Guided butterfly, botanical & birdwatching holidays
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Wildlife of Istria in Spring

 

Dates & Prices

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Dates: 24 April – 1 May 2018 Guaranteed departure!

Price: £1,245

Single Room Supplement: £100

Deposit: £150 per person


Price Includes: Accommodation, all meals, ground transport, services of guides, holiday report & donation to a wildlife charity or local project

Not Included: Flights, travel insurance, drinks and any other personal items

Conservation Donation: 10% of profits donated to a wildlife charity or local project

Leader: Paul Tout (a second leader will accompany large groups)

Group Size & Travel: Minimum of 4 and a maximum of 12 guests plus 1-2 leaders. Comfortable vehicles will be used for all travel

Grade: Gentle to moderate walks at a leisurely pace in a variety of terrains

Holiday Highlights


  • Enjoy spring butterflies including Large Tortoishell, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Cleopatra, Small Blue and Southern Festoon
  • Spring floral displays in the woods and forests will be at their peak in the second half of April and many migrant birds will also be passing through
  • Local breeding birds, including woodpeckers and owls will be at their most vocal whilst reptiles and amphibians including Yellow-bellied Toads will be fresh out of hibernation
  • Staying in Istarske Toplice, a hotel complex in N. Istria (Croatia) alongside the river Mirna and the forest of San Marco but surrounded by high limestone cliffs and grassland with superb pre-breakfast birding, especially woodpeckers
  • Led by local guide who knows the area intimately
  • Relaxed pace ideally suited to photography & full enjoyment of the wildlife & scenery
  • Contribute to a local wildlife charity

A leisurely week in Istria, largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, to enjoy the rich diversity of outstanding flora, birdlife, butterflies and fantastic scenery

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Holiday Guide

Paul Tout has lived close to Trieste in NE Italy since 1989 where he taught Environmental Science in a prestigious international school and has lead wildlife tours here since 1992. He now works as a wildlife tour guide, licensed and insured by Italian nature tourism’s representative body, AIGAE and as a self-employed scientific translator and editor.

Paul is an all-round naturalist with particular interests in birds, butterflies and flowering plants. For three years (2011 – 2013) he was head gardener and guide at Carsiana, a themed botanical garden that displays more than 600 species of plants of the limestone Karst around Trieste.

A leisurely week in Istria, largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, to enjoy the rich diversity of outstanding flora, birdlife, butterflies and fantastic scenery

Istria is a small peninsula covering 8,000km2 close to the head of the Adriatic and central Europe and today split roughly 20/80, between Slovenia and Croatia together with a sliver of Italy close to Trieste. Its position at a crossroads in Europe together with its varied geology and climate make it rich in biodiversity terms with mountains to 4,500 feet alongside a mild Mediterranean climate beside the coast.

Its almost 2,000 species of higher plant give Istria almost half the Croatian national total although it occupies less than a fifth Croatia’s surface area. There are also roughly 140 species of butterfly as well as high diversity in other groups. We will be exploring Istria’s habitats from the Mediterranean scrublands on the Kamenjak Peninsula and the wetlands along the River Mirna through to the high meadows and cool forests of Inner Istria.

The birds, mammals and reptiles are also there to be enjoyed and the area around our base is splendid for pre-breakfast birding with seven species of woodpecker as well as Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine Swift, Peregrine Falcon and Rock Bunting. Whilst the main ‘flush’ of butterflies is much later in the year there are the spring species to catch up with including Mazarine Blue, Dingy Skipper, Cleopatra, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Large Tortoiseshell and Southern Festoon. Scops Owls will be calling nightly close to the hotel by the time we arrive.

We should see one or two of the several pairs of Golden Eagles that still nest in Inner Istria, often above towns and villages. Like rural uplands elsewhere in Europe, depopulation and emigration are major issues in Upper (Inner) Istria and forests are spreading across abandoned lands making hunting ever more difficult for the eagles, both Golden and Short-toed.

Please read on for more information and see the ‘Holiday Itinerary’ tab for a more detailed look at what we’ll be doing during our stay. We hope to welcome you on what will surely become a favourite spring holiday in our calendar!

Daily schedule: With breakfast from 7 am, most days we aim to leave the hotel at 9 am, with a picnic lunch bought locally and aiming to return to base around 5.30p.m, allowing a little time at each day to relax before dinner. A couple of early (6 a.m.) walks close to the hotel will be programmed. These of course will be optional but we recommend participation.

Weather: At this time of year, the weather should be sunny and warm with occasional rain and daytime temperatures typically ranging from 15 to 20°C. This said, the weather in Istria varies enormously from place-to-place and a rain-shadow means heavy rain inland in the mountains often corresponds to bright sunshine on the west coast and we will take advantage of this should it prove necessary!

Food and Accommodation: A one-centre holiday, we stay at the San Stefano complex, the modern section of Istarske Toplice between Buzet and Motovun in Istria, in the valley of the river Mirna set amongst stunning limestone cliffs and riverine woodland. All the rooms are en-suite and have hairdryers and Wi-Fi. The hotel, catering for thermal spring visitors, also has a gym, several swimming pools and saunas. In the evening we will eat in a local konoba, or trattoria with drinks included with the meal.

Day 1: Arrival in Trieste and transfer to Istarska Toplice in N. Istria.

A late afternoon Ryanair flight from London Stanstead Airport to Trieste takes about 2 hours. From there it’s a minibus to the San Stefano complex at Istarske Toplice, our base for the week, about 90 minutes away so we should be there by early evening with time to unpack, settle in and enjoy the first evening meal at a nearby restaurant.

Day 2: Around the hotel, Istarska Toplice in N. Istria. 

Our base is chosen for its superb surroundings and pre-breakfast birding and our first full day will be spent exploring our surroundings on foot from our hotel including the karst limestone areas behind it, the grounds themselves (excellent for birds including Cirl Bunting and Wryneck )and the woodlands along the River Mirna, famous for their truffles.

The limestone areas, caves and quarries hold nesting Alpine Swifts, Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Redstarts while the Mediterranean scrubland of Evergreen Oaks (Quercus ilex), Phillyrea latifolia and Laurel (Laurus nobilis) are home to Nightingales and Cirl Buntings as well as the occasional Sardinian and Subalpine Warbler with Peregrines nesting nearby and in a quarrelsome relationship with the local Ravens.

The site is rich in flora too with Lady (Orchis purpurea) and Green-winged Orchids (Orchis morio), Early Spider Orchids (Ophrys sphegodes) and Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia)  and carpets of Primrose (Primula vulgaris) and Violets (Viola sp.) in the damp woodland along the river

The evening meal in a local restaurant will include local specialties including truffles and Wild Asparagus (Aparagus acutifolius)!

Day 3: North-west Istria, Slovenia & Croatia, concentrating on birds. 

Largely a birding day but in the morning we will stop to visit a splendid wildflower meadow with Bog and Green-winged Orchids (Orchis palustris and O. morio) and Adderstongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) and the Medieval church of Hrastovlje, just over the border into Slovenia, world-famous for its Medieval frescoes including a superb ‘Dance of Death’.

Moving to the coast we will visit Škocjanski zatok, a wetland nature reserve. with a wide range of herons and egrets, Pygmy Cormorants, Common and Little Terns. This is the time of peak wader passage and we should be able to add quite a few species if conditions are good.

Moving back into Croatia we will visit Savudrija, on the bay of Piran with its decidedly Mediterranean climate, nesting Tawny Pipits and Fan-tailed Warblers and an excellent site for passage migrants. There are butterflies too in the grasslands with a wide range of blues and perhaps some early fritillaries or Bath Whites.

We will end the day with a trip up the River Mirna from its mouth and back to the hotel. Wetlands reclaimed for agriculture in the 1930s means the area is full of birds, especially Corn Buntings and while some of the later migrants may not have arrived yet  the Lesser Kestrels and Red-rumped Swallows should be in together with resident Spanish Sparrows. Migrant birds and raptors in particular favour the area as the surroundings are rather barren limestone.

Day 4: The Kamenjak Peninsula, concentrating on flora and butterflies. 

Largely a botanical day but not without its birds and butterflies. We will drive south, the length of Istria (about 70 minutes), to the southern tip of the Kamenjak peninsula, called Punta Premantura, famous for the presence of a great number of Mediterranean species including many, many orchids, including Pink Butterfly Orchid (Orchis papilioneacea) and several Ophrys species such as O. bertolonii, O.bombiflora and O.incubacea.

Tawny Pipits, Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers are abundant in the scrub and grassland and Pallid Swifts use nest-sites in coastal caves. There are Cleopatras, a yellower version of the Brimstone with orange forewings, Osiris and Mazarine Blues. On our way back to the hotel we will make a brief stop in Pula, to see the ‘Arena’, the huge Roman amphitheatre that once held 20,000 spectators.

Day 5: Local walks close to the villages of Zrenj and Čepić. 

The mixed limestone and sandstone plateau above the hotel with limited agriculture and scrubby grasslands is an idyllic place for British naturalists. The quarries hold Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting and many species now rare in UK, such as Corn and Cirl Bunting are abundant here. The first Turtle Doves should have arrived and we may hear the introduced Northern Bobwhite Quail at what is now its only stronghold in Europe. Raptors in the area include Short-toed Eagle and Goshawk.

The spring weather will determine the plants we see but these might include Lady (Orchis purpurea), Military (O. militaris) and Monkey Orchid (O. simia), and Early Spider Orchids (Ophrys sphegodes). Butterflies are similarly in the lap of the Gods although it will be a cold spring if we see no Glanville and Heath Fritillaries, or first brood Small Blues and Dingy Skippers. We will visit a polje, a damp depression in the karst with some Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) and try to add amphibians such as Yellow-bellied Toad and Italian Crested Newt to our list.

Day 6: The karstic lake, Cerkniško Jezero, in Slovenia. 

Cerkniško Jezero is in Slovenia, Notranjska to be  precise and we visit what may be a base for a future Greenwings holiday – the superb karstic Lake Cerknica and limestone gorge of Rakov Škocjan. The lake is an IBA or Important Bird Area covering 3000 hectares (7,000 acres) of open water, reed-beds, damp meadows filled to the brim with orchids, scabiouses, yellow rattle and other wild flowers. Butterflies at this time of year include Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Small and Common Blues, Common Swallowtails and Orange-tips. Common birds include Whinchat and Tree Pipit but there are also breeding Bitterns, Red-necked Grebes, and Barred Warblers. White-tailed Eagles often visit the lake to feed as do both Black and White Storks, both of which nest locally. The forests around Rakov Škocjan, a limestone gorge are cold and of Beech and Fir, home to Brown Bears, Three-toed, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers as well as commoner birds of montane forest such as Crossbill, Firecrest and Willow Tit.

Day 7: Inner (Upper) Istria – Rakitovec (Slovenia). 

The fascinating upland area of Inner Istria and the Dinaric Alps ‘enjoys’ long winters and relatively wet summers in contrast to the searing coast, leading to a strange assembly of species. The grasslands support Golden and Short-toed Eagle, Eagle Owl and Rock Partridge, Ortolan, Rock, Cirl and Corn Bunting as well as YellowhammerWoodlark and Skylark together with Hoopoe and Mistle Thrush and will be at their best in floristic terms before the summer sun dries them out, with plenty of Poet’s Narcissus (Narcissus radiflorus) and White Asphodel (Asphodelus albus). Beech woodlands with a rich ground flora, at its best in April on the cooler, north-facing slopes includes Blue-eyed Mary (Omphalodes verna), Haquetia (Hacquetia epipactis) and many showy bittercresses (Cardamine sp.) that are the larval foodplants of the abundant Orange-tip butterflies.

Day 8: Isola della Cona (Italy), fly from Trieste to London Stansted. 

The timing of our return flight from Trieste to London  Stansted means a stop-off for half a day at Isola della Cona at the mouth of the river Isonzo and one of the bases for the Greenwings’ June holiday to the area. This nature reserve, covering 22 km2 of wetlands, mudflats and shallow seas, has the longest bird-list of any single European reserve, 325 species and late April is a peak time for passage birds. There are also many herons and egrets, Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis & Pygmy Cormorant.

 New holiday so testimonials to follow

New holiday so reports to follow

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