Saturday, 31 January 2009

Destinations: Lake Balaton - Hungary

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

Special Birds: Alpine Accentor

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.     

Monday, 19 January 2009

Special Birds: Dotterel

Dotterel Charadrius morinellus are very rare breeders in some remote uplands in Eastern Europe. They are however more commonly seen when on passage in lowland areas. In particular, flocks (aka trips) of several hundred reside on well-grazed grasslands in Hungary from late August to early November. This photo taken in the Hortobagy National Park, Hungary, by Gabor Kovacs. 

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Destinations: Vis - Croatia

The island of Vis lies in the Adriatic some 36 km off the Croatian mainland. Ferries to the island run from Split and Hvar to the port of Vis. In summer tourist boats usually land at Komiza. Vis is just 90km2 and can thus be easily worked via its few, but good, roads. In summer there is Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear, Tawny Pipit. Woodchat Shrike, Pallid and Common Swifts and various warblers but the main attraction will be Eleonora's Falcons that breed on the cliffs and which are fairly certain from July to September. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Special Birds: Alpine Chough

Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus is, as the name suggests, mainly a bird of high elevations. In Eastern Europe it occurs in the Alps in Slovenia and in the Balkans in Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria etc. But despite the name, it is actually not unusual to see Alpine Choughs at low elevations, sometimes almost at sea-level in Croatia and Montengro (Dalmatia). This photo was taken by Andrej Bibic in the Julian Alps, Slovenia.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Destinations: Dzukija NP - Lithuania

Dzukija is the largest National Park in Lithuania covering some 50,000 ha. It lies on a large rolling sandy plain along the River Nemunas and is mostly blanketed in pine forests, though there are also areas with mixed forests, dunes, lakes, bogs, waterways, pastures, hay-fields and fertile farmland. It is a tranquil area where life seems to go on as it has done for ages with many locals farming in a traditional manner. This all makes for good habitat and a rich fauna. Residents include Capercaillie, Hazel and Black Grouse, Osprey, White-tailed Eagle, Grey-headed, Black, Lesser Spotted, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Eagle, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Willow and Crested Tits, Bullfinch, Hawfinch, Siskin and Nutcracker, though some of these will only be seen after a few boreal birding skills have been employed. Spring and summer visitors include both storks, Honey Buzzard, Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, Spotted Crake, Corncrake, Common Crane, Green Sandpiper, Wryneck, Roller, Hoopoe, Nightjar, Woodlark, Thrush Nightingale, Citrine Wagtail, Tawny Pipit, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Greenish Warbler. With the exception of winter proper, all year round for the woodpeckers. Spring for the grouse, owls and songbirds. The area is in the very south, in Alytus county. About 130 km south-west of Vilnius and 100 km south of Kaunas. Several roads cut through the NP including one to the old town of Merkine in the north and one in the south to Marcinkonys. There are small information centres in Marcinkonys (the park HQ is also here) and Merkine. Two areas of the NP, the River Skroblus Valley and the Cepkeliai Bog are strictly protected and cannot be visited except with a warden. The rest of the area can be explored on minor roads, forest tracks and nature trails. The 13 km long Zackagiris Nature Trail (Zackagirio gamtinis takes) runs from the Marcinkonys information centre southwards through old forest.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Special Birds: Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus (aka Eurasian Thick-knee) is a summer visitor, most birds arriving in March and leaving in September-October. In Eastern Europe it's range extends from Hungary southwards through the Balkans where it breeds on dry, short-grass steppes, sandy and stony areas and sometimes arable land in lowlands. In autumn pre-migration small flocks can gather. This photo taken on the Hortobagy, Hungary, is by Gabor Kovacs.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Destinations: Palava Hills - Czech Republic

These limestone hills lie in South Moravia some 35km south of Brno. They are not very high, the highest point is Devin at 550m, but are very visable as their white rocks rise out of an otherwise fairly flat landscape. The habitats, flora and fauna here are probably the most "Mediterranean-like" in the Czech Republic. Resident birds include Goshawk, Tawny and Eagle Owls, Syrian, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers and Hawfinch. In spring and summer they are joined by Honey Buzzard, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Collared Flycatcher and Wryneck. Most winters see a Wallcreeper here, too, though this species does not breed.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Special birds: Woodchat Shrike

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator is a striking little shrike that has declined badly in some areas of Europe. The edge of its range has shifted southwards in recent decades. In Eastern Europe it is very much a bird of the Balkans found in dry open country with scatteed bushes in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, etc. A migrant, most arrive in April and leave in August. This photo by Maciej Szymanski was taken in Serbia in summer 2008.