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BELARUS

Europe's Last Great Birding Frontier

Belarus Birding Tours: our Belarus bird watching holiday explores an area that is still little known to bird watchers, but which holds some superb birds. Our springtime birding tour to the forests and marshes of Belarus (White Russia) focuses on such mega-specialities as the beautiful Azure Tit, Great Snipe, the magnificent Great Grey Owl and Aquatic Warbler. A wonderful supporting cast includes Greater Spotted Eagle, Hazel and Black Grouse, Western Capercaillie, Ural and Tengmalm's (or Boreal) Owls, Eurasian Pygmy Owl, Eurasian Three-toed and White-backed Woodpeckers, and Citrine Wagtail.

Monday 14th May — Tuesday 22nd May 2018
(9 days)


Northern Belarus Extension: Friday 11th May — Monday 14th May (4 days)

Leaders: Dima Shamovich and Nik Borrow

Group Size Limit: 10

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations

Azure Tit breeds at the westernmost limit of its range in Belarus (Mike Watson)

Azure Tit breeds at the westernmost limit of its range in Belarus (Mike Watson)

Imagine a place where birds that are fast disappearing from Europe’s woodland and countryside still thrive in abundance, marshes where Great Snipes conduct their peculiar lekking displays from grass tussocks, the trilling song of the Aquatic Warbler is a common sound within vast fen mires, Great Grey Owls watch over primeval forests where bison roam and super-smart little Azure Tits can be found in stands of willows. This is Belarus in a nutshell. As our natural landscape has deteriorated across Europe in the wake of EU agricultural policy, the fledgling republic of Belarus has been protected from this change, by a now rather rusty iron curtain. It also has a sparse population of only 9.5 million people spread over a country a little smaller than the United Kingdom and over 90% of this area is still covered by natural vegetation. With largely traditional agricultural methods still in use, Belarus has retained a landscape like no other European country, often described as like stepping back in time 50 years. With all of the special bird species found in neighbouring Poland and more besides, Belarus is the last great frontier of European birding.

During our explorations we will visit three main areas in the south of the country. From the capital, Minsk we will travel south to our base for the next five nights near the Pripyatsky National Park. On the extensive and virtually pristine flood plain of the Pripyat river we will have the privilege of visiting a Great Snipe lek. We will also search for delightful Azure Tits in stands of riparian willows and explore marshes for Terek Sandpipers at their most westerly breeding site. Black Storks and Citrine Wagtails are also present here in small numbers whilst the wetlands hold Wood Sandpiper, groups of northbound Ruffs in their outrageous breeding plumage and Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns. In nearby woodland and marshland we will look out for White-tailed, Greater Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Eurasian Wryneck, White-backed, Black, Middle Spotted, Grey-headed and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Thrush Nightingale, Eurasian Penduline Tit and Eurasian Golden Oriole.

We will also visit the Beloe Fishponds, a breeding site of Smew and Ferruginous Duck, where we may also see Great Crested and Eared (or Black-necked) Grebes, Great Cormorant, Great Bittern, Great Egret, Black Stork, Whooper Swan, Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Great Reed Warbler.

Our next destination is the Sporovsky Biological Reserve. The vast fen mires here are the largest remaining in Europe and host the majority of the world's breeding Aquatic Warblers. As well as this particularly sought-after species, we will also search for birds such as Common Crane, Citrine Wagtail, and especially the splendid Great Grey Owl, which regularly breeds nearby. Our local guide will usually know of some nests of other interesting birds, such as Hazel Grouse and Long-eared and Tawny Owls.

From here we will travel west to the primeval forest of Belowezhskaya Pushcha, which is the eastern section of forest known as Bialowieza on the Polish side of the frontier, Europe’s finest remaining tract of lowland forest and is home to one of the only remaining populations of European Bison left in the wild (the species once occurred widely across the forest zone of Europe and possibly Asia, but began to vanish not long after the end of the last Ice Age as human pressures intensified, now surviving only in the Caucasus and in Poland/Belarus). Once a hunting preserve of Grand Lithuanian Dukes, Polish kings and later the Russian Tsars, the forest has suffered badly during wars, but in spite of this large tracts survived. As well as the bison, there are some very exciting birds, including Black Stork, Hazel Grouse, Eurasian Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owls, and Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers.

The Northern Belarus pre-tour extension offers the chance of adding some very desirable forest birds, which are either not possible or more difficult to find in the south of the country, including Ural and Tengmalm’s (or Boreal) Owls, Hazel and Black Grouse, and Western Capercaillie, as well as Spotted Nutcracker and Golden Eagle. In addition, Eurasian Pygmy Owl and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker are a little easier to see in the north of the country, on our local guide’s doorstep. Other species possible here include White-tailed Eagle, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Western Osprey, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit.

We will have the privilege of staying deep in the heart of the Krasny Bor Reserve in a traditional-style wooden guesthouse with birds all around us, a family of wild European Beavers in a nearby pond and a pack of captive/tamed Grey Wolves, which our local guide uses for filming in wild environments.

Birdquest has operated tours to Belarus since 2014.

Accommodation & Road Transport: Hotels and food in Belarus have improved in recent years and are of good standard at all locations. Road transport is usually by small coach and roads are generally good (and mostly with only light traffic).

Walking: The walking effort is easy almost throughout.

Climate: Depending on the variable spring weather, it can be cool in the mornings and then hot and sunny during the day, but there can also be fairly cold, wet and overcast periods.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Tour Price: £1960, €2160, $2550 Minsk/Minsk. Single Room Supplement: £160, €176, $208. Deposit: £300, €360, $390.

Northern Belarus Extension: £710, €810, $930 Minsk/Minsk. Single Room Supplement: £30, €33, $39. (No additional deposit is required.)

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

There are only a limited number of rooms at Krasny Bor, where we stay for three nights during the extension. It is possible that not all those requesting singles will be able to have them. Any unexpected sharing will result in an appropriate refund.

Base prices for this tour are in Euros. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = €1.100 and €1 = $1.180.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

A visit to a Great Snipe lek will be a tour highlight (Mike Watson)

A visit to a Great Snipe lek will be a tour highlight (Mike Watson)

Great Grey Owl will be another tour highlight - our local guides find up to 17 nests in a single season (Mike Watson)

Great Grey Owl will be another tour highlight - our local guides find up to 17 nests in a single season (Mike Watson)

There is even a slim chance of a Eurasian Lynx on one of our night drives like this one on our 2015 tour (Mike Watson)

There is even a slim chance of a Eurasian Lynx on one of our night drives like this one on our 2015 tour (Mike Watson)

Aquatic Warbler (Mike Watson) - Belarus is now the best place to catch up with this declining bird!

Aquatic Warbler (Mike Watson) - Belarus is now the best place to catch up with this declining bird!

The vast sedge marshes of Belarus - a declining and severely threatened habitat in Europe

The vast sedge marshes of Belarus - a declining and severely threatened habitat in Europe

White-winged Terns grace the Turov Meadows in their thousands (Mike Watson)

White-winged Terns grace the Turov Meadows in their thousands (Mike Watson)

Terek Sandpipers can be found breeding at the westernmost limit of their range along the Pripyat River of Belarus (Mike Watson)

Terek Sandpipers can be found breeding at the westernmost limit of their range along the Pripyat River of Belarus (Mike Watson)

Elegant Marsh Sandpipers sometimes grace the riverside marshes at Turov Meadows (Mike Watson)

Elegant Marsh Sandpipers sometimes grace the riverside marshes at Turov Meadows (Mike Watson)

... where Ruffs in their extrovert breeding dress can also be seen in spring (Mike Watson)

... where Ruffs in their extrovert breeding dress can also be seen in spring (Mike Watson)

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers haunt the pine forest bogs of the Pripyatskiy National Park (Mike Watson)

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers haunt the pine forest bogs of the Pripyatskiy National Park (Mike Watson)

Belarus still has a healthy population of Corn Crakes (Mike Watson)

Belarus still has a healthy population of Corn Crakes (Mike Watson)

Thrush Nightingales are a common sound in the Belarusian countryside (Mike Watson)

Thrush Nightingales are a common sound in the Belarusian countryside (Mike Watson)

Flooded Black Alder forest in Belarus ('The land of boots') (Mike Watson)

Flooded Black Alder forest in Belarus ('The land of boots') (Mike Watson)

Turov Meadows = Western Palearctic hotspot! (Mike Watson)

Turov Meadows = Western Palearctic hotspot! (Mike Watson)

Citrine Wagtails can be found commonly in the sedge fens of Sporovo (Mike Watson)

Citrine Wagtails can be found commonly in the sedge fens of Sporovo (Mike Watson)

European Bison emerge from the forest at Belowezhskaya Pushcha in the evening to graze the meadows there (Mike Watson)

European Bison emerge from the forest at Belowezhskaya Pushcha in the evening to graze the meadows there (Mike Watson)

The forests of Belarus hold many ancient indicator species like the parasitic Toothwort (Mike Watson)

The forests of Belarus hold many ancient indicator species like the parasitic Toothwort (Mike Watson)

Birdquesting in Belarus builds up an appetite for picnics! (Mike Watson)

Birdquesting in Belarus builds up an appetite for picnics! (Mike Watson)

We pass by many fine onion-domed orthodox churches on our itinerary like this one at Bereza (Mike Watson)

We pass by many fine onion-domed orthodox churches on our itinerary like this one at Bereza (Mike Watson)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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