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Nestling in the snow-capped CaucasianMountains andoverlooked by Mount Ararat justover the border in Turkey,Armenia is a gem of a naturalhistory destination. Despite its small size,not much bigger than Wales, and the factthat it is landlocked, this former SovietRepublic is home to over two-thirds ofEurope's regularly occurring bird species,including many that are rare or difficult tofind elsewhere, and boasts a fantasticallydiverse flora reflecting a location at themeeting point between Europe and Asia.Unusually in a region where the Moslemfaith predominates, Armenia is a Christiancountry and its capital, Yerevan, bustles witha lively juxtaposition of old churches, athriving jazz scene, and such reminders ofthe Soviet era as the impressive RepublicSquare, while at weekends the huge andatmospheric 'vernissage' open-air fleamarket attracts locals and tourists.Elsewhere, 13th century bridges, and well-preserved 'caravanserais' - stopovers fortraders plying the silk route in the 14thcentury - serve as fascinating reminders ofArmenia's long history and strategiclocation. As well as offering a wealth ofbirdlife, as yet little-explored by Westerners,the country is home to many interestingArmenian Orthodox churches andmonasteries, some dating back as far asthe 9th century, such as Haghartsin nearDilijan, and Sevanavank, which enjoys ascenic location on a promontory extendinginto Lake Sevan.Following an early morning arrival in Yerevanwe begin our exploration by visiting MountAragats which, at 3,190 metres, is thehighest of Armenia's mountains. With eachchange of altitude we will encounter adifferent selection of birds, beginning withWhite-throated Robins and the distinctivelocal race of Bluethroat at lower levelsbefore entering the windswept world ofHorned Larks, Alpine and Radde'sAccentors, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushesand White-winged Snowfinches at higherelevations. This alpine region also offers usthe chance to see some of the special localplants, including Fritillaria caucasica,Orchisstevenii,Orchis schelvcornikova,Gladiolustenuisand Scilla armenia. Throughout thislargely unspoilt and sparsely populatedcountry, bird of prey populations remainhealthy, with several eagle species,Lammergeier and Levant Sparrowhawklikely to be among the highlights. Our 9-daytour covers each of the country's mainhabitat types but, being such a smallcountry with generally good infrastructure,travelling times between areas are usuallyshort, allowing us to maximise the amountof time spent in the field.Next we exchange mountains for wetlandsas we drive to the Armash Fish Ponds,Armenia's premier area for waterbirds whereattractions include breeding PygmyCormorant, plus Marbled, White-headedand Ferruginous Ducks. This wonderfulcomplex of lakes and marshland is teemingwith birds and other highlights could includeGlossy Ibis, White-tailed Lapwing, White-winged Black Tern, and such passerines asMoustached, Great Reed and PaddyfieldWarblers. Meanwhile the surroundingcountryside holds Menetries' and Upcher'sWarblers as well as a small colony of exoticBlue-cheeked Bee-eaters and some ofArmenia's rarer plants, including Salviagrossheimii, Gladiolus atrovioleceusandVicia cappadocica.We again turn our attention to themountains during a couple of days based inYeghegnadzor. Close to the town liesNoravank, one of Armenia's best-knownchurches, situated in a narrow gorge by theAmaghu River. From Yeghegnadzor we'lljourney to Mount Gdnasar in search of theelusive Caspian Snowcock and a fineselection of montane species such asLammergeier, Red-fronted Serin, Crimson-winged Finch and Wallcreeper. Then we willtransfer to Dilijan, stopping en route to scanLake Sevan, the largest lake in Armenia anda nesting site for the rare Armenian Gull.Here we may also see Iris paradoxa,Cleome ornithopodioidesand Gypsophilaelegans. During our 2-night stay in Dilijan,we will look for Caucasian Black Grouse onan early morning visit to their favouritedisplay areas, and walk through verdantdeciduous forests where Green Warblers,Redstarts and both Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers will be defending theirsummer territories and feeding young.Our tour of Armenia concludes with twofurther nights based in the capital, fromwhich, before it is time to leave this smallbut fascinating country, we will enjoy yetmore exciting birding and botanising duringvisits to nearby Garni and Geghard where,in a landscape of steppe and rocky gorges,we will hope to encounter Finsch's andIsabelline Wheatear, Roller, Lesser GreyShrike, Bimaculated Lark and Rose-coloured Starling, as well as such plants asAlkanna orientalis, the bellflower Campanulachoziatowskyi, Achillea filipendulina, thescabious Scabiosa micranthaand Lotusglebelia.Armenia - Spring Birds & FlowersA 9-day birdwatching and botany holiday amid the mountains of Armenia. Saturday 1st June - Sunday 9th June Cost: £1,995Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Yerevan.Day 2Mount Aragats, fromYerevan.Day 3Armash Fish Ponds;overnight Yeghegnadzor.Day 4Mount Gdnasar;overnight Yeghegnadzor.Day 5/6Lake Sevan; overnightDilijan.Day 7/8Yerevan.Day 9Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels inYerevan and Dilijan, each room withprivate facilities. Elsewhere we usea small guesthouse/homestaywhere facilities may be shared.FoodAll included in the price.Grading A/B. Slow-paced day walks, but inthis mountainous country some ofthe walking will inevitably be onpaths of varying steepness.Focus Birds and botany.LeadersChris Kehoe (ornithologist) and PaulHarmes (botanist). Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: ARM02214Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryAZERBAIJANTURKEYIRANGEORGIAARMENIADILIJANSEVANYEREVANYEGHEGNADZORARMASHMOUNT ARARATMOUNT AVAGATSLAKESEVANWhite-throatedRobinRadde's AccentorRocce, Noravank

Druk-yul, the 'Land of the Dragon', asBhutan is known to its inhabitants,has always been the most fiercelyindependent of the Himalayan kingdoms.Its formidable southern border, where thefoothills of the great Himalaya rise moresteeply from the Indian plains thananywhere else, imposed a limit on theBritish Empire. Even today it is difficult tovisit; tourists may have been acceptedsince 1974 but the high prices demandedby the government of Bhutan have ensuredthat their numbers have been low!Bhutan is as individual as a country canbe; it is a land of boundless and beautifulforests, of enormous dzongs (remarkablebuildings peculiar to Bhutan thatincorporate fort, monastery and village inone!), and a proud and elegant peoplewith a culture, architecture and dress thatare quite unique and that they do not wishto change. If the natural history of thissmall mountain kingdom is as yet littleknown, we do know that its unspoiledforests and valleys hold the best of thegreat variety of birds and flowers for whichthe eastern Himalayaisfamous.Asoneofthelast strongholds of Tibetan Buddhism,its religious monuments are numerous and quite outstanding. Temples, shrines,monasteries and dzongs litter the highvalleys of Bhutan, and the grandest ofthem are in the beautiful Paro andBumthang Valleys. This holiday focuses onBhutan's fabulous flora, particularly theflowering rhododendrons, magnolias, andother spring flowers and shrubs. Ourchosen itinerary (and trek) is ideal forbotanists because it covers as muchground as possible, ranges inaltitude from1,300to4,160 metres,and takes us to awide variety of habitats, particularly forestones. As well as visiting the monumentsmentioned in the rest of this passage,particular emphasis will be on exploringthese fabulous forests, and the meadowsand river valleys of the country's limitedinhabited regions.We fly to Paro from London viaKathmandu, the last sector of the flight aspectacular one (weather permitting). Wewill then spend two days exploring thehistoric Paro Valley which sits belowChomolhari, one of the highest of Bhutan'sHimalayan peaks. We will visit the hugeRimpung Dzong, climb to the spectacularTaktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery andexplore the rich diversity of forests up tothe Chele La, a high pass to the westwhere we will encounter countlessprimulas, an exciting range ofrhododendrons and other shrubs, as wellas a variety of birds which may includeKalij and Blood Pheasant. An early morning drive then takes us to theDochu La, a high pass clothed in virginoak and hemlock forest, where we willenjoy a peaceful morning's botanisingbefore descending to the old capital,Punakha, where we will spend the night,and visit the splendid riverside dzong. A long, but scenic, day's drive takes useastwards to Tongsa in the heart ofBhutan. We break our journey frequentlyfor plant-hunting stops on the high passesand in the wonderful roadside forest. InTongsa we see the great dzong that is theancestral home of Bhutan's royal family,before moving to Jakar in the wide valleyof Bumthang, the cultural heartland of thekingdom and the starting point for our trek.Our trek lasts for six days. It is notparticularly strenuous, averaging six to 10kilometres a day on good trails, but it doesinvolve two forested passes, at 3,350 and3,650 metres. Fortunately though, theforest as we cross them is so rewarding tothe naturalist that our pace should drop tothat of a snail! Between these high points,ancient trails lead us from dzong to palaceto temple, along clear trout streams andthrough magnificent forests. We take a restdaytoenableustoexplorethebest of theforest, and our schedule is sufficientlyrelaxed to allow diversions and excursionsto look at the area's culture and naturalhistory in more detail.Completing the circuit, we return throughJakar and drive on to Gangtey Gompa tospend the night in a comfortable hoteloverlooking a beautifully secluded uplandmire. We have two remaining days to makethe return journey to Paro, with time toexplore the best of the forests en route.Our final full day takes us via the capital,Thimpu, with time for lunch and a littleexploration before we must return to Parofor our last night in Bhutan and the trulyspectacular flight along the Himalayanchain to Kathmandu and London.Bhutan's Bumthang ValleyA comprehensive 18-day botanical holiday to this last Shangri-la, including a 6-day trek through the beautiful forests of central Bhutan.Tuesday 23rd April - Friday 10th May Cost: £4,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationTIBETINDIALAYAGASATHE GREAT HIMALAYALINGSHITASHITANGTIGER'SNESTDRUGYELDZONGPAROFROM/TO KATHMANDUPHUNTSHOLINGTHIMPUPUNAKHAWANGDISANKOSHRIVERGANGTEYGOMPAHONEY ROCKSGEYLEGPHUGSHEMGANGTONGSAMESITHANGRUDONG LA(PASS)BHUTANJAKAROutline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Kathmandu.Day 3/4Paro.Day 5Punakha.Day 6Tongsa.Day 7Jakar, Bumthang Valley.Day 8/13Trekking.Day 14Gangtey Gompa.Day 15Wangdiphodrang.Day 16Paro.Day 17Kathmandu.Day 18Fly London.AccommodationA selection of hotels and lodges (allwith private facilities); fully servicedcamping whilst on trek.FoodIncluded in the price, except formain meals in Kathmandu. Allow£35.TrekkingGrade B. Moderate. Between 2,160and 4,160 metres.FocusPlants, birds and Bhutaneseculture.LeaderDavid Tattersfield or SujanChatterjee, plus local guide. Single room supplement£285. Single tent supplement£110.ExtensionsAvailable on request to India, Sikkim,Nepal or the United Arab Emirates.Web quick search: BTN01215Rhododendron cinnabarinumRhododendron kesangiaePunakha Dzong