Please note that local factors sometimes require us to reverse the below itinerary, so travelling first to Turov and finishing at Belowezhskaya Pushcha. However, other than running in reverse order, the places we visit and the birds we look for there remain the same as described below.
FLY LONDON TO MINSK, TRANSFER TO BELOWEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA FOREST
Our birdwatching tour to Belarus commences with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Warsaw and onward connection to Minsk. We'll be met on arrival in the Belarusian capital this afternoon by our English-speaking co-leader - an expert on the birds and wildlife of Belarus - and head southwest towards the border with Poland.
Our destination this evening hotel is a rural hotel set right beside the remarkable ancient forest of Belowezhskaya Pushcha, where we shall spend the first three nights of our holiday. Night Belowezhskaya Pushcha
Days 2 - 3
BELOWEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA FOREST
Belowezhskaya Pushcha ancient forest is 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, Wood Warbler, Crested Tit, Red Crossbill and both Red-breasted and Collared Flycatchers are breeding here. Along Lake Liadskoye, we may hear the rhythmic 'chuffing' of River Warblers and raptors to watch out for include Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Montagu’s Harrier, and White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles as well as Short-toed Snake Eagle and the rarer Greater Spotted Eagle.
We will want to 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 very rare and 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 also a chance of seeing Eurasian Wolf here - and on one occasion our group even enjoyed superb views of a Eurasian Lynx, which astonishingly remained in view for 15 minutes! Two further nights Belowezhskaya Pushcha
From Belowezhskaya, we next head east to Sporava Mire Reserve (near Beloozersk), where we stay for one night. En route we have the 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. We will check in to our lodge, refresh ourselves and then pay a visit to Sporava Reserve. Amazingly, Belarus is home to some 40% of the world’s breeding 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 handsomely striped warbler, 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 Harriers, 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 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. Night Beloozersk
TO PRIPYATSKY NATIONAL PARK
We may take the chance to get out early at Sporava this morning, but our main aim today is to continue east to Turov for a four-night stay at our final hotel of the tour, which 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 to look for the scarce Great Grey Owl, plus Long-eared Owl and any other species we may have missed along the way. Night Turov
TUROV MEADOWS, PRIPYAT RIVER & PRIPYATSKY NATIONAL PARK
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, listening out for their strange bubbling calls and watching for them jumping into the air as if looking out for visiting birdwatchers! Little and Spotted Crakes are most vocal at night - and Corncrakes might also be calling loudly, giving us a fighting 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 nest here too, hanging their distinctive bottle nests in the waterside trees.
We will have some time to discover the ancient forests of oak, spruce and birch forests, the domain of Black Stork, Common Crane, and Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles - all of which are to be looked for soaring above the woodland canopy. Pripyat 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 birds such as Whooper Swan, Smew (the only Belarus location), Red-necked Grebe, Bittern and White-tailed Eagle. Many wildfowl and waders pass this way on migration, and Caspian Terns could be seen beside Caspian Gulls here. Three further nights Turov
RETURN TO MINSK, FLY LONDON
After an early breakfast we leave Turov and return north once more to Minsk. Bidding farewell to our local guide, we board an afternoon flight to Warsaw and onward connection to London Heathrow, where our spring birding tour to Belarus concludes.