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The predominantly rural departmentsof Calvados and Manche, located inNormandy on the north-west coast ofFrance, are easily accessed via thenumerous ferry services running betweenEngland and the French ports of Cherbourgand Caen, yet are surprisingly little visitedby British, or indeed any other naturalists.The region has an attractive and variedpastoral landscape, often likened tosouthern England, though much moreunspoiled, and retains an abundance ofbirds, plants and butterflies long since lostfrom the English counties. Small, flower-richmeadows grazed by Normandy cattledominate the rolling landscape, and thereare numerous orchards, marshes, heaths,bogs and ponds. To the south lie some vastwoodlands, whilst in the north a beautifulcoastline, rugged in places, offers extensiveareas of coastal dune grassland,interspersed by picturesque fishing villages.Interestingly, Normandy supports a richbutterfly fauna, with around 160 species(more than twice the number recorded inBritain!), and a remarkable wealth of otherwildlife, set in tranquil surroundings. Toexplore the region, and enjoy thesebutterflies, we cross the Channel from Pooleto Cherbourg, and drive to our base for thisholiday, a pleasant hotel on the coast in thehistoric town of Arromanches. Famed for itsworld-famous tapestry, nearby Bayeux iscentral to our entomological destinationsand is within a short drive of our hotel.On our first full day in Normandy we headwest, perhaps stopping at suitable oldmeadow localities to look for Sooty Copperswhich can be abundant at this time of year.En route, as we drive through the CotentinRegional Nature Park (one of the largest andmost important wetlands in Europe), wekeep a watchful eye out for White Storks, ofwhich more than 50 pairs now breed inNormandy, and Marsh Harriers. Along themany roadside hedgerows and flower-richverges, we take a special interest in anywhites we may see, as Wood Whites (thesecond brood of which is now on the wing)are locally common in this part of Normandy.However, our main focus today is the area ofwet heaths, bogs and pine forests aroundLessay, at the base of the CotentinPeninsula. Here we will spend the whole dayexploring numerous tracks through thisimportant heathland region, searching for anumber of butterfly specialities. LargeChequered Skippers are common, andSilver-studded Blues abundant, but our maintarget species is the globally threatenedAlcon Blue, which is the subject of specialconservation management in the area. Otherspecies present include Sooty Copper,Purple and Ilex Hairstreaks, Dark GreenFritillary and Grayling. The shady pineforests are less attractive to butterflies, butwe can expect to see Crested Tits amongstthe evergreen foliage and, with luck, HoneyBuzzards overhead. The area is importantbotanically and supports a large populationof the orchid Summer Lady's Tresses,together with Heath Lobelia, Bog Rosemaryand of course, Marsh Gentian, the food-plant of the Alcon Blue.Our objective for the second day will bethe large, state-owned Forest of Cerisy.This forest is dominated by beech, andcontains a variety of other habitatsincluding old meadows and calcareousmire, the latter supporting importantpopulations of Marsh Fritillary. We willspend a full day exploring the network ofrides which criss-cross the forest, lookingfor both grassland and woodlandbutterflies and moths. A very good varietyof butterflies are found in the wood at thistime of year including Camberwell Beauty,Ilex Hairstreak, White-letter Hairstreak,Map butterfly, Silver-washed Fritillary,Clouded Yellow and possibly the last of theyear's Lesser Purple Emperors. This large,secluded woodland supports a wide rangeof other wildlife including Wild Boar, PineMarten, Honey Buzzard, Goshawk,Nightjar, Black Woodpecker, MiddleSpotted Woodpecker, Melodious Warblerand Firecrest.Finally we head south, to Les Montsd'Eraines, an area of undulating limestonehills between Caen and Falaise, thebirthplace of William the Conqueror. Thearea comprises a mixture of scrub,limestone grassland and woodland, part ofwhich has been designated a naturereserve. This is one of the most importantlimestone grassland sites in Normandy, andmarks the north-west limit of this habitattype in France. During the day we will scourthe botanically-rich slopes for butterfliessuch as Chalkhill Blue and ScarceSwallowtail, and also the regionally rareFaust's Burnet Moth. This leisurely day willgive us ample time to search for otherinsect-life, including Jersey Tiger Moth andStag Beetle and a whole host of scarceplants such as Large-flowered Self-heal,Chiltern Gentian, St. Lucie's Cherry,Mountain Germander, plus a number of trueorchids and helleborines. Birdlife on theslopes will be quiet at this time of year,although we may possibly see Cirl Buntingswhich occur commonly in the region. At the end of our holiday we return toCherbourg to catch the Poole ferry, thusconcluding a remarkably varied five daysin a corner of France which richly deservesa higher profile as an excellent naturalhistory destination. France - Butterflies in NormandyA 5-day tour, with travel by ferry, to enjoy the many delights of the Normandy region of France, but most especially its excellent variety of butterflies.Thursday 11th July - Monday 15th July Cost: £795Outline itineraryDay 1Sail Poole-Cherbourg;transfer to hotel atArromanches for 4-nightstay.Day 2/4Exploration of Lessay,the Forest of Cerisy andLes Monts d'Erainesfrom our base atArromanches.Day 5Drive Cherbourg; sailPoole.AccommodationA pleasant seaside hotel atArromanches, with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy day walks.FocusButterflies; plus other aspects ofnatural history, and the scenic andgastronomic delights of Normandy.LeaderTom Brereton or Gerald Broddelez.Single room supplement£105.Web quick search: FRA0168Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryFRANCEBAIE DE LA SEINEENGLISH CHANNELBRITTANYNORMANDYLES MONTS D'ERAINESCHERBOURGFORESTOF CERISYARROMANCHESLESSAYCHANNELISLANDSNormandy coastline10% DONATIONTODark GreenFritillarySooty Copper

Provence, and especially the region ofthe Camargue, is best known as aspring destination for naturalists.However, there is also much to see inwinter; indeed some birds are more readilyseen at this season. Blue Rock Thrush,Black Redstart, Penduline Tit, RockBunting, Citril Finch, Snow Finch andAlpine Chough are amongst the interestingpasserines that we should find, and aregular highlight of our previous visits hasbeen that most prized of European birds,the enigmatic Wallcreeper. At a time whenonly the occasional Chiffchaff relieves thegloom of a British winter, it is possible tofind up to seven species of warbler inProvence, including Cetti's, Sardinian,Subalpine and Dartford, and even moreexciting is the presence of numerousraptors patrolling the Camargue marshesand surrounding hills, a variety whichcould include Imperial, Spotted, Bootedand Bonelli's Eagles. Best of all, we will beable to enjoy our birdwatching in a climatethat is warmer, and during daylight hoursthat are longer than those at home!Provence is also rich in architectural andhistorical features, a number of which canbe viewed during the course of our birdingactivities. The name itself reminds us thatthe region was a Roman provincia and itcontains a wealth of Roman antiquities. Inthe western part of the Rhône Delta wefind the fully walled medieval city of Aigues-Mortes, founded in 1241 by LouisIX to compete with other Mediterraneanports and to act as base for Crusades. Itnow lies eight kilometres inland as a resultof natural silting. Less grand, butnonetheless interesting, buildings includeshepherds' refuges in exposed parts of thedelta, with characteristic rounded endsplaced towards the prevailing wind.The Camargue itself, covering about 750square kilometres, is the marshy area of theRhône Delta, and we will spend three daysexploring this legendary region of wildhorses and fighting bulls. The GreaterFlamingo is probably its best known denizenbut other wetland birds abound. Flocks of 3-4,000 Red-crested Pochard can be seen,together with Black-necked Grebes, KentishPlovers, Avocets, considerable numbers ofMediterranean Gulls, Cetti's Warblers, andboth Penduline and Bearded Tits. Numerousraptors are attracted by this abundance ofprey and Common Buzzards are aconspicuous feature of the Provencelandscape whilst scores of Marsh Harriersand Hen Harriers patrol the reedbeds. Otherrarer birds of prey also occur on occasions,adding the exciting possibility of seeingSpotted, Imperial, Bonelli's or BootedEagles to each excursion in the field.The ancient delta of the Durance - now atributary of the Rhône - forms the areaknown as the Crau, covering some 50,000hectares. This dry stony habitat has beenextensively irrigated and grows crops suchas melons and the famous Crau hay. Thislatter crop, which provides three cuts ayear, is especially prized for feeding racehorses. The surviving areas of originalhabitat support good numbers of LittleBustard and France's only population ofPin-tailed Sandgrouse. Other noteworthyresidents include Calandra Lark,Dartford Warbler and Great Grey Shrike.North-east of our base in Arles is a rangeof hills rising to 387 metres called LesAlpilles, a limestone extension of theLuberon range. Here we will look forWallcreeper, and may also see AlpineAccentor, Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrushand Bonelli's Eagle. A little further away isMont Ventoux (1,909 metres), which we willplan to visit on our final day. The Italianpoet and scholar, Petrarch, ascendedVentoux with his brother in 1336 andinitially revelled in the view. Later, however,he read St. Augustine's admonition that ' should not take pleasure inmountains or scenery...' and regretted hisfrivolity. Hopefully, we can enjoy thissplendid mountain without pangs of guilt!On its lower, wooded slopes we will lookfor the beautiful Citril Finch, and here wemay also see Crested Tit. At higherelevations, above the treeline, we will hopeto find two species characteristic of thisinhospitable terrain, Alpine Accentor andthat hardy alpine sparrow, the Snowfinch.Journeying to and from Mont Ventoux, wepass the great aqueduct known as thePont du Gard. This aqueduct wasconstructed by Agrippa in about 19 BC tocarry the water of the Eure (near Uzés), toNîmes, some 40 kilometres away. It isgenerally regarded as one of the mostremarkable feats of Roman engineering,and provides another chance ofencountering the elusive Wallcreeper thatwould provide such a fitting finale to thiswinter break.Citril FinchesCrested TitGreater Flamingoes69Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Marseille andtransfer to Arles.Day 2/7Arles.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotel serving goodlocal food, all rooms with privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusMainly birds, a few mammals, plusRoman and medieval antiquities.LeadersJames Bray and Simon Tonkin. Single room supplement£175.Web quick search: FRA18Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationProvence at ChristmasAn 8-day holiday featuring the best of the birdlife of southern France in winter.Saturday 22nd December - Saturday 29th December 2012 Cost: £1,295Sunday 22nd December - Sunday 29th December 2013 Cost: £1,395SPAIN ITALY SWITZERLAND GERMANY BELGIUM PARIS CAMARGUEARLESTOULOUSE BORDEAUX FRENCH ALPS STRASBOURG ENGLISH CHANNEL ATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEAN SEA FRANCE MARSEILLE