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.