SERBIA - Affordable Birding Getaway
In an effort to answer the questions where to see the birds that epitomize the region, what sites should be given priority, and when is the best time to go, this short article makes a brief mention of 18 globally Important Bird Areas.
Copyright 2000- 2003 by Dragan Simic email@example.com
1) Ten Breeding Reasons to Visit Serbia
2.1) Getting there3) Birding Contacts
2.2) When to go
2.3) What to see2.3.1) Mountains
2.3.2) Lowland Wetlands
Birding Belgrade: Dragan's Tips
1) Ten Breeding Reasons to Visit Serbia
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca
Great Bustard Otis tarda
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes
Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala
2.1) Getting there
Belgrade Airport is connected to the most of the major European airports and rail connects Belgrade and Novi Sad with all European capital cities. Roads are improving rapidly and towns around the country are easily accessible by intercity buses (the bus network in Serbia is quite extensive) or a hired car from the capital.
If visiting gorges of southeast Serbia (Jerma, Sicevo and Stara Planina Mountain), then Sofia Airport in nearby Bulgaria is an option; while for the Pcinja River Valley, Skopje Airport in nearby Macedonia is an alternative.
For more detailed info on transport and
accommodation logistics check Lonely Planet’s Eastern Europe (6th Edition,
Published January 2001) or Mediterranean Europe (5th Edition, January 2001).
Extracts are available
on http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/europe/yugoslavia/printable.htm, but don’t forget to download the update.
2.2) When to go
Serbia is a land-locked country with a typical continental climate of warm summers and cold winters. On the average, summer temperatures are around 26 degrees Celsius on the plains and 17 C in the mountains and, in winter, 0 C in the plains and -3 C in the mountains.
Depending on your particular interest, March/April (spring migration), May/June (breeding in full swing), August/September (autumn migration) and November to February (wintering wildfowl) are probably the best months to bird. Breeding season may be the most exciting period, while October - with migrants already gone and wintering birds not yet arrived - is probably the dullest month. Winter months offer great concentrations of wildfowl on any larger body of open water (e.g. more than 300,000 waterfowls overwinter on the lower Danube). All in all, Serbia is good for a birding trip at any time of year.
2.3) What to see
Serbia offers the birder about 340 bird species, over 260 of them breeding in the country. From the hills and mountains of eastern, western and southern Serbia to the plains of northern Vojvodina province (north of Belgrade) and central Serbia (along the Morava River), the country provides a wealth of habitats for the birds: alpine boreal grasslands, cliffs and rocky gorges, pine woods, juniper woods, peatlands, beech woods, aspen and birch woods in the mountains; orchards of apples, pears and plums on lower hills; and lowland grasslands, agricultural lands, salt pastures and marshes, mud flats, reedbeds, and alluvial forests of oak and ash, willow and poplar along the Sava, Danube, Tisza and Tamis rivers.
These habitats also support various mammal species: roe deer, red fox and brown hare are common and widespread; wild boar, wild cat and badger frequent and widespread; endangered grey wolf, otter and polecat uncommon – but still widespread! Red deer is confined mainly to floodplain forests along the Danube, chamois to cliffs of Djerdap (aka Iron Gates) and Tara national parks, while lynx is spreading through mountains of eastern Serbia (particularly Djerdap NP). Population of brown bears in the wild is estimated to more than 250 individuals, Tara NP offering best chances of spotting.
There is something here for every birder but to see the birds that epitomise the region, be sure to spend at least a few days in the mountains and limestone gorges of eastern or western Serbia, and at least a day or two in one of the floodplain wetlands of northern Serbia. Within such a vast range of habitats supporting a wide range of bird species through the year, several visits are needed to do this country and its birds justice.
Although by no means complete, below is the list of some of the major birding areas. All birding sites mentioned are globally Important Bird Areas (places identified as crucial for the long-term survival of the wild bird populations), described in detail in "Important Bird Areas of Southern Europe", published by BirdLife International, 2000.
Some great birding areas
Most of Serbia is mountainous and particulary good sites include the breath-taking scenery of the Uvac and Milesevka Griffon Vulture Sanctuary – with 19 diurnal and 9 nocturnal birds of prey recorded definitively one of the finest raptor-watching areas of central Balkans (255 km from Belgrade). Others are Ovcar-Kablar Gorge (145 km), Mt. Tara (193 km) and Mt. Kopaonik (260 km) national parks in western Serbia; and, in eastern Serbia, Djerdap (Iron Gates) National Park (250 km), Resava (170 km) and nearby Zlot gorges (220 km), Sicevo (260 km) and Jerma gorges (300 km) further south – good raptor watching, and Pcinja River Valley (384 km) along the Macedonian border – great place for Mediterranean specials. Zlot and Sicevo gorges are known places to look for the elusive Wallcreeper.
Some great birds
Among these mountains you may spend days in search of Alpine Swift (Apus melba), Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica), Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), Eagles (Golden Aquila chrysaetos, Booted Hieraaetus pennatus and Short-toed Circaetus gallicus), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), Egyptian and Griffon Vultures (Neophron percnopterus and Gyps fulvus), Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo), Scops Owl (Otus scops), Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer), Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis), Balkan Shore Lark (Eremorphila alpestris balcanica), Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica), Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus), Sombre Tit (Parus lugubris), Shrikes (Lesser Grey Lanius minor, Woodchat L. senator and Red-backed L. collurio), Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), Buntings (Cirl Emberiza cirlus, Rock E. cia, Black-headed E. melanocephala and Ortolan E. hortulana), Warblers (Barred Sylvia nisoria, Subalpine S. cantillans and Bonelli's Phylloscopus bonelli), Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta), Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes), Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), Spanish and Rock Sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis and Petronia petronia), Snow Finch (Montifringila nivalis), etc.
To reach the Uvac and Milesevka Griffon Vulture Sanctuary and Nova Varos town from Belgrade, go southeast down the Ibarska Magistrala road through Gornji Milanovac, Cacak, Uzice, Kokin Brod and Nova Varos (total: 241 km). While entering the Nova Varos, take the first turn left and continue for about 15 km southeast to the dam wall.
Ovcar Banja is located on Ibarska Magistrala 7 km after Cacak and 145 km from Belgrade. To reach Mt. Tara go down the Ibarska Magistrala road to Valjevo and continue by Rogacica, Bajina Basta and up the mountain (total 193 km). For Mt. Kopaonik fallow the Nis highway, take the Pojate exit and head to Krusevac, Brus and Brzece (260 km).
To reach the Djerdap (Iron Gates) National Park, go southeast from Belgrade along Nis highway, take the exit for Pozarevac and continue east by Veliko Gradiste to Golubac and Donji Milanovac, 250 km from Belgrade. (Find out more about the Iron Gates at http://www.crosswinds.net/~birdtrips/IronGates99.html)
To reach Resava and Suvaja gorges – an absolutely superb area of limestone cliffs with numerous caves, go down the Belgrade – Nis highway, take the Svilajnac exit and continue east through the town of Despotovac toward the village of Strmosten. After 170 km, tarred road ends by the comfortable Lisine Motel, 5 km after the Strmosten and 2 km from the entrance to the gorges. The dirt road through the gorges is questionable by ordinary cars.
For Sicevo Gorge go east after Nis toward Bulgaria (260 km). Jerma Gorge lies further east, closer to the border (300 km).
2.3.2) Lowland Wetlands
Some great birding areas
Zasavica (30 km long oxbow on the south bank of the Sava River opposite the town of Sremska Mitrovica and 85 km from Belgrade) and Koviljski Rit wetlands (60 km from Belgrade, down the Danube from Novi Sad) are well worth a visit. Both Obedska (65 km) and Carska Bara (60 km) bird sanctuaries offer birder-friendly hotels inside birding areas; while Dubovac Wetland (lower Danube, 75 km from Belgrade) and Becej Fishpond (126 km from Belgrade, by the Tisza River) harbour two largest heronries in Serbia. Some of the finest wetlands include riverine oak woods of Bosut (on the north bank of the Sava River near Bosnia/Croatia border, 92 km from Belgrade) and Obedska Bara along the Sava River, and Apatin - Monostor Wetlands of Upper Danube (first 65 km of Danube’s east bank starting from Hungarian border; 190 km from Belgrade) - great places to bird, not only for rare White-tailed Eagle and globally threatened Ferruginous Duck, but also for impressive old oak trees. Salt marsh of Slano Kopovo (east of the Tisza River) is the place for the Crane migration watching.
Some great birds
These floodplain wetland areas along with surrounding grasslands, with forest patches remaining only along the rivers (often replaced by alien poplar plantations), support important populations of Grebes (Black-necked Podiceps nigricollis, Red-necked P. grisegena, Great Crested P. cristatus and Little Tachybaptus ruficollis), Great and Pygmy Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo and Ph. pygmeus, respectively), Great and Little Bitterns (Botaurus stellaris and Ixobrychus minutes), Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), Herons (Squacco Ardeola ralloides, Night Nycticorax nycticorax, Grey Ardea cinerea and Purple A. purpurea), Little and Great White Egrets (Egretta garzetta and E. alba), Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), White and Black Storks (Ciconia ciconia and C. nigra), Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), Crane (Grus grus), Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Eagles (White-tailed Haliaeetus albicilla, Eastern Imperial Aquila heliaca and Lesser-spotted A. pomarina), Saker (Falco cherrug), Red-footed Falcon (F. vespertinus), Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers (Circus aeruginosus and C. pygargus), Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Spotted and Little Crakes (Porzana porzana and P. parva), Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Roller (Coracias garrulus), Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Moustached and Olivaceous Warblers (Acrocephalus melanopogon and Hippolais pallida), Bearded and Penduline Tits (Panurus biarmicus and Remiz pendulinus) - enough to keep any serious birder twitching for days on end.
For Obedska Bara go along the Zagreb highway and take the Pecinci village exit (65 km). To reach Zasavica continue along the Zagreb highway and take the exit for Sremska Mitrovica (85 km). Carska Bara lies 60 km north of Belgrade along Zrenjanin road, east of the Tisza River. Find more about Obedska, Carska Bara and the Belgrade area at http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/serbia/serb1/birdwatch-belgrade.htm
3) Birding Contacts
Birds Protection and Study Society of Vojvodina aims to conserve and protect birds and their habitats. Society has conducted many research projects, one of the most recent being the survey of Serbian heronries in 1998 (when there were about 7,500 breeding pairs of herons and cormorants dispersed in about 60 heronries – including 350 pairs of Pygmy Cormorant). Membership fee includes a free copy of annual journal Ciconia with papers and notes on birds and reports of rarities and interesting sightings. For local contacts in areas you might want to visit, write to the Drustvo za zastitu i proucavanje ptica Vojvodine, Radnicka 20, 21000 Novi Sad, Yugoslavia; or send a fax to +381 21 616252, marked "S. Puzovic, Drustvo za zastitu i proucavanje ptica Vojvodine".
Birds of Prey Protection Fund is dedicated to the conservation of diurnal and nocturnal raptors in Yugoslavia. The most significant project undertaken by the BPPF was Save the Griffon Vulture Campaign which increased dwindling population of this species up to the biggest flock in the central Balkans. For info on Uvac Gorge Griffon Vulture Sanctuary get in touch with the Birds of Prey Protection Fund: Fond za zastitu ptica grabljivica, 29 novembra br. 142, 11000 Beograd, Yugoslavia. Phone: +381 11 764422, ext. 152. Fax: +381 11 1761433 (attn: "S. Marinkovic").
4) Birding Belgrade: Dragan's Tips
C - Castles & Fortresses
Three largest cities of Serbia are Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis (http://www.nis.org.yu/indexe.html, then ‘History’, then ‘Nis Fortress’), and each has its own mediaeval fortress (usually turned into a park). That’s not all - there are virtually dozens of more or less smashed mediaeval castles dotted around Serbia. The three est-preserved castles are huge, 25-tower Smederevo 60 km east of Belgrade (the last capital of mediaeval Serbia), Golubac (picturesque 9-tower fortress overlooking the waste expanses of the Danube at the entrance to the Djerdap/Iron Gates National Park) and hilltop 8-tower Maglic, overlooking the rapids of Ibar River (and the beach where rafting trips end).
C - Caves
The biggest cave of Serbia, Pecina nad
Vrazjim Firovima, is on the border with Montenegro, its more than 12 kilometers
of canals and chambers still being explored. For a possibility to take
part in exploration, if you are
an experienced caver get in touch with Belgrade Mountaineering Association’s Caving Club (SOB). (No, the abbreviation doesn’t stand for that!) You can visit their website at www.sob.org.yu for some nice photos from previous activities and calendar of oncoming ones (unfortunately, only in Serbian), or write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The biggest cave accessible to visitors is the Resava Cave in eastern Serbia, almost 3 km long, with 900 m of walking path (there’s a mountain shelter about five kilometers away). Karst regions of eastern Serbia offer several more accessible caves (Rajkova, Zlotske, etc.).
L - Lakes
Most beautiful are wild and over 90 meters deep Djerdap (Iron Gates Dam) surrounded by 600 meters high limestone cliffs in eastern, picturesque Vlasina in southern and shallow Palic/Ludas in northern Serbia, but the absolute highlight are the flooded meandering gorge of the Uvac River (Griffon Vulture Sanctuary) in western Serbia.
M - Macabre
Not even Vlad Cepes, so-called Count Dracula, has ever made anything like the Skull Tower of Cele Kula in Serbia’s third town of Nis: it was built by the Turks using human skulls instead of bricks as a punishment after the popular upraise against the Ottoman rule in early 19th century (http://www.nis.org.yu/indexe.html, then ‘History’, then ‘Battle of Cegar’).
M - Monasteries
12th century Studenica (near the Ibar River and Maglic fortress, (http://www.heritage.org.yu/studenic.htm) has well-preserved fortification walls and some of the very best Byzantine style fresco paintings. Numerous other medieval Orthodox monasteries dot Serbian countryside, maybe the most impressive being Sopocani (http://www.decani.yunet.com/esopocani.html) and Manasija (near the Resava Cave, http://blago.serbianunity.net/Archives/Manasija/index.html).
If you want to see the most without traveling
too much, go for the Ovcar – Kablar Gorge Nature Reserve in western Serbia
or the Mt. Fruska Gora NP near Novi Sad: these places have 9 and 14 monasteries,
respectively. While their architecture and surrounding is reward enough,
the downside is, being built too late (16th to 17th century), their frescoes
near those from the best period: 12th to 13th century. Still, beware of sensory overload if you visit more than two monasteries in a single day!
Reproductions of the best frescoes from various monasteries can be seen in Belgrade’s Gallery of Frescoes (in Uzun-Mirkova St., online at http://www.bg-online.co.yu/culture/museums/frescoes.html), but that way you’ll miss impossible to reproduce atmosphere of these places and beauty of surrounding countryside.
M - Mountain Peaks
The highest peak of Serbia is Pancicev Vrh (2017 meters asl) in the Mt. Kopaonik NP, and the highest peak of the northern province of Vojvodina is 539 meters asl Crveni Cot in the Mt. Fruska Gora NP.
M - Museums, Most Unusual
Lepenski Vir Museum in the Djerdap/Iron Gates National Park exhibits 8000 years old Neolithic village with marble sculptures of human heads with fish-like characteristics: bulging eyes, full rounded lips. Next to the museum is small open-air exhibit of traditional architecture of eastern Serbia with high capped chimneys and arched verandas. These houses were saved and rebuild here after their original location, the Porec Island in the Danube, was submerged after the Iron Gates Dam wall was erected.
Open-air museum of traditional wooden architecture in the Sirogojno Village (http://www.heritage.org.yu/sirogoj.htm) at the Zlatibor Mountain in western Serbia offer several homesteads made of original buildings bough from the local peasants and installed here. Here you can spend a romantic night by the fireplace in refurnished log cabin among Scots pines.
N - National Parks
There are no entrance fees for national parks, all of them are accessible by tarred roads and there are accommodation facilities in each one of them - ranging from mountain shelters to comfortable hotels. Serbia has four national parks – Mt. Tara and Mt. Kopaonik in western and Djerdap Gorge (internationally known as Iron Gates after its old Roman name Porta Ferea) in eastern Serbia, plus Mt. Fruska Gora in northern province of Vojvodina. However, after ten years without tourists, most of the facilities are in dare need of cosmetic surgery.
Widest range of accommodation facilities and highest comfort (including five star hotels) is offered on the Kopaonik Mountain. Even mountain shelters ‘Avala’ and ‘Rtanj’, run by the namesake Belgrade hiking clubs, offer fairly high comfort for that price range. Beside good hotels, Kopaonik (2017 m asl) offers skiing and snow-mobiles in winter; hiking, mountain biking, horse-back riding and paddle boat rafting on nearby class 3 to 4 white-water rapids of the Ibar River in summer and paragliding year round.
Tara (1544 m asl) offer chances to spot
brown bear among the endemic Pancic’s spruce trees, Djerdap (with 768 m
high Mt. Miroc) offer chances to spot a chamois among the rare yew trees
(lynx is also present, but it’s too elusive to be seen), and 539 m asl
high Fruska Gora offer roe deer in lime woods (blossoming in June, when
entire forest is scented, enchanting,
unless you are allergic to pollen), Orthodox monasteries and wine tasting in private cellars of the lovely Baroque town of Sremski Karlovci.
V - View for Which to Kill
Hajducka Vodenica cove in Djerdap/Iron
Gates NP seen from the Djerdap Magistral Road parking lot above: remains
of old Roman fortress, steep meadow dotted with traditional cone-shaped
bee hives and surrounded by the forest of hazel. On the cliffs behind you,
with some luck you may spot golden-brown dots: chamois. Above, soaring
raptor could easily be Golden
Eagle. Pity, on the opposite, Romanian bank is a monster warrior-king head shaped by dynamite out of limestone outcrop. Still, with tall cliffs in the background, it’s a battery-charging place.
For any further information, feel free to e-mail the author at email@example.com - I am considering the idea to start up guiding business in the region, if there is enough interest, and I would be thankful for any comments and suggestions.
© Copyright Notice
Material contained within these pages is copyright © 2000-2003 Dragan Simic. Permission to reproduce this material in any manner must first be obtained in writing from the author