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glossy ibises (Rob Carr
Glossy ibises and egrets on paddy fields, Valencia (Rob Carr).

In between the recent spells of wintery weather the group in Valencia found some sunshine. Signs of spring included swallows, martins and three species of swifts, plus plenty of spring flowers including hybrid orchids and puzzling spurges to ponder, many of these not in the usual references. Winter birds were still there, including a greater spotted eagle and many hundred of glossy ibises. Hawfinch was regular at the hotel, along with the expected serins and Sardinian warblers.

Elsewhere Bonelli's eagle showed well. The star of the ringing session (blog here) with Pau's Pit-Roig ringing group was a male white-spotted bluethroat; it might have been the moustached warbler but we'd previously had good views in the field. Spanish festoon and a particular bright and tame green hairstreak were stand-out butterflies, and a nymph conehead mantis was another exotic-looking invertebrate. Holiday report here.

Spanish festoon pallid swift (Rob Carr) Ophrys dyris
Spanish festoon, pallid swift (Rob Carr), Ophrys dyris, all in Valencia, March 2018.
More photos from Mervin Nethercoat on flickr and Valencia orchids on Facebook.

The group on Fuerteventura also enjoyed fine weather - too good for many migrant birds to be swept in from Africa. Leader David Collins was successful in finding cream-coloured coursers, houbara bustards and Fuerteventura chats for everyone, the star local birds. Group member Ian Holmes recalls with enthusiasm other new birds for him including Bertholet's pipit, exotic monk parakeets and plain swifts, plus some good butterflies especially greenish black-tip and plain tiger (a.k.a. African monarch).

Resent research using geolocators attached to plain swifts is showing that this rather local species is a partial migrant, as suspected, and some are are wintering in equatorial West Africa. Full story here.

Canary chat Plain tiger / African monarch plain swift
Canary Island or Fuerteventura chat (Ray Purser); plain tiger; plain swift (from www.hbw.com).

Beavers in Poland

In his third bulletin on mammals in Biebrza National Park, Artur Wiatr, Honeyguide’s leader in Poland, writes about beavers (scroll down for otter and elk).

"Beaver: the second largest rodent in the world and the biggest one in Europe, known for its very interesting behaviour. Biebrza the river was named after the beaver and in old Polish language Biebrza means ‘beaver's river’. Considering that now it is a very numerous mammal it may be hard to believe that in the beginning of the 20th century beavers became extinct here. They were reintroduced to Biebrza again from Russia after WW2.

"Beavers have a high sense and knowledge of water engineering, reflected in building dams, creating ponds, building lodges and digging corridors and chambers in the ground. Doing this process, beavers improve local environmental conditions for other animals yet sometimes may be in conflict with what man would not like to see, such as flooded meadows or broken trees.

Beaver by Piotr DombrowskiBeaver by Piotr Dombrowski
Biebrza beavers, photos by Piotr Dombrowski. More beaver photos on Facebook.

"Beavers do not hibernate over winter time so they must prepare themselves. They cut small tree branches and pile them underwater to eat them over winter when rivers are frozen and they have no access to fresh food.

"The beaver is rather a shy creature with a nocturnal life style. Of course you can see them once in a while over a long period. Again, winter seems to be a good moment to watch them. In warmer days when ice starts to get melted you can see beavers enjoying themselves on the ice eating fresh willow branches and doing their ‘manicure and pedicure’. "

Paper wasps in the UK

Polistes (Tim Strudwick)

Polistes dominula, Brundall (Tim Strudwick)

Anyone who has travelled with Tim Strudwick, Honeyguide co-leader in Poland this year, will know of his expertise in bees and wasps. Tim is mentioned in the wildlife reports section of the latest British Wildlife on account of "... the interesting observation of up to seven European Paper Wasps foraging on the flowers of fennel in his allotment at Brundall, Norfolk."

Many of us have seen paper wasps in a range of places in southern Europe, of course: we often note them as Polistes sp as there are several similar species. British Wildlife says paper wasps have been sporadic vagrants in Britain in recent years, with nests found in Surrey and London in 2003 and 2006. Global warming means this trend is likely to continue, an opportunity for Honeyguiders to use ID skills learnt overseas to monitor changes at home.

Fish otter – a perfect predator

The fish otter, writes Artur Wiatr, Honeyguide’s leader in Poland, is a perfectly skilled predator of fantastic abilities and a body adapted to swim. It likes to take fish most of all – though the diet may also contain crayfish, frogs and bird chicks – and because of this it has a bad reputation among fish pond managers in Poland.

Otters have become a more and more frequent mammal in Biebrza National Park. Although one otter family may occupy up to 5km of a river it is not easy to spot them. As for many other mammals, the best time to watch otters is winter. They like to hunt from frozen river banks and they seem to be quite successful. Once a while you can see the whole family playing together on the ice and teaching juveniles how to fish. When disturbed, otters quickly jump into the water and may stay there for few minutes when necessary. In the seasons when the vegetation is thick our otters stay rather shy so we enjoy our otter encounters when we can.

Otter in Biebrza NP (Piotr Dombrowski)
Otter by Biebrza River (Piotr Dombrowski). More otter photos on Facebook.

Drinking water at Stansted: in the last re-building, the drinking water fountain by the departure lounge loos was taken out, and I have been lobbying for its return on and off ever since. That said, the wider awareness of the need to cut down on plastic waste may be a bigger step in a change of heart at Stansted, confirmed by the Customer Relations Team:

"Having liaised with the terminal management team, I can confirm that we are currently surveying locations for a water fountain in our departures lounge. As you will appreciate there is currently extensive building work being undertaken and any new water fountain will be phased in line with these works as we would not want to install something now and then move it again at some point in the near future.

"Please do bear in mind that in the interim, empty bottles are permitted through security and all our food and beverage outlets have agreed to refill on request and we have suggested that this service be advertised throughout the lounge."


Any fountains at Stansted, once installed, may not look like this.

News release from SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and Honeyguide, 25 January 2018.

"British wildlife group supports campaign against Algarve oil exploration." Full details here.

Gannet, alcatraz in Portuguese
(Pedro Geraldes).

Fuerteventura with Honeyguide leader David Collins has been fully booked for many weeks, but you can still travel with him to Latvia. David writes about Latvia's appeal.

“What is it that makes a destination an outstanding place for a wildlife holiday? Having travelled extensively in both Europe and beyond in search of birds and other wildlife, I have come to the conclusion that, for me, there are three things that have to come together. Firstly, the place itself has to have a sense of magic about it - something to make me feel I am in a special kind of place. Then it has to have a selection of birds that are both interesting and common enough to see fairly easily. And last but not least, there has to be a sense that something unexpected might be just round the corner.

"Latvia ticks all three boxes. It is not always easy to capture exactly what it is about a place that makes it feel really special, but I felt it immediately in Latvia. Latvia is at the western margin of the vast boreal forest of Asia, the largest forest on earth. But whereas much of that vast forest zone is inhospitable and rather difficult to access, Latvia is welcoming and straightforward. So you get all the excitement of the great forest without the downsides. True, there are farmed areas as well, but the forests in the area of Latvia that Honeyguide visits seem endless. And Latvia is civilised but not spoilt. The roads are good but there isn’t much on them, so there is a real sense of peace.

The part of Latvia we visit has large coastal wetlands. The wildlife is partly Scandinavian in feel, partly eastern and partly continental - perhaps this white stork qualifies for all of these (photos by David Collins). This is a return to Latvia for David having paid a private visit in 2014 (report here).

"The birds include a wide selection of boreal woodpeckers and other birds, as well as the more typical eastern European species. Perhaps more than anywhere else I have been, it is important to be looking both down and up as often as possible! Down at the woodland flowers and up to look for of migrant birds heading up the west coast of Latvia towards Scandinavia, including birds of prey. The combination of forest, wetland and sea means that there are always plenty of different birds to see and it is one of those places where there is always a sense that the unexpected is likely.

"Perhaps you will chance on a hawfinch or a bluethroat at close range, a golden eagle will fly low over the forest, or there will suddenly be a male capercaillie standing in the middle of the road. All of those things happened to me when I was there a few years back, but perhaps it was the elk that stole the show. We were driving slowly along one of the endless forest tracks and had just seen a hazel grouse. Suddenly we realised there was a huge bull elk watching us from among the trees close to the track. We watched it watching us for some minutes before it made its way slowly off into the forest.”

Elk in winter: winter has arrived in Biebrza valley, writes Honeyguide's Poland guide, Artur Wiatr. The first freeze is a signal for elk to move from the marshes to higher and drier pine woods – their natural routine this time of year.

Pine forest provides lot of food over winter time: the bark and needles of pine and other coniferous trees are a basic diet. Therefore, winter is the easiest time to watch this magnificent animal, sometimes eye to eye. Usually they form small groups consisting of an elk cow followed by a first and a second year calf. Sometimes there might be bigger groups – especially around those places where pine trees are cut down to give more food for elk and to stop them damaging agricultural crops in the neighbourhood.

Winter is also the time when bulls drop antlers – so one has to be careful when determining gender. Elk will stay in the forest for the whole winter and move back towards the marshes by the end of March and April. Biebrza Valley is the biggest refuge of elks in Poland. There are c. 600 elks living in Biebrza National Park and a few thousand in the whole country.

elk by Piotr Talalaj
Elk at Biebrza (Piotr Tałałaj). More elk photos by Piotr on Facebook.

Crete  17-24 April 2018 is fully booked and an additional week, 10-17 April 2018, is now up and running and is also fully booked.

Have I got old news for you? News 2017 . . .  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

Dordogne Crossbill Guide

The latest in the excellent Crossbill Guide series is the Dordogne, due out in mid-April.

More information and a pre-publication offer here.


Valencia, Spain (March 2018): Ophrys x pielteri, a hybrid between woodcock orchid and sawfly orchid.

Ophrys x pielteri

Ophrys episcopalis

Crete (any April): Ophrys episcopalis is sometimes ‘lumped’ with O. holoserica found elsewhere in SW Europe. It is a similar shape to sawfly orchid O. tenthredifera but with a variable patterning reminiscent of the woodcock orchid group such as, on Crete, Ophrys heldreichii.

Chunky, with a lip that’s square and downy,Ophrys episcopalis feels self-confident and with the purplish sepals the name bishop’s ophrys seems to suit it better than the alternative name of large-flowered bee orchid.

The Honeyguide wildlife blog is up and running. Once there, click on SUBSCRIBE and follow the instructions to get new blogs sent to your inbox.

Why did a packet of penguin biscuits arrive through the post in the Honeyguide office? Read the Honeyguide blog to find out.

Ural owl

Ural owl, Latvia.

Honeyguide's Latvia holiday supports owl research in Latvia. Much of this involves installing then monitoring owl nest boxes.

It has had some good results but also perils, as the words and photos reveal on our new Latvia owls web page.

More than 1 million hectares of Greek sea waters, 22% of the total, have now received Natura 2000 status as protected marine nature sites, a "triumph for HOS/BirdLife Greece".

Read the full story here (January 2018).

New Norfolk Wildlife Trust blog by Chris Durdin: Thorpe Marshes in the 1960s (January 2017).

The Thorpe Marshes wildlife report for 2017 includes wildlife reports, a review of the year and of other activities on the nature reserve near the Honeyguide office.

Rhodope lily, 2017 (Vlado Trifonov)

Vlado Trifonov, Honeyguide leader in Bulgaria's Western Rhodopes  and local expert on the threatened Rhodope lily, monitors one of the handful of sites for this beautiful flower of mountain meadows.

2017 was a good year, with an increase in the number of plants by 38 per cent to 109 individuals, roughly two-thirds of which were in flower.

Efforts continue to get the grazing right: grazing out of season is important to suppress competing species, but summer grazing can lead to damage of Lilium rhodopeaum plants.

Green hairstreaks (David Collins)

Green hairstreaks in Latvia (David Collins).

zitting cisticola (Pau Lucio)

Honeyguide holidays in Valencia and La Mancha support the ringing group of local leader Pau Lucio called Grupo de Anillamiento Pit-Roig.

The group was particularly busy in the autumn migration period of August and September and you can read highlights here, compiled by Pau.

These include ringing 675 reed warblers, 101 moustached warblers, 48 Savi's warblers and 12 little bitterns (pictured in the report) Above, however, is a zitting cisticola (fan-tailed warbler) - not a bird that we often get to see sitting still.

Visit to Aragón

Desert wheatear

This desert wheatear (photo by Richard Campey) on 23 November 2017 was in the Monegros steppe area of Aragón, Spain.

It was one of many good things seen by Chris and five others from various wildlife holiday companies on a familiarisation or 'fam' trip organised by the Spanish Tourist Board.

More on that trip here, photos on Facebook here, and also here is more about that desert wheatear, about which local birders are delighted.

From the archives: Berdún 1985.

News from BirdLife International

Morocco: a new bald ibis nesting site was found this year, not far from the cliffs at Tamri visited by the Honeyguide / N&S WWH group in 2016.

More from BirdLife here.

bald ibis (Igor Maiorano)

Bald ibis (Igor Maiorano)

Poland: "BirdLife applauds the EU Court of Justice ruling that Poland is subject to a potential daily fine of €100,000 if they continue illegal logging in Europe’s last primeval forest, Białowieża."

More from BirdLife here.

Białowieza forest

Białowieża forest in Poland.

European Health Insurance Card

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

More travel tips here.

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