Picking up on penguins

Why did a pack of penguin biscuits arrive in the post in the Honeyguide office? The answer is a mixture of pedantry, enthusiasm for natural history and an apology with a sense of humour.

Each weekend a trade magazine called Travel Weekly arrives here. Between you and me (and that's not many in the early days of the Honeyguide blog) I wouldn't subscribe to Travel Weekly, but it is free of charge and though it is mostly for travel agents (high street shops and online equivalents) it does sometimes have useful travel trade news and information.

In a recent cruise special - cruise is a growing sector of the travel world nowadays - a columnist listed seeing penguins in the Arctic as a bucket list ambition for a cruise. I admit to being a pedant on this kind of occasion, and it took only a moment or two to email the editor to explain this was the wrong hemisphere for penguins (see picture of my letter).

Andy Harmer of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the polar mix-up …
Fish otter – a perfect predator The fish otter, writes Artur Wiatr, Honeyguide’s leader in Poland, is a perfectly skilled predator of fantastic abilities and a body adapted to swim. It likes to take fish most of all – though the diet may also contain crayfish, frogs and bird chicks – and because of this it has a bad reputation among fish pond managers in Poland. Otters have become a more and more frequent mammal in Biebrza National Park. Although one otter family may occupy up to 5km of a river it is not easy to spot them. As for many other mammals, the best time to watch otter is winter. They like to hunt from frozen river banks and they seem to be quite successful. Once a while you can see the whole family playing together on the ice and teaching juveniles how to fish. When disturbed, otters quickly jump into the water and may stay there for few minutes when necessary. In the seasons when the vegetation is thick our otters stay rather shy so we enjoy our otter encounters when we can.

When nature reads the script

Don’t act with children or animals is old cliché … or expect nature to perform as you’d hope would normally be equally sound advice.
However on our monthly guided walk round NWT Thorpe Marshes one evening in July 2017 we had a stroke of luck you would never dare predict.
There is a pretty damsel of which I am rather fond. The Willow Emerald Damselfly has a remarkable story anyway. It’s been in the UK just a decade. First found in Suffolk in 2007, it’s been at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen for several years and at Thorpe Marshes since 2013.
A remarkable characteristic of this species is how the damselfly lays its eggs into small cuts made in a thin branch. This leaves a distinctive, regular pattern as scar tissue forms. That branch is always over water as the eggs overwinter there and larvae drop into the water in the spring. They develop underwater then emerge as adults in late summer.
Derek Longe, a regular at Thorpe Marshes, wrote a short, illustrated paper about his observations here for the spe…

More than I can say … a tribute to Bobby Vee

I suppose it’s a measure of our different cultural reference points that the column inches devoted to the death popular musicians can seem out of kilter to me. Pete Burns? My reaction was … who? Leonard Cohen I understand better, and Hallelujah is a fine, much-covered song. It reminds me of a girlfriend who listened to Leonard Cohen when she was feeling low. My advice then and now is it’s better to listen to the Beach Boys: to uplift your mood rather than reinforcing gloom.These two had many column inches, but the passing of Bobby Vee in October 2016 earned just a ‘news in brief’ in my i newspaper. For me, the songs of Bobby Vee are wonderfully typical of the dreamboats-and-petticoats pre-Beatles era. He had a light, effortless tenor voice, with every word completely clear – which served to enhance the vocal tricks on non-words like the ‘Oh oh yea yea’ on More Than I Can Say and how he sings ‘you’ and ‘ee’ on Rubber Ball (you have to listen to get these). It sounds so easy when he sin…

Elk in winter

Winter has arrived in Biebrza valley, writes Honeyguide's Poland guide, Artur Wiatr The first freeze is a signal for elk to move from the marshes to higher and drier pine woods – their natural routine this time of year. Pine forest provides lot of food over winter time: the bark and needles of pine and other coniferous trees are a basic diet. Therefore, winter is the easiest time to watch this magnificent animal, sometimes eye to eye. Usually they form small groups consisting of an elk cow followed by a first and a second year calf. 

Sometimes there might be bigger groups – especially around those places where pine trees are cut down to give more food for elk and to stop them damaging agricultural crops in the neighbourhood.

Winter is also the time when bulls drop antlers – so one has to be careful when determining gender. Elk will stay in the forest for the whole winter and move back towards the marshes by the end of March and April. Biebrza Valley is the biggest refuge of elks in …

What makes Latvia special?

David Collins writes about Latvia's appeal. Fuerteventura with Honeyguide leader David Collins has been fully booked for many weeks, but you can still travel with him to Latvia.  “What is it that makes a destination an outstanding place for a wildlife holiday? Having travelled extensively in both Europe and beyond in search of birds and other wildlife, I have come to the conclusion that, for me, there are three things that have to come together. Firstly, the place itself has to have a sense of magic about it - something to make me feel I am in a special kind of place. Then it has to have a selection of birds that are both interesting and common enough to see fairly easily. And last but not least, there has to be a sense that something unexpected might be just round the corner. "Latvia ticks all three boxes. It is not always easy to capture exactly what it is about a place that makes it feel really special, but I felt it immediately in Latvia. Latvia is at the western margin o…