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Our Personal Wildlife Highlights of 2019

Our expert staff in the office have been reflecting on their wildlife highlights of 2019 – from searching for rare species in Ghana's rainforests to tripping over wildlife (figuratively!) on the Galápagos. 2019 was a busy year for us all and we look forward to sharing more wonderful wildlife adventures with you in 2020!

Operations Assistant Ben Chapple: Picathartes and a Pangolin

'In November, I spent two weeks exploring the wonderful West African nation of Ghana. The country’s lush rainforests, remote wetlands and northern savannahs revealed an astounding diversity of wildlife, but one day in particular stood out as my wildlife highlight of 2019.

At dawn, we began by birding some dark, dense thickets on the edge of Kakum National Park. Here, we enjoyed stunning views of several elusive and rarely seen species, including Blue-shouldered Robin-chat and an unfathomably tiny White-spotted Flufftail. Even more striking, however, was our point-blank encounter with a resplendent Red-cheeked Wattle-eye. Photographs and drawings fail to do this little gem justice; in the gloomy undergrowth, its outrageous colours were almost overwhelming – enough to put the brightest bird-of-paradise to shame.

As the morning wore on, we ventured deeper into the Upper Guinea forests of Kakum. Reaching a fork in the trail, one of our two guides turned left, while we went right with the other. For half-an-hour or so we meandered past ancient trees, glimpsing greenbuls in the canopy and relishing the tranquil jungle sounds around us. Then, an incongruous mobile ringtone shattered the calm – the other guide had found a pangolin! Rarely have I wished to run more quickly, but our path took us over uneven ground, exposed roots and muddy slopes, and the going seemed agonisingly slow. Eventually, gasping for breath and cascading with sweat, we found the spot, where our guide’s quiet gesture revealed one of the most exquisite sights I have seen in nature: a Long-tailed Pangolin, perched in the open above the path, its elongated fifth limb coiled ornately around the exposed branch to which it clung. Motionless besides blinking eyes, its coal-and-amber scales flashed brilliantly against a background of black fur. As my initial incredulity began to wear off, I was struck by the creature’s shocking vulnerability. Pangolins are the world’s most illegally trafficked wild animal, their scales commanding eye-watering prices on the Traditional Chinese Medicine markets; if I had wished to do so, I could simply have plucked the poor creature from its branch like ripe fruit. As we left the pangolin in peace, I hoped that its next human observers would share our awed reaction.

Even after this unique sighting, the day’s excitement was far from over. In early afternoon we made the several-hour drive to the little village of Bonkro, deep within the remote Nyamebe Forest. From here, an hour-long trek took us first through farm bush, then into increasingly impenetrable jungle. Eventually, after a final scramble up a slippery and tangled bank, a great cavern loomed over us behind a criss-crossed web of vines, its rock walls plastered with mysterious mud nests. In the shadow of this natural cathedral, we settled in to await the arrival of West Africa’s most sought-after bird.

Before long, a flash of movement passed over a sunset-dappled boulder. Pausing for just an instant, it revealed a naked golden head, slate-grey back and bill, inkwell-black eye and snowy-white breast. Soon, no fewer than eight astonishing and bizarre Yellow-headed Picathartes were bounding around the rock face, including several short-tailed youngsters. Only discovered breeding in the country in 2005 after a century of rumours and unconfirmed reports, Ghana is now the best place in the world to see this near-mythical and highly threatened species. For a glorious hour, these crow-sized birds preened and paraded themselves in front of the cavern, at one point coming within feet of our hiding spot. Finally, as dusk fell, they retired into the cave to roost, and we too retreated, heads spinning deliriously. Picathartes and a pangolin – this was a day we’ll never forget.'

Our next 'Ghana – Picathartes' holiday with availability departs on 1st November 2020 and costs £2,495. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Ben Chapple on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Ben Chapple in Kakum National Park

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Long-tailed Pangolin

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Yellow-headed Picathartes (Ben Chapple)

Operations Manager Paul Stanbury: Great Dusky Swifts at Iguazú Falls

'A family holiday to Niagara Falls when I was a child and then, later in life, several visits to the spectacular Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe, have left me with a love of the world's grand cascades. Although there are many scattered around the globe, for as long as I can remember the one at the top of my wish list has been Iguazú, a vast watery curtain of 275 falls that tumbles into a dramatic gorge on Argentina's northern border with Brazil. In November this year I finally had the opportunity to visit Iguazú at the end of an unforgettable two weeks in northern Argentina.

Getting to view the falls themselves, however, is not as easy as you would imagine, although not because they are remote or inaccessible (as would be expected, the infrastructure around them is excellent). No, the problem is that they are surrounded by lush, tropical forest where a multitude of birds, butterflies and other wildlife constantly delays the keen naturalist on their way to the viewpoints. Toco Toucans, Swallow Tanagers, Plush-crested Jays and Band-tailed Manakins are just some of the birds that slowed my progress, along with troops of Black Capuchins and patrolling gangs of South American Coatis, the latter always on the lookout for an unsuspecting tourist's lunch!

Despite the wildlife's best efforts, I finally reached the viewpoints overlooking the gorge and, after marvelling at the multiple smaller falls from the lower trail, I made my way to the overlook on the edge of the infamous U-shaped ‘Devil’s Throat’, the main Iguazú cascade. Wow, what a place! Here, over two million litres of water per second thunder over an 82-metre precipice into a boiling cauldron of spray and mist. Diving in and out of the spray were wheeling flocks of Great Dusky Swifts, which nest behind the falls themselves, plunging through the curtains of water to raise their chicks on the vertical rocky cliffs behind. Having only watched the sequence of these amazing birds on the ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ series the Sunday before I left home, it was somewhat surreal to be following their fast-moving flocks in the flesh a couple of weeks later. Although transfixed by the antics of the swifts, I was momentarily distracted by a Snail Kite gliding overhead. Suddenly, the raptor folded its wings and dropped into the swirling cloud of spray at the base of the falls, totally disappearing from view. Ten seconds or so later it emerged unharmed from the maelstrom, a tiny black dot that climbed forever higher up the massive wall of water before rounding the rim of the falls and gliding off into Brazil.

The Iguazú Falls were every bit as spectacular as I had imagined and, although not the tallest, widest or most powerful of the world’s waterfalls, they must certainly rank as one of the most beautiful. There can also be few such natural wonders whose surroundings are so wildlife-rich, and my time exploring the park’s trails, and marvelling at the falls themselves, were the perfect ending to my adventure in South America and will remained fixed in my memory for many years to come.'

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South American Coati

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Great Dusky Swifts

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Iguazú Falls

Our next 'Brazilian Pantanal & Iguazu Falls' holiday with availability departs on 4th June 2020 and costs £5,995. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Tom Mabbett on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Operations Manager Tom Mabbett: Jaguars in the Pantanal

‘Whilst leading our amazing “South America’s Big Cats” tour this year there was one particularly special boat outing in the Pantanal that really sticks in my mind.

After a superb morning, which included a wonderful Jaguar sighting, we were back on the water in our spotting boat at 2pm and the afternoon then turned into one of those outings that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief! We decided to head upstream from the Jaguar Flotel on the Piquiri River and we were all excited by the challenge of searching for the wildlife living in this more remote area.

After a short time cruising upstream, keeping sharp-eyed for wildlife, we rounded a corner and saw two heads bobbing along in the middle of the river channel. After initially being passed off as "just more capybaras" the shout went up of "Jaguars"! The heads were in fact those of two Jaguar cubs swimming across the channel. They were right out in the middle, and looking at the bank they had come from, we saw their mother staring at them, looking very agitated and pacing up and down. What a beautiful cat! Where should we look? The cubs or mum! It was a special moment to hear her calling to them as she tried in vain to get them to come back to her. The little cubs got to the other side and bounded up the beach and into cover, with one peering back at us through the vegetation. The mother still had to cross, and we made sure to leave her plenty of space and continued watching. Sure enough, she soon set off and we watched her swim across the river, bound up the sand bank and away into cover to round up her young. What a wonderful encounter and such a privilege to watch it all unfold! Staying at the Flotel really does increase the chance of amazing private sightings – we were the only boat to witness this unique wildlife spectacle. We continued to wait in a side channel, hoping for a further sighting but they had gone. As we waited, Sunbitterns, Wattled Jacanas, Grey-necked Woodrails and Green Ibis fed in the shallows around us, while we sat digesting the amazing scenes that had just unfolded before our eyes!

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Jaguar (Naun Amable Silva)

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Jaguar cub (Naun Amable Silva)

However, this was just the start of our outing and we soon found a superb family of Giant Otters, enjoying wonderful views of them hunting, eating and travelling along the edge of the river together. Continuing on, we spotted another head in the water and this time it was a Neotropical Otter! A tricky species to find, much smaller and less relaxed than the giants and they largely travel alone. We enjoyed good views but had to work hard for them, grabbing views as its head popped up. Next up was a lovely troop of Capuchin Monkeys feeding in a riverside tree – the sightings were coming thick and fast. Our aim was to get to the Piquiri Lodge to stretch our legs but there was too much to see on the way! On we went, but yet another head in the water revealed itself as our second Neotropical Otter and this time we had super, prolonged views of it feeding on an eel out in the open. Wow! Finally, we made it to the lodge where we enjoyed amazing close-up Hyacinth Macaws, range restricted Chestnut-bellied Guans, and a smart Crimson-crested Woodpecker. After a short walk around the grounds, a lovely family of Capybara saw us on our way and journeying back to the Flotel we stopped for a cracking perched Nacunda Nighthawk, before it gave amazing views flying low overhead. As the sun set we enjoyed a sundowner as the sky filed with Band-tailed Nighthawks. What a special afternoon in the Pantanal. What a place!’

Our next 'South America’s Big Cats' holiday with availability departs on 23rd October 2020 and costs £7,695. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Tom Mabbett on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Website Manager Sara Frost: Birdwatching in Bali

‘Being obsessed with marine-life, my highlight this year is a surprising choice! In September I led our fabulous Indonesia cruise (which sails from Bali to Komodo), and for the first time ran a pre-cruise birdwatching extension on the north of Bali. We were based at the beautiful Menjangan Lodge, a peaceful retreat located in the heart of the unspoiled Bali Barat National Park, which is the last remaining stronghold for the critically endangered (and verging on extinct in the wild) Bali Starlings. Highly sought-after for the pet trade, by the early 1990s the wild population had plummeted to around only 30 birds, and continued poaching meant that 10 years later there were only two or three breeding pairs left in the park. Following a captive breeding programme, the numbers have increased, and fortunately wild-born starlings are now once again breeding in the park, but they are still a rare sight, highly protected and only seen by the lucky few.

So, it was 7am and we were an hour into one of our early morning bird walks along the dry forest trails when we heard the call we’d been hoping to hear. Spinning round, I looked to the trees, and managed to locate two bright white starlings perched on a high branch. In hushed excitement, I tried not to make too much noise (the large, bone-dry leaves underfoot rustled like crisp packets!) as I got my group onto the two birds. The timing of this tour is perfect for birdwatching, as we visit in the dry season, and so most of the trees were leafless and bare, making it much easier to get superb views of our quarries! We watched them for five minutes, the morning light shining beautifully on them, their white plumage standing out against the blue sky. Through our binoculars we could further appreciate their crests and ring of exposed blue skin around their eyes before they took flight across the dry scrub forest. What a sight to see them in the wild! We had already enjoyed sightings of many other species that morning, including the resplendent Green Junglefowl, Yellow-throated Hanging-parrot and a superb view of a Javan Banded Pitta, but this was the cherry on the cake.

We later visited the Bali Starling Sanctuary; a tiny establishment with about 10 large cages and a single ranger protecting them. The birds nosily fluttered around their enclosures, and some had been put together in very small cages in the hope that they would pair and mate (I couldn’t help but notice that they were standing on separate perches, looking rather awkwardly at one another). It was a surreal privilege to walk along the enclosures, knowing that we were looking at the world’s remaining population of this species (bar the few still in the wild).

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Sara on Padar Island

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Bali Starling (Anne Woodington)

During the rest our time exploring the grounds of the lodge (and indeed the rest of the national park) we barely saw a single other person, which made our time here feel even more exclusive. At the end of each day we retired back to our pool-side rooms to freshen up before enjoying dinner in the ‘Tower’ – a huge wooden structure which gave us a magnificent view over the tree canopy. On our final evening, as we excitedly chatted about our day’s sightings over evening drinks, some of us looked down to see two small white birds fly between the tree tops in the distance, their bodies washed with apricot light as the sun set over the island. It was a fitting end to a very special three days in the reserve, and we went on to have a marvellous cruise with encounters with dolphins, Manta Rays, Komodo Dragons and stunning coral reefs, but seeing those Bali Starlings, their population still so delicately on the brink, will live long in the memory!’

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Evening drinks in The Menjangan's tower (Sara Frost)

Our next 'Bali to Komodo – In Search of the Dragon!' holiday departs on 6th September 2021 and costs £6,795. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further details.

Tailormade Manager Georgie Head: the Galápagos

‘Earlier this year I was lucky enough to embark on a whistle-stop educational tour to the far corners of Ecuador. There were a multitude of highlights, from floating across isolated lagoons in the Amazon rainforest in search of bizarre Hoatzins and raucous Red Howler Monkeys, to a quest for hardy Torrent Ducks and Sword-billed Hummingbirds along the trails in Papallacta. However, it was my time cruising in the Galápagos Islands that will leave the most lasting impression, and one particular island and encounter that I’m sure will never leave me.

During my first couple of days in the archipelago I enjoyed visits to the highlands of Santa Cruz to see iconic Galápagos Tortoises, I snorkelled with Pacific Green Turtles and even found my first Galápagos Penguins on Floreana. However, it was the small isolated island of Española that really blew me away. Landing on this barren volcanic island, the most southerly and one of the oldest in the archipelago, I was bowled over by the sheer number of Galápagos Sealions that literally needed to be stepped over to access the path from the boat. Tiny pups littered the shorelines, seemingly abandoned by their mothers, who had gone to fish, safe in the knowledge that their offspring were free from the risk of predators. Colourful Marine Iguanas crowded on rocks in their hundreds, and trying to calculate where to step became a delightful ‘problem’ to have!

Walking further along the trail, we found reams of Blue-footed Boobies incubating their nests, occasionally accompanied by delightfully fluffy but incessantly noisy chicks. Magnificent Frigatebirds, known locally as ‘pirates of the skies’ circled the nests opportunistically, waiting to catch the parents off-guard. Nazca Boobies, Galápagos Hawks and Española Mockingbirds were just more of the avian delights, but the real highlight of my visit to Española would be the Waved Albatross that breeds almost exclusively on the island between the months of April and December. October is a fantastic time to witness its courtship displays, which must be some of the most bizarre in the avian kingdom, and I was lucky enough to witness one such exhibition. The rapid bill clacking, circling, bowing and hooting was something that I had heard about, but was unable to apprehend prior to my visit!

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Georgie Head with Galápagos Sealions

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Galápagos Tortoises (Georgie Head)

All too soon it was time to leave the island and re-board our luxury catamaran. And as we sailed away and watched the sun set over the beautiful island, I knew my afternoon on Española would be one that would last long in the memory.’

Our Galápagos cruises for 2020 are filling up fast, click here to find out more about our group holidays, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. To book a Tailormade holiday please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Operations Manager Kerrie Porteous: Austria

‘Slightly controversially in 2019, my travel highlight of the year doesn’t actually involve any wildlife! Allow me to explain…

In early October I spent the weekend in the Austrian Tyrol, recceing a new ‘Go Slow’ botanical tour. A few weeks before I travelled, my friendly contact at the Zugspitze Arena Tourist Office sent over a fairly dire warning that the whole region could well be buried under snow by the time I arrived, and it might be impossible to actually explore the area! The previous three times that I’d been away in Europe (to Greece, over Easter, to recce another new ‘Go Slow’ tour on the Pelion Peninsula; to Portugal, last summer, on a family holiday; to the south of France, in the spring, for a family wedding), the weather has been much – and I mean, MUCH – nicer back home in the UK. I continued regardless, and finally luck was on my side. I enjoyed what was, in fact, the very last gloriously sunny weekend of the year. I’ve always loved the Alps, and it was a joy to be back, staying in a delightful hotel, walking around the stunning lakes and mountains in the beautiful sunshine, and eating my own weight in apfelstrudel. October is far from the ideal time to go botanising high in the Alps (though the larch trees were looking beautiful, and I did see a very confused Primula plus a few Dactyloriza leaves), but this trip was all about the logistics – I already know that the botany will be fabulous come next June! I spent the days walking around Lake Heiterwangersee, hiking up to the stunning Sebensee (I concluded it might be a bit far for the average ‘Go Slow’ walk, but it’s in the itinerary just as an option!), and taking the cable car up to the top of the Zugspitze itself (at last – some birds! The Alpine Choughs were out in force!). Each afternoon I got back to the delightful Alpen Residence Hotel in Ehrwald in time for happy hour and afternoon cake, spent a couple of hours reading my book in the spa, then enjoyed a delicious 4-course meal. As weekends of work go, this one wasn’t half bad!’

We have just launched an overflow departure for 'Go Slow ... in the Austrian Alps', which leaves on 6th July 2020 and costs £1,795. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Kerrie at Sebensee

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Kerrie at the top of the Zugspitze

Operations Manager Alison Steel: Uzbekistan

‘I’ve been very fortunate to see a fantastic range of wildlife this year, from two sightings of Blakiston’s Fish Owl and lots of Steller’s Sea Eagles during our “Wild Japan in Winter” tour, to visiting a busy European Bee-eater colony on our “Spring Birding in Bulgaria” tour, having a group of playful Short-beaked Common Dolphins bow-ride the boat off Lewis while recceing our new “Scottish Hebrides by Land & Sea” tour and spotting stunning Sinai Rosefinch while on holiday in Jordan. However, I think that my wildlife highlight of the year has to be from Uzbekistan.

During our city tour of Samarkand, we visited Registan Square with its ornately tiled, colourful medrasses in varying shades of blue, interspersed with patterns in yellows, greens and oranges. As we walked around admiring the elaborate designs and architecture, we noticed that there were circling and wheeling flocks of birds overhead, mainly swifts. Approaching the third side of the square, we could see birds disappearing under one of the main archways, and, as we got closer, it was possible to see the time-worn imperfections in the building fabric that now allowed them to find safe roosting and nest sites within its structure.

For some time, a group of us stood mesmerised, watching the Alpine Swifts seemingly effortlessly zip into narrow cracks within the stonework, tucking their wings in at the last minute to swoop into a gap. You could hear the almost constant chittering with each new arrival, and departure, as they jostled their way through the colony of birds already inside. It was amazing to watch them come in at speed and thread the small spaces with such precision. Many people were completely oblivious to this display of avian mastery happening just above them, but it created a very special moment in which human and natural history intersected, causing us to marvel at both the ingenuity of people-past in creating such decorative monuments with limited resources/technologies and the elegantly skilful flight display demonstrated by the birds.’

Our ‘Uzbekistan's Wildlife and Culture’ holiday next departs 15th May 2021 and costs £3,095. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Alison Steel on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Alison Steel at Lake Charvak

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Sher-Dor Madrasah, Registan Square (Alison Steel)

Operations Assistant Dan Lay: Bolivia’s Amboró National Park

‘At the very heart of South America, scanning across the magnificent orange-red mountain rock, laden with lime-green lithophytes, we waited patiently as the sun began to warm the landscape. Would we see them?

Bolivia’s Amboró National Park has, justifiably, been described as an ecological masterpiece. Spectacular Jurassic Park-esque habitat is called home by a mega-diversity of species. For me, as a herpetologist travelling to Amboró in 2019, it was the reptiles and amphibians that were my targets.

If nature is your passion and your medicine, simply leaving the main road and setting tyre on the winding gravel track to the base at Refugio Los Volcanes gives one an instant ‘whole-body’ relaxing sensation, contrasting beautifully with the adrenaline caused by the excitement of finding the region’s remarkable species!

Now, having trekked an hour from our base at sunrise through orchid-rich forest thick with clouds of glasswing butterflies, and through streams with slipper orchids nestled amongst the rounded river rocks and seemingly placed precisely by an artist, we found ourselves looking up at this spectacular habitat with anticipation.

And as the sun warmed both our faces and the rock’s face, in this beautiful valley surrounded by mountains with not another person in sight, they appeared! First, the red-flanked and more slender females and then further along the boulder-strewn escarpment, we saw the spectacularly polychromatic males. We had found our species, the highly dimorphic Iguanid lizard, Tropidurus melanopleurus. We watched as males fought passionately for territory in the best basking zones, at a height where they are far enough away from terrestrial predators but low enough to race down to the ground to pick off their key prey, ants.

Bolivia is the hidden gem of South America and having spent more than six months thoroughly enjoying it, from snorkelling with the Critically Endangered Lake Titicaca Frog in Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, to seeing Emerald Toucanets in the warm and humid tropics, I have only touched the very surface of what this hugely varied country has to offer. Bolivia gave me my wildlife highlights of 2019 and with only a comfortable hour’s flight between the highlands and lowlands, I couldn’t recommend more highly that you travel to Bolivia yourself to see the spectacular variety it offers the naturalist.’

Click here to find out more about our holidays to Bolivia, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further details.

If you are particularly interested in herpetology, then you may also be keen to read about our new tour to Panama: 'Panama's Reptiles and Amphibians'.

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Tropidurus melanopleurus (Dan Lay)

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Amboró National Park (Dan Lay)

Operations Assistant Chloe Amoo: Madagascar

‘I have recently joined the Naturetrek family and have been lucky enough to lead two tours in Madagascar. I have always had a soft spot for this beautiful country so was excited to get back out there.

Driving through Madagascar your senses are on overload – every small town is a sea of colourful clothing and buzzing markets with small stalls blaring local Malagasy music; each region being very different to the others. The scenery changes drastically as you drive down south, where you will come across dry forest, rainforest and the unusual spiny forest, home to some bizarre octopus trees. Pretty much all of Madagascar always puts a smile on my face and I could go on about all the different weird and wonderful species you can see, but on this particular trip I was determined to tick off the elusive Aye-aye. I have visited Madagascar many times in my life, and have never been lucky enough to see this odd creature. However, the “Madagascar’s Mammals” tour was set to make the chance of seeing them more likely.

After a long drive, we finally arrived at Aye-aye Island and headed out for our first nocturnal walk. I must admit I was a little sceptical in believing we would get a sighting so, when we got off the boat and onto the island and within 20minutes found ourselves standing in front of this wonderful animal, I was in awe! This strange-looking mammal sat, face down in a coconut, with its long middle finger desperately reaching for the coconut flesh as it messily (and happily) munched away. That first night alone we had three sightings, two males (one was nine months old but looked just like the adults) and a female. We all headed back with huge smiles on our faces, making that long drive worth it and that was only the first night on the island!

Another 2019 highlight was also in Madagascar – this time while I was leading our “Madagascar’s Lemurs” tour. This particular moment caught me by surprise, which made it that much more special. We were hiking through the forest in Andasibe when we stumbled across four Indris (the largest living lemur) and we watched them for a while, when out of the blue they started to call. Their vocalisation can travel an amazing 2km, and I definitely understood why after hearing it up close and personal. The volume alone caught me off guard, and the sound itself is something I cannot put into words, but the feeling was that of pure joy.’

Our next ‘Madagascar's Mammals’ holiday departs 31st October 2020 and costs £5,995, and our next ‘Madagascar's Lemurs’ holiday departs 19th September 2020 and costs £4,495. Click on a tour link to book your place, or call Kerrie Porteous on 01962 733051, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Chloe Amoo at the Avenue of the Baobabs

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Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur (Chloe Amoo)

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Giraffe-necked Weevils (Chloe Amoo)

General Manager Andy Tucker: Leopard in India

'For my wildlife highlight of 2019 I return once again to Asia and the fabulous Tiger reserves of central India, where I was co-leading a delightful group of guests on our “Wildlife Festival” group in March, based at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge just outside Satpura National Park. Two other Naturetrek staff members had visited Reni Pani within the last two years and their glowing reports played a large part in us selecting this lodge for our 2019 festival. It proved a popular concept and in the end we ran two groups.

Having not seen a Leopard on previous visits to Sri Lanka, South Africa and India, a sighting was high on my wish list on this particular trip and it was on day 5, in that lovely late afternoon golden light of central India, that our local guide Sid spotted a big mottled cat strolling across the dry river bed of the Tawa river. It recalled my first ever sighting of a Jaguar in the headwaters of the Peruvian Amazon in 1996, years before Jaguar tourism in the Pantanal was ever thought of. What a magic moment, and I’m indebted to client Alan Woodward for capturing it. The Leopard made its way up the opposite bank of the river and spent some time sunbathing on a rock.

During siesta times during the tour, post-lunch, I had been reading the fascinating “The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag” by Jim Corbett, a book which brought the India of a hundred years ago to life, and which had me on alert during night time walks from the dining room back to the cabin!

Elsewhere, Satpura certainly lived up to its reputation as being the best place on the planet to enjoy Sloth Bear sightings, and we had plenty of ungulates, Giant Squirrels and some top birding. The trip report is here (March 2019 report)

I am going to sneak in one other highlight of 2019 and that was lifting the trophy for the best Wildlife, Safari and Nature tour operator at the British Travel Awards – a very proud moment at Naturetrek for all of our staff. Thank you so much for your support and a very Happy New Year and best wishes for 2020 to all!'

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Leopard (Alan Woodward)

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Sloth Bear (Andrew Lapworth)

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Andy with the British Travel Award

Our next 'The Wildlife of Satpura – Best of Central India’ holiday departs 24th January 2020 and costs £3,495. Click on the tour link to book your place or call Rajan Jolly on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Operations Manager David Phillips: Solar Eclipse and Monkey Puzzles in Chile

‘In July I was in Chile to coordinate three Naturetrek groups who were there to see a total solar eclipse. The coastal city of La Serena was the base for the eclipse and the track of totality passed along the Elqui Valley where our observation site was located on a hillside, high above the town of Vicuña.   

The day dawned with clear blue skies and, as we travelled along the Elqui Valley, the weather conditions remained perfect. The final stage of the journey to our viewpoint took us up a narrow winding road, passing cacti, before emerging onto a plateau backed by mountains.

With plenty of time to prepare, our clients were served lunch in a marquee whilst listening to a talk about a historic eclipse a century before. Those keen to photograph the eclipse discussed exposures with one another and took time to make their final preparations.     

By mid-afternoon, as the Moon was covering an ever-greater portion of the Sun and totality approached, the growing excitement in the group was palpable. In the final few seconds the light levels dropped and a fine diamond ring gave way to two-and-a-half-minutes of total eclipse. For those few minutes our eclipse glasses could be dispensed with and the naked eye could take in the beautifully extended plumes of the solar corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere.        

All too quickly the eclipse had passed but with memories of this extraordinary event etched into our minds, the discussion continued long into the evening as the blue sky was replaced by a myriad of stars.  

The next total solar eclipse is also in Chile, so it made sense for me to travel south to Chile’s Lake District to scout locations for the eclipse viewing in December 2020. This time the line of totality will cross this beautiful region of lakes and snow-covered volcanoes.

I had long known of the forests of Monkey Puzzle Trees (Araucaria araucana) which could be found in the mountains of this region and was keen to see these magical trees for myself, so I was delighted when my guide Patrick said he knew the perfect spot. The road from Pucon followed the Rio Pucon O Minetue before ascending above the snowline and upwards to a plateau on the flank of the mighty Lanin Volcano. I was greeted by the magical scene of dozens of the magnificent trees in evening sunshine set against the bluest of skies and then, if icing were needed on this particular cake, a Magellanic Woodpecker appeared on one of the trees just metres away from me, providing close views for many minutes! After that I felt that a visit to the Monkey Puzzle forest must be included in our 2020 eclipse itineraries!’

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David Phillips in front of Lanín Volcano

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Eclipse time lapse (Glenn Bates)

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Magellanic Woodpecker (David Phillips)

Website Assistant Tom Ambrose: Otter in the Hebrides

‘This year I travelled far less than I normally do, giving me the chance to focus on my local British wildlife. Having spent most of my adult life overseas, there is still much for me to see and learn here, and luckily, I’m surrounded by experienced naturalists five days a week, who are more than happy to impart their knowledge! In October I was asked to co-lead our Islay & Jura holiday, allowing me to put my new-found skills to the test ...

There are less than 200 people who live on Jura, but there are over 5,000 Red Deer, and apparently a pair of Otters for every three miles of coastline. The only significant road on the island runs along the shore for around three miles, providing us with an excellent opportunity to test the latter statistic from the comfort of our minivan. We managed two samples on our first day on Jura, which unfortunately didn't yield an Otter!

Three days later we were again trundling along Jura’s single-track road when my colleague, Dave Pierce, abruptly pulled into a passing place, presumably to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass. Rather inconsiderately, he hadn’t left enough space for me to pull in behind him, so I overtook and pulled into a different spot on the shoreward side of the road. As I looked at the traffic-free lane ahead, it was clear that something was amiss. My confusion was soon dispelled however, when I noticed an Otter staring at me from 10 metres away, shortly followed by an excited voice emanating from my radio! The Otter briefly looked up at us, before returning to its sushi lunch – freshly caught octopus on a bed of seaweed. After a few minutes it slipped back into the water with its catch, but thankfully it clambered onto a rock around 25 metres away, where it continued to dismember and devour the octopus. This gave us the chance to alight from our vehicles and watch this magical moment through our binoculars and telescopes, doing our best to contain our excitement so as not to scare it away again!

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Otter (Tom Ambrose)

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Golden Eagle (Tom Ambrose)

The week was packed with exciting highlights. We saw an indescribably vast flock of Barnacle Geese take off in unison as a Golden Eagle approached, watched a Hen Harrier hunting pheasant and saw many exciting and rare birds, including a pair of vagrant Snow Geese!’

Our next ‘Islay & Jura’ tour departs on 22nd October 2020 and costs £1,495. Click on the tour link to book your place, or call Alison Steel on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..