I was lucky enough to travel to Poland in May 2002 on a work related trip. I was due to visit Monday to Wednesday to meet a colleague in Krakow but by travelling on the Saturday the airfare cost was less than half the price. So it was decided, I would travel on Saturday, which would give me the opportunity to get in a bit of intensive birding.
I then set about researching the birds of the area but soon found that decent info was hard to come by as most UK birders fly into Warsaw and then head east towards the excellent Bialowieska Forest and Biebzra Marshes, which produce together all of the sought after Polish specialities.
However, I was short of time and this was too far for me to travel so the internet produced 2 alternatives: Tatra Mountains or Bieszczady Forest (pronounced Bees-chad-ee).
I managed via e-mail to contact Grzegorz Sitko, from the Bieszczady National Park and he arranged to meet me and show me some of the specialties of the area.
The Bieszczady Forest is an incredibly rich area in the extreme southeast of Poland, wedged between Slovakia and the Ukraine. It is part of the eastern Carpathian Mountains and a beautifully scenic, unspoilt area. It boasts mountains, alpine pastures and forests of beech and fir. The Bieszczady Mountains are not very high the highest being only 1346m but they cover an area of some 208,000ha.
The area boasts some of the most exciting wildlife in Europe with Brown Bear, Lynx, Wild Cat, Wolf, European Bison all found as well as numerous bird species which include 9 species of Woodpecker (inc. Syrian, White-backed and Three-toed), Black Stork, Ural and Pygmy Owls, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatcher and both Lesser spotted and Golden Eagles.
May 11th: Flew from Gatwick at 10.50 to Krakow arriving at 14.20 local time. Picked up hire car from AVIS and then headed southeast towards Bieszczady. It was about 4 hours before arriving at Ustryzki Dolne. On arrival I met with Przemyslaw Wasiak (Przemek) a colleague of Grzegorz's. Przemek had arranged accommodation for me in Biological offices in UD. It was basic but fine with shower facilities and cost 100Zloty for 2 nights (@£16.70) - excellent value.
At 03.30 the next morning I met with Przemek and his girlfriend Kate and we drove into the valley towards Lutowiska where the education centre for the National Park is located. We walked for several hours in the park around Czarna Dolne. Przemek is an expert in tracking large mammals and quickly found some old Brown Bear tracks - most impressive with the huge claw marks clearly visible. Birds were also much in evidence with several Corncrakes
calling at close range and numerous River Warblers
- some allowing great views. We walked for some 5 hours and during the walk encountered more tracks of Brown Bear, Wolf, European Bison, Pine Marten droppings as well as seeing many Red Deer and some Roe Deer. Przemek also took me to see a Beaver dam which was a most impressive structure but on the way we were lucky enough to see a Wolf on a hillside - a really lucky chance sighting! Other birds noted included: 1 Quail
and Icterine Warblers
singing, 1 Nutcracker
, 3 Hawfinch
and 2 Golden Oriole
. We also saw many Mountain Frogs and Carpathian Newts I was reliably informed.
Later, in the afternoon having had a rest and got some provisions, I met Grzegorz at the Information centre at Lutowiska. While waiting for him, I found many more calling Corncrake
, some Red-backed Shrikes
and 1 distant Black Stork
, followed by a second much closer soaring Black Stork and a female Red-footed Falcon
(very scarce in the area).
Having met with Grzegorz we dove further into the National Park following the course of the river, which marks the border with the Ukraine. One field in this area, which Grzegorz told me is an excellent area for Lesser Spotted Eagles, was literally alive with Corncrakes
and we were fortunate enough to see 2 of these skulking birds very well.
I had supplied Grzegorz with a "wish list" and he duly obliged with one of the first on the list by arriving at a site with a fantastic singing male Collared Flycatcher
. It allowed superb views as it sang and wing-flicked and frequently visited a nest box. We tried for ages in vain to look for various Woodpecker species in sites where Grey-headed, White-backed and Three-toed are regular but they were not obliging for us today. March/April is apparently a better time for seeing these often elusive species and also a good time to see Hazel Grouse, which are actually quite common in the forest.
In the evening we visited a site where Ural Owl are frequently seen and armed with a tape Grzegorz proceeded to see if we could get a response from this one of the most sought after and difficult to see Owl species in Europe. We were not disappointed with an almost immediate response with Ural Owl
answering the tape. Then a fantastic huge Ural Owl flew into the nearest tree right at the side of the road, allowing excellent views at some 20yards in excellent light - it was still only 20.15 local time. The excellent views were a splendid end to a fantastic day.
The next morning I overslept! and met Grzegorz an hour later than planned at 04.45. We headed out of Ustryzki Dolne and went to a site where Pygmy Owls are known to occur. Despite having a tape we had no luck and again March/April is probably a better time but getting there an hour earlier would have helped. It was a very foggy morning but trying various sites near UD we notched up White Storks
, River Warblers
, several Marsh Warblers
, a beautiful caudatus Long-ailed Tit
(white-headed) and several Corncrakes. Finally we heard a rather binocular shy Grey-headed Woodpecker
I then had to end my birding in order to drive to Krakow but on the way just before entering the town of Lesko a quick couple of stops produced Honey Buzzard
and a superb Lesser Spotted Eagle
For their services and guidance, which was invaluable especially given the short time I had available, I paid 500 Zloty (@ £83) and they are keen to encourage this type of visit if others are interested in visiting the National Park. Both speak fluent English, which is really helpful.
Krakow incidentally is a fantastic city and a long weekend encompassing both the Bieszczady and Krakow would be an excellent trip for anyone.
For more details contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or go direct to Grzegorz at email@example.com
or phone them directly on 00 48 608 765 40.