Newsletter Christmas 2005

Happy Christmas from the depths of rural Suffolk where the Forge Cottage bird list has now grown to 87. The last two additions were both sparrows: No 86 was tree sparrow, and No 87 house sparrow. I've now a pretty good idea of where to look for the local Breckland specialities such as woodlarks, stone curlews and nightjars, and hope to find all these during the Gourmet Birds Suffolk Break. This will be a three-night, three-day break, with a day's birding on both Suffolk and Norfolk coasts and in the Brecks. The dates are June 1 to 4, a little earlier than 2005 Suffolk break, so this should ensure that there's still plenty of song to enjoy. 295.

New short breaks in Spain
There are such remarkably cheap flights available that we have decided to offer two short breaks to Spain, one in March, the other in June. Both are five-day breaks, staying in paradores (or similar quality hotels). The first is to Valladolid in northern Spain in March (March 16 to 21). This area of Spain has the largest surviving population of great bustards anywhere in Europe, and these will be our principal quarry. We should also see a fine selection of raptors, including golden and Bonnelli's eagles, red kite, hen harrier and black vulture, plus a fair chance of encountering a wolf. The price is 500, plus flights with Ryanair from Stansted.

In June we are offering a butterfly special to the foothills of the Pyrenees, though we won't be overlooking the birds, either. Fly to Vitoria, then a five-night stay at the Parador Sos del Rey Catolico. This is within easy driving distance of several outstanding sites for both birds and butterflies, and lammergeiers are virtually guaranteed. June 15 to 20, 550 plus flights with Ryanair from Stansted.

Owls in Finland
This trip to Finland has been arranged for members of the Hawk & Owl Trust, but any GB regulars would be very welcome, too. It's bound to be cold, but we have heard that it's a good owl winter in northern Finland. By early April the days are already longer than the nights, and we hope to see pygmy, hawk, great grey, Ural and Tengmalm's owls, plus all the woodland grouse and northern specialities like waxwing, Siberian tit and Siberian jay. The cost is 750pp, plus flights; any profit goes to the H&OT. April 1 to 5.

Jan and I will be going to Cyprus as usual in April to lead a private group (from the 19th to the 25th). We had been planning a GB holiday for the week before, but that was before we worked out that Easter is very late in 2006, so we have dropped these plans.

In 2006 I celebrate 30 years of running birdwatching courses for the Field Studies Council at Nettlecombe Court in Somerset. It was running these courses that really gave the inspiration to start Gourmet Birds. My first course of the year is from April 28 to May 1. During the three days we should see a good variety of birds, and get the chance to hear many of them (including pied flycatcher, wood warbler and Dartford warbler) singing.

Then, on May 10, we are off to California. Though there have been Gourmet Birds trip to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South and Central America, we have never organised a holiday to North America before. This trip has been put together for us by Harry Fuller, a native Californian whom some of you may have met in Estonia. We are planning a 10-night trip with the option of a 4-day extension (several people remarked that California is an awful long way to go for just 10 days). We hope to keep mileage to a minimum, but will be using three different bases for the first 10 days. Price likely to be 1200 for 10 days, 1600 for 14, plus flights.

Nettlecombe again
In August (4th to the 11th) we are back down to Somerset for the 30th anniversary of Birds of High Summer at Nettlecombe, when we will be having a party to celebrate. We first met several GB regulars at Nettlecombe, and hope that a few will be tempted to come back again (we know that two have already booked). Expect nightjars, Dartford warblers, hobbies and lots of butterflies. The food is much better now than it was 30 years ago!

Though there's nothing in the programme yet for September, we are thinking of taking advantage of cheap flights to Malmo in Sweden for an autumn break to Falsterbo. The raptor migration here is justly famous, but there are lots of good birds to be seen in the vicinity, too. Let us know if you are interested.

Lastly, I'm often asked where I think the best birdwatching in the world is, and I always answer Kenya. The first GB trip to Kenya was way back in 1988, the most recent in 2001, so it's high time we went back again. Does the prospect of 600 species of birds and 60 species of mammals in three weeks tempt anyone?

Detailed itineraries are available for all these trips, while you should contact Mark at Nettlecombe (, 01984 640320) for further information about the two FSC courses.

David Tomlinson