For a long time, I’ve really wanted to see the Long Eared Owl roosts of Serbia and finally my father and I made the pilgrimage. And we weren’t disappointed.
We flew into Belgrade one late winter afternoon, picked up our hire car and started our hour long journey to the only hotel that ever seems to get mentioned in this context – The Hotel Kastel in Ečka. It’s a huge sprawling hotel, with substantial grounds and when we went, very few people. In fact, I believe we were often the only ones staying there. It had a little bit of a Overlook Hotel feel about it, and we almost expected to find ourselves in one of the photographs hanging on the wall by the end a la The Shining.
Joking aside, it was really pleasant and the people there were so friendly. Highly recommended.
So, the next morning we drove up to Kikinda, the capital of owls. Parking up in the LIdl car park, we walked the ten minutes into the centre of town, sticking out like sore thumbs with all our gear. On our approach to the main area they roost, it was super quiet in the trees and I began to worry that they weren’t around. Then I spotted one, then another and soon we were counting around 20 owls all in one tree. Before we knew it, we had seen close to one hundred. Locals approached us to make sure we knew where to look. They were so proud of their local attraction.
I can honestly say, it was such an amazing experience seeing owls so close up, especially long eared owls, a bird difficult to see back in the UK. The rustic tones, the personalities, the changing shapes of their faces and those eyes! The light wasn’t really on our side that day but we still managed to get some lovely shots.
After a couple hours in Kikinda we drove over to Hotel Fantast to have a walk around the grounds there. On the way we spotted our first Great grey Shrike and Hawfinch as well as what must have been close to 50 buzzards along the route. The Kastel was very quiet. Other than a few kestrels, flocks of goldfinch and greenfinch, there wasn’t much around.
As it was getting dark, we thought we’d park up alongside the fishponds nearby and see what was about. We did get some views of marsh harrier and cormorants but not much else.
Once back at the hotel, the staff had told us that there were owls on the grounds and we decided to have a quick walk with a torch to see what was around. Eventually we found a little owl perched up in a tree, who gave us some lovely photos. Then a few steps on, we found the first of many long eared owls. The roost was right next to the hotel building. It was lovely to see them swooping and hooting away – quite the contrast in activity to earlier in the day.
We had hoped to visit Slano Kopovo marshes to see the cranes but rather inflexible staff at the reserve would not allow us to visit as bookings were full. Shame.
So we headed to some undulating ground and were at the Vrsac hills by 9 am. A few quick walks in the woodlands near the top produced bullfinch, hawfinch, marsh tit, lesser spotted, great spotted and middle spotted woodpecker. We were hoping to see Ural Owl but weren’t so lucky.
After lunch in the nearby town of Vrsac, we headed over to the Deliblato Dune national park. Driving through here was quite an experience. Although it was pretty quiet, the drive is pretty exciting, although was a little worried for the rental car. Stopping a couple times, we had great views of hawfinch and brambling on the ground getting a drink, tons of fieldfare, marsh tits, middle spotted woodpecker and at one point, a white tailed eagle appeared out of nowhere, flew around us maybe 10 m above us and then flew off. Pretty cool.
Evening back at the hotel and we managed to catch the long eared owls leaving their roost, flying all around us and giving us brilliant views. The little was nowhere to be seen.
And that was that, a fleeting visit to the north of Serbia to see owls, and see owls we did.
List of birds
- Grey heron
- Black headed gull
- Yellow legged gull
- Tufted duck
- Mute swan
- Marsh harrier
- White tailed eagle
- Long eared owl
- Little owl
- Tawny owl (h)
- Hooded crow
- Mistle thrush
- Song thrush
- Blue tit
- Great tit
- Long tailed tit
- Coal tit
- Marsh tit
- Reed bunting
- Tree sparrow
- Rock dove
- Collared dove
- Stock dove
- Roe deer
- Fallow deer