Croatia Online – For Undiscovered Croatia, Follow The Birds
Croatia has been hailed as “undiscovered” and the “Mediterranean as it once was” for many years now. Those that visit Dubrovnik when there are five cruise ships in town, or Hvar in party season, may feel they have been misled. However there are still many great destinations, along the coast and on the islands, that haven’t fully hit the tourist radar yet, and even more spectacularly beautiful parts of the countryside lying just a little inland. What better judge of the word “undiscovered” than the world’s rarer birds?
We were lucky enough to get the job of researching and writing about bird watching in Croatia, for Time Out’s first feature on the subject, see posting below. However we did promise Croatia Online’s readers a few more details on it, back in February in Croatia Online - Croatia's Natural Splendour, so here they are.
Croatia is truly undiscovered for bird watching and yet, like in so many other activities, it probably has more to offer than some of the more established destinations. There are four distinct habitats - Continental, Pannonian, Alpine and Mediterranean. That provides for a vast diversity of species and an abundance of those species which may be rare in other parts of the world.
Eastern European birding expert, Gerard Gorman, author of “Birding in Eastern Europe” (2006, Wildsounds) is also a guide for tours in Croatia (Probirder). He told us us that Croatia has “arguably the most varied range of landscapes of all  countries in this book…and a huge diversity of avifauna [birds]” and believes the Rock Partridge to be one of Croatia’s best assets - “there aren't that many countries where it is common and easy to find.” He adds that Croatia has good numbers of several tempting species such as the Pallid Swift, Olive Tree Warbler, and Black Headed Bunting, and a number of species rare in the region such as the Yelkouin Shearwater and Cory.
But Croatia isn’t just a country waiting to be discovered by serious twitchers: it’s the ideal place for beginners and nature enthusiasts to chill out. We spent a day with Robert Crnković of Val Tours and Robert knows just where to go (and where not to go) to discover the best of Croatia’s natural splendour and wildlife. There’s much more to a bird watching trip in Croatia than sighting a few birds, nests and habitats. On our short trip we discovered spectacular waterfalls, the source of the river Cetina, a 9th Century church, a 19th century Napoleonic bridge, marshlands, castles and remote villages.
An alternative to an arranged birding tour is to visit one of the Nature Parks or protected areas which often have their own birding experts. The wetlands of Kopački Rit are a favourite, as is Lake Vrana, near Biograd. The island of Cres is another, special for its diverse terrain and for the Eurasian Griffon Vulture, one of Europe’s most endangered birds. Dr Goran Sušić has been fighting its cause for over 25 years and established a Special Ornithological Reserve on Cres in 1993. The centre encourages eco tourism and now has bird watching tours. Dr Sušić, founder of the Reserve, maintains that they can virtually guarantee sightings of tempting finds such as Golden Eagles, Short-toed Eagles and, of course, the Griffon Vulture.
Below are details of a few specialised trips though most offer a range of activities to suit beginners and professionals alike.
Val Tours, Biograd have a one week bird watching itinerary for €790 excluding flights but including everything else –3 star hotels, all meals, entrance tickets to national parks, airport transfers, professional guide, and all local travel arrangements. These tours are for between 4 and 8 people but they will organise shorter trips, or tailor made tours for 1 to 8 people, beginner to professional, on request.
Kopacki Rit Nature Park organise 6 or 12 hour trips for a maximum of 15 people in a group. Book in advance - the cost is 310kn or 610kn and includes guide, transport (boat and all terrain vehicles) and entry fee. Groups are divided into three categories of birdwatchers – recreational, amateur or professional.
Eko-centre Caput Insulae Bell, Cres organise 7 day tours, from April to October. The cost of €700 per person includes accommodation at the Griffon Vulture centre in wooden huts, fitted out to high standards, as well as all boat and car transport, meals, and guide. Groups are limited to a maximum of 12 people.
Falco Tours, Split provide a range of kayak and canoe trips focused on birds. The short “Around Trogir” trip is designed for beginners, costs €34, and takes in the Pantan Marsh Reserve; or you can canoe the Drava River for 12 days at a cost of €1,300.
Thanks again to Val Tours for the photos – yesterday’s posting featured Pygmy Cormorants; today it’s a Rock Partridge.
For those of you who prefer to watch the birds from the sea, have a look at sister site Croatia Cruising Companion, for details of sailing holidays in Croatia, for beginners and experts alike.