That morning we were given a very warm welcome by no less than the Director of the National Park that we were visiting. He gave a little speech and introduced us to our guide for the day.
By the time we reached the first forest site the heavens had well and truly opened. We put on a brave face, as well as waterproof clothing, and followed our guide into the forest. We were searching for a nesting pair of Eagle Owls. Woodpeckers grabbed our attention first. Some drumming was apparently coming from a Three-toed and a Grey-headed Woodpecker was defying the weather by calling almost none stop. Sadly we failed to see either of them.
Eventually our guide pointed out three downy Eagle Owl chicks in a nest at the base of a tree. Despite our presence close to the nest, neither of the adult birds were discovered - I'm sure they saw us though.
|Eagle Owl Chicks|
Back in the mini-bus we travelled to another forest and tried to dry off on the way. The rain had got worse by the time we reached our next destination, but we were not going to be put off. Leaving the shelter of the mini-bus, we walked through an open grassy area where 45 Common Cranes were enjoying the rain and some of them were dancing they were so happy. The shelter of the forest beckoned, but it wasn't any dryer under the canopy, as the trees were mostly pine. Our guide stopped and turned and we all followed his gaze, which fell on an old buzzards nest and staring down at us was one very large wet and bedraggled Great Grey Owl.
|Female Great Grey Owl|
The Great Grey Owl was having a bad hair day, but even so she was an awesome sight. On a better day we might have spent longer looking for her mate, but we did have a brief unsuccessful search for him.
|Our Guide Tells us About the Great Grey Owl Population|
|Great Grey Owl Pellet|
On the way to a celebratory meal we just had time to see one more owl species. This one was much smaller. It was a Long-eared Owl that was nesting in an open topped box. As we returned to the bus some of us spotted a Wild Boar in an Oil Seed Rape field. Sadly it was difficult to see as the crop was quite tall.
We were treated like Royalty when we arrived for lunch with the Director of the National Park.
|A Meal Fit for a Group of Happy British Birders|
After lunch we said farewell to the Director and headed off to hopefully see a Great Snipe Lek. The weather had improved and patches of clear sky were appearing. We were ferried along a bumpy track to a marsh in the middle of no where. I was with the first group and the guide passed me a GPS very similar to my own and told me to follow the compass for 600 metres and wait there for him. By the time everyone had assembled out on the marsh, which luckily was quite dry, the Great Snipe had begun to arrive. It was dusk but the sky had cleared and the moon was helping to light up the scene. About twenty snipe had gathered at the lek and their display didn't disappoint us. A high pitched farty sound accompanied there jumping display. Corncrakes and Quail added backing vocals. As the Great Snipe land they spread their tails showing off the white edges. The males with the most white and the most exuberant display win the females.
It was almost dark when we left the marsh and by the time we all got back to the mini-bus our driver had almost run out of driving hours. In fact by the time we got to the guides house our driver had run out of time and our leader had to arrange for a local mini-bus to take us to our hotel. The driver had to spend the night with the guide.
Whilst we were waiting for the mini-bus to arrive our guide for the day and his wife sang us a beautiful song in Russian. It was almost midnight and a lady with a fantastic voice had asked to sing for us. We all found the song quite moving.
When the mini-bus arrived it was half full of local people who found us quite amusing. We had to drag our bags and birding gear on board, as the boot was full.