The main goal was to carry out the first vacation in post-Corona times. For this purpose, we were looking for a country that is rather relaxed when it comes to entering the country. Also in the foreground is to relax and to photograph the Rock Partridge or a few good eastern European Warblers and to observe a few otherwise rare birds. The landscape on the coast might well be comparable to the Croatian karst island of Pag which I visited several years ago with excellent success in terms of Rock Partridge-Photography.
We wanted to focus on 4 locations:
- Skadar Lake
- Dinaric coastal mountains
- Adria Coast
- Durmitor „Alps“
TIME SCHEDULE & ITINARY
1st of May: flight arrival in Podgorica AP; drive to Vranjina, accommodation Sunny balconies apartments Skadar Lake
2nd of May: birding Skadar Lake National Park and eastern side of Mt. Rumija
3rd of May: birding Vranjina fishermen harbor, Velji vrh & Liponjak Lake during the day, evening Buljarica Marsh
4th of May: birding Skadar Lake National Park, Velji vrh, the riparian woods at Moraca at Bistrica, Bobija, and the Wasteland south-west of Podgorica (Ćemovsko polje)
5th of May: birding Wasteland Podgorica, Vranjina fishermen harbor, Velji vrh; in afternoon: Plavnica Eco Resort, Vodopad Nijagara & Hotsko jezero
6th of May: birding Wasteland Podgorica, Moraca at Bistrica & Moraca at Vranjina, western side of Mt. Rumija
7th of May: whole day birding: Ulcinj Salina, birding in return drive: Mt. Rumija
8th of May: birding Vranjina fishermen harbor & Mt. Rumija
9th of May: birding in the morning Skadar Lake National Park, after midday: driving to Durmitor NP via Slano Lake (Niksic), stay at Hotel SOA/ Žabljak
10th of May: birding Mlinski Potok area in Durmitor NP, stay at Hotel SOA/ Žabljak
11th of May: birding Mlinski Potok area in Durmitor NP in the morning. From midday: birding so-called Jeep trail (circuit around Durmitor NP), drive via Tara Bridge to Biogradska Gora, stay in wooden huts near the lake in Biogradska Gora NP
12th of May: birding Biogradska Gora Lake & upper parts up to 1.300m NN
13th of May: morning birding: Moraca at Vranjina, from midday: Dinaric mts at Stari Bar
14th of May: birding Vranjina fishermen harbor, Velji vrh during the day, evening Buljarica Marsh
15th of May: morning birding: Moraca at Vranjina, flight back from Podgorica AP.
GETTING THERE – FLIGHT
This was the 1st time I flew with Montenegro Air. For 2 passengers I paid 519, 02 EUR for the 1,5 hours flight from Frankfurt/ Main.
The baggage conditions to Montenegro with Montenegro Air were not too strict. 1 piece of hand luggage + 1 additional item (such as a laptop bag) with a total weight of 8 kg is accepted. In addition, you may give up 1 piece of luggage, which may weigh 23kg. As a light hand luggage I took the small photo backpack with a Canon 4, 0/ 400 DO. Corona handling was relaxed throughout.
During the trip in the remote parts I wanted a 4X4. The car was ordered online via SIXT respectively Auto Europe. That worked very well. SIXT has its own counter at the airport. The counter employee tried of course to sell additional insurance to me but I can let him blow off. We took over a relatively new (with 57,000 km) Dacia Duster. There was a fastidious condition control, which I documented also with the cell phone. I also had the spare wheel and the associated tools shown to me. Upon return, we gave a superficially cleaned car. The return was problem-free; it was not frantically searched for dents or scratches.
Some people are a bit too optimistic about travel times. There is almost no Autobahn. A trip of 50 km can turn out to be a 1 hour drive.
We refrained from birding and photographing from a boat on Skadar Lake due to discussions with our landlord. He tried to make extra money to the rent of the holiday home for a boat trip for 8 hours for 200 Euro. I could not imagine what additional value a boat trip would have. Many waterbirds could be photographed with ease from the trails on the dikes. And to preserve Dalmatian Pelicans from heavy touristic pursuit should be a matter of course for any bird lover.
Recurring and annoying offers for boat-trips are made when you enter the picturesque village of Virpazar. I do not know, whether birding is possible with 20 other tourists in a boat!
We booked „Sunny balconies apartments Skadar Lake“ in Vranjina via FeWo-direkt. The holiday home is located right above the fishermen harbor. The view is breathtaking. Otherwise, the quality of the home is breathtaking, too – but in the negative sense. It is highly discouraged to book because the rooms where located right in the middle of a construction side with a lot of garbage, dust and dirt.
We were also surprised by the accessibility. You have to walk stairs – with the heavy suitcases -, there is no car approach. The apartment is probably an old vacation cottage and is now adorned with a superstructure above it; but all was still under heavy construction. There was dirt, building material and rubble everywhere. Do not be seduced by the nice images by the owner on Google Map – it does not look like that in reality.
Until the end of the 2 weeks, this did not change.
Additionally the sink was leaking – and not just a little bit – but the water was standing there.
– The cupboards were without exception sometimes more sometimes less full. Mainly bits and pieces from old shoes, tablecloths to building plugs.
– Pots and pans were largely absent.
– A coffee machine was missing
– The floor was covered with fine dust – probably from the construction site above the apartment. Very unpleasant because it sticks to your feet.
Help from the landlord was offered, but it was only lip-service; the respective measures were not implemented. The main concern of the landlord seemed to be to arrange an 8-hour boat trip for us. The support from FeWo-direkt consisted mainly of hiding behind almost inaccessible communication barriers. There is no obvious e-mail-contact but only a chat channel. The possibilities to make chat are limited to 50 characters. Finally I contacted their law department, which seems to be located in Ireland!?!
But – as I said – the view down to the small fishing port is promising. And could keep its promises.
In the mountains we stayed 2 nights in Hotel SOA/ Žabljak. It is said, it is the best hotel in Žabljak which does not mean too much for central European standards. But conditions were good to very good, view (and birding from the balcony) was excellent and the food in their restaurant was outstanding.
Additionally we stayed 1 night in the wooden huts in Biogradska Gora to explore the area around the lake in the early morning before the crowds arrive. Basic with some roaming mammals under the roof but suitable.
Montenegrins are quite fluent – especially in urban areas – with English.
Still from the time of Yugoslavia, the writing basically is Cyrillic. However, most of the signs are also written in Latin script.
MONEY & COST
The currency used in Montenegro is EURO. The cost of living for food supply in Montenegro is about 60% of that in Germany. Gasoline & diesel cost about 1.70/liter and thus about 30 cents less in comparison.
HEALTH & SAFETY
As I said concerning the flights, Corona handling is relaxed throughout Montenegro. Wearing of masks is more or less unknown. Otherwise, no special issues, too. The country turned out to be safe. During our stay we never suffered from stomach problems. Keep on drinking (mineral water) and do not forget to eat. In general Montenegrins are very friendly and I never felt unsafe.
The Dinaric coastal mountains are a mountain range that rises high above the Montenegrin coast, except for its westernmost and easternmost parts, and includes the Lovćen and Paštrovići mountains. However, the landscape in the hinterland has a flat and hilly character only in parts and some wetlands are interspersed in the karst landscape. The entire mountain range has a similar appearance, geographic and geological origin and ecological character. This limestone massif rises above the Adriatic Sea in a 60 km long chain of steep mountains the mostly bare, rocky southern slopes, although over 1,700 m high are strongly influenced by the Mediterranean climate, while the northern parts are covered with forest. These are mainly Balkan Beech (Fagus moesiaca) and Black Pine (Pinus nigra) forests in the higher elevations of the Lovćen Mountains and Downy Oak (Quercus pubescens), Macedonian Oaks (Quercus trojana) and Oriental Hornbeam forests (Carpinus orientalis) in the lower parts: The areas closer to the sea are covered with maquis and garigue and the corresponding typical tree and plant species.
As we thought we visit Montenegro in the spring season, we did not anticipate so much rain especially in the beginning of the trip. Fact was, that after a sunny but rather cool day on the arrival day, rain continued the whole 2nd day. The following day, weather became better, but still often overcast and temperatures quite low.
It rained sometimes in the night. Luckily rain never really hampered birding. We had heavy rain for 4 hours at arrival in Žabljak, on 1.400m asl on the 9th and 2 hours rain in the evening on the 10th.
The weather in the lowlands was hot to very hot when the sun shines. This was particularly true for Ulcinj Salina. In the mountainous areas of Mount Rumija and especially in the „Alps“ of Montenegro the temperatures were pleasant during the day, but cold especially in the morning. But you will sweat a lot, a result of steep climbing in the mountains.
Despite the focus on holiday and nature experience this trip showed excellent birding and photography results.
As outlined in the itinerary, we stayed at the Skadar Lake and sometimes just relaxed on the balcony birding by occasion. The Dinaric coastal mountains were remarkably productive and almost deserted of people. The Adria Coast was remarkably good despite heavy tourist overprint of almost the whole coastal strip.
Mountain areas of Durmitor and NP Biogradska Gora were still very natural although real primary forest on a larger scale we did not see; maybe you have to walk even deeper in the forests. At least in communist times there must have been some logging in parts which are reserves now.
Highlights were for sure the good numbers of Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) circling over the Skadar Lake. Otherwise Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) and Ferruginous Pochard (Aythya nyroca) which are supposed to be declining in population and rare, were present almost every day I looked in the right site.
Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) and Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca) were specials for the Dinaric mountain range. Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor), Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) and European Roller (Coracias garrulus) were remarkable for the lowlands.
During our climb up in Durmitor NP we observed both „mountain“ woodpeckers, White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) and Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) although May is for sure not the best month to observe these species.
Now it is to talk about the dipps: We missed Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) – not even hearing its booming calls – and a real thought-after bird, the Olive-tree Warbler (Hippolais olivetorum). Despite an intensive search for the Olive-tree Warbler the season probably was not mature enough for this Mediterranean biome bird. Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria) was also to expect later in the year – probably.
The Corn Crake (Crex crex), I was looking for in very suitable-looking habitat is on their limit of distribution.
And Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia), Ural Owl (Strix uralensis), Eurasian Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) and Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) might need a more dedicated search. Additionally it might be not the right time of the year for these birds, although I had the impression that we were right in the display season in NP Durmitor for Capercaillie. But not even a slim glimpse we could made.
As I said, we refrained from birding and photographing from a boat on Skadar Lake due to discussions with our landlord. In retrospective, too I cannot imagine what additional value a boat trip would have. Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) were common – at least in the 1st week – from all over and could be photograph with ease from the trails on the dikes. And to preserve Dalmatian Pelicans from heavy touristic pursuit should be a matter of course for any bird lover.
Expectations for guiding were already limited before the trip and these expectations could even be undercut. If I think about it, I cannot remember to have experienced such a lack of guiding/ birding capacity in a country.
The „professor“, the landlord offered me already far in advance of arrival turned out to be a botanist albeit a very nice man. But birds were not his strength. All people with binocular we met were foreigners. Even to contact the authors of most important publication, the n “CONSERVING WILD BIRDS IN MONTENEGRO, A ﬁrst inventory of potential Special Protection Areas” from 2019, was impossible in the beginning.
Without guiding/ birding competence I had never the possibility for remote triggering with the Canon EOS 1 DX Mark III and the WFT-E9, Wireless File Transmitter. Because for this you need a reliable site with a bird which is used to.
In fact, although it was holiday, we birded every day mainly combined with hiking. The demanding climbs were sometimes a challenge. The restraints of the accommodation in Vranjina were awful. But Montenegro must be explored.
The advantage of an under-explored birding destination is, that a 2-week trip can lift you to the highest ranks of Top eBirders for the country. I think, after 10 days I ranked N. 3. In the end I counted 161 species with the next rank quite far behind with 149 species.
I was glad bringing my scope on this trip because I realized how useful scoping birds over far distances in the Skadar Lake can be. I brought along a complete selection of bird songs on my MP3 player (and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G as well), which I use sometimes to attract species. I placed the scope on a combination of a Gitzo tripod GT3542 XLS Systematic with the FlexShooter Pro Lever Black.
My standard photo combination was a Canon EF 400mm 1:4 DO IS II USM on a Canon EOS R 5. I never used converters. The Canon EOS 1 DX Mark III was part of the baggage but was never in action as the possibility for remote triggering with the WFT-E9, Wireless File Transmitter, was not used.
I did not brought rubber boots as access to muddy and wet areas was always possible on gravel road on dikes. For hiking in the mountains, I had decided to bring my extremely light and stiff trekking poles from Leki.
More remarks concerning equipment and logistics especially to the Durmitor Mountains you will find in dedicated blogs.
There is relatively little information about birding in the southern Balkan country of Montenegro on the Internet. The few travel reports mostly describe rock partridge observations and that too around Dubrovnik in nearby Croatia.
Then really good was an inventory in “CONSERVING WILD BIRDS IN MONTENEGRO, A ﬁrst inventory of potential Special Protection Areas” from 2019, which turned out to be very helpful. It features as a cover photo a Rock Partridge – how could it be otherwise. Otherwise, information about Montenegro can be found in descriptions of national parks and Important Bird Areas (IBA) by Birdlife International or sometimes at ebird. For the experienced Central European birder, who has also visited destinations in Southern Europe, there is probably rather little new to see. My main goal in terms of birds was to get an overview of this hitherto little-discovered birding destination and to see the European endemic Rock Partridge as well as the Olive Warbler and Nightingale Warbler. Apparently, the local rock partridge populations are divided between the nominal subspecies graeca, which occurs in Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and possibly Albania, and ssp. saxatilis, which is distributed from the Alps to the northern Balkans.
USEFUL CONTACTS & ADRESSES
No recommendation. Birding competence you have to bring along.
A total of 161 species were recorded; List is part of Trip report Part II