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South of mainland Greece, and joinedto the rest of the country only by the6-kilometre Corinth isthmus, lies thePeloponnese. This enormous peninsula isstrewn with the remains of Classicalantiquity and Byzantine monuments, and it also contains some of Greece'smost spectacularly varied scenery - high mountains, attractive streams, fertileplains, valleys and lovely beaches. Thearea is richly endowed, both in namesfamous from Greek mythology, and nature. As well as being pleasing to theeye, the area's karst scenery creates richlimestone soils on which grow thePeloponnese's famous assemblage ofautumn-flowering bulbs.The Peloponnese endures relentless heatfrom June to September, but the earth herecomes to life once again in the autumnand early winter. The local plant-life hasevolved to escape the intense summerheat by growing during the early and lattermonths of the year, and many specieschoose to flower at this time. The region is,therefore, justly famous for its diversity ofautumn-flowering bulbs, and these will bethe focus, and highlight, of our tour -indeed, it is the only place in Europe whereit is possible to see cyclamen, crocus andsnowdrops in flower at the same time! Forested mountains and idyllic beachescharacterise the Peloponnese landscape.On a map, the peninsula's shape isreminiscent of fingers spreading out intothe sea, each 'finger' with its owncharacteristic micro-habitats and flora,while the severe Taygetos Mountain rangerises steeply to the west of the Plain ofSparta. The limestone peak of MountTaygetos stands 2,404 metres high and isclad in forests of Black Pine and fir.Following two nights in the small town ofKalavrita, from where we will enjoy thebotany and scenery of Mount Chelmos, wemove to the charming seafront town ofGytheio for the remaining five nights of thetour. Gytheio is the gateway to the Manipeninsula, and is an ideal base from whichto explore the region's three areas of keybotanical interest, Mani, Mystras andMalea, which jut out into the Aegean Sea.Even in late autumn the weather in thispart of Greece is typically still warm andsunny, providing ample opportunities toenjoy full days of botanising, to venture insearch of specific floral treats, to eat alfrescoand to soak up the last rays ofEuropean sun for the year.Though familiar in Britain as one of theharbingers of spring, approximately onethird of all crocus species (there are 80 intotal) flower in autumn and some rightthrough the winter. In the Peloponnese, asthe summer temperatures cool down andthe first rains arrive, the flowering ofcrocuses and other plants is triggered.Nestled among the moist stream beds andgorges of the Taygetos Mountains arepatches of cyclamen and snowdrops, andof particular interest are the delightfulblooms of Galanthus reginae olgaeandwidespread Cyclamen hederifoliumhederifolium. Some late-flowering stands ofColchicumspp. also appear at this time ofyear, as well as crocus, which flower ingreat profusion on these slopes! To the east of Gytheio, Malea is home tothe small, pale lilac Crocus hadriaticusssp. parnonicusas well as breathtakingdisplays of Crocus goulimyiin season, andthese stands are often accompanied byCrocus laevigatus. The white blooms of thelatter are a treat to see, for they are uniqueto the Peloponnese, its petals beingstriped in Crete! Among the many specialcrocuses of this area is the endemicCrocus biflorusssp. melantheruswhichblooms in autumn - in fact, it is the onlyone of the four biflorussubspecies toflower at this time of year, and represents aunique adaptation to survival here in thecountry's driest region. The central of the three peninsulas we willexplore on this tour is Mani, and it is herewe will hope to find the largest of thecrocuses, Crocus niveus. Its name means'of the snows' - a somewhat curiouschoice for a plant which occurs down tosea level! It is a delightful member of thefamily, however, sporting large white andpale lilac flowers (which can be up to sixinches high!) with deep yellow throats. Inaddition, the scented Cyclamenhederifoliumssp. confusumwill be inflower, along with masses of Cyclamengraecum. Both are common on rockyhillsides and in olive groves at this time of year. Yellow Sternbergiaare commonthroughout the Peloponnese and thecurious aroid Biarum tenuifoliumis another speciality here. The Peloponnese is a rocky, starklybeautiful land baked by summer sun, and adorned in autumn with wonderfulannual displays of autumn-flowering bulbs - and it is these little-knowntreasures of the region which will be thefocus of this holiday, led by our expert and enthusiast, David Tattersfield.Autumn Plants of the PeloponneseAn 8-day holiday to the Peloponnese in search of the wonderful displays of autumn-flowering bulbs among the limestone mountains and plains of ancient Sparta.Wednesday 31st October - Wednesday 7th November 2012 Cost: £1,195Wednesday 30th October - Wednesday 6th November 2013 Cost: £1,295(This tour can be combined with our 'Crete in Autumn' holiday outlined on Page 43)Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationGREECEAEGEAN SEA MEDITERRANEANSEA PELOPONNESEGULF OF CORINTHATHENSKALAVRITAGYTHEIOTRIPOLIMOUNTCHELMOSOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Athens; transferKalavrita.Day 2Botanical excursionsfrom Kalavrita.Day 3/7Botanical excursionsfrom Gytheio.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotels in Kalavrita andGytheio. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price, exceptdinners in Gytheio. Allow £75.GradingA. Easy day walks.FocusAutumn-flowering bulbs, plus otherflowers and wildlife. LeaderDavid Tattersfield.Single room supplement£160.Web quick search: GRC0773Cyclamen graecumTaygetos Mountains, Mani peninsula

Contained by the natural barriers of theKerkini Mountains to the north andthe Mavrovouni Mountains to thesouth, Lake Kerkini lies close to theBulgarian border in northern Greece and isrenowned as one of the finest wetland sitesin Europe. Historically the wild marshlandsalong the floodplain of the Strymon Riverwere regarded as virtually uninhabitable andlargely abandoned to nature but, in the early20th century, a sustained campaign overmany years witnessed a conversion ofthousands of hectares of marsh into arableland, a process assisted by the creation of ahuge irrigation reservoir which, together witha network of canals and ditches, helped tocontrol the flow of water. The river was,however, reluctant to relinquish its influenceon the landscape, and alluvial depositswashed down from the mountains continuedto limit the effectiveness of the new reservoirfor over 50 years until a new, higher, damwas constructed in 1982 which defined theshape of present-day Lake Kerkini.In spring, the lake and surroundingcountryside offer all the ingredients for asuperlative birdwatching holiday asevidenced by the experiences of previousNaturetrek groups during this season;however, for this very special tour we havechosen to visit Kerkini at the beginning ofwinter in search of a regular, but extremelyrare, avian visitor to the shores of the lake.Each year, in early November, smallnumbers of endangered Lesser White-fronted Geese pause to feed and rest atLake Kerkini for a few weeks beforecompleting their epic journey from theSiberian taiga to their Mediterraneanwintering grounds. These dainty little geesewill be our principal target during this tour,but we will also encounter a fantastic varietyof other birdlife on and around the lake.Our holiday begins with a flight to the city ofThessalonika and from here it is a 90-minute drive to Kerkini where we'll stay forfour nights at a comfortable hotel. Althoughthe shortening daylight hours of winter willprobably reduce the birdwatchingopportunities on our arrival day, thefollowing three days will be devoted to athorough exploration of the district, visitingnot only a range of wetland habitats butalso venturing into the nearby mountainswhere hopefully some of the summerdenizens of the high elevations will befrequenting the lower slopes as winterapproaches.Between a dozen and 50 Lesser White-fronts have been seen in early Novemberduring recent years; however, actuallyfinding these rare geese is still no easytask, although their association with moreconspicuous 'Greater White-fronts' will helpus to pin-point the grazing Lessers. It maytake some time to locate the flock, and itcould involve a fair amount of walking, butthere will be plenty of other birdlife tooccupy us while we search for our quarry.Lake Kerkini is renowned for its populationof Dalmatian Pelicans and up to 500 ofthese impressive birds may be congregatedon the open water together with perhaps afew White Pelicans. Thousands ofcormorants, including a small number ofPygmy Cormorants, will also typically beexploiting the abundant fish shoals, whileGreat Egrets and Grey Herons stalk theirshare in the shallows. An estimated 40,000wildfowl overwinter on Lake Kerkini, withgreat rafts of Common Pochard comprisinghalf this total. By means of careful scanningwe may also locate some of the scarcervisitors, which include Ferruginous Duck,Red-crested Pochard, Smew, Goosanderand White-headed Duck. Around theshoreline up to 1,000 Greater Flamingoesform a spectacular pink mass, andoccasional wintering Common Cranes andSpoonbills may also be found. An excitingdiversity of raptors occurs here and ofparticular interest are the White-tailed andSpotted Eagles which create regular scenesof panic among the waterfowl. GoldenEagles may also be observed gliding overthe hills and Eagle Owls are a spectacularresident in some of the local quarries.Moving away from the lake to investigatethe hills and woodlands we will hope to find,among other species, Grey-headed, Syrianand Black Woodpeckers, Goshawk, SombreTit and Hawfinch, while mountain slopesaccessible by road might add AlpineAccentor, Shorelark and maybe even theelusive Wallcreeper to our list.A November visit to Lake Kerkini is certainto provide spectacular numbers of wildfowl,together with a wide variety of bird specieswhich will more than likely include one ortwo surprises in this relatively under-watched area of Greece. Add to theseattractions the chance of encountering oneof the local Wildcats or Beech Martens, andyou have the perfect break to defer theonset of winter blues. Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Thessalonika anddrive Lake Kerkini.Day 2/4Lake Kerkini.Day 5Return Thessalonikaand fly London. AccommodationTourist hotel near Lake Kerkini, allrooms with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy paced birdwatchingwalks.FocusBirds, especially waterfowl andraptors.LeaderPhil Thompson.Single room supplement £80.Web quick search: GRC0874Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryNorthern Greece's Lake Kerkini in AutumnA 5-day tour searching for Lesser White-fronted Geese and other special birds of northern Greece's Lake Kerkini. Monday 5th November - Friday 9th November 2012 Cost: £895Monday 4th November - Friday 8th November 2013 Cost: £895MACEDONIA BULGARIA LITHOTOPOSKERKINI MOUNTAINS MAVROVOUNI MOUNTAINS THESSALONIKA LAKE KERKINI White Pelicans on Lake KerkiniPygmy CormorantLesser White-fronted Goose