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The Pyrenees, that great barrierbetween France and Spain whichrises to well over 3,000 metres andstretches for 450 kilometres from theblustery Atlantic to the sun-drenchedMediterranean, offers a scenic and cultural variety unmatched by otherEuropean mountain ranges. Its westernextremities and north-facing -French-slopes are largely wet, lush and green. Itssouthern- Spanish-slopes, and thosein the east-the Catalan-speaking FrenchRoussillon-are hot, dry and craggy, andcarved by spectacular canyons. Naturally,such very different landscapes, and theclimates that have fashioned them, providefor a very diverse flora and fauna.On this holiday we will be exploring theParc National des Pyrénées, situated in thehigh central region of the French Pyrenees.These north-facing slopes, closer to theAtlantic than the Mediterranean, are wet,green and well forested; in early summertheir highest slopes remain snow-covered.Here, the high Pyrenean bird and mammalspecialities are to be found amongst themost spectacular scenery; and the monthof June, just before the hay is cut, is thebest time to enjoy the wonderful flowering meadows of the Pyrenees, and their richbutterfly-life. Our base, throughout ourstay, will be a pleasant country hotel in thequiet village of Gèdre. Situated at just over1,000 metres, and a short drive from themagnificent Cirque de Gavarnie, Gèdre isan ideal base from which to explore the fullspectrum of Pyrenean habitats during dailywalking excursions. The Cirque de Gavarnie, with its highforests, alpine meadows and spectacularwaterfalls, will be the focus of our attentionfor a number of days. Its steep slopes, andsurrounding high peaks and passes offerfine walking and the best of high Pyreneanbirds and flowers. On the bleak andcraggy Port de Gavarnie, perched high onthe Spanish border above the canyons ofthe Ordessa National Park, we will look forSnowfinches and Alpine Accentors thatfeed around the melting snow. Chamois,too, are to be found grazing the uplandmeadows. In the valleys we should findCitril Finches, Black Redstarts, Choughsand Alpine Choughs, whilst overhead flyGolden Eagles, Lammergeiers and GriffonVultures. High cliffs will receive particularattention, for on these we will always havea chance of finding that most elusive of allPyrenean birds, the Wallcreeper.The tranquil and airy Cirque deTroumouse, high above the tree-line, is quite as beautiful. Less well known thanGavarnie, its relative peace and quietmakes it a haven for mammals such asMarmots, Chamois and Foxes, and it is afine hunting ground for birds of prey. Smallpools, streams and boulder-strewn slopespresent a different environment in which tohunt for alpine plants.At lower altitudes we will explore some ofthe many lakes and reservoirs. Here thewaterside meadows are a botanist'sparadise, and numerous species ofbutterfly proliferate in a pesticide-freeenvironment. Lower still, in the ancientconifer forests, we will search for theelusive Black Woodpecker, and for suchgems as Firecrest and Bonelli's Warbler.Wherever we go, the skies between thegreat peaks must not be ignored, for anexcellent variety of birds of prey breed inthe Pyrenees. Besides those morecommon species already mentioned,Booted and Bonelli's Eagles, Buzzards,Goshawks and Peregrines may all be seen with a little luck.This holiday, taking in the broad range ofPyrenean natural history, and offering awide variety and choice of walkingexcursions, should suit a broad range ofinterests and abilities. We will also hope tomake the most of the local cuisine andliquid refreshments! The French PyreneesAn 8-day holiday of birdwatching and botanical walks in the high Pyrenees.Saturday 8th June - Saturday 15th June Cost: £1,295Saturday 7th September - Saturday 14th September Cost: £1,295(Focus in September: Walking, birds, plants and other natural history)Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationJACAPYRENEESGAVARNIEGÈDREPAUTOULOUSEBORDEAUXANDORRABILBAOMADRIDFRANCESPAINOutline itineraryDay 1Fly to Pau or Lourdesand then drive to Gèdre.Day 2/7 Walking excursions inthe Parc National desPyrénées.Day 8 Return London.AccommodationA delightful family-run hotel, allrooms with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade B. Day walks only. FocusBirds, plants, mammals andbutterflies (June). Birds, plants,walking and natural history(September).LeadersDavid Tattersfield or Mark Galliott(botanist) and David Morris(ornithologist).Single room supplement £180. ExtensionsEasily arranged in the French orSpanish Pyrenees, with or withoutcar rental.Web quick search: FRA2063LiliumpyrenaicumLammergeierThe Cirque de Gavarnie

La Brenne and Vienne are situated inan area of central France, south ofthe Loire, and the capital of theVienne département is Poitiers, which lies80 kilometres to the west of La Brenne.The latter is known locally as 'The Land ofa Thousand Lakes' because of thenumerous pools, known locally as 'étangs',which dot its landscapes. Mostly man-made, these have been managed over the centuries for fishing and a rich tapestryof habitats has developed includingmarshes, deciduous woods, dry heathland and farmland.In the quiet, gently rolling mixed farmlandof Vienne there are many small étangs,much marginal land, unimproved meadowsand pasture, and extensive woodland. Theolder, more established étangs are primehabitat for dragonflies and damselflies ofwhich numerous species can be foundwithin a few kilometres of our first base atMoulismes. Indeed, up to 20 species canbe seen at a single étang in June includingsuch non-British species as OrangeFeatherleg, Dainty Bluet, Blue-eye,Common Winter Damsel, Western WillowSpreadwing, Orange-spotted Emerald,White-tailed Skimmer, Scarlet Darter, Yellowand Western Clubtails and Small Pincertail.Even for a non-specialist, the variety ofform and colour provided by these falconsof the insect world is an absorbingdiversion from the soporific warmth of asummer afternoon in central France.Our search for dragonflies will naturallylead us to find interesting butterflies,orchids and birds. Around Moulismes,butterflies such as Red-underwing andMallow Skippers, Scarce Swallowtail,Black-veined White, Southern WhiteAdmiral, Map Butterfly, Marbled, Weaver's,Knapweed, Spotted, Heath and MeadowFritillaries, Great Banded Grayling, BlackHairstreak, Sooty Copper and Short-tailedProvençal and Mazarine Blues may all beseen. Orchids in the area includePyramidal, Bee and Lizard, each addingtheir delicate colours to enrich the summerflora and, not to be outdone, the avianworld is represented by arguably the most beautiful of all European birds - the Bee-eater, which can be observed in all its gorgeous splendour at a colonyclose to Moulismes.Pinail reserve, lying 20 kilometres north-east of Poitiers, is a peat-bog where oldmillstone quarries have left more than3,000 small, deep, water-filled holesscattered among the heathland. Manydragonflies have been recorded here, butthree rare species we will be looking for inparticular are Robust Spreadwing, andLilypad and Yellow-spotted Whitefaces.With over 2,000 lakes, the 160,000-hectareRegional Nature Park of La Brenne isfamed for its wetland birds, but what isless well known is that it is also amagnificent place for dragonflies andbutterflies. Among the many dragonflies tobe seen in La Brenne we should be able toadd Variable Bluet, Small Bluetail, MigrantSpreadwing, Small Redeye, Green-eyedand Hairy Hawkers, and Common Clubtailto our growing holiday list.To date, 97 butterfly species have beenrecorded in La Brenne, nearly twice thenumber occurring in the whole of Britain!These include several species which arerare or rapidly declining in other parts ofEurope. Examples should include LargeChequered Skipper, Ilex Hairstreak,Camberwell Beauty, Marsh Fritillary,Woodland Grayling and Pearly Heath. In addition, no fewer than 36 species of orchid occur in the park. Species thatshould be in flower at the time of our visit include: Brenne, Fragrant, Loose-flowered, Bee, Pyramidal, Lesser Butterfly,Greater Butterfly, Lizard, Lady, Man andTongue Orchids, as well as Red, Broad-leaved, Mueller's and Small-leavedHelleborines, and Violet Limodore. Thissuperb proliferation of orchids is one of the botanical highlights of the summermonths and it is an interesting exercise of imagination to match the various bizarre flower shapes with the namesborne by the plants!Among the breeding birds we should see in both the Vienne and La Brenne are Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, NightHeron, Black-necked Grebe, Garganey and Whiskered Tern - the last morenumerous here than anywhere else inFrance. Warblers to be found include Fan-tailed, Melodious and Bonelli's, whileother species include Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard, harriers,Hobby, Red-backed Shrike, Black Redstart,Short-toed Treecreeper, Serin and CirlBunting. The calls of Hoopoes and GoldenOrioles and the powerful songs ofNightingales complete this classiccollection of European birds. We will use two hotel bases in order toreduce daily travel and to maximise ourtime spent in the field. This will be an idealholiday for those with a particular interestin dragonflies or the all-round naturalistwho prefers unhurried outings. There willbe opportunities to linger and takephotographs, or to simply becomeimmersed in the sights and sounds of midsummer in this very special, yet rarely publicised, region of France.Dragonflies of La Brenne & VienneAn 8-day holiday in search of dragonflies, butterflies, birds and plants in two lesser-known areas of France, both outstandingly rich in natural history.Wednesday 19th June - Wednesday 26th June Cost: £1,295Outline itineraryDay 1 Eurostar to Poitiers.Day 2/3Moulismes.Day 4Pinail/La Brenne.Day 5/7 La Brenne.Day 8 Eurostar to London.AccommodationSmall, comfortable hotels with ensuite facilities.FoodAll included in the price, except enroute to/from Poitiers.GradingA. Easy walks only.FocusDragonflies, butterflies, birds andflowers (especially orchids).LeaderDave Smallshire or Nick Ransdale.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: FRA2164Call now or visit your free Trip ItinerarySPAIN ITALY SWITZERLAND GERMANY BELGIUM LA BRENNE MOULISMESCALAIS LILLE PARIS POITIERS TOULOUSE BORDEAUX FRENCH ALPS STRASBOURG (FROM LONDON ST. PANCRAS)ENGLISH CHANNEL ATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCEEtang de Biai, MoulismesSmall PincertailYellow-spottedEmerald