Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Destinations: Slima - Estonia

The Slima Nature Reserve lies in Laane County, in NW Estonia, near the village of Saare, about 12km north of Haapsalu. It is an inland wetland with a lake, bogs, reedbeds set in rural, forested country. There are some birding towers here and a good boardwalk that gets you right in amongst the reeds. Breeding birds include Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes, Common Bittern, White-tailed Eagle, Common Crane, Spotted Crake, Woodcock, Savi's Warbler and Penduline Tit. On passage a rich array of marsh terns, gulls, waders and wildfowl drop in. The adjacent forests are home to various woodpeckers and owls plus Common and perhaps Parrot Crossbills.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Special birds: Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus breeds in the north of the region, in the Baltic States, usually on secluded taiga bog ponds. A few also nest in Poland. Flocks (aka herds) migrate along the Baltic coastline in spring and autumn. Elsewhere it is a winter visitor, as far south as the Balkans, but never in large groups there. It is arguably Europe's most elegant swan being long winged, long necked and often with a noble upright stance when on water.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Special birds: Great White Egret

Though a large heron Great White Egret Egretta alba is nevertheless a very graceful bird, particularly when in flight. They breed in reedbed colonies around wetlands, often mixed in with other herons and egrets. There are particularly good numbers in Hungary and Romania. They rove in winter rather than migrate proper and in some places are resident and easy to find in that season. Note that there is a Grey Heron and a Eurasian Spoonbill amongst the egrets in this photo.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Destinations: Fruska Gora - Serbia

Fruska Gora is a scenic upland area in northern Serbia, just south of Novi Sad and about an hour north-west of Belgrade. It is fairly easy to explore and bird and, being a popular recreation area, is well equipped with places to stay. Much of Fruska Gora is a National Park. Birds include Eastern Imperial and Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzard, Goshawk, Saker Falcon, Black, Green, Syrian and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers and Rock, Ortolan and Black-headed Buntings. The latter the most northerly breeding pairs in Europe. Photo by Katarina Paunovic.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Destinations: Caraorman - Romania

Caraorman is a village in the heart of the Danube Delta in Romania. As is the case with most Delta settlements it is only accessible by boat. It lies south of the main Sulina channel from Crisan. Caraorman lies on a huge ancient sand dune system and truth be told, is not an attractive birding spot as the place is dominated by the ruins of an industrial complex. Little Owl and Black Redstart now inhabit these buildings. Beyond the ruins and between the main channel and the old village of Caraorman (where ethnic Ukrainian speakers live: see sign in photo) there are shallow brackish pools and abandoned fish-ponds. At passage times (spring and autumn) these are excellent sites for gulls, terns and waders (Romania's 1st Pectoral Sandpiper was found here). Breeding birds include various herons, White Stork, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Special birds: Roller

European Roller Coracias garrulus is a beautiful bird at any time but when they "roll" in flight and the sun catches them they are stunning. They are migrants visiting Europe to breed from May to August though some hang around into September. They winter in Africa. In Eastern Europe Rollers are locally common in dry, open, lowland country with scattered trees in Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. North of here they are rare.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Special birds: Scops Owl

Scops Owls Otus scops vary in colour from brown to grey. This photo of a grey-phased bird was taken by Milan Ruzic in Serbia. These tiny owls (maximum 20cm long) are very common in the southern Balkans, becoming scarcer in the north of their range. They inhabit open woodland, olive groves, orchards, parks, camp-sites and gardens, often in villages and towns. They usually nest in holes in trees and in crevices in cliffs and buildings. Scops Owls are mostly migratory, leaving in September and returning to breeding areas as early as February.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Destinations: Lake Rusanda - Serbia

Lake Rusanda is a highly saline, shallow wetland by the town of Melenci in the Vojvodina region of northern Serbia. Belgrade is about an hour to the south by road. There is good wader passage here in both spring and autumn (Serbia's only confirmed Pectoral Sandpiper was found here). In the adjacent park a rookery often hosts some pairs of Red-footed Falcon, Kestrel and Long-eared Owl. Other birds here include Syrian Woodpecker and Golden Oriole. Being right at the edge of Melenci this is a very easy place to bird, though there is a spa resort at the lake which can be busy with visitors patients in summer and at weekends.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Special birds: Hoopoe

The Hoopoe Upupa epops is a very familar bird, unmistakable. It is also widespread and locally common over much of the region, especially in the Balkans. It takes its names from one of its calls "opp-oop-oop" which though often gentle and weak actually carries quite far. Hoopoes inhabit open country with scattered trees or bushes, pastures, vineyards, orchards and even gardens. A summer visitor to Europe it spends the winter in Africa. A hole nester, it seeks out old woodpecker holes and natural tree cavities but also readily uses walls and buildings.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Destinations: Tuhu Soo - Estonia

Tuho Soo is a typical peat-bog and fen covered in sphagnum moss and pines. It lies in Laane County about 20 km east of Virtsu and 12km south of Lihula and can be approached on a gravel road southwards from road 10. There is a bird-tower and board walk just south of the hamlet of Tuhu. Key breeding birds are Golden Eagle, Common Crane, Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper, Golden Plover and Great Grey Shrike. The adjacent forests have Hazel and Black Grouse and Nutcracker. Parrot Crossbill is possible.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Special birds: Cirl Bunting

The attractive Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus is fairly common in southern Europe. In Eastern Europe the most northerly pairs are found in the very south of Hungary around Pecs but it is much easier to find as one moves further south into Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, where it is resident in open woodland, lighly wooded country, vineyards, orchards and larger gardens. This fine photo of an adult male, complete with yellow head stripes, was taken in Serbia by Maciej Szymanski.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Destinations: Hortobagy-halasto - Hungary

At the heart of the Hortobagy National Park, in eastern Hungary, lies the largest fish-pond system in the region. Hortobagy-halasto (often called in English Hortobagy Great Fish Farm) is a mosaic of man-made ponds and lakes created for carp production. Criss-crossed by channels, dykes, which are often lined with trees and bushes and with vast reedbeds, this is a managed protected area (still farmed for fish) and a haven for birds. Most of the larger "ponds" are now overlooked by birding towers and the largest pond has a covered hide. There is also a "birdwatchers' train" that when running gets you into the heart of the area. Breeding birds include an array of grebes, cormorants, herons, egrets, wildfowl, terns, gulls, tits and warblers. In passage periods there are huge flocks of wildfowl and waders, which use any drained and hence muddy basins. From September into winter there are parties of Lesser White-fronted Geese and masses of Common Cranes rooting here. In winter there are wildfowl flocks and White-tailed Eagles. Many Hungarian rarities have also been found here. An entrance permit, available from the HNP Visitor Centre in Hortobgy village, is required.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Special birds: Griffon Vulture

With a wing-span of some 2.5 metres Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus is an impressive bird indeed. The species has suffered in the past from persecution and poisoning but recently has made something of a comeback. It is essentially a resident in wilder mountain regions where there are cliffs or gorges with suitable rocky ledges on which to nest. In Eastern Europe Griffon Vultures do not breed north of the Balkans. There are colonies, for example, in the Uvac and Milesevka Gorges in Serbia, the island of Cres in Croatia and the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria. This superb photo was taken by Katarina Paunovic in Serbia.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Destinations: Cisniansko-Wetlinski - Poland

The Cisniansko-Wetlinski Landscape Park is a protected area of old mixed forests in south-east Poland, part of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains and adjacent to the Bieszczady Mountains. The forests here include some impressive, old beech and fir stands. Birds include Black Stork, Lesser Spotted and Golden Eagles, Hazel Grouse, Ural and Pygmy Owls, 8 species of woodpecker, Nutcracker and Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers. The old forests are also home to a few herds of European Bison. The best times to visit are spring (when all migrants are back and singing) and autumn (when the leaves have fallen and thus visibility in the forests is better). THis is not an easy area to work and will require some walking. The town of Lesko lies a few miles to the north-east of the area

Friday, 28 November 2008

Special birds: Red-rumped Swallow

This elegant and very long-tailed swallow, Hirundo daurica, is rather common locally in the Balkans, from central Serbia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria southwards. It typically nests on cliffs, buildings, ruins and under bridges. Though called "red-rumped" the rump often seems to be cream or white as it dashes by. In fact, it is often the nape that first appears "red" or rusty. Males and females are very similar in appearance: males have longer and finer tail streamers. This fine photo of a male collecting mud at a puddle was taken in Serbia this summer by Maciej Szymanski.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Destinations: Palic - Serbia

The spa town of Palic lies in the very north of Serbia, in the Vojdvodina region, about 10km east of the city of Subotica. In summer this is a busy tourist resort but in spring and autumn the area becomes a good birding site. The main interest here centres on four lakes in and around the town. There is a good range of herons, warblers include Savi's, Great Reed and Moustached, Bearded and Penduline Tits are quite common, White-tailed Eagles hang around in autumn and winter and Sakers visit from time to time to hunt. Pygmy Cormorant is regular, Ferruginous Duck is here almost all year round and this is the best area for Red-crested Pochard in the country. Outside the nesting period large numbers of gulls roost here, too. Given its semi-urban setting, this is an easy area to explore.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Special birds: Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina is not as rare in Europe as much of the literature suggests and as many birders think. It is a real eastern species that many Western birders seek but in the Dobrugea region in eastern Romania and NW Bulgaria it is actually quite common locally. It lives on dry, well grazed grasslands and steppes and often nests in the burrows of Susliks (ground squirrels). It can be a tricky bird to ID, being similar to a female and autumn-plumaged Northern Wheatears in particular. This photo by Szabolcs Kokay was taken near Macin, Romania.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Destinations: Deliblatska Pescara - Serbia

Deliblatska Pescara (in English translated as Deliblato Sands) is a large (some 33,000 hectares) mosaic area of sandy steppe, woodlands, plantations, ponds and farmland. Breeding birds include Saker, Red-footed Falcon, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Barn Owl, Corncrake, Hoopoe, Roller, Bee-eater, Nightjar, Woodlark, Barred Warbler, Lesser Grey Shrike and many other exciting lowland species. The area lies just one hour to the east and northeast of Belgrade and is bordered to the south by the River Danube. This photo shows a typical dry Deliblato grassland dotted with the mounds of lesser mole-rat, which is common here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Destinations: Stari Begei - Carska Bara - Serbia

There is no doubt about it, Serbia is a neglected birding destination and I encourage all birders to visit this great birding country. One of the country's best wetland sites is Stari Begei-Carska Bara, a protected mosaic of some 1767 hectares of fish-ponds, lakes, marshes, channels, wet forests and reedbeds that lies along and between the Tisa and Begei rivers in the Banat region. The area is located just to the south of Zrenjanin between the villages of Ecka and Belo Blato. Belgrade is an hour to the south by road. There are dyke-top trails and boat trips into the area are also on offer. Most of the breeding wetland birds you would expect in this part of Europe are here (including Pygmy Cormorant, Black and White Storks, Spoonbill, Little Bittern, Night, Squacco and Purple Herons, White-tailed Eagle, many warblers, etc). In autumn and winter there are large flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese and ducks, more Pygmy Cormorants and an influx of White-tailed Eagles. Otters are common here, too.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Special birds: Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus is by far the rarer of the two pelican species found in Europe. It is slightly larger than White Pelican, is overall greyer, dirtier and lacks its relatives pink skin patch around the eye. Adults have a curly crest on the nape and a red thoat sac. In flight its pale grey underwing, lacking strong black on the flight feathers, is distinctive. Dalmatians do not feed in flocks and are generally more solitary than White Pelicans. The best places to look for this rare bird are the Danube Delta and other wetlands on the Romanian and Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Destinations: Baligowka Peatbog - Poland

The Baligowka Peatbog lies in southern Poland, in the Orawa region, just north of road 957 between Czarny Dunajec and Piekielnik. This is about 30 minutes drive north-west of Zakopane and the Tatras. There is a convenient board-walk nature trail through the open bog. Though, like many such bogs, Baligowka can often be a silent and seemingly birdless place, it is a reliable place to see Black Grouse, which are resident. Other breeding birds include Hen Harrier, Common Quail, Corncrake and Great Grey Shrike. This photo was taken at dusk in November 2008.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Destinations: Orava Reservoir - Slovakia

This man-made lake is the biggest single wetland in Slovakia. It lies in the north, along the Polish border, in the Zilina region. Access is via main road E77 and then road 520. It is best in spring and autumn when passage waders and wildfowl reside here. In the summer the water is busy with anglers, boaters, bathers, etc, though Lesser Spotted and White-tailed Eagles, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Black Grouse, Corncrake, Great Grey Shrike, Black and Grey-headed Woodpecker and Common Rosefinch all breed in habitats around the lake.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Special Birds: Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tits Aegithalos caudatus are fairly common across Europe but they show very different plumage features, particularly on head colour, across the continent. In most of Central and Eastern Europe the dominant form is the dainty and attractive "white-headed" race or form. Such birds are said to be the northern caudatus race but white-headed birds abound in C & E Europe though most field guides state that europaeus occurs here. Zones of colour intergrades also exist and broods with mixed white and dark headed birds are also sometimes seen. This photo was taken in Hungary in October 2008 by Julia Burton.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Destinations: Pieniny National Park - Poland

This upland national park lies (Pieninsky Park Narodowy) lies in southern Poland on the border with Slovakia. It is just to the NE of the Tatras and can be approached via road 969 from Nowy Targ (to the NW) or Nowy Sacz (to the NE). There are old mixed forests, rushing streams, scenic gorges and open pastures and meadows. Most of the typical upland, sub-Alpine birds that one would expect in central-eastern Europe are here. Though sometimes tricky to find Hazel Grouse, Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Nutcracker, Firecrest, Ural, Pygmy, Tengmalm's and Eagle Owls and 8 species of woodpecker including White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, are all resident. The wildlife of Pieniny is rich but these mountains invariably require time, patience and good forest birding skills in order to find and observe them.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Destinations: Poloniny National Park - Slovakia

The Poloniny National Park (Narodny Park Poloniny) lies in the very north-eastern corner of Slovakia in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. The park extends right up to the state borders with Poland and the Ukraine. Poloniny is mainly blanketed in forests, including some fine old beech-fir stands, the home of Black Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Hazel Grouse, Ural and Pygmy Owls, 8 species of woodpecker and Red-breasted Flycatcher, to name just a few. There are also Brown Bear, Lynx and Wolf here, though they usually keep a low profile. This is a magical place but not one that gives up its birds easily: expect to do some serious walking. The forests are crossed by colour-coded trails which are marked on local maps. Poloniny can be approach by road from the towns of Humenne and then Snina.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Destinations: Tatrzanski National Park - Poland

The Tatrzanski National Park lies in southern Poland on the border with Slovakia and is the highest mountain range in the country. The highest peak is Rysy at 2499 m. Forests reach up to around 1800 m and above that is dwarf pine and pastures and rugged boulder and scree country. The gateway to the high-tops is the city of Zakopane (a major winter sport centre) which is about 110 km southwards from Krakow by road. Key birds at the higher elevations are Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Lesser Redpoll and Wallcreeper. Alpine Marmots and Chamois are also here. Elsewhere there is Golden Eagle, Willow and Crested Tits, Nutcracker and indeed most of the typical Alpine-forest songbirds one would expect. In suitable old forests there are also Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Hazel Grouse and White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. A convenient cable-car runs up into the high peaks from Kuznice near Zakopane.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Destinations: Serbia

Serbia is a great birding destination but one which few birders visit. Here is a brief introduction to some of this country's best lowland sites. Stari Begej - Carska Bara is a remnant of the once extensive flood plain of the lower reaches of the River Begej. It is a mosaic of fishponds, swamps, marshes, forests, meadows and dry steppe, crossed by rivers, canals and lined with embankments. The vegetation mainly consists of salt-tolerant plants, aquatic flowering plants and typical steppe plant communities. This rich diversity of habitats supports a range of rare, endangered and vulnerable fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. Deliblato Sands
is a fascinating wilderness comprising some 33,000 hectares of steppe and mixed forests that growing on one of the largest areas of sand in Europe. The area is bordered by the Danube, Tamis and Karas rivers and is home to a great variety of mammals including lesser mole-rat, marbled polecat and grey wolf. The Slano Kopovo nature reserve is a good to watch the spectacular autumn migration of Common Cranes. It consists of a large saltwater lake, fringed on one shore by extensive reedbeeds and surrounded by an arid region of saline steppe. There is a large number and variety of breeding and visiting waterbirds and raptors. Zasavica (see photo above) is dominated by a 33 km long riverine habitat set in a mosaic of aquatic and wetland ecosystems. The slow flowing River Zasavica is fed by underground springs and the surrounding farmland is dotted with oak, ash, poplar and willow woods. In the coming months I will include more on this underbirded country in this blog. Thanks to Milan Ruzic was background information.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Special birds: White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla is not, as often presumed, mainly a bird of Europe's sea coasts. This large and powerful raptor (with a wingspan of over 2 metres) is in fact a quite widespread breeder on inland lakes and fishponds systems from the Baltic to the Balkans. In such places it constructs a huge nest in a tree. In winter some sites in Hungary, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic also see dozens congregating. Indeed breeding and wintering numbers in most Eastern European contries have increased in recent years. Despite is formidable size and powerful talons and heavy beak the species is often an eater of carrion rather than a hunter of live prey.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Destinations: Ferencmajor-Naszaly fishponds - Hungary

These fishponds are typically Hungarian being in a lowland landscape and surrounded by reedbeds, trees and bushes. Breeding birds include Common and Little Bitterns, Purple Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Little Crake, Savi's Warbler, Bluethroat and Penduline and Bearded Tits. In autumn many of the basins are drained to reveal mud and attract many passage ducks and waders, including rarities. The ponds are also a drinking and roosting place for 1000s of Bean, Greater White-front and Greylag Geese in late autumn and winter. White-tailed Eagle also visits at this time. The area lies by the village of Naszaly, just north of the town of Tata in Komarom County, just south of the Danube, about one hour west of Budapest. The ponds are private but birdwatchers are generally welcomed as long as they stick to the dyke roads between the ponds and do not disturb the fish-farming work.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Destinations: Veliko Blato - Croatia

Veliko Blato is a shallow wetland with reeds and sedge that lies tucked away on the island of Pag in Dalmatia, Croatia. It is an excellent site to see freshwater birds in an otherwise dry, barren landscape. In spring and summer there are Pygmy Cormorants, Squacco and Purple Herons, Great White and Little Egrets, Ferruginous Ducks, Garganey, Black-winged Stilts and the black-headed race of Yellow Wagtail. On spring and autumn passage parties of terns, waders and wildfowl pass through. The surrounding sheep-grazed land hosts Stone Curlew, Montagu's Harrier, Little Owl, Tawny Pipit, Woodchat Shrike, Short-toed and Crested Larks and Black-eared Wheatear. Pag can be reached via a bridge which connects its southern tip to the mainland, about 30 minutes (25 km) north of Zadar.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Destinations: Enisala - Romania

The village of Enisala lies in eastern Romania in the Dobrudja region. Tulcea and the Danube Delta are less than an hour to the north by local roads and the town of Babadag just a few minutes to the west. Enisala is easy to locate from a distance as it lies by an impressive ruined fort that overlooks the vast Razelm lagoon. A good mix of birds can be seen here from spring through summer into autumn as there are reedbeds by Razelm, fish-ponds nearby and grassy stepp and crop fields around the fort. Highlights are Long-legged Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Tawny Pipit, Bee-eater and in some years Rose-coloured Starlings nest.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Special birds: Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl Asio otus is very widespread in Europe and often fairly common, if somewhat ellusive at times, in good habitat. However in the countries of the east of the continent it is often a common breeding species and in winter can be found in large roosts (up to a 100 birds together is not unknown) even in urban areas. It is thought that many of the birds in such roosts are those which have moved south from the colder northern regions. The species usually raises its brood in disused corvid nests and will readily take to nest-boxes.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Birding Tours: Slovakia, March 2009.

If you are keen on owls and woodpeckers, then the following birding tour to Slovakia might be for you. Slovakia: Eastern Upland Forests will run from March 22 - 28, 2009 and take in some wonderful wooded habitats looking for owls, woodpeckers and Hazel Grouse in the east of the country. All Europe's woodpeckers are possible on the route to be taken, including the species in the photo here: White-backed Woodpecker. Ural, Tengmalm's and Pygmy Owls will be sought, too. Once again, if you are interested in joining this trip... just drop me a line

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Destinations: Nove Mlyny - Czech Republic

The Nove Mlyny reservoirs lie in South Moravia about 40km south from Brno and just 12km north of the Czech-Austrian border at Mikulov. In spring and summer there are colonies of nesting Black-headed Gulls, with some Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gulls and Common Terns, on islands in the middle section of the system (there are 3 large man-made waterbodies here). Some grebes and wildfowl also nest. Areas with reeds host Savi's and Great Reed Warbler, Bluethroat and Penduline and Bearded Tits. From autumn through to late winter large numbers of Bean, Greater White-fronted and Greylag Geese, Smew and other ducks reside here. The geese roost and drink on the waters and graze in surrounding crop fields. Several White-tailed Eagles winter, too.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Birding Tours: Hungary, February 2009.

If you fancy getting to grips with wintering geese and resident birds of prey and wooodpeckers, then consider joining this "Hungary in Late Winter" birding trip. This original birding itinerary will run in the New Year from February 19 – 22, 2009 (from Thursday to Sunday, for 4 days, 3 nights). The tour takes in Lake Tata and nearby fishponds and woods and the grasslands and farmlands of the Kiskunsag National Park. The main focus will be to search for wintering and migrating geese with flocks of Greater White-fronted Goose, perhaps some Lesser White-fronted Geese, both Tundra and Taiga Bean Geese and a chance of a few Red-breasted Geese sprinkled amongst them. In addition there are some resident birds like Great Bustard, Saker Falcon, White-tailed Eagle, eight species of woodpecker including Syrian, Grey-headed and Black, and other winter visitors such as Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Grey Shrike. In most years Wallcreeper winters in stone quarries hereabouts, too. If you are interested in joining this trip, get in touch via this blog.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Books: Central & Eastern European Wildlife

After decades of relatively little in the way of literature (especially in English) on birds and birding sites in Eastern Europe, recent years has seen a small burst of activity by authors and photographers. Though covering much more than birds my recent book Central and Eastern European Wildlife (Bradt, July 2008. ISBN-10: 1 84162 231 1) should be useful when travelling and birding (or rather wildlife watching) in the region. The book is a visitor's guide and covers Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, Butterflies, Dragonflies, and has sections on Habitats and and brief overviews of 15 countries from the Baltic to the Balkans. It is available directly from Bradt Travel Guides http://www.bradtguides.com/ and elsewhere on the net, as well as in major bookstores. Gerard Gorman.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Special birds: Red-necked Grebe

Of the 5 species of grebe in Europe Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena has the most easterly breeding distribution. It is the second largest in size after Great Crested Grebe, the species with which, in some plumages, it is most likely to be confused. It occurs on still, freshwater, vegetated wetlands such as lakes, riverine backwaters and fish-ponds. It is nowhere abundant though particularly good numbers breed in the Danube Delta, Romania. Indeed the photo here by Daniel Petrescu was taken there.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Destinations: Macin - Romania

The Macin NP is an area of dry hills and steppe in NE Romania, located about 80km west of Tulcea and the Danube Delta. The area is best accessed from the villages of Horia, Cerna and Macin. This is a great place for birds of prey with Levant Sparrowhawk, Long-legged Buzzard and Saker breeding and the likes of Honey Buzzard, harriers, hawks, Booted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle passing through on autumn (Sept) migration. It is also a good area for Ortolan, Rock Thrush, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears and Woodchat and Lesser Grey Shrikes.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Special birds: Lesser White-fronted Goose

Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus is one of Europe's most sought after birds. It is nowhere numerous, having declined in its Fenno-Scandian breeding areas and on passage often threatened. One of the very best areas to search for this small goose (with a wingspan of just 115-135com and a length of around 60cm) is in Hungary, especially the grasslands and ponds of the Hortobagy in autumn. Here a flock of from 30-200 birds is regular from late August through to November. Elsewhere smaller numbers can be found amongst larger flocks of other geese.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Special birds: Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius is Europe's largest woodpecker at some 45-47 cm from beak to tail-tip and with a wing-span of around 70cm: that is twice the size of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and almost a big as a Rook! Though it does not occur on the British Isles it is fairly widespread and common, in the right habitat, over the continent, especially in Eastern Europe. "Right habitat" means different things in different areas, but in general it equates to mature natural, semi-natural and man-made forests from sea-level to over 2000m above sea-level. Open forests are favoured and there must be some stands of large trees where nesting holes can be excavated. In the last few decades Black Woodpeckers have increased in range across Eastern Europe (and indeed elsewhere) occupying lowlands where they were previously very rare or even absent.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Destinations: Pogari - Estonia

The hamlet of Pogari lies on the north-west coast of Matsulu Bay, on the the Puise Peninsula, by the sheltered Lope Bay. In spring the wet coastal meadows here (Pogari-Sassi) are one of Estonia's best goose watching spots with 1000s of Barnacle Geese feeding and roosting. A few Red-breasted Geese and/or Lesser White-fronted Geese are often found with them and White-tailed Eagles are also often here, following the geese. The meadows are a noted passage shorebird site, too, with Temminck's Stints regular. Songbirds such as thrushes, wagtails and pipits also often drop in. The area is some 20km south of the regional centre of Haapsalu. A good viewing spot is in a roadside parking place by the main gravel road where there is a farm-building and an information board (see photo here).

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Special birds: Levant Sparrowhawk

Levant Sparowhawk Accipiter brevipes is for many birders one of Europe's most mysterious birds of prey. It is a summer visitor to the Balkans, with lightly wooded, lowland country in eastern Romania and Bulgaria particularly good areas to search for it. In late summer into autumn this dainty raptor migrates in flocks and indeed late August-September is one of the best times to observe this otherwise often secretive bird. Levants look similar to Eurasian Sparrowhawks but have more pointed wings (recalling a small falcon) and a shorter tail. The dark wing-tips are particularly striking on adult males. This fine photo of a male was taken in Dobrudja, eastern Romania, by Daniel Petrescu.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Special birds: Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius is mainly a bird of mature, mixed deciduous woods, especially those dominated by oak. Though there are population in western Europe the bulk of Europe's birds reside in the east, particularly in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. Unlike most other "pied"woodpeckers, the male and female of this species are almost identical in plumage. In particular, both have red crowns, though the female's is slightly shorter at the back and not as bright red in the breeding season. Middle Spotteds do not drum as often as other Dendrocopos species, in fact they rarely do so. This superb photo of an adult male with crown feathers erect was taken by Laszlo Nehezy in Hungary.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Destinations: Julian Alps, Slovenia

There are some really tempting high mountain and forest birds in the Julian Alps in Slovenia... species like Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Three-toed Woodpecker, Pygmy Owl, Wallcreeper and Snow Finch. But it has to be said that few of these are "easy". First of all, though this is beautiful, spectacular country, it is seriously Alpine, being steep, rugged and the region is prone to sudden fluctuations in weather. Overall spring is best, i.e. April and May, when passerines are singing, owls calling and grouse lekking. If you intend birding here check the local weather conditions, bring the right clothing and get hold of local maps if you intend to go off the beaten track. These mountains lie in the NW corner of Slovenia and stretch into neighbouring Italy and Austria.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Destinations: Poda, Bulgaria

Poda is a protected coastal wetland site that lies by Lake Mandra in Bulgaria. It is just south of the city of Borgas by road E87. The reserve is managed by the BSPB (Birdlife partner in Bulgaria) and has a visitor centre with helpful staff, drinks, souvenirs and a roof that serves as a great platform from which to scope the area open water and reedbeds. Poda is worth a visit at anytime though spring and autumn are arguably best. Spring birds (some breeding here) include Pygmy Cormorants, many herons and egrets, Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, terns, gulls, various waders, Penduline and Bearded Tits and "reedy" warblers. Though they do not breed there are usually White and Dalmatian Pelicans around, too. As it lies on the Black Sea migration fly-way White Storks and Lesser Spotted Eagles go over in large numbers in autumn (September best). It is cold here in winter but the pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants, White-tailed Eagle and goose flocks, including some Red-breasted Geese, are usually around.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Special birds: Sombre Tit

Sombre Tit Parus lugubris is resident and sedentary and in fact quite common locally in deciduous woodlands, especially oakwoods, in the Balkans. The furthest west it gets is Slovenia and Croatia, the furthest north Romania. It has a large brown hood, a significant black bib and a white cheek. It is a large tit (over 13cm in length) and overall rather greyish. This photo taken in Romania by Daniel Petrescu.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Special Birds: Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola is very much a bird of southern Europe. A migrant, it arrives in May to breed on wetlands, steppe and even in farmland in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. Most leave the region by August. It is a very distinctive species, looking like a tern when in flight, but more like a shorebird when on the ground. Pratincoles are gregarious with pairs breeding in colonies and hawking together for insects. Occasionally the very similar Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni (which has a more easterly distribution) is found with Collareds and inter-breeding seems to occur.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Destinations: Vadu, Romania

This site on the Black Sea coast south of the Danube Delta can, unlike much of the Delta, be birded on foot. There are salt-marshes, reedbeds, stagnant pools, dry scrub, dune and a long sandy beach. In spring and autumn this is a great place for passage birds, especially shorebirds and terns and some stay to breed. Offshore Yelkouan Shearwater is regular. In 2000 & 2001 a few pairs of White-tailed Plover even bred at Vadu. The area is east of the capital, about 30km north of the port of Constanta. From Corbu head for the hamlet of Vadu and its large and semi-abandoned indistrial complex (which is hard to miss) and follow the only surfaced road to the coast.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Special birds: Rock Thrush

Rock Thrush (aka Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush)Monticola saxatilis as the names suggest, is a bird of rocky places. They often occur at higher elevations, but not always. They are also birds of southern Europe, not often breeding further north than Slovakia or Hungary where they are also uncommon. In Dalmatia, Romania and Bulgaria they are more common. Males are strikingly beautiful, especially when they engage in their display flight and their orange body, blue head and white rump all show very well. This photo was taken by Szabolcs Kokay.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Destinations: Zemplen Hills, Hungary

These hills lie in north-east Hungary about 35 km NE of Miskolc and stretch to the Slovakian border. The west of the area is flanked by the River Hernad, the east by the River Bodrog. They are mainly covered in deciduous forests and woodlands which are home to Ural Owl and nine species of woodpecker. Eagle Owl breeds in some of the more rocky areas. Honey Buzzard, Eastern Imperial, Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles soar over open areas. Black Stork is around and White Stork common in villages along the rivers. Bee-eaters are often found in these valleys, too. Passerines include Collared (common) and Red-breasted (rare) Flycatchers, Red-backed Shrike, Barred and Wood Warblers, Woodlark and Hawfinch.