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This is a holiday that offers qualityrather than quantity. A quality of light(during daylight hours!) and somequality birds and photographicopportunities. Indeed, winter birdwatchingin northern Scandinavia is very special. Atime when, although a limited number ofspecies is present, such beautiful birds asWaxwings, Crossbills and Bullfinches tendto look even more exquisite in the magicalwinter light, and when almost everymedium-sized bird adorning a treetop islikely to be something special - a forestgrouse, a Nutcracker, a Goshawk or evena Hawk Owl.We will be based in the snow-ladenlowlands of Svartådalen in central Sweden,less than an hour's drive from Västeråsairport, near Stockholm. Svartådalen (theBlack River Valley) offers a pleasingpatchwork of deciduous and coniferousforests, farmland, and lakes and wetlands,frozen and snow-covered in winter. Weexplore this quiet and generally under-exploited landscape via small, windingroads, looking out for such winter visitorsas Great Grey Shrikes and Rough-leggedBuzzards. Resident Goshawks, and bothGolden and White-tailed Eagles alsofrequent the area, whilst both Hawk Owls and Pygmy Owls are regularly seenthroughout the winter as they sit in thetreetops waiting for their favourite prey -voles - to show on the ground beneaththem. Hawk Owls, in particular, once theyhave found a reliable source of food, willoften stay in the same area for monthsduring the winter, before moving north totheir breeding grounds in March.On cold, clear days, the air is dry and icyand the light simply stunning as it turns topicture postcards the pretty, bright, red-painted wooden farmhouses and theglistening white, snow-coveredsurroundings. On our excursions we willnot lack for plentiful snacks and hotdrinks, preferably enjoyed beside an open-air fire; however, the bitter cold burnsenergy, and after a full day's birding it iswonderful to retreat into a warm cottageand to sit in front of a welcoming log firefor a cup of afternoon tea andconsideration of the day's sightings.Indeed, both of the comfortablecountryside hotels we use during this shortbreak offer hearty local food and a goodatmosphere. Each day, during our winter birdingoutings, we will not just scan from theroadsides in our vehicle, but will takewalks into the forest and spend time atbird feeding stations, positioned in avariety of habitats, each attracting adifferent range of species. At one suchfeeding station at a garden feeder in thesouthern part of Svartådalen we shouldsee Hawfinches and magnificentBullfinches amongst a host of otherfinches, tits and thrushes. Further north, ina forest clearing, Nutcrackers and Grey-headed Woodpeckers are the mainattractions, together with a variety of foresttits and other passerines. Many of thesebirds have become very tame over theyears, and Crested, Willow and Coal Titswill sometimes feed from your hand or siton your camera lens whilst curiousNutcrackers gather hazelnuts just metres away.On one day we will drive north for a coupleof hours to a feeding station at Ockelbo.Here, surrounded by the extensive taigaforests which wrap around the planet atthis high latitude, we will look for curiousSiberian Jays which regularly visit thefeeding station in February. Grey-headedWoodpecker, Crested Tit and Willow Tit arealso likely, whilst en route we will stop atthe River Dalälven where Dippers (of theBlack-bellied race) are found and wherePygmy Owls can sometimes be seen bythe roadside. We should also be vigilantthroughout the tour for flocks of softlytrilling Waxwings, which are often seenfeasting on berries in Swedish gardensduring the cold winter months. On our final morning we will walk in theforest in search of Hazelhen, Black Grouseand perhaps, even, Capercaillie. We willalso look out for Goshawks, and bothGolden and White-tailed Eagles, whilstoccasionally Three-toed or BlackWoodpeckers are encountered here.Mammals, too, will not be overlookedduring this holiday, for we have a goodchance of encountering such commonspecies as Elk, Roe Deer, Red Deer, RedFox, both Brown and Mountain Hare, RedSquirrel, Stoat, Weasel and Mink, and aslim chance of one of the more elusiveresidents - a Lynx, Wolf, Beaver, Otter orWild Boar! We will also have fundeciphering their tracks.Sweden in WinterA 4-day short break to experience the peace, tranquillity and snow-laden beauty of rural Swedenin winter as we focus on enjoying and photographing its obliging winter bird specialities. Thursday 7th February - Sunday 10th February Cost: £1,050Thursday 14th February - Sunday 17th February Cost: £1,050Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationNORWAYBALTICSEAKALMARGOTLANDÖLANDMALMÖGOTHENBURGSTOCKHOLMSVARTÅDALENOCKELBOSWEDENOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Stockholm; transferSvartådalen.Day 2/3Winter birding aroundSvartådalen.Day 4Drive Stockholm; flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable guesthouse. All roomshave private facilities.FoodAll included in the price, except forlunch on Day 1 and dinner on Day 4.GradingA. Gentle day walks only. FocusBirds and photography.LeaderDaniel Green.Single room supplement£120.Web quick search: SWE03141SvartådalenWaxwingSiberian Jay

This spring, why not head north withthe migrants on this excitingNaturetrek break to central Sweden.Within just a couple of hours of leaving thenoise and bustle of Stansted Airport, we'llbe exploring a peaceful rural landscape offorests, lakes and wet meadows, thestillness only broken by the trumpeting of apassing flock of Cranes, the 'crex crex' callof a Corncrake, or the lively song of aThrush Nightingale. The patchwork ofhabitats within and around Svartådalen(the Black River Valley) are home to anexciting variety of northern birds. Here wefind ourselves at the southernmost fringesof the boreal forest, that great swathe ofconifers, dotted with a myriad lakes, thatstretches north to the treeline and thenboth east and west to wrap the planet'snorthernmost latitudes in a girdle of green. Whilst birds such as Three-toedWoodpecker, Capercaillie and HazelGrouse are much appreciated by Britishbirders, the most sought-after denizens ofthese northern forests are the owls. Herelive the great and the small of the owlworld, from the diminutive Pygmy Owl tothe majestic Great Grey and Eagle Owls.Add to these extremes Ural, Tawny, Long-eared and Tengmalm's Owls, plus anexciting supporting cast of woodpeckers,warblers and waders, and you have themakings of an unforgettable long weekendof boreal birding. Our holiday begins with a flight to theSwedish capital of Stockholm. Here wemeet our guide, Daniel Green, and drivefor a couple of hours to the forests, lakesand marshes of Svartådalen. En route wewill stop for our first Swedish birds,amongst them Slavonian Grebes,resplendent in their breeding dress, plentyof Fieldfares, and perhaps an IcterineWarbler or Crested Tit. We will be basedfor the next three nights at SalbohedGarden, a comfortable guesthouse located within easy reach of the mainbirding areas. On our first evening we will positionourselves beside a meadow at the edge ofthe forest and hope for an appearance bythe star target of this weekend. Over thepast decade several pairs of Great GreyOwls have moved south into the forestsbordering Svartådalen and one particularpair has become especially tolerant ofpeople, often perching, unconcerned,within several metres of human admirers.The sight of a Great Grey Owl perched ona post or swooping low over a meadowmust be one of the most breathtaking inthe avian world and is sure to leave usentranced by its piercing yellow eyes andsheer mesmerising beauty!Having hopefully encountered one ofEurope's largest owls, we next turn ourattention to the smallest. Pygmy Owls areno larger than a Starling and tend toemerge just before dark. Although difficultto find, Daniel knows exactly where to lookand on one evening we will go in search ofthis diminutive predator. Not all owl-watching is limited to the hours of duskand darkness, for additionally we will joinlocal ringers as they ring Ural Owl andTengmalm's Owl chicks. Since the adultbirds usually roost in the nest boxesalongside their young, we hope to betreated to rare and privileged views ofthese elusive and strictly nocturnal birds. Our exact itinerary for the weekend will beflexible, dependent on the weather and theadvice of our guides. One morning,however, we will devote to the carpentersof the avian world, the woodpeckers. Ourlocal guides are expert at finding even themost elusive of woodpeckers, and up tosix species can be seen in a singlemorning, amongst them Three-toed, Grey-headed and Black Woodpecker. Otherspecies to look out for during these walksinclude Capercaillie, Black and HazelGrouse, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Wryneck.As exciting as the forests can be, we mustnot ignore Svartådalen's wetlands. Black-throated Divers nest commonly on theforest lakes whilst, in the Black RiverValley, Black Terns and Little Gulls hawk forinsects over the flooded fields and ThrushNightingale, Scarlet Rosefinch and Red-backed Shrike nest in adjacent scrub andwillow thickets. Reedbeds hold Bitternsand Spotted Crakes, and overhead soarWhite-tailed Eagles, Honey Buzzards andMarsh Harriers. There is even a chance ofa mammal or two, for Elk, Roe Deer, RedSquirrel and Mountain Hare are allcommon, whilst Wolf and Lynx still roamthe region, although the latter are onlyseen by a very fortunate few! Our long weekend to Sweden must sadlydraw to a close with a short journey backto Stockholm for our return home. Great Grey OwlNORWAYBALTICSEAKALMARGOTLANDÖLANDMALMÖGOTHENBURGSTOCKHOLMSVARTÅDALENSWEDEN142Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItinerarySweden in SpringA 4-day, long weekend break to the forests and wetlands of Svartådalen (the Black River Valley) in central Sweden in search of owls, woodpeckers and other northern specialities. Thursday 9th May - Sunday 12th May Cost: £1,195Thursday 16th May - Sunday 19th May Cost: £1,195Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Stockholm; transferSvartådalen. Day 2/3Svartådalen. Day 4Birding, Svartådalen;then transfer Stockholmand fly London.AccommodationComfortable guesthouse. All roomshave private facilities. FoodAll included in the price, except for lunch on Day 1 and dinner onDay 4. GradingA. Gentle day walks. FocusBirds: in particular owls andwoodpeckers.LeaderDaniel Green.Single room supplement£120.Web quick search: SWE02SvartådalenPygmy Owl