An exploration in the heart of Europe.
Deep in central Europe lies a country waiting to be discovered. A land of contrasts, from the high Tatras Mountains, through gentle valleys and extensive forests, to one of Europe’s richest wetlands.
This is Slovakia, rarely discovered but with much to offer travellers and naturalists. A country to see your first imperial eagle, hear the rasping call of corncrakes close to; walk in the footsteps of brown bears and wolves; amazingly some of our first group did see a bear, though the odds are against a repeat showing.
Our two-centre holiday, based at hotels near Kosice and in the Low Tatras, explores the eastern part of Slovakia, closer to Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine than the Czech Republic. It takes in a good range of Slovakian wildlife habitats, but also cultural diversions in this distinctly untouristy country.
All this is possible through our host and guide, Pavol Kanuch. Pavol is (now was) director of BirdLife Slovakia but also delights in sharing his home country with visitors through his part-time agency ’Discover Slovakia’. No-one knows Slovakia and its wildlife better than Pavol, complemented by his network of local guides. And he knows all the best restaurants for evening meals.
For thrill-a-minute birdwatching, Senné Fishponds are tough to match anywhere in Europe. It’s like the birds of the Danube Delta, minus the pelicans, shoe-horned into a Minsmere size reserve. Black-necked grebes, little bitterns, spoonbills, squacco and purple herons, great white egrets, avocets, storks, Savi’s warblers, penduline tits; the list could go on. There’s a network of tracks and a tower observation post, so good views are easy.
By contrast, the Tatras Mountains, the higher slopes reached by ski lift, have snowbells Soldanella carpatica, alpine marmots, golden eagle and alpine accentor. In between, there are corncrakes, wildflowers and butterflies in the meadows of Slanske Hills.
Slovakia is known to the keenest birdwatchers for rare owls and woodpeckers. These, Syrian woodpecker excepted, are not our aim; rather this holiday is timed for the best all round wildlife experience, in typical Honeyguide style. But we do take in sites for scarlet rosefinch (really scarlet here), imperial eagle and bee-eaters.
You’ll return with many wildlife highlights to remember. More than this, you will have discovered the secret diamond of Slovakia.
Other birds to look or listen for include red-necked grebe, lesser spotted eagle, honey buzzard, goshawk, saker, hobby, quail, red-backed shrike (often common), golden oriole, river, marsh, great reed, barred and greenish warblers, collared flycatcher, rock bunting.
Yellow-bellied and green toads; green lizard. Butterflies include large copper and chestnut heath; mammals, chamois and suslik. Flower highlights may include a local goldendrop Onosma tornensis and least primrose.
Holiday details (2003)
Senné Fishponds, Tarbucka hill, Slanské hills (Walkers’ Valley), Slovak karst, Low Tatras Mountains, Chocské Hills. Likely diversions include wine tasting at Zemplín wine cellars, Oravská village museum and ice caves. Basic physical fitness needed.
Price: £850 per person in twin room for a full week (Saturday to Saturday).
En suite facilities.
Single room supplement: £40
Flights: Scheduled Czech Airlines flights Heathrow – Prague – Kosice.
Please ask about extending your holiday with a stay in Prague.
Maximum number (2 leaders): 14
Pavol Kanuch. Pavol lives in Slovakia where he runs the conservation work of SOVS, the Slovakian BirdLife partner. He also delights in showing his home country to visitors, for which he has set up his own agency, Discover Slovakia. Naturally, he speaks excellent English – and Slovakian!
The late Steve Henson. Steve helped to set up and run Honeyguide’s Eastern Greece holiday and has been co-leader on all three of Honeyguide’s Slovakia holidays. Various jobs in the world of wildlife at home and abroad have led to his present work on Norfolk’s rivers for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Steve is an excellent birdwatcher but his wider wildlife involvement includes the British Dragonfly Society, and he enjoys pursuing his interest in reptiles and amphibians in Slovakia.
Senné Fishponds in eastern Slovakia is one of 32 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by the Society for the Protection of Birds in Slovakia (SOVS). Conservation work includes managing bird islets for breeding yellow-legged gulls, controlling willow scrub in sedge meadows for roosting hen harriers and repairing dykes in wet meadows for breeding waders and feeding egrets. Volunteers assist with this work at weekend camps; they also learn about birds and contribute to surveys.