Sunday, 23 July 2017

Botanic gardens, Minsk

I have just returned from a short break in Minsk, Belarus as part of my lifelong quest to visit every country in the world. I have now visited 107. I took advantage of Belarus's new policy of visa free access for EU citizens on short trips.

I stayed near the Botanic Gardens deliberately. It was to allow me to bird straight out of the hotel. When birding, my personal and financial preference where possible is to bird without commercial guides. I don't like using prerecorded calls either. This does mean I often miss special birds which guides have previously found, often by using calls. However, I do get lots of satisfaction at finding my own species whatever they may be.

map of Botanic gardens

The Botanic Gardens are on e-bird as a hotspot so this wasn't a leap in the dark. There are obviously plenty of different habitats as you would expect in a Botanic Gardens including some areas of untouched local forest.

The gardens don't open until 10 am but the relatively cool summers's days while I was there meant bird activity continued all day.

Before entering the park I came across rook grazing and plenty of common swift screaming overhead.

rook outside the gardens

Once inside, I soon saw a song thrush on the path and several robin of all ages. Blackbird was heard and then seen.

song thrush

Mistle thrush numbers were higher than song thrush. At one stage I was tracking what I assume was a family of mistle thrush when a juvenile goshawk swooped down. There was blind panic in the thrushes.

However this juvenile was way too noisy to be effective. I came across it several times during the day as it gave its presence away by screaming. I suspect these were begging calls from a bird that wasn't quite ready to fend for itself.

A venture out of the wooded areas lead to me seeing my one and only white wagtail of the day.

white wagtail

Although, chaffinch was numerous inside the woods, it was more easily seen in the parkland by the side.


The same went for tree sparrow. Incidentally I did not see a single house sparrow in all my time in Minsk.

tree sparrow

There was plenty of evidence of breeding birds in the gardens. Most of the many spotted flycatcher still had the speckled heads and upper back of very young birds and so did this collared flycatcher. This species was much less numerous.

young collared flycatcher

Some of the young birds had still not learned to be afraid.

young robin

One young robin in particular allowed very close approach.


The birds were often clustered. A couple of tall flowering and berried trees attracted a number of different birds. These included blackbird, mistle thrush, chaffinch, tree sparrow and a single young siskin.


The lake in the middle of the gardens was a little disappointing. The sides are landscaped so there isn't any reed or long grass growth. So potential acrocephalus warblers were not possible.

mute swan

At first I could only see a pair of mute swan. On closer inspection, a couple of mallard were hiding at the edge of the one small island. Given what mute swan can do to mallard in defence of their territory I am not surprised they were in cover.


In the sunnier parts of the gardens, there were different birds. On a border fence I observed my only red-backed shrike of the trip.

adult male red-backed shrike

More members of the crow family were out in the open. These included hooded crow.

hooded crow

I glimpsed a jay in a bush and then some magpie were seen more easily.


From my experience in Bulgaria, goshawk love the taste of the crow family so these birds need to take care.

Eventually I got down to the more difficult task of finding and identifying warblers.

young blackcap

A fruiting bush was attractive to blackcap.

female blackcap

There was also a common whitethroat there though I glimpsed it for seconds only.

common whitethroat

In a clearing in the forest I had a difficult identification. The bird below returned to the tall herbage in the clearing time and time again.

chiffchaff of the race abietinus

I sent these photos to birdforum. I also had a recording of the call which was a chiffchaff's. It is a shame that it is so very hard to post sound recordings on blogger even though videos are easy.


With the combination of photos and call there was no disagreement that it was a chiffchaff. Before I posted the call a minority view on forum was also considering willow warbler.

I knew abietinus had less olive and green tones than the nominate but this bird had none. You live and learn.

The next day I birded the river valley and adjacent woodland just south of the Botanic Gardens.

Slightly more species were observed and half were different from the gardens. I will blog about them next.

Birds seen at Botanic Gardens, Minsk
Mute Swan 
Northern Goshawk  
Common Swift  
Red-backed Shrike  
Eurasian Jay  
Hooded Crow 
Common House Martin  
Great Tit  
Common Chiffchaff  
Wood Warbler  
Eurasian Blackcap 
Common Whitethroat  
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared flycatcher  
European Robin  
Thrush Nightingale 
Eurasian Blackbird  
Song Thrush  
Mistle Thrush  
White Wagtail 
Common Chaffinch  
Eurasian Siskin  
Eurasian Tree Sparrow  


  1. Hi Rob,

    Please note that the picture of the flycatcher is clearly a Ficedula and not a Spotted Flycatcher, which never shows white edges to tertials and covers nor does it have white on the outer rectrices. I suspect this most likely Collared Flycatcher but have no field guides at hand at the moment.

    In Nouakchott this autumn, watch out for Atlas Pied Flycatcher :-)


    1. Thanks Bram. This was lazy birding on my behalf. I had seen so many spotted flycatchers, I obviously stopped looking closely at them. I am very lucky the one I chose to photograph was a collared flycatcher. Rob