A Long-eared Owl peeping down at me
I've been back from my wonderful trip to Serbia last Friday and I'm still stunned by the beauty of this country that has had more than its fair share of troubles recently. Nonetheless, the nature available to be seen by visiting birders is astounding. I had great views of Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles and Goshawks plus farmland birds that we are finding increasingly harder to connect with here in the UK. Corn Buntings, Skylarks and Yellowhammers proliferate whilst I heard Quail, my bogey bird, on several occasions - remember, my visit was in July; the height of summer and the time when most birds are least active.
As I intimated in my previous blog entries, it was the owls that really blew me away. The Long-eared Owl phenomenon was only discovered as recently as eight years ago. The main town where the best numbers of this endearing owl can be found is called Kikinda, around 150 km directly north of Belgrade in the Pannonian Plain. It felt as though there was at least one owl in every tree; in parks and even in the trees lining the streets. There is a tiny street with no more than 10 trees conveniently close to a bar that has since changed its logo to resemble a stylised owl. These small trees harbour an astonishing 700 plus birds during the winter. 700!! Elsewhere in the town at least 20 Short-eared Owls also winter, plus there are countless resident Little Owls and many Kestrels.
The amazing thing is that the Serbs don't realise what they have in the owls choosing to live in such close proximity to humans. They now need to spread the message out to the world in general to encourage ecotourism into their towns and cities for people to see these incredible birds. I believe that if the birders and tourists come it will engender a great pride (as well as revenue) for the locals and hopefully they will do all they can to nuture and protect the owls.
Serbia isn't expensive to get to and once you're there it is certainly inexpensive, so get yourself out there and see these fantastic owls for yourself. I'm heading back out in the winter to see and film the Kikinda gatherings for myself.
If you do head out let me know how you get on.