Birdwatching holidays: Take flight

It's not just committed twitchers who flock to birdwatching holidays. Lovers of photography and hiking can also get involved

What's the attraction?

Not so long ago, birdwatching was lumped into the same anorak-wearing category as trainspotting. Then along came Autumnwatch (Chris Packham and team return to BBC2 on Tuesday 30 October) – and Springwatch – and suddenly birding was positively primetime. And, not content to do our spotting from the sofa, we're stomping across the UK's wetlands with our binoculars as the autumn migration gets under way and packing our passport for birdwatching trips with specialist operators such as Ornitholidays (01794 519445; ornit holidays.co.uk), Sunbird (01767 262522; sunbirdtours.co.uk) and Avian Adventures (01384 372013; avianadventures.co.uk).

If you fancy following the birds south this autumn, wing your way to France for the annual "Fête de la Grue" or Crane Festival from 27-28 October. The location is the Lac du Der in Champagne-Ardenne, the largest artificial lake in France and one of Europe's most important migratory stopovers. The cranes break their journey here on their way to winter in Spain and Morocco (www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk).

Pick up a penguin

Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (01707 331133; ramblersholidays.co.uk) has a new 18-night Chilean Birding Adventure departing on 9 November from Santiago, home to the mountain karakara and Chilean mockingbird. Heading to the coast near Valparaiso, you'll view breeding colonies of Humboldt penguins while other highlights include a boat trip into the Pacific's Humboldt Current, one of the best locations for spotting albatross and, as you explore the southern Andes, Patagonian ice caps and deep fjords, the chance to see Chilean flamingo, coscoroba swan, upland goose and king penguins. The trip costs £4,795 per person including flights, transfers, half-board and the services of a tour leader.

Wing and a prayer

The Azores bullfinch is an endangered species, only found in a small woodland area on Sao Miguel island. A conservation programme is underway to extend their habitat, and Sunvil Discovery (020 8758 4722; sunvil.co.uk) offers the chance to join one-day volunteer programmes. A week's trip next April costs £660 per person with flights, transfers, B&B.

In Belize, Francis Ford Coppola's resort, Blancaneaux Lodge (00 501 824 4912; coppolaresorts.com) is surrounded by the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and is close to the Chiquibul National Park, home to 370 species of birds. Guests can accompany rangers on half-day trips for US$15 (£9). Doubles from US$225 (£140), B&B.

Who said that?

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song." – Chinese Proverb

"Happier of happy though I be, like them I cannot take possession of the sky, mount with a thoughtless impulse, and wheel there, one of a mighty multitude whose way and motion is a harmony and dance magnificent." – William Wordsworth

"No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky." – Bob Dylan

"What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?" – David Attenborough

In the frame in Botswana

TripAfrica (01606 215549; tripafricatravel.com) has launched photographic safaris in Botswana. The trips in March and April focus specifically on the incredible birdlife at this time of year in the Chobe National Park, including high densities of raptors. A local ornithologist will be on hand to help with identification, explaining bird behaviour and tips on how to get that perfect picture.

The nine-night trip includes a five-day wildlife photography course set in Chobe and costs from £4,465 per person including full board, all transfers and regional flights. International flights are not included.

Long-haul flight

Japan is an emerging destination for twitchers, its diverse islands and microclimates home to a number of endemic species such as the Ryukyu serpent eagle, the recently discovered Okinawa rail and the rare Amami woodcock as well as the world's largest owl, the Blakiston's fish owl. Japan Journeys (020-7766 5267; japanjourneys.co.uk) offers tailor-made bird-watching itineraries from £1,595 per person including eight nights' B&B, transfers and a seven-day Japan Rail Pass; flights are not included.

Holidays for homebirds

The Isle of Man has its own bird observatory, one of only 18 accredited in the UK and Ireland, on the Calf of Man, an uninhabited islet off the south coast. You can see around 33 species breeding here each year including the Manx shearwater, kittiwake, razorbill and shag (01624 648000; gov.im/mnh).

Titchwell Manor (01485 210221; titchwell manor.com) in Norfolk is hosting two-night dinner, B&B birdwatching breaks this autumn (30 and 31 October, 6-7, 13-14 and 20-21 November) from £260 per person, including guided walks with Stuart White from the Bird ID Company (01603 440967; birdtour.co.uk) to RSPB Titchwell Marsh reserve.

Guests staying at Cossington Park (0800 0433468; premiercottages.co.uk), a self-catering property in Somerset, can book an "Owl Prowl" with Chris Sperring, a Conservation Officer for the Hawk and Owl Trust. A three-night stay starts at £1,205 for 12 guests, including the "Owl Prowl".

Under the flight path

Wildlife artist Steve Cale leads seven-night birdwatching holidays in the north of Cyprus for New President Holidays (020-8406 4440; www.newpresidentholidays.co.uk) exploring the unspoiled Karpaz Peninsula, a national park and stopping-off point for migrating birds. Along with migratory birds, wildlife highlights include the endemic Cyprus pied wheatear and Cyprus warbler. Trips in April and May next year cost from £799 per person including flights from London, full-board accommodation and all guiding.

Insider information

"We've noticed a real growth in interest in birding recently, so next year we're launching a new series of Birdwatching Holidays for Beginners aimed at people who fancy giving it a trial run. They range from a two-day break in Somerset in January to a week-long holiday in Mallorca in April. The interest in wildlife tours continues to grow and our beginners' trips are especially popular." David Mills, MD of Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk).

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