Wildlife Holiday News

A guide to the best natural history experiences in Europe for private groups

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The start of another year brings with it new aspirations and exciting ideas for holidays to plan and look forward to. With a lot going on for the naturalist, spring and autumn are traditionally the best seasons to travel on the continent, but there are fantastic wildlife experiences to be had throughout the rest of the year too. Below is a list of just some of our favourite wildlife and natural history highlights in each month in the UK, Europe and slightly further afield.

January

This is the ideal time of year to look for Iberian Lynx, the rarest cat in the world, as this usually nocturnal creature is active during the cooler daytime hours of the winter searching for a mate. The added bonus is that both of its last two remaining haunts, the Coto Doñana National Park and the Sierra de Andujar, are contrastingly different and contain a plethora of birds. On our shores the variety of habitat in South Devon where a variety of wintering birds reside, can lead to a very successful weekend of birding, with Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Dartford Warbler the highlights.  
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Iberian Lynx

February

This month is best suited for birding. The autonomous region of Aragon in Spain is clothed in a variety of different habitats and is home to an equally diverse range of resident and wintering birds. Target species include Wallcreeper, Dupont’s Lark, Lammergeier and other raptors. In addition, the large concentrations of wintering Common Cranes are quite a sight to behold, especially when they fly into roost in the very photogenic winter twilight. For waterfowl and waders, best head to the Low Countries, such as Holland, where they congregate at this time of year in their tens of thousands. Closer to home, the Forest of Dean is worth visiting in February, our favourite time, whilst the large flocks of wintering finches are still prevalent and Goshawks start their territorial displays towards the end of the month.
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Goshawk

March

Southern Europe is already starting to shake off winter, and for an early spectacular display of wildflowers, look no further than Western Andalucia, where orchids, daffodils, irises and peonies, amongst others, adorn the region’s mountains and valleys. Just over the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, this month is the perfect time to visit Southern Morocco which has the best of North African birding. Ranging in habitats from the snow-capped Atlas Mountains down to the wetlands of the Atlantic Coast, and with the Sahara as well, it has the best opportunities for Bald Ibis as well as other specialities.
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Sawfly Orchid

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Woodcock Orchid

April

With spring in full swing and bird migration at its peak, where better for the naturalist to visit than the Mediterranean islands, where the days are warm and the number of tourists is still low. Crete is a classic destination for those with a general interest, as it has one of the most diverse floras in Europe and lies on a major bird migration route, not to mention intact archaeological sites of the Minoan civilisation and the delicious Cretan cuisine. Lesbos is considered as one of the best locations to enjoy spring bird migration for the sheer volume and diversity of species that pass through, thanks to its geographic location and the variety of habitats in such a small area. For one of the most iconic avian behaviours, head to the steppes and plains of Extremadura, to see the Great Bustard ‘foam bath’ display, as well as numerous other species that are here at this time of year.
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Great Bustard mid 'foam bath' display

May

All the activities of spring continue unabated, with various locations in France well worth a visit, in particular the wetlands of the Camargue for the wealth of birdlife, and the Vercors, an area of outstanding natural beauty and one of the best places for orchids in the whole of Europe! For wildflowers closer to home, the Burren on the west coast of Ireland is resplendent at this time of year with unique flora not found anywhere else in the British Isles. For those with a general interest in fauna, and birds in particular, then Poland is an excellent option in May, as the forests and marshes come alive – it is superb for Eurasian Pygmy Owl, all 10 species of woodpecker found in Europe are here, and the Bialowieza Forest is home to one of the last remaining herds of European Bison on the continent. Further east, for the more adventurous naturalists, Kazakhstan is little visited, but very rewarding, with excellent birding and wildflowers.
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Grey-headed Woodpecker

June

It is the alpine regions that start to come to the fore during the longest days of the year. The meadows are in bloom and butterflies abound. The classic alpine village of Wengen in the Bernese Oberland is the quintessential base for exploring the most incredible of landscapes, enhanced by lush pastures and spruce forests. Excellent alpine alternatives include Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park and the adjoining Vanoise National Park in France, the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain, and the Italian Dolomites where the King of the Alps, Eritrichium nanum, can be sought out. For a different botanical experience, the unique flora of Madeira is at its most spectacular now, and this is also a superb time of year for cetacean spotting – calm summer seas allow every opportunity for seeing many of the 20 whale and dolphin species recorded in its surrounding waters.
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Madeira coastline

July

The remote and secluded forests of Finland, close to the Russian border, are home to European Brown Bears, one of Europe’s most impressive and elusive of mammals. With the long summer nights, and the worst of the mosquitoes finished, this is the time that cubs start to appear to give some truly memorable encounters. In western Europe many butterflies are still on the wing, with both the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrenees first-rate locations, where apollos, fritillaries, blues and Purple Emperors flourish. Just over the channel, Normandy alone has 160 species of butterfly, more than twice the number of the entire UK!
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European Brown Bear

August

To see the most variety of mammals the UK has to offer in one trip, arguably the best location is Scotland’s Ardnamurchan Peninsula, and now is the time of year to do it as they continue to enjoy the bounty of summer. Both on land and in the water, this remote and untouched corner on the Scottish west coast is also superb for birding, with White-tailed and Golden Eagle present here. Romania is a great country for the generalist and worth visiting any time between late April and late September, with the Danube Delta a paradise for birds and the Carpathian Mountains a stronghold for European Brown Bears. Very few other European countries can boast the variety and quality of wildlife encounters in this month.
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Golden Eagle

September

Although the Hedgehog population is sadly plummeting on the British mainland, they remain common in Alderney, where famously there are also blonde Hedgehogs! With other small mammals, cetaceans and greater numbers of migrant birds passing through, including Black Redstart, Whinchat and Ring Ouzel, this is a great time of year as the weather is usually still pleasant. The southerly points of the Iberian peninsula start to become the focal point for birders as the autumn migration begins, with the Sagres Peninsula in Portugal and Tarifa in Spain, the hotspots for raptor movement in particular.
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Black Redstart

October

Like to discover something new in a well-known destination? The Peloponnese has a second bloom during this month, as the scorching summer subsides, and a new suit of plants flower in the mountains and valleys of this rugged region, which also possesses some of the finest archaeological remains of the ancient Greeks. Located on the autumn migration flyway for many of Europe’s Common Cranes, the little visited wilds of Hungary’s Hortobagy National Park is a good place to watch up to 100,000 of these spectacular birds flying in to roost each evening, along with a host of wildfowl, raptors and waders, including Dotterel.
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Crocus goulimyi

November

If you are looking for some late autumn sunshine and warm weather to go with your wildlife-watching, then the furthest reaches of the continent are the places to go. The Canary Islands has hundreds of endemic plants, as well as a varied birdlife, and superb cetacean-spotting opportunities to boot. Cyprus’ best highlights at this time are the autumnal flowers that adorn the island, as well as the smattering of butterflies that are still on the wing, such as European Swallowtail. Much further afield, but an affordable place with a great variety of birds, is Goa, where winter starts in this month, which means the weather is balmy and clear with a cool sea breeze on the coast.
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Short-beaked Common Dolphin

December

What better way to start the year than to witness one of the most mesmerising natural spectacles the UK has to offer – the Starling murmuration. The largest Starling roost in the country is in the Somerset Levels, where up to one million birds wheel around the sky each evening on their way into the reedbeds to roost. Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and numerous ducks make up the supporting cast of a very enjoyable long weekend. The birdwatching season in the Gambia is a long one, from October to April, so why not visit when European days are at their shortest and coldest? With direct flights from the UK, and cheaper than other African destinations, this tiny slither of a country punches well above its weight and is an excellent introduction to birding on the continent.
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Beautiful Sunbird

If you would like further information about visiting any of the destinations or seeing any of the species mentioned above as a private group, or have any queries about what we could organise for your club or society, then please call Barney Jones on 01962 733051, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Alternatively please visit our Private Groups page for tour reports and reviews.