Europe & the Middle East
Known worldwide for its great cities and cultural centers, Europe is also a stunningly diverse destination for birding and natural history. A remarkable composition of habitats in a relatively condensed area includes Arctic tundra, high mountains, forests and woodlands, important coastal and freshwater wetlands, picturesque farmland, and hot, arid Mediterranean steppe and maquis. And while Europe is only half the size of North America, its bird list, approaching 800 species, is comparable. Through the years, VENT tours in Europe have recorded more than 70% of this total.
With excellent food and accommodations, Europe is safe and comfortable for travelers. Our tours operate at a relaxed pace, and small group sizes, as well as the use of expert local leaders, ensure that participants see their most wanted species nearly all the time. Even scarce and difficult-to-find birds fall into the "never failed yet" or "virtually guaranteed" categories. A flexible approach allows for diversionary stops for beautiful scenery; fields of wildflowers; cultural and historical asides; meandering through picturesque villages; coffee breaks; and gifts—without compromising the bird list.
VENT designs its European tours especially for North American birders. Our tours are more comprehensive, allowing time to properly see all species, including the more common and widespread birds that may be ignored by other tour operators—birds that may be lifers for North American birders.
The core of our European program centers on tours to three distinct regions: Spain in the southwest; Bulgaria in the southeast; and The Baltic (Estonia/Finland/Norway) in the Northwest. These tours seek the widest range of birds in a sensible, fun itinerary designed to produce up to 240 species of birds. Combined, these departures cover all major European habitats and produce the largest number of regularly occurring European migrant and breeding birds a person could reasonably expect to see.
Our Spring Birding in Central and Northern Spain tour provides comprehensive southwestern European birding without the excessive travel built in to many Spanish tours. Tour leaders Peter Roberts and Alberto Bueno possess a wealth of knowledge, accrued over 15 years of working together, of where to find the unique birdlife of this fascinating country. Back-up sites for harder to find species and a fully tested itinerary ensure that we find the birds you want to see. Huge raptor concentrations of up to 22 species are highlighted by Spanish and Bonelli's eagles and the remarkable Lammergeier. Warblers are equally well represented; as many as 17 species are recorded on our tour. Cork-oak and steppe habitats and the High Pyrenees and Mediterranean coast produce a range of special birds.
Bulgaria is a delightful country of mixed farmland, marshes, extensive broadleaf and coniferous woodlands, rugged mountains, and limestone grasslands. Here, in Europe's southeast corner, our Spring Birding in Bulgaria tour produces many special and exotic birds of the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
Our unique Baltic tour at the opposite end of Europe explores the vast, remote northern forests, bogs, coastal marshes, and tundra of Estonia, Finland, and Norway. This exciting tour adds many enticing Arctic/Asiatic specialty birds.
Many other sought-after birds are easily seen on several of these "core" tours, and there are excellent chances to observe a number of classic, scarce Eurasian birds.
Birds & History Tours
A major attraction of Europe is its fascinating history. We have designed special tours mixing birding with exploration of historical and cultural attractions. These tours will be of interest to those wanting a less concentrated birding tour or for those who travel with a non-birding companion. We still see almost as many birds as on a regular birding tour, but we also dedicate time (often with local expert historians) to experiencing the treasure trove of history available along our tour routes for a "best of both worlds" approach.
Our Southern Britain: Birds and History tour uses the same pleasant country hotel during the entire tour-a bonus for those who dread packing and unpacking! This region of England is at the center of much important British history and is also great for birding. Timed for the end of the breeding season and the onset of fall migration, we concentrate on the coastal migration hotspots. One highlight is a visit to a private bird-banding station for close-up, in-hand views of all those confusing little songbirds! A day in France adds such continental specialties as Mediterranean Gull, Crested Lark, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, and Crested Tit.
Visits to superb historical sites and stately homes are all well-interpreted and guided. Many of the sites we visit offer good birding in beautiful formal gardens. "Invasions" are a recurring historical theme for this tour. The Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans all invaded here, along with attempts by Napoleon and Hitler. Henry VIII is a prominent historical figure on this tour, and our itinerary includes visits to Hever and Deal Castles and Hampton Court.
Our varied program of Scotland tours includes cruises around the Orkney, Shetland, and Hebridean islands; summer in the Highlands; and spring birding Scotland "in style." Scotland is a scenically beautiful and wild part of Britain featuring precipitous cliffs, offshore islands, heather moors, mountain lochs, gentle farmland, and ancient Caledonian pine forests. The historical components of our tours offer a rampage through history, from Neolithic man (3,000 B.C.) through the Bronze and Iron ages; the Picts; the Vikings; conflicts between the Scottish and English monarchies, the Clans and Land Clearances. Many of the ancient stone circles, brochs, cairns, castles and battlefields are the best preserved and interpreted in the world. Bird highlights include globally important seabird colonies of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, European Shags, Northern Gannets, Great Skuas, and European Storm-Petrels.
The history of Western Turkey is overwhelming. An expert historical guide accompanies us, offering fascinating insights into the successive empires—Greek, Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman—that centered on this historically pivotal region. We visit the impressive ruined cities of Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, Hierapolis, and Pergamon, while three days in Istanbul include visits to Topkapi Palace, Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, and more. These sites offer great birding: Rock Nuthatches on the amphitheater at Ephesus; White Storks nesting on the Temple of Artemis; Little Owls roosting in the ruins of Miletus; Finsch's Wheatears perched on the sarcophagi of Pammukale; and kettling Eurasian Honey-Buzzards over the Blue Mosque and Bosphorus.
More than 200 species have been recorded on this tour. The awesome setting of raptor migration over the Bosphorus can be spectacular. The expansive views of historic Istanbul are a phenomenal backdrop for spiraling flocks of buzzards and storks.