Thursday, May 16, 2019

Belarus: Bison, Pancakes and (lack of) Racoon Dogs

We started at Liverpool Cricket Club, where six of us met for a minibus and collected 2 on the way to arrive early at Manchester Airport for our afternoon flight to Frankfurt. There wasn't much turnaround time for our early evening flight to Minsk, but thankfully everything ran smoothly. We had met up with the other 3 in our party at Frankfurt, and the smaller aircraft set off on time to Minsk. There were a few hiccups getting through Passport Control where we had to produce documentary evidence that we had travel and medical insurance. At that point I realised I had my documents in my suitcase, and I was escorted to the luggage by a Guard to find my missing sheets. The story quickly escalated to "Rob has been escorted by an armed guard to collect his luggage...." trying my best to downplay the episode I realised I had been escorted by a guard who was armed, and my passport was held at Passport Control. I was able to provide the evidence eventually and was quickly able to retrieve my passport. This actually meant I avoided other searching questions that others experienced.

We met up with our Birding Guide for the week, Denis, and the driver, Sasha. We then had a two hour drive to our overnight stay in Sluck. It was raining heavily the whole of the journey and we set off the next morning in heavy rain, after a typical Belarus breakfast, with pancakes. At our first birding stop the rain had lightened but it was cold and I regretted not packing my gloves, thinking I wouldn't need them in the 2nd week in May. We had a number of interesting Waders, Wildfowl and Marsh Terns. Most had never seen a Terek Sandpiper and we were pleased with our efforts.
Terek Sandpiper

We arrived at our hotel in Turaŭ where we were based for 2 nights.

An evening visit took us to the marshes in search of Great Snipe and we weren't disappointed when we saw three, the conditions were challenging but it was well worth it.

I realised when I opened my toiletries bag that I had forgotten to pack my toothpaste. A drugstore was a short distance away from our hotel and when I entered the store it was evident that it was not self-service. There were no English signs or labels on the products. The lady behind the counter spoke no English. It did not take long for her to cotton on to what I was after. I managed to convince her with a shake of the head that I did not require a toothbrush or dental floss.

We had an early start the next day, after a good teeth clean, for a pre-breakfast birdwatch to a forest for those who were able to wake up to their alarms.
Red-breasted Flycatcher
We were rewarded with Pied, Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers, as well as hearing Collared. The weather was wet but not as bad as the first day. Certainly the bird of the day was at a stop in a small village where we saw two Azure Tits that were flitting about near to their nest. It was a bird that most had never seen before and it turned out to be the "Bird of the trip". We reluctantly returned to the minibus leaving the birds in peace. Other highlights at other stops of forests and marshes along the Prypiać River valley were Middle- spotted, Black and White-backed Woodpeckers.

Azure Tit
After an evening meal, which included pancakes, and a rest we took a stroll over to the floodplain meadow in Turaŭ close to our hotel, where we hoped to hear Corncrake. The weather was much improved and the wind had dropped although still a bit cool. There were many White-winged Black Terns and Little Terns. We were all pleased to see Beavers swimming, and a Long-eared Owl flew at dusk. Sadly no Corncrakes were heard.

The following morning we started our journey to our next hotel in Belaaziorsk, after a pancake filled breakfast, after allowing time to pack our suitcases. I managed an early start and was rewarded with Hoopoes, Golden Orioles, a Black Redstart and Thrush Nightingale, also hearing Corncrake. We had a few stops after breakfast.
We called in at Bielaje Fishponds, and the highlights were a singing Bluethroat, Grey-headed Woodpecker and Savi's and Great Reed Warblers.

Our star bird of the day was saved until later in the evening when we patiently waited for the song of the Aquatic Warbler, walking in the Sedge Tussocks was difficult, but most of us were rewarded when one showed briefly in the failing light. Great Snipe were also heard.

The next day we were on the move again heading west, this time to Bielaviežškaja Pušča National Park, where we spent the next three nights. It was quite a long drive and we had a few stops and had great views of a Montague's Harrier and Lesser Spotted Eagle. A lunch stop at a park was productive when we found a Hawfinch on a nest. We had great views of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Wryneck and Icterine Warbler. We called in to see probably our second bird of the trip, the Great Grey Owl. After a failed first attempt, we later saw two adults and four chicks, three of which were still on the large nest. It was a fabulous experience and some having seen them for the first time. It was quite a trek to get there in the forest but well worth it.

Great Grey Owl chicks
The next day we were joined by our local guide Anton, and we had a 5 am start for a drive through the National Park for distant but good views of Bison. It had been raining again and misty but the early start was worth it. We headed back to our hotel and had our pancake breakfast and met up with Ged, who had just finished with another group. We started with a Three-toed Woodpecker, a lifer for most in the group. Some more great Owl views, this time Tengmalm's and Pygmy. The Tengmalm's Owls were nesting in an old Black Woodpecker hole where we saw one peering out. Shortly after we saw a Black Woodpecker popping out of a new hole.

Three-toed Woodpecker

Tengmalm's Owl

Black Woodpecker
There was no let up for our final birding day when we had a new local guide, Vadzim. We had distant views of a Great Spotted Eagle, another new bird for most. A Grasshopper Warbler showed briefly and numerous Whinchats, Sedge Warblers and Skylarks. At another stop at a tower hide we had distant, but better views of an Aquatic Warbler, also Citrine Wagtail and Common Rosefinch. We heard but failed to see Spotted Crake.

We had another early start on the last day, sadly this early start was for a five-hour minibus journey with a pancake filled breakfast stop. The two planes from Minsk and Frankfurt departed more or less on time. It was a long travel back home.
We had approximately 180 species, with some species only having been heard. The highlight birds were Azure Tit, Great Grey and Tengmalm's Owls, Terek Sandpiper and Great Snipe. We had other fabulous Birds and Mammals, with Beavers and Bison. Unfortunately a Racoon dog escaped us despite some possible (?) sightings.

Aquatic Warbler

A big thanks to Denis Kitel, Gerard Gorman, Vadzim Prakapchuk and Anton and all at APB-Birdlife Wetland Centre

1. Mute Swan
2. Whooper Swan
3. Greylag Geese
4. Mallard
5. Gadwall
6. Pintail
7. Shoveler
8. Teal
9. Garganey
10. Common Pochard
11. Red-crested Pochard
12. Tufted Duck
13. Wigeon
14. Goldeneye
15. Smew
16. Black Grouse
17. Grey Partridge
18. Corncrake (H)
19. Black Necked Grebe
20. Little Grebe
21. Great Crested Grebe
22. Red-necked Grebe
23. Cormorant
24. Bittern (H)
25. Great Egret
26. Grey Heron
27. White Stork
28. Black Stork
29. White-tailed Eagle
30. Lesser Spotted Eagle
31. Greater Spotted Eagle
32. Marsh Harrier
33. Hen Harrier
34. Montague's Harrier
35. Common Buzzard
36. Honey Buzzard
37. Sparrowhawk
38. Kestrel
39. Hobby
40. Black Kite
41. Spotted Crake (H)
42. Moorhen
43. Coot
44. Common Crane
45. Red-throated Diver
46. Oystercatcher
47. Little Ringed Plover
48. Ringed Plover
49. Lapwing
50. Dunlin
51. Temminck's Stint
52. Wood Sandpiper
53. Green Sandpiper
54. Common Sandpiper
55. Terek Sandpiper
56. Redshank
57. Spotted Redshank
58. Marsh Sandpiper
59. Black-tailed Godwit
60. Woodcock
61. Great Snipe
62. Snipe
63. Ruff
64. Black-headed Gull
65. Common Gull
66. Caspian Gull
67. Little Tern
68. Common Tern
69. Caspian Tern
70. White-winged Black Tern
71. Black Tern
72. Whiskered Tern
73. Feral Pigeon
74. Stock Dove
75. Wood Pigeon
76. Collared Dove
77. Turtle Dove
78. Cuckoo
79. Great Grey Owl
80. Tengmalm's Owl
81. Pygmy Owl
82. Long-eared Owl
83. Tawny Owl (H)
84. Little Owl
85. Hoopoe
86. Black Woodpecker
87. Grey-headed Woodpecker
88. Great Spotted Woodpecker
89. Middle Spotted Woodpecker
90. White-backed Woodpecker
91. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
92. Three-toed Woodpecker
93. Wryneck
94. Skylark
95. Crested Lark
96. Sand Martin
97. Barn Swallow
98. House Martin
99. Swift
100. Meadow Pipit
101. Tree Pipit
102. White Wagtail
103. Yellow Wagtail
104. Citrine Wagtail
105. Robin
106. Dunnock
107. Thrush Nightingale
108. Bluethroat
109. Redstart
110. Black Redstart
111. Wheatear
112. Whinchat
113. Stonechat
114. Song Thrush
115. Fieldfare
116. Blackbird
117. Kingfisher
118. Barred Warbler
119. Garden Warbler
120. Blackcap
121. Whitethroat
122. Lesser Whitethroat
123. Sedge Warbler
124. Aquatic Warbler
125. Grasshopper Warbler
126. Savi's Warbler
127. Great Reed Warbler
128. Willow Warbler
129. Chiffchaff
130. Wood Warbler
131. Icterine Warbler
132. Goldcrest
133. Firecrest
134. Wren
135. Spotted Flycatcher
136. Pied Flycatcher
137. Red-breasted Flycatcher
138. Collared Flycatcher
139. Great Tit
140. Blue Tit
141. Coal Tit
142. Long-tailed Tit
143. Azure Tit
144. Crested Tit
145. Willow Tit
146. Marsh Tit
147. Penduline Tit
148. Bearded Tit
149. Nuthatch
150. Common Treecreeper
151. Great Grey Shrike
152. Red-backed Shrike
153. Magpie
154. Jay
155. Jackdaw
156. Rook
157. Hooded Crow
158. Raven
159. Starling
160. Golden Oriole
161. House Sparrow
162. Tree Sparrow
163. Chaffinch
164. Linnet
165. Goldfinch
166. Bullfinch
167. Greenfinch
168. Siskin (H)
169. Serin
170. Hawfinch
171. Common Crossbill
172. Common Rosefinch
173. Reed Bunting
174. Yellowhammer
175. Corn Bunting
176. Lesser Black-backed Gull
177. Reed Warbler
178. Quail (H)


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