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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).

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

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. 


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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