Wild 'White Russia'
A 9-day, small group birdwatching tour to Belarus
Our Belarus birding tour returned to our programme in 2019, with a much improved itinerary extended to 9 days. Picture a land that's home to sought-after specialities such as Azure Tit and the endangered Aquatic Warbler, and ancient forests where European Bison still roam; a land of myriad meandering rivers that drain some of the continent's biggest marshes and fens; and of roads where, even today, one meets very little 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 on Limosa’s spring birdwatching holiday to Belarus and discover a fantastic destination for birds and wildlife, where around 90% of the landscape is still natural and undeveloped.
Tour Dates & Prices
Thu 6th May 2021
Fri 14th May 2021
4 Spaces Available
Tour Cost: 9 Days from £2395* inc return flights from London Heathrow
* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)
- Limosa Tour Leader
- Expert English-speaking Belarus bird and wildlife specialist
- Return flights - London Heathrow to Minsk
- 8 nights accommodation in Belarus
- All main meals - and drinking water provided
- Minibus transport with local driver
- All excursions, local guides, permits and entry fees to National Parks
- All tour-based tips (inc. local guides, drivers) and taxes
- Map & Limosa checklist of birds
Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature
*1 GOOD NEWS! Visa not required by British national passport holders - see our Tour Info Pack for details. *2 GROUP FLIGHT from London Heathrow-Warsaw-Minsk with LOT Polish Airlines. For this reason, please note that Land Only is not an option on this tour
- Brilliant birding in one of Europe's least visited countries!
- Seeking the rare Azure Tit, Aquatic Warbler and European Bison amid ancient forests and fens
- Includes 3-night stay beside the remarkable Belowezhskaya Pushcha ancient forest
- Great Grey, Pygmy & Tengmalm’s Owls, 9 species of woodpecker, Citrine Wagtail... all on our 2019 tour
- 4 nights by the flooded forests of Pripyatsky National Park, plus a night near Sporava Mire
- Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Great Snipe lekking, Terek Sandpiper, Thrush Nightingale
- Small group size - maximum of 10 participants
- Expertly led by Limosa's David Walsh and our English-speaking Belarus specialist, Gábor Orbán
Fly London Heathrow-Minsk (via Warsaw). We head southwest to the Belowezhskaya ancient forest. Night Belowezhskaya Pushcha
We explore the unique and ancient forest of Belowezhskaya for some excellent birding and wildlife. Belowezhskaya Pushcha (2 nts)
East to Sporava Mire Reserve, a stronghold for breeding Aquatic Warblers. Night Beloozersk
We continue east to Pripyatsky National Park for a four-night stay. Night Turov
Pripyatsky National Park for Azure Tit and a great selection of wetland birds. Evening visit to Great Snipe lek. Turov (3 nts)
Return to Minsk. Afternoon fly Minsk-Warsaw and onward to London Heathrow
Belarus is fast becoming one of the prime birding destinations in Europe. Formerly a part of the old USSR known as 'White Russia', this eastern neighbour of Poland boasts an extraordinary variety of pristine habitats and rare breeding birds - including the beautiful Azure Tit, rapidly declining Aquatic Warbler, lekking Great Snipe and the bent-billed Terek Sandpiper - as well as seldom seen mammals, most notably the endangered European Bison.
As the countries of Eastern Europe go through rapid agricultural development, they are sadly losing their traditional, low-intensity systems of agriculture and areas of prime, untouched wilderness. Thankfully, in Belarus these still survive - and this extended Limosa tour will introduce you to three of the best areas for threatened wildlife species.
After arriving in 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. Despite this embarrassment of avian riches, the most famous inhabitant of the forest here is actually 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 Sporava Mire Reserve. Savi’s Warblers and Bluethroats sing from the banks of the Yaselda River here - and the very lovely Citrine Wagtail also breeds. Most importantly, Sporava is a vital stronghold of the declining and globally threatened Aquatic Warbler and we hope to admire the curious, chattering song of this, Europe’s rarest songbird. Nearby fishponds are home to Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns, and Caspian and Little Gulls.
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 is sometimes called the ‘Belarusian Amazon’, being an immense and pristine wilderness of vast swamps and wide tracts of inundated oak woodland and broad-leaved forests that are home an impressive variety of flora and fauna.
The birdlife here is rich, with many migrant and breeding waders including Wood, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, and displaying Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff. We will also take an evening trip into the marshes here, to see Great Snipe leaping in display at their lek and listen to their peculiar 'symphony of icicles' song.
Perhaps the most sought-after bird 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 little bird in its breeding habitat amidst 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 may not be the easiest of European destinations to travel to, but the wildlife rewards of this unspoilt country make it an experience not to be missed. Our advice is go now, before the inexorable march of “progress” starts to take its toll!
Limosa has been operating bird tours to Belarus since 2012 and our May 2020 trip will be our sixth visit there. Guide David Walsh travelled on our May 2019 tour to Belarus with our regional bird specialist Gábor Orbán, and our 2020 and 2021 tours will be his second and third visits there.
STOP PRESS! Visa no longer required by British passport holders for this tour.
Please note that local factors sometimes require us to reverse the below itinerary, 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 LOT Polish Airlines 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 Gabor, our English-speaking co-leader - an expert on the birds and wildlife of Belarus, with many years experience tour leading there - and head southwest towards the border with Poland.
The 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 a much larger extension of the more famous Białowieza Forest that straddles the border with Poland. Here we can walk amidst the ancient forest 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, though 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 the shores of Lake Liadskoye, we may hear the rhythmic 'chuffing' song of River Warblers, and raptors to watch out for include Honey Buzzard, Goshawk, Montagu’s Harrier and White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles... as well as Short-toed Snake Eagle and the much 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 here - although neither is easy to see - but the most famous mammal of the forest is the majestic European Bison. We will search diligently 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, Bison are not always seen.
(At Belowezhskaya, there is even an outside chance of coming across Eurasian Wolf and Eurasian Lynx, though we have only once seen each over our five previous Belarus tours.) Two 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 will arrive at Beloozersk. We will check in to our lodge here, 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 usually arrive from late April onwards 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 here 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 also 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 as 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 River, 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 possible Long-eared Owl and any other species we may have missed along the way. Night Turov
Days 6 - 8
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 here 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 migrating and displaying 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 up into the air from the marshes - as if looking out for visiting birdwatchers!
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, 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 with any luck might also come across Grey-headed, Black, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Three-toed Woodpeckers! Collared Flycatchers will just have arrived - and be looking at their very best now - and the likes of Thrush Nightingale, Bluethroat, Golden Oriole, Common 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 a last look around Turov and some final birding today, we make our way back north to Minsk.
Bidding farewell to Gabor here, we check-in for our early evening LOT Polish Airlines flight to Warsaw, with onward connection to London Heathrow, where our spring birdwatching tour to Belarus concludes.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Our Belarus birding tour returned to our programme in 2019, with a much improved itinerary extended to 9 days...
Picture a land that's home to sought-after specialities such as Azure Tit and the endangered Aquatic Warbler, and of ancient forests where European Bison still roam; a land of myriad meandering rivers that drain some of the continent's biggest marshes and fens; and of roads where even today one meets very little 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 on Limosa’s birdwatching tour to Belarus and discover a fantastic destination for birds and wildlife, where around 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 typically in the range 7-19C (45-66F). Cooler around dawn and dusk.
We purposely visit early in the season, which is both the best period for birds and also generally before Belarus’s mosquitoes become bothersome. If it has been a particularly warm spring however, even in May, mosquitoes can be a local nuisance (e.g. on some forest trails and at dusk in the wetlands). As a precaution, we recommend you pack some insect repellent, a mosquito head net and wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts, just in case! There is no malaria risk in Belarus.
Good incidental photographic opportunities on this tour for birds, as well as butterflies and other wildlife, plus some fine forest and landscapes.
5-10 species. As elsewhere in Europe, please note that large mammals are not easy to find in Belarus. While our groups have done remarkably well over the years, please be aware that mammal sightings can never be guaranteed - nor be expected!
BUTTERFLIES & DRAGONFLIES
We usually encounter a small but interesting range of butterflies (10-20 species) and also dragonflies (5-10 species) on this tour.
8 nights accommodation in Belarus. Although Belarus is well off the beaten tourist trail and the infrastructure and standards of hotels there generally fall below those we are accustomed to in Western Europe, the hotels on this tour - which are chosen for their proximity to key birding sites - are of reasonable quality and most visitors are pleasantly surprised. All rooms have private facilities.
Please note that there are no hairdryers at any of the hotels and, although there might be kettles in some rooms, tea and coffee are not provided.
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with a picnic lunch on Day 9. Lunches will usually be picnics.
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 (though 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.
We travel on a group flight from London Heathrow to Minsk with LOT Polish Airlines, with a change of planes required in Warsaw. For this reason, please note that ‘Land Only’ is not an option on this tour.
[While the national carrier Belavia does operate direct flights between London and Minsk, these do not run daily and current schedules do not fit with the dates, duration or itinerary of our tour.]
Ground Transport Minibus with local driver.
On ‘travel days’ in Belarus, approximate journey times are as follows: Minsk to Turov 3.5 hours; Turov to Beloozersk 3.5 hours; Beloozersk to Pushcha 2.5 hours; Pushcha to Minsk 4.5 hours.