3–9 May 2017
This exciting new tour to one of the least-known Eastern European destinations includes visiting several beautiful National Parks including Pripyatsky (a famous World Heritage Site), Bielaviežškaja Pušča (the larger eastern extension of Białowieza ancient forest in Poland) and Sporaŭski Reserve, home to 50% of the world’s Aquatic Warblers. We also have an excellent chance of finding one of Europe’s most difficult birds, Azure Tit. All this will be experienced with friendly people in beautiful surroundings.
Day 1 Flight from London to Minsk via Warsaw, arriving in the evening. Overnight near Minsk.
Day 2 This morning we will drive directly to Turau, probably the most significant birdwatching site in Belarus. Managed by local trip partner APB-BirdLife Belarus, the famous Turau meadows and vicinity currently provide one of the most important stop-over sites for Ruff and are a stronghold for breeding Black-tailed Godwits. The unique mosaic of numerous oxbows, channels and flooded meadows of the Pripyat River at Turau provides crucial support for numerous breeding and migrant waders. Species we hope to see here include Black Tern, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Spotted Redshank, Eurasian Penduline-tit and Eurasian Oystercatcher. This evening we will take a walk onto the Pripyat River floodplain. Three nights in Turau.
Day 3 This morning we will take a walk to enjoy the magnificent floodplain meadows in Turau and its surroundings. The chorus of waders here will be stunning due to probably the highest breeding densities of Northern Lapwing and Common Redshank in Europe. Also here, although less numerous, will be Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, and we should add Common and Little to our list of terns, together with further sightings of the marsh terns seen yesterday. One of the most sought-after birds of the trip will be the rare and exquisite Azure Tit, considered by many birders to be the jewel in the crown of the Belarusian riparian willow forests of the Pripyat River. In the evening we will walk into the marshes to watch Great Snipe at their lek and to hear their curious ‘symphony of icicles’ song.
Day 4 This morning we will take a trip to Pripyatsky National Park, where we will visit unique floodplain woodland. Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Crane and Black Stork can all be found soaring above the primeval woodlands of oak, alder and birch, while Thrush Nightingale, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike, Hazel Grouse, Eurasian River and Barred Warblers, Black, Syrian, Middle Spotted, White-backed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Eurasian Wryneck, Corn Crake, Great Bittern and White-tailed Eagle all inhabit this enchanting place. We also have another chance of seeing Terek Sandpiper and Azure Tit, while mammals in the area include Wild Boar and Elk.
Day 5 After breakfast we will depart from Turau and pay a short visit to Bielaje fishfarm. New species we hope to see here include Smew, Ferruginous Duck and Bearded Reedling. Next on our agenda will be an extensive forest area in Vyhanaščanski Reserve. An impressive mix of Black Alder trees and open patches of marshes and meadows creates good conditions for hygrophilous voles including Water Vole. Breeding pairs of Great Grey Owl can be found in the forest, and we have a real chance of observing these magnificent creatures preying on the vole population. We will also be on the lookout for Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker to add to our list of woodpeckers from yesterday. Black Grouse, Eurasian Curlew, Short-eared Owl and Short-toed Snake-eagle should also be added to our growing list. The third and final destination for today is the Sporaŭski Reserve. Belarus safeguards around 50% of the world population of Aquatic Warblers, and this will be our primary target species at Sporaŭski. In addition, Bluethroats and Savi’s Warblers should be singing on the banks of the Yaselda River, while a boardwalk across the marshes will give us an excellent viewpoint from which to watch the elegant Citrine Wagtails nesting here. At the fishponds we should see Caspian and Little Gulls and may come across Garganey and Whooper Swan in addition to repeat sightings of the numerous terns already seen. We can also expect to hear, and maybe catch glimpses of, Little and Spotted Crakes. Overnight in Berioza.
Day 6 This morning we will take a pre-breakfast walk in the Sporaŭski Reserve in order to give us further chances to see some of the birds from yesterday. After breakfast we will transfer to the World Heritage Site of Bielaviežškaja Pušča. The Belarusian part of this ancient forest is much bigger and wilder than the famous Białowieza Forest in Poland. These enchanting woodlands hide hard-to-find Eurasian Pygmy-owls and also provide a home for Crested Tit, Red Crossbill, Hawfinch, European Serin, breeding Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers and all ten European woodpeckers. However, the most glorious inhabitant of this forest is a mammal – the awesome but elusive European Bison. Overnight in Bielaviežškaja Pušča.
Day 7 After a morning stroll through the primeval forest of Bielaviežškaja Pušča we will visit Dzikaje mire, which is a breeding site for Aquatic Warbler and Greater Spotted Eagle. Out of more than 20 breeding sites for Greater Spotted Eagle in Belarus, Dzikaje and Bielaviežškaja Pušča are the only territories where the species is increasing in number, a good indicator that re-wilding is taking place. Montagu’s Harrier should be new for us here, whilst we should also see a number of species we have seen earlier on in the trip. On the way to Minsk we will visit the extensive Sieliec fishfarm, a designated Important Bird Area (IBA). During our visit, we will have our last chance to enjoy the waterbirds of the area and we may add Red-necked Grebe to our lists. After lunch we will transfer to Minsk for our flight back to London.
General Information The climate can be highly variable at this time of year, from very warm to cold and wet. There will be a moderate amount of walking over easy terrain. There are no special medical requirements and insects are not a problem. Visas are required and we will supply the support documents. Driving distances are quite long, but the roads between sites are good. Accommodation is based on twin rooms, all with en-suite facilities.
Group Size Maximum group size: 6 with 1 leader, 14 with 2 leaders.