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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Poland, 24 May – 2 June 2006,
This report covers a 10-day visit to Poland from 24 May – 2 June 2006. Vital & Riet van Gorp and my girlfriend Willemien van Ginneken accompanied me. Poland still offers some of the best birding in Eastern Europe and although I already visited Poland in 1991 and 2004 we decided to visit it another time. Several species of birds that become uncommon or extinct in the industrialized and agricultural parts of Western Europe can still be observed in those areas of Poland where the required dynamics of their natural habitat have (as yet) not been disturbed. The undoubted main attractions still are the ancient, primeval forest at Bialowieza and the marshes at Biebrza.
The currency is the Zloty. The exchange rate in May 2006 was 3.89 to the €. All major credit cards and traveller cheques are accepted nearly everywhere.
Hotel Verona - Kostzrcyn = € 25.00 (double room)
Hotel Hubertus – Slonsk = 100 Zlotys (double room)
The second and the last day in Poland we stayed at Hotel Hubertus in Slonsk.
This brand-new hotel was excellent and we had to pay 100 Zlotys (€ 30,--)
for a double room. Some of the staff at the hotel spoke good English and
Hotel Hubertus is ideally placed only a few minutes from Ujscie Warty NP. From our base at Slonsk we explored the surrounding areas for birds and concentrated on Ujscie Warty NP.
Hotel Bartlowizna - Goniadz = 211 Zlotys (double room)
Hotel Bartlowizna is part of a complex with a very good restaurant and the hotel has conference facilities, which is how it is mostly used.
Pensionat Gawra – Bialowieza = 120 Zlotys (double room)
FOOD AND DRINK
Hotel Hubertus and also Hotel Bartlowina had a very good restaurant and meals were not expensive. Nearly all shops sell bread and other stuff and we had all our lunches in the field. Drinks can also be found anywhere.
Lock your car at all times; never leave valuables in open sight.
Rain, rain and more rain marred and influenced this trip from the minute we arrived in Poland. In general it was a very cloudy week, with rain on most days and almost all day on the 28th and 31st.
ROADS AND TRANSPORT
From the Polish border on the main road crossing Poland (E30) is mainly a 2-lane road, except for the first 200 kilometres or so. It is used as if it were a highway and quite dangerous. A 100% concentration is needed to cross Poland. In the Bialowieza and Biebrza areas, the roads are small or they are sandy or stony roads. The speed automatically is low.
A telescope is useful at lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides.
The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:
Grey Heron, White Stork, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Western Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Coot, Black-headed Gull, Black Tern, Common Wood-Pigeon, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, Sky Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Icterine Warbler, Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler, Blackcap, Greater Whitethroat, Thrush Nightingale, Whinchat, Great Tit, Eurasian Golden-Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Common Rosefinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting.
BIRDBASE & BIRDAREA
I use this software to keep track of the birds I have seen and to make lists of any country, labelling endemics and birds previously seen in that country, outside it, or both. BirdArea can produce checklists of the birds of any country of Clements’ world birds.
May 24 Chaam * Arendonk * Eindhoven * Dortmund * Hannover * Oxendorf
May 25 Oxendorf * Frankfurt a/d Oder * Slonsk * Ujscie Warty NP (Warta River-Mouth National Park) * Kostzrcyn
May 26 Kostzrcyn * Slonsk * Ujscie Warty NP * Warta Valley * Slonsk
May 27 Slonsk * Poznan * Warsaw - Goniadz
May 28 Goniadz * Biebrza Marshes * Goniadz
May 29 Goniadz * Biebrza Marshes * Goniadz
May 30 Goniadz * Bialystok * Siemianówka Reservoir * Bialowieza
May 31 Puszca Bialowieska
June 1 Bialowieza * Ploch * Poznan * Slonsk * Ujscie Warty NP
June 2 Slonsk * Kostzryn * Hannover * Essen * Eindhoven * Arendonk * Chaam
UJSCIE WARTY NATIONAL PARK
Near the border with Germany is an important wetland in western Poland
teeming with birds. This is the Ujscie Warty National Park (“Warta
River-Mouth” National Park) situated in the historical delta of the
Warta River mouth in the area of the Lubuskie Voivodship. Its area is approximately
In 2001 the „Warta River-Mouth” National Park was created in the Warta delta and it also replaced the existing Slonsk Nature Reserve, as well as a part of the „Warta River-Mouth” Landscape Park.
The Warta River is the main river in the Park, and it splits the area into its Southern Part - i.e. the former Slonsk Nature Reserve, that is situated in the area of the Kostrzyn Retention Reservoir, and the Northern Part – the so called Northern Polder. In the Southern Part, the annual amplitude of water level reaches up to even 4 metres, whereas the principal function of this part of the Park is to collect flooding waters.
The water level in this part of the Park rises usually in late autumn
to reach its highest values in the springtime (March-April). The Northern
Part is a polder with its numerous abandoned old river channels together
with a rich network of drainage facilities, which has been separated from
the Warta River mainstream by means of a protective embankment.
Ujscie Warty National Park is one of the best sites for various nesting and wintering waterbirds in Poland and possibly the whole of Europe. Staging and moulting flocks of birds include large numbers of Ducks and Geese. Around 245 bird species have been identified, making this reserve the ideal location for birdwatchers.
Along the slowly meandering Biebrza River between Augustów and Lomza extend these great marshes (nearly 100km). The river flows like a shiny ribbon through dense flood forests, mysterious alder woods, flowery river dunes and open sedge marshes. This vast area, a mosaic of marshes, ponds, wet meadows, reed beds and alder woodlands, makes up the largest continuous expanse of riverine marshland left in Europe. These marshes cover a huge expanse of country along this river and much of the area remains in its natural state with large sections virtually inaccessible.
The marshes are famous as an important breeding site for a great number
of wetland birds and, in particular, Great Snipe and Aquatic Warbler. The
marshes also contain great stands of wet alder forest and some coniferous
woodland. The marshes and surrounding forests are also the home of a formidable
list of raptors. Here, in what seems like an anachronism compared to the
rest of the central European plain, you still encounter Elk, several Eagle
species, Common Cranes and Black Storks. Elk are quite easy to see here
as they plod through the birch-dotted peat bogs that typify the region’s
landscape and even Wolves are found in the Biebrza marshes!
The best area extends from Wizna to Goniadz and can be explored via minor roads and tracks on the eastern side.
Public transportation is very bad in whole Biebrza’s valley so it is really hard to move through the valley without a car.
PUSZCZA BIALOWIESKA (BIALOWIEZA FOREST)
There are few places left in Europe that can claim to be largely untouched by the stampede of human kind.
The Bialowieza Forest in Poland is one such place. This famous forest lies in the extreme east of Poland and continues across the border into Belarus.
The ancient primeval forest of Bialowieza (580 square kilometres) is home to over 200 species of birds including a high density of birds of prey and all but one of the European Woodpeckers. The latter are difficult to find, but sometimes you may be lucky. Also hidden within this dense forest are the free-living European Bison. This magnificent mammal became extinct in the wild in the 1920s, but was successfully re-introduced into the forest thirty years later.
Huge oaks, pines, poplars, hornbeams and spruces dominate the primeval core of the forest, but there are also areas of secondary growth and riverine marshes. 48 square kilometres of this original European forest is National Park (1921). The park consists of three parts:
1. The strict nature reserve situated in the fork of the rivers Hwozna and Narewka.
2. The European Bison (Wisent) breeding centre, comprising breeding enclosures and show enclosures.
3. The Palace Park: Park Palace.
Permits to visit the National Park can be obtained at the Bialowieza Tourist Office of Hotel Iowa. You only get permission to enter the National Park in the company of an official guide.
Wednesday May 24
At 13.00 hours we left Chaam by car and at 20.00 hours we decided to leave the highway, due to a terrible traffic jam in Germany. We booked rooms in Hotel zum Post in Oxendorf.
Thursday May 25
Following a hearty breakfast we left Oxendorf at 7 o’clock and arrived in a rainy Slonsk at 11.00 hours. Before reaching our first hotel we had also notched up White Stork and Western Marsh-Harrier from the car. Hotel Hubertus had no rooms for us and we headed to Kostzrcyn, where we booked rooms in Hotel Verona.
On our first afternoon in the field we spent nearly all day on the long and winding river dikes near Kostrzyn.
We heard and saw nearly all the Reed-Warblers, except Aquatic Warbler. One of the first birds we saw was a Black Stork.
This was shortly followed by a Barred Warbler which sang from nearby bushes, eventually giving us a good view although the light was poor. Reed Buntings and Yellow Wagtails were everywhere and we also had good looks of Thrush Nightingale and Eurasian River Warbler. We then stopped to watch a Eurasian Penduline-Tit nest and whilst watching this super little bird a magnificent adult White-tailed Eagle flew in and began fishing on the next pond.
Along the dike we discovered a colony of Black and White-winged Terns nesting in the river floodplain. In the colony we also saw breeding Red-necked Grebes. We saw our first Common Rosefinch, though unfortunately it was a brown bird.
Through rain soaked optics we also saw amongst others Great Egret, a group of 100 Common Cranes, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Tern, Grasshopper Warbler, Eurasian Golden-Oriole and Bluethroat.
Mammal sightings included Wild Boar, Red Deer and Western Roe Deer.
We returned to Slonsk via the ferry near Witnica. On this side of the Warta River we drove into a landscape of idyllic farm cottages and small wet meadows, a landscape that must have looked familiar to my grandfather.
Common Quails called from the meadows as we walked along the quiet roads. Then dark storm clouds gathered again and the first drops of rain started to fall and our birding day was over.
Friday May 26
A cold and windy day, but no rain! Early next morning we headed to Hotel Hubertus in Slonsk, where we had our breakfast. Hereafter we immediately headed to the former Slonsk Nature Reserve, now part of Ujscie Warty NP and the wettest part of the National Park. We found the narrow concrete road on the outskirts of the village immediately.
We made a stroll on the road – a road barely above the water level – and saw lots of birds. The wide variety of waterfowl present included Eared Grebe, Great Egret, Common Crane, Black Stork, White Stork and 7 species of Ducks, but also Red Kite, Common Tern, Little Tern, Sedge Warbler and Icterine Warbler.
At one point we saw no less than 6 White-tailed Eagles, a new record for me!
Hereafter we visited another part of Ujscie Warty NP and amongst the most noteworthy birds encountered here were Canada Goose, Savi’s Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher and Red-backed Shrike.
The rest of the day we spent in the Warta Valley and amongst the birds seen here were a small colony of Bank Swallows, Sky Lark, Tree Pipit, Field Fare, Barred Warbler, European Stonechat, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting.
We spent the night at Hotel Hubertus in Slonsk, where we had dinner sitting next to a log fire.
Saturday May 27
Dawn next morning we ventured out on to the marshy area a few hundred metres behind our hotel in Slonsk.
We made a stroll around a small lake surrounded by reed and forest. Amongst the birds seen here were Eurasian Hoopoe, Great Reed-Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting.
The rest of the day was taken up by a very long drive to northeastern Poland and we had poor weather for most of the trip with conditions varying from sunny intervals to driving rain.
It was still poor weather when we arrived at our accommodation for the night – Hotel (Bartek) Bartlowizna at Goniadz.
In the evening we made a short stroll along the Biebrza Marshes near the village. Accompanied by an almost constant soundtrack of ‘crex crex’ from the ubiquitous Corncrakes we watched Black Stork, displaying Common Snipes, Great Reed-Warbler and Thrush Nightingale.
We had an excellent dinner at the Bartlowizna Restaurant with its strange white poplar carvings.
Sunday May 28
We slept well and woke up to a rainy day. Vital and I made a pre-breakfast walk near the hotel.
The trees and scrub behind the hotel provided some good birding. The bird song was strong and among other species we found Eurasian Wryneck, Thrush Nightingale in the telescope, Icterine Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Redstart and Common Rosefinch.
After breakfast we set out in pouring rain. The day was spent exploring roads alongside marshes. We made several stops near Dobarz. The air was filled with the sound of displaying Common Snipe, Northern Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit performed nearby. We heard Wood Lark and Wood Warbler everywhere we stopped and when it was a few minutes dry we surprised an Eurasian Nightjar.
A Black Woodpecker then powered its way across the marsh towards the forest and a few minutes later we saw our only Common Hawfinches of the trip. South of Dobarz we encountered two huge Elks along the road.
We spent some time near the small village of Zajhi, where we saw hundreds of White-winged Black Terns and also dozens of Black Terns hovering over the grasslands. We also spotted hunting Montagu’s Harriers, Western Marsh-Harriers, Common Redshanks and a single Northern Shrike.
Hereafter we drove in very bad weather to Wizna, where we had a lunch in a small café. Along the road to Wizna we had good views of 4 Ortolan Buntings at the same spot as 15 years ago.
The rain did stop eventually and in the small village of Brzostowa we spent some time on a platform overlooking the Biebrza Marshes. The local farmer who made the platform collected his small fee.
This was an excellent area for terns and we saw no less than 4 species: Black, White-winged (Black), Whiskered and Common Tern. Further searching along the Biebrza Marshes produced our only European Hobby of the trip.
We then returned to our hotel at Goniadz, where we had dinner complete with hot fire, cold beer and the sound of the sixties.
Monday May 29
After a comfortable night at the hotel we again made a pre-breakfast stroll along the marshes. It was fascinating to listen to the sounds of morning. Great Bittern boomed in the distance and Great Reed Warblers reeled from the marginal reedbeds. The most atmospheric sound, though, was of Common Cranes calling as they flew over us.
After breakfast we headed to the Dobarz area and here we met friends from my hometown, Johan and Loes Schaerlaeckens and Pierre Adriaensen and his wife. While chatting with them a Lesser Spotted Eagle gave good views.
We then walked the sandy track to the Aquatic Warbler area and luck was with us. Just north of the observation tower two singing Aquatic Warblers were heard and one was seen briefly.
Other birds we encountered along this track were Whinchat, River Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting. When we walked back to the main road a Greater Spotted Eagle was soaring over the forest and a little while later we had a close encounter with a Least Weasel, carrying a prey (mouse) in its mouth. After a picnic under a shady tree we drove to Czerwone Bagno (Red Marsh), where we spent a leisurely afternoon around the marsh, trying to observe as many raptors as possible. Though common everywhere, Golden Orioles and Icterine Warblers seemed to be singing in every tree.
Our list of raptors soaring above the forest and the marsh was long and we did see Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Golden Eagle.
After an early dinner in Goniadz Vital and I decided to visit the Great Snipe lek at Gudy (Barwik), where we had seen in 1991 more than 25 of these displaying birds.
When we arrived at the crossing of the main road with the sandy track to the lek we suddenly saw a grey shadow crossing the road. When we stopped we saw a lonely Wolf standing along the road looking at us. For more than two minutes we observed this most wanted species. Of course I had left my camera in the hotel.
Finally, after searching vainly for this mammal in Lapland, Spain, Canada and Wyoming (USA), we were successful.
Braving the mosquitoes we headed to the platform, where we waited in vain till dusk for the displaying Great Snipes, but it did not matter, we had seen a wolf! Our success was celebrated in the Bartlowizna Restaurant with a few bottles of the local beer – Zubr - the Polish word for the European Bison.
Tuesday May 30
Very early next morning we made a last drive in the Goniadz area around the Biebrza Marshes, adding no new species to our trip list. Reluctantly we left this superb location and drove eastwards via Bialystok to the Siemianówka Reservoir. In the vicinity of Ribaj we made a stop and had a picnic-lunch along this artificial lake.
The weather was fine and during a stroll we saw a number of birds including 4 Montagu’s Harriers, 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, Crested Lark, Common Whinchat, Red-Backed Shrike, Northern Shrike and Common Raven.
Hereafter we headed to the Siemianówka dam. We birded a short while in the vicinity of the railroad from Belarus that divides the wetlands upstream from the dam. Amongst the birds seen here were a single immature White-tailed Eagle, Western Marsh-Harrier, Black Tern, Little Gull, a Caspian Gull amongst the many Black-headed Gulls and Northern Shrike, but we searched in vain for the Citron Wagtail. But then consistent heavy rain sabotaged further birding and we drove to Bialowieza.
After checking into Pensionat Gawra the weather cleared and we headed to the well-known boardwalk by the road between Bialowieza and Pogorzelce. We saw a good supply of forest birds here amongst them Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Collared Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and Eurasian Nuthatch.
We spent the last hour of the day near the wet meadows just before Pogorzelce. We spotted a few displaying Eurasian Woodcocks and at least 5 Corn Crakes were calling in the nearby meadows. I tried the tape, but as so many times before the Corn Crakes did not come out in the open. A little disheartened we returned to Bialowieza. I still have seen the bird only once… a very long time ago in my own province in Holland.
Wednesday May 31
The next morning the rain poured, although Vital and I were able to make a pre-breakfast stroll on the boardwalk trail.
We spent all day in the forests in the vicinity of Bialowieza. Most of the time it rained like hell and we had to stay in the car, but during the dry periods we were able to see Northern Goshawk, River Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher and perhaps best of all, a White-backed Woodpecker which gave fantastic views. We heard a Grey-faced Woodpecker near the Belarusian border, but we could not locate the bird.
We had our picnic in the forest and the last hours of the day we spent at Park Palace Palacowy, where we added Pied Flycatcher to our birding list. At dusk we again tried to lure the Corn Crake with a tape, but again we had no success.
Thursday June 1
Of course we woke to clear blue skies and sun for our largely travelling day and after a leisurely breakfast we headed off to Western Poland. This time we did not travel via Warsaw, but travelled along smaller roads. En route we did see a pair of Grey Partridges, a few Rook colonies and an Ortolan Bunting.
At 18.15 we arrived at Hotel Hubertus in Slonsk. Before we had dinner we paid a last visit at the former Slonsk Reserve, where we did see amongst many others Red-necked and Eared Grebe, Great Bittern, White-tailed Eagle and Mew Gull.
Friday June 2
And then, all too soon our time in Poland ended and all that remained was to make the eight hour journey back to Holland. Of course we left the troublesome weather behind us and were blessed by wonderful sunshine all day!
Poland offers some of the finest birding in Europe in some remarkably unspoilt surroundings.
During our explorations in Poland we saw a lot of birds, but the most memorable event during our trip certainly occurred when a wolf crossed the road and we could admire this magnificent mammal for a short while.
Ornithological highlights of our tour included the 6 White-tailed Eagles at Ujscie Warty NP, the Aquatic Warblers and the Hazel Grouses. We did not see any owls, but we did not try to find them. In spite of the weather we ended up with almost 160 species of birds (no lifers), combined with a list of 12 mammals.
Chaam, 20 July 2006,
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