Bryansky Les Zapovednik

Some of the rarest creatures in this part of the world—lynx, northern eagle owls, brown bears (decimated by overhunting, now rebounding), nesting black storks, and more than 16 kinds of orchids—find homes here. This narrow 93-mile-long (150-km) stretch of riverine bogs and conifer and broadleaf forest—one of the last intact in European Russia—is an island of green in a sea of farm fields. It is this isolation with welcoming habitat that attracts one of Russia’s richest wildlife populations on one of its smallest nature reserves (83 square miles/214 km2).

Wolf packs pursue moose in winter but otherwise prefer easier prey such as wild boars and roe deer as well as badgers when they can catch them outside their burrows. Rattling cries of all 10 European woodpecker species, including black, middle spotted, three-toed, and Eurasian wrynecks, ring among 300-year-old oak trees. Big male capercaillies—giants of the grouse family—sing and fan turkey-like tails in spectacular communal displays to attract mates in spring. Common and gray herons, corncrakes, and other migrants return. Rare, shy black storks raise young near stream sides where they find crested newts, ground frogs, and small fish for nestlings. Spotted eagles, black kites, and tawny owls are among 16 kinds of raptors and eight owls that prey on small forest rodents.

More than a dozen nature reserves have been established nearby, with plans to develop buffers and connecting corridors. Toward that end, Bryanski in 2001 was made the core of the Nerusso-Deshiannskoe-Polesie Biosphere Reserve, with active community involvement programs at its modern visitor center and museum.