Newsletter October 2004

A LL has been quiet on the Gourmet Birds front for some time, and there is a good reason. We are on the move, and will be living in rural Suffolk by the middle of October. Moving, we have discovered, is all the things usually described of it: worrying, traumatic, expensive, and it has also taken our minds off other less pressing matters. We have even been asked whether, with our move, we plan to stop running Gourmet Birds holidays.
The answer is an emphatic no, though we have not held our usual summer party, and the trips planned for this autumn have also been a casualty. For 2005 we offer, once again, a small but interesting range of holidays.

Almeria, Andalucia, February 7 to 14
For several years now we have organised a holiday in early January, as this is a good time to get away from Britain. However, these trips have been a challenge as trying to find a short-haul destination where the weather is appreciably better than here is difficult. We've tried North Africa, the Canaries, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal with varying success, so this year we have decided to go away, instead, a month later. What is more, we have also chosen to visit an area of Spain we have never been to before, and one with the country's best microclimate. With luck Almeria will give us a genuine early taste of spring, with warm sunshine and even a few early migrants thrown in.
We plan to fly direct to Almeria (there are a number of inexpensive flights available; Easyjet flies daily from Stansted). We will then split the holiday between two attractive hotels. For the first three nights we will stay at the parador at Mojácar. Unlike many paradores, this is a modern building, built overlooking the Mediterranean. It is 90km from Almeria. It is also within striking distance of a number of good birding destinations, including the Mar Menor, the largest coastal lagoon in Spain where we should see many species ranging from black-necked grebes and flamingoes to a variety of waders and wildfowl.
For the next four nights we move south to the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata-Níjar, with its volcanic landscape and natural beauty. We will be staying in the 18th century El Cortijo del Sotillo, situated in the heart of the Natural Park (which, incidentally, is the driest area in Spain). Here on the coastal steppe we will be looking for little bustards, stone curlews, black-bellied sandgrouse and Dupont's lark, plus one of Europe's rarest birds, trumpeter finch.
The cost of the holiday, staying in a shared double room, is likely to be £795 plus flights, but unfortunately the SRS will be an additional £120 (the room rate for a double room with single occupancy is about 75% of the full price).

Cyprus, April 21 to 28
In April, we return for the second year in a row to Cyprus. Easter is early in 2005, so we have a greater variety of dates on offer when we can travel without paying Easter supplements. We plan to go from the 21st to the 28th, and will once again be staying at Antony's Garden House at Episkopi for the duration of our holiday. As usual, this will be a relaxing week with lots of good birdwatching and relatively little time spent travelling from one site to the next, though we will include visits to the Troodos Mountains and the salt lakes at Larnaka. You can expect to see more than 130 species, include such Cypriot specialities as Eleonora's falcon, black francolin and masked shrike.

Estonia, May 10 to 17
Following trips to Estonia in May 2002 and 2003, I discovered that this small Baltic country offers some of the very best birding anywhere in Europe. Come and see for yourself during this exciting week when we are likely to see around 180 species, and witness the spectacular Arctic migration. As usual, we will be linking up with Finnature for this trip, and will have Antero Top as our local leader. Antero is a Fin with a great deal of experience birding in Estonia, and knows the country very well. He is also a fluent English speaker.
Estonia's membership of the EU means many more direct flights to Tallinn than was the case in the past, and there is no longer the need to fly via Finland. Expect to pay about £190 for the flight, while the inclusive cost of the week will be £895 (SRS £85).

Kazakhstan, June 8 to 18
We featured Ukraine in our 2004 programme, but interest was virtually nil. We are hoping that Gourmet Birds still has a few more adventuresome clients who fancy the idea of a trip to Kazakhstan. I visited parts of this huge country (the 9th largest in the world) back in 1989, when it was still part of the USSR, so can confirm that it offers some of the most exciting birding to be found anywhere outside the tropics. It is where east meets west, so you can expect to see many eastern birds that rarely, if ever, reach Europe. Such mouth-watering species include demoiselle crane, ibisbill, great black-headed gull, Pallas's sandgrouse, white-winged woodpecker, black lark, azure tit and a host of buntings.
The inclusive cost of a 10-day trip is likely to be around £1,250, plus flights, and for this we also get an English-speaking bird guide. Possible dates for a visit are from June 8 to 18. Please contact me as soon as possible if you are interested.

Öland, September 18 to 25
Since our highly successful autumn trip to the Swedish Baltic island of Öland in 2000, we have long been planning a return visit. There cannot be anywhere better in northern Europe to witness migration, as huge numbers of birds from geese to goldcrests pass south through this attractive island. The cost will be about £795 plus flights. It is possible to fly to Stockholm extremely cheaply, so we might fly there and then drive to Öland, giving a chance to see a little of the Swedish mainland en route.

Notes:
· All these dates are flexible, and depend on suitable flights being available. If you like the idea of a holiday, but the dates are inconvenient, do let us know, as we may be able to change them to suit you. · The maximum group size for our Spanish holiday in February is seven, as it is also for Cyprus in April. The holidays to Cyprus, Estonia and Kazakhstan will be viable with a minimum of four people.
For more details please either call, write or e-mail. Our new address (from October 14th) is Forge Cottage, Bowbeck, Bardwell, Suffolk IP31 1BA, telephone 01359 269 657; the e-mail address (davidtom@aol.com) stays the same. If you have an e-mail address we are unaware of, please let us have it as it makes communication so much easier. Our new home will be close to the Brecks, so next spring we are also planning a Suffolk weekend, taking in all the local specialities such as goshawks, golden pheasants, stone curlews, golden orioles, woodlarks and crossbills. We have an excellent small hotel cum restaurant, the Six Bells, close by, offering excellent accommodation and food. If you are interested in this weekend (dates still to be decided) please let us know.

David Tomlinson