The Usce Tower (vlada marinkovic)I journeyed over to Serbia on Thursday morning in the company of documentary maker, Ceri Levy, as he was attending to shoot some footage for his forthcoming film 'The Bird Affect'. Arriving in Belgrade I was surprised as to how hot it was. Having left decidedly chilly London 25 degrees felt tropical!
We were met at the airport by Dragan Simic, an effervescent birder from the city who had originally contacted me via Facebook a couple months previously about setting up a Belgrade watchpoint. Fortunately, Ben Crampton, an Englishman working in the tower, plus a birder and friend of Dragan, stepped in and helped to negotiate with the building's owners and management team to allow access to their roof for migration watching.
Usce Tower stands on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers and overlooks a wooded island that was formally home to a colony of egrets and is now the winter roosting site for up to 2500 Pygmy Comorants. Built in 1964 the building is the 2nd tallest in the city at 141 metres (462 feet).
On Thursday afternoon, we met up with Ben who took us to Kalemegdan, a Turkish Fortress and park that was heavily populated with people. We managed to connect with a couple Spotted Flycatchers, Blackcaps, a Kestrel and a female Black Redstart - along with the ubiquitous Hooded Crows, Magpies, Collared Doves and House Sparrows. Later, I gave a TV interview by the Danube before jumping on a small boat for a quick cruise around the wooded island. The best birds apart from the regular Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls were 2 juvenile Little Gulls.
The following morning was the actual launch of the watchpoint. I was surprised to see over 30 people assembled to go on the tower to watch for migrants. I gave 3-4 more TV interviews about the importance of people noticing nature in their cities before heading onto the roof. We didn't see much but the observers all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Later, I had a whistlestop tour of a couple birding locations outside of the city that resulted in 1 White-tailed Eagle, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a threesome of Black Storks and around 4 Greenshank that were apparently unusual. Before I knew it I was back at the airport heading home.
Many many thanks to Dragan, Ben, Mike (the Usce Tower building manager) and Zorica (Serbian Tourism) for making this event happen. I feel really proud to be involved and excited about the future records that will emanate from this site.