Monday, 7 March 2016

Wild Europe - a journey from the Mediterranean to the Arctic

Since I was in my early teens and first read Peterson & Fisher's Wild America, the record of a 30,000-mile journey in the 1950's around the North American continent by an American naturalist most widely known for his illustrations and ground breaking field guides and his British colleague who was also a renowned author and broadcaster, I have dreamt of doing something similar on this side of the Atlantic. With family and work commitments it's not easy to find the time and it's a somewhat selfish idea but the possibility of travelling North with the Spring for several months stayed with me over the ensuing years. 
Continuing my bird watching on family orientated holidays, usual picked with some particular birds or habitat in mind, I read and reread Wild America and came across Stan Bayliss Smith's Wild Wings to the Northlands another bird watching adventure which documents the tale of two brothers travelling from the Camargue on the Mediterranean to Varanger in the Arctic completed in the late 1960's. This was exactly what I had in mind, the book captures the excitement of finding birds during their northward migration as the two brothers travelled northwards in a Bedford van towing a caravan. The idea of completing a similar journey stayed with me as my children went through their teens in to adulthood. 
I started to consider the route and to make notes on the birding locations along the way. With the extension of Europe since Wild Wings to the Northlands was published I was keen to follow a more eastern route, initially tracking round through Poland and then in to the Baltic states, but there are so many bird species which do not get further North in Europe than Greece and Bulgaria that it seemed a shame to miss out on some of the great birding at places like Lake Kerkini and the Black Sea coast. So I modified my route to accommodate them, who wouldn't! 
I am a keen wildlife photographer so choose sites where I can get close to birds and other wildlife, particularly the larger mammals but also reptiles, dragonflies, butterflies and plants.
I am also fascinated by bird identification and geographical plumage variations and this would be a great way to indulge those interests.  
For maximum flexibility, both for travelling and accommodation and to carry my camera gear, tripod, hide,telescope etc. I decided that a camper van would be the ideal transport for the trip. 
Having got a reasonable idea of where I wanted to go and the form of transport the biggest question is when, that's the year of travel rather than the months of travel as I had decided from early on that this would be a Spring trip - 100 days of Spring, following in the footsteps of both Wild America and Wild Wings to the Northlands
The dates on the route above are just an indication of the approximate timing. The beauty of travelling without having to pre-book means I can travel at the pace that suits me, staying longer in areas where there is plenty to see.
Well the year is 2016 and as I publish this introduction there are just seven days until I sail from Plymouth to Santander. 
For the first two weeks in Spain I will be accompanied by my wife, Pam, and I am hoping that she will join me in Norway for the return home. I hope to meet some friends on the way but will inevitably meet other bird watching groups and individuals at the more popular bird watching hot spots.
I am planning to provide updates on the journey both here and on Twitter but will also post some photos on flickr and facebook so watch this space!

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