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.