Poland 15th- 25th June.....
Biebrza (a little bit of) Gdansk for Corpus Christi and Swinoujscie on the German border - via Trains, Plane but no Automobile.....
Leaving Biebrza Marshes today after 2.5 days at the Bartlawisoz hotel which is situated right on the edge of the National Park about 2km from the village of Goniadz. The hotel is low-rise nestling in amongst woodland and serves both Polish Lager and specialises in smoked meats and local fish caught in the Park so if you like sieving your fish through zillions of bones then Pike is just the thing for you. The smell from the on-site smoker is akin to the daily brewing aroma from Batham’s up at the Delph.
What i would emphasise from the start is that if you wish to explore all or a lot of the known locales for species and notably the 7km boardwalk where the Aquatic Warblers are at their densest then a car is a necessity as a taxi would be a non-starter and public transport is non-existent. Bike hire was available at either £2.50 per hour or the excellent rate of £7.50 for the whole day dawn to dusk. The downside is that all the bike trails start about 20-30km across the river in the Polish hinterland so i ended up doing most of my birding within 500m of the hotel save for a 2km walk to a tower hide across the river. I also have never rented a bike that doesn’t offer a puncture repair kit or tools with a spare inner tube and the hotel did not. I have a morbid fear of breaking down in the boonies and being stranded without any recourse to rescue.....
I am treating this trip as a pre-cursor to not only Poland but to this part of Eastern Europe where there are relatively wild habitats and far less intensive farming pressure. A return is already planned with a mate who not only sells cars but just loves driving. Indeed he visited on a spur-of-the-moment 5 day trip only 2 weeks ago with his girlfriend - something which made our eyes narrow so we have changed our plans in order not to replicate or emulate so NO obligatory visits to either holocaust death-camps or drinking in overpriced salt-mines! He did comment on the value for money car-hire at just under 70 quid for 5 days and fuel cheapish.
We are travelling by very reasonably-priced trains in 200-300km chunks.
Polish trains are modern, roomy, clean and travel at about 60mph so it is sedately and allows you to bird from the windows - certainly by eye if not with binoculars. One thing you will NOT see from either the windows or much of anywhere in Poland is LITTER. I am not saying it is non-existent but there is hardly a speck and i can honestly say i never saw a plastic bag in 200km.
So far i have had 95 spp of bird including from the train from Warsaw>Bialystock and from Bialystock>Goniadz all but 2 (Rook And Black Kite) have been seen on in and around the Hotel marsh which is pretty good seeing as i am only recording birds moving in and over the area. Also considering peak movement has finished i saw very few waders (Lapwing, Green Sandpiper) and only Grey Heron and Little Egret from that group. 2 other targets for a lot of birders who visit the area are Woodpeckers and Owls but these are outside the scope of my trip for a number of reasons.
Another reason for visiting at this time of year is specifically to see species that i have only ever encountered in the UK as Autumn vagrants (mainly on Scilly) during the 1980’s as first-winter / juveniles and non-singing in non-breeding plumage.
Notable species so far include:
Hooded Crow - there seems to be both morphs here.
Raven - seen a number of times.
Marsh Harrier - everywhere. There is so much suitable habitat the breeding numbers must be in the tens of thousands.
White Stork - Poland has an estimated 1/4 of the European population so that is a minimum of 75k pairs.
Goshawk - being chased, by all things, by a pair of Wood Pigeon but tbf it was a nob-adult bird.
Common Rosefinch - plenty of males still singing.
Golden Oriole - a few seen with singing males at 0400.
Black Kite - a single so fa at Bialyostock.
Fieldfare - plenty and nice to see on the breeding grounds.
Marsh Warbler - only one head so far again at Bialyostock.
Serin - the tinkling song characteristic of the Med is also here.
Cuckoo - seen and heard everywhere. The habitat and associated species is something that has been ‘farmed away’ over in the UK - no ruminating or excuses, climate-warming blah blah.....it is farming that is slowly but surely killing the British countryside.
Spotted Eagle - single birds seen on several days. I am happy with my ID but i am not saying that i ID every one positively.....so i don’t!
Lesser Spotted Eagle - several on 3 days. Again comparison and plumage features allows ID of most i saw.
Thrush Nightingale - present around the hotel and although skulky they do appear out in the open.....briefly!
Blyth’s Reed Warbler - thankfully the song is distinctive enough to not have to bother with a short primary projection and there are related species for comparison. Several birds heard and one seen thus far.
Tree Sparrow - noted because i seldom see them in the UK.
Black Tern - parties and individuals seen over the marshes often calling.
River Warbler - a singing bird or possibly 2 on several days.
White Wagtail - unexpectedly there are dark-mantled birds like we get.
Kingfisher - breeding pair hunting and calling avidly by the hotel.
White-tailed Eagle - a most impressive adult seen on 2 consecutive days slowly circling over the marsh. An alabaster-White tail, very pale head and custard-Yellow bill.....could have been the same individual.
Yellow Wagtail - quite a few heard and seen, i haven’t assigned the ones i photographed yet as i haven’t looked them up.
Montague’s Harrier - a male mobbing a Lesser Spotted Eagle was a nice sight.
Hawfinch - 3 flyover birds calling whilst having an evening meal nearly ended up with me regurgitating food for the bride!
Aquatic Warbler - i am not in immediately suitable habitat but a singing bird at the base of a stunted scrub-covered Pine, 2 calling birds and the arse-end of a flyer is all i have managed to date. We travel to the German border after Gdansk where there is another stab at a second much smaller population of Europe’s most threatened migrant species. Only 20k pairs breed and the Southern colony is said to be part of the ‘genetically distinct’ Pomeranian population.....
Little Gull - single adult early 0500 one morning.
Citrine Wagtail - several males and a few females noted.
Great Reed Warbler - a lively male cranking out his song and others present along the River Biebrza locally.
Bearded Tit - pairs of juveniles noted.
Hoopoe - one seen.
Common Tern - single calling as it flew past.
Black Redstart - seen in all areas.
Great White Egret - single from the train en-route to Gdansk.
The folk are friendly, helpful and like a beer. The females are a varied lot and my theory as to why Mistletoe appears to be so common in Poland is that it is it is virtually never harvested and rarely used.....
Good Birding -
Attached: the only Cormorant so far encountered;)
Great report Laurie.
Really enjoyed reading that.
When’s the next instalment?
Leaving Gdansk at 8:30 this morning and spending the weekend down at the German border site so will post Sunday night:t:
Doing this travelling and the distances means there are 3 days when most of the usable time is spent on the move and although we could have got night trains i wanted to see the Polish countryside and whatever birds from the train. Compared to the ‘bullet’ we took last year from Cordoba to Algeciras at 280kph the 100 kph seems like a fast walk but it is how they do things over here.
Those bins look like they have a few tales to tell!
A good account so far Laurie! Birding from trains could be a good thread, reminded me of my c60 mile trip South almost to the Croatian border from Budapest a couple of years ago. Saw some great birds and got a retrospective “lifer” en-route. Don’t know if the carriages were similar?, but one could pull the window down, arms resting on glass and “rat-a-tat” at will. :t:....and he didn’t mind.:-O
Hi all -
Now in Swinouje with 2 full days.
Not an early start due to the traveling ystda on not only the longest day but my girlfriend’s birthday and she didn’t getto have her first beer until 1830 but we made up for itB (:
Missed Icterine Warbler off the list with a single adult seen on a mid-distance shrub at Biebrza. A handful of species seen since then and looking forward to adding more today and tomorrow. The area looks superb on Google Earth. The free ferry is only 500 yards from our hotel and is 10 mins from the Nbr #5 bus that goes to the reserve area:t: We have some unused Euros so intend to invade Germany with them at some stage as the nearest town is 2 stops on the train...
Re: the binoculars.
It is one of several pairs that i have - when you get to a certain age you do tend to acquire them. These are my go to when crepuscular light-gathering, in addition to daytime use, is required. Heavier than the Nitro-filled Opticrons i use day to day now but if they could speak:eek!:
They are Zeiss West 7x42 BGAT and i bought them for the eye-watering sum of £400 back in 1980 to make the first of my annual visits to the Scillies (that lasted until 1989). I also twitched extensively during this Golden decade so just picking them up brings back memories. When i arrived on Scilly the model had only just come out and everybody wanted to look through them at literally anything that moved. The heat was taken off of me the second week as a group of upstarts had arrived on St Marys to mooch around with David Hunt (pre Tigergate of course) the 3 Stooges being..........Peter Grant, Lars (Lurch) Jonsson and Killian Mullarney - all sporting a pair! Needless to say i became a member...or did they;) of a very exclusive club and i had a nice discussion over the merits of them. Lars Svensson was also with them and kindly signed my copy of his Ringing guide:t:
To finish - as breakfast and birding calls.....
Last year a non-birding mate, who works for a subsidiary of Zeiss, clocked them and said he could get them serviced for nothing but they will be over 30 years old. I said that when i bought these it was a lifetime guarantee under normal use. Serial details were given, duly wrapped and transported by DHL to the optical glass Mecca or will it be Valhalla of Oberkochen aka ZiessTown. 6 weeks later they were returned with new eye-caps (the originals had long since perished and one of the replacements unscrewed a week later!). New rain-guard, new neck lanyard and a box of Ziess goodies including 200 lens wipes. All gratis and all i had to do was write a couple of hundred words on what i had done, where i had been and what i have seen through them - you could imagine how difficult a 200 word limit was:-O It was for possible inclusion in their house magazine at some stage.
Penning it reminded me of Rutger Hauer’s dying scene in Bladerunner:
‘i’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’:eek!:;)
All the best for now and good birding -
Great stuff Laurie!
We may have crossed paths on Scilly in the late 80s - I was still at school and went in the last week of October for a couple of years - highlights being Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Upland Sand, Eye-browed Thrush.
My bins back then were a dubious pair of Bresser's that didn't last long and confirmed my pathway to Leicas as soon as I started working, which have never since let me down (the bins that is - Leica scopes are another story!) I do still have my scope from those days - a straight grey drainpipe Kowa - which Franco grabbed out of my hands to scope the 2BGW!
Interested to hear more about the birding in Poland - an area I've long wanted to visit, but probably difficult to sell to my non-birding Home Minister!
I still have a straight-thru drainpipe Kowa.....and a 45degree one - the latter is still a great scope and i still use it for low-light jaunts c/w a superb 22x wide-angle lens:t:
Our paths must have crossed as i did the Scillies 81-89:eek!:
If ever there was a Purple-patch.....decade that defined a generation of birders, particularly if you were both twitching and Scillies-ing then that was the one. Akin to the birders equivalent of the 60’s e.g. you had to have been there:t:
I did indeed also bump into Franco for the Two-barred Gughish Warbler as it came to be known. Altho i knew more ‘of’ him than know him if you know what i mean. I hadn’t seen him for a year or so but as soon as he saw me he wanted to look through my 7x42’s as there still wasn’t many pairs being used. I don’t think the take-up was notable as a lot of birders gave too much priority to them only being 7x without balancing the superb optical clarity of the optics and the light-gathering potential. Even now in relatively closed-canopy woodland they pay off by allowing detail in shadows and silhouettes when other specs would struggle...
I am now back and will post part 2 with the addition to the annotated list - it is no Jos Stratford but it’s all relative. I am at present still recovering from a pulled back that gave me some trouble and am still sporting swollen ankles from our biting friends at Biebrza:-C
A 2hr 20min flight does not leave you with jet-lag we have train-lag but more of that later.
Bi for now and good birding:t:
PS nowt wrong with this report, sums up Polish birding just fine. Happy that you are enjoying East European birding .... just go for real style next time and come to Lithuania instead of Poland 😄😄😄
I bump into a birder occasionally at Kenfig Pool who splits his time between South Wales, and Poland. He clearly enjoys his time there. I've only been once and it wasn't a birding trip. My memories are of incredibly friendly people, a beautiful city, and great beer.
Really enjoyed reading your report Laurie. I certainly need to venture out of Krakow next time.
Thank you for the kind comments:t:
I fully intend to Jos - the Baltic region in Spring is grossly underwatched imo and i have been as guilty as anybody of heading for the Med but the East now beckons. I am always on a downer when back in Blighty and particularly my Bird-denuded Triagle in the West Midlands:-C We have however been anxious to repeat our trip to Georgia last September and yesterday the Bride, wasting no time, managed to book an outward-bound Luton to Kutaisi flight for 40 quid on the 11th Sep so we will be watching the return date like a hawk.....Batumi beckons:eek!:
Good birding -
I will say from the off that i did not break any records with my trip total adding only another 20 species to the final tally. We took a 5 hour train to the home of Solidarnosc at Gdansk for 2 nights, one complete day, on a non-birding hiatus that coincided with the religious festival of Corpus Christi. Happily for me i wasn't bothered about active birding due to having pulled my back bending over to pick up my rucksack and still hobbling on my heavily swollen ankles.
Prior to a gardener giving us a lift (for a tenner) to the railway station i birded the marsh from the wooden jetty for 5 hours picking up a calling female Tawny Owl en-route. Early hunting Marsh Harriers, hawking Black Terns, fluting Orioles and the trips' only Hoopoe is not my usual early morning fayre so no complaints here. This would be my last chance until Swinouje for the reedbed specialities and i reaquainted myself with close Great Reed Warbler, several Blyth's Reed Warblers, a couple of Sprossers, juvenile Reedlings and the first Common Tern of the trip.
I will reiterate - transport is essential as walking is limited by river crossings and at this time of year so is..........some sort of Mosquito repellant! I am not normally over-affected by them but the Bride is and packs a net for over the bed although in areas prone to them i cannot see why mesh covers are not put over the windows? It is important to close windows etc when turning the light on at night as that is the signal that the blood banks are in-situ. I now realise where i got all the bites, some 50+ in total. The last afternoon i crossed the bridge to a distant tower hide that gives you extensive views over the marshes (that area anyway) and what looks like habitat that is being managed for Aquatic Warblers as they prefer vegetation less than a metre. I decided to walk through about 1/4 of a mile of this diagonally to the river gaining views of several birds a couple of calling individuals and the arse end of a flyer plus Yellow Wagtails and a pair of presumably breeding Green Sandpipers. Long trousers and socks would have pre-empted having days of pain but hey-ho. Management work at Biebrza has shown that regenerated meadow habitat can boost breeding AW's by upto 20%.
Whilst waiting for the Gdansk juvenile Black Redstarts were being fed with alba Wagtails and Spotted Flickers noted. The train ride was sedate and uneventful but with plenty of Marsh Harriers quartering damp meadows were White Storks strutted their stuff the pressure on with hungry mouths to feed. More Ravens, 2 more Cranes and the only Great White Egret of the trip added variety. We had a nice day in Gdansk Old Quarter listening to street bands a belter of a Pizza because if i see a pukka stone oven i have to try a slice at least. More Polish craft lager toasted a handful of new additions to the trip list namely -
Lesser Black Back - are they the Baltic 'fuscus'?
and plenty of Black Redstarts who seemed to be singing from every Church spire.
Friday the 22nd saw us catching another train with one change to the coastal town of Swinoujie which took a total of 10 hours. The train station stops on the side with the German border only about 6kms away but we had to get a 5 minute ferry to Swinoujie town centre - they operate every 10 minutes and are freeeee!
More species added from Cormorants and a passing Common Gull to 2 adult Red Kites soaring on the thermals.
Two complete days does not give a lot of time particularly as the Bride wanted to cycle into Germany for a few beers on the Sunday so a chunk of Saturday had to be spent at the flagship reserve back on the other side in the area known as 'the 44 islands'. This area is large with a central core of open water and reedbeds c/w a tower hide and a series of paths of various allowable access depending on whether they had been mown or a tractor had been down there.....this year! By June a lot of the wet fields suitable for passage waders etc has gone so you are left with vegetation that is 2-3 metres where all the key species in fact most stuff skulks, flits, calls and sh1ts. This led for some frustrating birding. I had got the bus which was pennies and spent nearly 6 hours in baking Sun but a light breeze gave welcome respite and kept the Mozzies off. The flagship species is the Aquatic Warbler which here is classed as part of the 'Pomeranian population' and according to what i have read is genetically distinct altho i do not have any details and it is not a subspecies afaik. I once again clicked with the species both calling and flight views and a display just above the reeds. I have never twitched one or clicked with a Marazion bird so compared to a little stab at Biebrza i was more than happy. Plenty of Sedge Warblers for comparison allowed me to get my eye in to a paler more Yellowy bird and i found easily distinguished when in flight with its 'humbug' braces on the mantle. I went off-piste for a couple of hours down tracks that in the centre were 3-4 feet but easily moved through - this left vegetation upto 8-9 foot either side of me leading to a degree of degraded spatial awareness. I also fell over half a dozen times due to the uneveness of the terrain which led to me scouring the ground ahead like a Marine on point in those Vietnam movies checking for trip-wires and sharpened sticks! Plenty of Blyth's and Great Reed Warblers in addition to Reed and Sedge - no Cetti's as they don't get them. New species appeared from bits of scrub e.g. Linnet, Great Crested Grebe, Whimbrel and Tufted Duck but the quality was also there with 6x White-winged Black Tern and a stonking male Red-backed Shrike. Plenty of stuff already note elsewhere e.g. Marsh Harriers, Beardies, Black Tern, wild Greylags and several Lesser Spotted Eagles. The local Konik ponies are smart looking and i am used to seeing them locally as a small group are used for grazing on a nearby reserve. Although i didn't actually see a Beaver there were quite a lot of Birches with their characteristic chisel markings and i saw two lodges that had been constructed.
Mission accomplished it was back to the ferry, food and it was fast approaching Beer o'clock.
Sunday was more genteel with the hire of 2 bikes at about 7 quid each and we set off for Germany mid-morning. Newbies were Wood Warbler, Firecrest and Coal Tit.
Monday and it was time for another 10 hour train ride back to Warsaw after watching a dozen Cormorants 'kettling' like raptors from the ferry something which i have never seen over here. The train journey was not as interesting as others had been with 10 hours of fields, wet meadows, woods ad infinitum. Poland is a lot more undulating and flatter than i thought with high ground restricted to the South e.g. Carpathians, Tatra and a couple of other places which are a trip in themselves. 'Pole' means field so Poland is aptly named.
4 more species namely Collared Dove, Corn Bunting, Stock Dove and Turtle Dove bought the final tally to 116 and that as they say was that. A few beers and a meal in Warsaw and then up at 3 for a 4 0/c taxi on Tuesday morning meant touching down at Birmingham at 0820 donning my unused waterproof as we landed in a monsoon. An hour and a half later saw us devouring the Breakfast of Kings in the local Wetherspoons in Stourbridge and about 5 hours kip until mid-afternoon catching up after train-lag.
I enjoyed the trip but would do it differently next and spend time in the old-growth forest at Bialoweza in order to click with the specialised groups such as Woodpeckers and Owls. This will be done with a birding buddy not on a pushbike. Considering the 2 groups mentioned and very few waders i didn't do too badly but i see what i see finding and identifying stuff for myself which is what i find satisfying on my trips. Looking at my field guide and species that i thought would be jumping out at me e.g. Wryneck, Bluethroat etc just don't unless you go to suitable areas. A lot of Poland, except for the groups mentioned, is the same stuff as us with an Eastern bias for some species. For example Citrine Wagtail had only just started breeding in Poland when the 2nd edition was published and Greenish Warbler was on the Polish rare bird site with a singing individual in a Gdansk park before my departure. What is does have is numbers of our birds that are still common something which has now gone in the UK and this is down to our industrial farming and too tidy demeanour imho. Having said that - the Poles do like to strim it appears to be their equivalent of the Brits washing their cars on a Sunday morning. Strimmers are responsible for a lot of degraded habitat in urban areas here in the UK and i cannot stand them and the wanton destruction they cause to invertebrates and wild flowers.
I found the Polish people kind and helpful. The food, for us, was nothing to write home about and i have had my fill of smoked things and pickled produce.....particularly for breakfast! We cook and eat a lot of Mediterranean style food so we were grateful to get an Aubergine dish during our stay. I will finish by saying that Poland has a population of about 38 million people and 98% of the countrys' residents are Polish (the other 2% must be over here) they are hard-working busy industrious people in a country that is IT savvy. It was refreshing to visit a country that leaves you in no doubt as to where you are and has not developed places where you do not feel Polish - i will leave it at that.....
Good Birding -
Distant at Biebrza but pencilled in as a Greater...
You just know you are in Poland when you see these - it hosts 1/4 of Europes' White Storks...
Never far out of sight.....or sound at Biebrza were Pool Frogs. The species has now been accepted as a ‘probable’ native species from bone samples and is part of a Breckland ‘reintroduction’ scheme. With good timing here is a link to todays BBC Radio 4’s Living World covering it and associated stuff:t:
A few more from Biebrza including a Cat that thought it was a Lynx...
Good stuff, Laurie, somewhere else to visit!
A few more.....
Photographically the trip was disappointing.
Apart from the larger raptors and the more common passerines i didn't get a single acceptable picture of any of the specialists and skulkers! I tried believe me but stuff was so elusive. Plenty of songs and calls but just fleeting glimpses that were just about acceptable with binoculars. I always try for good views first before photographing species. I also had a higher than normal % of species only recorded once - about 25% when 10-15% is my norm:C
I took my two Bridge cameras on this trip because i find them very handy for snapping when mooching particularly when set on 'burst'. I have 2x Panasonic Lumix an older FZ72 and an upgraded FZ330 the latter is a terrific improvement and sports 4k burst:t: I decided on lightness and portability but now because a lot of the time was early morning and off the seating and boardwalk at Biebrza wish i had taken one of my 2 Canon 7D bodies and at least my 150-600mm Tamron zoom as the weight and slog of lugging it around would not have been an issue and the optical superiority and higher CMOS would have yielded good results:C
I will not be making that mistake in September when we return to Georgia and the spectacle that is the Batumi bottleneck for migrating raptors:eek!::t:
Attached: White Stork, Black Tern, Marsh Harrier and Lesser Spotted Eagle.
Tell me about it mate!;)
I found stuff very frustrating even away from the reedbeds anything i tried to take whether Spotted Flycatchers, Thrush Nightingales or even breeding Fieldfares - as soon as i stopped walking they were off:[email protected]
I intend to return on another trip but with another birder, a car, and in the first week of May. This time to the Forest area at Bialowisza for Woodpeckers and Owls but i do not envisage things being any easier particularly with 2 specialised groups of birds whose habitat is woodland cover! I would split the week both there and back at Biebrza but stopping on the other side of the river.
Is there much hunting in Poland?
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