Birdwatching by Rail in Europe

Trains fuse the ease and convenience of travel with the relaxing, calming, compelling experience of birding. Each route features informative maps and network information, along with suggested detours and opportunities to extend your trip.

Secretive marsh birds, the King and Yellow rails rarely put themselves out in front of birders, making sightings a rare treat. To increase your odds of seeing one, listen for their call at sunrise or sunset.


Organizing your own birdwatching tour abroad can be daunting: choosing the best itinerary, ensuring you visit top sites and making the most of your time is hard enough; arranging transport between places often adds to the cost and logistical complexity of such a trip. That’s why Europe Avian Adventures has created this collection of European tours that combine top-notch wildlife experiences with a high-speed rail pass.

The pristine habitat of the eastern Rodopi Mountains, home to the greatest concentration of birds of prey in the country, holds a bounty of other feathered delights too. In this popular Naturalist Journeys tour, we’ll combine relaxed visits to ancient monasteries with birding nearby among remarkably rich forests, hay meadows and hill villages. The results are breathtaking.

The mountainous landscape of western France is home to a stunning array of species, including Rock Ptarmigan and Black Grouse. Join us on this Naturalist Journeys tour for the chance to see them all, while also enjoying a leisurely, stress-free trip with a small group of fellow travellers.

We’ll travel by train and ferry, making it easy to see a huge variety of birds, including rare gems such as Yellow-billed Chough and White-backed Woodpecker. We’ll search for Alpine species too, such as Pygmy Owl and Wallcreeper while exploring the remarkable natural beauty of this enchanting corner of the world.

Our focus on Europe’s top birding locations combined with the convenience of overland travel and our experienced guide service make this an unmissable experience.

Getting up close to these majestic predators is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights. On this Birding by Train trip, we’ll follow the migratory routes of the European Honey-buzzard and its cousins to seek out this awe-inspiring species. We’ll look for both male and female displaying birds in their stunning azure colours, while also studying their intricate markings and distinctive calls. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe these soaring giants!


With its chubby appearance, small size, and bright yellow bill, the sora resembles a chickenlike bird. It is also the most widespread of all rails in North America, breeding throughout most of the United States and Canada as well as Central and South America. During migration and in winter, it frequents freshwater and brackish marshes, flooded pastures, and wet meadows with emergent vegetation, especially cattails, sedges, and rushes.

Soras are known for skulking through the vegetation, and they often keep their short tail cocked up. They can be difficult to see even during the nesting season, when they tend to hide in dense grasses and reeds. Look for them by listening for their distinctive whinny call, heard most frequently during spring migration and the breeding season.

Although they appear to be weak and reluctant fliers, soras can fly hundreds of miles each spring and fall between their breeding and wintering habitats. In Tennessee, this species can be found in freshwater marshes, including the wetlands at Standifer Gap.

They breed in a variety of habitats, but they prefer shallow, wet meadows with reeds, tall grasses, and sedges. They also inhabit flooded wooded areas, cultivated fields, and pastures. During the breeding season, soras are most active at dawn and dusk.

During the nesting season, soras are very territorial. They may defend their territory with a loud call, which they give repeatedly during the day and evening. They also fly around and squat low to the ground, sometimes in circles, searching for insects.

When they are not nesting, soras spend the rest of their time in wet meadows and flooded fields, where they feed on invertebrates and seeds. Their long toes help them walk on floating mats of vegetation, which they can easily maneuver through using a pushing motion with their head.

The sora has earned several nicknames, such as Carolina rail, soree, meadow chicken, and the French word for “ortolan” (a bunting from Europe that is a delicacy in France). Although hunting has been scaled back and wetlands have been conserved, soras still face threats from habitat loss.


The last week or so has seen a stunning surge of ultra-rare songbirds visiting the UK. Canada warblers, magnolia warblers and bay-breasted warblers have been spotted across the country in a phenomenon called ‘irregular migration’ caused by strong early autumn storms in the Atlantic. This ‘weather-induced’ event is likely to happen more often as climate changes and increases in hurricane activity alter bird behaviours.

The influx of these rare migrants is a reminder that, with some thought and planning, the UK is an excellent birding destination. Many of the country’s best birding sites are accessible by train. For example, the coast of Yorkshire is a birder’s delight; take a train to Bempton and wander around the cliff-top reserve for seabirds in spring and summer, or visit at other times for the chance to hear guillemots and gannets calling, and see redwings and goldcrests.

Coastal wetlands are also excellent places to look for birds, especially in winter. The tidal mudflats of Paul de Lagos are great for Cetti’s warbler and corn bunting, and the nearby estuary is home to marsh harriers. You can walk a little further along the road to a birding hide where you can hear and sometimes see these birds, as well as other shorebirds.

Away from the coastline, the huge forests of the Scottish Highlands offer superb diversity. From Aviemore, take a train to Glenmore Forest Park for incredible woodland wildlife, and explore the mountains and lochs of Abernethy, for chance sightings of grouse and hare. Or take the train to Cairngorm Mountain and hike along loch-sides and babbling brooks in search of Ptarmigan, and perhaps catch sight of Britain’s only free-roaming reindeer herd.

Arranging a birding trip abroad can be a daunting task for an individual, but Avian Adventures has all the experience and expertise needed to arrange a first class tour to any of Europe’s top destinations. They work closely with a range of quality local guides and accommodation providers to guarantee the best possible experience for their clients. And, of course, all tours are fully-inclusive so that you can relax and enjoy the scenery – and the birds.


Woodpeckers are a striking sight, with their black and white colors and distinctive, barred patterns. Some woodpeckers occupy one place throughout their lives, while others are migrants. The Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, for example, nests in conifers and feeds on beetle larvae, wild fruits, and berries. They also have a specialized zygodactyl feet, with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward, which allows them to hold onto vertical surfaces when perched. These grippy feet and stiff tail feathers also allow them to climb tree trunks with ease.

Despite their hammering, woodpeckers aren’t at risk of suffering skull-splitting concussions. The bird’s brain fits snugly inside its skull, and vibrations from the drumming of their beaks are cushioned by tension in the hyoid apparatus, which absorbs impacts to the head. In addition, the bird’s extra thick skull and chisel-like beak help to absorb impact force and direct vibrations away from the skull. Woodpeckers also have a special membrane that closes just before a whack hits the wood, protecting the brain from injury.

The Pileated Woodpecker is another striking bird, with its crow-sized crest and large rectangular holes it excavates in trees for carpenter ants (its mainstay food). It has a solid black body, white patches on its wings, and a bright red head. This bird flies high in the air and makes loud calls. It drums faster than the Downy Woodpecker and sounds a little like a flicker.

If you’re looking for a more intimate birding experience, consider booking a guided extension to a standard Birdquest tour. This is a great way to see a variety of additional birds, and it gives you the freedom to spend more time at each site. We’ll be happy to customize an Avian Adventures tour just for you, or arrange a private trip with friends. Simply let us know your preferred dates, and what additional species you’d like to see, and we’ll get to work. We’ll provide a first class itinerary and secure the best accommodation options. Our expertise means that we can arrange your tour with complete confidence, and you’ll arrive at the starting point ready to enjoy a world-class birding holiday.

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