There are over 10,000 species of birds in the world, including 1,000 in Europe, 2000 in North and Central America and the Caribbean, 2,900 in Asia, 2,300 in Africa and more than 3,200 species in the richest region of all, South America.
Try as you may, you’ll never be able to see more than a tiny fraction of this number. But, if you are willing to go a little off the beaten track, the effort to see that tiny fraction will be rewarded over and over.
In Europe, the best place for birds is undoubtedly the Danube delta, where the river splits into numerous channels before entering the Black Sea. The Danube Delta Biospheres Reserve in Romania is 580,000 hectares of pure heaven for birdwatchers and is the largest reed surface in the world, interrupted by lakes and channels. Here you will find Europe’s largest colony of pelicans, as well as herons, ibis, warblers, and ducks in their thousands. To see the birds at close range you need to get out on the water – a boat is also the only way to reach the Monastery of St Atanasie, where the monks live in wooden houses and live almost entirely off their own produce. South of the delta is a reserve where you can see from the roadside thousands of water birds including 60 species of waders, terns, ducks, gulls, geese, cormorants, pelicans, herons and egrets. Piatra Craiului and Retezat mountains and the large Bicaz Gorges are large areas still untouched by human influence, offering spectacular birding.
On a comparatively tiny scale is the Oasi di Sant-Alessio, near Pavia, in northern Italy, a privileged habitat for birds, set in the grounds of one of the oldest castles in Europe. Covering only ten hectares, this spot in the Po valley counts kingfisher, stork, heron, ibis and cormorant among its delights. It also raises birds from endangered species and releases them into the wild. It is thought that nearly all storks in the southern Lombardy and southeaster Piedmont regions of Italy are direct descendants of those raised at the Oasi in the late 1970s.
India may not be the first place you’d think of for birdwatching, unless you’re a dedicated old hand and you know that it has 2,060 species of birds, in addition to its thousands of species of mammals, reptiles and insects. India has 11 national parks and 135 wildlife sanctuaries.
Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary (near Alwar, Rajasthan) is part of Project Tiger. Its rich avifauna includes more than 200 species of birds, among them the babbler (common, jungle & large grey), black-/red-headed bunting, little brown dove, crested serpent eagle, pale harrier and dozens more.
Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary (in Rajasthan, 176 km from Delhi), better known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is regarded as the best bird marsh in the world, comprising 29 square km of marsh, woodland and scrub. Here you will find 330 species of both nesting indigenous and migratory water birds inhabiting or visiting this big, shallow lake. The Sanctuary is the wintering ground for about 52 of the 350 Siberian cranes left in the world.
Corbett (near Ramnagar, about 270 km from Delhi) is another great bird park, with over 600 species/subspecies of birds, more than the total number of bird species found in Europe. Of the 69 species of raptors found in India, 49 can be seen in Corbett. Bird diversity is at its peak in winter, when the keenest European birdwatchers visit. With luck and a keen eye, you may also spot rarer species such as oriental white-eye, jungle owlet, Himalayan swiftlet, lesser fish eagle or even the stork-billed kingfisher. Birds are not the end of the story here: the park hosts tiger, Indian elephant, chital, sambhar, muntjack (barking deer), hog deer and the common langur. The historic and heritage cities of Jaipur and Agra are near by.
In South And Central America
Another glorious attraction for twitchers is Crooked Tree Sanctuary in Belize (on the west side of the Northern Highway at Mile 33), featuring 276 species of waterfowl, as well as Morelet’s crocodile, black bowler monkeys and otters and all Belize’s species of freshwater turtle. This mosaic of lagoons is partly surrounded by the largest continuous stand of logwood trees remaining in the country. Especially in the dry season, which peaks in April, double-crested cormorants, egrets, herons and various ducks can be seen. In November the jabiru stork, the largest bird in the Americas, may arrive to build stick nesting platforms and raise its young by June. Crooked Tree also hosts the peregrine, the world's fastest falcon, which is powerful enough to grab an adult coot right out of the water. The Sanctuary is open every day.
In The Rest Of Europe
Extremadura in Spain is a vast area of grass- and woodland. The Spanish imperial eagle is endemic here and there are other raptors galore, including black, griffon and Egyptian vultures. Isle of Mull, Scotland, is an ideal place for viewing the white-tailed sea eagle and the golden eagle, as well as colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and storm petrels. You are almost bound to see also otters, seals, dolphins and whales. Hortobagy, a national park in Hungary, is a patchwork of marshes farms and fishponds, famous for its 70,000 common cranes and migratory geese. You may also catch sight of the rare great bustard and red-footed falcon. Lesbos, Greece, is the best place of all to watch the migration, between late April and early May, of bee-eaters, hoopoes, rollers and other birds flying in from Africa, pursued by impressive numbers of raptors.
To find the best birdwatching holidays look for the UK-based operator AwimAway (020 7430 1766, www.awimaway.com) that offers experiential holidays including birdwatching holidays around the world, customised to suit your desires and your budget.
© 2006 Harish Kohli.
Harish Kohli is an avid traveller who likes to share good experiential or adventure holidays for you . Visit http://www.awimaway.com to see what's new on line.