Birdwatching in Lockdown
Rock Thrush sitting on a mossy rock in northern Montenegro

My girlfriend and I arrived to volunteer at Undiscovered Montenegro for the 2020 season and obviously things have played out a little different than expected what with there being no actual guests for now! As a keen birder the bountiful birds certainly help compensate (Lake Skadar National Park has recorded over 270 species!) and they are completely oblivious to the current crisis. The villa and gardens here are nestled amongst a myriad of foliage and the cacophony of birdsong is never louder than now with the long, warm days and flowers coming into bloom.

Red-rumped swallow in flight between the trees of Villa Miela's orchard garden close to Virpazar at Lake Skadar National Park in Montenegro
Red-rumped swallows fill the sky at Villa Miela, Virpazar

The nightingales have returned from Africa and seldom can you stand on the terrace without being serenaded with their fruity melodies. The scratchy song of Eastern subalpine warblers is ever-present as they flit around busily readying for the task of raising young. In the south-east of the UK, where I am from, the sighting of a Hawfinch would be an exciting occurrence but here it is quite common to see the black-and-white flash of their wings as they move through the treetops.

By looking up you are rewarded with the aerial antics of house martins and red-rumped swallows and before long an alpine swift comes into view – dwarfing it’s smaller cousins with it’s half-metre wingspan. And this is all just from the villa and gardens!

A flock of Pygmy Cormorant fly above the lily pads and reeds of Lake Skadar in Montenegro
A birder’s paradise

Lake Skadar itself offers a plethora of other rare and wonderful birds to discover. We managed to get out on the kayaks before total lockdown and the experience of floating gently through the reeds on a calm, sunny day while reed warblers sing from within and all around you pygmy cormorants, little and great crested grebes surface and disappear again is hard to put into words. If that wasn’t enough then the pièce de résistance is a group of Dalmatian pelicans, one of the largest flying birds in the world with a whopping three-metre wingspan, appearing over our shoulders and gliding effortlessly out over the water. It is very much their world but the kayaks allow us to enter it and enjoy it in a way that is both respectful towards the animals but also incredibly pleasant for the paddler!

A Wallcreeper stands on one leg on a rock in Northern Montenegro wearing its red, grey and black features
Wallcreeper – the Hoopoe of the rock face!

All of this is merely the tip-of-the iceberg to the birdwatching opportunities present here – here are rock nuthatches on the hillsides, short-toed eagles circling overhead and whiskered terns making their nests on the lake’s lily pads. There is so much that you are guaranteed to see something spectacular, but you never know what exactly you might come across. And that for me is the beauty of birding; if you don’t sign on to the birdwatching holiday here at UM next spring you won’t give yourself the chance of finally stumbling upon that elusive wallcreeper…

Watch our video of a minute’s Nightingale singing at Villa Miela for instant lockdown relief!



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