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Heading south from Lyon in south-eastern France, an awe-inspiringmassif of jagged limestone loomsinto view. Framed perfectly by theresplendent snow-capped Alps in thedistance, and the deep Isère Valley in theforeground, the Vercors Regional NaturePark is an area of exceptional beauty.Incorporating France's largest naturereserve - the splendid Hauts Plateaux -this is one of the oldest 'Nature Parks' inFrance and a most interesting region forthe visiting naturalist. We will explore itsthousands of hectares of unspoiledcountryside on this holiday, focusing onthe rich and varied fauna and flora of themassif's deep limestone gorges, highsummits (dominated by the GrandVeymont at 2,341 metres) and vastexpanses of forest. From our base in LaChapelle, a delightful village in the heart ofthe massif, we are within easy strikingdistance of the many rich habitats which,after centuries of glacial and then fluvialerosion, form a harmonious limestonelandscape of damp, flower-filled meadowsalternating with majestic vertical cliffs andhigh wooded plateaux.One of the highlights of our week will be aday spent in the Hauts Plateaux naturereserve in the company of a local guide. This wild area, in many respects unique inEurope, consists of a patchwork ofmeadows, moorlands, forests and highmountain ridges, shaped by savagewinters and centuries of forestry andgrazing. A small, pioneering population ofWolves, presumed to have recently re-colonised this part of France from theItalian Alps, hides in the vast Silver Fir(Abies alba) and Mountain Pine (Pinusuncinata) forest, their presence betrayedonly by tracks left in the extensive wintersnows. Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle,Peregrine, Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel,Firecrest, Crossbill, Citril Finch andperhaps even a Tengmalm's Owl or BlackWoodpecker are amongst the avianpossibilities here, whilst the alpine flora isat its dazzling best at this time of year. The pretty winter ski station of Font d'Urleprovides an unusual backdrop to beautifulalpine meadows carpeted with wildpansies, gentians, wild tulips andsnowbells. The path to Pont d'Urle leadsus through an unspoiled alpine habitatwith stunning views south across the Forêtde Quint. We must keep our eyes openhere for Chough, Alpine Chough, GoldenEagle, Rock Thrush, Water Pipit and AlpineMarmot. The numerous limestone cliffs inthe Vercors attract resident Wallcreepers,and one or two of our picnic spots makeideal points from which to scan for thissought-after species. On the drier, sunniersouthern slopes, Rock Sparrows breed,while Short-toed Eagles glide and hoveroverhead hunting for snakes. Orphean andSubalpine Warblers and the attractiveOrtolan Bunting, too, will also be amongstour targets during this part of our holiday.The Vercors is one of the very few regionsin western Europe harbouring six speciesof wild ungulates - Ibex, Chamois, RedDeer, Roe Deer, Mouflon and Wild Boar all occuring here. Whilst these animalsinvariably remain elusive in the woodedareas, they may sometimes be seen on thehigher, rocky slopes. Smaller carnivoressuch as Fox, Badger and Pine Marten arewell represented, while Mountain Hare, arelict from the Ice Age, is confined to thehigh mountain ridges. We will look forsome of these smaller mammals in thefreshly cut hay meadows at dusk.It is perhaps the stunning flora, however,with several rare orchids present in anoverall list of 64 species, for which theVercors massif is best known. Thespectacular Lady's Slipper Orchid isrelatively common in the fir and beechforests, and we will look for the endemicOphrys bertoloniissp. drumanain the drier Mediterranean climate of theGervannes. Orchis spitzelii, Toothed Orchid(Orchis tridentata) and, on ourlater tour,Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) will allprovide excitement during our walks andpicnic lunches, throughout what promisesto be a varied and enjoyable week in this,one of the most beautiful regions ofFrance.France - The VercorsAn 8-day holiday in search of birds, plants, mammals and butterflies in the Vercors massif,a spectacular area in the heart of France's Dauphiné region on the doorstep of the Alps.Sunday 12th May - Sunday 19th May Cost: £1,295 (by train)Sunday 19th May - Sunday 26th May Cost: £1,295 (by air)Wednesday 17th July - Wednesday 24th July Cost: £1,295 (by air)Outline itineraryDay 1Train, or fly, Lyon.Day 2/7Natural historyexcursions in theVercors.Day 8Train, or fly, London.Accommodation A pleasant and traditional villagehotel, with pool and privatefacilities, serving good local food.Food All included in the price.Grading Grade A. Easy walks only.Focus Birds, plants, mammals andbutterflies.LeadersAlan Miller (ornithologist) and PaulHarmes (botanist).Single room supplement£150 (£160 in July).ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: FRA16, FRA23 and FRA2458Call now or visit your free Trip ItinerarySPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMLA BRENNECALAISLYONGRENOBLEVERCORSPARISTOURSPOITIERSTOULOUSEBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCECirque d'ArchianeTengmalm's OwlLady's Slipper Orchids

La Brenne lies in an area of centralFrance south of the Loire, about 80kilometres south-east of Tours and 80 kilometres east of Poitiers. It is knownlocally as 'The Land of a Thousand Lakes' because of the numerous pools,mostly man-made, which dot itslandscapes. Owing to the French appetitefor freshwater fish, these have beenmanaged over the centuries for fishing,and being privately owned by numeroussmallholders, a rich tapestry of habitatshas developed, including marshes,deciduous woods, dry heathland andfarmland.La Brenne is both the home andworkplace of our local guide, TonyWilliams. Tony has been warden and sitemanager of La Brenne since 1982 and hasbeen guiding natural history tours to thislittle-known area since 1984. Needless tosay, Tony's knowledge of this area isunsurpassed, and this, together with theaccess he has to private estates, makesour tour to the region so very special.La Brenne has a dense population ofbreeding birds in the spring. Its heronriesare of particular note, with goodpopulations of both Grey and PurpleHerons, Little Egrets, and Cattle Egrets (arecent colonist). Night Herons, Bittern andLittle Bittern may also be seen with a littleluck, whilst a careful search of the lakesreveals breeding Black-necked Grebesand Garganey, and overhead Black andWhiskered Terns - the latter morenumerous here than anywhere else inFrance. No fewer than 16 species ofwarbler have bred in the area, and theseinclude Savi's, Great Reed, Cetti's, Fan-tailed, Melodious, Dartford and Bonelli'sWarblers. The variety of habitats isparticularly appealing to birds of prey.Whilst Black Kites, Short-toed Eagles andHoney Buzzards may be seen over thewoodlands, Marsh, Montagu's and HenHarriers quarter reedbeds, marshes andarable land, and the dashing Hobby maybe seen almost anywhere. In the farmlandthe declining Little Bustard, Quail andStone Curlew may all be found; inorchards and woodland are Wrynecks,Red-backed Shrikes, Black Redstarts,Short-toed Treecreepers, Serins and CirlBuntings. The calls of Hoopoes andGolden Orioles, and liquid songs ofNightingales complete this classiccollection of European birds. Althoughsome of these birds, such as Montagu'sand Marsh Harrier, Honey Buzzard, StoneCurlew and Cirl Bunting occur locally or insmall numbers in southern England, in LaBrenne they are widespread and common.Likewise, a number of butterflies that are rare in England are common in La Brenne. These include the LargeTortoiseshell, Swallowtail, ScarceSwallowtail, White Admiral and Purple Emperor.Most remarkably, no fewer than 36 speciesof orchid occur in the area! Whilst they arenot all in flower at the same time, specieswe have seen on previous visits at thistime of year include Early Spider (Ophryssphegodes), Fly (Ophrys insectifera),Monkey (Orchis simia), Burnt Tip (Orchisustulata), Lizard (Himantoglossumhiricinum), Tongue (Serapias lingua) andViolet Bird's Nest Orchid (Limodorumabortivum). Other plants of interest that weshould see include Milkweed(Vincetoxicum hirundinaria), WhiteAsphodel (Asphodelus albus), GreaterBroomrape (Orobanche rapum-genistae),Hairy Spurge (Euphorbia villosa), BlueBugle (Ajuga genevensis) and Viper's Grass(Scorzonera humilis).Though rich in interest, La Brenne is notan extensive area and most habitats arewithin short drives of our hotel at Mézières.Thus we can maximise our time spent inthe field, limiting the time spent inminibuses. This, therefore, is an ideal tripfor the all-round naturalist, or the botanist,entomologist or birdwatcher who prefersunhurried outings, with the opportunity tosit for an hour or more by a lake watchinga colony of Whiskered Terns, observingdragonflies, or searching for orchids.France - La BrenneAn 8-day holiday - in search of birds, plants and butterflies - to one of therichest, if less well-known, natural history destinations in France.Saturday 18th May - Saturday 25th May Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSPAIN ITALY SWITZERLAND GERMANY BELGIUM LA BRENNE CALAIS LILLE PARIS POITIERS TOULOUSE BORDEAUX FRENCH ALPS STRASBOURG (FROM LONDON ST. PANCRAS)ENGLISH CHANNEL ATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEAN SEA FRANCE Outline itineraryDay 1Eurostar train fromLondon St. Pancras toPoitiers, via Lille, anddrive to La Brenne.Day 2/7La Brenne. Day 8Drive Poitiers forEurostar train to LondonSt. Pancras. AccommodationA small, comfortable hotel with ensuite rooms.FoodAll included in the price, except formeals taken in transit.Grading A. Day walks only.FocusBirds, wild flowers (especiallyorchids), and butterflies.LeaderTom McJannet or Simon Tonkin.Single room supplement£165.Web quick search: FRA0959Wetlands, MenetinneMap butterflyWhiskered Tern