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Increasingly you'll see the Travel Aware logo - a UK Government campaign - on Honeyguide holiday web pages, with a link to Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice for that destination. This doesn't mean a new problem or worry - it applies to all holiday destinations.

There is increased awareness in the travel world of making FCO information readily available, especially since the beach attack in Tunisia in 2015.

As well as safety and security information, the FCO website contains useful information about health, local laws, what help the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide if something goes wrong and much more.

Image may contain: bird, outdoor and nature

Cape rockjumper, a sought-after bird in South Africa's Southwest Cape — there are places still available on this autumn's holiday. See 'First, catch your rockjumper', right.

This story is part of a wider project on the conservation status of Cape endemics. Geoff Crane, Honeyguide's leader in South Africa, donated 2,000 rands to the Cape endemics conservation fund following Honeyguide's SW Cape holiday in autumn 2015 (report here), complementing Honeyguide's donation to bird survey project SABAP2.

Elsewhere in South Africa, BirdLife SA is looking onto establishing a new colony for African penguins, in addition to the two in SW Cape visited by Honeyguide. The new site will be farther east to attempt to link the SW Cape population with those in the Eastern Cape. More on this here.


Danube Delta: the first mistake was trying to count squacco herons, says participant Ian Holmes. Ian's other highlights included 'kingfisher alley', the first river channel in the Delta; 18 white-tailed eagles during the week; and white pelicans and cormorants fishing together. The last is no co-operative: the pelicans are like Chinese fishermen, grabbing the cormorants by the neck to get their catch. Bonuses from the Carpathians holiday extension included nutcracker and a lesser spotted eagle on a post on the group’s journey to see brown bears. Holiday report here.

kingfisher (Judith Wells)squacco heron (Judith Wells)pelicans
Kingfisher; one squacco heron can be counted; pelicans (Judith Wells).


Estonia's winter extended into April, including late snow, so it was as much spring as summer for Honeyguide's group in early June - happily arriving with good weather. Lady's slipper orchids and pasque flowers were still blooming. Golden jackal was a surprise at the bear hide: brown bear and raccoon dog were part of the show, and from a viewing tower a group of elks ambled across. Woodpeckers included middle spotted and white-backed. Estonia itself was a highlight, said one group member, including walking through Tallinn and a tour of a former railway station, now a café.

wood sandpiper

Wood sandpiper; below, elks. These and other Estonia images by Ivan Nethercoat; more on flickr. Holiday report here.

elks

There a conservation contribution with every Honeyguide holiday and from our Estonia holiday in early June £470 was given to the Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF). This helps to fund volunteer working camps to enhance the breeding habitat / feeding places of the black stork. The nest of one pair of the black storks being helped is on this webcam.

The stork Eedi has a radio-transmitter, and his migration route is followed here. ELF web page, dedicated to the black-stork and its conservation needs here.


Cévennes: it’s always a gamble, write leaders Robin and Rachel Hamilton, putting a pin in a date eighteen months in advance for a holiday where so much depends on hitting the prime time for so many things. In the event, we couldn’t have been luckier. The gorgeous sweeps of colour in the causse grassland were at their peak and we even found one of the best displays ever of the endemic Aveyron bee orchid, Ophrys aveyronensis.

Butterflies were abundant and brilliant and the spring bird song was in full swing – about five nightingales singing their hearts out in the gardens at la Gare aux Ânes. The medieval villages, the cavern of Aven Armand, the astonishing Millau Viaduct all amazed as ever, and the plentiful supply of Roquefort cheese delighted (almost!) everyone.

Adonis blue Aveyron orchid Broad-bordered bee hawkmoth
Adonis blue (Ron Fitton and Val Appleyard), Aveyron orchid, broad-bordered bee hawkmoth (Heather and Leslie Green).


Hungarian rhapsodies: Helen Crowder was with a private group of Honeyguiders in Kiskunság National Park, Hungary. She writes: Meadows of wildflowers and butterflies; iridescent rollers against a blue sky; red-footed falcons with chicks in nestboxes; saker falcon family high on a pylon; fields fringed with corn cockle; little bitterns flying across a stream; whole acres of poppies; lesser purple emperor in a tree.

White-tailed eagles close to the nest; marsh harrier mobbing an imperial eagle and looking small in comparison; moth trap full of tigers, hawks, foxes and a small elephant; a wall of bee-eaters; dragons and damsels; fire-bellied toad displaying its vocal sac; a sleepy long-eared owl; parachuting pipits; bustards bustling; the soundscape of cuckoos, nightingales, turtle doves and golden orioles – these are a few (!) of my favourite things. All enhanced by convivial company and outstanding leadership.

common gliderpoppy fields
Common glider; poppy field; red-footed falcons in a nestbox, three of Helen Crowder's favourite Hungarian things. Holiday report here.


La Mancha was again a delight, combining the wetlands of La Mancha Húmeda and the limestone hills of the Serranía de Cuenca, writes Chris. Near our first base of Belmonte, two eagle owl chicks were a highlight, along with a close and calling little bustard in arable. Egyptian vultures low overhead while we watched an ocellated lizard near the amazing limestone pillars of Los Callejones was a nice moment. Flowers were brilliant, from arable to limestone specialists, including many species absent from field guides and lots of orchids. Warm weather brought out butterflies, 40 species including Spanish fritillary and Spanish heath. Holiday report here.

ocellated lizard windmills in Don Quixote country Egyptian vulture
Ocellated lizard, windmills in Don Quixote country and Egyptian vulture. (La Mancha photos by Pau Lucio & Chris Durdin). Facebook photo set here and new web page La Mancha flora.


Poland (May 2017) was one of the most memorable wildlife holidays I've experienced in many years, writes Honeyguider Geoff Morries. There were so many highlights it's difficult to list them all. The birds were quite exceptional: I think my favourite bird overall has to be the white stork, but the Montagu's harrier, penduline tit (and its nest), pygmy owl, and the song of the thrush nightingale are all up there near the top. One very special moment at Biebrza: I'd left the group and walked a short way to answer a call of nature only to realise that, no more than three metres in front of me, was a beaver busy munching willow shoots.

Not since I was in the Okavango Delta in Botswana many years ago have I experienced anything like this. I half expected to see a lion emerge from the undergrowth! (But an elk is pretty good, too). I shall never look at a lowland river valley in Britain in the same way again: I now find myself constructing mental maps of what the landscape would look like if the rivers back home were allowed more of a free rein. Every ecologist and naturalist should make a point of visiting these places if they can.


Landscape-scale wetlands in Poland: more photos in the holiday report.


A successful Honeyguide holiday in southern Slovenia has just been completed, based in accommodation on the Logar family farm in Žerovnica on the eastern shore of Lake Cerknica with both wryneck and red-backed shrike in the garden.

The Notrajnska region of Slovenia is largely karstic, with limestone mountains separating broad damp plains called poljes. Highlights included six species of fritillary butterfly (larvae and adults) on the flowery meadows at Senožeče, the amethyst meadow squill at its only site in Slovenia and a magnificent male large copper feeding on fen ragwort at the Isola della Cona Nature Reserve, our last site before proceeding to the airport. Contributed by Paul Tout, May 2017.

Amethyst meadow squill  large copper Snežnik Castle
Amethyst meadow squill (Scilla litardierei), a southern Balkan species with a single station in Slovenia. Male large copper (Lycaena dispar) on fen ragwort (Jacobea paludosa). Snežnik Castle, a 13th-century castle located just south of Lake Cerknica.


It was an excellent year to be on Crete. The orchids above Spili were as good as I've seen them and the tulips, crown anemones and widow irises on the Omalos Plateau the best I've seen writes Chris.

One wet day gave ideal conditions for falls of migrants: flycatchers everywhere, including my first ever semi-collared, golden orioles, wood sandpipers and little stints. Co-leader David Collins had a surprise going through photos of migrant swallows in Plakias: a red-breasted eastern Mediterranean swallow (right). Lovely warm weather on most days and tasty taverna meals all added to a great experience. See also Cretan Bluet (damselfly). Holiday report here and photos on Facebook here.

semi-collared flycatcherSardinian warblerTulipa bakeri on Omalos Plateau
Semi-collared flycatcher, Sardinian warbler, Tulipa bakeri on Omalos Plateau.


There were plenty of holiday highlights in Extremadura writes Chris. My best ever view of Spanish imperial eagle was almost outdone by a plummeting short-toed eagle by the same cliffs in Monfragüe National Park. Male and female lesser spotted woodpeckers were drumming nearby on one pre-breakfast walk.

We found a hoard of feeding griffon vultures making a good job of tidying up a sheep carcass. Three species of wild daffodils were at their best as were Iberian fritillaries and orchids close to our base at Finca Santa Marta. Honeyguide's 20th group at the Finca mostly went to familiar places, but Mérida's Roman Bridge was a novelty, from where there was a close purple swamphen.

lesser spotted woodpeckerIberina fritillariespurple swamphen
Lesser spotted woodpecker, Iberian fritillary and purple swamphen in Extremadura. More photos on Facebook, and holiday report here.


The Tarifa & Morocco holiday in Feb/March, write Simon Tonkin and Niki Williamson, had three bases – the tranquil eco-lodge of Huerta Grande in the village of Pelayo near Tarifa; a characterful colonial-style hotel in the bustling Moroccan town of Larache; and a traditional family-run guest-house in the exquisite blue-washed Moroccan mountain town of Chefchouen. It yielded a great quality bird list from European farmland and cork oak forest, Moroccan mountain habitats and wetlands and salt pans on both sides of the Straits, as well as views of hundreds of migrating black kites, short-toed eagles and other raptors.

Highlights included excellent views of Moroccan marsh owl, lesser kestrels, black-eared wheatear, hawfinches, northern bald ibis, slender-billed and Audouin’s gulls, blue rock thrush, great spotted cuckoo, brown-throated and crag martins and purple swamphen. Non-avian highlights came in the form of monarch and Spanish festoon butterflies, Portuguese sundew, and of course superb local food and culture throughout. Holiday report here.

Black-eared wheatear (Rob Carr)Audouin's gull (Rob Carr)Northern bald ibises
Black-eared wheatear and Audouin's gull (Rob Carr); bald ibises on the nesting cliffs (Simon Tonkin and Niki Williamson). Honeyguider David Bennett's photos from 2017 on OneDrive here.


Where to start describing two weeks late Jan/early Feb in the Drakensberg Mountains and Zululand? Wonderful mountain scenery, exotic and varied birds and mammals outside the three accommodations, from gentle warmth to tropical heat, good hospitality everywhere. A fortnight on and participants are still sorting through thousands of photos: here are just a few.

General photos - places, some mammals and birds - on Facebook here. I made a special effort to record dragonflies and damselflies of the Drakensbergs and Zululand writes Chris: Facebook album here from the holiday. Also orchids of the Drakensbergs on Facebook here and a set of butterflies here. Holiday report here.

Wakkerstroom bird tablered bishopyellow-billed kite
Bird table at Wakkerstroom, with southern masked weaver, pied starling, black-throated barbet and Cape weaver; red bishop; yellow-billed kite.


wooded meadow with alpine bistort

Are wood-meadows an under-appreciated habitat? Reading a paper in British Wildlife makes me think so, writes Chris Durdin. Here is a new web page to celebrate the wonderful wood-meadows of Estonia.

Wood-meadow with alpine bistort.

Pau Lucio, Honeyguide leader in La Mancha and Valencia, has just returned from a successful Iberian lynx trip in Andújar Natural Park, Andalucía. He took the photos of this superb mammal, below. The 2016 census of lynx is nearly complete and states that there has been an increase of 28 to a total of 389, compared with the 2015 census when 361 individuals were recorded. The provisional count confirms the upward trend that has been occurring during the last year despite the negative influence that hemorrhagic disease has had on the wild rabbit populations in the Iberian Peninsula. A summary of the report in English) can be read here.

Iberian lynx (Pau Lucio) Iberian lynx (Pau Lucio)

Honeyguider leader Ivan Nethercoat's daughter Katie is, like dad, a keen photographer. They went to Poland on a photographic challenge to take bison photos. These are two of Katie's pictures below; there's a set on Honeyguide's Facebook here and more on her website.

European bison bison against birches

Forest of Secrets

Honeyguide's Poland holiday in the Sunday Times: 'The Best 100 Holidays of 2017' Sunday Times supplement of 15 January 2017 includes our holiday in Biebrza Marshes and Białowieża Forest, Poland.


Trujillo from a distance, September 2016; the castle is on the left.

News from Extremadura: Game of Thrones fans may like to know that they were filming at Trujillo Castle in late November - details and some photos here. In December they were in Cáceres - this link has a spoiler alert as story elements are revealed.

Closer to home - our home from home in Extremadura, that is - I've learned about a video on YouTube that shows before and after pictures of the transformation of Finca Santa Marta to the place Honeyguiders know and love. There are still places on our Extremadura holiday in March if you'd like to join us.

bison in Polandelk

Winter has arrived in north-east Poland. Local Honeyguide leader Artur Wiatr says his family’s first snowman in the garden was made on 19 November.

Artur writes: “Lower temperature and natural behaviour forces some animals to change their habit. The largest herbivore in Poland, the European bison in Białowieża Forest, has formed larger herds, sometimes of 60 individuals. This is for safety – easy defence against wolves – and feeding; they are helped by hay supplied once in a while by the rangers. This also keeps the bisons within their natural range. They stay in the woodland rather than moving into farm fields where they cause damage as their population is still growing. Based on last census in 2016, there are 578 free roaming bison on the Polish side of the forest. When spring comes again, the big herds split into smaller ones and these huge animals become very shy and difficult to encounter in the woods, though Honeyguiders in May 2016 were lucky (see the 2016 report).

“Similarly the elk (the largest herbivore in the Biebrza Valley) has already left the core zones of the marshes, moving into Scots pine forest and farm fields in drier parts of the valley. It’s easier to find food there e.g. pine bark and needles and farm crops. Biebrza National Park holds the largest elk population in Poland which amounts up to 600 individuals. They do not form such a big herds as the bison. Usually it’s the cow and calf from last year and the previous year. The population has grown since the year 2000 when hunting for the elk was stopped.” The last group of Honeyguiders were lucky to watch an elk ‘face to face’ on their very day of arrival in Poland.

Yacaré caimanjaguargiant otter 
Yacaré caiman, jaguar and giant otter (Gabor Orban). Seen these on Planet Earth II and want to find them in the wild? Join us in The Pantanal, Brazil, in autumn 2017.

Northren bald ibis (Simon Tonkin) two-tailed pasha (Simon Tonkin) Pepe the griffon vultre, at Huerta Grande (Simon Tonkin)
Some photos from Huerta Grande, our base for Tarifa & Morocco. Bigger versions and one more on our Facebook page.


Have I got old news for you? News 2016 . . . News 2015. . . News 2014 . . . News 2013 . . . News 2012 . . News 2011 . . . News 2010 . . . News 2009 . . . News 2008 . . . Back to top of this main news page

Amazing courtship dance of the rare hooded grebe in SW Argentina: like a great crested grebe but more so.

On YouTube courtesy of BirdLife International.


Survey run by SEO/BirdLife Spain about birdwatching and nature tourism on Mediterranean islands. They'd be grateful for Honeyguiders to contribute. Online survey here.


Know next to nothing about jellyfishes? Me too. Free guide from the Marine Conservation Society - a PDF download - here.


Photos from NWT Buxton Heath, Norfolk, 5 July 2017, here on Facebook.


Single trip travel insurance from Global Travel Insurance Services is on our 'book' page.

The modest commission on insurance sales linked to Honeyguide continues to go to the Honeyguide Charitable Trust.

Probably if you are taking two holidays, and certainly three, an annual policy makes more sense - please ask.


First, catch your rockjumper

Cape rockjumpers live in craggy parts of South Africa's SW Cape - rocky slopes and scree in the fynbos zone. How much connection is there between potentially isolated populations?

To study gene flow within the species, researcher have been trapping rockjumpers to get DNA samples. That's quite a challenge - and obviously so if you've seen where they live.

BirdLife South Africa reports here on recent efforts. The work continues.

rockjumper habitat, South Africa's SW Cape

Rockjumper habitat, South Africa's SW Cape.

African penguins

African penguins in SW Cape - see story, left.


Mediterranean flower in Norwich

purple vipers bugloss, Norwich

This purple vipers bugloss - a familiar flower to Honeyguiders from the Mediterranean - was photographed in Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich on 25 June 2017.

It's one of the first recorded for Norfolk. More photos on Facebook here; local news story here; complete story on a Purple Viper's Bugloss web page.


Estonia images

raccoon dog

Raccoon dog

lady's slipper orchid

Lady's slipper orchid with wood cow-wheat.

northern chequered skipper

Northern chequered skipper.


SUPPORTING

LPO

Cévennes conservation project

Spectacular cliffs and gorges are home to Honeyguide’s chosen conservation project, which aims to re-establish all the European vulture species. Griffon and black are doing well, and we watched the first lammergeiers in the Gorges de Trévezel, still dependent on support from the project for food, and floundering in an ungainly fashion on the other side of the gorge.

We were delighted to hear that our contribution of £700 would be quadrupled by ‘matched funding’ because it is a ‘Life’ Project run by LPO Aveyron with EU grant aid.

Gorges de la Jonte (Ron Fitton and Val Appleyard)

Gorges de la Jonte


bee orchid in central Norwich

bee orchid and bus

Bee orchid and a passing bus by Big Yellow Storage, opposite Norwich City FC, 2 June. Orchid count up to seven, 6 June. It seems to be both an early year and a poor year for the orchids in the 'meadow in the city', on account of the recent heat and the dry spring. More photos on Facebook.

But there is good news: talking to the Big Yellow Storage staff, managing the grass for the orchids here is now accepted as routine for the company and a good thing. Several years of publicity can only have helped ... and it's in the local media again here and Norfolk Wildlife Trust blog here.


red-crested pochard

eagle owlets

pearly heath

Red-crested pochard, eagle owlets and pearly heath in La Mancha, May 2017.


News from SPEA

Domingos Leitão, Director of SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and Honeyguide leader in Portugal, reports back on two conservation projects supported by Honeyguide.

"The Little Bustard Survey run last spring (in Spain as well as Portugal) gave us worrying information for the situation of the species. Comparing with the last national survey, 10 years ago, it revealed a global decrease of 47.8%, a decrease of 62.2% outside protected areas and a decrease of 28.4% inside protected areas."

"SPEA’s campaign against illegal trapping of birds was quite intensive and effective last autumn and winter. With many communication materials produced, the involvement of radio and television opinion maker Nuno Markl, the involvement of the GNR guard in the Algarve. The main results are: investigations and detention of a few illegal trappers, many more citizens are aware of the problem, and a new regulation that bans wildlife trade in the internet. This campaign will continue next autumn."

Coming soon for SPEA: they are organising a Birdwatching Festival in Sagres (Algarve) this autumn and there will be a campaign about the use of Diclofenac. This is a medicine use to treat cattle that kills vultures when they eat dead animals. Diclofenac has been banned for veterinary use in India but now is coming into Europe and Africa.

News release here (24 May 2016) about Honeyguide's donation of €1000 to SPEA, supporting the little bustard survey. Here in Algarve Daily News.

Join Domingos in Algarve & Alentejo - places are still available.

little bustard (Steve Fletcher)

Little bustard (Steve Fletcher)


Printing an easyJet boarding pass

.. without the advert. Tutorial on YouTube here.


BirdLife International's comment here on "the devastation of Białowieża Forest" in Poland (26 April 2017).


Crete photos

swallows in Plakias (David Collins)

Eastern Mediterranean swallow, sitting, right (David Collins).

Ophrys episcopalis

Bishop's ophrys Ophrys episcopalis on Spili Bumps, Crete, April 2017.


New web page: wintergreens in Estonia.

one-flowered wintergreen

Close-up of one-flowered wintergreen.

Recent Norfolk Wildlife Trust blog by Chris Durdin: Sedge warblers return (April 2017).


Two news stories from South Africa, courtesy of BirdLife International, April 2017:

South Africa gets first biodiversity tax incentive

Saving Africa's only native penguin species


Honeyguide's Fuerteventura group in March was successful in finding the many specialities of this Canary Island.

"Rather surprisingly, only a few hundred yards from the hotel, and before we were even clear of the village, we found our first pair of Fuerteventura chats. This set a new record for the time taken for a Honeyguide group to spot this delightful endemic bird (about an hour)," says holiday leader David Collins.

cream-coloured courser (David Collins)

Cream-coloured courser (David Collins)

Houbara bustard, cream-coloured courser, ruddy shelducks, trumpeter finch Barbary partridge and black-bellied sandgrouse were among the other birds.

As well as a big range of endemic and Mediterranean flowers, there were Barbary ground squirrels, Epaulet Skimmer dragonfly and several butterfly species including both monarch and plain tiger (=African monarch).

ruddy shelduck (David Collins)

Ruddy shelduck on Fuerteventura (David Collins). Holiday report here.


Elephants in Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Park - just some of the many mammals on show in the Drakensbergs and Zululand.

garden acraea

Garden acraea butterfly in the Drakensbergs. More butterflies here.


almond tree at Finca Santa Marta

A sign of spring in Extremadura: the almond tree is in flower in the car park at Finca Santa Marta.


Recent Norfolk Wildlife Trust blogs by Chris Durdin:

The times they are a-changin’ (February 2017)

Gathering gadwall (January 2017).

The newly-discovered frog species © Seshadri K S

"The frog we thought was a kingfisher", a news story from India via BirdLife International.

Black-tailed Skimmer

The Thorpe Marshes Wildlife Report for 2016 is online now, a bumper 15-page illustrated PDF about this Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

It's here or via the Thorpe Marshes web page. The photo is a Black-tailed Skimmer, a reminder of summer days on the reserve. 

wolf

Have you ever seen a wolf? Artur Wiatr writes about his experience in Poland.

Macronesian sparrowhawk (Juan Adam, SPEA)

Macronesian sparrowhawk: a video, voiced by 'urban birder' David Lindo, supporting an appeal by SPEA for work to protect this scarce subspecies and its habitat on Madeira here.

EU Nature Laws Saved

The European Commission confirmed on 7 December that the EU's flagship nature laws — the Birds and Habitats Directives — will be saved.

This follows two years of uncertainty about their future, a huge fear that they would be watered down, and a campaign by NGOs to save them.

Most Honeyguide holidays in Europe are strongly linked to the Nature 2000 network of wildlife sites of European importance.

These directives remain in place in the UK, but the post-Brexit situation is uncertain. It's an opportunity for Government to confirm that the Birds and Habitats Directives remain the minimum standard for site safeguard in post-Brexit Britain - as well as tackling how we can do even better.

black-eared wheatear

One of two black-eared wheatears at Cap de San Antoni, Valencia, Spain.

Photo by Pau Lucio, who says this is the first time they have overwintered in Valencia region. A sign of climate change?

Join Pau and Chris in La Mancha.

European Health Insurance Card

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC): still available to obtain or renew via www.ehic.org.uk despite the Brexit vote.

More travel tips here.

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