Estonian Nature Tours visited Russia in the middle of June to find new destinations in birdwatching tourism
Day 1, Polistovsky Nature Reserve
After arriving at Pskov, and short rest at the hotel, we had several hours drive to the Polistovsky Nature Reserve. This nature reserve is the largest raised bog in Europe. Access to this area is very limited which has helped to preserve the area without human interference. The total area of the nature reserve with buffer zone is 635 sq. km. Beside bog habitat one can find here decidious and mixed forests, several lakes and winding rivers.
Our first aim was to explore forests which are the nesting sites of the rare Great Grey Owl. Although it was late breeding season and midday, the selection of bird song was superb. As we went out, a River Warbler was singing just next to the car and we heard many Marsh Warblers which seemed to be particularly numerous here. In the atmospheric Silver Birch forests we heard several Golden Orioles and a Greenish Warbler. The same spot has also been the nesting site for a pair of Great Grey Owl but unfortunately the eggs was eaten by Hooded Crows earlier this year.
After exploring forests we had several hours boat trip on the Tsevla river and lake Tsevlo. River banks with reedbeds and dead trees formed a rich habitat. and the evening was nice – sunshine with almost no wind. On the river banks Reed Buntings, Sedge`s Warblers and Scarlet Rosefinches were calling everywhere. Already after few minutes we spotted a small group of White-winged Terns. Later in the another spot, as a Marsh Harrier flew over, a party of 250 (!) White-winged Terns took off. On the river we saw several Greenshanks – a bird which you can see in Estonia only on migration. Suddenly a feeding Black Stork took off from the river bank and landed soon again. After few minutes, two individuals were circling to find suitable feeding spot, but this wasn`t to be our only sighting as soon afterwards, one Black Stork was observed sitting on the dead Silver Birch just next to our boat and it was photographable for at least 10 minutes. We also saw small group of Ruffs, which are very numerous here in late May and early June, but rare in breeding season.
After arriving to the harbour we finished first day birdwatching with a roding Woodcock flying over our heads. This first day produced 70 bird species – not bad for a half of day birdwatching in the middle of breeding season.
Day 2, Sebej National Park
Our next birding destination was Sebej National Park with forests and wetlands close to the Belarus border. Unfortunately the weather was not supporting us today – it was rainy. But we still kept going.
We started our birding with another boat trip on the lake. Everywhere there were Great Crested Grebes with young chicks, sometimes climbing on the mother`s back. Among them we spotted also a pair of Red-necked Grebes in lovely breeding plumage. In the middle of the lake on the small islets was colony of Great Cormorants. Sometimes White-tailed Eagles come to hunt near them, and so it was today – one adult was waiting on a high tree. Among flying Grey Herons we also spotted a rarer species for this region – two Great White Egrets. The same lake is also a breeding area for Little Bittern but the weather was not promising for finding find any today.
After the boat trip we went to the another, smaller lake. Several pairs of Slavonian Grebes were breeding here and after few minutes search they swam out from a reedbed – and we saw altogether five nice adults.
Day 3, Lake Ilmen
After a half day drive we arrived to the one of the most popular birding destination in Western Russia – lake Ilmen. Having accommondation at small town Staraja Russa, we started our afternoon birding programme exploring the southern side of the lake. Lake Ilmen has several notable breeding specialities – like Lanceolated Warbler and also very rare Yellow-breasted Bunting, which is nowadays at the verse of the extinction in the area.
First we took a road which ended just near the lake. On the way to lake was cultivated grasslands and overflooded meadows with lots of birds just next to the road. Here, the density of Yellow Wagtails was amazing – in one spot, one can easily count more than 20-30 individuals. Most of the birds were Blue-headed but also Grey-headed individuals were not uncommon. Just few hours before sunset Great Snipes start lekking just at front of us. Later, we found small leks from several places near the lake and got brilliant views of this endangered European wader. Other evening sounds included Thrush Nightingales, Scarlet Rosefinches, a few Corncrakes and Spotted Crake and lots of River Warblers. Suddenly, something big and brown was slowly crossing the road. It turned to be a very big male European Beaver!
Day 4, Lake Ilmen
Another birding day at Lake Ilmen. We took another small road to explore the southern side of the lake. It had more dry cultivated grasslands which were used for hay cutting. Corncrakes were calling here from every field and Whinchats perching on the tall grass. As the weather was sunny, some raptors were also hunting nearby. We saw several pairs of Kesterls, several Marsh Harriers and a male Montagu`s Harrier. Suddenly, the first Bluethroat for the trip was singing on a telephone wire. Having nice views through binoculars, it was clear that it was the Red-Spotted subspecies.
As the road ended near the lake one Barred Warbler was singing in the willow bushes. This species prefers juniperus habitats in Estonia so it was interesting to see this bird in a different breeding habitat.
Later we took a 2 hours drive to the northern side of the lake to explore more agricultural landscape near town Novgorod. Before making our first stop a White-backed Woodpecker flew over just at the front of the car. We stopped quickly and spotted another adult sitting on the telegraph post. As we look more carefully, we also noticed a nesting hole in the pole!
The next birding spot was very productive. The field was full of Curlews – probably females already on their autumn migration. Also a group of around 30 Common Cranes were feeding in the same field and several Barnacle and White-fronted Goose standing further away.
Next day was mostly spent for travelling back home. The last bird – a singing Black Redstart was found on the boarder control area. We ended our trip with 117 bird species. Of course much time was spent driving and attending meetings, so more intensive birdwatching would have produced far more species.
Full bird list of trip to Russia: 18.06-22.06