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  NE Poland at March 31st to April 4th 2006

  Bialowieza Primeval Forest

  Bieszczady Mountains

NE Poland at March 31st to April 4th 2006

Participants: Hugh Harrop (Head of Shetland Wildlife Tours), Julian Hunt, Richard Andrews, Craig Holden, Dawn Russell, Alex Carlisle, Hywel Maggs, Alan Bull

105 bird species recorded.

Locations visited: Warsaw, areas in and around the Bialowieza forest, Siemianowka lake and surrounding wetlands.

Day 1: The participants travelled to Warsaw on two different flights, one operated by British Airways, the other by Easyjet. Travel to Warsaw was smooth and hassle-free and once at the airport we were met by our guide and driver, Waldemar Krasowski (Waldy).

Waldy proved to be a superb guide and we would recommend him to anybody wishing to visit Poland!

Once the nine-seater mini-bus had been collected, we were on our way, driving the 240km to the Bialowieza forest in NE Poland. This journey lasted approximately 4.5 hours and along the way, Crested Larks were encountered just outside Warsaw, as well as many Hooded Crows, Rooks, White Wagtails, Magpies, Starlings and Black-headed Gulls. En route we stopped off in Fidest forest, where we saw our first Black and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers, as well as Common Cranes and other more common woodland species, such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Robin, Blackbird and Blue and Great Tits. More unexpected (in the centre of the forest) were Black Redstart and Yellowhammers. Our first raptor - a male Hen Harrier, apparently Poland's rarest Harrier species behind Marsh and Montagu's, also flies over. On arrival at Bialowieza, a small town in the centre of the Bialowieza primeval forest, we were taken to our guesthouse and enjoyed our first taste of Poland, with traditional soup and a pasta dish. Early 'trip ticks' include Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Collared Dove. Shortly after, a Grey-headed Woodpecker was heard calling from nearby within the forest and a Grey Partridge was heard in the adjacent fields. After dinner we went to Hotel Zubrowka to enjoy the local night-life and a few drinks. Zubr - a Polish beer, was a favourite, but also 'Zubrowka' vodka bottled with a blade of grass that Bison have supposedly urinated on ;-)

Day 2: An early start at 6 a.m., with most participants thankfully feeling fresh after the night before. At 6.30 we are met by Waldy, who drives us into the forest, at the edge of the strict reserve for a 4 km walk before breakfast. More Black and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers are recorded, along with Great Spotted Woodpecker, Northern Long-tailed Tits, Marsh Tit, Hawfinch, Black Redstart, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Common Redpolls amongst the more common Woodland Species. After breakfast, we were taken back into the forest to look for more Woodpeckers. The weather is surprisingly mild, with sunny skies and little wind. In the open clearings we find White Storks and a Great Grey Shrike along the roadside. Common Buzzards are soaring over the forest and Yellowhammers are singing close by. Overhead, small flocks of Cranes are noisily flying over, calling with their distinctive 'electric Moorhen' call and many Geese species, namely Greylag, White-fronted and Bean are also making their presence known. Walking through the forest, we hear several drumming Woodpeckers and the 'yaffle' of distant Grey-headed and Green Woodpeckers. Whilst listening out for Grey-headed Woodpecker, the 'trumpet' call of Northern Bullfinch is heard and a male duly pops up to be admired. A brief Tree Sparrow is also seen. Our efforts were then concentrated on finding White-backed Woodpecker, a species new to most participants in the group. We focussed our attention on areas within the forest known by Waldy to have had the most recent sightings. Many Black, Middle-spotted and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were logged, but the highlight was three Hazel Hens flushed from the forest edge. We were also treated to superb views of our first Three-toed Woodpecker, a Grey-headed and a Black Woodpecker - all on the same tree! A distant Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was also heard drumming. Lunch was spent out in the field and during the afternoon we travelled to a boardwalk within the forest, between villages Budy and Teremiski, where we hoped to encounter our first White-back. More Black and Middle-spots, along with Common Redpolls, Siskins, Northern Long-tailed Tits, Willow and Marsh Tit and Eastern European Nuthatches, which are essentially whiter on the underparts than our British birds, but still no White-backed. Shortly before dinner at 5, we have time to stop off at Wysokie Bagno, a peat bog with several boreal species, to look and listen for Pygmy Owls. Unusually, there was no sign at this site. After dinner we travelled to Cerlonka, a village within the forest, to listen for Tengmalm's Owls. Under the moon-lit sky and calm conditions, we hear our first bird, although distant, but a close Tawny Owl makes its inquisitive presence known.

Day 3: Another dawn rise and we travel back to the forest, to one of the areas previously searched on day 2, to look for White-backed Woodpecker. This time we are in luck and we have extremely good views of a single bird in the trees above us for at least half an hour. After breakfast we travelled to the northern edge of the forest to Siemianowka lake, in the hope of encountering some wetland bird species. This was easily done and our first stop at a small fishing lake produced Green Sandpiper and an adult White-tailed Eagle. Further along the track, another stop proves good for raptors, with many Common Buzzards, two Goshawks and a flyover Marsh Harrier noted. Lapwings are displaying in the fields, a singing Woodlark was 'new' and a large finch-flock contained hundreds of Chaffinches and a few remaining Bramblings, all under the careful watch of a Great Grey Shrike. Once we arrived at the main lake, a vast expanse of water surrounded by reed-bed, we noticed at least six White-tailed Eagles hunting around the Black-headed Gull colonies and at least three Marsh Harriers quartering the reed-beds. A flock of duck on the icy water contained at least four Smew, many Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Mallard, Goldeneye and Goosander. A dead Coot was also a 'trip-tick', as was the first Polish Wheatear of the year. A lookout tower over-looking the reed-bed provided ample height to search the reeds and creeks and amongst the Grey Herons we soon pick up three Great White Egrets, two Cranes and a few White Storks. On the way back, we stop off on a ridge-way near to Narewka village and are fortunate enough to hear Pygmy Owl calling. Once we had followed the sound of the mobbing Blackbirds, we soon find the male sitting in the top of a spruce tree above us. After dinner, half of the group travelled back to the site of the Pygmy Owl for more views and sounds, but were soon distracted by a calling Tengmalm's Owl! This was much closer than the previous sounds on day 2 and it isn't long before brief flight views (unfortunately without a torch) are obtained. A fantastic end to a busy day.

Day 4: Before breakfast, having seen most of the target Woodpeckers expected within the forest, we turn our attention to Nutcracker. We take a short walk to Kosy Most, on the edge of the strict reserve where we see many Hawfinches and good views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A Hazel Hen was also heard calling from within the forest. Along the way, we found evidence (opened nut kernels) of Nutcrackers having been recently in the area, but fail to see or hear any. A Swallow and Chiffchaff are seen though and a Tree Pipit was heard to sing around one of the clearings. On arrival back at base, a Serin flew over. After a late breakfast, we travelled to Hajnowka town in search of Syrian Woodpecker. This small area of silver birch is known to have at one pair, although we were out of luck on this occasion. Many Woodlarks were singing around us and amongst the Mistletoe we found a roosting Long-eared Owl. A Lesser Spotted and a Grey-headed Woodpecker were also seen. Overhead, many flocks of Storks and Cranes are migrating over, along with our first Black Stork. The sunny skies then turned to heavy Thunder and Lightning, which 'dampened' our efforts slightly. On the way back to Bialowieza we stopped off at one of the White-backed Woodpecker sites and enjoyed more views of Black, Three-toed and Grey-headed Woodpecker (along with the now 'common' woodland species of Nuthatch and Hawfinch). Also along the way, we stopped at Topillo to look at two Whooper Swans. Grey-headed Woodpecker and a small flock of Waxwings were also found. The thunder storm had moved on by dusk and we ventured out once more for our last effort at 'owling'. The Pygmy Owls at Narewka are once again active and courtship in the trees above us results in copulation occurring! Once dark enough, the Tengmalm's Owl is once again heard, but very distantly. Woodcock, Snipe and Gadwall are also heard flying over.

Day 5: An early rise to drive back to Warsaw for our flights back to the UK. No stops are made, but a Cormorant seen from the van becomes our 105th species of the trip.
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After dinner, we travelled back to the site of the Pygmy Owl for more views and sounds of it, but were soon distracted by a calling Tengmalms Owl!
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