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Cyprus is a rugged, sun-drenchedisle languishing at the crossroads ofAfrica, Asia and Europe. In earlyspring, while western Europe endures latewinter gloom, the eastern Mediterraneanalready sparkles beneath clear blue skiesand warm sunshine, its birdlife augmentedby the arrival of summer visitors andnorthbound migrants. Cyprus's hillsidesnow show the vivacity of spring, cloakedby a veneer of cheerful anemones, TurbanButtercups, asphodels and marigolds, andencompassed by glittering turquoisewaters and sun-bleached rocks. This is themost colourful season of the island'scalendar, and a period when modesttemperatures allow its rich natural historyto be enjoyed to the full.Flying in to Larnaca airport, we will spendthe first night in a nearby hotel, giving ustime to explore the wealth of habitats inthis area before moving to our comfortablehotel near Polis. This will be our base forthe next part of the holiday, from which wewill make daily excursions with the aid of aprivate minibus. Our walks and excursionswill be broken each day by a picnic lunch,whilst there will be plenty of opportunity tosample the full range of Cypriot cuisine inour hotel or in one of the island's delightfultavernas in the evenings. Our visit is timed to coincide with themigration of thousands of birds wingingnorthwards to their breeding groundsacross a Cypriot landscape rejuvenated bywinter rains. Over 200 species have beenrecorded, including such rarities asBlue-cheeked Bee-eater, Caspian Ploverand White-breasted Kingfisher. ExoticHoopoes, cranes, Purple Herons andGlossy Ibises loiter at the coastal wetlandsnear Akrotiri. An array of eastern warblers,such as Rüppell's, Subalpine andOlivaceous, descend to mingle with theendemic Cyprus Warbler, all sporting theirimmaculate breeding plumages.Near our hotel on the unspoilt north coastof the Akamas Peninsula lies an inlet ofclear shallow water. This is a magnificentlocale for wild flowers and restlessmigrants such as Collared Flycatcherswhilst, from the hotel itself (even from thebreakfast terrace), Blackcaps, Hoopoesand other migratory birds may be seen.For the final part of our holiday we will bebased in the village of Platres in theTroodos Mountains. On the fringes of thepine-clad mountains we explore the homeof the Masked Shrike which obliginglyperches in the open as it scours theground for small lizards and robustbeetles. In forests nearby we may findsmall groups of the rare Mouflon,recovering now from the verge ofextinction. The maquis is flushed withdelicate pink, white and purple floweredrock roses, a fusion of hues reminiscent ofan impressionist's canvas. Scatteredbeneath the shrubs lie an abundance of orchids, now at their finest. A Cypriotspring truly presents a feast of varied andexciting encounters for the naturalist.Our leisurely ambles along goat tracks and eroded gullies will bring fulfilment tothe most discerning of naturalists; anirresistible attraction of our holiday beingthe immediacy and ease with which adiversity of wildlife can be enjoyed. At thesame coastal salt lake, mountain forest orravine in the foothills, we will discoverample to satiate the ornithologist, botanist,herpetologist and entomologist. There istime on our unhurried rambles for thephotographer to ponder composition and for the watercolour artist to seize the advantages of wonderful lighting and clear air. Our itinerary offers the expectation of aholiday of rich contrasts. Away from thetourist centres we will discover a Cyprus of tranquil villages, lovely vineyards andlegendary hospitality. Forests, mountains,creeks and saltpans all sit within strikingdistance of our hotels, and we will enjoythese habitats to the full.For those wishing to enjoy the rich cultural heritage of this historic island,Cyprus reveals much evidence of earlysettlement and we strongly recommendextending your holiday. Sites such asancient Kourion boast a series of finemosaics which even the keenestbirdwatcher will find an enthrallingdiversion from the Cretzschmar's Buntings and Cyprus Pied Wheatears which adorn the ornate stonework.The Island of CyprusA 9-day spring holiday in search of migrating birds, orchids and other flowering plants on the Isle of Aphrodite.Saturday 30th March - Sunday 7th April Cost: £1,395(This tour can be combined with our 'Spring in North Cyprus' holiday outlined on Page 46)Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationKOURIONEPISKOPIAKROTIRI SALT LAKEGERMASOGEIADAMLARNACASALT LAKELARNACANICOSIABATHS OFAPHRODITEAKAMASPENINSULACEDARVALLEYPOLISTROODOSMOUNTAINSPAPHOSFORESTPAPHOSPLATRESASPROKREMMOSDAMCYPRUSOutline itinerary Day 1 Fly Larnaca.Day 2/5Natural historyexcursions from Polis.Day 6/8Natural historyexcursions from Platres,Troodos Mountains. Day 9Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotels, all with privatefacilities.FoodIncluded in the price, except forlunches throughout. Allow £60-£70.GradingDay walks only. Grade A/B. Usuallystraightforward.FocusBirds and plants.LeadersCliff Waller (ornithologist) andYiannis Christofides (botanist). Single room supplement£140. ExtensionsHoliday extensions on Cyprus canbe arranged (with or without carrental). Extensions can also bearranged to Egypt and the Holy Land.Web quick search: CYP0247Cyprus Pied WheatearEpipactis veratrifoliaEpiskopi

Estonia is the smallest of the threeformer Soviet Republics which wereknown collectively as the 'BalticStates'. Always the most prosperous of thetrio, the country has enjoyed moderatefinancial growth since gainingindependence in 1991, and accession tothe European Community in 2004 was anatural progression for a nation anxious toonce again become part of WesternEurope. The topography of Estoniaconsists predominantly of low-lyingmarshes, rivers and forests, through whichare scattered over 1,500 lakes, whilst itswestern border is set by a deeply indentedBaltic coastline, along which lie countlessislands of varying sizes.The credentials of Estonia as a majorEuropean birdwatching destination havebeen firmly established by the successesof our May tours. Participants havereturned from these holidays full ofenthusiasm, not just for the superlativebirdwatching but also for the hospitality ofour Estonian hosts who take great pride insharing with visitors both the naturalhistory and the gastronomic delights oftheir country! May is an excellent time tovisit but, with nesting activity for somespecies beginning as early as March, thereare also very good reasons for travelling toEstonia earlier in the protracted springseason. As the days lengthen and the icygrip of winter is melted by the increasingwarmth of the sun in early April, rafts ofSteller's Eider begin to congregate in theirfavourite bays, the males noisily displayingto an audience of seemingly indifferentfemales. As many as a thousand birdsmay be seen in one of the largestconcentrations of this rare duck inEuropean waters, but most will havemigrated north by the end of the month.Another significant attraction in April is therelative ease with which the residentwoodpeckers can be found in forests thathave yet to attain their summer canopy ofleaves, plus the chances of observingBlack Grouse and Capercaillie.We begin our visit with a flight fromLondon to Estonia's capital city, Tallinn,followed by a road transfer to the Balticcoast where we stay for two nights. Beforeenjoying the first of many splendid meals,we will have the chance to listen for thenight sounds of the taiga forest close toour hotel - in particular for the calls ofboth Ural and Pygmy Owls. At dawn thefollowing day, the bubbling cries of lekkingBlack Grouse provide an accompanimentto a morning visit to their display ground.Nearby we will listen for the bizarrevocalisations of Capercaillie in the forestsand may also find shy Hazelhens tocomplete a trio of Estonian grouse. Laterwe travel along the Baltic coast, wheretens of thousands of wildfowl congregate,and explore the Poosaspea Peninsula, anarrow spit of land which affords excellentopportunities to scan bobbing rafts of sea-duck including many Long-tailed Ducks. For our Saturday excursion we take a ferryacross to Saaremaa Island, the largest ofthe many islands that stud the Estoniancoastline, and travel to a favoured inletwhere, each winter, several hundredSteller's Eiders collect. These rare sea-ducks will be our main objective but thewaters around Saaremaa are alsofrequented by scoters, Long-tailed Ducksand other maritime species. The flocks ofeider form an impressive spectacle andthere are very few locations in Europewhere so many can be seen in one locality.The Parnu region of the country will be thefocus of our last full day in Estonia. Herewe will be concentrating on a mix ofconiferous and broad-leaved forestswhich, in early spring, resound with thedrumming and calls of woodpeckers.Black, Grey-headed, White-backed andThree-toed Woodpeckers will be ofparticular interest but, as well as thewoodpecker representatives, we will alsobe looking for other residents such asNutcracker, Crested Tit and Hazelhen. Aremarkable five days in Estonia will endwith a short tour of ancient Tallinn beforewe return to the airport for our return flightto London.Steller's EidersSoometsa forestCapercaillieSteller's EiderESTONIABALTIC SEAGULF OFFINLANDGULF OFRIGALATVIARUSSIATALLINNPARNUKURESSAAREHIIUMAAISLANDOSMUSSAARISLANDMATSALUROOSTANIGULASAAREMAAISLANDTARTULAKEPEIPSI48Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Tallinn; transferRoosta.Day 2Poosaspea, fromRoosta.Day 3Saaremaa Island;overnight Parnu.Day 4Parnu region.Day 5Drive Tallinn and flyLondon.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Gentle birdwatching walks.FocusBirds.LeaderMati Kose.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: EST02Estonia in Early Spring A 5-day birdwatching holiday exploring the pristine forest and coastal habitats of Estonia at thebeginning of spring, in search of owls, woodpeckers, grouse and large pre-migration congregations ofsea-duck, amongst them spectacular gatherings of Steller's Eiders. Thursday 4th April - Monday 8th April Cost: £1,195