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Honeyguide news archive 2019

Simon Tonkin and Niki Williamson, Honeyguide leaders in The Gambia, receiving in December 2019 a certificate of appreciation from the Gambia Bird Watchers Association to mark their support for mangrove restoration.

Honeyguide played a part in this: our conservation donation of £460 from our holiday in December 2018 went to this project, and we will be supporting it again in December 2020. Gambia Bird Watchers Association played tribute to Inglorious Bustards/Honeyguide Holidays and said "We're extremely grateful for your generous donation towards the Kotu Creek mangrove restoration project."

New arrangements for flights for this holiday are in place following the demise of Thomas Cook. Details on The Gambia holiday page.

More news from Valencia: our previous news item (scroll down to read it) mentioned how local Valencia leader Pau Pucio is working to set up a butterfly nature reserve. This is a collaboration between butterfly conservation NGO Zerynthia, who we supported though our Picos de Europa holiday, and Gandia local council, the first butterfly reserve in Valencia Region.

The reserve was inaugurated in early December for the general public, regional TV and local politicians. They planted strawberry and fig trees to help the local population of two-tailed pasha. Pau says that the area suffered a nasty forest fire in August 2018 (the largest in Spain in 2018), so they didn’t expect to see any caterpillars, but they managed to find six in two small strawberry trees (photo, right). We plan to visit the area during our Valencia holiday in March, on which we still have places.

Pau Lucio (right of the sign) at the opening of Zerynthia's butterfly reserve in Valencia region, 7 December 2019. [You can also view these photos on Facebook.]

While rain was sweeping across the UK, it was dry, if a little windy, for Honeyguiders in Algarve & Alentejo in early November. It was the numbers of birds and good views that were most impressive, says leader Rob Macklin. These included some 170 glossy ibises dropping into Salgados lagoon, 120 griffon vultures in a thermal, 80 Audouin’s gulls, little and great bustards near Castro Verde, lots of flamingos and egrets. Good views of a bluethroat and a little bittern were also highlights (below), as were many migrating white storks, booted and short-toed eagles. Welcome to Lara Broom from SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) to the Honeyguide team, as well as old friend Domingos who showed his usual expertise by finding a horseshoe whip snake.

The conservation donation of £300 from this holiday went to SPEA (BirdLife Portugal). This year we will be supporting the promotion of SPEA in the Algarve, namely funding a stand that, with the help of a local group of supporters, SPEA says will: "increase our street actions to promote and raise awareness about SPEA’s work in the Algarve. We need more members everywhere, but especially in the Algarve, where there are still lots of damaging developments to fight against." That’s the final donation to a conservation project in 2019. End of year sums show that the donations linked to Honeyguide holidays in 2019 totalled £6,840, and our running total for donations since 1991 is £134,062.

bluethroat (David Bennett) little bittern (David Bennett)
Bluethroat and little bittern in Algarve & Alentejo (David Bennett). More of David's photos here; holiday report for Algarve & Alentejo here.

South Africa: spring flowers: Geoff Crane - Honeyguide's regular leader in South Africa - sent lots of lovely photos to promote our 'Spring flowers in South Africa' holiday, 22 August to 4 September 2020. We used several photos in the Honeyguide brochure and elsewhere on this website but there are glorious flowers to spare. These are easy to see in a Facebook photoset. It includes the names of the flowers featured in the collage below.

News from Valencia: to mark World Migratory Bird Day in October, local leader Pau Lucio was involved with running a family activity about bird ringing in the hills of Gandia, in an area our Valencia holiday visits. Photos from the event and some other recent bird photos are grouped in a set of pictures on Honeyguide’s Facebook here.

Pau is joining forces with butterfly conservation NGO Zerynthia and Gandia local council to set up the first butterfly reserve in Valencia Region. “We will reforest a burned area with strawberry trees, fig trees and other Mediterranean trees and shrubs to attract different species of butterflies, among them the two-tailed pasha,” says Pau. We are more than half-full for our Valencia holiday in March, with room for a few more still.

Valencia: World Migratory Bird Day
Pau (left) with a young helper releasing a ringed robin.

Black-winged kite and violet dropwing dragonfly: sounds like central Iberia. Actually both were on our Dordogne holiday in late September. The violet dropwing was on the arrival day, the black-winged kites while the Stansted contingent waited for their delayed flight from Bergerac. When the sun shone, which wasn't all the time, out came the butterflies: 12 species on one patch of mint was a highlight. A nice surprise was autumn lady's tresses: one more orchid for an area we know is orchid-rich in May. As always, the atmosphere at Castang and the hospitality from Cathy, Keith and Olivia at Castang, on what we assume is our final visit, will remain the fondest memory. More photos on Facebook; holiday report here Dordogne 2019.

autumn lady's tresses broad scarlet great banded grayling
Spirals of autumn lady's tresses; broad scarlet (scarlet darter); a usually fast-flying great banded grayling rests on a group member's jacket.

Honeyguide’s support for Refuges LPO through holidays in France is longstanding, from our first year in The Lot back in 1991 up to the Dordogne holiday in September 2019. In the early days, some of the work was a campaign to prevent shooting on privately owned land irrespective of the landowner’s wishes.

With that battle won, the focus of Refuges LPO in more recent years has been more about helping nature at home. Below is a summary of the project’s considerable achievements, from an LPO circular, including an amazing number of ‘refuges’ noted in the diagram. Sometimes nature conservation needs loud voices. Sometimes, like this, it needs steady, patient, good work.

■ 25,000 refuges in total

■ 40,000 hectares of land protected

■ 593 balconies

■ 349 communities

■ 21,825 gardens

■ 148 businesses

■ 1,744 institutions

Our first ever holiday in Falsterbo (Sweden) was every bit as good as we hoped. A highlight for everyone was a stream of 70 honey buzzards low overhead. Migrating sparrowhawks were so frequent that they became routine. Flocks of yellow wagtails were a great feature, often settling in the open, and there were always tree pipits and skeins of geese on the move. Golden and white-tailed eagles showed well.

We added a taste of Honeyguide to what was mostly a birdwatching holiday with flowers, butterflies and other wildlife. The hotel and Swedish food & hospitality went down well. It was a full first-time immersion with a group of Honeyguiders for main leader Christopher Hall and he came out smiling! We'll be in a sister hotel in 2020 but otherwise there's nothing to change: there are still vacancies as I write, though places are going fast.

Wheatear (Christopher Hall) sparrowhawk redstart
Wheatear (Christopher Hall); a migrant sparrowhawk settles on a sign; redstart.

large-flowered hemp-nettle edible frog sea pea
Large-flowered hemp-nettle, edible frog, sea pea. Holiday report here.

Information about Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, was enclosed with Honeyguide's brochure for 2020. In previous years we've included information from from Plantlife, British Dragonfly Society and Butterfly Conservation. Naturally this is intended to encourage new memberships of a splendid charity that aims to “Save the small things that run our planet."

The Picos de Europa with Pau Lucio proved a great success. We liked the family-run hotel and Boca de Huérgano itself was good for wildlife, with a wryneck calling in the morning from a regular bush-top, a huge white stork nest around the corner and both common and black redstarts in the very rural small town. Also here was the Iberian of race of pied flycatcher, a new bird for me (writes Chris) with bold white patches on the wing of the male. Meadows and easy-walking wide paths seemed to be everywhere, and often picnic sites were surrounded by flowers and butterflies. Wonderful landscapes, naturally. We plan to run the holiday again in 2020. Picos de Europa holiday report 2019.

Linaria triornithophora spotted fritillary
Toadflax Linaria triornithophora; spotted fritillary.

alpine chough
Picnic Picos style; alpine choughs are often tame, this one at Fuente Dé.

"Estonia definitely was our kind of country - wide expanses with very few people about!" say Honeyguiders Tim and Cheryl Hunt. Great sightings of brown bears from NaTourEst's hide are routine, but still amazing for anyone going for the first time. It proved to be an excellent year for butterflies: this stunning-looking poplar admiral is one example. A good range of birds included Slavonian grebes and scarlet rosefinches, plus wonderful flowers including many orchids in habitats such us bogs and glorious wood-meadows.

brown bear, Estonia (Cheryl Hunt) poplar admiral, Estonia (Cheryl Hunt)
Brown bear and poplar admiral in Estonia (Cheryl Hunt). Estonia 2019 holiday report.

This year's group made it the Camargue (phew, writes Chris D) where all the expected specialities were on show from greater flamingos to white horses plus, as for any Honeyguide group, a huge variety of other birds, flowers, bugs and beasties. All three marsh terns together - whiskered, black and white-winged - must have been quite a sight. But I won't add more as you can read all about it on Chris Gibson's splendid blog or in the holiday report here.

black-winged stilts (Chris Gibson) stripeless tree frog (Chris Gibson)
Black-winged stilts, stripeless tree frog (Chris Gibson).

There were contrasting temperatures in La Mancha - from 34°C in La Mancha Húmeda the to 4°C in the hills of the Serranía de Cuenca, though these are extremes - but lots of wildlife everywhere. A damp April meant a good year for flowers in May, including wild peonies and the very local Orchis cazorlensis. Good views of eagle owl, white-headed ducks and gull-billed terns hunting in cereal fields were among the bird highlights. There were several ocellated lizards, surprisingly tame, and three times we found the often elusive western orphean warbler. And when the sun came out in the Serranía de Cuenca, so did the butterflies, against a brilliant scenic backdrop. And the famous windmills, of course. Some photos by Chris Durdin and local leader Pau Lucio on Facebook here and La Mancha holiday 2019 report here.

Uña lagoon
Uña lagoon in the Serranía de Cuenca.

BBC Wildlife will no longer come in a plastic wrap: it will be wrapped in paper. More here. About time: a welcome change of heart.

All the talk on Crete was of storms in February: flooded properties, bridges down, Kourtaliótiko Gorge (the usual route into Plakias) shut until two days before we arrived. But all worked well for our international group (two from New Zealand, two from the USA) and the rains meant lush and colourful hillsides of Jerusalem sage, cistuses and towering yellow spikes of giant fennel. It was a slow year for bird migration though local birds were good including Rüppell's warblers, chukars and glorious bee-eaters. Highlights included a little bittern in a ditch near the hotel and several little crakes.

Little ringed plover Solenopsis minuta
Little ringed plover on nest, Damnoni Beach; Solenopsis minuta, Plakias.
More photos on Facebook
and holiday report here.

Extremadura in March was as lovely as ever: the countryside wasn't as dry as Morocco (see below) though reservoir levels were low. Finca Santa Marta was a delight, with azure-winged magpies, hawfinches and a lesser spotted woodpecker active around the finca. Spring flowers provided sheets of colour and butterflies were active. Bustards get scarcer every year though we saw both species. Vultures get more numerous - they benefit from increasing cattle numbers on the pseudo-steppes - and we had good views of Spanish imperial eagle. Photos from Chris on Facebook and Honeyguider Mervin Nethercoat on Flickr. Holiday report here

Marcelino from SEO/Birdlife with Honeyguiders
Marcelino from SEO/Birdlife gave a talk and received a donation from Honeyguide of £950. The stall is SEO's wildlife-friendly rice and pasta. (Photo, Jean Dunn).

Morocco was hot and dry for the joint Honeyguide / N&S Wildlife and Walking group in March following a winter lacking rain (much as it was for our previous visit in 2016, by coincidence). Nonetheless the lush gardens of our base at Atlas Kasbah provided an oasis for frogs, flowers and classic local birds such as Moussier's redstart, house buntings and bulbuls. Chris Gibson found various fascinating invertebrates and north African reptiles alongside distinctive drought-resistant plants, many pictured on Chris's blog In the foothills of the Atlas - Southern Morocco. Farther afield there were northern bald ibises, Moroccan orange-tip butterflies and the bizarre parasitic plant Cynomorium coccineum, known as 'red dog-turd'. Click through to the blog to see why! Morocco 2019 report here.

Moussier's redstart (Chris Gibson) Amata alicia (Chris Gibson) Bibron's agama (Chris Gibson)
Moussier's redstart; African nine-spotted moths Amata alicia; Bibron's agama.

Plastic wrapper news: Travel Weekly is switching to a potato starch wrapper (online here). It's a trade publication I get and yes, I have been gently nagging. Birdwatch (news here - I confess I don't subscribe) is also making the same switch for subscription copies. Birdwatching and BBC Wildlife (see my blog) are not changing despite Honeyguide advertising being withdrawn. 28 Feb 2019.

Rhodope lily

The Rhodope lily in Bulgaria, protected with Honeyguide's help, had a good year in 2018. The number of plants increased, management helped the plants, they were fenced at the right time, fruit capsules formed on the lily plants.

Report here by local leader and expert botanist Vladimir Trifinov. Background here.

Salamanca recce: I had very enjoyable recce visit in the area south of Salamanca with Vega Bermejo of 'Birding in Spain's Wild West'. The area is varied and attractive and we saw a lot, with the potential for much more in spring with a group. Every town seemed to have a castle and every village an active white storks' nest. There is more to read in my Salamanca recce report and there are photos on Honeyguide's Facebook page. We are working towards a small (up to seven participants) group holiday here in May 2020.

Roman bridge and the city of Salamanca.

Niki Williamson and Simon Tonkin write about Honeyguide's first group in The Gambia: "It's hard to capture in words the resplendent riot of colour and life that was packed into our trip to this tiny West African gem! As we followed the gleaming Gambia River inland, we left our European existences behind and ensconced ourselves in rural life, exploring sparkling coastal creeks, tranquil mangrove swamps teeming freshwater lakes, verdant forests and life-rich Sahelian heath, dotted with unimaginably ancient baobab trees.

Fishing boats at Tanji
Fishing boats at Tanji (Brennan Aunger). More of Brennan's photos on Facebook here and Gambia 2018 holiday report here.

"Our adventure brought us up close to stunning local specialities such as Egyptian plover, African finfoot, white-backed night heron, Adamawa turtle dove and four-banded sandgrouse. Our days were filled with eye-poppingly colourful flora and fauna, including seven glittering species of sunbirds, six glamorous species of bee-eaters, four rollers, six kingfishers, barbets, turacos and exclamatory paradise whydahs that sailed through the air like tiny shooting stars. Rivers and jungles held hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, Guinea baboons and various monkeys. Our 31 raptor species included many swirling in huge numbers around a raging bushfire.

"Add to this the welcoming and generous Gambian people, the vibrancy of their culture, music and clothing, and the delicious West African food, and you may start to get a picture of why it's so easy to fall for ‘Africa's Smiling Coast’!”

Hamerkop (Brennan Aunger)Hooded vulture (Brennan Aunger)Honeyguide minibus in The Gambia (Brennan Aunger)
Hammerkop, hooded vulture, Honeyguide minibus in The Gambia (Brennan Aunger).

Have I got old news for you? . . . News 2022 . . . News 2020-21 . . .  News 2018 . . . News 2017 . . .  News 2016 . . . News 2015 . . . News 2014 . . . News 2013 . . . News 2012 . . . News 2011 . . . News 2010 . . . News 2009 . . . News 2008 . . . Back to main news page

Blogs for Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Thorpe Marshes: Three swans a-swimming (December 2019) and
A wet day in November (November 2019).

Rhodope lily 2019

Local holiday leader Vladimir Trifonov is also the Bulgarian expert on the Rhodope lily Lilium rhodopeaum, confined to a handful of sites in the mountains of SW Bulgaria and adjacent Greece.

Vlado regularly monitors and manages one site, which is paid for by Honeyguiders' conservation contributions though our Bulgaria's Western Rhodopes holiday.

Vlado reports that 2019 was the best year to date for Lilium rhodopeaum on this site, with the biggest number in the population since monitoring began in 2008. Vlado found 194 plants, of which 132 were flowering. Read Vlado's report here.

The progress of Lilium rhodopeaum has been closely followed by the journal Lilies and Related Plants. The link is a PDF of the most recent article, December 2019, from the journal of this specialist RHS Lilies Group, kindly provided by the editor, Melvyn Herbert. The RHS Lilies Group, which is affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society, welcomes new members: follow the link for details.

Rhodope lily

Rhodope lily, 23 June 2019 (Vlado Trifonov).

An idea for 2021

Portugal in winter 23-30 January 2021. Holiday in preparation. Expressions of interest in this holiday are invited.

Glossy ibises

Glossy ibises (SPEA) are a winter feature on Portuguese wetlands.

Blog for Norfolk Wildlife Trust: October at Thorpe Marshes (October 2019).

Estonia: our conservation donation of £400 through our holiday in June 2019 went to the Estonian Fund for Nature and has supported volunteer working camps to enhance breeding habitat / feeding places for black storks.

More here. The link takes you to a website in Estonian, for which your search engine should offer a translation, though the pictures give a good feel for the activities anyway. ELF stands for Eestimaa Loodude Fond.


Study says global warming makes it harder for little bustards to mate

New research led by the University of East Anglia and the University of Porto shows how global warming could reduce the mating activity and success of grassland birds.

Focusing on the little bustard, which is classified as ‘vulnerable’, researchers discovered that high temperatures reduced the ‘snort’ display males use to attract females.

Full story here.

little bustard (www.uea.ac.uk)

Corsica 2021?

Developing our partnership with Christopher Hall of New Horizons (see Falsterbo and Iceland), an idea for the future could be the Mediterranean island of Corsica in early May 2021.

This note is to give links to the 'Corsica, Isle of Beauty' holiday outline and Corsica 2014 holiday report on the New Horizons website.

Expressions of interest — certainly no commitment at this stage — would help us to plan. What do you think?

Carbon credits

For a fourth time, we have bought carbon credits that protect tropical forest in Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone. The September 2019 purchase was for 131 tonnes of carbon credits (certificate here).

The project is jointly managed by the RSPB, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and the Government of Sierra Leone. There's a video about the project on YouTube here.

Rightly, carbon and its contribution to climate change is a hot subject in today's media. It's not new for us, though: this is the 11th year for Honeyguide buying carbon credits.

For all this time, carbon offsets have been part of each holiday’s price. This is all explained on our carbon credits web page.

Thanks to the many people and organisations working here, Gola Forest is still very much intact. That in itself is a good news story, in contrast with the damage in the Amazon this year. Gola Rainforest chocolate bars are doing well: more on Gola Forest's Facebook page.

Gola Forest chocolate

Majorie Blamey died in September, aged 101. She was influential for flower ID for me over many decades and in many parts of Europe. 'Fitter, Fitter & Blamey' was to go-to field guide for flowers for both Honeyguide groups in September, in Falsterbo and the Dordogne.

Her obituary on the Guardian’s website here and NHBS here.

New online

Norfolk photos on Facebook

Cranes on the up - Norfolk Wildlife Trust blog by Chris Durdin (August 2019).

Notes from Thorpe Marshes - Norfolk Wildlife Trust blog by Chris Durdin (August 2019).

Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays brochure for 2020, click on the picture of the cover below.

Honeyguide brochure

Wildlife photos from a recent visit to the Dordogne on Facebook here and more wildlife notes here: Dordogne, July 2019.

scarce swallowtail
Scarce swallowtail

(Lack of) water fountains at London Stansted

Honeyguide blog here.

Holiday insurance 2019/20

Holiday insurance policies for the next season are available with Global Travel Insurance Services.

PDF here of GTI's single trip insurance for 2019/20; and multitrip insurance here for 2019/20.

More about travel insurance on our booking page.


bee orchid

Honeyguide blog: Bee orchids bounce back, June 2019.

olive plantation, Moheda Alta

The damage to birds from night-time harvests where there is intensive olive farming isn't yet widely known. Our Extremadura group in March heard about it from Martin Kelsey when we visited new olive plantations on what were rice paddies - the picture above is an olive plantation at Moheda Alta.

The story is in this link here and there is a petition to sign.

Blog: forty years of the EU's Birds Directive.

The flamingo that held up an easyJet flight on Mallorca: more here.



New web page: Moonwort photospot.

Cherry plum

Cherry plum in flower, common in March. See Facebook photos.

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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