When asked where to go birding in Europe, the consensus would surely be …. go to Spain! A wonderfully diverse country, steeped in history and culture, spectacular scenery with charming and historic towns, with marvellous wildlife highlights throughout the country.
There are the steppes of Extramadura, renowned for bustards and sandgrouse, rollers and bee-eaters, and larks and shrikes, the woodlands and mountains of Sierra de Gredos where rock-thrushes and dippers occur beside mountain streams, and the cliffs and plains of the incredible Monfrague National Park, world famous for its high concentration of raptors – eagles, kites, falcons, and vultures, including the globally rare Cinereous Vulture. A change of pace takes us to the wetland wilderness of the Cota Donana, famous for flamingos, egrets, herons, ibis, bitterns, the highly desired Spanish Imperial Eagle, White-headed and Marbled Ducks, warblers, shorebirds, choice gulls – the list goes on. Our tour then takes in another marvellous habitat, the charming hills and valleys of the Serrania de Ronda, with its beautiful oak and pine forests, known for its lush and diverse flora, especially orchids, and picturesque white limestone communities nestled on mountainsides.
Very different and delightful tours take in the double-theme of birding and gardens in a delightful part of the world, southern England, at a very enchanting time of year, in late April. Our Birds and Gardens tours alternate between southeastern and southwestern England, both incorporating visits to productive and rewarding nature reserves, RSPBs and National Parks. Our tour in southwest England takes in Stodmarsh and Dungeness in Kent, Arne, Radipole Lake and Portland Bill in Dorset, and Yarner Woods and Dawlish Warren in Devon and Cornwall. And of course, Lands End! We will see a fine cross section of England’s birdlife: Bearded Reedlings in wetlands, Gray Wagtails and European Dippers along waterways, Eurasian Hobby over heathland, nesting seabirds at Portland Bill, Red-billed Choughs on Cornish cliffs, Dartford Warbler in furze stands and Woodlarks in newly regenerating forest. We visit some of the finest gardens in the country – from the Royal horticultural seat at Wisley, to Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter, the garden rooms at Sissinghurst as well as Nymans, the Castle gardens at Caerhays, the amazing colours at Compton Acres, the rediscovered gardens of Heligan, and Trebah’s exquisite garden.
Our tour is southeastern England is equally charming. Starting in London, we take in the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew before heading to East Anglia, arguably the best birding area in England, where we visit Minsmere, Titchwell, Hickling Broad and Cley among several RSPB nature reserves.There are numerous choice species – Pied Avocet, Dartford Warbler, Bearded Reedling, Cetti’s Warbler, Western Marsh Harrier, Stone Curlew, Nightingale and many more. We take in gardens that deservedly have international reputations – the incomparable Kew Gardens, the garden rooms at Sissinghurst, Beth Chatto’s Garden, Hyde Hall RHS, East Ruston, Wyken Hall, Bressingham Gardens, Barnsdale Gardens and many others not on regular tourist routes and with attractions all their own. Very special and exciting tours led by experts in both gardens and birds!
Following our double-themed European tours, we have The Netherlands & Belgium: Birds, Art & Architecture. Although The Netherlands and Belgium (The Low Countries) are densely populated, they harbour a surprisingly rich bird-life. Areas such as Waddenzee, Lauwersmeer, Hoge Veluwe and Oostvaarders Plassen are famed for the sought-after species that can be found there. May is a time when many local birds have started to breed, while migrants are still winging their way north, so the overall list is excellent. The birding hot-spots are located near historically important cities and towns, where the mix of old and modern architecture is a feast for the eye, and where world-renowned museums await us. From watching Eurasian Spoonbills and White Storks one day, we could be admiring Rembrandt and Vermeer the next. Amsterdam, Brugge, Antwerp and Texel are all on the itinerary. Of special interest will be visits to Keukenhof, considered by many the greatest spring garden in the world, and Kröller-Müller Museum, with its sculpture garden and Van Gogh collection, in a stunning setting at the edge of a national park.
Adventure cruises cover exciting areas of northwestern Europe and the north Atlantic. In Savour Scotland – slowly, we appreciate Scotland’s picturesque shorelines and fascinating maritime heritage, we wander among monuments at the heart of the Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, we marvel at the largest collection of prehistoric megalithic structures in western Europe, we experience island life on Foula in the Shetlands, and we view the largest seabird colony in the United Kingdom at the cliffs of St. Kilda. We visit historic Glasgow, the Western Isles, Pentland Firth, Orkney, the Shetland islands, and Aberdeen; there will be plenty of music, dancing, and stories, rugged ruins, ancient villages, and soaring seabirds.
Scotland to Iceland. This expedition charts a course unlike any other on Earth, following the Viking voyages from the north of Scotland to the Faroe Islands and onward to Iceland. The Orkney and Shetland Isles offer amazing prehistoric archaeology, hiking and birding. Opportunities are very good for marine mammals and seabirds such as puffins, skuas and more. Fair Isle offers world-famous woollens and other hand-made crafts. The Faroe Islands are the jewels of the North Atlantic. We’ll visit staggering cliffs hosting vast colonies of seabirds and quaint villages clinging to tiny islands. The capital, Torshavn, is a hidden gem of a Scandinavian city. Faroese culture is unique, best experienced with our generous local hosts. Hiking is excellent and the scenery sublime. As we approach Iceland, we enter the realm of the active earth: the new volcanic island of Surtsey; the dramatic sea caves of the Westman Islands, and the town of Heimaey—nearly destroyed by a volcano short decades ago. We sail on to Reykjavik to end our journey in one of the finest and most forward-thinking capital cites anywhere.
Wildlife and birding in Iceland. Iceland is literally a cool hot spot: the land of fire and ice. Circumnavigation by sea offers the best of Iceland’s out-of-the-way wonders! At the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is unique in every way. Dominated by geology and the sea, a unique culture has emerged here that is ancient and contemporary all at once. Active volcanoes, emerging islands, lava fields, and glaciers make every landscape awe-inspiring and hiking, sublime. At sea, the mountains are a constant backdrop as we spot seabirds and marine mammals in the long summer light! Towns nestled among the fjords offer unique cuisine, handicrafts, art and architecture—and our local hosts will ensure we appreciate Iceland’s culture and history at its very finest. We visit Grímsey on the Arctic Circle, home to over a million seabirds and a hundred people, seek whales off the coast of Húsavík, Iceland’s whale capital, visit the Vestmannaeyjar islands, home to Eldfell, the youngest volcano in Iceland, and cruise Iceland’s extraordinary fjords and sea cliffs.