Thursday, May 23, 2019

Belarus, Day 5, May 10, 2019. Into the Woods

I made a big mistake the morning of May 10th. We were on the third floor of the hotel and my knees were sore. Martin got up early to bird around the hotel. I said, "No thank you! I will stay up here until breakfast, as another trip up and down three flights of stairs does not appeal to me!" As I said, this was a big mistake. Martin came up very excited and asked me to play the tape I had of Eurasian Nutcracker, one of my most wanted birds. I played it and he said "That is it!" He had seen a bird perched on top of a pine tree. It was chased off by other birds, but he got a decent look. It was the right shape, streaked below. We later found out another member of our tour group was also up early and was on the other side of the tree and saw it, too. I told myself we would probably seen another one, as the tour group from the year before had one in a forest.

We went down for yet another substantial breakfast. They do like a big breakfast in Belarus! Afterwards we met at the bus to head into the woods. First we had to pick up a local forest ranger, Anton. He was going to guide us, hopefully showing us a few specialty birds. He was a really nice guy, very affable. We drove into the forest and parked the van. Barrie warned us again about not getting off of the trail and watching for ticks. He also asked everyone to be as quiet as possible and stay close together, as we would see a lot more that way. I won't comment on how the group did following these instructions.

There was an outhouse by the parking area, and we were advised that we would not be finding better facilities. I was fine, so I walked past it to look at flowers. I was surprised when a small rodent darted out of the foliage, running behind the outhouse. I got a good look at it, gray with a rusty colored back. It was a Water Vole. I was actually excited to see it. Mammals are harder to see than birds. As we started walking I saw another and actually got a photo of it!

This day in the forest is kind of a blur to me. It is hard to remember the order we saw things in. I do remember one of the first birds we saw was a Firecrest, a bird that is similar to our Golden-crowned Kinglet. They flit around and move so fast. I got a quick shot of it singing, but the crest isn't showing. We walked into a less traveled area and walked into a clearing. Anton pointed out a hole in one of the trees and there was a tiny owl peeking out! It was a Tengmalm's Owl, known as a Boreal Owl in the states. I was not really expecting to see this owl, so I was really happy.

Then we heard the flight call of a Black Woodpecker. One flew around the clearing, and finally came into another tree, sticking its head into a hole, feeding its young. I do want to mention, we were not close to these birds, but further back. My photos of the woodpecker are over-exposed, but it was still a thrill to see it. Black Woodpecker is a honking big bird. This was by far the best look I have ever had of it. We picked up yet another woodpecker, Gray-headed. We were kicking it on woodpeckers!

We added a few more new birds to our list. A beautiful Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker was a real prize. It is another bird that can be difficult to find. It also completed all of the possible woodpeckers for Belarus, nine species. Then we found the bird of the day for me, a Eurasian Pygmy-owl. We heard it tooting right off of the trail. It was soon spotted and we got great looks. It is very similar to our Northern Pygmy-owl. We finally went back to the hotel for dinner. (We ate lunch at some point, but I can't tell you when.

We had a big evening ahead. One of the big draws of the Bialowieza forest is the mammals. There are a good number of European Bison, one of the animals we all wanted to see. These animals became extinct in the wild in the 1920s, but have been successfully reintroduced. They are easiest to see at dusk in meadows next to the woods. Other mammals are also possible crossing the roads, including wolf and lynx. Both of these predators are very difficult to see, but we were hoping. We had not gone far from the hotel when I spotted a canine running on the road. I yelled "Wolf!" I was more than a bit embarrassed when it turned out to be a fox. I got a bit of teasing about this. We ended up seeing three more that evening.

We passed a small lake and somebody, maybe Martin, spotted a bird swimming. It turned out to be one of the least common birds of the trip, a Black-throated Diver, known as an Arctic Loon in the states. Martin, Barrie, and a few other members of the group, had seen five flying over at the fish ponds on the first day. I did not see them, so I didn't mention them. :-D

We stopped at place where Anton knew there was a special bird. Martin never had seen a Tawny Owl when he lived in England. This bird was his "tart's tick", an easy bird to see, but one that eluded the birder. I won't go into the reasons he hadn't seen one, but it was his own damn fault. Unfortunately, we weren't lucky. Barrie and Ishtvan said we would come back after dark, as they are really vocal.

We drove on and arrived at the best meadow for European Bison. It was getting close to sunset. We parked and started scanning and spotted some on the forest edge. We got a bit closer, but they were still distant. My photos don't begin to do them justice. I did get a little bit of digiscoped video on my phone. Martin helped other tour members get some digiscoped video, too. We were all excited. Then, on the other side of the meadow, a few Red Deer came out. We had seen Roe Deer, but not Red. Then the rarest mammal of the trip came out in the same area, several wild boars. They were far too distant and the light was too poor to even try for photos.

It was getting dark, so we started back to the hotel. Martin saw a badger run across the road. I did not. I am still bitter. We stopped again at the Tawny Owl spot, and sure enough, they were vocalizing. One flew across the road and Martin got his tart's tick. We heard an incredibly eerie call. Barrie and Ishtvan were mystified. Antone said it was a Common Crane. It was quite late, so we drove back to the hotel and I hobbled up the three flights of stairs.

Unfortunately, Flickr is down so I can't post a link to my photos.

Bird species seen:
Common Goldeneye
Common Cuckoo
Eurasian Nightjar
Common Crane (heard)
Eurasian Woodcock
Green Sandpiper
Black Tern
White-winged Tern
Arctic Loon
Great Egret
Common Buzzard
Eurasian Pygmy-Owl
Tawny Owl
Tengmalm's (Boreal) Owl
Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker
Gray-headed Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Eurasian Jay
Eurasian Skylark
Barn Swallow
Common House-Martin
Crested Tit
Willow Tit
Common Firecrest
Willow Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Great Reed Warbler
Collared Flycatcher
Eurasian Starling
White Wagtail
Common Chaffinch
European Goldfinsh

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