Eastern Poland 13th20th May, 2000
By Dave Carroll
This is a summary of a 172-species birding trip to eastern Poland in May 2000, and should be of interest to birders planning to visit Bialowieza Forest and Biebrza Marshes. Our group of friends from South Yorkshire was made up of Alan Archer, Sue Bird, Roger Bird, Dave Carroll, Lance Degnan, Pete Greaves, Chris Johnson, Martin Limbert, Gareth Picton, Chip Rhodes, Richard Scott, Richard Sprakes, Dave Standring and Nick Whitehouse.
Doncaster to Bialowieza
On 13th May fourteen birders left Doncaster at 5.00 am in a 24-seater coach and travelled to Londons Heathrow Airport. Our British Airways Boeing 757 scheduled flight departed on time at 11.40 am and arrived at Warsaw after a two hours and ten minute flight. The drivers collected four large hire cars and we were on the road heading east. Each driver was equipped with a two-way radio, allowing excellent communications between cars, and they were immediately put to use while finding our way out of Warsaw. The radios were also to prove very useful in the field, especially when the group became spread out and new sightings were made. A three hour car journey was a good introduction to eastern Polands bird-rich countryside and included nesting White Storks and a pair of Montagus Harriers. We reached our hotel in the village of Bialowieza close to the Polish-Belarussian border mid-evening, with a pair of Black Redstarts found as soon as we got out of the cars.
List of Visited Sites
An itinerary was planned around our two bases at Bialowieza and Monki, but up-to-date information from the hired guides modified each days birding and resulted in the following sites being visited:
13th Route from Warsaw to Bialowieza
The Weeks Weather
A five day forecast for Warsaw was obtained from the BBC Online weather centre http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather and predicted temperatures to reach the mid-20°C by Tuesday. We had continuous sunshine from Saturday to the following Friday, with hot weather for four days MondayThursday, when sun blocker was a useful part of the kit. Estimated daily maximum temperatures (Saturday-Saturday) were as follows: 17°, 22°, 24°, 26°, 30°, 28°, 22°, and 17°C on the last day when the weather had cooled down and there was some rain in the morning. The sunshine was ideal for soaring raptors, and butterflies also appeared in good numbers. The whole region had undergone a prolonged, hot dry period of weather prior to our visit and conditions underfoot were dry; the wellies we all brought were never used. In normal years parts of the forest are very boggy and the marshes extensively flooded in May.
The rural landscape has an old-fashioned look with small agricultural fields. Wooden carts and horse-drawn ploughs were seen working the land, although new farm machinery was also occasionally being used. Scattered trees and woods take up a large part of a landscape unspoilt by modern eyesores. Together, the patchwork of traditional, flower-rich hay meadows, strip farmed crops, settlements and woodlands offers a wonderful place for birds. At Bialowieza village we had Serin in trees outside our hotel and pairs of Common Redstart and Black Redstart nearby, with Golden Oriole and Grasshopper Warbler singing. Roadsides and farm tracks near Progale west of Hajnowka revealed Ortolan Bunting, Whinchat, Blue-headed Wagtail, Northern Wheatear and Lesser Spotted Eagle.
Bialowieza Forest and its National Park
The famous Bialowieza Forest holds the largest remaining remnant of primeval forest in Europe. Polish kings and Imperial Russian czars ensured its early protection, not for wildlife conservation, but for hunting game. The Polish part of this lowland forest covers about 620 square kilometres, of which, 47.5 km2 are national park and better known as the Strict Reserve. Bialowieza National Park is one of the longest established reserves on the continent and has been accredited with UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site status. Being on the extreme east of Poland, the forest extends into the former Soviet Union, and at the closest point, our group was less than one kilometre from the Belarussian border.
Migrants were in and the breeding season was in full swing for our six-hour visit to the Strict Reserve on 14th May. White-backed Woodpecker visiting a nest site was the groups first mega bird to be listed. Many Wood Warblers sang and displayed, as did Pied, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers. Middle Spotted Woodpecker showed well before a Black Woodpecker was tracked down to a treetop perch. Goldcrests sang and large numbers of Song Thrushes were present. Spruce cones had been wedged in some tree trunks by woodpeckers as a method of extracting the seeds.
This park was only a short walk from our accommodation at Bialowieza and was an excellent site for birds, including prized eastern European passerines. Habitat includes woodland, coarse grassy lawns, a lake with reedbeds, and is bordered by open countryside. To everyone's relief an elusive Grey-headed Woodpecker was discovered excavating a nest hole and giving good views, and Wryneck was seen at a nest site near the Park entrance.
We followed this ramshackled woodland boardwalk trail near Zastowa looking for the elusive Hazel Grouse. Wing beating was heard by some in the group, but only one observer had a brief view. Also, Three-toed Woodpecker, another difficult to find species, was seen by a single member of the group, and found nowhere else. Nuthatch, Wood Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and drumming Black Woodpecker were recorded at this site. Hawfinches fed on hornbeam seeds and other birds of interest here were Golden Oriole, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Siskin, Cuckoo and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
An interesting site where a roadbridge crosses a river. White-backed Woodpecker was found here and two pairs of Barred Warblers nearby. The same small area produced churring Nightjar, Woodcock, Corncrake, Thrush Nightingale, Grasshopper Warbler, Wryneck at the nest, Raven, Marsh Harrier, Spotted Flycatcher, nesting White Stork, Golden Oriole, Spotted Flycatcher and a pair of Red-backed Shrikes. Adult Lesser Spotted Eagle gave close views here as well. After pinpointing where exactly it was perched singing, we eventually had lasting views of River Warbler.
Siemianowka Reservoir (Lake Siemianowka)
This large area of open water was formed when the River Narew was dammed, and includes areas of marshland. During our visit the water level was lower than usual, but ideal for passage waders. We followed a sandy track running alongside railway lines for a return walking distance of ten kilometres, in hot sunshine. A colony of 30 Sand Martin nest holes were in use and Fieldfares flew past carrying food. Great Crested Grebes and Grey Herons were on the reservoir alongside Great White Egrets. Great Reed and Savis Warblers were also in this area. Common and White-winged Black Terns were outnumbered by over 40 Black Terns. A good variety of waders were found here including Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Temmincks Stint, Turnstone, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers. Common and Herring Gulls shared the site with yellow-legged gulls. A number of ducks were seen, including nine Garganey, Tufted Duck and Shoveler. The site also rewarded us with an adult White-tailed Eagle, Red-backed Shrike, Montagus Harrier, Hoopoe and five Black Storks in flight, but the most sought-after species here was Citrine Wagtail, of which we watched a pair.
Biebrza Marshes stretch for many kilometres along the River Biebrza and cover 140,000 ha to form one of Europes largest and most valuable inland wetlands. A vast area, as far as the eye can see in all directions, is covered by pools, reedbeds, sedge marshes, flood meadows, peat bogs, willow carr, flower-rich hay meadows, swamp woodland and riverine marshes. This pristine wetland habitat is internationally important for its wetland birds, including endangered Aquatic Warbler and fast declining Great Snipe. The usual annual flooding was not evident during our visit, but this made little difference to the number of species present in the southern river basin, where we spent two full days. One of the highlights here was a Greater Spotted Eagle, identified as it drifted over the marshes.
The middle of May is the peak of Polish spring and probably the best time to visit for birding. Early morning starts at around 5.30 were necessary to get the most out of each day. One of the features not emphasised earlier was the fact that birds were not only in breeding plumage but many were in full song. It was great to hear Thrush Nightingale, River Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Collared Flycatcher, Ortolan Bunting, Scarlet Rosefinch, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Golden Oriole singing. Numbers were not given in the site summaries, but the checklist shows impressive daily counts for some species. For example, on 18th May, 220 White-winged Black Terns were seen.
The Last Day
Our last few hours of birding on the final day were spent watching Garganey, displaying Black-tailed Godwits and 50 White-winged Black Terns amongst other birds on the marshes at ZAJKI. Peregrine Falcon was added to the trip list, as was Mediterranean Gull. A Lesser Spotted Eagle was the penultimate bird recorded in my log and a fabulous Hobby speeding past was the last. We headed for Warsaw at 11.30 am, tired but very satisfied with a great weeks birding.
Nick Whitehouse and Lance Degnan are given a big thank you for organising this successful trip. We are indebted to Mariusz Ostanski from Gliwice for making all the necessary trip arrangements in Poland, and many thanks go to our Polish guides Arkadiusz Szymura at Bialowieza Forest, and Jan Kowalski at Biebrza Marshes who were both very helpful.
For a complete trip list click here
(Collared Flycatcher illustration by Andy Birch)
Some recommended books
Birds of Europe
Go to the Regional Guides section of the bookstore
|Collins Bird Guide
Go to the Regional Guides section of the bookstore
|Where to Watch Birds in Europe and Russia
Brand new guide. Go to Regional Guides section of the bookstore for more details.