Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Preparing for Belarus

On 28 April I start co-leading an Ornitholidays group to Belarus - a first for me. (Luckily my co-leader knows the place). I'll bring the group out from London to Minsk, and we'll spend 9 days exploring the forests and marshes of this little-known country. In May 2010, our group to Poland visited the huge, primeval forest of Bialowieza where herds of European Bison roam. This great forest is 45% in Eastern Poland and 55% in Western Belarus: now we'll get to see the other half. The photo is one I took of the Polish half of the forest: a watery wilderness that is home to Beavers, Black Storks, Hazel Grouse, many raptor, woodpecker and flycatcher species, and much else. 

During the First World War, all the forest's Bison were shot by German troops, and vast quantities of wood were exported for the German war effort. Bison were re-introduced from captivity, but their gene pool is small: they are all descended from 12 animals. They are easiest to see in winter when they emerge into meadows to feed on hay provided to supplement their diet. Dividing the forest is a two-metre border fence which is impassable to Bison, though other animals can swim underneath in places. In all, it covers an area that equates to a square 25 miles by 25 miles: about the size of Greater London inside the M25.

We also expect to see reminders of an age now gone from Western Europe: horse-drawn hay-carts and more scythes than strimmers. White Storks, back from winter in Africa, nest in the villages; and the mammal list also has Elk, Red Deer, Wild Boar and Muskrat. I'll report on our trip soon after my return on 9 May!

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