Gourmet Birds News March 2010
Though the weather in Macedonia in January was just like home (snow and sub-zero temperatures), the first GB trip of the year was a great success. We recorded 117 species in five days, which is an excellent total for an inland site in winter anywhere in Europe. Highlights included close encounters with Dalmatian pelicans, a spotted eagle and a goshawk sitting in adjacent trees, a flock of nine red-breasted geese, six species of woodpecker and all the resident Balkan birds we could expect. Hawfinches were numerous, and it was good to see sombre tit and rock nuthatch, as well as pygmy cormorants and lots of great white egrets. Kerkini is certainly a great birding destination, and one we will certainly be visiting again. Our hotel, the Viglatoras, also produced memorably good dinners and warm and comfortable accommodation. It's become one of our favourite hotels.
Great grey Shrike
The next GB trip is to Cyprus: we fly out later this week. It's apparently been a wet winter there, so we are hoping that Phassouri reed beds will have water in the pools. Last year the marshes were almost completely dry, which was very disappointing.
The Pyrenees: 23 April - 2 May
I saw my first lammergeiers in the Pyrenees in 1968, my first wallcreeper there in 1978. I've returned many times since, as the combination of great scenery and special birds makes this area so attractive. This spring I'm returning once again with a GB group. This is a 10-night trip, flying out on 23 April and returning on 2 May. The first five nights will be spent in the Sierra Guara, which boats the highest density of lammergeiers of anywhere in Europe. For the second half of the holiday we move higher into the Pyrenees where we should see a slightly different selection of birds, including alpine chough and possibly wallcreeper. There are still two places left on this holiday, so if you are interested do let me know. The flights are with Ryan Air from Stansted to Zaragoza.
Estonia: 20- to 25 May
There are also two spaces available for the five-night break to Estonia, flying to Tallinn from Stansted with easyJet, and staying in the delightful seaside town of Haapsalu. Estonia in late May offers outstanding birdwatching, with the arctic migration at its peak. This means a big passage of wildfowl, waders and divers heading north along the coast. In addition there's a wonderful supporting cast of passerines, ranging from red-backed shrikes and wrynecks to penduline tits and thrush nightingales. Estonia is a quiet, uncrowded country, and one that has always produced great birds on all our previous visits.
In June I'm going back to Macedonia and Kerkini for a week for a trip I have arranged for the Suffolk branch of Butterfly Conservation. Butterflies will be our principal quarry, but as butterflies are late risers there should be plenty of scope for looking for birds, too. This trip filled as soon as it was announced, and it even has a waiting list. Perhaps I should be offering more butterfly holidays!
Namibia in February?
After such a long and cold winter I'm determined to offer a warm destination in February next year. I currently favour Namibia, as it offers great birds and mammals, and is probably the safest destination in Africa. I've been twice before, in 1982 and 1998, so it's time to go back again.
We will certainly be returning to Cyprus next spring, and while a return trip to arctic Finland in late May is also a possibility next year.
The appearance of a nuthatch here 10 days ago was the 109th species I've recorded here. New additions last year included red kite, red-backed shrike and bobwhite quail, while this past winter we have had regular visits to the feeders from up to four tree sparrows and a pair of nuthatches, as well as all the usual regulars, such as red-legged partridges and scores of goldfinches. Habitat improvement continues: I've just planted another 60 trees (blackthorn, wych elm, beech, hornbeam, purging buckthorn and wild cherry). Spring has arrived, with the first chiffchaff and small tortoiseshell on 21 March.
For more details of any of these trips contact David on 01359 269 657, or email Davidtom@aol.com.