Monday, 28 December 2009
The Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus (aka Horned Grebe) is a breeding species in the north of the region and a winter visitor in the south. The southern limit of the breeding range is composed of a few pairs in northern Poland. North of here it becomes more common in the Baltic States on shallow, well-vegetated fresh-water wetlands. It is a smallish grebe and males in breeding plumage in spring and summer have bright golden "horns" which are feathery tufts at the side of the head. Photo by Laszlo Becsy.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Soomaa is a myriad of bogs, fens, rivers and forests by the River Parnu in Estonia. Much of the area is a National Park with well-marked trails and visitor centres off the gravel roads that cross the park. Great birds here include Black, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Lesser Spotted and Golden Eagles, Black and White Storks, Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Corncrake, Common Crane and Ural and Pygmy Owls. Soomaa floods almost every spring and indeed this is one of the best times to visit scenically but birding in parts of the NP are difficult then, without a boat! Sooma NP is around 30km east of Parnu.
Monday, 14 December 2009
Friday, 4 December 2009
Saaremaa is Estonia's largest island. It lies in the Baltic off the west coast of the mainland and is accessible by regular ferries. Besides a spectacular coastline, there are wetlands and forests on Saaremaa and there are "good birds" on the island and on the surrounding sea all year round. Many typical Baltic species breed and sea-ducks including Steller's Eiders winter in good numbers. Both spring and autumn migration can be spectacular in terms of numbers and rarities. A bird observatory and ringing centre at Sorve, in the very south-west of the island at the tip of the peninsula of the same name, has turned up many vagrants. Note that weather can be very variable here, especially in winter!
Monday, 16 November 2009
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla is a small lark, a little smaller than Skylark, and a bird of dry grasslands, steppes and barren farmland. In Eastern Europe it occurs mainly in lowlands in the Balkans. This fine photo was taken by Earl Harrison in Dobrugea, Bulgaria.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
The alpinus race of Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker is found in the centre and south of Europe, in several rather isolated populations in the Alps, the Bavarian Forest (Germany), the Sumava Mountains (Czech Rep), the Carpathians, the Rhodope Mountains (Bulgaria), the Balkan Range and the Dinaric Alps (Croatia) etc. Note in this shot that the white back patch is marked with black bars. This is a variable feature, but generally typical for alpinus. Photo of this male taken by Ralph Martin in Bavaria.
Sunday, 1 November 2009
This open oak woodland lies in north-west Romania, just west of the village of Somova along road 22. Tulcea is just 30 minutes to the east via the same road. In season this is a good site for Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Wryneck, Booted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk, Sombre Tit, Woodlark and Ortolan. Avoid on holidays when locals picnic here in numbers.
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Every autumn, from late September, through October to early November, 10s of 1000s of Common Cranes Grus grus gather in the Hortobagy National Park, Hungary. These graceful birds linger in eastern Hungary before heading on south as winter sets in. Numbers have steadily increased in recent years and peaked last week at about 140,000. It is a great event and experience of sights and sounds.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
From May 10-17, 2010, I will be guiding a birding tour in Serbia. This will be an original tour itinerary... few "western" birders ever visit Serbia, though it is a great, and safe, destination. We will visit the Fruska Gora NP and Maljen Mountains, looking for a range of upland and lowland species including Rock Partridge, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Hazel Grouse, Nutcracker, Sombre Tit, Black-headed Bunting etc. In the photo here is Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator another bird we should see on this tour. For more details, get in touch.
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Throughout Eastern Europe, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, autumn is upon us and the wildfowl are starting to arrive in flocks. Here is a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons taken in the Czech Republic by Mike Crutch.
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
From 19-28 May 2010 the UK-based company Oenanthe are running a tour to Hungary & Slovakia. The tour takes in the very best of the uplands and lowlands of these two great birding countries. Key species on the trip are: Saker, Eastern Imperial and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Red-footed Falcon, Pygmy Cormorant, Hazel Grouse, Black Stork, Ural, Eagle, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers, Aquatic, River and Barred Warbler and all 10 European woodpecker species are likely. Here's the link to the trip details: http://www.oenanthe.co.uk/tours/hungary_slovakia_2010/hungary_slovakia_2010.html
Saturday, 19 September 2009
The High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry) are Slovakia's highest mountain range. They lie in the north on the border with Poland. The city of Poprad just to the south is the gateway. Most of the area is a National Park. These are serious, rugged mountains with several peaks over 2000 m. The highest peaks can be accessed in season by chair-lift or gondola. Much of the lower elevations were blanketed in conifer and mixed forests until a "hurricane" felled large areas a few years ago. At high levels there are tarns, scree, cliffs and impressive rock formations. The high-altitude zone has Ring Ouzel, Rock Pipit, Alpine Accentor and Wallcreeper. Coniferous forests have Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Three-toed Woodpecker, Common Crossbill, Siskin and Nutcracker. Truth is, this a tough area to bird, and weather can be very changable, so the High Tatras are only suitable for those with plenty of time, energy and patience.
Saturday, 12 September 2009
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus is very much an Eastern European bird. The further west it gets in breeding range is central Austria and there are no records in countries west of here. It occurs from Poland, where it is localised, southwards to the Balkans. In parts of Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria it is common. This "pied" woodpecker inhabits lowland, secondary habitats such as orchards, gardens and parks. It is rarely seen in woodland proper.
Friday, 4 September 2009
Lake Visovac (Visovac jezero) is a huge waterbody along the Krka River within the Krka National Park in Croatia. It is not always easy to access the waterside, given the often steep rugged terrain, but good spots to scan the water are at Samostan Visovac (west shore: see photo) and the boat jetty at Stinice (opposite on the east shore). Between these two points is the small island of Visovac, though this is not worth visiting for birds. Birds include Pygmy Cormorant, Short-toed Eagle, Yellow-legged Gull, Cirl Bunting, Golden Oriole and Fan-tailed, Great Reed and Cetti's Warblers. On passage wildfowl and waders stop over.
Monday, 31 August 2009
Haeska is a hamlet on the northern side of Matsalu Bay (Matsalu laht) in Estonia. There is a high birdwatching tower here (Haeska Linnutorn) which gives views over the bay. In season, this is a great place to scan for waterfowl, wildfowl and waders. The surrounding grazing pastures, on the approach road to the tower, are often full of Barnacle Geese in spring. Rarities like Red-breasted Goose and Lesser White-fronted Goose turn up here every year, too.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
From 4-10 July 2010 the Scotland based company Heatherlea are running a tour to Eastern Romania. It is based mainly in the Danube Delta with time also birding the steppes, lagoons and woods in Dobrudja along the Black Sea coast. Key species are Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Ruddy Shelduck, Booted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Paddyfield Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Sombre Tit and many more. Here is the link:http://www.heatherlea.co.uk/birdwatching-holidays/overseas/romania.htm
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri breeds in the Arctic, but many winter in the Baltic. Good areas to search for rafts of this very attractive diving duck are the seas off Estonia and Latvia, from November through to March. At this time, however, male birds will not be in their striking breeding plumage. And it can be cold and tough hereabouts at that time and trips to the offshore islands maybe needed, too. Photo by Jari Peltomaki.
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus is a fairly common and widespread bird of prey in the drier, southern countries of the region where its reptile prey (snakes, lizards) abound. Further north, from the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the Baltic States it is rather scarce. A migrant, most arrive in March-April and leave in September. Photo by Dan Bastaja: Kiskunsag, Hungary, August 2009.
Monday, 3 August 2009
There are many non-governmental conservation organisations in the Eastern European region. I intend to occasionally highlight them in this blog. Here is the first Ochrana Dravcov Na Slovensko (ODNS) which is an NGO that focuses on raptor protection and research in Slovakia.
Friday, 24 July 2009
Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus is Europe's biggest grouse species. It occurs mainly in old-growth conifer forests in the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and the uplands of the Balkan countries. But it is not common anywhere in the region, indeed in many areas it seems to be in decline. To see it you will probably need some local info or even an expert guide. Photo by kind permission of Kevin at Heatherlea Birdwatching Tours.
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
This remote village in the north-east of the Danube Delta in Romania is only accessible by boat. Just behind the village is a large salt-lake, which dries out in sumer. There is a colony of Collared Pratincoles here and Kentish Plover. The village itself has resident Syrian Woodpeckers and Little Owls. On passage, when the surrounds of the village are wet, waders drop in. The route to Letea is via lily-clad and reed-lined channels where Little Crake, Red-necked Grebes and Ferruginous Ducks, amongst many others, breed.
Monday, 6 July 2009
Boddi-szek is a large salt-lake in the Kiskunsag region of Hungary. In spring and autumn varying level of water are here, in high summer the lake is often dry. This is an excellent site for passage waders, and several rarities have been found here, and Kentish Plover is in one of its very few Hungarian breeding sites. In autumn and winter large numbers of geese occur, mostly Greater White-fronts, some Bean and also often a few Red-breasted Geese. The area lies to the south of the main Kecskemet-Solt road (52) and north of road 53, to the east of the village of Dunatetetlen. It is only marked on the most detailed local marks. A tall observation-tower lies on its northern edge.
Monday, 29 June 2009
This shallow lake in eastern Romania, in Dobrudja, lies right by road 22a near Hirsova. It is smaller than most of the coastal lagoons and so can be easily scanned. It can be viewed from the roadside or from a tracks on adjacent hillsides and low sandy cliffs. From spring to autumn Ruddy Shelducks are likely here along with many of the other wetland birds one would expect in this eastern Romania - Pygmy Cormorant, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, etc.
Friday, 19 June 2009
Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus (aka Boreal Owl) is a scattered breeder in the region. In some years good numbers occur in older conifer forests in the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is highly localised in other areas, though numbers may be underestimated in the upland forests of the Balkan countries. As with other owls breeding numbers, and the timing of breeding, relates to prey populations. Highly nocturnal, Tengmalm's Owls are hard to find and observe away from occupied nest sites.
Monday, 15 June 2009
From 29 November to 6 December this year (2009) the UK company WildWings are running a birding tour to Hungary. This tour with a difference is called the WInter Hungarian Bird Festival. Rather than everyone on the tour go on fixed excursions the concept on this holiday is one of flexibility. Each day participants choose whether to join guided excusions, short or long by bus and 4x4, or do their own birding on foot or by bike. Based in Tata in the west of Hungary, key target species will be wildfowl such as Taiga and Tundra Bean Geese, Red-breasted Goose, as well as 8 species of woodpecker, Great Bustard, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, White-taile Eagle, etc. Here is the link: http://www.wildwings.co.uk/winterhungary.html
Friday, 5 June 2009
Common Tern Sterna hirundo is locally common in the region. In fact it is the most common sterna species over much of Eastern Europe, nesting in small colonies on the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea coastlines and inland by lakes, fishponds and on rivers with gravel islets. Photo by Alan Outen taken at Stari Paklenica, Croatia, April 2009.
Monday, 1 June 2009
This vast area (over 250 km2) is comprised of rivers, bogs, fens and wet forests dotted with the odd hamlet. Around 200 bird species have been recorded, but it has to be said that many of these are often hard to find given the terrain and its extent. Breeding raptors include Golden, White-tailed, Lesser Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagles, Osprey and Hen and Marsh Harriers. Other birds are Hazel and Black Grouse, Common Crane, Nutcracker, Ural, Tengmalm's and Pygmy Owls and 6 resident woodpecker species. Passerines include most of the boreal species one would expect in the Baltics. The area lies in central Estonia, 30km NW of Tartu, just off the main road 2 to Tallinn. There are some well-marked trails and board-walks.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
The disused fish-ponds at Pikla lie by the hamlet of the same name on Estonia's Baltic Coast south of Parnu, about 12km north of Haademeeste, between road 4 and the sea. There are ponds, reedbeds, meadows, dunes and the sea itself. There are 3 bird-towers here, one over the ponds, 2 looking out to sea. Passage birds include all the swans, geese, gulls, terns, waders and warblers that one would expect hereabouts. Rarities for Estonia are sometimes found here, too. Breeding birds include Little and Spotted Crakes, Savi's Warbler and Bearded and Penduline Tits.
Monday, 11 May 2009
Common Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus is a common and widespread bird in the region. Though often secretive in the breeding season it is regularly seen at other times and even moves into urban areas in winter. This female was photographed in the centre of Mikulov, South Moravia, Czech Republic, in March 2009.
Saturday, 2 May 2009
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos is a very common bird throughout much of the region. It is replaced by close relative Thrush Nightingale in the very east and north, and a zone of overlap occurs in a roughly NW to SE direction. A visitor, most arrive in March-April and leave in August-September. Though very common locally it is a bird that is more often seen than heard. This fine photo of a bird in full song was taken in April 2009 at Skradinski Buk, Krka NP, Croatia, by Alan Outen.
Thursday, 30 April 2009
The eastern race of Greylag Goose Anser anser rubirostris is a quite common breeder on freshwater wetlands in C and E Europe. It is indeed the only breeding goose over most of the region. Eastern birds differ from western birds by having a pink bill (though this varies: note the bills of the birds in this photo) and much paler upperparts and particuarly forewings. Photo by Mike Crutch taken at Nove Mlyny, South Moravia, Czech Republic, in March 2009.
Monday, 27 April 2009
Roski Slap is a scenic area with a waterfall and cliffs on the Krka River in the Krka National Park in Central Dalmatia, Croatia. Birds here include Yellow-legged Gull, Scops Owl, Cetti's and Subalpine Warblers, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes, Western Rock Nuthatch, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Grey Wagtail and Cirl Bunting. Raptors include Peregrine, Short-toed and Golden Eagles. The area lies just inland from Sibenik, an hour and a litle north of Split. In summer this is also a great place for butterflies and dragonflies.
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Thursday, 9 April 2009
Monday, 6 April 2009
The grounds of Betliar Manor cover over 80 acres and host several species of woodpecker, Crested Tit and Hawfinch all year round. In spring they are joined by a range of migrants such as Wryneck. In winter there are often flocks of thrushes, finches and Waxwings. The manor is a popular tourist site at weekends and on public holidays so it might be best to visit mid-week. Betliar lies by the village of the same name about 5km north of Roznava.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
These mountains are on average lower than the more well know Low and High Tatras, though they are often blanketed in snow from November to March. They lie in south-east Slovakia to the west of the city of Kosice. The Slovensky kras NP is just to the south of the Volovske. They are covered in some fine, old mixed conifer-deciduous stands. Key birds are Three-toed, White-backed, Grey-headed and Black-Woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse, Nutcracker and Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls. This is an area where some walking is sometimes needed to get to these forest species.
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Though Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella has declined badly in some countries (e.g. the UK) it is still a quite common and widespread bird in Eastern Europe. This fine photo was taken by Phil Hardwick at Soutok, Czech Republic in March 2009.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
From 3-10 May, 2009, the UK company WildWings are running a birding tour to Hungary. But this is a tour with a difference, called the Hungarian Bird Festival, where once in place participants choose each day whether to join guided excusions, short or long, or do their own birding. Based in the east by the fabulous Hortobagy area key species are Pygmy Cormorant, Red-footed Falcon, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Ural Owl, River and Aquatic Warblers, etc, etc. Here is the link: http://www.wildwings.co.uk/hungary.html
Monday, 16 March 2009
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor (aka Northern Shrike) breeds in the more northern countries of the region and is a common winter visitor to the south. The shot of a bird in typical pose was taken in Soutok, Czech Republic, by Mike Crutch. March 2009.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
The dainty little Marsh Tit Parus palustris is common and widespread in the region. Despite its name it rarely inhabits marshes proper but rather damp woodlands, parks, orchards and even gardens. This is the paler, northern European race palustris photographed in Lithuania by Juozas Miskinis.
Thursday, 5 March 2009
From 20-27 June 2009 the UK company Heatherlea are running a tour to Romania. Based mainly in the fabulous Danube Delta the Black Sea Coast and steppes and woods in Dobrudja are also taken in. Key species are Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Ruddy Shelduck, Booted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk, Pied Wheatear, Paddyfield Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Sombre Tit and many more. Pygmy Cormorant (in photo here) is in it's world stronghold. Here is the link: http://www.heatherlea.co.uk/birdwatching-holidays/overseas/romania.htm
Monday, 2 March 2009
Cerknica is a seasonally flooded area, a lake that lies on a karst depression (polje) and appears in spring and autumn but which dries out in summer. The area has reedbeds, peatbog, hayfields and arable land. Passage and breeding birds include White Stork, Garganey, Ferruginous Duck, Spotted and Little Crakes, White-winged and Black Terns, Common Quail, Corncrake, Yellow Wagtail, Common Rosefinch and Marsh, Savi's and Great Reed Warblers. A range of waders also drop in when on migration. Cerknica lies near the villages of Dolenje Jezero, Grahovo and Zerovniva, about 45km SSW of Ljubljana.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
This is the first in a series of posts focused on birding tours in Eastern Europe. From 24-28 April 2010 the UK company Birdfinders are running a new tour to Croatia. Based in Dalmatia a key species will be Rock Partridge. There'll also be Alpine Chough, Alpine Swift, Scops Owl, Rufous-tailed and Blue Rock Thrushes, Western Rock Nuthatch, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Black-eared Wheatear amongst others. Link to the the online brochure page:
Monday, 23 February 2009
The beach and harbour at Dirhami (Dirhami neem) is particularly good in times of pasage (March to May and August to October). Good numbers of divers, gebes, geese, ducks and terns pass this way and passerine rarities are possible. In poor weatherdDucks such as Long-tailed, Scaup and Common and Velvet Scoters often reside in the small, sheltered port. Pipits and Wagtails often land on the beach and the pinewoods can be checked for other songbirds. Dirhami lies on Estonia's west coast in Laane County about an hour north of Haapsalu.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus (aka Bearded Reedling) is a common bird of lowland wetlands with extensive reedbeds throughout Eastern Europe. It is not a true "tit" species but rather a member of the babbler family. It is a resident and essentially sedentary bird which gathers in family parties and then in flocks from the end of summer through winter. It is often first located when it's "pinging" call, which perhaps recalls a tense elastic band being plucked, is heard.
Thursday, 5 February 2009
The Trebonsko area, much of it a Biosphere Reserve arond the town of Trebon in South Bohemia, is a mosaic of wetlands and woodlands. There are man-made, but old, fishponds of all shapes and sizes, rivers, canals, mixed forests, peat-bogs and farmland. Key breeding birds include White-tailed Eagle, Red and Black Kites, Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye, Green Sandpiper, Black and White Storks, Black Tern, 7 species of woodpecker,Eagle, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Collared Flycatcher, Bluethroat and Penduline Tit. On passage flocks of wildfowl and waders move through. This is a relatively easy and pleasant area to explore being mostly flat and crossed by roads, marked trails and bike-routes. Trebon is around 140 km south of Prague.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
In Europe Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus is very much a bird of the Balkans. It is a fairly common breeder in lowland areas in Romania and Bulgaria. The furthest north and west it breeds is in eastern Hungary. In late summer some birds disperse and wander and can then be seen in non-breeding areas. There is great variation in Long-legged Buzzard plumages and often an overlap in colour with Common Buzzards, but most birds in the region are rufous morphs with pale unbarred tails. Photo by Gabor Kovacs, Hortobagy, Hungary.
Saturday, 31 January 2009
At about 77km long Balaton is the largest lake in Hungary and indeed in Central Europe. In summer it is the playground of 1000s of tourists and not the best wetland for birding in Hungary, though quiet spots and areas of reeds do host some good species such as Little Bittern, Common Bittern, Penduline and Bearded Tits, Savi's and Great Reed Warblers and Bluethroat. But from September there is a decent passage of divers, wildfowl and terns and in winter the likes of Bean Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Velvet Scoter, Smew and Long-tailed Duck occur. In winter the lake often freezes over and then unfrozen bays where birds congregate should be sought. The eastern end of Balaton lies about 100km southwest of Budapest via the M7 motorway.
Thursday, 22 January 2009
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris breeds at high elevations in rocky, barren areas in the mountains of Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria etc, usually above 1800m. In winter they descend to lower levels and can be seen on ruins, in quarries and other rocky places, often in small parties. They are stocky but attractive little birds with subtle plumage colours. They are also often rather confiding and can be approached quite closely.