Somerset: May/June 2019

To book this tour: Call 01934 712831 or click here

Somerset is now the best place in Britain to see – and get great views of – some of the country’s most sought-after bird species. The Avalon Marshes are the heron capital of Britain, with up to seven species breeding there.

Walls-Farm-Front-view-spring.jpg

Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets float over the reedbeds, or fish in the watery ditches known as rhynes. Bitterns, too, are often glimpsed as they fly low over the reeds – they are easiest to see in late spring when they are feeding their young. In May and June, you can watch Hobbies chasing dragonflies, Marsh Harriers performing their sky-dance and Cuckoos calling over the reeds.

In the nearby Quantock and Mendip Hills, we’ll enjoy a chorus of birdsong, while on the coast almost anything can – and does – turn up. At a time when much of Britain’s birdlife is in decline, Somerset offers a truly awesome birding experience.

We at Somerset Birdwatching Holidays pride ourselves on our attention to detail: we take a maximum of seven clients in our special vehicle (christened Thunderbird One), and offer luxury accommodation, splendid food and convivial company. With naturalist and author Stephen Moss and keen birder Graeme Mitchell as your guides, this holiday is ideal for birdwatchers at any level, from complete beginner onwards.

Our unrivalled knowledge of some of Somerset’s best-kept secret sites, and their birds, means you’ll get unforgettable views of some of Britain’s most charismatic species. We love showing people not just the birds and other wildlife of Somerset, but also the history and culture of this unique county and its myriad landscapes: from hills, to coast, to those magical wetlands. So please join us on a relaxing, enjoyable and above all memorable tour.

STEPHEN’S TOP 5 SOMERSET SPRING SPECIALS

GREAT WHITE EGRET Our star species – and the proud logo of Somerset Birdwatching Holidays – is one of Britain’s greatest conservation success stories. Having arrived on the Avalon Marshes less than a decade ago, these stately white herons now breed in large numbers, and sightings are absolutely guaranteed.

BITTERN Or ‘toasted heron’, as one local schoolboy named it. One of Britain’s most elusive species, the Bittern has made an extraordinary comeback, from just 11 booming males in the 1990s to more than 50 now on the Avalon Marshes alone! We’ll keep a sharp eye out for these charismatic birds as they appear momentarily on the edge of a reedbed, or fly overhead.

CRANE Europe’s tallest bird – and one of its most spectacular – can be surprisingly hard to track down in this huge wetland, but we’ll check out the latest reports and hope to connect with flocks of these stately waterbirds in the fields around West Sedgemoor.

HOBBY This elegant falcon returns from Africa in late April, when flocks gather over the marshes on fine spring days. We’ll keep a constant eye out for these speed merchants as they hawk acrobatically for insects in the skies above.

CATTLE EGRET Europe’s smallest egret first bred in the UK on 2009 – guess where? Yes, Somerset! Since then flocks of more than 50 birds have been seen, lending a touch of Africa to the West Country. We’ll visit a local heronry where the birds breed, and hope to see them as they fly in and ou

FACT FILE SOMERSET:

Spring Spectacular Choose from two dates, each with two-and-a-half days birding and three nights DBB – • Fri 10 May to Mon 13 May • Mon 3 June to Thu 6 June

DETAILS: All accommodation is en suite in luxury converted cottages or an adjacent B&B, and the holiday price includes dinner and drinks, self-service breakfast, pub lunch, all transport during your stay, and the services of our guides Stephen and Graeme. Group size maximum 7 clients. PRICE: £565pp (deposit £100) Single room supplement £75pp

BIRDER PROFILES

 Stephen Moss

Stephen Moss

STEPHEN MOSS
Tour Leader Stephen is one of Britain’s best-known naturalists, authors and wildlife TV producers. His TV credits include Springwatch, The Nature of Britain and Birds Britannia, while his many books include Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, The Robin: A Biography, and Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names. Stephen moved to Somerset 12 years ago with his young family, and loves showing people the bird and wildlife wonders of his adopted home.

 Graeme Mitchell

Graeme Mitchell

GRAEME & KAY MITCHELL
Your Hosts Graeme and Kay Mitchell ran a specialist holiday company for 25 years, taking thousands of people around Britain and the wider world to visit gardens and historical attractions. Having settled down with their family in Somerset two decades ago, they founded Somerset Birdwatching Holidays in 2017. Graeme’s guiding skills and Kay’s wonderful cooking make them the perfect hosts for your stay.

OUTLINE ITINERARY:

DAY 1: Arrive mid-afternoon at Walls Farm, near Wedmore. After settling in, you can use the heated swimming pool or spot the birds in the garden, orchard and around the pond, before enjoying a Welcome Dinner and looking ahead to our planned excursions.

DAY 2: Optional pre-breakfast walk, in a mixed woodland on the nearby Mendip Hills. After breakfast we’ll head down to the Avalon Marshes, and spend the morning exploring this wetland wonderland. In May or June this will be heaving with birds: we’ll look for Hobbies hawking for insects, Bitterns flying over the vast reedbeds, Marsh Harriers displaying and hunting, and up to three species of egret.

Great White Egrets now outnumber their smaller cousin the Little Egret, and we also hope to see the latest colonist, the Cattle Egret. RSPB Ham Wall is also alive with songbirds – up to nine species of warbler can be seen in a single visit – while the marshes are also excellent for insects, notably a wide range of dragonflies and damselflies. After lunch at a local hostelry, we’ll explore some of the hidden corners of the Somerset Levels, including Stephen and Graeme’s local patch, before returning to Walls Farm for a convivial supper.

DAY 3: Today we’ll head for the ‘wild west’ – the Quantock Hills and the Somerset coast. The beautiful oakwoods of the Quantocks are home to a trio of summer songsters – Redstart, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher – while we’ll also look for Dipper and Grey Wagtail on the rivers and streams. We’ll time the tides to get the best of the exciting new WWT reserve at Steart Marshes, home to breeding Avocets and a wide range of waders and wildfowl. We’ll return to Walls Farm for our final dinner.

DAY 4: After breakfast in the cottage, we’ll spend our last morning visiting any sites we haven’t managed to get to already, or searching for target species we may have missed. Options include heading to the southern half of the levels to look for Cranes, visiting Stephen and Graeme’s coastal patch for migrants and waders, or simply returning to the wetland wonderland that is the Avalon Marshes.

Please note: itineraries are given only as a guide. The locations visited may vary, according to the weather and tide times, and the species we are hoping to see.

To book this tour: Call 01934 712831 or click here



Scotland: October 2018

Join the Bird Watching team for a spectacular autumn wildlife-watching break in October

 The Grant Arms

The Grant Arms

Autumn in Scotland means rich wildlife potential amidst rugged beauty, and you can join us there for an exclusive trip from 21-26 October, 2018.

Bird Watching magazine editor Matthew Merritt and assistant editor Mike Weedon will be joined by UKBS editor, and Scottish birding aficionado, Gordon Hamlett, to lead a week of wildlife watching, based at the lovely Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on-Spey.

The hotel boasts high quality en-suite rooms and traditional Scottish fare prepared with local ingredients, and while it takes care of bed, breakfast and dinner, we’ll provide optional guided walks, expert tips, bird quizzes, films and evening talks. 

From our Highland location, we’ll be within easy reach of sites such as Glenmore Forest Park, for Crested Tits and Crossbills; the Cairngorms, for Ptarmigan and possible Snow Bunting; and the Findhorn Valley, for eagles and other raptors. 

 Black grouse. Pic Our WildLife Photography/Alamy

Black grouse. Pic Our WildLife Photography/Alamy

There’ll also be the chance to visit the Moray Firth and the Black Isle for wildfowl such as Scaup, plus divers, grebes and waders.

We’ll look for Red and Black Grouse and Capercaillie in the forests and moors around Grantown. As well as the great birdlife, there’ll be the chance to see dolphins, Red Squirrels, Red Deer, Otter, Mountain Hare, and maybe even Pine Marten.

The Grant Arms Hotel is home to the Birdwatching and Wildlife Club and its expert staff will be on hand to guide you to the best areas, offer local knowledge and seasonal tips if you prefer to organise your own time. It’s perfect for birdwatchers of all levels and a great way to meet like-minded people, share tips and make the most of this incredible time of year and wonderful place.


Reader holiday factfile:

Scottish Highlands: October 21-26, 2018                             

Details: This five-day break is held in partnership with Bird Watching and includes:

  • Five nights dinner, bed and breakfast
  • En suite rooms which are equipped with hairdryer, tea and coffee-making facilities, TV and toiletries
  • Gala dinner
  • Programme of evening talks and quizzes by Bird Watching’s Matt Merritt, Mike Weedon and Gordon Hamlett
  • Guided walks, films and entertainment          
  • No single supplement
  • Please note: a car is essential on this break

Leaders: Matt Merritt, Mike Weedon and Gordon Hamlett

Cost:
Bird Watching subscribers: Standard Room £406 dinner, bed and breakfast pp, £77 additional nights. Superior Room £496 DBB pp, £94 additional nights

Bird Watching non-subscribers: Standard Room £424 DBB pp, £81 additional nights. Superior Room £519 DBB pp, £99 additional nights

Excludes: Transport, lunches and alcoholic drinks

BOOK NOW / EMAIL / TEL: 01479 872526

 Beautiful scenery. Pic Keith Fergus/Alamy

Beautiful scenery. Pic Keith Fergus/Alamy

 

 

Finland: May/June 2018

Join us in the wonderful country of Finland for a Bird Watching reader holiday to remember!

 blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

Over the years in Bird Watching, you’ll have seen a lot of superb photographs of the birds of Finland, taken by visiting UK photographers as well as the country’s own many superb snappers. That’s because Finland has all the ingredients for a superb all-round birdwatching experience – lots of unspoiled natural habitat, especially forests and lakes, superb light (thanks to a lack of pollution and, in spring and summer, long hours of daylight), and a location on the fringes of Europe that means both Arctic-breeding species and eastern species can be found.

Late spring is the best time to visit, with breeding birds back on territory, and the days long enough that you can birdwatch almost around the clock.

It’s a big country, though, and not one that’s necessarily easy to birdwatch on your own, which is why it’s become a popular destination for tour companies. We’re travelling with Heatherlea on a holiday that will allow you to sample the best of the country’s birdlife, thanks to expert guiding. But whether you travel as part of a trip, or on your own, here are five great reasons to visit this country…

Finland reader holiday: trip details

 WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

This holiday targets all the key bird species of Finland on a relatively relaxed itinerary which should produce a spectacular list of northern European birds. While the focus is on birding, of course, there’s also a visit to a traditional restaurant, and to a Reindeer farm.

During your first two days you’ll look for Eagle, Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm’s, Hawk, Long-eared, Short-eared and Pygmy Owls, plus Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Citrine Wagtail, Caspian Tern, Black-tailed Godwit and Garganey. Bitterns can be heard booming, and Red-backed Shrike is possible. Other key birds include White-tailed Eagle, Crane, Whooper Swan, and both Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers. The forests give a first chance of Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers, Black and Hazel Grouse and Capercaillie. Night singers might include Thrush Nightingale, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, and even Corn Crake.

The second centre is Kuusamo, Finland’s top birding destination. Vast forests hold Capercaillie and Black and Willow Grouse, Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper and Brambling are common, but the real draw is the eastern and northern species – Red-flanked Bluetail, Little and Rustic Buntings, Greenish Warbler, Siberian Tit, Dipper and Siberian Jay. Other species might include Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Red-necked Grebe, Common Rosefinch, Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred Crossbill and Parrot Crossbill. Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black Grouse, Willow Grouse, Hazel Hen, Capercaillie and Little Gull all breed here. 

You’ll be guided by a highly experienced local leader, with a second guide from Heatherlea to supplement this key local knowledge with more than eight clients. You’ll make use of late nights to enjoy brilliant birding throughout, but there will also be the opportunity to rest up in the afternoon on some days.

FINLAND: 28 MAY - 3 JUNE 2018                   

DETAILS: Our holiday includes pre-flight airport hotel and lounge, departure
from London Heathrow or Edinburgh. Maximum group size 12

LEADERS: Markus Sirkka plus Heatherlea guide with more than 8 clients

COST: £2,695pp, £240 single supplement, deposit £300                 

EXCLUDES: Travel insurance, drinks and items of a personal nature

BOOK NOW: To book, call 01479 821248, or visit heatherlea.co.uk

Markus Sirkka: Tour Leader

"I am Markus Sirkka (born 1975), tour leader, nature photographer and freelance journalist, currently living in Porvoo, the old sea coast town next to Helsinki, but I’ve been living and working all around Finland during the last 20 years. I have been working in this field full time since 2004, but nature and nature photography have been my passion for a lot longer. The photography started in the early 1990s and I’m a member of the Professional Nature Photographers of Finland. I’m also a trained Wilderness guide, guiding snowshoeing, skiing, paddling and hiking tours, as well as birders! Lastly, but most importantly, I am a father of three: daughter Lilja and sons Elias and Aarni."

OUTLINE ITINERARY

 Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!

Day 1: Monday 28 May

After relaxing in our complimentary airport lounge, we fly from London Heathrow Arrival - Oulu airport (via Helsinki), where we meet our local Guide. Our hotel is nearby, and if time allows after check-in, we will enjoy some local birding. Overnight for three nights at the Airport Hotel in Vihiluoto.

Days 2-3: Tuesday 29 - Wednesday 30 May

The next two full days are spent birding in the vicinity of Oulu. This region is best known for its breeding owls, which include Eagle, Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm’s, Short-eared and Pygmy, and most years also Hawk and Long-eared Owl. During this period we also visit Liminka Bay, an internationally important wetland which is a paradise for birdwatchers. Among the many waterbirds we should see Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Caspian Tern, Black-tailed Godwit, Shoveler and Garganey. Bitterns can be heard booming, and a few pairs of Red-backed Shrikes breed. 

White-tailed Eagle and Marsh Harrier breed here, many migrants rest, and summering juvenile Common Crane and Whooper Swan are expected. We pay particular attention to rare Terek Sandpiper; Oulu is one of the last places in Finland where this bird still breeds. Citrine Wagtail is another rare breeding bird which we target.

In the Bay of Liminka there are several observation towers providing ideal vantage points. After watching Little and Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns catching insects from the sky we will head to the forests to look for Three-toed and Black Woodpeckers. Other possible forest species here include Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse and Capercaillie.

Four species of harrier breed annually around the Liminka Bay area, so with luck we may see not only Marsh and Hen, but also Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier!

Although lying on the threshold of Lapland, some ‘night singers’ are found in Oulu area, in most years. There might be a chance to find Thrush Nightingale and Blyth’s Reed Warbler, and perhaps even Corn Crake. 

Day 4: Thursday 31 May

Today, we drive eastwards to Kuusamo, an exciting birding destination, generally regarded as the best in Finland. Along the way, we stop to scan some of the extensive forest bogs and lakes, and also visit the Reindeer farm in Iso-Syöte, where we will enjoy a delicious lunch, hear stories about Reindeer husbandry and see the private museum. Overnight for three nights: Sokos Hotel, Kuusamo.

Days 5 – 6: Friday 1 June - Saturday 2 June

In Kuusamo we can expect to encounter a real birding feast in the expansive taiga forests. While Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper and Brambling are common, the real draw here is the unrivalled list of eastern and northern species: Red-flanked Bluetail, Little and Rustic Buntings, Greenish Warbler, Siberian Tit and Siberian Jay. 

Other species might include Waxwing, Great Grey Shrike, Red-necked Grebe, Dipper, Common Rosefinch, Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred and Parrot Crossbill, Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Black Grouse, Willow Grouse, Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie and Little Gull.

We will visit Valtavaara Hill for Red-flanked Bluetail. The terrain is mostly easy to walk, but will involve one or two steep uphill climbs, so a reasonable level of fitness is required for this excursion. In forests surrounding Kuusamo there is plenty of grouse habitat, and we will make an early morning excursion to the vast forests that extend around Kuusamo, looking for Capercaillie and Black and Willow Grouse. One day we will have lunch in Iivaaran eräkartano: iivaara.fi/en

Day 7: Sunday 3 June

After breakfast and some birding we travel back to Oulu to catch our homeward flight. 

BOOK NOW: To book, call 01479 821248, or visit heatherlea.co.uk