It may seem unremittingly urban when you are stuck in traffic and surrounded by tower blocks, but Moscow actually has more than a hundred parks and gardens. At this time of year, these green areas are teeming with life. Here are some relatively easy ways to get a closer look.
The "Silver Forest" Island in the Moscow River has always been a refuge for wildlife. The "ecological trail", installed two years ago close to the trolleybus park, has made it more accessible than ever.
Access: Polezhaevskaya Metro and then trolleybus 20, 21, 65 or 86. Take the left hand path from the far right corner of the trolleybus park to reach the "eco-trail".
Way marking: Hard to miss the way here as almost every inch is covered with duckboards and lined with information panels.
Attractions: This 1,500-metre circuit is packed with interesting features and creatures. An observation tower, bridges, walkways, signposts, benches and aviaries all help nature-lovers get up close and personal. With warblers in the reeds, frogs and muskrats in the pond and a couple of grey cranes in a cage, this marshy area is almost as busy as the MKAD on a Friday evening.
Timiryazevsky Academy Park
Another good place for bird watchers is the relatively wild triangle of woodland north of Aeroport.
Access: Dimitrovskaya Metro and then tram 27 to "Park Dubki" will get you fairly close. Alternatively, trolley bus 57 from Voykovskaya goes along the far side.
Way marking: A trail takes you round a square kilometre of the forest that is particularly rich in bird life. The way marker is a man with a bird on his hand. There are also signs directing you to other parts of the park, like the reservoir, the playgrounds and the Agricultural Academy.
Attractions: The best parts of the park tend to be away from the main tracks, following the smaller winding paths through summer flowers, birch trees and birdsong.
A different kind of path kicks off from behind the official residence of Ded Moroz (the Russian Father Christmas) at the end of Topolevaya Alleya in Kuzminki. The little paths and bridges round the Churilikha River, which feeds the chain of lakes in Kuzminki landscaped park, have been decorated with carvings of animals and fairy tale characters.
Access: Marshrutka 248 from Kuzminki Metro stops at the nearby Hospital Number 2. Alternatively, you can walk south from Kuzminki Metro Station and along the lakes.
Attractions: Signboards show what birds to look out for in the area and how to identify different creatures by their footprints. The blini van near Santa's house is usually open for refreshments and you can post a letter to Father Christmas all year round!
Access: Very close to the newly-renamed Novoyasenevskaya Metro Station. Simply exit near the front of the train, walk uphill past a market and play ground and you will find the exit on your right.
Way marking: Wooden owls at nearly every junction point a helpful wing to show you the way. And, just to be sure, there are red and white distance markers counting the two and a half kilometre route.
Attractions: a natural spring, huge numbers of tame squirrels, playground, ancient oak trees. Beautifully maintained, accessible trail.
Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills)
Another couple of lovely new routes start from Vorobyovy Gory Metro Station. These well-kept "ecological trails" were introduced about two years ago and make the most of this long, wooded park by the river. The paths are supposedly accessible by wheelchair; it is hard to see how given they are half way up a hill, but the idea alone is radical for Moscow.
Access: Couldn't be simpler. Just get off near the front of the train, go up the escalator and walk in either direction.
Way-marking: Signposts in Russian (and sometimes in English) direct you to the famous viewpoint, the Andreyevsky Ponds and other attractions.
Attractions: Beautiful yellow anemones carpet the hillsides in spring, dozens of thrush nightingales sing in the trees in May and June. Boats go from the foot of the hill. Refreshments near the University building at the top. Summerhouses, bridges, information boards and even recycling bins are among other new features.
Russia's first National Park, established in 1983, is a huge tract of forest once used as a hunting ground by the Tsars. The name means "Elk Island", hinting at the exciting possibility of seeing the eponymous elk (known as moose in North America), as well as deer, otters and wild boar. In fact, you are most likely to spot just squirrels and birds, but you will almost certainly see the characteristic round elk droppings and split-hoofed footprints in the mud. There are numerous ways to get into the forest, but this trail is in the north-eastern corner of the section of the park which is actually inside the city limits.
Access: Metro VDNKh and then trolleybus 76 to bus stop Fedoskinskaya Ulitsa. Simply walk away from the main road into the woods and you will come to a signboard outlining the trail.
Way marking: The vandalised remains of some elegant carved and painted posts are not much help. Some of the original paths have been lost altogether, but there are plenty of others, many of which lead eventually to the visitors' centre (phone: 183 6465).
Attractions: The tiny "Russian Life" exhibition is hardly worth trekking into the forest for, but the log cabin and wooden figures make a pleasant addition to a beautiful area. The main attractions are the open spaces and elk-sheltering woods.
Beyond the MKAD, the forests of the Losiny Ostrov are punctuated by marshy areas, which are rich in wildlife.
Access: Train from Yaroslavsky Station to Mytischi (has the added advantage of passing through the forest on the way where you just might see elk from the window). Turn right away from the station along Ulitsa Kolontsova, follow the Yauza under the Yaroslavskoe Shosse and then follow the road straight on, forking left to reach the visitors' centre.
Way marking: Again, the confident map showing points of interest is not matched by any corresponding signposts on the ground. The paths are still in evidence and fairly easy to follow.
Attractions: Good mixture of marshland, forest and open country, making for a variety of wildlife, enhanced by charming wooden houses, including the small "Tea drinking at Mytischi" exhibition (phone 586 3435).