south to Spain. Why? Inexpensive direct flights (winter flights to Corsica all go via Paris), excellent hotels and some terrific birdwatching, all at a time of the year when we are shivering in Britain. We plan to fly to Malaga, spend the first two nights at Ronda, two nights close to Arcos de la Frontera and three nights near Tarifa. We will be using either paradors or hotels from the Hoteles con Encanto group. These are small, charming and distinctly upmarket hotels, all with character and situated in interesting areas. Provisional departure date is January 4, and the cost will be around £885, plus the airfare to Malaga.

Snow, ice and birds?
Itís now some years since we last did a proper winter trip to France, but in 2003 we plan to rectify this with a visit to the French Lakes in mid February, departing on Wednesday the 12th, and returning on the 16th. This is the trip we have run most times because of its enduring popularity. If you want a classic winter birding break, this is difficult to beat. Expect lots of wildfowl and raptors, plus a few thousand cranes and the possibility of white-tailed eagles. Excellent hotels and good food add to the attractions. We travel by minibus, stay one night in the Argonne and three nights at …claron. If you havenít done this excursion before, donít miss it. Fully inclusive cost is £525 (SRS £110).

A return to Estonia
In May this year we visited Estonia for the first time and enjoyed a terrific trip. Seeing 184 species in a week gives some idea of the diversity of the birdwatching, while Estonia also scores highly for being easy to get around, as the roads are good, the human population sparse. We were also agreeably surprised by the quality of the hotels and the food. (Australian wine is widely available!) For our trip in 2003 we are going back rather later: May 25 to June 1. This will give us the chance to see all those late-returning migrants, such as red-backed shrikes, barred warblers and scarlet rosefinches, while we should still find such delights as corncrake, lekking great snipe (much easier to watch here than in Poland), three-toed woodpeckers and Ural owls. £860 (SRS £80), plus return flight to Tallinn (about £220).

Trips outside Europe
Thereís a notable lack of a long-haul destination in our current programme. However, Iím off to Kenya in March for an exclusive private 25-day safari. There is space for two more people, so if you are interested, do let us know and we will let you have the full itinerary. Dave Richards is our local guide, and as usual we are working with East African Ornithological Safaris.

How about Guyana?
Remaining on a long-haul theme, South America is looking increasingly attractive, as its political stability is so much greater than much of Africa. At the Bird Fair I had a long talk with Wilderness Explorers, who specialise in birding trips in Guyana. This is a large country with a small population, and a tremendous variety of birds. An additional bonus is that it is the only English-speaking country in South America. If you would be interested in a trip to this interesting country, do let us know. November 2003 is a possibility.

Provisional programme for 2003

In addition, I will be leading my usual Nettlecombe courses in February (21 to 24) and August (4 to 11).

We are hoping to arrange an autumn week in Europe, too. Details in next newsletter.

We know that many of you now have e-mail addresses, and this newsletter has been specially designed so that it is quick to e-mail. If you received this by post, but would like to receive future newsletters electronically, please let us know. You can e-mail us at, or David directly at

For those still waiting for copies of Davidís Diary, plus bird lists, from this yearís tours, please be patient. They are being prepared! There are plans to buy a laptop so that next yearís reports can be produced much more quickly.

Just in case you think you missed the invite, there wasnít a GB summer party this year. (We had a spaniel party instead to celebrate the first birthday of Rosieís litter.) Normal service will resume in 2003, with a July party.

David Tomlinson