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Far out in the Atlantic Ocean, midwaybetween Europe and North America,the Azores archipelago marks thewesternmost frontier of the EuropeanCommunity. Belonging to Portugal andstretching for more than 600 kilometresacross the Atlantic, it consists of ninevolcanic islands sweeping in a long arcalong the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, rising to justover 2,351 metres at its highest point,Mount Pico. Situated in a privilegedposition between the 36° and 40° NorthParallel and 24° and 32° West Meridian, theAzores enjoys a mild climate andsurrounding seas that are warmed by theGulf Stream. Surrounded by the deepwaters of the Atlantic, the islands shelvesteeply into the sea creating an underwatertopography that is perfect for attractingsome of the most exciting animals on Earth- the great whales. Once a centre forcommercial whaling, those days arehappily long since gone and the Azoreshas instead become renowned for itssuperb whale-watching, and is now firmlyestablished as one of the best places inthe world for seeing both whales anddolphins. Indeed, 27 species of cetaceanhave been recorded in these waters!Sperm Whales are found in the watersaround the Azores all year round. Largestof the 'toothed whales', Sperm Whalesseem to conjure up every superlative in thebook. They have the biggest brains onEarth, and make possibly the deepest andlongest dives of any animal - typicallyforaging on squid at depths of about 300 to800 metres, but able to dive (descending ata staggering 3 metres a second!) to over1,000 metres for more than an hour. SpermWhales are relatively easy to identify at seaand we'll be looking out for their 'wonky'blow, which comes out off-centre at anangle of 45° from a blowhole positioned onthe left-hand side of their enormous head.Sperm Whales prefer to give birth inlatitudes of less than 40°, making theAzores an ideal location, and we shouldsee females with calves during our Augusttrip. We'll hope to spend some timewatching the whales travelling, breachingor 'logging' at the surface, and we mayeven be lucky enough to hear their sub-surface sonar through hydrophones as theyclose in on squid hundreds of metresbelow us!As well as Sperm Whales it is alsopossible to see a good variety of othercetaceans in the Azores. Common,Bottlenose, Risso's and Striped Dolphins,as well as Short-finned Pilot Whales, areseen here all year round, while AtlanticSpotted Dolphins visit the islands duringthe summer. We also have a chance ofseeing other, rarer cetacean species -perhaps Sowerby's Beaked, False Killer orNorthern Bottlenose Whales.During this holiday we will be based on theisland of Pico, in a comfortable 3-star hotelsituated within a few minutes' walk of theharbour and, during our 5-night stay, wewill offer six half-day, morning or afternoon,whale and dolphin-watching excursions,weather permitting. Following the traditionalAzorean method of finding whales,'spotters' will be on the look-out at strategicpositions on land, ready to inform ourguides the moment any large whales areseen. Once we hear the word, we'll go intoaction quickly, setting out to sea in fast andmanoeuvrable Rigid Inflatable Boats fortrips lasting about 3-4 hours; the thrill ofbeing close to whales measuring up to 30metres long in a small craft is one of theworld's top wildlife experiences! Most of our time will be devoted to whaleand dolphin-watching, but we will find acouple of half days on each tour on whichto look for some of the region's birdlife.During the summer, Pico supports abreeding colony of Cory's Shearwaters,and the Azores Bank and Princess AliceBank are among the few places in Europewhere Wilson's Storm-petrel may be seenwithout having to spend an extendedperiod at sea! In late spring it's stillpossible to see vagrant or migrant birdspecies, with August and September beinga good time for vagrant American waders.We may also, at any time, encounter othermarine-life at sea, such as Portuguese ManO' Wars, sharks, turtles and flying fish.These small unspoilt islands are friendlyplaces, where you can start to feel at homewithin a short time, and faces becomefamiliar quickly. Offering in addition somedelicious food and wines, excellent localguides, and a rugged and fascinatinggeography, the Azores are a real pleasureto visit.Whales & Dolphins of theAzores A 6-day holiday in search of whales and dolphins in the cetacean-rich waters of the Azores archipelago.Monday 19th August - Saturday 24th August Cost: £1,495Tuesday 10th September - Sunday 15th September Cost: £1,495Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationATLANTIC OCEANSETECIDADESTERCEIRAPONTADELGADAHORTAMADALENAFAIALFLORESCORVOPICO SÃO MIGUELOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Faial; then ferrytransfer to Pico.Day 2/5 Whale and dolphin-watching boat tripsfrom, and some birdingon, Pico.Day 6 Fly London.AccommodationA comfortable 3-star hotel inMadalena on Pico Island. All roomshave private facilities.FoodAll breakfasts are provided.Lunches and dinners are notincluded, to give you the choiceand flexibility of samplingMadalena's harbourside bars andrestaurants at leisure.GradingA. Zodiac-style/RIB boat trips insearch of whales and dolphins.Some easy/moderate birdwatchingwalks.FocusPrimarily whales and dolphins;some birding opportunities.LeaderEd Drewitt or Catherine Strong,plus local naturalist guides.Single room supplement£185.Web quick search:PRT0531Sperm WhaleAtlantic Spotted DolphinsPico Island

As more and more of the outstandingareas for wildlife in Europe arethreatened by the insatiable demandsof modern society, it is increasingly the casethat many of the best remaining habitats arenow to be found in the former SovietRepublics. A prime example of this is thewonderful Pripiatsky National Park, close tothe Ukraine border in southern Belarus,where a remarkable range of wetland andprimeval oak forest habitats are protected.Founded in 1969 to preserve the uniquenatural complexes of marshland draininginto the Pripiat River, the reserve has beensubsequently enlarged by the incorporationof adjacent areas and now embraces over64,000 hectares of floodplain, raised bogsand mixed forests, including 7,000 hectaresof wetland oak forest, the largest primevaloak forest in Europe. Thanks to the lack ofhuman interference, strict protection, andthe inaccessibility of the region for manymonths of the year due to flooding,Pripiatsky is a haven for wildlife and forms a key component of this outstanding spring tour.The independent Republic of Belarus wasdeclared in 1991, having previously beenpart of the Soviet Union when it was knownas Byelorussia meaning 'White Russia', areference to the fact that it was neverconquered by the Mongol invaders and thusremained 'pure' from their influences.Bordered by Poland, Ukraine and theRussian Federation, it is a land-lockedcountry which contains over a thousandlakes, and large tracts of forest which cloakover a third of the country's land mass.We begin our holiday with a flight fromLondon to Minsk, the modern capital ofBelarus, and travel south from there by roadto Pripiatsky National Park where we stay intwo comfortable hotels for seven nights. Ourbirding activities will take place both insidethe reserve and in other outstanding areasalong the Pripiat River including the floodedmeadows near one of our hotels whereTerek Sandpiper, lekking Great Snipe andcountless Spotted Crakes feature among thelocal attractions. Elsewhere, we will entermagnificent ancient oak forests whichresound to the torrent of spring birdsongand the drumming of woodpeckers, of whicheight species are possible on the tour.At this season the air is filled with the songsand calls of the phenomenal number ofbirds inhabiting the reserve and surroundingareas. Great Reed Warblers grate theirunmistakable jumble of notes, SedgeWarblers pour out excited bursts ofchattering from parachute display flightsand Savi's Warblers add their reelingcontributions from perches concealed in thereeds. Not all the vocalists are harmonious,but the evening rasping of Corncrakes, the'whiplash' sounds of numerous SpottedCrakes and the strange clicking noisesemitted by lekking Great Snipe, arewelcome sounds to British ears! Out in theflooded meadows and bogs both Black andWhite Storks wade in search of theabundant frogs and toads, which can rivalthe birds with the volume of their amphibianchorus, while flocks of White-winged Black,Whiskered and Black Terns dip and swoopin pursuit of insects. Pripiatsky is renowned for its largepopulation of raptors, boasting over 16breeding species of which White-tailed,Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles areamong the most noteworthy. The long list ofother birds which we also hope to seeduring our holiday includes Black-neckedGrebe, Smew, Marsh Sandpiper, lekkingRuff, Collared Flycatcher, ThrushNightingale, Bluethroat and both River andBarred Warblers. Special mention should begiven to Azure Tit, a species high on manyvisitors' 'wish list'. Although birds are the most conspicuousresidents, and consequently the principalfocus of this tour, Pripiatsky also harbours adiverse population of mammals. Wild Boar,European Beaver and Elk are allpossibilities on the holiday. The rich floraadds welcome colour to the spring scene,the carpets of flowers providing food fornewly emerged butterflies such asSwallowtails.After exploring the many facets of thisremarkable reserve we return to Minsk andcatch a homeward flight to London,reflecting on the wealth of sights andsounds experienced during our stay. Belarus in SpringAn 8-day birdwatching and natural history holiday exploring the wonderful primeval oakforests and wetlands of Pripiatsky Reserve and the Pripiat River in 'White Russia'.Sunday 5th May - Sunday 12th May Cost: £1,595Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Minsk; transfer toTurov.Day 2/7Pripiatsky River andNational Park.Day 8Transfer Minsk and flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotel in Turov,each room with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.Grading A. Gentle day walks, plus someevening spotlighting.Focus Birds, mammals and generalnatural history.LeaderAttila Steiner. Single room supplement£200.Web quick search: BLR0132Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryBELARUSRUSSIALITHUANIAPOLANDUKRAINELATVIAPOLATSKORSHABABRUYSKBRESTMAZYRHRODNAPRIPIATSKYNATIONAL PARK MINSKBarred WarblerBlack TernAzureTitPripiatsky