We barely started the drive, when a flock of 14 Common Cranes forced us to stop and reach for binoculars and cameras. Belgrade lies on the cranes’ migratory corridor and, especially in Spring, flocks are regularly spotted above the city. Further north, we slow down by the ruins of an old farm… and yes, a Little Owl greets us with its ‘smiling’ face. We are going to the Sakule fish farm in the namesake village north of Belgrade – the very best wetland birdscape in the area.

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Common Cranes

… Being a birder – what does it mean to me? Being a person with a strong wanderlust, who always found traditional tourist sites boring, to say the least (Churches? Museums – majority of them? Town squares? Ruins? Who cares??!), even before I took binoculars, I was always chasing, hmm… impressionable experiences. I was after those moments when one feels fully awake and simply happy to be, to exist in the moment. Those activities are today mostly known as the extreme sports – someone has coined that name for TV usage – but back in the old days, for me climbing was not a sport, it was a way of life.

My way of climbing meant take only memories and leave only those white chalk hand-prints behind (no pitons or bolts left in the rock – rock faces were left as pure as I found them), which is an old school of doing things. When climbing, your entire focus is on your next few moves; your entire world shrinks to those few feet of rock ahead of you… Okay, perhaps I should have been focused on those yards below me, too. My climbing life ended up with a nasty fall.

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Common Chiffchaff

Can birding possibly compare? I haven’t put myself in life threatening situations while birding (unless you count paddling with crocodiles?). The intensity of experience is not the same, but, e.g. focusing on a single bird and trying to solve the puzzle… or finding the rarest owl of India, that was a mind-blowing one. And it is not the only one. Both then and now, I travel, and while doing so, I try hard to avoid or spend as little time as possible in cities and mostly head for the hills (although some yummy scented rubbish dumps have their attractions, too). And, I still do avoid traditional tourist traps. Who cares for ancient walls – unless those are of a nine centuries old and a still working pub, that is?

Being a birder redefines ones travel views and arrangements – unlike old churches, birding tourist attractions have wings and tend to use them, which makes locating them more of a game. More of a hunt? Satisfying the most ancient need in one hunter-gatherer’s mind? To be fully aware of one’s environment, fully awake? To be… alive?

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… Back to the Sakule fish farm – the area is about to become a new nature reserve soon. Scanning the lake from several viewpoints yields Graylag Geese, Ferruginous Ducks and Garganeys, the first Eurasian Spoonbills of the season, lovely Pied Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, one partially leucistic Ruff among 1400 others and one Dunlin hiding among them (I wonder which other waders did I missed in that flock), the first Whiskered Tern of the season (still in winter plumage), as well as great views of a two dozen Bearded Reedlings.

Full birdlist is available at eBird

Photos (c) Sasa Preradovic

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Written by Dragan
Dragan Simic is obsessively passionate about two things – birding and travelling in search of birds, and that has taken him from his native Balkans to the far shores of Europe and the Mediterranean, southern Africa, India and Central America. His 10,000 Birds blog posts were Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards. Birder by passion and environmental scientist by education, he is an ecotourism consultant, a field researcher and a bird blogger who always thinks that birding must be better behind that next bend in the road, and that the best bird ever is – the next lifer. He tweets as @albicilla66