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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Poland 25/05/00 - 03/06/00,
Poland this year had its driest recorded spring in the past 20 years. Significant rainfall had not occurred in over 8 weeks and as a consequence many places were dry resulting in several species becoming somewhat localised. Most days during our visit saw temperatures hovering around 30° . Not at all what we expected.
Basically this trip report is the tale of a 10 day 'rip', by car, across Europe into and around Eastern Poland concentrating on The Bialowieza Forest and Biebrza marshes. Main targets were Great snipe and Aquatic warbler and of course the great forest itself. Dave Gosney's 'Finding birds in Poland' should give you all the specific site information that is needed.
Special thanks go to Pawel Brezk for his time and efforts during many months of helpful correspondence and up to the minute news. Also Jerzy Dyczkowski for his information and everything gleaned from his excellent website
8.00am Hovercraft Dover-Calais. Little of note except seaspray on the window! Fast roads ensure plenty of miles covered on the first day. 756 in fact which included a tour around Berlin (ok. So we got lost!). A few birds were seen along the way involving about 30 Common Buzzard and a handful of Red Kites. The night was spent in the car near the Polish border around 11.15pm.
A few birds were noted around the service area during breakfast. Thrush Nightingale sang from somewhere in the bushes along with Serin and a male Marsh harrier. A Little-ringed plover ran around in the car park.
Waiting in the queue to cross the border on the bridge over the river produced a few good birds. A single Honey Buzzard, 2 Goosander, 6 Common buzzard, Cuckoo, Chiffchaff and a pair of Raven.
The long haul across Poland on the main east/west road is a hazardous one to say the least and requires 100% concentration to avoid death or serious injury. When you drive in Poland boy do you know you have driven! Don't get me wrong. The Polish are good drivers. They have to be. A nicely finished road can turn to cobbles without notice and lorries, 3 abreast in the same direction is a common sight. Frequent stops along the way produced a few goodies in the form of Thrush nightingale, Marsh warbler, Icterine warbler, Red-backed shrike, Golden oriole, Northern wheatear, Serin, Black tern and Fieldfare. Found a hotel room at the hotel Orzechowski in Hajnowka around midnight after about 1200 miles.
From Hajnowka we drove to the village of Bialowieza via Budy and Pogorzelce. The first stop in a likely area produced Collared flycatcher closely followed by a pair of Middle-spotted woodpecker. Wood warbler sang from all around. The more open areas produced calling Corncrake and a single Lesser spotted eagle. Red-backed shrike, Common rosefinch, Whinchat, Redstart and Thrush nightingale seemed to be everywhere you cared to look. Additional raptors were represented by male Montagu's harrier, Honey and Common buzzard. Other birds of note included White stork, Spotted flycatcher, and Redstart. Secured a room at the hotel Unikat in Bialowieza itself. An afternoon walk in the Park Palacowy produced Icterine, Marsh and Great reed warbler. A late evening 3hr guided walk into the protected part of the forest (no entry without official guide) although a little rushed was interesting to say the least. A total of about 6 Red-breasted flycatcher were heard singing but not seen along with many Wood warbler and a Collared Fly. A few Hawfinch were noted as were calling Corncrake and Quail.
In order to cover as much ground as possible (not to mention a bit of fun) we hired 3 Mountain bikes for the day (available from the Hotel Zubrowka for less than 10GBP in total). Starting in Bialowieza we cycled the road toward Pogorzelce. Common rosefinch, Corncrake, Red-backed shrike and Whinchat lined the open side of the road. Thrush nightingale sang the other side from bushes on the edge of the forest along with Marsh and Icterine warbler. Nearing the village of Pogorzelce we were rewarded with a pair of Barred warbler in roadside bushes the male being particularly obliging whilst in song. Lesser spotted eagle was seldom out of sight including crippling views of a bird on a fence post. North from Pogorzelce we took a track into the forest. Calling, singing, drumming all around but the forest does not give up its birds easily! At least half an hour was spent in locating a singing Red-breasted flycatcher but was well worth it. A track to the east led to the reed lined river Narewka where we found Savi's and Marsh Warbler. Backtracking west we headed toward Stara Bialowieza. This track produced more Red-breasted fly, an abundance of Blackcap, Garden warbler, Wood warbler, Goldcrest, and Collared (including a pair in a nestbox) and Spotted flycatcher. Also many Great-spotted and a single Black Woodpecker. Moving along a track south from here to the 'Reservat Zubrow' produced much of the same. The Boardwalk back to Bialowieza failed to produce the sought after Woodpeckers (Three-toed and White-backed. Too dry?) but did produce Middle and Lesser spotted. A late evening slow drive along the same road produced no less than 7 River warbler, 2 Snipe and a Corncrake which, against all odds, was seen!
The first port of call this morning was the small park at the eastern end of Bialowieza village in the hope of Greenish Warbler. No joy. Nuthatch was added to the trip list and a pleasant run of birds involved Golden oriole, Thrush nightingale, Icterine warbler, Tree pipit, Hawfinch and Willow tit. A trip to the south of the village around Podolany produced Barred, River, Marsh and Icterine warbler, many Red-backed shrike, Lesser-spotted eagle and Common rosefinch. Common Buzzard, White stork and a Green sandpiper to complete the list. A drive down toward Przewloka was thwarted by a Park Ranger who kindly informed us that driving this particular track was forbidden but not before we had seen Pied Flycatcher and many more Wood warbler.
The early afternoon was spent on horse and cart with an official and most knowledgeable guide within the National Park itself. We would strongly recommend that some time is put aside to do this as there is much that can be learned not just of the natural history of the forest but of the history of Poland itself. Red-breasted, Collared and Spotted flycatcher were all noted making four species of Flycatcher in a day a reality. Corncrake and Quail were heard just outside the park gates.
Packed and ready to go we headed north for Bialystok. As our guide had predicted it rained. Our aim was to reach the Siemianowka reservoir before Bialystok but the weather was definitely against us. The reservoir was severely depleted but a few good birds were seen. From the southern shore we noted a few Common, 2 Black and a single White-winged black tern. Marsh harriers were a common sight but waders were few and involved small numbers of Redshank and Black-tailed godwit along with many Grey Herons. The highlight was undoubtedly an adult White-tailed eagle, which landed out of sight on the northern shore. A race around to the northern shore failed to produce little else let alone the hoped for Citrine wagtails. A room was secured at the Hotel Gromada Lesny in Bialystok.
The Hotel gardens gave us a good opportunity to get to grips with some 'Eastern' Jackdaws. Red-backed shrike and Redstart were noted and our first Hobby sped on through the gardens.
As arranged we eventually met with our corespondent Pawel Brezk at the Dojlidy fish ponds just outside Bialystok. The fish ponds are well worth a visit and Pawel kindly gave us a tour of the area. At least 10 Red-necked, 2 Black-necked and Little grebes were scattered about in pairs. Pochard and Tufted duck, a flock of 5 Garganey and a pair of Whooper swan represented ducks. A fair list of passerines involved Golden oriole, Thrush nightingale, Great reed, Reed, Sedge, Marsh and Icterine warbler. Common rosefinch performed superbly but less obliging were 3 Penduline tit. A few Black tern hawked insects over the pools along with a single Whiskered tern. Displaying pairs of Marsh harrier and Common buzzard along with a few White stork completed an impressive list of birds for such a compact area. The search for Black stork was unsuccessful. Definitely worth a visit.
The journey from Bialystok to Gugny (Biebrza) was pretty uneventful apart from one of those 'right place, right time' moments. Having stopped the car to listen to a Quail the wee fella' jumped up out of the field and flew down the road! Having Corncrake and now Quail on the 'seen' list we were feeling pretty lucky. An addition to the list was Great-grey shrike.
Having settled in at Gugny we headed north along the 'tsar' road toward the tower hide at Goniadz but not before purchasing a permit from the park offices in Ossowiek (Please do it. It costs next to nothing and you can pay in advance for as many days as you need. In our experience you will get much, much more than you pay for).
The tower hide provides excellent views across the marsh. From here we had excellent views of Black stork. White stork, Marsh harrier, Rosefinch and Golden oriole were noted. Continuing along the road to the village of Wolka Piaseczna we managed to see our one and only Hoopoe. From here we headed back south toward Barwik.
Throughout the web and elsewhere you will find warnings about driving the sand track to the lek at Barwik. If you, like us, find yourself on this track and are wondering what all the fuss was about then think again. You, like us, could find yourself in a vehicle whose bottom is sitting on the sand whilst the drive wheels are dangling in the ruts like we did. An hour and a half of digging whilst being eaten alive by mosquitoes is not a good way to start. Park somewhere safe and walk.
Having reached the viewing platform well before sunset we heard the first birds begin to 'sing'. Thickening black cloud, lightning and cracks of thunder brought about a false night and eventually 3 Great snipe were seen (1 plus 2) erupting and then flying low over the vegetation. Common Snipe were also present along with roding Woodcock. Corncrake and Grasshopper warbler sang whilst several White stork, 3 Black stork and 2 Common Cranes sailed over the forest. Returning to our lodgings before the rain we added another 2 Common crane which flew over the house and a Nightjar chasing moths around the Storks nest across the road. 'Churring' was heard all around as well as the song of Thrush nightingale.
Heading south along the 'tsar' road today led us toward Laskowiec and then west to the village of Zajki proving worthwhile with the appearance of at least 60 White-winged black tern hawking insects over the surrounding fields. Further south toward Wizna Bagno these were replaced by 40+ Black tern and a few Black-tailed godwit. A few dirt tracks lead off to the east. We chose one at random and encountered Icterine, Marsh, Reed, Sedge and Barred Warbler the latter in the company of a pair of Red-backed shrikes. Raptors included Common buzzard, Marsh and 'ringtail' Hen harrier. Corncrake and Quail were heard whilst White stork and the odd Common crane were seen overhead. From here we drove up the west side of Biebrza through the villages of Rutkowskie, Burzyn, Brzostowo and Radzilow. This awful road produced nothing new except an abundance of Ortolan bunting. To be honest the overwhelming desire for the feel of smooth tarmac and a cessation of vibration sadly overtook the will to find many birds!
The late afternoon was frittered away on Kuligi bridge. Overcast skies and a fairly brisk wind made things a little difficult to say the least. The track to the bridge produced a few Wood warbler with the highlights being a Black woodpecker offering stunning views and a single Tawny pipit. At the bridge itself we saw Great reed, Marsh, Reed, and Sedge warbler along with Corncrake, Red-backed shrike and an unexpected Goosander. Plans to get back to Grobla Honczarowska for Aquatic warbler were dashed. The car developed a minor electrical fault (excess vibration?) resulting in continuous blaring of the horn when the lights were switched on. By the time we found a temporary fix it was too dark so we headed for home. On the plus side we saw Pine Marten dash across the road in front of the car.
Today, being the last full days birding, we decided to take things easy in order to leave plenty of time to visit Grobla Honczarowska. Best laid plans and all that....
A leisurely late morning stroll into the marsh to the tower hide at the back of Gugny village produced a few good birds in the form of Icterine warbler, Thrush nightingale, Spotted fly (actually nesting in a hole in the house) and Common buzzard. >From the tower itself we noted many Marsh harrier, more Common buzzard, 2 White and a single Black stork. And on to Goniadz. The tower hide produced 5 Black stork and 7 Common crane. Around the hide were Common rosefinch, Icterine and Marsh warbler. A Red deer fed out on the marsh. From here we set off for Osowiek to check out the tower hides. Stopping for a meal we met 2 Dutch birders who had an impressive list of birds from the Kuligi bridge a few hours previous to our arrival the day before! So much for taking things easy...
We find ourselves back at Kuligi. Nice and sunny, little wind. Great reed, Reed, Sedge and Marsh warbler. Blackcap, Lesser whitethroat, Red-backed shrike and Whinchat. A feeding flock of 13 White stork and 6 Common crane. Continuous scanning producing some good raptors. At least 6 Lesser spotted eagle and 2 Great spotted eagles. White-tailed eagle was also seen along with several Common buzzard, Marsh harrier and a Sparrowhawk and below the bridge, better late than never, a female Bluethroat. A good 3 hrs well spent and plenty of time left to visit Grobla Honczarowska.
The evening was spent, most magically, on the viewing platform at the end of the 4km 'causeway' of the Grobla Honczarowska in the heart of the marsh. The walk itself was not without its rewards. 2 River and 2 Savi's warbler, Common rosefinch, Thrush nightingale, Chiffchaff, Willow warbler, Garden warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat. The platform area was superb. An estimated 20 Aquatic warblers performed in perfect light. Montagu's and Marsh Harriers patrolled the marsh whilst Corncrakes called and Common cranes 'trumpeted' loudly from somewhere unseen. A superb bonus came in the form of 8 Elk coming out of the forest to feed on the open marsh. The reluctant walk back produced much of the same but with excellent views of Common crane with others becoming more vocal. A beautiful piece of life. Returning to base we spent the evening outside around the fire to the sounds of Thrush nightingale and Nightjar. Wonderful stuff!
A few birds were noted around the base before leaving namely White stork, Thrush nightingale, Icterine warbler, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher. With more or less constant driving we reached Poznan about 100 miles from the German border. Little of note except a few White stork and Common Buzzard. Thrush nightingale sang in the grounds of the Hotel Derby where we stayed.
Poznan to Calais. Arrived just after midnight. Severe storms thorough Holland/Belgium led to a few enforced stops. A few Black and Red kite were noted along with Honey and Common buzzard. Crested lark was seen at a service area in Germany and again at Calais Hoverport.
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Andy & Jackie Mckee.