POLAND – BIALOWIEZA FOREST & BIEBRZA MARSHESThursday 5th May 2016
Thursday 5th – Monday 9th May 2016
We all met bright and early at Stansted for our flight to Warsaw Modlin Airport in Poland and once check in was complete, we had time to get breakfast before boarding the plane.
The flight took off later than scheduled but we made up time and arrived shortly after noon to warm sunny conditions. After gathering our luggage we met up with our local guides for the tour, Felix and Pawel. We soon loaded up and were away in our coach driven by Peter.
Our journey took us through open countryside which held good numbers of JACKDAW of the race soemmerringii plus FIELDFARES, WHITE STORKS and a couple of lovely male MONTAGU’S HARRIERS. An adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was seen directly above the van and COMMON BUZZARDS were numerous above the wooded areas.
We made a brief stop for refreshments along the way and managed to find BLACK REDSTART, YELLOWHAMMER and WHITE WAGTAIL in the garden, with a couple of RAVENS soaring over local woods along with a very pale COMMON BUZZARD.
We were soon on our way again, although from here on the traffic was slow due to road construction taking place on a new motorway to link Poland with Belarus.
Not far from our accommodation we stopped at an old quarry and here we took a walk around the perimeter noting singing YELLOWHAMMER and WILLOW WARBLER but best of all were three TAWNY PIPITS which showed well on the slopes of the quarry. A EUROPEAN SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY was also seen and gave us good views.
It was then time to head to our accommodation and after getting our rooms sorted, we met for a pre-dinner drink in the courtyard. Things couldn't have been better as we had a cold beer in our hands whilst watching an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE overhead and a male BLACK REDSTART sang from the rooftops!
Dinner was delicious and consisted of Jurek, a soup made of bacon and egg followed by a main course of pork steak with barley and then a delicious cake for dessert which went down very well after a long day. Afterwards we spent some time overlooking the local marsh where new sightings for the tour came thick and fast. On the adjacent river, we watched a BEAVER swimming gently along whilst from the reed beds, the song of a GREAT REED WARBLER echoed around.
From the viewing tower we managed to see another GREAT REED WARBLER plus scope views of a singing male SAVI’S WARBLER. Up to 50 RUFF in summer plumage were seen lekking on a small marsh whilst a lovely flock of BLACK TERNS with a few WHITE-WINGED TERNS were thrown in for good measure.
In the nearby fields up to 10 COMMON CRANE were seen and at times were harassed by a RED FOX. As the light was dropping, a pair of MONTAGU’S HARRIERS were seen displaying over the marsh whilst BITTERN and CUCKOO called from the reed-beds.
As we walked along the path to head back to the hotel, a THRUSH NIGHTINGALE was heard singing although he would have to wait for views until the following day as we needed to get some rest after a fantastic start to our tour in Poland.
Friday 6th May 2016
We met at 7.00am for a pre-breakfast walk although several members of the group started out earlier. The scrub by the bridge produced excellent views of a SEDGE WARBLER plus a perched SWALLOW on a reed head.
WHITE STORKS were numerous on the marshes and at the end of the bridge we had brief views of both HAWFINCH and SERIN. A WRYNECK was heard calling from the willows and most of the group had reasonable views as it perched high up before dropping down. WILLOW WARBLERS, THRUSH NIGHTINGALE and a male LESSER WHITETHROAT were seen and a HOBBY came hurtling through alarming the local STARLINGS.
A GREAT REED WARBLER perched up and gave good scope views, but even better were a pair of PENDULINE TITS maintaining a nest hanging from a nearby willow. There was just so much going on that we didn't know where to look on occasions which is never a bad thing!
We eventually reached the tower and caught up with the advance party who had seen a pair of GARGANEY plus WOOD SANDPIPERS, BLACK TERNS and a few COMMON CRANES.
The latter were still showing and we managed distant sightings of the male GARGANEY in a distant pool. Much showier were the two pairs of MONTAGU’S HARRIER which put on a real show for us, the male giving a MAGPIE what for and chasing it out of the area!
Other species that were new for the tour included three GOLDEN ORIOLES seen near the castle plus a couple of GREAT GREY SHRIKES that flew high overhead.
With time getting on we wandered back for a well-deserved breakfast which certainly filled a gap or two. Afterwards we loaded up and began our circuit around the lower Biebrza Marshes starting at an area of sandy land interspersed with pines and willows.
A pair of WOODLARKS put on a show perching on wires, whilst a couple of CUCKOO’s were seen including a rufous-morph individual. A HOOPOE flew through low and perched on a pile of stones before flying off and a distant GREAT GREY SHRIKE was spotted.
A male WHINCHAT was heard singing and was located in a small birch sapling before we returned to the van to move on to our next site.
Eventually we reached the main road and on the junction were small flooded pools that were alive with WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS. It was an amazing sight to watch these birds feeding close-by and in great light. BLACK-TAILED GODWITS of the nominate race limosa displayed plus WOOD SANDPIPER, GREENSHANK, REDSHANK and RUFF were noted whilst a LESSER WHITETHROAT was watched flitting around some scrub close to the road.
Moving onwards, we drove a few kilometres and took a walk along a track that produced a good number of male RUFF plus GREAT EGRETS, COMMON CRANES and a few newly emerged DOWNY EMERALD DRAGONFLIES. The walk back revealed a GOSHAWK soaring over the woods which was a good addition to the trip list.
The next site was a tower situated on the west side of the marshes and it gave stunning vistas across the marsh. A female GREY PARTRIDGE was seen in the field below us whilst overhead was a stunning WHITE-TAILED EAGLE along with the usual MARSH HARRIERS and COMMON BUZZARDS. A distant soaring raptor turned out to be a LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE but it was just a bit too far away to pick out many distinct features.
Out on the marsh were a flock of GREYLAG GEESE and amongst them were a couple of TAIGA BEAN GEESE which was a good find. Other notable species here included a couple of distant ELK in the tree line plus HOBBY, HOOPOE, GADWALL and both MOORHEN and COOT!
With time getting on, we moved a very short distance along the road to another viewing area where once again, the light and visibility was superb. A couple of summer plumaged DUNLIN were seen alongside a LITTLE STINT whilst further along the bank was a RINGED PLOVER. WOOD SANDPIPERS, BLACK-TAILED GODWITS and RUFF were very numerous, the latter numbering at least several hundred strong!
Two LITTLE TERNS moved up river and at least three WHISKERED TERNS flew past along with COMMON, BLACK and WHITE-WINGED. Suddenly there was commotion over the marsh and we looked up to see a female PEREGRINE FALCON being harassed by a LAPWING until it moved away.
The local WHITE STORKS gave several flybys and then another scan of the riverbank yielded a LITTLE RINGED PLOVER and then Pawel spotted a summer plumage TEMMINCK’S STINT creeping slowly along the edge.
Delighted by this we moved on and by now our stomachs were rumbling so we made a brief stop for nibbles and drinks at a local shop. As we drove along the road a pair of RED-BACKED SHRIKES were seen close to the road. Our last port of call before our late lunch was to a vast area of marshes nearby where Citrine Wagtail was our target.
Walking the track revealed many WOOD SANDPIPERS plus RUFF, BLACK-TAILED GODWITS and a pair of GARGANEY. We stopped to look at a male BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL and behind it was a first-summer male CITRINE WAGTAIL which was seen well before being disturbed by several other birders.
It flew off across the marsh and joined another bird briefly before vanishing. We slowly walked back to the van where it was good to have a sit down. As we drove slowly along the track, a couple of closer ELK were seen and then a much closer LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE was found and this time you could actually see what it was!
It was then time for a late, late lunch in a fantastic restaurant overlooking the marsh where a pair of CITRINE WAGTAILS flew past as we waited for our food. The soup was delicious and certainly filled a whole as it had been a long time since our 9am breakfast.
Just as we finished, a pair of MAGPIES came in, much to the disdain of the local FIELDFARES who chased these intruders away.
Another site was briefly visited and once again the view over the marshes was fantastic. The best bird of note was a ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD, seen hovering distantly over the marsh before it dropped down and vanished. Several ROE DEER were seen wandering nonchantly across the marsh before we moved on once again.
Our penultimate site of the day was another tower although it was rather quiet except for a COMMON GULL moving through.
When we arrived at the last site it was quite busy with birders. We took a slow walk out towards the end of the boardwalk and it wasn't long before the churring song of AQUATIC WARBLERS filled the air. With a bit of scanning, we soon located our first bird perched up and managed to scope it before it dropped down again.
Over the next 30 minutes we heard around eight and managed to get really good views of at least five of these rapidly decline birds. SNIPE drummed overhead and a male MONTAGU’S HARRIER floated effortlessly over the reed-bed.
Once we got our fill, it was back to the van and we headed off towards base. Unbeknown to us a last stop was planned to look for Eagle Owl but despite trying, we failed to see or hear this bird. There was some compensation though with roding WOODCOCK, plus a flyby BITTERN and a calling GREEN SANDPIPER overhead.
Arriving back at the hotel at 9.30pm, we dropped our gear off and went straight in for dinner. Our soup this evening was mixed vegetable with some delightful Chanterelle mushrooms and the main course was fish with mashed potato and sauerkraut. The meal concluded with ice-cream and mixed fruit.
Afterwards we completed the bird list for two days and retired for the evening after what had been a super day!
Saturday 7th May 2016
We met once again for a pre-breakfast walk at 7.00am and made a change to the usual route by walking up towards the castle. At least three GOLDEN ORIOLES showed well in the willows and a GARDEN WARBLER sang from the opposite side of the road. BLACK REDSTARTS, THRUSH NIGHTINGALE, HOOPOE and lots of SEDGE WARBLERS were heard. As we reached the castle, a stunning male RED-BACKED SHRIKE was seen perched on top of an Elder bush and gave excellent views in the early morning sunshine. Whilst watching this bird we were interrupted with a WRYNECK calling nearby and with a little bit of patience we had reasonable scope views of this bird.
Moving through the vast fields of dandelions we came across several WHINCHATS including a singing male that was just simply amazing when seen at 70x magnification! A PIED FLYCATCHER flitted around in the birches and was joined by a couple of LESSER WHITETHROAT and a BLACKCAP.
We reached the riverbank and took a few scenic photographs before being distracted by a male GARGANEY that flew past, plus a female HEN HARRIER moving through northwards. A HOOPOE was noted several times in flight before we began our walk back to the hotel for breakfast.
Afterwards we loaded up the van and started our journey south-eastwards stopping off at a complex of fish ponds close to Bialystok. The noise from the large BLACK-HEADED GULL colony was simply deafening with so many in close proximity. Amongst the gulls on the open water was a 1st summer COMMON GULL plus a small number of very smart LITTLE GULLS.
A few TUFTED DUCKS were seen plus COOT, MOORHEN, GREAT CRESTED GREBE and some summer plumaged RED-NECKED GREBES. The sound of FIRE-BELLIED TOADS rang out and GREAT REED WARBLERS also made quite a racket.
BITTERNS boomed from the vast reed-beds and a little further down the track we found loads of MARSH FROGS calling from the edge of the ponds. DOWNY EMERALDS patrolled up and down the edges of the pools and a male GOLDENEYE was seen out on the open water.
As we took the circular walk back round we came across the LITTLE GULLS hawking over the water with BLACK TERNS, BLACK-HEADED GULLS and a single WHISKERED TERN.
By now it was getting quite hot so it was relief to be heading back to the van. Just short of the van, in amongst the BLACK-HEADED GULLS were a pair of BLACK-NECKED GREBES which although shy, put on a show in the sunshine.
After a drink back at the van we headed off towards the Bialowieza Forest, making a stop first at the edge of a marsh. As we got out of the van we could hear a WOOD WARBLER singing and eventually we got good views as it sang from the Silver Birches nearby.
Our walk took us along the edges of woodland rides where a pair of WILLOW TITS showed in the tops of birches. Reaching the marsh we checked the area out, just in case there were some Great Snipe displaying, but despite a good look it was rather quiet except for MARSH HARRIERS, WHITE STORKS, WOOD SANDPIPER and REDSHANKS.
A female RED DEER was seen in the distance and as we retraced our steps, some of the group saw two MARSH TITS whilst we all heard a purring TURTLE DOVE which remained hidden.
The hot weather drew out many butterflies with ORANGE-TIPS, BRIMSTONES, COMMA, PEACOCK, RED ADMIRAL and a HOLLY BLUE.
Twenty or so minutes later we arrived at our next hotel, deep in the forest and after dropping our gear in our rooms, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of the Polish speciality Pierogi, a steamed dumpling filled with meat and cheese.
After a short break we headed out to the forest but unfortunately this coincided with a thunderstorm that passed through the area, although we got away with only a light spot of rain. A pair of WHITE WAGTAILS fed nearby and ROBIN, CHAFFINCH, HAWFINCH and a singing male FIRECREST were seen in a clearing.
A short while later, we dropped of Felix at the Belarus border as he was leading a tour there, before we headed back to our hotel to pick up jackets ready for our evening expedition.
Just as the storm passed through we arrived at the edge of the marsh, so the ground was quite wet, but a short while later we could hear the sound of calling CORNCRAKES. Squelching our way across, we headed for a spot where it only took a few minutes before we saw our first GREAT SNIPE of the evening leaping in the air. With some careful scanning, we had excellent view of up to five birds including two males squaring up to one another.
With the CORNCRAKES calling around us we tried to see one but the nearest we got was seeing the grass move slightly and then nothing – how frustrating!! A male SPOTTED CRAKE called in the distance and we could hear COMMON CRANES, CUCKOO, GRASSHOPPER WARBLER with the constant clicking of GREAT SNIPE all around us. Just as darkness fell, a BITTERN flew over the marsh.
With the light going and our deadline for dinner quickly approaching we managed to get back to the van and to the hotel with a few minutes to spare before the kitchen closed!
Despite the late time we tucked into a cream of mushroom soup and dumplings, followed by a type of rissole/sausage and cake with tea or coffee to finish.
We headed off to bed, very tired after another great day.
Sunday 8th May 2016
We awoke to find a beautiful clear morning although a little chilly at first. A small party of HAWFINCHES were seen in the back garden whilst GOLDEN ORIOLE, HOOPOE and BLACKBIRDS were heard nearby.
We set off at 7.00am for our daily pre-breakfast walk and it was good to explore a new area. A lovely male RED-BACKED SHRIKE perched on top of a small conifer whilst a male WHINCHAT was seen briefly.
We headed along a track noting male REDSTART and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER that were new birds for our list. A male GOLDEN ORIOLE was seen in full view and WOOD WARBLER sang from the edge of the track.
As we wandered deeper into the wood, a male RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER gave us the run around but eventually we got reasonable views of this newly arrived migrant. The walk back through an open meadow produced a TREE PIPIT which flew to the fence line and was joined by a WOODLARK.
It was then back for breakfast and what a spread it was, with a lot of choice on offer. Afterwards we loaded up the van and drove north-eastwards to Siemianowka Reservoir where we checked out the southeast corner. From the elevated Tower Hide we found lots of marsh terns including WHISKERED, BLACK and WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN plus LITTLE and COMMON TERN thrown in for good measure.
An adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was seen plus many MARSH HARRIERS including some displaying males. Up to four GARGANEY were seen plus a few GADWALL and pair of POCHARD.
The weather was warming up nicely and this encouraged butterflies including MAP and SMALL TORTOISESHELL. A stroll along the embankment produced a distant GREAT GREY SHRIKE that was flushed by a foreign photographer.
With several other tour groups arriving, we made a hasty retreat and moved round to another part of the reservoir where COMMON SANDPIPERS and LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS were seen on the embankment and both SAND LIZARD and GRASS SNAKE were seen nearby.
Our last site of the day was in the northwest section of the lake where a flock of CORMORANTS fished out on the open water and a scan produced large numbers of GREAT WHITE EGRETS.
Up to six CASPIAN GULLS flew over and we enjoyed good scope views of a few WHITE-TAILED EAGLES that were perched on the ground, attracting the unwanted attention of HOODED CROWS, RAVENS and a couple of RED FOXES!
A dead PINE MARTEN was found by the pumping station before we had lunch close to the van. A GRIZZLED SKIPPER was seen and COMMON CRANE, MISTLE THRUSHES and a distant LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE were highlights.
Suitably refreshed, we drove inland to Bialowieza for our rendezvous with Arek, a local guide. As we got out of the van, a COLLARED FLYCATCHER flew out of a nest hole as did a NUTHATCH.
We walked along the entrance track as Arek explained about the reserve and some of the rich variety of wildlife to be found. At the entrance track a GARDEN WARBLER and BLACKCAPS sang whilst HAWFINCHES seemed to be everywhere.
Further along the path we had brief views of a COLLARED FLYCATCHER as it flitted high in the canopy, but our attentions were drawn to a woodpecker calling ahead of us, which turned out to be a MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER!
Reasonable views were had but further along the path we came across a dead tree with several nest holes in and as we stood there, a superb male MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER flew in, landing on the tree and the female flew out of the nest.
Eventually, the male went in so we left them in peace and carried on our walk. Reaching a junction in the track, we turned left but didn't get far when a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER landed on a nearby tree.
Then another woodpecker zipped past us, landing on a tree laying on the ground and it was a female WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER! It was seen feeding below the tree and eventually flew up onto a dead branch where it sat briefly before flying off.
Delighted with this, we moved slowly on and reached an area of boardwalk where a pair of HAWFINCHES gave stunning views as they fed close-by. Then Pawel spotted a Hawfinch and eventually it came down to feed the young which was simply amazing to watch.
With time slipping away, we retraced our steps and hadn't gone far when a male COLLARED FLYCATCHER was seen perched in full view at eye level which was superb and by far our best view of this species.
We reached the gate and said our goodbyes to Arek who had been really informative about the forest and we headed back to the hotel for an earlier meal.
Our vegetable soup was delicious as was the stuffed chicken for main course and chocolate cake and coffee rounded off a good meal.
We then gathered our gear once again and headed out for a short drive into the forest. We walked slowly along the road and could hear our target calling from the forest. After a bit of a walk we eventually located a male PYGMY OWL sitting in a conifer calling, which was the icing on the cake after another great day of birding!
Arriving back at the hotel before the bar closed was very welcome and it gave us the chance to complete the bird list before we went off to get some rest.
Monday 9th May 2016
Our last morning walk of the tour left at the usual time and headed to a new area of forest behind the hotel. REDSTARTS sang from the woods and SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS made feeding forays from fences surrounding the houses.
A GOLDEN ORIOLE flew past and a CUCKOO sat on the fence in front of us as we entered the wood. The song of WOOD WARBLERS echoed from the Beech woodland and a COAL TIT sang but remained unseen.
The walk took us through the wood and the front of the group flushed a WOODCOCK that was feeding in the leaf litter. A woodpecker was heard drumming but turned out to be a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER and further along the path we heard a singing FIRECREST and had brief views as it flitted around above us.
We went off the path and could hear a Black Woodpecker calling in the distance, but on closer inspection it was a SONG THRUSH imitating it to perfection!
Another woodpecker called weakly from close-by, which on Pawel checking it out turned out to be several WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKERS. We moved closer and had great views as they moved from tree to tree.
A RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER sang nearby but stubbornly refused to show, unlike the WOOD WARBLERS that came really close to us.
Our ETA for getting back over-ran and we got back for breakfast to find those who stayed behind tucking in. Whilst we were out, the others saw WRYNECK and WILLOW TIT amongst others.
After another great breakfast we loaded up and said our goodbyes to the hotel, who had looked after us so well and we began the four hour drive back to Warsaw.
Stopping off for a drink etc. we found lots of COCKCHAFERS around the area plus WHITE WAGTAIL and YELLOWHAMMERS singing. The remainder of the journey produced MONTAGU'S HARRIER, MARSH HARRIER and COMMON BUZZARD plus PHEASANT and NORTHERN WHEATEAR which were new birds for our trip list.
After lunch in a roadside restaurant we made an attempt in the local area for Ortolan Bunting but apart from a close BLACK STORK it was quiet.
Piotr got us back to Warsaw Modlin Airport spot on time and after checking, some of the group went off to duty free to purchase some Vodka(s) before boarding our flight back to London Stansted.
We landed earlier than scheduled and once through passport control, collected our luggage and said our goodbyes after what had been a super tour with many good species, lovely hotels, excellent food and most off, a great bunch of customers who made it so enjoyable!