rare European birds in Poland’s primeval forests and unspoilt marshes
Bird Holidays first visited Poland in 1995 and have returned with groups several times since. Much has changed during that time, particularly the improved standards of the accommodation and food which now rates squarely alongside that found in the UK. Thankfully the rural landscapes are rather unchanged and we can still look forward to pristine habitats that are extremely bird-rich.
Our tour is centred in two areas of the north-east of the country where agricultural practices are less developed than in Western Europe. This provides a glimpse back in time to what our own countryside may have looked like a hundred years ago. Firstly we spend a few days at the Bialowieza Forest, sections of which are regarded as holding some of Europe’s last stands of virgin forest. The predominant trees in the primeval forest are Hornbeam, Pendunculate Oak, Small-leaved Lime, Field Maple, and Norwegian Spruce, with much dying and fallen timber left to decay naturally, enhancing the diversity of the forest ecosystem. This rich habitat holds abundant flycatchers, woodpeckers, raptors and warblers. We then move north-west to the Biebrza basin where the marshes have storks, raptors, three marsh tern species and the globally threatened Aquatic Warbler. Being spring, all the birds will be in their best plumages and many will be singing and displaying, adding to the amazing avian experience on show.
For those with an interest in mammals, we should see Elk as well as several deer species, but we would need a lot of luck to get a glimpse of a Wolf. The forest at Bialowieza is the centre for a re-introduction programme for the European Bison, and we may even see some of these massive beasts in the wild as we drive through the more remote parts of the forest.
This is a leisurely trip, with no necessity for pre-breakfast birding. The spring days are long and we will have plenty of time to pace ourselves and enjoy good looks at the birds and wildlife.
Leaving behind the wide boulevards of Warsaw, it is a three and a half hour journey to the Bialowieza Forest, so we will stop occasionally on the way to obtain our first taste of the Polish countryside and its varied bird life.
Next morning a visit to the Palace Park and nearby Podolony meadows will give us a chance for our first real birding. Songsters will include Thrush Nightingale, Common Rosefinch, Marsh, River, Icterine and Great Reed Warblers as well as a profusion of commoner birds such as Common Redstart, Black Redstart and Serin; all garden birds in these parts!
The Bialowieza Forest is wild and ancient, straddling the border with Belarus, and our two full days will allow us to explore the various woodland trails. Each different type of woodland has its own rich birdlife. Typical species include both species of stork, Honey Buzzard and Lesser Spotted Eagle whilst no fewer than nine species of woodpecker include Wryneck, Three-toed, White-backed, Middle Spotted, Grey-headed and Black. The woodland margins hold River, Icterine, Barred and Marsh Warblers together with Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Thrush Nightingale. We may encounter Nutcracker and Pygmy or Tengmalm’s Owls, all seen on previous tours. With luck we may come across some of the Bison which inhabit the forest or perhaps a Pine Marten.
One morning we will enjoy a guided walk in the ancient “strict reserve” which will produce many Collared Flycatchers, the males newly arrived and displaying, together with Pied and lovely Red-breasted Flycatchers in full song. The 20th century history of this area is very interesting and, indeed, sobering. Not even the vast forests here escaped the ravages of the world wars, as our local guide will explain.
After breakfast on day four, we depart for the Siemianowka Reservoir where we will spend several hours. Breeding Citrine Wagtails are found here together with migratory waders and terns. Unlike many reservoirs this one is shallow, a fact which greatly increases its value to wildlife, and there should be a large number of waterbirds present, including Garganey, Eurasian Bittern and many more. The farmland surrounding the reservoir holds Ortolan Buntings, Montagu’s Harriers and Blue-headed Wagtails.
Later in the day we will visit a nearby lake which is known for its White-tailed Eagles and then press on to the Biebrza River basin where we will stay for a further four nights at a quaint rural hotel. This hotel is newly constructed in the authentic style of an old manor house, and is located inside the Biebrza National Park itself and so within easy reach of the marshes.
The Biebrza Marshes stretch for many kilometres and host an abundance of birds. Notable amongst these are an internationally important population of Aquatic Warblers, plus both Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Black Stork and Montagu’s Harrier, all of which breed here. Other interesting species include Corncrake, Spotted Crake, Common Crane, Great Egret, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Gull, Black, White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Penduline Tit and Savi’s Warblers. Elk roam the marshes and European Beavers build their lodges in the flooded woodlands. If water levels are right, White-winged Terns may be in their thousands and great photographic opportunities await.
Whilst we are in the marshes, we may take a short drive to the village of Tykocin, where an early morning visit could produce singing White-spotted Bluethroats, as well as Syrian Woodpecker and breeding Bee-eaters, the latter species at their northern limits of their distribution in this part of Poland.
Our last morning in Biebrza will be spent close to the hotel consolidating on views and photography, before reluctantly we take the two hour drive back to Warsaw, in good time for our mid-afternoon flight back to London.
CLIMATE AND PACE
May in this part of Poland is usually warm and dry, although the odd shower is likely. Early morning walks in the depths of the forest can be quite cold. Breakfast will normally be taken at about 7am. Our walks are usually short, less than a mile, although a longer walk will be taken as we saunter out into the middle of the marshes whilst at Biebrza. This region is mostly flat, with no significant uphill walks.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with three nights at the Zubrowka Best Western, Bialowieza, and four nights at the Dwor Dobarz Lodge in the Biebrza Marshes. Both hotels are of a good standard and all rooms are en suite.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 12th, ending with breakfast on 19th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, transport throughout by minibus, reserve entrance fees, guided visit to the ‘strict reserve’ in Bialowieza and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Warsaw using the scheduled services of LOT. Outbound flight departs mid-morning; return flight arrives back late afternoon. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
Photos to follow....
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