In Association with:
POLAND – May/June 2005
152 Bird Species recorded
Leaders: Viv Stratton & Henryk Sulek
Day 1 28th May
We all arrived bright and early at Heathrow Airport at 4-45 in the morning and with all of the group assembled we set off for Warsaw where we met our Polish guide Henryk Sulek. It was very hot and sunny as we piled our baggage into the coach and set off. Stops along the way gave us Blue-headed Wagtail, a pair of nest- building Lesser Whitethroats, female Marsh Harrier, Honey Buzzard, a single thrush Nightingale, as well as Icterine Warbler and a female Golden Oriole. We arrived in the late afternoon in Nowogrod and our hotel situated in lush wooded countryside with a river running through the bottom of the garden. A walk after our evening meal produced a pair of Black Redstarts, Whinchats, Golden Orioles, Red backed Shrikes, Wood Larks and a Tawny Pipit sitting on a wire. Along the water’s edge there was a Marsh Warbler and there were several pairs of thrush Nightingale in the dense thickets. While walking beside the water we saw the tree stumps where the Beavers had gnawed their way through the trees leaving pointed centres. A few ripples indicated that there were two Beaver swimming in the river and eventually they gave us good prolonged views.
Day 2 29th May
We had an early morning walk from 6-00am to 8-00am and it was already very hot and sunny. there were 2 pairs of Wood Larks with the males singing and displaying, Red Backed Shrikes, Golden Orioles, and thrush Nightingales along the thickets of the Narew River, while in the trees were Cuckoos and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Lapwing, Common Tern and Goldeneye flew up river, and there were 2 Hoopoes with one singing in a tree providing us with superb views. A Kingfisher flashed across the river and flew upstream and there was a pair of Common Rosefinches with the male in resplendent red breast and head. While sitting out on the balcony after breakfast we were joined by Artur, our superb Polish Guide for the Brebreza Marshes who was to be with us for the next three days. We left our hotel and travelled to a beautiful valley with small farms and tree lined hedgerows to look for Roller, and soon found Spotted and Pied Flycatchers and a superb view of a Black Woodpecker, Wood Warblers, Icterine Warbler and many species of finch including 2 beautiful male Serins. 2 Hawfinch flew over with their thin ‘sip’ call. A pair of Red Backed Shrikes were on territory, and a distant Great Grey Shrike gave us a reasonable view. We also had Hoopoes, a superb Honey Buzzard and a Hobby which startled all the hirundines. Continuing our journey we had 15 plus White Storks with most of them on their nests, and a Black Tern flying up a small tributary. We stopped to have an ice-cream and 2 White-Winged Terns and a Black Tern flew up and over the bridge on the Narew River. We travelled down the track for a kilometre and eventually came to a hill which overlooked the basin where the Narew River and the Brebreza River meet. this was a very beautiful area where the huge carpet of buttercups and the blue of the river provided a truly magnificent sight. A White Stork nest had four young in it and the adult was shielding them from the hot mid-day sun with her wings. there were several pairs of Red-Backed Shrikes and four singing Marsh Warblers provided very good views of the plumage details. Our attention was drawn to a rather grey, short- winged warbler which had a very different song to the Marsh Warbler, as well as dark legs, and this bird turned out to be a Blyth’s Reed Warbler, although it would spend some time in the deep thickets it would on occasions show itself where several of the group were able to briefly observe it. the huge expanse of the marshes contained many wildfowl and waders, including displaying Garganey, Black Tailed Godwits and Snipe. Marsh Harriers were putting-up all the waders, and there were White Winged, Common and Black Terns. A Great White Egret, which is a rarity in this area, put in an appearance and a surprise to us all was a superb female Goshawk carrying a wader which looked like a Redshank as she flew between the trees very close in front of us where all the identification features could be seen. Walking back we had several Golden Orioles, a Citrine Wagtail flew over us, while way out in the distance over the forest was an adult White Tailed Eagle. Moving on we had more terns, including Whiskered, and a male and female Montagu’s Harrier which quickly disappeared. After arriving at our hotel we had our meal and then had an evening walk along the Brebreza River. We saw a Great Reed Warbler, Common Rosefinches, and a singing Marsh Warbler, while 3 Bitterns continued to boom among the reeds. there were 400 plus White Winged Terns on the lower side of the river, while on the Goniadz side of the river there were at least 200. the number of White Winged Terns on the marshes was exceptionally high this year because of the very high water levels due to excessive rain and late winter snows. this is the highest number ever recorded on the marshes, and was a truly magnificent sight. A Beaver swam up the river very close to the group giving us incredibly close views, and a little later while looking for birds on the marsh we also had a Wild Boar feeding on the marsh grasses. We went out onto the veranda of the hotel to listen to the song of the thrush Nightingale, and from the nearby marsh we could hear very clearly five plus Spotted Crakes singing/calling. this ended a superb day.
Day 3 30th May
An early morning walk alongside the river produced several Icterine Warblers providing some very good views and 2 superb Hawfinches, whilst on the marsh among the huge numbers of Black Headed Gulls , we saw a Mediterranean Gull dropping into the reeds, obviously breeding in the colony. this is the first time that Med Gulls have bred in this part of Poland and the first for the Brebreza Marshes. there was also a Savi’s Warbler singing and a distant White Tailed Eagle. After breakfast we went to a tower hide where we did well for birds of prey with 5 Marsh Harriers, 3 White Tailed Eagles, 3 Spotted Eagles, Goshawk, Honey Buzzard and Common Buzzards. We walked along a boardwalk where 2 male Montagu’s Harriers provided us with splendid views hunting, and one bird sat in a tree for a considerable period of time. We also had 4 Reed Warblers which are fairly uncommon in these marshes, a Grasshopper Warbler and 6 male Bluethroats of the white spotted form, but we also had some birds which did not have any spots, which is typical of this area. there were also Penduline Tits with the male constructing a nest made out from Greater Read Mace Papus, a Long Tailed Tit of the Northern Form with the white head and 2 Black Storks, another Polish speciality. We had lunch at another tower while watching White Tailed Eagle and Black Stork. At our next stop we had 5000 plus White Winged Terns, a phenomenal number which is again due to the abnormally high level of the river. In amongst these were 40 plus Black and 6 Whiskered Terns, while a Little Tern fished in front of us, and a first summer Little Gull flew upstream. We watched 4 Common Cranes fly in and 2 Elk grazed on the marsh. the farmer called his cows in off the marsh, turned them into the milking parlour and then came out and offered the group milk straight from the cows. It was absolutely delicious and enjoyed by everyone in the group. On our way to the Great Snipe lek we came across a male Ortolan Bunting singing on the wire where he sat for a good thirty minutes or more providing excellent views. While walking through the forest to the lek we had thrush Nightingale singing, beautiful close views of a Great Grey Shrike, and a superb male Citrine Wagtail calling and sitting on the grassy clumps and low willow bushes. the Great Snipe did not show themselves although we could hear up to 6 birds softly calling in front of us throughout our stay. We departed in the midst of a thunderstorm, and whilst walking through the forest the male mosquitoes were performing their nightly dance in the forest glades. they looked like huge plumes of smoke and made a noise that sounded like several swarms of bees. We also had a Woodcock calling above us with its sneeze like call while it was ‘roding’ around the forest.
Day 4 31st May
We enjoyed a beautiful early morning walk along the Brebreza river bank, with the sun on the river and the trees reflecting in the water. there were large numbers of White Storks with several on their nests and the colony of White winged Terns seemed to be growing day by day with more Black Terns amongst them. 3 beautiful Golden Orioles were singing and flying across the trees, and 2 Hawfinches flew over the group at the hotel. At a bridge which spanned a slow winding river and looked out over the marsh and mixed grassy areas we had Lesser Spotted Eagles and 4
beautiful White Spotted Bluethroats with one bird perched on top of the bridge itself. Moving on there were 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, Honey Buzzard, Spotted Eagle, Sparrowhawk and a Black Stork. Out in the marsh feeding on the long wet vegetation were 13 very large Elk, a beautiful sight. While eating our lunch we had three Common Rosefinches, 2 males singing and a female, and in a nearby tree a superb Wryneck gave very good views. 2 Hawfinches flew over us and landed in a nearby tree, much to John’s delight as this was a new bird for him. 2 Serins were in full song sitting at the top of the tree, and a rarity in this particular area, a Mistle thrush was seen on the ground before flying off into the forest. We then arrived at a walk with thick Birch and Willow cover with vast expanses of Juncus reed/sedge and small pools covered in thick vegetation. At the entrance of the path we had a thrush Nightingale hopping around on the ground giving everyone superb views of this very skulking bird, and then we came across two Common Cranes that were calling and dancing. We approached them very quietly, not even allowing a whisper and obtained superb views of these majestic birds. A Hoopoe was flying in front of us when two other birds flew up from the ground. To my surprise they were two superb Nutcrackers! they came back to the ground and continued to feed in front of us where everyone could see them. the very close views confirmed that they were the slender-billed race from Russia which is slowly occupying the eastern edge of Poland. After a 3 kilometre walk we arrived at the Aquatic Warbler site, where we heard the soft chattering song of an Aquatic Warbler which gave absolutely superb views showing all the plumage details. there were at least 6 birds present this evening. Artur had a run-in with a German woman who had driven onto the reserve illegally to watch Aquatic Warblers and as a penalty for her misdemeanours we had her transport some of the group back to the coach. We were watching a distant Short Eared Owl when a large snipe flew over our heads. It was a Great Snipe which circled the area twice before flying off, the typical flight with the angled head and short bill could be observed. While we walked back down the track we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the marsh. there were many River Warblers singing and 2 Savi’s Warblers, one of which gave stunning views. A little further on there was a Redwing in full song. the marshes are a magical place and what a superb day.
Day 5 1st June
After our last river walk we left Goniadz and headed for Bialowieza, stopping on the way at a very large lake where we had 14, majestic White Tailed Eagles. Some were sitting around in the trees and others in flight looking like flying barn doors, and we also saw one adult with a fish in its talons. Most of the birds were juvenile birds, but there were 2 adults with the full white tail which is attained in the seventh year. A ring-tailed Montagu’s Harrier flying high was dwarfed by them. Moving on we came to some fish ponds which are large lakes with thick reed and vegetation surrounding them. In amongst the reeds were 6 beautiful Red Necked Grebes, which spent most of the time preening. We also had 20 plus Great Reed Warblers, and we found one pair building a nest next to the bank so that the shape and construction of the nest could be clearly observed. there were 6 Marsh Warblers with some individuals showing themselves so that all the identification features could be clearly seen, and 2 Penduline Tits. We arrived at our hotel in Bialowieza and after settling in to our rooms went out into the garden where we had a pair of Black Redstarts,
3 Serin, and several Lesser Whitethroats. Bialowieza is a small village only one kilometre from the Ukraine/Russian border with the houses constructed of timber and often decorated with large often overgrown gardens which teem with birds. After lunch we went into the Palace Park. this is the site of the Tsar of Russia’s hunting palace which burnt down during the first world-war. the park consists of open areas with very large trees and the nearby Bialowieza forest which is the oldest primeval forest in Europe covering 1,500 square miles. It was the main hunting area for the Tsar of Russia and his entourage. In the park we had Robins, not a common bird in Poland, lots of Fieldfare feeding young and a pair of Pied Flycatchers going in and out of their nest hole. A River Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler were reeling in a small pool surrounded by thick vegetation while several thrush Nightingales were singing the night away. We walked out to an open area and arrived on a well- worn path, which eventually led to the forest, when we heard a Corncrake calling in the long grass. Henryk called to the Corncrake, the rasping call sounds like a thumb nail pulled across a comb, when to our surprise it came into full view and flew in front of us then disappeared. We thought that was all we would see, but as Henryk continued to call, the Corncrake came out and stood directly in front of us showing every detail of its plumage. It was only a few yards away and stayed there for at least ten minutes providing the best views that the group had ever had of this rather skulking bird. We could hear Golden Orioles singing in the forest and there were several Red Backed Shrikes dotted around on the bushes with a pair of Great Grey Shrikes further along the track. Another superb day.
Day 6 2nd June
this morning we had a very early start at 5-00 am with my dear friend and one of the most knowledgeable guides/lecturers on the Bialowieza Forest, Archadiusz. Because of its vastness we are only allowed into the primeval forest with a guide. We had at least 6 magnificent Collared Flycatchers and 2 Red Breasted Flycatchers. Some time was spent watching a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers feeding their young and there were several Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Black Woodpecker. there were also several Goldcrest singing as well as a few Firecrest and the subtle difference in the song of the two species could easily be detected. Coming out of the forest, we had brief views of a Barred Warbler, a lovely male with the barring on the breast, and while we were watching this bird a Wryneck appeared on a wooden fence post in full view. Walking up the path we had very good views of 2 Honey Buzzards and a very low flying Lesser Spotted Eagle. After breakfast we walked along an old disused railway line where we had excellent views of 3 Wrynecks. there were 2 River Warblers reeling away in the thickets with a brief view of one of the birds. River Warblers as with all locustella warblers can be difficult to see sometimes. there were also 3 Marsh Warblers with their excellent mimicry. We also found a Grass Snake on the track. It was then time for lunch after which we went for a walk along a quiet road where we had more River Warblers, Barred Warblers, Icterine Warblers, excellent views of 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, and a superb male Montagu’s Harrier floating over the Willow Carr and drifting down the valley. there was also a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers that were nesting in a hole in a nearby tree. We then went into the woodland walk where we had several Great Spotted Woodpeckers and 2 more Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. While we were walking out of the forest we found 2 Hawfinches and a displaying Woodcock. We went a kilometre down the road to an open area of woodland with some very old trees to look for woodpeckers. We started with three plus Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a very brief view of a White Backed Woodpecker when to our surprise directly in front of us were 2 three Toed Woodpeckers, a male and a female showing all the features very clearly. the male stayed for a considerable time and the yellow crown could easily be seen. While we were watching the three Toed Woodpecker we then spotted 2 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers feeding their young in a nest hole right alongside the road providing superb views for us all. A Black Woodpecker also flew in through the trees calling, what a wonderful place!
We returned to the hotel, had our tea and then went to another part of the forest to look for Pygmy Owl. While we were looking for the owl 2 Woodcock flew over us calling and displaying, ‘roding’. there were several Cuckoos calling, a truly beautiful sound with the acoustics of the forest. During the time we were in the forest Arek was continually calling the Pygmy Owl, and then to our surprise it came out and sat on a branch of a tree giving us all superb views of this tiny owl with bright yellow eyes.
Day 7 3rd June
Today we had a bright and sunny 6-00 am start. In the Bialowieza Forest we had several Red Backed Shrikes, a Great Grey Shrike sitting on top of the trees and a very low Lesser Spotted Eagle where every conceivable feather and feature could be observed. While walking back to the hotel for breakfast we had a very large Hare which just sat there to be viewed. After breakfast we visited the outskirts of Bialowieza where a pair of Barred Warblers was breeding. We were not disappointed as the male and female were sitting in an old apple tree in front of us. the male performed several display flights, typical of Sylvia Warblers, even alighting on the electric wires with a burst of song showing off his strongly barred breast. A Wryneck called continuously in a back garden and several Golden Orioles were singing and darting through the trees.
We walked onto a bridge where we had a very large Grass Snake which had just shed its skin. From the bridge we had several Red Backed Shrikes, an Icterine Warbler in full song as well as another Barred Warbler. Continuing our walk we eventually arrived at a small area of woodland with mature trees and on the bend of a road here we had a Common Buzzard. I happened to look back into the trees because of the call of a woodpecker and out came a White Backed Woodpecker which flew some distance over a long field before disappearing into the forest, but providing excellent views for everyone. the pot bellied appearance, short rounded wings, and of course the white back, and all the plumage details, could clearly be seen. While there Fieldfares, a very common thrush in this area, were feeding young, a Redwing flew into the forest at the point where we had it singing yesterday and a rarer thrush in this part of the wood was a single Mistle thrush which flew up from the ground and into the forest. When we stopped to purchase maps and books we had 6 Hawfinches perched in the nearby trees providing excellent views of this otherwise shy finch. On top of the tourist centre we saw a beautiful male Black Redstart in full song before we travelled to a village and lake where we had a male and female Citrine Wagtail feeding young, absolutely superb birds. this is where the first birds bred in Poland. We also had very good number of Whiskered Tens, about 20 plus, as well as 40 plus White Winged Terns, and 25 plus Black Terns. Ian spotted a male Ruff flying over our heads, the only one of the trip. the reeds were quartered by 5 Marsh Harriers, and along the dyke walk were Reed Buntings, a pair of Penduline Tits breeding and Blue Headed Wagtails. White Storks were walking through the reeds and in the long grass a Corncrake called but remained hidden. At the lake we had 2 pairs of breeding Wheatears with one pair breeding in a control barrier arm, very unusual, while in the corner of the lake we had 2 Little Ringed Plovers calling nervously. there were more terns, and 4 flocks of Common Cranes numbering 18 in total flew across the lake during the afternoon. On a large pool we had a pair of Whooper Swans with four cygnets. the adults were very alert because of our presence and eventually took the cygnets behind a clump of reeds. On the opposite side of the road we had a Bittern ‘booming.’ It seemed very close and Ian fortunately saw the bird but as is usual with Bitterns it slunk away into a small reed bed. While we were looking for it a superb male Hobby flew overhead catching dragonflies, de-winging them in flight. He entertained us for some considerable period of time. A short journey later we arrived at a traditional site for the Roller but due to new farming methods there was no sign of the Rollers, but we had a good number of Red Backed Shrikes, and the majestic larger cousin the Great Grey Shrike, while in a clearing were 4 Wood Larks. We arrived back at Bialowieza where in the evening we were treated to a wonderful barbecue in the hotel gardens, where Henryk and the group were joined by Arek our Forest Guide.
Day 8 4th June
A few of the group decided to have a 6-00am start. After beautiful views of the male Barred Warbler singing in the old apple tree we walked down to the bridge where we had a pair of Bullfinches which was a surprise as these are very shy birds in Poland. After breakfast we went to the part of the woodland where we had the White Backed Woodpecker yesterday, and were immediately treated to a female Grey Headed Woodpecker which showed itself very well. this was a pure treat and one of the main birds that Ian wanted to see. there was also a good view of a Wryneck sitting in the tree. We walked down the road where we eventually re-found the female Grey Headed Woodpecker and a superb Wryneck that just sat and preened in the tree for approximately twenty minutes, providing the whole group with exceptional views. When the female eventually came into view, directly in front of us was a male and a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker who were feeding young in a hole in a nearby tree, and to our surprise the Wryneck had a nest hole only a few metres away from the woodpeckers. It is very rare that the two woodpeckers nest so close together. We drove a few kilometres down the road to a Grey Headed Woodpecker nest Arek had only found the day before. Here we saw the male with the red forehead, and female come into the nest hole to feed the young, providing spectacular views of this sought after woodpecker. In an open area of woodland we had 3 Red Breasted Flycatchers, one of which showed superbly. they are fantastic little flycatchers. While walking through the woodland we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker’s nest and eventually came across a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. the time had come to travel back to Warsaw for our evening flight. During the trip back there were good numbers of White Storks, some on their nests, 3 Marsh Harriers, 4 Common Buzzards, Common Terns, and 4 White Winged Terns, the last we were to see of these beautiful terns.
this has been a spectacular trip and my thanks go to our excellent Polish guides Henryk, who was with us for the whole trip, Artur our guide in the Brebreza Marshes, and Arkaduisz our guide in the Bialowieza Forest.