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The beautiful Inner Hebridean islands ofIslay and Mull complement each otherperfectly. On Islay, a varied landscapeof mountains, open moorland, pastures,windswept lochans, and more gentle woodsand farmland is home to a wealth ofbreeding birds, but even more winteringwildfowl, both sustaining a large numberand variety of birds of prey. The mountainsand moorlands of Mull, by contrast, arewild, rugged and unforgiving; the island'svast western sea-lochs are beloved ofOtters, divers, grebes and sea-duck. Thereis no more dramatic time to visit than inearly November . when glorious autumncolours are at their best, the Red Deer arerutting, and vast numbers of wildfowl andwinter storms move in, enhancing skies andlandscapes. For birds of prey - theirnumbers enhanced by summer youngsters- and other predators, the hunt begins inearnest! We begin with a 4-night stay on Islay, aremarkable haven for birds that is invadedeach October by vast numbers of wildfowlwhich arrive from their Arctic breedinggrounds to pass the winter amongst theselush grazing grounds. Among the mostnumerous of species are some 40,000Barnacle Goose and 10,000 'Greenland'White-fronted Geese (the largest winteringpopulation of this species anywhere in theworld!). A dawn or dusk vigil at one of thegoose roosts on the island is a humblingexperience never to be forgotten, andamongst the vast flocks there is always thechance of finding something rarer, perhapsa Snow Goose or genuine Canada Goosefrom North America. Other wildfowl alsooccur, among them large numbers ofWhooper Swans, Greylag Geese and ducks.Plenty of Great Northern Divers (often 50 ormore) may be seen on each of the ferrycrossings from/to the mainland, plus Black-throated and Red-throated Diver, SlavonianGrebe and many seabirds, including BlackGuillemot. Ravens, Red-billed Chough,Snow Bunting and Twite may be among theland-based highlights, but the stars of theshow are most likely to be the island'sremarkable variety of raptors - amongstthem Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Merlin,Peregrine and perhaps even a wanderingWhite-tailed Eagle. As well as exploring Islay, we may alsospend time on the neighbouring island ofJura - its dramatic moors and summits(the Paps of Jura) in sharp and ruggedcontrast to the rolling fields and moors ofnorthern Islay. Even more so than Islay, Jurais a particularly good location for watchingmammals. Indeed its name is said to comefrom Viking times, when it was known as'Dy Oer' (Deer Island), and even today thereare far more deer than people on Jura - infact, about 5,000 Red Deer to 250 people!Feral goats can be found along the westcoast, along with Common and Grey Seals,whilst Otters are generally far easier to seehere than on Islay. There are said to be apair for every three miles of coastline, andviews of Otters eating fish, or a mother withwell grown cubs eating crab at closequarters, are unforgettable moments! The superb single malt whiskies, whichsome argue are the finest in the world, arean added pleasure of a visit to these twosmall Hebridean islands. And alongsidethe superb scenery, truly spectacularwildfowl gatherings and a host ofother wildlife it's easy to see whyIslay and Jura are two of our favourite UKdestinations.Mull, the third largest of the Hebrideanislands, is perhaps the most spectacular.We reach it during a scenic day thatincludes travel by ferry, road and then ferryagain. It is rugged, dramatic and blessedwith extensive forests and moorlands, highcraggy summits and a glorious coastline.Here the population of White-tailed SeaEagles is as dense as anywhere else inScotland, although there are even morepairs of the majestic Golden Eagle toprovide unique aerial comparisons. Manyother birds of prey inhabit the island,including good numbers of Hen Harriersand Short-eared Owls. All three diverspecies as well as Slavonian Grebes can beseen on the sea-lochs that are the favouritehome of Otters; indeed Mull must be one ofthe best places in Britain to observe thesecaptivating creatures, and it is quitepossible to see half a dozen or more in aday! The island is also well known for itsRed Deer, which are numerous throughout,but there are also a few small herds ofFallow Deer, remnants from pastintroductions. As on Islay, at many placesaround the scenic coastline, both Grey andCommon Seals can be seen from the shore,often accompanied by Black Guillemots.Mull is certainly a magical island and,weather permitting, we'll savour it in manymoods from our luxury base in the south-west corner!Islay & Mull ... In Style! A 7-day holiday to enjoy the wintering birds, resident mammals, spectacular scenery and richautumn colours of two of the Inner Hebrides' most beautiful and rewarding islands, Islay and Mull - gems of Scotland's rugged and scenic west coast. Thursday 1st November - Wednesday 7th November 2012 Cost: £1,195Thursday 31st October - Wednesday 6th November 2013 Cost: £1,295Outline itineraryDay 1Arrive Islay.Day 2/3Islay (and Jura).Day 4/6Mull.Day 7Depart Mull.AccommodationFor this tour we use the very besthotel on each island, all rooms withen suite facilities.FoodAll included.GradingGrade A. Gentle wildlife walks. Anymore demanding walks will beoptional.FocusBirds and mammals.LeaderDavid Pierce.Single room supplement£255.Web quick search: GBR31118Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryFEOLINKENNACRAIGFROMGLASGOWCRAIGNUREPORT ELLENPORTASKAIGBOWMOREJURAISLE OFMULLISLAYOBANTOGLASGOWThe delightful Tiroran House Hotel, Isle of MullWhite-tailed EagleOttersBarnacle Geese

Occupying a special positionbetween Europe and Africa, theMediterranean island of Sicily sitsat a strategic crossroads between the twocontinents. Here conquerors have comeand gone, each leaving their mark in aneclectic and attractive mix of architecture,language and cuisine. The Greeks,Romans, Moors, Phoenicians andNormans have all passed through, and thelegacy of these ruling forces can be seeneverywhere on the island in its brilliantcathedrals, palaces, temples, churchesand customs; and indeed in the faces ofthe islanders themselves! You'd beforgiven for imagining that Sicily's naturalwonders could not compete with thisheady cultural mix, but you'd be wrong.Boasting a scenic coastline with somemagnificent beaches, and a varied interiorlandscape of plains, gorges and mountainranges known for their glorious displays ofspring flowers and the spectacular MountEtna, this is a fertile land of walnut trees,vineyards and lemon groves. And thewinds that once brought a succession ofinvading ships to Sicily still also bring largenumbers of migrating birds each spring.One glance at Sicily's location on a map ofthe Mediterranean and it becomes clearwhy the island is such a hotspot formigrating birds. The shorter sea crossingsafforded by the presence of this largeisland between two continents mean thatmigrants can be abundant and, whenconditions are favourable, the coastalheadlands are alive with a splendid varietyof migrants travelling north in spring.We begin our holiday with a flight toCatania; we then settle into our base forthe week, a charming 800-year-oldconverted former winery a short distancefrom the historic town of Siracusa. Situatedin the bird-rich south-east of the island,Siracusa, with its beautiful seafront, wasone of the most important cities of theancient Greek world. For us, though, itoffers an ideal location from which toexplore Sicily's diverse habitats and we'llmake daily excursions with a focus onwatching the spring bird migration andother wildlife. The northward migration canbe spectacular on Sicily and we will visit allthe most rewarding sites. These includeexposed headlands, where we will look forsuch migrating species as CollaredFlycatcher, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Nightjar,Woodchat Shrike and Spectacled Warbleramongst many others. Sicily is also amajor migration route for raptors, withMontagu's, Marsh and Pallid Harriers, andRed-footed Falcon among the manypassage species.Sicily also boasts a series of wetlands,varying from small lakes to expansivemarshes, and we will look for Penduline Tit,listening carefully for their inconspicuousbut tell-tale calls in the reedbeds, as wellas Moustached and Cetti's Warblers, whilstBlack Kites and harriers hunt overhead.The reedbeds also hold an excellentvariety of herons and we will be on thelook-out for Squacco and Purple Herons,Little Bittern, and Cattle, Little and GreatWhite Egrets.One of the world's largest activevolcanoes, Mount Etna (3,350 metres) hashad a significant influence over Sicily formillennia, the prosperity of the island overtime being to a large extent due to theexceptionally fertile soils produced by itsvolcanic ash. Accompanied by a geologist,we will spend a day marvelling at thecontorted lava flow rock formations,though finding time to search for theelusive Sicilian Rock Partridge that lives onthe mountain! We will also look for thedistinctive Sicilian Long-tailed Tit as wewalk among the species' favourite nativechestnut forests.Inland, we'll explore spectacular limestonegorges and scan the cliff faces looking forRock Sparrow and Blue Rock Thrush;almond and olive groves hold suchspecies as Rock and Cirl Buntings, andWoodlark. Each day we will stop for adelicious and famously lavish Naturetrekpicnic lunch, sampling a range of tastyfare from paninis to some of the manydelicious local Sicilian hams, cheeses andolives. In the evenings, back at our coastalfarmhouse base, there will also be theopportunity to set up a moth-trap in theorchard next to the winery, which we'llcheck the following morning beforebreakfast; the area has not been 'trapped'before so should yield some surprises!This is a gentle-paced holiday with a focuson enjoying spring migrants, as well assoaking up the delights of this southernMediterranean landscape in early spring,with its scents of fresh blooms, pleasingearth-hued architecture and sea vistas, allbathed in a warmth that hints comfortablyof the intense summer heat yet to come.Spring Birding in SicilyA relaxing 7-day holiday focusing on the spring bird migration, Sicily's varied and beautiful scenery,plus a little 'moth-ing', from a delightful base.Wednesday 1st May - Tuesday 7th May Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSICILYMEDITERRANEANSEATYRRHENIANSEACATANIAMESSINASIRACUSAPALERMOCEFALUMT. ETNAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Catania; transferSiracusa.Day 2/6Daily programme ofbirding excursions fromSiracusa.Day 7Fly London.AccommodationA charming 800-year-old convertedformer winery farmhouse, all roomswith private facilities.GradingA. Easy birdwatching walks.FocusBirds (and moths).LeaderDave Nevitt or Stuart Elsom.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ITA12 119Mount EtnaPenduline TitBee-eater