BIRD WATCH: Identifying Russian birds was no easy task

SOMETIMES, THE BIRDS we can’t identify are the most memorable.

These are the ones we can never forget.

On a recent trip to Russia, my sister and I saw at least four birds that are still in the, “it might have been a …” category.

They were exciting to see and at least we could put them in the correct family if not the individual species.

One bird, however, will remain a mystery forever.

The river boat we were traveling on was following the Waterways of the Tsars.

There were times when it was close enough to the shore that we could wave at people swimming or fishing.

On one of these occasions, a white egret or stork-like bird flew up from the tall reeds at the water’s edge.

It had the longest tail I’ve ever seen on a bird.

It waved in the air like a rippling banner.

How can you not identify a bird like that?

I can’t find anything similar in the field guides or on the internet, but I’ll never forget it.

Another mystery bird calls into question my reputation as an experienced birder.

It dropped me to beginner ranks.

What do you never forget when looking for birds? Your binoculars.

Mine were back in our cabin when we stepped on deck to photograph a large ruin at the water’s edge.

However, one of the crew members was speaking to another person about the ruin as well as pointing out a sea-eagle on its nest on the ruin.

Even though river boats traveled at a leisurely pace, we were moving too fast for me to run back to the cabin.

This had to be the most exciting bird of the trip and there we were watching it and the ruin fade into the distance.

Chances are good it was the white-tailed sea eagle as it is the most common sea eagle for that region.

Mark down another visual picture etched into the memory banks.

Pelicans are easy to identify.

Even their names contribute to the proper identification.

Here in the Northwest, we’re familiar with both the white pelican and the brown pelican.

Russia doesn’t have a brown pelican but it does have a second pelican species in addition to the Eastern white pelican.

The Dalmatian pelican doesn’t have black and white spots all over its body.

It’s mostly white and in order to separate it from the Eastern white pelican, you need a close look at it.

The pelican we spotted on the river shore was too far away to see if it had pink legs or black ones.

We marked down “pelican.”

Kizhi Island is one of the outdoor museums found along the Waterways of the Tsars.

Buildings built in the 18th century were moved from other parts of Russia to the island.

A monastery, an onion-domed church, and several old homes and barns, let you see what life was like in this part of Russia hundreds of years ago.

It’s a beautiful location.

The island is only four miles long and less than that in width.

It was startling to be strolling across the fields, enjoying the beautiful weather and the picturesque setting and suddenly see two very large shorebirds.

They were obliging and we did have our binoculars.

At least three other interested birders joined us in stalking them.

There was still a question in our minds after we checked the field guide.

Were they Asian dowitchers or long-billed dowitchers?

The book’s description contained one fact that caught our attention: These were large shorebirds, larger than our long-billed dowitcher, a bird considered rare in Russia.

Yes, I think we can officially identify this bird.

Well, maybe.

Our trip might have yielded less than great birding but the Waterways of the Tsars was the journey of a lifetime.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected]

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