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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Belarus

Monday 11 May to Tuesday 19 May 2020
with Howard Vaughan as leader

Price: $3,090

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The splendid Azure Tit is a prized Belarus species Photo: Stuart Elsom

Lying to the east of Poland, the landlocked country of Belarus has a turbulent history. However since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 it has developed into a thriving country in its own right, and one blessed with an outstanding and unique natural environment.

Our tour will take us to some of the country’s superb national parks. We’ll begin amongst woodlands and rich forests of the Berezinsky National Park. We then travel to the Belovezhskaya Puscha, which straddles the Polish border and forms the largest remaining tract of primeval forest in Europe. Originally a hunting reserve until 1991 when hunting was stopped, the Puscha quickly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then a Biosphere Reserve. Here stalk rare mammals such as European Bison, and special birds such as the ghostly Great Grey Owl. 

From there we travel to Pripyatsky, where the Pripyat River creates a huge flood plain full of wildlife and where the endangered Great Snipe has a stronghold. 

Day 1: Our tour begins early this afternoon in the ancient city of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. From here we begin our journey to Berezinsky National Park. The reserve was established 90 years ago and since then it has gained international recognition. It is listed in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves as a Ramsar Area and an International Bird Area. Particularly common here are pine groves with an emerald-like moss carpet and a variety of bilberry, blueberry and heather shrub. Night in Berezinsky.

Day 2: Here amongst a mix of mature deciduous and damp spruce forest we’ll look for woodpeckers, such as Three-toed and White-backed; and flycatchers including Red-breasted and Collared. The forests here are home to Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse, and Capercaillie and we may, with luck, encounter one or more of these species in and around the forest.

Early morning the forest will be alive with birdsong from such melodic songsters as Wood and Icterine Warblers, and Thrush Nightingales. In the evenings, Woodcock can be observed roding overhead. Night in Berezinsky.

Days 3-5: On the morning of day 3 we’ll travel to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, a renowned World Natural Heritage Site. Although the forest on the Polish side of the border is perhaps better known, the ancient primeval forest on our side is larger, more intact, and not as heavily visited.

This solitude should make it easy to see herds of European Bison, as well as Wild Boar, and Red and Roe Deer. Sometimes, and with great luck, it is possible to encounter a Wolf or Lynx. Following good trails we’ll search for the many birds that make this vast forest their home. Black, Grey-headed, and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Common Crossbill, and numerous Hawfinches are all possible. We’ll stay out late to look for Pygmy Owl but the real prize will be a sighting of a Great Grey Owl – a few pairs breed in the forest – or a Tengmalm’s Owl and our local guides will do their best to show these to us. Another special bird of the region that we’ll look for here is Aquatic Warbler. This rare species is restricted to wetlands and marshes of central eastern Europe and we’ll make a special effort to find it. 

We’ll also make a visit to Lake Liadskoye where we should find breeding Whooper Swan, Wood Sandpiper, and Savi’s and River Warblers, while raptors could include massive White-tailed Eagles and Honey Buzzards. Nights in Puscha.

Days 6-8: Moving south from Belovezhskaya Pushcha we’ll head to Pripyatsky National Park where we’ll spend three nights in the old Slavic town of Turov, in a comfortable hotel located on the banks of the river. The vast floodplain of the River Pripyat provides a habitat that is sadly lost from much of Western Europe. The 200,000 acres of the National Park encompass a rich mosaic of meandering rivers, lakes, small pools, wet grasslands, and patches of mixed forest, all of which provide a wild environment where nature is very much in control and where we’ll spend our time exploring.

During spring evenings, the meadows provide a gathering place for migrating waders as hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff assemble, including many extremely colorful males. Elegant Spotted Redshanks are also found in good numbers, their snappy calls echoing in the evening air. These wet marshes are the perfect breeding grounds for one of Europe’s rarest waders, Great Snipe, and we hope for good views of this elusive bird when we visit a lek to witness the remarkable and strange behaviour as the males vie for the attention of the females. We’ll also be searching for two other rare breeding waders, Terek and Marsh Sandpiper, listening especially for the distinctive fluting call of the former. The riparian willow forests here are home to another sought-after bird, the smart Azure Tit and we have a good chance of finding this little gem at probably the only place in Europe where it can be reliably seen. Not far from our hotel is a ringing station and we hope to pay this a visit during our stay.

Other woodland in the area includes ancient forests of oak, spruce, and birch. Here Elk and Bison roam and we have a reasonable chance of seeing both, while a chance encounter with a European Beaver is possible at any time. Wolves are also present although much more difficult to see. Woodland birds we’ll search for include a variety of woodpeckers, Golden Oriole, Short-toed Treecreeper, Thrush Nightingale, and Common Rosefinch, while mixed open areas within the forest can hold Bluethroat and Citrine Wagtail. Nights in Turov.

Day 9: Today we head back to Minsk where the tour concludes mid-morning at the airport. 

Updated: 27 June 2019

Prices

  • 2020 Tour Price : $3,090
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $430

Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

Questions? The Tour Manager for this tour is Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 or 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 12 with two leaders.

 

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