“Imagine a land of ancient forests, hundreds of meandering rivers, the biggest marshes of the continent, and roads where you hardly meet any traffic or even people – this is the wild country of Belarus!” – that is how a popular British bird watching website describes our country.
We admit this description is rather accurate!
If you’re already intrigued, follow this guide to learn why Belarus is an ideal destination for nature lovers.
4 reasons why is Belarus a perfect place to watch birds
When it comes to birdwatching, Belarus can easily upstage many other countries in Europe.
? Belarus is home to 20 rare and unique bird species ?
On the one hand, there is neither sea nor mountains in the country, which makes the number of bird species lower.
On the other hand, Belarus is the homeland of extremelly rare or unique birds – about 20 species, including the azure tit, the great gray owl, the terek sandpiper and the aquatic warbler.
What’s more, there are a lot of well-preserved bird habitats not existing anywhere else in Europe.
Mainly, these are the combinations of different types of marshes: lowlands, for example, are a home to the endangered aquatic warbler. The bird has chosen Belarus as its summer residence: a half of the existing warblers nest in our country.
? Belarus has preserved unique bird habitats like marches and free-flowing rivers ?
There are free-flowing rivers in Belarus. What does it mean?
Many rivers in Europe (and in Belarus, too) were channeled, and their riverbeds were straightened for the convenience of agriculture. Therefore, the rivers with natural riverbeds are as rare and valuable natural phenomena as geysers in Iceland.
The main free-flowing river in Belarus is the Pripyat River. In spring it overflows over a dozen kilometers from one riverbank to the other and resembles a sea with islands and forests surrounded by water.
Can you imagine how beautiful it is when 120,000 birds are hovering over this water mirror?
Finally, Belarus is a paradise for woodpeckers. Because of the combination of different types of forests Belarus has all kinds of woodpeckers in Europe.
Foreigners mainly cometo see the white-backed woodpecker and the three-toed woodpecker.
What is the ideal time for bird watching in Belarus?
The best time for bird watching starts from mid April and lasts till to middle of June.
In this period birds are active and sing rigorously in any forest, park and field. So even if you do not recognize all of them, you will definitely enjoy the singing!
Another interesting period is the bird migration beginning from the end of August till September. At this time, it is possible to watch birds that do not nest in the country.
For example, the northern species of waders and ducks that cross Belarus on the way to southern countries.
? The best times for bird watching in Belarus are April-June and August-September ?
Don’t neglect winter! First of all, thousands of birds group together in one place, usually on the water, – such places exist just outside Minsk.
Secondly, some species use Belarus is a place to warm up! It is here that the lapland bunting, the snow bunting and the horned lark come to spend the cold season.
6 best bird watching spots in Belarus
Turov and the floodplain of Pripyat
A unique place (see map) is an absolute must-see!
In spring – from the end of March till June – the number of birds here can reach up to 200,000. Terek sandpiper, ringed plover, great snipe, oystercatcher, ruff, different kinds of gulls and terns are among the interesting species of this place.
Another curious specimen, especially popular among birdwatchers, is the azure tit that can be spotted in one of the villages in the area.
And, of course, the river itself! During the flood season Pripyat resembles a sea; the forests and villages on its banks remind small islands.
The biological reserve Sporovskiye marshes (Sporaŭskaje balota) is one of the largest in Europe with the meandering Yaselda river and Sporovskoye lake in the center.
The aquatic warbler builds its nests in the reserve. Just imagine: this small bird flies 20,000 kilometers from Africa to Belarusian swamps!
Only 3 hours drive from Minsk – and you can watch the little gull, whiskered tern, black-tailed godwit and great snipe.
The territory of the reserve Vygonoshchanskiye swamps (Vyhanaščanskija baloty), located in Brest region, is covered by wetlands and shallow lakes.
This landscape is typical nature of Polesye before the large-scale melioration.
Vygonoshchanskiye swamps are the most suitable spot to watch owls. The great grey owl, eagle owl, pygmy owl and boreal owl all live here.
In addition to owls, one can see birds that are on the global list of threatened species, for example, the greater spotted eagle and black-tailed godwit.
Other interesting birds of this place are the double great snipe, capercaillie and black grouse.
The unique landscape reserve combines two types of marshes.
You walk along a narrow island between a convex upland marsh overgrown with sphagnum and pine trees on one side and a flat green lowland on the other. Truly spectacular!
The Olmanskiye marshes (Al`manskija baloty) are wide known for their eagles.
The greater spotted eagle builds its nest there and it is quite a rare sight. There are also lakes which locals consider sacred, sand dunes with pines and a tower with a breathtaking view of the surrounding territories.
Olmanskiye marshes once hosted a military aviation base and the territory was closed to free access – so local nature remained well-preserved and untouched.
Berezinskiy Biosphere Reserve
Let’s move to the north of the country now!
Berezinskiy Biosphere Reserve has the highest environmental status in Belarus: elk, bear, wolf and lynx feel comfortable in the local forests.
You can feel good in the reserve, too: there are organized routes for pedestrians, cyclists and kayakers and a 15-meter tower for bird watching.
This beautiful place can gift you a meeting with a capercaillie, black grouse, greater spotted eagle and osprey.
Experienced bird watchers come here for a unique show – the mating of black grouses in spring.
You will have to lie in an ambush for hours motionless not to frighten off the love birds. But the ruthless battles of black grouses will be a great reward for you!
Another stunningly beautiful swamp with a comfortable eco-path, cosmic landscapes and cranberries that are hiding in moss.
The territory of Yelnya wildlife reserve includes 118 lakes, the remains of one big ancient lake.
Come here in autumn to watch the migration of common cranes. In this period they hang out in huge flocks of up to 4000 birds!
You can also spot curlew, merlin, black-throated loon and willow ptarmigan. Yelnya is actually one of the few places where this species can still be seen.
All those places, except probably Berezinsky reserve, are not easy to get to by public transport. So it is better to contact local birdwatchers who might help with a tour and advice.
This text is a short version of the bird watching guide by 34travel. Full version (in Russian) here.
Translated by Margarita Tishutina and Nadzeya Prasvirava for BelarusFeed.