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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

BIRDWATCH BELGRADE,

Dragan Simic

In an effort to answer the questions where to see the birds that epitomize the area, which sites should be visited and when is the best time to go there, this short guide describes the 14 birding spots in and around Belgrade, and makes brief mention of 6 Important Bird Areas nearby.

Copyright (c) 2000-2003 by Dragan Simic goingbirding@yahoo.com

1) Ten good reasons to visit Belgrade

2) Topography and habitats

3) Birds

3.1) Birds

3.2) Specials

4) Birding spots

4.1) Birding spots in Belgrade (within urbanized areas)

4.2) Birding spots around Belgrade (up to 30 km in diameter)

4.3) Important Bird Areas nearby (from 60 to 120 km in diameter)

5) Climate and when to go

6) Birding contacts

7) Travel Tips

8) References
 
 
1) Ten good reasons to visit Belgrade

Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus

Black Stork Ciconia nigra

Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla

Saker Falcon Falco cherrug

White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus

Europen Bee-eater Merops apiaster

Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio

Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus

 

2) Topography and habitats

Belgrade lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Sava (with 1,685 cubic meters of water per second) and the Danube (with 5,476 m3/sec downriver from the Sava mouth); as well as at the meeting point of two geographical regions, the Pannonian Plains, the north of the Sava and the Danube and hills of Sumadija in the south. The Danube water levels reach its annual peak from April to June (maximum in April) and fall from August to October (minimum in October). The Danube River lies at altitude of 73 m a.s.l., the Belgrade stretches up to 145 m a.s.l., while the highest point in the area is the Avala Mountain at 511 m a.s.l.

From the rolling hills in the south to the plains in the north, the area provides a wealth of habitats for birds: open river waters and fishponds (Mika Alas and Zivaca), islands in the Sava and the Danube, mud flats and sand flats (e.g. east of the Veliko Ratno Ostrvo Island), slow-moving water of river branches and oxbows, still water of swampy floodzone and ponds, alluvial forests, poplar plantations, wet meadows, agricultural land, orchards, scrub and grasslands, small woods and hedges, broad-leaved deciduous woods, conifers and mixed woodland in urban parks and gardens, and urbanized and industrial areas, as well as the sand dunes in the Deliblatska Pescara Sands (mostly covered with vegetation).


Floodplain woods along the Sava, Danube and Tamis rivers mostly consist of poplar and willow mixed with ash, and are often replaced by alien poplar plantations. Former wet grasslands are often cut of by embankments and transformed into agricultural land. Loess bluffs along the banks offer nesting places to Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) and other hole nesters.


In the hills south of the rivers, there are woods of Turkey oak and hornbeam with linden (Kosutnjak, Manastirska Suma). In the suburban parks like Usce, Topcider and New Belgrade promenade, introduced exotic trees grow together with indigenous, while in urban parks like Kalemegdan, Tasmajdan, Karadjordjev Park and Botanical Garden, exotics dominate.


Agricultural land mostly occupies areas north of the Sava and the Danube (Srem in the west and Pancevacki Rit in the east) where main crops are corn, sunflower and wheat. Fields are interspersed with drainage canals bordered by reeds, rush and bushes; and hedges dominated by hawthorn and dog-rose. Villages in the area are surrounded with orchards and vegetable gardens, as well as remaining lowland woods of hornbeam and common oak (Jakovacki Kljuc, Crni Lug, Bojcinska Suma) with forest floor overgrown with cornel-tree and hazelnut.


To see the birds that epitomise the area, be sure to visit both the floodplain wetlands in the north and the wooded hills in the south.

 

3) Birds


3.1) Birds

Within the urbanized city areas 127 species are recorded, while the wider Belgrade area provide habitats to over 180 bird species - this is by no means representing the final number. Even if you are visiting only the capital, depending on the season you should tick some breeding residents (present all year round): White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Peregrine Facon (Falco peregrinus), Saker Falcon (F. cherrug), Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix), Barn Owl (Tyto alba), Little Owl (Athene noctua), Tawny Owl (Strix aluco), Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus), Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor), Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), Raven (Corvus corax), etc.


Breeding migrants
(March to September) include: Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutes), Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Black and White Storks (Ciconia ciconia and C. nigra), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Hobby (Falco subbuteo), White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus), European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Sand Martin (Riparia riparia), Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), Nightingale (Luscinia megarhunchos), Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris), Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis; migrant and rare breeder), Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), Serin (Serinus serinus), etc.


Migrants
passing by (March/April and August/September) include: Crane (Grus grus), Little Stint (Calidris minuta), Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), etc.


Winterbirds
(November to February) include: Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata), Black-throated Diver (G. arctica), Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus, present year-round in small numbers), Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Greylag Goose (Anser anser), Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca - scarce but regular), Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Merlin (Falco columbarius), Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus), Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), Brambling (Fringila montifringila), etc. It should be noted that some of the birds listed as "winterbirds" in the Belgrade area are breeding elsewhere in Serbia (e.g. Black-necked Grebe, Pygmy Cormorant, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Ferruginous Duck).


Wandering
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) and White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) were also recorded in the area. Glossy Ibis was observed west of the New Belgrade in the spring, and White-headed Duck at the Sava River mouth in the winter. Also, escapees like Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) and Carolina Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) were recorded.

 

3.2) Specials

During the winter, Pygmy Cormorants roost on the Sava River, while White-tailed Eagles hunt around the Veliko Ratno Ostrvo Island. Numerous flocks of wintering ducks concentrate around Belgrade's islands (Konjska Ada and Veliko Ratno Ostrvo at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, and Savsko Jezero Lake east of Ada Ciganlija Island in the Sava River): Wigeon (Anas Penelope), Gadwall (Anas strepera), Teal (Anas crecca), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Pintail (Anas acuta), Garganey (Anas querquedula), Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina), Pochard (Aythya farina), Ferruginous Duck (scarce but regular), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), Scaup (Aythya marila), Eider (Somateria molissima), Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), Common Scooter (Melanita nigra), Velvet Scooter (Melanita fusca), Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Smew (Mergus albellus), Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) and White-headed Duck.


From late February to March and from late October to early November, noisy flocks of Cranes migrate over Belgrade flying high above the city but sometimes low above the Danube or agricultural fields west of the New Belgrade. Black Storks migrate over the Danube floodzone on the north bank of the river.


There are two European Bee-eater colonies, which are well worth a visit in late June and early July, when the young leave their nests and occupy the nearby branches, urging their parents to continue feeding them. One of the colonies is at the west edge of New Belgrade, at the steep loess slope of the Bezanijska Kosa Plateauin Vojvodjanska Street (take the bus 601 from the main railway station), and the other in Visnjica, at the eastern edge of the city (bus 35).


Golden Oriole
is numerous in well-wooded sections of the north, Novi Beograd's bank of the Sava River (Usce Park, take any of the buses 14,15,16,83 from the city center; and promenade opposite the Ada Ciganlija Island, reachable by tram 11), where males sing, marking their territory from May to late summer.


For White-winged Black Tern check the eastern, downriver side of the Pancevacki Most bridge, by the middle of the river: it seems that currents generated by the bridge coloumns somehow create favourable feeding conditions.

The third largest heronry in Serbia, 800-pairs strong and consisting mostly of Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) and Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) with few dozen pairs of Little Egret and Night Heron, is located in Gradska Suma on the west bank of the Tamis River by the town of Pancevo, 15 km downriver from Belgrade. Word of warning:The birds, especially juveniles, are very susceptible to disturbance - please observe colony from a nearby open ground and don't enter the trees where the nests are.

 

4) Birding spots


4.1) Birding spots in Belgrade (within urbanized areas)

Other good birding spots in and around Belgrade include:

All of these spots are shown on any Belgrade city map (usually available at newspaper kiosks and bookshops), and if you can't find them, any Belgrader should be able to help you locate these places.

 

4.2) Birding spots around Belgrade (up to 30 km in diameter)

4.3) Important Bird Areas nearby (from 60 to 120 km in diameter)

Serbia has 36 globally Important Bird Areas (places identified as crucial for long-time survival of the wild bird populations) covering 7,756 square kilometres or 8.8% of its territory. All IBAs are described in detail in "Important Bird Areas of Southern Europe", published by BirdLife International, 2000. IBAs close to Belgrade are:

5) Climate and when to go

Belgrade has temperate continental climate of hot and dry summers and warm winters. On the average, summer temperatures are around 26 degrees Celsius and winter temperatures in between 0 to 5 C (but often climb to 10-15 C). An early start to any birding day is essential - mid-day summer temperatures often climb well into the thirties.


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 waterfowl over winter on the lower Danube from Belgrade to Bulgarian border). All in all, Belgrade area is good for a birding trip at any time of year.
 

6) Birding contacts

The goal of the League for the Ornithological Action of Serbia and Montenegro (LOASM) is protecting the birds through the preservation of their species, habitats and sites through the involvement of people. Dedicated to educating the people of Serbia and Montenegro in the importance and enjoyment of birds, LOASM care for birds for people and for the environment. Belgrade group has monthly evening meetings (on the second Friday of the month) at the Natural History Museum’s Gallery in the Kalemegdan Park, starting at 7.30 pm and featuring talks and slide shows. Bird walks take place tomorrow morning in and around Belgrade. Membership fee includes a free copy of quarterly popular newsletter Dvogled (The Binoculars). For information, please write to: Liga za ornitolosku akciju Srbije i Crne Gore, 51 Njegoseva St., 11000 Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro; or directly to the LOASM chairman, Dragan Simic, at goingbirding@yahoo.com.

 

7) Travel Tips

A - Arriving in Belgrade

Belgrade's Surcin Airport, 20 kilometers west of the city and accessible by public transportation from the Slavija Sq. and Crkva Svetog Marka church, connects Serbia with all the major capitals of Europe and North America.


International trains run to Budapest and Vienna, Temisoara and Bucharest, Sofia, Black Sea Coast and Istanbul, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Athens, Sarajevo and Zagreb. Serbian trains are slow, crowded and aged, making somewhat faster buses a better option. Extensive network of intercity buses connect Belgrade with northern towns of Subotica and Novi Sad, southern Nis and Pirot, Montenegrin capital of Podgorica and Adriatic seacoast, as well as national parks and other resort areas. Both main railway and bus stations are located along the river Sava, connected with Terazije by artisan quarter of Balkanska St. (if you're carrying heavy luggage, avoid climbing this steep street), and to Slavija Sq. by trams going up the Nemanjina St. (passing by the NATO blasted headquarters of Yugoslav Army).


C - Customs & Etiquette

When visiting Serbian families, bring an odd number of flowers- even numbers are brought only to funerals. Both men and women show their affection with three kisses on the alternate cheeks. Taste in clothing is casual and unpretentious (at least for men). Women commonly go to restaurants alone. Though legal, homosexuality may not be tolerated.


At cafes and restaurants, tipping is not obligatory. Serbs usually round upward the amount to the nearest whole (maybe 5% more, 10% is generous) and tell the waiter to keep the change: "u redu je" (u redu ye - it's OK).  For majority of Serbs taxi is expensive and no one tips taxi-drivers.


D - Dangers & Annoyances

Although crime is widely publicized, in Belgrade you can walk around after dark - the streets are surprisingly safe. Mugging is unheard of. Pickpockets are most active in unbelievably overcrowded buses in rush hour. While occasional shootings do take place, criminals are dealing with each other leaving general public at peace. However, skinheads are on the rise and minority travelers should regard them with caution.


Not surprisingly, social chats soon develop into political discussions. Confine yourself to "your country is very beautiful and people very hospitable" routine and you'll end up with a free drink or two. No need to feel like a cynic: the country is beautiful, and depending on a particular person, people can be very hospitable.


H - Health

The tap water is drinkable, but sometimes white of chlorine. Bottled water is available, usually carbonated ("gazirana"), but also un-carbonated  ("negazirana"). Pick a small bar of soap and some toilet paper for public restrooms, most of them lacking soap, towels and toilet paper.


On a hiking tour, use repellents regularly. Mosquitoes are just a harmless nuisance, but check yourself each evening for ticks, one third of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease. Serbia has two venomous snakes, nose-horned viper and adder, but snakebites are rare, serum widely available and snakebite related deaths unheard of for decades.


L - Language

Interestingly, Serbian language (actually, Serbian dialect of Serbo-Croat, two dialects being maybe as different as British and Australian English) is written in both Cyrillic and Latin characters and everyone understands both. Words are pronounced exactly as they are written. Italian "ciao" is often used as informal greeting, while good morning/good day/good evening are "dobro jutro/dobar dan/dobro vece" (pronounce c in "vece" as ch). Key phrases also include:


thank you "hvala",
please/you're welcome "molim",
yes/no "da/ne",
excuse me "izvinite",
airport "aerodrom",
bus/railway station "autobuska/zeleznicka stanica" (pronounce the second word as zheleznichka),
post-office "posta" (poshta),
pharmacy "apoteka",
open/closed "otvoreno/zatvoreno",
beer "pivo",
street "ulica" (ulitsa),
boulevard "bulevar",
square "trg",
when "kada",
where "gde",
how much "koliko",
leave me alone "ostavi me na miru",
do you speak English "govorite li engleski"
bird "ptica" (like ptitsa)
birder "posmatrac ptica" (posmatrach ptitsa)
birding "posmatranje ptica" (posmatranye ptitsa)

Street names are changing, thus it is useful to know both old and new name (e.g. former Marsala Tita become Srpskih Vladara St.). Street designations on maps often differ from those on signs (e.g. Knez Mihajlova Ulica and Ulica Kneza Mihajla are both in use, first meaning Duke Mihajlo's St. and second Street of Duke Mihajlo).


M - Maps

One-sheet Belgrade city maps, as well as street atlases are available at larger bookshops (try "Jugoslovenska Knjiga" at the beginning of the Knez Mihajlova Promenade), newspaper kiosks and street stalls along the main Terazije - Knez Mihajlova artery. At the same places reliable Serbia and Yugoslavia road maps can be found. If you are arriving by plane/train, check the magazine stands in the airport/railway station building.


S - Self-Catering

Both quality and variety of food available in larger supermarkets of Belgrade and Novi Sad is satisfying. Variety of food in small towns is lower, so stock in advance. On the other hand, open markets are well stocked both in large and small towns (in later being the better option), offering seasonal vegetables and fruit. In small towns ask around for the local "market day" ("pijacni dan" in Serbian, pronounced as piyachny dan) - usually only one day per week when all the farmers from the neighboring villages are selling their goods. If you miss that day of the week, your choices can be fairly narrow.


W - Where to Stay

Check the hotels at http://www.hotels.co.yu/ (includes addresses, phones, prices, façade photos, number of bedrooms, credit cards accepted, etc), or check their locations on the city map at http://solair.eunet.yu/~rabotic/map.htm. For hostels go to http://www.yuhostels.com/.

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).


For any further information, feel free to e-mail the author at goingbirding@yahoo.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.
 

8) References

Dajovic, M. (1998). Results of bird observations in Belgrade area in 1990-1997. Ciconia, vol. 7. Novi Sad

Puzovic, S., Gergelj, J. & Lukac, S. (1999). Heron and Cormorant Colonies in Serbia 1998. Ciconia, vol. 8. Novi Sad

Simic, D. & Puzovic, S. (1998).The White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in the Belgrade area. Ciconia, vol. 7. Novi Sad

Stanimirovic, Z. (2000). Faunistical list of birds of Banjicka forest and Banjica (suburbia of Belgrade). Ciconia, vol. 9. Novi Sad

Stojnic, N. (2000). Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica) - new breeding species of Vojvodina. Ciconia, vol. 9. Novi Sad

 

(c) Copyright Notice

Material contained within these pages is copyright (c) 2000-2003  Dragan Simic. Permission to reproduce this material in any manner must first be obtained in writing from the author.

 

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