Newsletter Autumn 2005

WELCOME to the Gourmet Birds autumn newsletter (there wasn't a summer newsletter - I was too busy birding in Belize). There's no doubt that 2005 will go down as one of the most successful years for Gourmet Birds. We were hardly blessed with good weather for the winter break at the end of February, but despite the snow, sleet and bitter winds we saw a good variety of birds, ranging from shorelarks to snow buntings.
We always enjoy going to Cyprus, and this year we were rewarded with some real goodies, finding an Isabelline shrike on our first morning, then later seeing broad-billed sandpiper, great snipe, spur-winged plover, pied kingfisher, blue-cheeked bee-eater and the usual supporting cast of migrants and residents that make this such a rewarding destination. We are going back again next April.
Two weeks in Estonia in May provided a feast of good birds, and well over 200 species, a reminder of just how good this small country is. The weather was chilly and spring was late, but we had far more sunshine than rain. Particularly noteworthy was a fantastic experience with great snipe on the lek with the first group, and the thrill of finding an elusive red-breasted goose with the second group.
Kazakhstan was an entirely new destination for GB, and was much enjoyed by all who were brave enough to join me. There was a tremendous number of good birds, and highlights included an exultation of larks in the desert (short-toed, lesser short-toed, bimaculated, white-winged, sky, crested, calandra and black), fine views of elusive Pallas's sandgrouse, wonderful demoiselle cranes, lots of buntings (meadow, pine, red-headed) and the fantastic Himalayan rubythroats high in the Tien Shien mountains. The accommodation wasn't always as comfortable as we may have liked, and the red wine was on the sweet side, but it was a great trip. We might well go back again in 2007 if there's sufficient interest.
In Kazakhstan I really mastered the tricks of digiscoping (thank you Andy for inspiring me to have a go in Cyprus). You can now expect to get a CD of bird pictures when you come home from your GB holiday, a new service we hope that you will appreciate.
At the end of June we welcomed a group here for the second GB Suffolk break. We saw some good birds (a barn owl hunting in daylight was arguably better than the bittern we saw at Minsmere), but the food was probably more memorable than the birds. Alison's dinner on the last evening was outstanding.
For 2006 we have our usual mixture of trips, including our first-ever to North America. We hope that there's something that tempts you.

Suffolk autumn mid-week break November 15,16,17
OK, we're just popping this two-night break in to see if there's any interest, but if more than two people want to come we will run it. From the experiences of the first two Suffolk Breaks we have made a few modifications, and we offer the choice of staying in the comfortable Pykerrel Inn in Ixworth, or bed and breakfast in College House Farm, Bardwell Road, Barningham a Grade II listed Jacobean country house dating back to the 1600s. Arrive in Suffolk in time for dinner on the Tuesday night, then a full day's birding on the North Norfolk coast the next day. On the Thursday we will either go to the Suffolk coast or look for birds on the Brecks. £220, no SRS.

Almeria, Andalucia, February 7 to 14
You may remember this trip from last year's newsletter. It was cancelled as I didn't want to miss my last legal week's foxhunting. However, it was such a promising holiday that here it is again.
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.
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. With luck Almeria will give us an early taste of spring, with warm sunshine and even a few early migrants thrown in.
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 12 to 19
In April, we return for the third year in a row to Cyprus. Once again we will be staying at Antony's Garden House at Episkopi for the duration of our holiday. 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. Departure guaranteed. £795 plus flights. SRS £60.

California, May 10 to 20
Though we have been to California a couple of times, we have never led a GB holiday there. This 10-night holiday is the brainchild of Harry Fuller, a Californian some of you may have met when he came to Estonia with us in 2003. He has been living in London for a few years, but is now back in his native country, where he has put together a very attractive holiday. As Harry has travelled with us he is well aware of what we think makes a good GB holiday, with no exhausting one-night stands, not too much travel and good food and wine. We will be based close to San Francisco, which gives easy access to a wide variety of habitats, and should give us the chance to see a great variety of birds, as well as some wonderful scenery. Price to follow, but it will not be extravagant. There are some good deals on flights to San Francisco, and you can expect to pay less than £400.

GB Suffolk Break June 1 to 4
A three-night break based in Suffolk. I'm building up a good knowledge of where to find the local Breckland specialities such as stone curlew, golden pheasant and woodlark, while we will also venture to both the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Same arrangements as for the November break, except three full days in the field. £295.

Nettlecombe 2006 I led my first-ever birding watching holiday for the Field Studies Council at Nettlecombe Court in 1976. I haven't missed a year since, so next August it will be the 30th anniversary course. If you fancy a week birdwatching in one of the most beautiful parts of England (Nettlecombe is between the Quantock Hills and Exmoor), then join us at Nettlecombe, where we will be having a party to celebrate. Details on 01984 640 320.

For more details of any of these holidays please call, write or e-mail. Our new address is Forge Cottage, Bowbeck, Bardwell, Suffolk IP31 1BA, telephone 01359 269 657; e-mail davidtom"at"aol.com ( written like this for security purposes, replace "at" with @ ). If you have an e-mail address we are unaware of, please let us have it as it makes communication so much easier.

If you happen to be in this part of the world, do give us a ring and come and see us.

David Tomlinson