Kayak monitoring of the Sava River waterfowl nesting area, from source to Danube

Balkan River Defence is excited to share the details of a waterfowl study that will take place alongside Balkan Rivers Tour 5.  Whitewater kayaker and ornithology expert, Bor Mihelič, will become a part of the BRT5 team for the entire descent of the Sava, performing a bird survey of the entire Sava River – the first continuous survery of this kind down by water. His data and findings will be shared with all Bird Life organizations along the Sava and we hope his findings will also provide a base of data which local conservation groups can use to further protect stretches of the Sava.

The following is an introduction to Bor and the study as a whole:

Hey, I’m Bor Mihelič, a 20-year-old student of Nature conservation at Biotechnical Centre Naklo, Higher Vocational College in Slovenia. I am also experienced field ornithologist and active member of DOPPS- BirdLife Slovenia.

DOPPS-Birdlife Slovenia is the biggest non-government organization in Slovenia, established in 1979. It works in the public interest of nature conservation, environmental protection and research. It is a national partner of the worldwide nature conservation organization BirdLife International.


I have been an active member of DOPPS since I was a child, and recently I have been involved and specialized in several surveys of cryptic and difficult bird species as Capercaillie, Black grouse, Hazel grouse, Corncrake and especially water birds, specifically regularly monitoring Kingfishers, a Natura 2000 species in Slovenia. Every year since I was quite young, I’ve participated in the International Midwinter water bird count (IWC) and for the last 5-6 years have been responsible for my own transect. I have also been actively involved in the monitoring of Natura 2000 bird species in Montenegro.

BRT5 provides a unique opportunity to monitor the entire Sava waterfowl nesting area in one month, by kayak. I will do this by joining the BRT team from source of the Sava in Slovenia, to where it drains into the Danube River in Belgrade, Serbia. Along the way I will record each water bird and its location. I will focus especially on the following Natura 2000 species, specifically Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) and will I will also be connecting with Birdlife organizations along the Sava in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

Kingfisher – Alcedo atthis
White-throated dipper – Cinclus cinclus
Lesser spotted eagle – Clanga pomarina
Purple heron – Ardea purpurea
Great egret – Ardea alba
Little egret – Egretta garzetta
Little bittern – Ixobrychus minutus
Squacco heron – Ardeola ralloides
Ferruginous duck – Aythya nyroca
Black stork- Ciconia nigra
Night heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
Pygmy cormorant – Microcarbo pygmeus
Glossy ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Common tern – Sterna hirundo
Little tern – Sterna albifrons

I will also be paying special attention to Common sandpiper, (Actitis hypoleucos) and Little ringed plover, (Charadrius dubius). These two species are not on the priority list but are rare and indicator species. For example, the Little ringed plover needs quality river gravel for nesting, like the lower free flowing, non-regulated segments of the Sava, which I anticipate will have a lot of this gravel. So, with the number of these little birds we can then rate the river and habitat.

This project will be very interesting because the entire Sava has never been monitored during the breeding season, and this data from the water surface will be very important for future research and comparisons, since many parts of the river are not accessible to the fieldworkers from the banks. I am interested in the density and species diversity of birds in the various parts of the Sava and of course the impact of hydroelectric power on birds.

See you on the Sava!

– Bor