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Although more associated with finechocolates than natural history,Belgium can boast many excellentwildlife reserves where the quality of theflora, birds and insect-life rivals thatattained by the national confectionary! Thisshort summer tour will introduceparticipants to some of these naturalattributes, focusing initially on the flatlandscape bordering Holland where theZwin Estuary, long since cut off from thesea by accumulations of silt, has createdan important maritime ecosystem. Fromhere we visit the historic city of Bruges,where we stay for a night, and severalother wetland nature reserves in northernBelgium before we travel south to explorethe legendary Ardennes region whichcontains the highest hills in the countryand many tracts of impressive forest.Our holiday begins with a comfortableEurostar train journey through the Channeltunnel to Lille in northern France. Fromhere we drive into Belgium and visit thecoastal reserve of Het Zwin, situated in theflat, fen-like countryside bordering Holland.Occupying some 125 hectares ofmarshland and lagoons, this reserveprotects a number of unique habitats andis particularly noted for the diversity of itsflora which includes a number of salt-tolerant species. The extensive carpets ofSea-lavender covering the saltings duringthe summer months provide a colourfulspectacle recalling the marshes of north Norfolk.We cannot visit northern Belgium withoutspending some time in the historic city ofBruges. This is a city that defiesclassification but in 2002 was awarded thedesignation 'Cultural Capital of Europe'.Exploring the network of cobbled streetstransports the visitor back to medievaltimes, but Bruges is not just anarchaeological antiquity and the moderncentre of the city contains a wonderfulselection of galleries, shops and museums,as well as countless tempting little canal-side cafés where some of Belgium'sgastronomic fare can be sampled!Continuing towards Antwerp, we visitBlokkersdijk Nature Reserve andKalmthoutse Heide. Although situatedamid a heavily industrialised area, theformer contains reed-fringed lakespatrolled by resident Marsh Harriers whichperiodically scatter flocks of wildfowl fromcover. Pochard, Gadwall and NorthernShoveler are among the ducks breedinghere and scanning the base of the reedswe may see Bluethroats emerge from thevegetation to hop across strips of exposedmud like garden Robins. The KalmthoutseHeide embraces pinewoods, moorland, fens and dunes, and this varied mix ofhabitats makes it a rewarding naturalhistory destination. The heathlands attractNightjars and Woodlarks, whilst HoneyBuzzards soar over the forests in whichBlack Woodpeckers can be watchedhacking away fragments of dead woodwith their massive bills, and Black Ternsswoop elegantly over the pools. Butterfliesabound here, and include the Map, as wellas a selection of other more familiar Britishspecies. Nearby Den Diel Reserve is notedfor the large numbers of dragonfliesfrequenting its flooded peat diggings and,if the weather is kind, we may be able tofind as many as half of the 48 speciesrecorded in the area. Among these couldbe such jewels as the Emperor Dragonfly(Anax imperator), Migrant Hawker (Aeshnamixta), Black Darter (Sympetrum danae),Vagrant Darter (Sympetrum vulgatum) andthe exquisite Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens). The final leg of our journey takes us to theArdennes. Here we will walk amongstsome of Belgium's finest woodlands,where White Admirals and PurpleEmperors defend their territories alongsun-dappled forest rides, and residentbirds include Black Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and Hawfinch. Much of our time in the Ardennes will beconcentrated on the limestone plateaux ofthe Famenne region. This is an area rich inbutterflies and we will be hoping to findsuch locally scarce species as Swallowtail,Purple Hairstreak, Chalk-hill Blue, PoplarAdmiral, Pearly Heath, Silver-washed andWeaver's Fritillaries. A sharp 'zit' call maybetray a bobbing Dipper along one of thesmall streams that irrigate these hills andmore dragonflies are likely to be hawkingover the waterside vegetation includingWhite-legged Damselfly (Platycnemispennipes) and the aptly named BeautifulDamselfly (Calopteryx virgo).During our stay in the Ardennes we willascend to the Hautes Fagnes which, at694 metres, is the highest point inBelgium. Spruce forests and moorlandexpanses protected by this very largenature reserve create a unique uplandhabitat within Belgium and this is reflectedby breeding birds such as Black Grouse,Crested Tit, Nutcracker and Crossbill, plusthe presence of Tengmalm's Owls duringgood 'rodent years'. Eagle Owls also nestin some of the quarries in the vicinity andfinding one of these magnificent owls mayprovide a suitable ornithological finale toour visit. Regardless of bird sightings, thewonderful flora of Hautes Fagnes, theclouds of butterflies, and the overallambience of these tranquil hills will ensure a memorable conclusion to aholiday that reveals some of Belgium'sbest kept secrets.Belgium in SummerA 5-day natural history exploration of the Belgian countryside in summer, focusing on thewetlands, the Ardennes, and a little of the history and culture of the medieval city of Bruges.Friday 14th June - Tuesday 18th June Cost: £795Outline itineraryDay 1Eurostar train fromLondon St. Pancras toLille. Drive Bruges.Day 2Bruges, the polders andAntwerp. Day 3/4The Ardennes. Day 5Eurostar train from Lilleto London St. Pancras.AccommodationComfortable hotels with privatefacilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingDay walks only. Grade A.FocusBirds, butterflies, mammals and alittle history!LeaderGerald Broddelez.Single room supplement £95.Web quick search: BEL0134Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryBELGIUMNETHERLANDSGERMANYLUXEMBOURGFRANCEENGLISH CHANNELBRUSSELSLILLEOOSTENDEBRUGESHET ZWINANTWERPNAMURLIEGEFAMENNEHERTOGENFORESTEagle OwlBluethroatSwallowtail

Bulgaria is one of the least visitedcorners of Europe, yet it is a diverseand very scenic country whosegeographic position and wide range ofhabitats and altitudes ensure a quiteexceptional range of exciting birdsalongside many interesting plant andbutterfly species. This spring tour,designed to complement our autumnbirdwatching holiday, is timed to see theimpressive range of breeding birds thatdescend on Bulgaria each spring, alongwith numerous migrating birds trackingnorth along the Black Sea Coast. Basedfirst in the Rhodope Mountains, then onthe shores of the Black Sea and finally inthe Dobrudza steppes and Danube Valley,this holiday promises to give us afascinating introduction to Bulgaria'sdramatic landscapes, birdlife and richculture.We will start first in the rugged RhodopeMountains to the south of Sofia. From ourhotel tucked high in the pine forests, wewill visit a number of contrasting sites,including the magnificent limestone gorgeat Trigrad (a noted haunt of the beautifulcrimson-winged Wallcreeper) and theextraordinary jagged and boulder-strewnvolcanic landscape around StudenKladenatz. The Rhodopes are justlyfamous for their impressive raptorpopulations and, as we explore the area,we will keep our eyes skyward in search ofGolden, Imperial, Booted and Short-toedEagles, as well as Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and Long-leggedBuzzards. Smaller birds may include Rock Nuthatch, Blue and Common RockThrushes, Sombre Tit, Eastern Orpheanand Barred Warblers, Crossbill and RockBunting. For those interested in plants, theupland meadows and woods hold suchspecies as Bug and Bird's-nest Orchids,various crocuses, and the colourful Irisreichenbachiiand Gladiolus illyricus.Transferring north-eastwards to Pomorie on the Black Sea Coast, we will pass closeto the border with Greece and Turkey andtravel through a varied landscape ofwooded hills, fertile valleys and stonyplains. Stops will be made to search forsuch bird specialities as Masked Shrikeand Olive-tree Warbler and, whilst on themove, we can look out for Lesser Spotted Eagles, Montagu's Harriers androadside Rollers, Bee-eaters and LesserGrey Shrikes. At Pomorie we will explore the extensivewetlands nearby, which make this one ofEurope's richest bird areas. Between thesaline Lake Atanasovsko with itssurrounding saltpans, the reed-fringedLake Mandra with its water meadows andadjacent wooded hills and the riverineforest and coastal dunes of the RopotamoNature Reserve, we can expect toencounter a huge range of birds and otherwildlife. Birds here are likely to includeWhite Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, GlossyIbis, Night, Purple and Squacco Herons,Little and Great Egrets, Spoonbill, White-tailed Eagle, Slender-billed, Mediterraneanand Little Gulls and just about anyEuropean wader. Leaving Pomorie behind, we will travelnorth to Kavarna, passing the quaint oldByzantine port of Nesebar en route, withits numerous churches and ruins, andstopping in the woodedGoritza Hills where Black,Middle Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers and Semi-collaredFlycatcher all occur. From our hotel atKavarna, which overlooks two woodedvalleys where Golden Oriole, SyrianWoodpecker and Levant Sparrowhawkbreed, we will explore northwards to thedramatic, cliff-bound headland of Kaliakrawith its precipitously positioned castle.Inland, the sky above the rolling steppewill be dotted with song-flighting Calandraand Short-toed Larks, while on thegrassland itself we are likely to find StoneCurlews, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears,and Lesser Grey Shrikes, plus numerousCorn and Black-headed Buntings. Furthernorth again is Durankulak, a freshwaterlake very close to the Romanian border.This is an important breeding site for ahuge range of exciting wetland birdsincluding Ferruginous Duck, Little andGreat Bitterns, Gull-billed and CaspianTerns, Spotted and Little Crakes andPaddyfield Warbler (here at the westernextremity of its range), whilst thesurrounding woodlands and fields holdvarious flycatchers, woodpeckers andwarblers, plus Lesser Spotted Eagle,Goshawk and Red-footed Falcon.The final leg of our holiday will take usinland, across the Dobrudza steppes andwest along the Danube Valley. At thefamous Srebarna Lake Biosphere Reserveand the Nova Cherna marshland, we willhopefully find Dalmatian Pelican, Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes,Whiskered Tern, Ruddy Shelduck andPenduline Tit and have another chance tosee any wetland birds that we might havemissed elsewhere. After a final overnightstop at Etara, we must sadly return toSofia and thus complete our circuit of thisfascinating and beautiful country.Bulgaria in Spring A 10-day tour in search of the birds of the Rhodope Mountains, Black Sea Coast and Danube Valley.Friday 10th May - Sunday 19th May Cost: £1,395 Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationBULGARIAKAVARNASOFIAMADZAROVOPOMORIEETARAPAMPOROVOSILISTRAVETRENNESEBARTURKEYGREECEMACEDONIASERBIAROMANIABLACK SEADANUBE Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Sofia and transfer toPamporovo.Day 2/3Madzarovo.Day 4/5Pomorie.Day 6/7Kavarna.Day 8 Vetren.Day 9 Etara.Day 10Fly London.AccommodationSimple but comfortable hotels withprivate facilities throughout.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy day walks only.FocusBirds.LeaderAndy Harding, plus local guide(s).Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsExtra nights in Sofia can bearranged on request.Web quick search: BGR0335Rock NuthatchOrtolan BuntingStuden Kladenatz