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Belarus JUST ADDED! Wild 'White Russia'

Late Availability

A 10-day, small group birdwatching tour to Belarus

Belarus returns to our schedule in May 2018 - and with a great new itinerary that's been extended from 8 to 10 days. Imagine a land that's home to Azure Tits, Aquatic Warblers and ancient forests, where European Bison still roam; of myriad meandering rivers that drain some of the continent's biggest marshes and fens; and of roads where one hardly meets any traffic. Lying between Poland to the west and Moscow and the Russian Federation to the east, this is the wild and unspoilt country of Belarus. Travel there with Limosa and discover a fantastic destination for spring birds and wildlife, where 90% of the landscape is still natural and undeveloped.

Tour Dates

2018

Spaces
8

2019

Available

Leaders
Colin Bushell
local guides

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 10 Days

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Cost: £2395

inc flights from London Gatwick to Minsk, nonstop with Belavia

Deposit: £400

Single Supp: £265
Land Only: £2145

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Azure Tit crop 142 Belarus 1705 Colin Bradshaw copy resized

'Top trumps' in Belarus, the rare and beautiful Azure Tit at Pripyatsky National Park © kind permission Colin Bradshaw

Belarus is fast becoming one of the prime birding destinations in Europe. Formerly a part of the USSR known as 'White Russia', this eastern neighbour of Poland boasts an extraordinary variety of rare breeding birds, including the beautiful Azure Tit, Aquatic Warbler, lekking Great Snipe and Terek Sandpiper, not to mention seldom seen mammals such as the endangered European Bison, Eurasian Lynx, Eurasian Beaver and Wolf - all of which we have recorded on our four previous tours to Belarus, although not on every one!

As the countries of Eastern Europe go through rapid agricultural development, they are sadly losing some of their traditional, low-intensity systems of agriculture and prime untouched wilderness areas. Yet, thankfully, in Belarus these still survive - and this extended tour will introduce you to three of the very best areas for threatened wildlife species.

After resting overnight near Minsk, we head southwest to Belarus’s western border. Here lies the World Heritage Site of Belowezhskaya Pushcha ancient forest, a much larger and wilder continuation of the more famous Bialowieza Forest in Poland. These fairy-tale woodlands hold elusive Great Grey and Eurasian Pygmy Owls, while Collared Flycatcher and ten of Europe’s woodpeckers - including Wryneck, White-backed and Three-toed - breed. But the most famous inhabitant of the forest here is a mammal: the majestic European Bison. We will search for them in some of their favourite glades and meadows, although the great beasts can be surprisingly difficult to spot amongst the old growth trees!      

Our second stop is the Sporava Mire Reserve. Savi’s Warblers and Bluethroats sing from the banks of the Yaselda River - and Citrine Wagtail, also nests here. Most importantly, Sporava is a vital stronghold of Aquatic Warbler and we hope to admire the characteristic song flight of this, Europe’s rarest songbird. Nearby fishponds are home to Whiskered, Black and White-winged Black Terns, and Caspian and Little Gulls, while Corn, Little and Spotted Crakes should all be arriving and in full voice now.

For our grand finale, we head east to the fabled marshes of Pripyatsky National Park along the meandering Pripyat River. This region in the south of Belarus boasts a unique geography and historical culture and is sometimes called the ‘Belarusian Amazon’ - being an immense and pristine wilderness that's home a wide variety of flora and fauna, vast swamps, wide inundated tracts of oak woods and broad-leaved forests.

Birdlife is rich, with many breeding and migrant waders including Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, and displaying Ruff. We will take an evening walk into the marshes here, to see Great Snipe leaping in display at their lek and listen to their strange 'symphony of icicles' song.

One of the most sought-after birds of the trip is the rare Azure Tit. Belarus is the only place in Europe where we have a realistic chance of finding this stunning bird in its breeding habitat, among the riparian willow forests of the Pripyat. Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Common Crane and Black Stork can be seen soaring above the ancient woodlands of oak, spruce and birch, and Thrush Nightingale, Bluethroat, Common Rosefinch, Golden Oriole and Hawfinch also frequent this magical place.

Belarus is certainly not the easiest of European destinations to get to, but the wildlife rewards of this unspoilt country make it an experience not to be missed. Go now, before the inexorable march of “progress” starts to take its toll!

B11P2803 crop Great Snipe GSmall copy resized

We pay an evening visit to Turov marshes specially to see Great Snipe at the lek - hearing their strange bubbling calls and seeing them jump into the air as if looking out for visiting birdwatchers! © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Day 1                                                             
FLY LONDON TO MINSK

Our birdwatching tour to Belarus commences with a direct flight from London Gatwick to Minsk. We'll be met on arrival in the Belarusian capital this evening by our English-speaking co-leader - an expert on the birds of Belarus - and transfer to a nearby hotel. Night Minsk

Days 2 - 4                                                 
BELOWEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA ANCIENT FOREST

We head southwest to spend three days at the heart of Belowezhskaya Pushcha ancient forest – a World Heritage Site and much larger extension of the more famous Białowieża Forest that straddles the border with Poland. Here we walk amidst the ancient trees and focus on woodland species. These fairy-tale woods hold Eurasian Pygmy Owl and, in some years, Tengmalm’s Owl and the magnificent Great Grey Owl, too. Hazel Grouse are resident, but remain characteristically elusive; we can sometimes locate one by its distinctive ‘dog whistle’ call.

In spring, ten European woodpeckers, Crested Tit, Common Crossbill, Wood Warbler, plus both Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers are breeding here. Along Lake Liadskoye, we may hear the 'chuffing' of River Warblers and raptors to watch for include Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Goshawk and Montagu’s Harrier, White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles as well as Short-toed Snake Eagle and the rarer Greater Spotted Eagle.

We will stay alert for the presence of mammals in these ancient woodlands. Eurasian Elk and Wild Boar are relatively numerous, but the most famous mammal of the forest is the majestic European Bison. We will search for them in some of their favourite meadows and glades within the great forest - but please be aware that these impressive beasts can be incredibly difficult to find amongst the trees and despite their size and the best efforts of our experienced local guides, they are not always seen. There is a chance of Wolf and on one occasion our group enjoyed superb views of a Eurasian Lynx, which remained in view for 15 minutes! Three nights Belowezhskaya Pushcha

Day 5                                                     
SPORAVA MIRE

From Belowezhskaya, we travel east to the Sporava Mire Reserve (Beloozersk), where we will stay for one night. En route we have a chance to pause at a complex of fishponds that offers a wide variety of waders and wildfowl, plus several species of tern including Little and Whiskered. Depending on water levels, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers should be about and this can be a good place to see White-tailed Eagle and Black Stork as well.

After a picnic at the fishponds we arrive at Beloozersk, where we will check in to our lodge, refresh ourselves and then go out to the Sporovo Reserve. Amazingly, Belarus is home to some 40% of the world’s breeding population of Aquatic Warblers, and Sporava’s remarkable wetlands are a major stronghold for this declining species. The birds arrive from late April and are often active in the late afternoon, when we will hope to enjoy good views of this handsome little warbler, all to a soundtrack of booming Bittern and drumming Common Snipe.

Sporava also holds Barred Warbler and Red-backed Shrike, along with classic ‘wet woodland’ species such as Common Rosefinch and Golden Oriole. Hen and Montagu’s Harrier, Great Grey Shrike and Penduline and Bearded Tits are present too and (if we haven't already seen them) we have chances of Common Crane, Short-eared Owl and Citrine Wagtail.

Elusive Corn, Little and Spotted Crakes should all be arriving in Belarus about now and the territorial males should be in full voice - although actually getting to see any of these legendary ‘night singers’ remains difficult as ever! Evening is also the best time to get to grips with another of Sporava’s elusive inhabitants - the crepuscular Eurasian Beaver. One night Beloozersk

Days 6 - 9
PRIPYATSKY NATIONAL PARK

We may have a chance to get out early this morning, but our main aim today is to continue east to Turov, where our final hotel of the tour is located on the banks of the Pripyat, at Turov Meadow. Depending on what we have seen during the previous days, we may break the journey with a small detour to an area that offers a second chance for Great Grey Owl, nesting Long-eared Owl and other species we may have missed.

The rare and sought-after Terek Sandpiper breeds on the banks of the untamed Pripyat River, that still floods vast areas of meadows and forests in spring. There is even a statue of a pair in the main square in front of the hotel! On wet meadows near Turov we may experience spectacular gatherings of hundreds of migrating Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, including many colourful males, while elegant Spotted Redshanks, resplendent in velvet-black breeding plumage, also occur in good numbers.

We’ll return to the marshes one evening to watch for Great Snipe strutting their stuff at the lek, hearing them utter their strange bubbling calls and jumping into the air as if looking out for visiting birdwatchers! Little and Spotted Crakes plus Corncrakes might be calling loudly, giving us a chance to locate and see them too!

One of the most sought-after birds of the trip will be the beautiful Azure Tit. Belarus is the only place in Europe where we have a realistic chance to find this stunning bird in its breeding habitat amidst the riparian willow forests of the Pripyat River. It's one of the continent’s rarest and most difficult species to see. However, although elusive, this delightful resident nests every year, favouring wooden buildings and natural cavities in the oldest trees. Acrobatic Penduline Tits also breed, hanging their distinctive bottle nests in the waterside trees.

We will have some time to discover the ancient oak, spruce and birch forests too. These are the domain of Common Crane, Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, and Black Stork - all of which are to be found soaring above the woodland canopy. This is woodpecker country par excellence and inside the forest we’ll look for Wryneck and White-backed Woodpecker, and might also come across Grey-headed, Black, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Three-toed Woodpeckers! Collared Flycatchers will just have arrived and the likes of Thrush Nightingale, Bluethroat, Golden Oriole, Scarlet Rosefinch and Hawfinch are regularly encountered in this magical place.

Nearby, the Beloe Fishponds are home to breeding Whooper Swan, Smew (the only Belarus location), Bittern, White-tailed Eagle, Red-necked Grebe and many wildfowl and waders on migration. Caspian Terns can be seen beside Caspian Gulls here. Four nights Turov

Day 10                                                                     
RETURN TO MINSK, FLY LONDON

After an early breakfast we leave Turov and return north to Minsk. Early afternoon flight to London, where our tour to Belarus concludes.

2EUR Aquatic Warbler B11P3537 G Small Belarus 2014 wildlifeimagesgs.com

Belarus safeguards 40% of the world population of Aquatic Warbler, for which Sporava Mire is a vital stronghold. We hope to admire the characteristic song flight of this, Europe’s rarest songbird © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

What To Expect

Belarus returns to our schedule in May 2018 - and with a great new itinerary that's been extended from eight to ten days. Imagine a land that's home to Azure Tits, Aquatic Warblers and ancient forests, where European Bison still roam; of myriad meandering rivers that drain some of the continent's biggest marshes and fens; and of roads where one hardly meets any traffic...

Lying between Poland to the west and Moscow and the Russian Federation to the east, this is the wild and unspoilt country of Belarus. Travel there with Limosa and discover a fantastic destination for spring birds and wildlife, where 90% of the landscape is still natural and undeveloped.

In May, we can expect a mix of sunshine and showers, cool to quite warm with daily temperatures at Minsk in the range 7-19C (45-66F). Often cooler around dusk.

Birds

140-160 species

Mammals

5-15 species. As elsewhere in Europe, large mammals are seldom easy to find in Belarus. While our groups have done well over the years, please be aware that mammal sightings can never be guaranteed or expected.

Accommodation

Belarus is well off the beaten tourist trail and the infrastructure and standards of hotels fall below those we are generally accustomed to in Western Europe. Nonetheless the accommodations we use are of reasonable quality, chosen for their proximity to the key birding sites. All rooms have private facilities. Please note there are no hairdryers or coffee-making facilities in the rooms.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with either dinner on arrival in Minsk on the evening of Day 1 (or breakfast on Day 2, depending on arrival time at the hotel on Day 1) and concluding with breakfast in Turov on Day 10. Lunches will usually be picnics.

Walking

Easy, other than when looking for Great Grey Owl, which can sometimes require going ‘off piste’ into the forests to find them. Mainly short walks over flat terrain. At Belowezhskaya, our walks are mostly along forest tracks.

Wear stout walking shoes or boots with sturdy corrugated soles for grip. Good waterproof wellington boots (or wet feet!) are essential most years (but not every year) as getting to see some of the birds in undeveloped Belarus often involves walking through marshy country and lank vegetation underfoot that can soon become soaked in dew or after rain.

Travel

We fly direct from London Gatwick to Minsk with the national carrier Belavia.

Ground Transport  Minibus with local driver

2EUR Lynx B11P3314 G Small Belarus 2014 wildlifeimagesgs.com

We've done well for large mammals in Belarus over the years. Our May 2014 group enjoyed superb views of this magnificent Eurasian Lynx at Belowezhskaya, which remained in view for 15 minutes! © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

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1 GM, Belarus tour ...Long days, but worth it!... A Wolf crosses the track in front of us, and then within the hour, after a short walk through fantastic semi-flooded forest, we are looking at Great Grey Owl - it doesn’t get much better than that! ... [empty string]
2 JM, Belarus tour ... All leaders excellent! All staff worked their socks off!!... Azure Tit, Aquatic Warbler, Great Snipe dancing, Great Grey Owl and 9 out of 10 possible woodpeckers, not just seen but super views. Add to this Bison, Beaver and Wild Boar - how do you select the best moment?... [empty string]
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