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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

Lying in the central Mediterranean Sea,separated from the toe of Italy to theeast by the Straits of Messina, fromSardinia to the north by the Tyrrhenian Sea,and from the continent of Africa to thesouth by the Straits of Sicily, the island ofSicily basks in a warm, mainly dry climate.The history of the island can be traced asfar back as 13,000 BC when, as legendhas it, the land was inhabited by a race ofpowerful and invincible giants, descendedfrom Zeus. Their continued tenancy,however, was short-lived as they chose tochallenge the authority of the Gods andwere banished, in chains, to theunderworld below the island's volcanoes tofashion weapons, such as thunderbolts, forthe Gods. To this day they struggle andmoan to free themselves from the immenseweight of the mountains, causing eruptionswhen they stir. Next, between the 13th and11th centuries BC, the Elymian, Sical andSican peoples colonised the island, givingit its name. By the third century BC, Sicilyhad become the first province of Rome, itsfertile soil earning it the title of 'Granary ofthe Empire'.It is this fertile soil that we hope to benefitfrom in our search for the wild flowers ofthis beautiful island. During our stay, we willbe visiting two specific areas - first, theslopes of Mount Etna from our base inZafferana, on the eastern side of themountain, and then the beautiful MadonieMountains which rise steeply from thenorthern coast. Our 2-centre holiday willbegin with a flight to Catania, lying inMount Etna's shadow in the east of theisland, and as our aeroplane banks, wemay catch our first sight of Etna, Europe's highest and most active volcano. Thissmouldering giant has been a menacingneighbour for the Sicilians ever since itsfirst recorded eruption in 450 BC. Therehave been around 260 subsequenteruptions of varying intensity, which are stilloccurring to the present day.Etna's inhospitable summit stands at about3,300 metres above sea level and, with adiameter of 44 kilometres and an area of1,600 square kilometres, she has a trulymassive presence. There are a number ofinteresting botanical locations on thesouthern, western and eastern slopes andour plan will be to explore the variousstages of the lava's colonisation whilstbased in Zafferana, a quaint, church-filledmarket town set high on the eastern slopesof Mount Etna. We will visit the PianoProvenzana, where we should see SicilianMilkvetch (Astragalus sicula), Sword-leavedHelleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia) andthe endemic Etna Violet (Viola aetnensis),and the Piano dell'Acqua, site of the1991/1993 eruptions. Nebrod CarlineThistle (Carlina nebrodensis), EtnaGreenweed (Genista aetnensis) and theviolet, Viola bertoloniissp. messanensis,should all be encountered here. We willalso find time to ascend the path to MountZoccolaro and the surrounding woodlandwhere, hopefully, we will see the endemicbirch (Betula aetnensis). Later, we will focus on the volcano itself,driving up to the Rifugio Sapienza, site ofthe cable car station. The cable car pylonswere destroyed when they were engulfedby lava recently; however, there are 4-wheel drive excursions up to within 400 metres or so of the summit, and afascinating day is in prospect as our localguides explain the geology and eruptionhistory of the volcano. In the afternoon wewill be free to visit the Crateri Silvestri andsome of the adjacent lava and ash fields.Then, descending the south-westernslopes via Nicolosi, we will admire the extent of the most recent lava flowsand may also see the Etna Broom (Genista aetnensis). Our transfer west to the pretty mountainvillage of Isnello in the Madonie Mountains, our base for the next fournights, will herald a dramatic change ofscenery as we leave behind the igneousrocks of Etna and enter a dramaticlandscape of Dolomitic limestone. Duringour stay here we will visit the mountainmeadows at Portella Mandarini, where weshould see Man Orchid (Acerasanthropophorum), Barbary Nut (Gynandririssisyrinchium), Pink Butterfly Orchid (Orchispapilionacea) and Bastard Balm (Melittismelissophyllum). We will walk up to MonteQuacella and the Madonna degli AngeliValley, the home of the endemic andextremely rare Nebrod Pine (Abiesnebrodensis), and we will also explore themontane woodland in search of suchspecies as Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossumhircinum) and the wild peony, Paeoniamascula, which in these mountains tends to be white. This should be a memorable week, inwhich we will not only be able to enjoymany of Sicily's special plants but will alsogain a fascinating insight into the geologyand history of this intriguing island.Wild Flowers of SicilyAn 8-day appreciation of the wild flowers of Sicily's Mount Etna and the Madonie Mountains.Sunday 5th May - Sunday 12th May Cost: £1,295 Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Catania; transferZafferana.Day 2/3Zafferana, Mount Etnaregion.Day 4/7Isnello, the MadonieMountains.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationTwo pleasant and traditional hotelsserving fine local food, both withprivate facilities.Food and excursionsAll included in the price. Grading Grade A/B. Easy walks only.FocusPrimarily wild flowers.Leader Paul Harmes or Jessica Turner.Single room supplement £160.Web quick search: ITA10120Call now or visit your free Trip ItinerarySICILYMEDITERRANEANSEATYRRHENIANSEACATANIAISNELLOPALERMOCEFALUZAFFERANAMT. ETNAMount EtnaSawfly Orchid