Belarus will most likely become one of the prime birding destinations in all of Europe. Border by a number of modern European countries, Belarus has remained hidden from popular view. The variety of birds that include several highlight species very rarely seen in other parts of Europe is only one facet of this incredible destination. Small roads allow us access to ancient forests, hundreds of meandering rivers and the biggest marshes and fens on the continent – with little to no traffic to speak of! A true European paradise of intact and wild habitat conserving Europe’s largest populations of Bison, Lynx and Wolf. A combination of good quality hotels situated close to the best birding sites, along with authentic local cuisine adds extra enjoyment to the experience. One of Europe’s safest countries, it offers a taste of an era long left behind in most parts of Eastern Europe. Our tour visits three key places: Belowezhkaya Pushcha National Park, which adjoins its smaller, but more famous Polish counterpart – Bielowieza NP. Sporovo Reserve which protects 90% of the world’s Aquatic Warbler population and finally Pripyatsky National Park, a paradise for sought-after waders and unique variety of primarily Eastern species.
Azure Tit, Great Snipe, Great Grey Owl, Aquatic, River and Savi’s Warblers, Bluethroat, Boreal Owl, Eurasian Three-toed, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted, Syrian, White-backed, Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Terek Sandpiper, Ruff, Smew, Hazel Grouse, Eurasian Bittern, Whooper Swan, White-tailed Eagle, Bearded Reedling, European Pied Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Hawfinch, Yellowhammer, Corn Crake
European Bison, European Roe Deer, Grey Wolf, Eurasian Lynx, Eurasian Red Squirrel, Eurasian Beaver
Fens, lakes, grasslands, pine forests, birch forests
moderate with some colder mornings
Day 1: Arrival in Minsk
Upon arriving in the city of Minsk, you will be met and transferred to a comfortable hotel in the city. We will meet up for a welcome dinner, with time to talk through some of the exciting Belarus birding tour adventures to come over the next week and a half.
Days 2 to 5: Pripyat National Park
Over the next few days of our Belarus birding tour, we will spend our time both within the National Park, as well as along the uncontrolled Pripyat River. Several sought after shorebirds such as Terek and Marsh Sandpipers and Great Snipe breed on the vast flooded meadows and forests in spring. We will experience spectacular gatherings of migrating Ruff, including many in near-perfect breeding plumage; while elegant Spotted Redshanks are also in good numbers. On the top of our target list, and surely one of the strongest candidates for bird of the trip will be Azure Tit. Belarus is the only place in Europe where we stand a good chance of finding this stunning bird – where it breeds along the riparian willow forests of the Pripyat River.
We will spend some time exploring the ancient oak, spruce and birch forests too. Easy walks and short drives are liable to produce Common Crane, Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers; while woodpeckers are very well represented indeed, with 10 species possible! Eurasian Wryneck and White-backed Woodpecker are fairly common; while we will have to search a little harder for Syrian, Grey-headed, Black, Middle Spotted and Three-toed Woodpeckers. Thrush Nightingale, Bluethroat, Common Rosefinch, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Common Linnet and Hawfinch are common in these magical forests. We also pay a visit the nearby Beloe Fishponds, home to breeding Whooper Swan, Smew, Eurasian Bittern, Common Goldeneye, White-tailed Eagle, Red-necked Grebe, Eurasian Penduline Tit and Bearded Reedling as well as vast numbers of migrating shorebirds. The banks separating the ponds are home to Caspian Terns, Black-headed Gulls, Ruff and Spotted Redshanks; while the reedbeds often contain Great Reed Warblers. Common Cuckoo will provide incessant background vocals for much of our time in the forests.
Day 6: Pripyat National Park to Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park
We have some more time this morning to bird around Pripyat River for any species we may be missing – or desire better views of – before heading to Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park this afternoon. En route, we may visit Telehany Forest where we hope to find Great Grey Owl on a day roost, the somewhat tricky Hazel Grouse and even the chance of finding Boreal Owl if their nesting locations have been found.
After what is expected to be another successful morning’s birding, we transfer to Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park – our base for the next two nights of our Belarus birding tour. Time permitting, we may start our exploration of this area after arrival, scanning overhead for Great Spotted Eagle or sorting out Common from Lesser Whitethroat in the surrounding trees.
Day 7: Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park
We have an entire day of our Belarus birding tour to explore the famous Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park. We will walk amidst ancient trees and forests, focusing primarily on woodland species. The fairytale woods here hold Hazel Grouse and both Great Grey and Eurasian Pygmy Owls – and although we need a little luck to see all of them, previous tours have proven to be very successful. Both Eurasian and Short-toed Treecreepers occur here, giving us a chance to study the minor physical differences between them. We may chance across the gorgeous Brambling, with males sporting their jet black caps, while Common Redstart, European Serin, and Hawfinch will compete for our attention. We also have improved chances for many of the numerous woodpeckers should we be missing any, as these forests hold every species of known European woodpecker! We have further chances for Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers, European Crested Tit and Red Crossbill as they will all be breeding here.
A short detour to Lake Liadskoye will see us searching for Wood Sandpiper and two rare warblers – Savi’s and River. We also need to keep our eyes peeled for a number of possible raptors, including White-tailed, Short-toed Snake and Lesser Spotted Eagles, European Honey Buzzard, Northern Goshawk and both Hen and Montagu’s Harriers. There is no shortage of interesting mammals to search for either, with Eurasian Elk, European Roe Deer, Red Fox and Wild Boar being rather common; while European Bison still dwell amidst the trees – though they are incredibly shy.
Day 8: Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park to Sporovo Reserve
We have some more time this morning to bird around Belowezhskaya Pushcha National Park for any species we may be missing – or desire better views of – before heading to Sporovo Reserve Park. Depending on which species we still require, we may make some stops en route.
Days 9: Sporovo Reserve
We have an entire day of our Belarus birding tour to sample the avian delights of Sporovo – an area of untamed marshes, fens and fish ponds, home to many exciting species of birds and mammals. Our day is liable to be filled with incredible sightings of the bright Citrine Wagtail, tricky Bearded Reedling, Savi’s Warbler, glorious Bluethroat and possibly views of the ever vocal Corn Crake. However, top of our list of desirable species is Europe’s rarest songbird – the Aquatic Warbler. It will be late in the afternoon when we can expect to admire their characteristic song flight while admiring the numerous Whinchats and Common Reed Buntings that perch conspicuously on the dead Phragmites reeds. If that were not all, our day’s birding here will no doubt turn up a host of other wetland denizens, including Black, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Great Grey Shrike, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Common Rosefinch and Eurasian Golden Oriole. Eurasian Beavers make dams on the surrounding rivers and Eurasian Elk inhabit the woodlands – though we will consider ourselves very lucky to get sightings of these large but shy bovids.
Day 10: Sporovo Reserve to Minsk and final departures
After breakfast this morning, we will drive back to the capital city of Minsk for our international departures.