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Poland - Biebrza Marhes and Białowieża Forest – 18-28 May 2007,
Wizna hayfields, 21 May 2007, early morning. The grass is still wet and everything is shrouded by a thin mist. All around songs and calls of birds: Thrush Nightingales, well hidden in the bushes, and Icterine Warblers, from the top of the huge Poplars and Cherry-trees that line the track, make the musical backgrounds for Marsh, River and Grasshopper Warblers. A Black Woodpecker claims his territory while a Corncrake still delivers his hoarse, rasping call. I do not know what to look at, if at a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that is working on the bark of an old Cherry-tree nearby or at a Barred Warbler in songflight. But I make my mind up soon: something is hopping among the grass, a Pine Marten. It seems not to care about me and I enjoy this sight for a long while. This is the Poland that I’ve dreamed for years, this is the Poland I’ve found.
Planning the trip, Maps, and Acknowledgments
I used Gosney’s “Finding Birds in Poland” for planning my trip, and I read several trip reports in the Internet. I wish to thank all the birders who shared news on sites not covered by Gosney’s guide through their Internet reports. In particular the one by Simon Woolley and Julia Casson at http://geography.wincoll.ac.uk/jjcskw/trip%20reports/eeurope/eeurope.htm was really informative, as in there I learnt about places such as the Mścichy track and the Teremiski forest swamps.
For driving in Poland I used the Michelin 1:700 000 map, while for visiting the Biebrza marshes and the Białowieża Forest the three PTOP 1:50 000 maps (Biebrza southern and middle basin, Białowieża primeval forest, 3rd edition) are invaluable. I got the PTOP maps well in advance from the NHBS (www.nhbs.co.uk) internet bookshop. The PTOP is the North-Podlasie Society for Bird Protection.
Finally I wish to thank my friend Magnus Robb for giving me news about Aquatic Warbler and Tomasz Kulakowski who was so kind to keep me informed about the situation of the Great Snipe at the Barwik’s lek.
Driving in Poland
Be careful on the roads from Warsaw to Białystock and the one that goes east from Warsaw to Biała Podlaska. The traffic is very heavy due to the huge number of lorries from and to the north-eastern borders. It took us 5 hours to drive the 245 km from Białowieża to Warsaw, via Biała Podlaska, on 28 May because of several road works and we took the flight back to Italy just on time. Also road works in Warsaw ouskirts (in particular along the Ostrobramska road) meant that we had to find our way to the airport just by intuition! No indications at all, if not one (in Polish) when well inside Warsaw.
Accommodation and Food
In Wizna (Biebrza marshes) we (my wife Dina and I) stayed at the excellent Bed and Breakfast “The Ortolan” run by Zenon Borawski (18-430 Wizna, ul. Czarnickiego 109. Mobile 0048 601 152 032. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Internet: www.biebrzan.prv.pl). We spent for our beautiful room 140 Złoty per night, which included a huge and varied breakfast that was sufficient to sustain us for the whole day. Moreover, Zenon was so kind to prepare breakfast very early in the morning when we asked for it. Zenon was really informative, as he knows very well birds and birding sites of Biebrza and we even spent some hours together in the field. You can buy from Zenon also the tickets for visiting the national park.
In Białowieża we stayed at the cottage “Domek Zapiciek” run by Anetta and Jarosław Kisielewski (17-230 Białowieża, ul Waszkiewicza 127. Mobile 0048 692 465 933, E-mail: email@example.com. Internet: http://www.bialowieza.agro.pl/zapiecek/cottage.html ). Basic accommodation but cheap (70 Złoty per night) and with a huge shower box, and a Collared Flycatcher nesting in a nest box in the garden (it woke me up every morning at 4.30 with its unmusical song. No need of an alarm clock) together with Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart and Black Redstart!.
As I wrote, in Biebrza we did not need to find any place where to eat, thanks to our breakfast. In Białowieża we had lunch in the restaurant of Park Palacowy (Restauracia Parkowa) and in the restaurant of the hotel Unikat (both good).
We stayed in Wizna from 18 to 22 May. In Białowieża from 23 to 28 May. We had always nice and warm weather, some rain only on 27 May afternoon. So plenty of time for finding birds.
We visited the following sites (I give some directions and notes where necessary, otherwise I refer to Gosney’s booklet):
- Bagno Wizna (or Wizna Marshes): from Wizna take the road to Białystock but just after the bridge over the Narew take the minor road to Rutki. For the next kilometers you will have the beautiful Narew valley on the right and open, marshy and wooden areas on the left. After about 4.5 km you will find a track on the left that plunges into the immense hayfields of the “Kombinat” area (this is the track mentioned in Gosney’s book on page 19). Several tracks (the main one and those which go right are all lined with huge poplars, cherry-trees and scrub) criss-cross the area, and all are good. Corncrakes are numerous as it is Barred Warbler here (I counted more than eight males just walking a couple of kilometers). Thrush Nightngales and Marsh Warblers are very common too, and River Warblers particular evident and bold (I saw it three times here).
- Towers on the west side of the marshes and Mścichy track: we went to the tower of Burzyn, just before the village, the tower of Brzostowo (two Złoty per person, asked by the farmer who owns the land, I believe) and, finally, the tower reached by the driveable track from Mścichy. We parked just out of Mścichy and walked the track (2 km) to the tower. We were rewarded by several singing Aquatic Warblers (especially in the sedges in front of the small wooded area halfway), and Savi’s Warbler (while nearing the tower). A lot of picnicking local people on Sunday at the end of this track near the tower, so avoid it during the week-end. Some thousands White-winged Black Terns from the tower of Brzostowo and a lot also at the end of the Mścichy track.
- Kuligi bridge and track to Grzedy: we spent some time around Kuligi bridge, again Barred Warbler very bold, a single Lesser Spotted Eagle, Savi’s, Reed, Marsh, Great Reed and Grasshopper Warbler; in the woods a Middle Spotted Woodpecker.
- Bagno Ławki: this is the area of sedge on the east side of the marshes north of Laskowiec. After the woods, going north along the “Tsar road”, there is a boardwalk on the left (about 1 km before you reach an observation tower) that ends at a platform. This place is called Długa Luka and Aquatic Warbler (4 or 5 birds) was really easy here from the boardwalk, as it was singing and displaying very close on the northern side up to 11.00 a.m. So no need to walk the 4 km long Causeway to the PTOP Wodniczka reserve for Aquatic Warbler. Also Grasshopper Warbler here (2 or 3 were singing).
- Barwik: here I went for the famous Great Snipe lek. We were lucky, as we first heard and then seen three birds flying around. The lek has been abandoned since 2004, but this year three birds have been seen since April. It was funny to meet some Italian friends here, first time that happens to me while being abroad.
Other places we visited were the tower after the bridge in Goniadz, the rough track north from Zajki, and the road from Wizna south to Bronowo (where Ortolan Bunting was quite common).
- Zebra Zubra boardwalk: too famous for any comment. Three-toed Woodpecker and Hazel Grouse seen halfway the path.
- Drzewa Puszczy: this is an area of very old forest south of the Reservat Zubrow, between the road and the Reservat (block 450 on the map). Middle Spotted Woodpecker and our first Red-breasted Flycatcher here.
- Pogorzelce: the open areas before entering the village (from south) are very good for Corncrake, and never missed Lesser Spotted Eagle here.
- Stara Bialowieza: we walked the straight track from the picnic area to the river Narewka. Another Red-breasted Flycatcher here, this time a confident, full adult male. Three Hazel Grouses flushed at the end of the path.
- Teremiski: we visited two areas here. The Teremiski forest swamp is an area with a lot of dead trees apparently good for woodpeckers (it was so for Simon in 2004). I only saw Middle Spotted Woodpecker in three (short) visits. You can park at the parking spot on the left 100 m before the bridge after leaving Teremiski, and walk up to the bridge. Just after the bridge there is a path to the right that runs parallel to the canal. After 30 m you arrive at an open spot from where you can see very well the whole area. Wellingtons if it has rained. We visited also the area of the bridge over the river Lutownia. Again Corncrake and Barred Warbler, the latter as always associated to a pair of Red-backed Shrike.
- Zwerzyniec: another area with old forest. We took the trail from the parking area (now closed) shown on the map (block 419) and walked south (toward block 444) and then westward along the path parallel to the road up to the block 416. Good area for Woodpeckers (Black and Three-toed) and Red-breasted Flycatcher (one first-winter seen, three singers heard).
- Eastern end of Białowieza: the area around the bridge after the Hotel Białowieski, on the eastern end of Białowieza, was good, again for Barred Warbler. A lot of other warblers, a single Grey-headed Woodpecker and the only Woodlark of the trip. The Wysokie Bagno reserve is adjacent.
- Kosy Most Bridge and Observation Tower: another very beautiful area, with Barred and several other warblers. From Stara Białowieza go north toward Narewka then, at block 101, turn right (Kosy Most is signposted) until you reach the parking area. From here is a short walk up to the river. From the bridge a path leads to an observation tower.
- Olszanka Mysliszcze: we walked the long path (4 km) to the bridge from Topiło. It was late evening, and we were very tired, when we reached the bridge and did not enjoy the place. A huge amount of mosquitoes also along the track. Only one Red-breasted Flycatcher heard in the wood just after Topiło. At our return back to the car in Topiło, we were checked by the Border Police, but they were always very kind.
- Strict Reserve: you need an official guide to enter this beautiful forested area. We did not manage to contact, if not too late, the famous, among birders, Arek Szymura, but then we did not need to see any special birds in this forest, so we enjoyed the walk in company of our guide Sławomir Przygodzki (that knows very well birds, anyway), who taught us a lot about the history and ecology of the forest. Sławek, who speaks a good English, can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile: 0048 606 443 007. The price was 150 Złoty for a 3 hr-long walk. Interesting birds were a first-year Red-breasted Flycatcher seen well and another three singers, and a Middle-spotted Woodpecker.
18 May: arrival at Wizna.
19 May: Tsar road from Strekowa Gora to Laskowiec, then along Bagno Ławki - Road from Wizna to Bronowo - Bagno Wizna.
20 May: Kuligi bridge and track to Grzedy - Mścichy track.
21 May: Bagno Wizna - Observation towers on the west side of the marshes - Bagno Wizna.
22 May: Bagno Wizna - Tsar road to Goniadz - Barwik.
23 May: Teremiski and Pogorzelce.
24 May: Zebra Zubra trail and Drzewa Puszczy – Pogorzelce - Kosy Most.
25 May: Teremiski - Drzewa Puszczy – Zwierzyniec - Olszanka Mysliszcze.
26 May: Strict Reserve - Area east of Białowieza - Zebra Zubra trail.
27 May: Teremiski - Stara Białowieza – Parc Palacowy
In this trip I managed to see all species I was really looking for (apart from Greenish Warbler). I report here the most interesting birds to me, among the 141 species we saw, with some notes (three lifers: Aquatic Warbler, Corncrake and Common Rosefinch).
1) Bittern (Botaurus stellaris): two were heard on 20 May near the tower at the end of the Mścichy track.
2) Great Egret (Ardea alba): a note just because this is a species which is expanding in Biebrza. Three were seen on 21 May on the Narew valley south of Wizna and several seen from the tower overlooking the Biebrza valley past the Great Snipe ‘s lek..
3) Black Stork (Ciconia nigra): only one seen while approaching the bridge of Kuligi, on 20 May.
4) White-tailed Eagle (Heliaeetus albicilla): one immature bird was seen over Bagno Ławki on 19 May; a beautiful adult bird on the Narew valley south of Wizna on 21 May.
5) Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina): one adult bird over Bagno Ławki on 19 May, another one from Kuligi bridge on 20 May. In Białowieza forest, one or two birds observed daily over the open areas at Pogorzelce and Teremiski.
6) Montagu’s Harrier (Cyrcus pygargus): several males seen, for example in the “Kombinat” (Bagno Wizna), along the Mścichy track, and along the Tsar road in Bagno Ławki.
7) Steppe Buzzard (Buteo b. vulpinus): one was seen from the Kuligi bridge on 20 May. Another one from the bridge at Kosy Most on 24 May.
8) Hazel Grouse (Bonasia bonasia): one was flushed from the Zebra Zubra track on 24 May, and three were at the end of the track from Stara Białowieza to the Narewka river on 27 May.
9) Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix): one was seen at night on the road between Burzyn and Wizna on 20 May.
10) Corncrake (Crex crex): always heard, from a single up to 5-6 birds together, in the open areas south of Wizna (“Kombinat” and Narew valley), along the Mścichy track, in the open areas of Pogorzelce and Teremiski. Seen only twice, on 21 May in the “Kombinat” at night, and one flushed on 23 May at Pogorzelce.
11) Crane (Grus grus): Often observed in pair or in small groups. Biggest number was 31 indd. from the tower of Brzostowo on 21 May.
12) Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola): observed while roding at sunset. One on 19 May over Bagno Wizna, seen again on 21 May. Another one over the Zebra Zubra trail on 26 May.
13) Great Snipe (Gallinago media): although this would not have been a lifer, I wished to assist at its display. So it was disappointing to read that the traditional lek at Barwik had been deserted since 2004. However three birds were present again this year, and we were lucky to first heard and then see them in flight from the observation platform on late afternoon of 22 May.
14) White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus): a really abundant species in Biebrza marshes, especially around Laskowiec and Zajki and in the Narew valley south of Wizna. Some thousands from the towers of Brzostowo and along the Mścichy track. It was hard to find the few Whiskered Terns (Chlidonia hybridus) seen among the hordes of WWBT.
15) Gray-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus): one was seen near the bridge east of Białowieza on 26 May.
16) Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius): one-two indd. always observed in the “Kombinat” area (Bagno Wizna). One male seen near the nest in the woods north of Laskowiec along the Tsar road on 22 May. One was seen in the Zwierzyniec area on 25 May and one was heard near the Teremiski forest swamps on 27 May.
17) Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius): Several indd. seen. One in the woods between Kuligi and Grzedy on 20 May. One along the Drzewa Puszczy trail on 24 May and another one in the Teremiski forest swamps on 25 May. The same day another one again along the Drzewa Puszczy trail and finally one in the Strict Reserve on 26 May.
18) Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus): seen twice very well. One in the Zwierzyniec area on 25 May; another one along the Zebra Zubra trail on 26 May.
19) Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia): a common bird, seen very well at least on three occasions. The musical background of this trip to Poland!
20) Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica): seen one along the Mścichy track.
21) Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria): common, always associated with Red-backed Shrike. Up to eight were along the various tracks in the “Kombinat” area (Bagno Wizna); 1-2 pairs at the bridge of Kuligi; 1 pair at the bridge over the Lutownia at Teremiski; another pair near the bridge east of Białowieza; at least 3 indd. at the bridge of Kosy Most. So, look for a bridge with a Red-backed Shrike and you’ll have Barred Warbler….!
22) Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola): easy to see in Bagno Ławki on 19 May (four or five birds singing and displaying boldly). Several were singing along the Mścichy track on 20 May, especially in the sedge in front of the small wooden area halfway. It’s important to learn the song of this species in order to pick it up among the ubiquitous Sedge Warblers.
23) Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia): mainly heard in the open areas of Biebrza, for example 3-4 were in the Aquatic Warbler site (Długa Luka ) on 19 May. Heard near the Kuligi bridge, near the observation platform at Barwik and in the “Kombinat” area, where I saw one very well on early morning of 21 May.
24) River Warbler (Locustella fluviatilis): heard daily both in Biebrza marshes and in the Bialowieza forest. It was particularly evident in the “Kombinat” area (Bagno Wizna) where I saw it twice on 21 May and again on 22 May. Also seen in the small wood along the Mścichy track. Common along the road from Białowieza to Teremiski and around the bridge east of Bialowieza.
25) Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinoides): one seen from the Kuligi bridge on 20 May. Several heard and seen along the Mścichy track on 20 May evening. Also heard at Barwik.
26) Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris): a common bird. Especially abundant along the ditches of the “Kombinat” area (Bagno Wizna).
27) Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina): a very common bird. Competed with Thrush Nightingale for filling the air with its song.
28) Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedual parva): after having seen several immature birds in Oman last year I really wanted to see a full adult male. I saw one very well along the track from Stara Białowieza to the Narewka river on 27 May, the last day in Bialowieza. One or two birds were heard along the Drzewa Puszczy trail on 24 May and one the same day along the Zebra Zubra trail. A first-year was seen in the Zwierzyniec woods along with three birds only heard on 25 May. A first-year was seen in the strict reserve and 3-4 were heard there on 26 May. I found this species exclusively in (oak-)hornbeam forest patches, even very small patches as along the track from Stara Białowieza to the Narewka river.
29) Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis): a common bird in Białowieza, much more common than Pied Flycatcher, impossible to miss. I even had one pair in the garden of my cottage in the village.
30) Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor): seen only three times. One was along the Mścichy track on 20 May, one at Barwik on 22 May, and another just outside the Strict Reserve on 26 May.
31) Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus): a common bird in the open scrubby areas with tree and all along the roads both in Biebrza marshes and Białowieza forest.
32) Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana): seen 4-5 indd. along the road from Wizna to Bronowo on 19 May. I heard some singers also along the road between Wizna and Burzyn.
1) Pine Marten (Martes martes): one seen well in the “Kombinat” area (Bagno Wizna) on 21 May.
2) Elk (Alces alces): 2-3 indd. always seen from the towers on the western side of the Biebrza valley and from the tower past the Great Snipe’s lek at Barwik.
3) Roe-deer (Capreolus capreolus): seen several indd. early morning or in the evening in the “Kombinat” area (Bagno Wizna) and at the Great Snipe’s lek of Barwik.
4) Wild Boar (Sus scrofa): we met several parties in the Białowieza forest.
5) Fox (Vulpes vulpes): seen both in Biebrza and in Białowieza forest
6) Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris): seen several times in Białowieza forest.
7) Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus): seen some indd. In the “Kombinat”.
Ernesto Occhiato, Firenze (Italy)