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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 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

Lapland must surely be the mostevocative, exciting and intriguingregion of Scandinavia. Home to thenomadic, reindeer-herding Saami people, itis synonymous with inhospitablewilderness - a wild, untamed yetspectacular upland landscape, accessibleonly in high summer, outside winter's longand icy grip. It is the high summer, too,when the region's avian visitors move in tobreed, capitalising on a phenomenalabundance of insect-life during a shortseason. It is these charismatic birds, andthe magnificent scenery, that epitomisethis holiday and, in combination with thetaigaand wetland birds that we also hopeto see, our itinerary offers acomprehensive range of Swedish birdspecialities that includes owls,woodpeckers, grouse and the mountainspecialities of Lapland.We begin, and end, in the lowlands ofcentral Sweden: in Svartådalen andBerslagen. Here, attractive farmland issurrounded by lush oak forests, and lakesand wetlands lie amongst meadows andpasturelands, grazed by cattle and sheepin time-honoured fashion. Colourful,summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebes,Common Cranes, White-tailed Eagles,Ospreys and Black Terns characterise thewetlands, whilst Honey Buzzards andGoshawks, seven species of woodpecker(including Three-toed, Grey-headed andBlack) and such passerines as Red-backed Shrike, Icterine Warbler, ThrushNightingale, Common Rosefinch andOrtolan Bunting breed commonly. Herealso lives the Great Grey Owl, thatenigmatic taigaspecies more oftenassociated with the landscape, dominated by coniferous forest, into which we will shortly be heading. Thismost sought-after and spectacular of birds can seem remarkably oblivious tohuman presence, and we will pray for acalm night and memorable views! We willalso look for Pygmy Owl, plus bothTengmalm's and Ural Owls whose owletswe will hope to see ringed when we visittheir nesting sites. Next we drive north towards the southernpart of Lapland and the Scandinavianmountain range known as 'the Scands',passing through the farmland valleys ofDalarna and up towards scenic Lake Siljan. This is a culturally rich region ofSweden, endowed with traditionalarchitecture, craft industries and folklore.The landscape now begins to changedramatically and our first stop amongstthe mountains will be in Fulufjället NationalPark. Here, a walk that takes us to adramatic gorge with a high waterfall mayproduce our first Rough-legged Buzzards,Siberian Jays and Siberian Tits, whilstGreenshanks breed beside the park'svisitors' centre. On Nipfjället, the first ofthe truly barren mountains, we will look forWhimbrel, Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting,whilst Golden Eagles are always likelyabove the rocky slopes. Lower down, wewill drive through valleys where Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Velvet and Common Scoters, Long-tailedDucks, Wood Sandpipers and CommonCranes all breed on the small lakes andpools by the roadside. Here we are alsolikely to encounter our first Reindeer,though a great many more will be seen in the mountains.The Funäsdalen region, the southernoutpost of Lapland's special avifauna, willbe the highpoint of our tour. We will spendthree days here amongst its fresh air,beautiful scenery and northern birdlife,based in a mountainside hotel aroundwhich Bluethroats sing during both dayand night. Climbing above the birch forestto the open tundra, we will enjoy a day'swalk on Flatruet. This is a high mountainplateau with an interesting high alpine floraand fauna, where confiding Willow Grouse,Ptarmigan, Dotterels, Red-neckedPhalaropes, Temminck's Stints, Long-tailedSkuas and both Snow and LaplandBuntings, all resplendent in full breedingattire, are amongst the many breedingspecies. Above, Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards, Hen Harriers andMerlins command the skies ... and, wherethe mountains rise dramatically to formsteep cliffs, we will look out for majesticGyr Falcons which sometimes breed in thearea, as do both Short-eared and HawkOwls during good Lemming years. At thefoot of the mountains we will explore thetaigaforest - home to Hazel Grouse,Hawk Owls, Three-toed Woodpeckers,Siberian Jays and Parrot Crossbills - andwe may cross the border into Norway toenhance our chances of a Gyr Falcon.Finally, at night (although darkness neverdescends on these latitudes at thisseason!), we will enjoy one ofScandinavia's finest shows ... at the lek ofthe Great Snipe. Here, on an alpinemeadow at the foot of a great mountain,they perform their peculiar song anddance display, seemingly unaware of ourhuman presence. After a wonderful time in this magicalalpine environment, we must reluctantlyreturn south, perhaps stopping to look forEagle Owl and Blyth's Reed Warbler enroute. Back in Svartådalen (the Black RiverValley) for our final night, we have achance to catch up with any of the owls,woodpeckers or wetland birds that we mayhave missed on our initial visit, and anoption to enjoy some night-time birding insearch of such species as Corncrake,Spotted Crake and Marsh Warbler! Sweden's Upland BirdsAn 8-day holiday to Västmanland and southern Lapland in search of lowland forest and wetlandbirds, plus the charismatic avifauna of the magnificent upland and wilderness regions of Sweden. Thursday 30th May - Thursday 6th June Cost: £1,695Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationNORWAYSTOCKHOLMÄLVDALEN FULUFJÄLLETNATIONAL PARKTÄNNÄS, FUNÄSDALENIDREGÅRDENVÄSTERÅSSVARTÅDALENSWEDENOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Västerås (Stockholm);transfer Svartådalen.Day 2Svartådalen and Dalarna;overnight Älvdalen.Day 3/5Fulufjället National Park,then Flatruet plateau;overnight Tännäs,Funäsdalen.Day 6Taiga forest, Nipfjälletand Norway; overnightIdregården.Day 7Svartådalen.Day 8Transfer Västerås(Stockholm) and flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels, somewith private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingA/B. As well as gentle walks throughthe woods and pastures of thelowlands, this holiday also includesboth full-day and half-day walks inthe mountains, so an enjoyment ofwalking and a reasonable level offitness are required. All walks,however, are optional. FocusBirds and other natural history.LeaderDaniel Green.Single room supplement£170.Web quick search: SWE07143Great Grey OwlLapland BuntingLapland tundra