The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Europe & Surroundings

SWIFT BELARUS

Great Snipe, Aquatic Warbler, Azure Tit & Great Grey Owl

Thursday 7th May – Monday 11th May 2020

Leaders: Nik Borrow and Dima Shamovich.

5 Days Group Size Limit 8
Tuesday 11th May – Saturday 15th May 2021

Leader: Dima Shamovich.

5 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Swift Belarus tours explore a country that is still little known to birdwatchers, but which holds a superb variety of special birds. Our springtime Swift Belarus tour to the forests and marshes of the region known as ‘White Russia’ focuses on such mega-specialities as the beautiful Azure Tit, lekking Great Snipe, the magnificent Great Grey Owl and Aquatic Warbler. A wonderful supporting cast includes Greater Spotted Eagle, Terek Sandpiper, Eurasian Three-toed and White-backed Woodpeckers, and Citrine Wagtail.

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 European 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 Swift Belarus tour we will visit areas in the south of the country.

From Minsk we will travel to Turov and 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.

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.

Birdquest has operated Belarus birding tours 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 during our Swift Belarus tour 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 during our Swift Belarus tour are good.


DETAILED ITINERARY

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: £270, $350, €300.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £1050, $1390, €1230. Minsk/Minsk.
2021: provisional £1050, $1390, €1230. Minsk/Minsk.

Single Supplement: 2020: £90, $120, €100.
Single Supplement: 2021: £90, $120, €100.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.

SWIFT BELARUS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Swift Belarus: Day 1  Our Belarus birding tour begins in the afternoon in Minsk, from where we will drive south to the Slavic town of Turov, situated close to vicinity of Pripyatsky National Park, where we will stay for two nights at a comfortable hotel. Turov is the oldest Belorusian town and formerly part of the Duchy of Turov and Pinsk it grew in importance on the ancient trade route from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The Vikings also knew of Turov, and one can imagine their longboats passing by on the Pripyat river, on their long journey to the Black Sea and beyond to raid Constantinople. The town has an interesting history but it has suffered terribly over the centuries, being destroyed by the Tartars in 1521 and again during the wars with Muscovy in 1648, when three quarters of its homes were razed to the ground. Turov’s Jewish community was also wiped out in World War II and only a handful of families have since returned. In fact Belarus lost a truly staggering one-third of its population during the Second World War. If time allows we will make our first excursion in the surrounding marshes this evening.

Swift Belarus: Day 2  We will spend our time exploring the marshes, ox-bow lakes and flooded woodlands along the course of the Pripyat river, an area of pretty traditional villages.

The vast marshes support around 150 pairs of Great Snipe and an evening visit to one of their leks will be an undoubted highlight of our stay in Belarus. Here we will gather at dusk as the birds begin to arrive and commence standing erect with their bills pointed upwards whilst flashing the conspicuous area of white in their outer tail feathers, all the while making strange little clicks, grunts, whistles and whooshing sounds as they move around their arena. From time to time they hurl themselves into the air and as the light dims they begin to chase each other, flying low over the marshes.

Two of our other targets here, Terek Sandpiper and the beautiful Azure Tit, can be found breeding at the western limit of their ranges, the latter sometimes nesting in the walls of rickety old wooden houses. The Turov area is also home to a small population of Greater Spotted Eagles and we should encounter this threatened raptor during our stay, as well as its smaller and more common cousin the Lesser Spotted Eagle.

Other birds we will search for include Great Bittern, Great Egret, Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Garganey, White and Black Storks, Marsh, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers, White-tailed Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Hobby, Corn Crake, Common Crane, Common Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Common Greenshank, Wood and Green Sandpipers, the handsome Ruff, Little Gull, Whiskered, Black and White-winged (in their smart breeding plumage), Little and Caspian Terns, Eurasian Hoopoe, the huge Black (no doubt seeing the latter only after hearing its almost electronic ‘bleep’ call or its loud rattling cry), Middle Spotted, Syrian, Grey-headed and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Grey-headed (of the form dombrowski) and Blue-headed Wagtails, the westward-spreading Citrine Wagtail, Thrush Nightingale, the stunning Bluethroat (the white-spotted here), Fieldfare, Common Grasshopper, Savi’s, Great Reed, Sedge, Icterine, Barred, Willow and Wood Warblers, Collared, Pied and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Crested Tit, the delightful little Eurasian Penduline Tit, Great Grey Shrike and Hawfinch.

Swift Belarus: Day 3  After some final birding around Turov we will drive west to Bereza (or Bjaroza) near the Sporovsky Biological Reserve for a two nights stay. We may have time to start our exploration on arrival, and we will also stop off along the way at Beloe Fishponds, a breeding site of Smew and Ferruginous Duck, where we may well also see Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, Great Bittern, Great Egret, Black Stork, Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Great Reed Warbler.

A forest reserve en route has breeding Great Grey Owls and we should enjoy an encounter today with this wonderful bird, which is probably the most impressive of all the owls. Our local guide will have been hard at work to locate nest sites as part of his ongoing research.

Swift Belarus: Day 4  The Sporovsky Biological Reserve (or Sporauskaje balota) is a RAMSAR site of international importance and covers an area of around 20,000 hectares. It is home to Europe’s largest complex of natural floodplain fen mires, which comprise some 75% of its area, the largest extent outside the Arctic and within this very special habitat more than 20% of the world’s population of Aquatic Warblers breed. This is now perhaps the best place in the world to see this restricted-range and increasingly uncommon species as it disappears from its peripheral haunts. Aquatic Warblers will be in full song at the time of our visit, trilling and chirping away from the tops of the sedges in the drier parts of the marshes.

The marshes and fish ponds here are also home to Great Bittern, Great and Common Snipes, all three ‘marsh’ terns, Little Tern, Little Gull, Citrine Wagtail, Eurasian Reed Warbler and pinging Bearded Reedlings, as well as Spotted, Little and Corn Crakes. We have a good chance of seeing the latter and may hearing the other two (seeing either is not likely).

Swift Belarus: Day 5  Today we will make our way back to Minsk, where our Belarus birding tour will end in the early afternoon.

BELARUS TOUR REPORT 2018

by Nik Borrow

View Report

BELARUS TOUR REPORT 2016

by Dave Farrow

View Report

BELARUS TOUR REPORT 2015

by Mike Watson

View Report

Other Northern Europe birding tours by Birdquest include:

Siberian

Europe & Surroundings

FINLAND & ARCTIC NORWAY

Harlequin

Europe & Surroundings

ICELAND