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Northern California has provided thesetting for so many films and novelsthat its landscape seems strangelyfamiliar. Images of the mist-shroudedGolden Gate Bridge and the undulatingstreets of San Francisco are part ofcontemporary culture, yet there is anabundance of surprises to discover as wefocus, during this holiday, on the naturalhistory attractions of the coastline whichmany regard as the most picturesque in theUnited States. The California coast isrenowned for its rich marine-life, particularlythe wide variety of marine mammals, andthere is no better location to search for thesecreatures than Monterey Bay, which offerssome of the best whale and dolphin-watching in North America. During thesummer and early autumn good numbers ofHumpback Whales are found in the Bay,along with various other species of cetaceanincluding regular appearances by BlueWhales, the largest mammal in the world.Always nomadic and unpredictable theseenormous whales are nevertheless a regularvisitor to the deeper waters of Monterey Bayand sightings will be an exciting possibilityon every pelagic trip in August andSeptember. Closer to shore, we will belooking along the coastline for a variety ofresidents including the entertaining SeaOtter, California and Steller's Sea Lions,Harbour Seals and, at one location, the rareNorthern Elephant Seal.Our base for this single-centre holiday willbe the historic town of Monterey, where wewill stay in a comfortable tourist hotel withswimming pool, close to the ocean andcoastal footpath. Nearby, we will be able toenjoy the sights of Fisherman's Wharf and apicturesque harbour, itself a wildlifeparadise. It is possible to observe whalesand dolphins from the shore here, but inorder to make the most of the rich marineenvironment on our doorstep and tomaximise our chances of encounteringcetaceans, we will take to the ocean on atleast three full days during our stay, enjoyingthe use of a specially adapted whale-watching vessel. These rich waters areprotected within the Monterey Bay NationalMarine Sanctuary, the largest marinesanctuary in the United States, in whichnearly 30 different species of cetacean havebeen recorded. It is the nature of thesecruises that some will be far moreproductive than others, but the large whalesare regularly sighted during August andSeptember, and these trips also offer thechance to observe an exciting variety ofseabirds, including such species as Black-footed Albatross, Sooty and Pink-footedShearwater, Ashy Storm Petrel, Sabine'sGull, skuas, Tufted Puffin, and both Cassin'sand Rhinoceros Auklet.During the holiday we will also have theopportunity to spend time in search of seals,sea lions and Sea Otters. The latter, adelightful species, may be found in favouredbays, sometimes floating above beds ofkelp whilst munching on Abalones. As aresult of over-hunting for the fur trade, SeaOtters were almost extinct in California at thebeginning of the 20th century but, in 1935, asmall population of 94 was discovered and,with strict protection, this entertainingcreature has gradually increased, each yearwitnessing the colonisation of a new stretchof coast.The birdlife of coastal California is excitinglydifferent from that found in inland areas ofthe state. Brown Pelicans and Brandt's andPelagic Cormorants are widespread alongthe coast, reflecting the abundance of fish inthese waters, and, as we stop at variouspoints along the coastline, we are also likelyto see a variety of divers, grebes, auks andsea-ducks. Rocky bays and sandy beaches,flanked by lines of Monterey Pines, arefrequented by Heermann's, Western andCalifornia Gulls, Black Turnstones, Surfbirds,Willets, Marbled Godwits, Wandering Tattlersand Black Oystercatchers, whilst passerinespecies may include Bushtit, Tri-colouredBlackbird, Brewer's Blackbird and possiblyeven the elusive Lawrence's Goldfinch. Ourprogramme will be somewhat flexible but willinclude visits to the Carmel Valley, whereYellow-billed Magpie is one of theattractions, as well as Cannery Row,Fisherman's Wharf and Moss Landing. On one of the tour days we will follow thebreathtakingly scenic Big Sur highway to thesouth where, in contrast to the previousdays, we will switch our attention from theocean to the trees and bushes of AndrewMolera State Park where large numbers ofmigrant landbirds can be found infavourable conditions. Nearby is the centreof the California Condor reintroductionscheme and, if we are fortunate, we maysee one or two of these impressive butcritically endangered birds soaring over thehillsides. Later in the day we have a furthertreat as we stop at a vantage-point toobserve Northern Elephant Seals on one oftheir favourite beaches.All too soon our stay in California will cometo an end and we return to San Francisco tocatch a flight back to Europe. Observinggreat whales at close quarters is a veryspecial privilege and we are sure that manytour members will return from Montereyplannng their next whale-watching holiday!Whales & Dolphins of Monterey BayA 9-day holiday to California's Pacific seaboard to enjoy its birdlife and, particularly, the wealth of whales, dolphins and other exciting marine mammals for which Monterey Bay is justly famed.Saturday 24th August - Sunday 1st September Cost: £2,595Saturday 31st August - Sunday 8th September Cost: £2,595 Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationCALIFORNIA PACIFIC OCEAN MONTEREY BAY MONTEREYSAN FRANCISCO Outline itineraryDay 1Fly San Francisco;transfer Monterey.Day 2/7A full programme ofwhale-watching cruisescombined with land-based marine mammaland birdwatchingexcursions, based inMonterey.Day 8Depart San Francisco.Day 9Arrive London. AccommodationA comfortable hotel with pool; allrooms with private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy walks only (all ofthem optional). FocusWhales, dolphins, other marinemammals (including Sea Otters)and birds.LeaderPeter Dunn.Single room supplement£175.Web quick search: USA03191Monterey BayBlue WhaleHumpback Whales

If the world had any ends,[Belize] would certainly be oneof them. It is not on the wayfrom anywhere to anywhere else.It has no strategic value. It is all butuninhabited.' Thus wrote Aldous Huxleyback in 1934, when he was one of the fewto ever visit what was at the time the mostirrelevant corner of the British Empire.Belize's sheer obscurity had been thecountry's defining trait for centuries. By the 19th century, British Honduras (the name Belize was only adopted uponindependence in 1981) had become the ultimate backwater, an English-speaking, largely black Creole outpost in Central America. It is an irony that Huxley might well haveappreciated, that centuries of under-development have today given Belize itsgreatest resource: its magnificent and well-preserved natural history. Indeed, thecountry is now one of the world's leadingecotourism destinations, offering swathesof untouched rainforest, endless savannahand mangrove coasts, and the mostsplendid coral reef in the westernhemisphere, second only in size andgrandeur to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.Add to that over 900 ancient Mayan ruins,the magnificent ruined Mayan city of Tikaljust over the Guatemalan border, andexcellent, relatively easy Neotropicalbirdwatching, all located within a pleasantlymanageable geographical area served bycomfortable accommodation, and Belize'ssudden popularity becomes evident. It is still, however, not particularly easy toreach Belize, and to do so we must fly tothe United States from where, after a goodnight's sleep, we proceed to Belize City.Our first port of call is the Crooked TreeWildlife Sanctuary, to the north of the city.Established in 1984, this maze ofwaterways and lagoons supports awonderful variety of wetland speciesincluding several species of heron, fivespecies of kingfisher, raptors, waders andsuch specialties as Sungrebe, Jabiru and,around the margins of the wetland,Mangrove Vireo and Prothonotary Warbler. After a night back in Belize City, we headinland in a westerly direction, up over theevocatively named Hummingbird Highway,to the San Ignacio area. Nearby is alovingly converted former farmstead calledduPlooy's. The birding is exceptional inthis area, with over 300 species recordedwithin an 8-kilometre radius. An openviewing deck here offers an ideal platformin the early mornings. Should weconcentrate on the hummingbirds whichcome and go constantly as they visitflowering shrubs, or watch the trogons,tityras, thrushes, flycatchers, becards andmanakins feeding on a fruiting tree, or themixed-species flock of Tawny-winged,Ruddy and Olivaceous Woodcreepers,Band-backed Wrens, warblers andtanagers that are feeding by thecookhouse? All this, and much more, willbe just yards from our comfortable cabins!Next we proceed over the Guatemalanborder and on to Tikal, where the famousancient remains of this great Mayan city,lying in the midst of one of the largesttracts of undisturbed rainforest in CentralAmerica, provide an atmosphericbackdrop to some superb birding. Ocellated Turkeys wander along thedeserted trails at dawn, whilst a plethora ofexciting Neotropical birds flit in the tree-tops: flycatchers, hummingbirds,euphonias, puffbirds and honeycreepers,all to the chorus of Guatemalan HowlerMonkeys roaring in the distance. Few whohave visited Tikal would dispute that this isone of the best - and most atmospheric- birdwatching localities in the whole ofCentral America. After a drive from Flores to Belize City wenext head north to Tower Hill and the NewRiver. Cruising upstream on our motorisedlaunches, we will again be concentratingon the proliferation of wetland species,together with a rich assortment of raptors.We arrive at the outstanding LamanaiOutpost Lodge, surrounded by bird-richjungle and some of the most impressiveMayan ruins in the country. Our time herewill be spent mainly on foot, gentlyexploring the magnificent ruins and bird-rich trails. Night-time spotlighting on thelagoon after dinner will also be rewardingwith common sightings of Morelet'sCrocodile and Hickatee, a large river turtle,along with potoos, Pauraques and Fish-eating Bats. To end our tour we fly to Ambergris Cayeand the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, ashallow area with abundant corals and reef fish. A short speedboat ride away is'Shark Ray Alley', where rays, friendlyNurse Sharks and huge groupers will beour swimming companions! Alternatively,this is a wonderful spot at which to seesome of the Yucutan endemics or tosimply lie back and relax in the Caribbeanbreeze, a fitting end to our stay in theMayan world.Belize & TikalA 15-day holiday of varied and gentle Neotropical birdwatching amongst the undisturbed forests, magnificent ruins, pristine coral reefs and desert islands in the realm of the Maya.Thursday 14th February - Thursday 28th February Cost: £3,795Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Belize.Day 3Crooked Tree WildlifeSanctuary.Day 4/6duPlooy's Jungle Lodge.Day 7/8Tikal, Guatemala.Day 9/11Lamanai Outpost Lodge.Day 12/13San Pedro, AmbergrisCaye.Day 14Depart Belize.Day 15Arrive London.AccommodationComfortable lodges and hotelsthroughout, all with private facilities.FoodAll included, except meals en route.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusBirds, natural history and culture.LeaderPeter Dunn or Peter Herrera.Single room supplement£395.Web quick search: BLZ02192Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryBELIZEMEXICO GUATEMALA SAN IGNACIO(CAYO)MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE FOREST RESERVE COCKSCOMB BASIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY(JAGUAR SANCTUARY)LAMANAI ORANGE WALK NEW RIVER BELIZE CITY CROOKED TREE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY DANGRIGA BELMOPANDUPLOOY'SAMBERGRIS CAYE HOL CHAN MARINE RESERVE TIKAL BARRIER REEF Keel-billedToucan'Mayan ruins amongst rainforest, Tikal