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Poland: an unusual report in unusual times (1 Viewer)

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
I have been "living in Poland" for almost 4 years by now and I have done a fair share of birding outings around the country in the meanwhile. But in the past years, I also had to go to the Czech Republic often and traveled to various parts of the world, typically not leaving a large chunk of spring to dedicate to Poland (in particular because northern spring is so good for WP birding elsewhere).

And then came corona and the (ridiculous, if you ask me) border closures - in any case, this year, I simply had to be in Poland, so I took the chance to enjoy it is much as possible. Between May 12 and June 7, we have spent almost 17 days traveling around the country, in three trips - to Podlasie (NE), Lubelczczyna (SE) and Pomorze (N) regions for 4.5,4.5 and 8 days.

On those trips, we have recorded 123,98 and 128 species respectively, making for 166 species in total. These are still rookie numbers, but as we are (finally, after almost 10 years of birding) slowly improving, these are the best lists we ever accumulated in Poland or anywhere in central Europe for that matter. It also shows that Poland is a great birding destination - it is true that our "trip" was spread over 4 weeks, but there were probably not that many species that we would have missed if we started later and done it consecutively - after all, 74 species were seen during all three trips (while 19 species only in Podlasie, 9 only in Lubelszczyna and 30 only in Pomorze). To be fair though, I am talking about something around 4000 kms in a car here - yes, Poland is surprisingly big!

We have taken looking for birds quite casually, mostly just enjoying the landscape and also looking for mammals often through late evenings (leading to sleeping in), but I have to admit that on all three trips, we have kept a list and once we started seeing the numbers growing, we also started to ask ourselves questions such as "we haven't seen a Robin yet, what would be a good site?" which we otherwise wouldn't.

This year has been unusual, not only because of corona - the entirety of April was extremely sunny and warm (but we were mostly locked down through it), then some rains came and May was pretty sunny again, but very unusually cold. That created really pleasant conditions to be out (I am a really big fan of blue skies without heat) but the previous drought meant that a lot of places where you would expect water in early May were completely dry - the big spring water show on Biebrza was simply cancelled. On the flip side, they were no mosquitoes until mid-May and even now the situation is incomparably better to a normal year.

I am planning to make a series of posts, casually depicting the highlights of our journeys, but don't expect a detailed diary with an account of all the species from me. Any questions will be very much welcome though.
 
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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
The trip to Podlasie was based around the idea that now, after 4 years, we really know the area and we know where we want to be. It was also still at a time when face covering was compulsory "with the exception of a forest" and we had no intention of neither getting into debates with overzealous corona-fighters about what actually constitutes a forest nor actually wearing a mask in our leisure time, so we have focused on areas where we were unlikely to meet any other people, which worked quite well.

First, we headed to Biebrza, but in the spirit of the plan, we stopped a bit short of the National Park, in Bagno Wizna - a seasonally inundated plain close to the confluence of the Narew and Biebrza rivers, with a variety of meadows, fens and birch forests. The meadows were mostly dry, allowing easy access by car across the vast expanse of the area, but limiting the amount of birds. The biggest highlight was actually mammalian - a Pine Marten walking across the road in broad daylight; from birds, I really enjoyed the Grey Partridge calling from a tiny hill and Eurasian Curlews attacking crows in flight, but the undoubted climax of the day was our first ever photo (however bad it is) of a Corncrake, which came about when my wife realized that the bird is in a narrow strip of reeds and basically has to pass through a small opening in them at some point. Seeing Common Cranes on the meadows and meeting Beavers in all possible bodies of water has become an expected level of service from Poland of course.

Visiting the actual confluence of Narew and Biebrza next morning, we met all three of Black, White-winged and Whiskered Terns - a trio that had has a little worried considering the rather late time of the start of the trip - as well as a Black-tailed Godwit, the first of many White-tailed Eagles and, importantly for the list, a Gray Shrike and a Northern Wheatear. Driving and walking through the area, which we also formerly knew as a lake, was an interesting experience in itself.

Some of the more "classic" areas around Biebrza turned out a bit underwhleming, but the desire for a good trip list already started growing in us and so we decided to try the educational trail in Osowiec (at the northern side of the river) to see if there are any crowds - there weren't an thus we logged Common Rosefinch and Bluethroat. The funniest part to me was when my wife mentioned that she remembers there being a good site for Garden Warbler, which was indeed there orderly waiting for us. Have we become locals here or what with that kind of knowledge?

We then drove a bit around the central Biebrza looking for Moose without success, but we met at least a Montagu's Harrier - for some reason, that's one of my favorite birds here, which makes me feel like visiting Biebrza properly.
 

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wolfbirder

Well-known member
Supporter
Out of interest, where are you originally from Jan?

I want to go back to Poland to try to get better views of Hazel Grouse.
Not an easy bird to see. Have you managed to connect?
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
A few-hours' walk in the lush birch forests around Kanal Kapicky did not bring much more than pure joy from visiting such habitat in full bloom yet no mosquitoes. Then we drove to where the Elk river loses all of its water to Kanal Rudzki, an a few kilometers past it, into an area, which I now consider the best place in all of Poland.

It's probably hard to explain, but the mosaic of meadows and forests on the southern bank of ex-Elk (which is now just a series of swamps and oxbow lakes) has a special kind of ambience to me - it's a large area with no villages or roads, yet freely accessible, creating a continuous swath of wilderness together with the National Park grounds on the other side of the river. And in spring it's simply marvelous, especially on a clear but chilly late afternoon.

The first great thing to happen to us was the flyover of a Eurasian Woodcock in broad daylight, allowing us for the first time ever to see species really well; the Lesser Spotted Eagle sitting on a lonely big tree in the vast meadow around the river seemed to only reaffirm that we are in proper wilderness now. Little did we know, that the real reminder of that will come the next morning, when while returning towards the car, we have met a Wolf, casually walking in full sunlight, not really phased by our presence.

It was time for a change of habitat, so we moved towards Puszcza Knyszynska, a large area of sparsely populated forest - mostly a large-scale wood production area, but with scattered remains of older, more varied woods. Not only we ticked a few of more common forest species, but we also run into a Goshawk, which is always a cause for celebration. But I am also quite partial also to the cute little Tree Pipits of this area.

In these forests, also Lesser Spotted Eagles abound. But the most surprising was the discovery of several European Nightjars during the evening spotlighting for mammals, quite early in the season, also considering the lack of flying insects this year.
 

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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Out of interest, where are you originally from Jan?

I want to go back to Poland to try to get better views of Hazel Grouse.
Not an easy bird to see. Have you managed to connect?

I was born in Prague and lived there continuously until 2016, I still work there, only I manage to take home office from Poland most of the time (and reliably since corona started). We also thought that Hazel Grouse is hard to see (and have looked for it in many places), until we visited the right place around Bialowieza in March, when they are in lek, right next to a main path. I would have actually mentioned my wife's suspicion of having glimpsed one on this trip in one of the next posts :)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Siemanowka is a large artificial reservoir of water close on the upper course of the Narew river, close to the Belarus border, and also a place of great birding. It was a workday morning, but fishermen were already gathering on the dyke over which the international railway crosses the lake and which provides the best access for general viewing. Between the Whiskered and other terns, a Red-footed Falcon suddenly swooped along the dyke, a proper scarcity in Poland. The shallower and reedy eastern side (viewable from the tracks) was less lively than in other years, but a flock of Bearded tits brightened the day.

At the end of the dyke, there is a road over the tracks, that immediately ends in a small parking. A few years ago, we camped there, much to the dismay of the border patrol, as the only thing between this place and Belarus is a huge wild swamp. This year, the water levels were very low, revealing a makeshift "bridge" from two wooden logs over a nearby stream, which has until now always been submerged and I refused to try to cross it.

This allowed us to explore more into the swamps - the path over the stream can be followed on dry land for a few hundred meters, until it submerges (and satellite imagery shows that it's only getting worse). From there, we first observe several Hobbies hunting above the swamp and then located a strange high-pitched sound that we somehow deduced must be a Penduline Tit, which we eventually saw. Even though this place is technically a few hundred meters from a railway and a driveable track, it still feels like the absolute end of the world! Maybe that's also what the Moose thought when they chose it as their favorite area - it's there where we have seen them before and this time we were successful again. Admittedly, due to distance and heat haze, the opportunity was more of a visual than a photographic one.
 

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wolfbirder

Well-known member
Supporter
I was born in Prague and lived there continuously until 2016, I still work there, only I manage to take home office from Poland most of the time (and reliably since corona started). We also thought that Hazel Grouse is hard to see (and have looked for it in many places), until we visited the right place around Bialowieza in March, when they are in lek, right next to a main path. I would have actually mentioned my wife's suspicion of having glimpsed one on this trip in one of the next posts :)

Cheers Jan. Apologies for being nosey.

I've been to Bialowieza in March and hope to go back. If you have any co-ordinates for the spot you found them, that would be great.

In your own time, in the meantime, loving reading your reports, the Woodcock and Nightjars are great sightings, and the wolf!! Wow:eek!:
 
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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
A great read Jan, well done on getting a photo of the Wolf too, the one (our sole sighting anywhere) we saw in Armenia slipped away before we could detach the camera from its safety belt ( you know what the roads are like there of course!)!
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
This year, the water levels in Siemanowka were extremely low - so much so that one could walk on fully dry and solid ground all the way to "Krowie Wyspy" (the Cow Islands) - as the name suggests, those are normally surrounded by water from all sides (and almost submerged) and we have never reached them before, so the ability to reach them seemed attractive - and it was.

First we noticed that there is a photographic hide close to the islands - in an area which was not really dry, but still walkable. Across some water from the hide is another island with gulls, terns and Ruffs, Dunlins, Common Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpipers. A nearby shore had the Sanderling promised by ornitho.pl and chilling among cows on the grassy knoll brought the also-promised Citrine Wagtail (only the Pallas's Gull that many others saw here did not show up).

It was already Friday afternoon and thus people started showing up to nature. We still continued onward and stopped by Kosy Most, a great place in the Bialowieza forests, where we previously saw Hazel Grouse - this time, my wife maybe saw something distant, but with no proof, we left without a tick. At least we got a Firecrest, some River Warblers and a Greenfinch (a super common species that we consistently can't find) as well as some more Woodcocks in the evening.

Spotlighting along Narewka road was uneventful. We finally set up camp near the town of Narew, next to the Greater Snipe site, hoping to hear some Bittern and Spotted Crake during the night, but as we found out the next morning, the meadows are completely dry this year, which is one possible reason for the lack of both species - the other being the silly idea to build a bridge on a bypass road around Narew right next to this valuable site.

On the way back to Warsaw, we stopped at the Pietkowskie ponds (a site we learned about from an information panel at the snipe site), where we just added a few "pond" species, but in general we appreciated the extensive reeds, nice viewing towers and complete lack of any other visitors and may come back at some point.
 

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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Cheers Jan. Apologies for being nosey.

I've been to Bialowieza in March and hope to go back. If you have any co-ordinates for the spot you found them, that would be great.

In your own time, in the meantime, loving reading your reports, the Woodcock and Nightjars are great sightings, and the wolf!! Wow:eek!:

For Hazel Grouse, look around 52.799023, 23.814960 from the big wide road (on foot, parking is right nearby). This is actually mentioned in the "Birding in Poland" book, which is now too old for many sites, but the forests basically haven't changed. Or come next year while we are still living here and get shown :)

A great read Jan, well done on getting a photo of the Wolf too, the one (our sole sighting anywhere) we saw in Armenia slipped away before we could detach the camera from its safety belt ( you know what the roads are like there of course!)!

That was no challenge, the wolf gave us ample time (and I am always walking with a camera in my hand). Interesting sighting of Wolf in Armenia, it's an extremely under-explored country when it comes to mammals - you saw a Wolf, we saw Bears, that already makes it a great destination :)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Just a small point, Hazel Grouse do not lek.

I wonder if that's a problem of language or biology? How do you call in English the activity in spring, when they sit around on trees and "sing"? Because in Czech, people typically use the same word for it as for, say, Black Grouse lek. Now I don't know, if they (and by proxy myself) are biologically wrong, or if English has separate words for, say group/individual behaviour?
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
For Hazel Grouse, look around 52.799023, 23.814960 from the big wide road (on foot, parking is right nearby). This is actually mentioned in the "Birding in Poland" book, which is now too old for many sites, but the forests basically haven't changed. Or come next year while we are still living here and get shown :)

Correction! My wife tells me that we have seen the Hazel Grouse on 18th February, so maybe even March is not optimal. But it may depend on severity of winter.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
I wonder if that's a problem of language or biology? How do you call in English the activity in spring, when they sit around on trees and "sing"? Because in Czech, people typically use the same word for it as for, say, Black Grouse lek. Now I don't know, if they (and by proxy myself) are biologically wrong, or if English has separate words for, say group/individual behaviour?

My big English dictionary says that the word lek is thought to come from either Old English lacan "to frolic, fight" or perhaps from Swedish leka "to play", so we English speakers tend to associate it with some physical confrontations between males rather than just singing.
However the official definition the dictionary gives for the noun is "a small area which certain birds .. gather for sexual display and courtship" and for the verb "The act or practice of so gathering" so I can understand a group assembly of Hazel Grouse being given the same word. Personally I'd call it a "gathering of grouse" which has a nice ring to it IMO;)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
My big English dictionary says that the word lek is thought to come from either Old English lacan "to frolic, fight" or perhaps from Swedish leka "to play", so we English speakers tend to associate it with some physical confrontations between males rather than just singing.
However the official definition the dictionary gives for the noun is "a small area which certain birds .. gather for sexual display and courtship" and for the verb "The act or practice of so gathering" so I can understand a group assembly of Hazel Grouse being given the same word. Personally I'd call it a "gathering of grouse" which has a nice ring to it IMO;)

Ha, that clears it a bit! Because there is no "gathering" of Hazel Grouse, they do it separately, so it's probably not a "lek" in English - even though we call it the same in Czech. Thinking of it now, it is actually a bit peculiar in Czech, but yep, the language is exactly that, peculiar :)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
For the second trip, we headed to an area mostly unknown to us and much less visited by birders in general - mainly because out main target were mammals this time. first and foremost the Spotted Souslik which occurs within the EU (until Ukraine joins) only in this small corner of SE Poland around Zamosc. We found one in a remote reserve at the Ukraine border and later more of them in a very easily accessible area at Hubale at the outskirts of Zamosc itself. What a great mammal to watch, species with diurnal activity are a rare treat :) In the same area as the first Souslik, we also found two Badgers in the night, our first photo of the species. Our search for Steppe Polecat yielded no results - rightfully so, because we later learned they have gone extinct 30 years ago in Poland - neither did we find any Hamsters nor Southern Birch Mouse. On to the birds then!

On the way to Hulcze, where one of the Souslik reserves is, we realized how different this area is - here with large continuous fields and extensive agriculture across gently rolling hills, resembling more of the landscape in some parts of the Czech Republic than what we see in NE Poland. Seeing European Bee-eaters shortly after stepping out of the car showed us that the birds understand that too - after all, we were here actually a bit more to the south than Prague. The Souslik reserve had not only several Marsh Harriers. but also once again Lesser Spotted Eagles. Moving further towards Stary Machnow, we found a nice area of wet grasslands and birches south of the village, but with not very remarkable wildlife other than a call of European Turtle Dove. Only when leaving, we met a European Nightjar on the rural road.

Next day, after watching Sousliks in Hubale, we made some short walks around the Roztoczanski NP and Szum Reserve did not bring much more than a Treecreeper, Grey Wagtails and Black Woodpecker
 

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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Thanks to our quest for Hamsters (for which the area around Nielisz is known as the biggest hotspot in Poland), we came across a hidden birding gem, the Nielisz reservoir, especially the part where the Wieprz river enters the lake, where extensive wetlands are created. Again thanks to a rather lower level of water, we could walk easily through the area, following the river almost all the way to the reservoir. Black and Common terns accompanied by a loud Black-headed Gull colony livened the area.

The sound background of the surrounding extensive fields is set by Corn buntings. In the night we found a Tawny Owl by the road and heard Common Quails and in the morning an Ortolan Bunting was singing right above our tent.

Moving on back a bit north, a stop at Chelm Calcareous Marshes yielded a Wryneck and not much else apart from Reed Buntings, so moved even further to the Poleski NP. The large Bubnow Marsh was once again visbly dried out and thus the lack of Aquatic warblers was not surprising, neither was the overwhelming presence of Sedge Warblers. In another short walk in the park, we have found a "thrush anvil", a stone in the road which something (likely a thrush) uses to break up snails.

The most attractive part of the park turned out to be the group of old fishponds in the northern section encricled by the Perehod educational trail. The visited started at a high note as on the first pond in the SW corner, mostly overgrown by reeds, we saw a Little Crake walking at the edge of the reeds, our second ever observation of this species anywhere. The immediately surrounding marshes outside of the ponds had a lot of Beaver activity, including some individuals seen later in the evening.

The pond complex is really extensive and well occupied by Great and Eurasian Reed Warblers. The lookout tower in the NE corner overlooks a large area of scattered reeds with a lot of waterfowl, as well as Little Grebe, booming Bitterns, hunting Hobbies, Great Egrets and later in the evening also bats, probably Greater Noctules. In the night, we again wanted to spotlight around some smaller roads, but then we encountered fog so thick, that it was impossible to continue. It was actually almost impossible to drive anywhere - as the visibility dropped to less than a meter, the only way forward was to have my wife look out of her window to follow the edge of the road!

The next day was Saturday and so we focused on more obscure places, spending a great amount of time exploring the bogs around the Czarne Sosnowicke Lake (which are a great area to enjoy in spring, but not so much for birds) and finally we visited the group of fishponds near Stary Brus, finding 3-4 Ferruginous Ducks, a scarcity in Poland. Next morning, the predicted heavy rains came and we headed home.
 

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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
The final and longest trip was motivated by the information that several groups of birders were headed for that particular week to the Hel peninsula to look for rarities. This area has traditionally produced rare birds in the first week of June - but to be honest, a lot of them from visually unremarkable species of warblers and such that we would have never had much chance of noticing, so the concept of other people searching the area (and notifying us in a Messenger group) was what was needed to get us to give the rarities a try. This time, we brought our laptops with us and spent most nights in an accommodation, but we have still devoted quite a lot of time to birding and relatively little to work.

For the first three nights we stayed in Jastarnia, then we spent two nights roaming the mainland and came back to another place in Jastarnia. The first accommodation was near the famous "old airport", a good grassland for migrants - however, we were disappointed to find an actual plane on it, apparently it sees some use again. Behind the airport, there is a nice natural area around the shores of the Puck bay, with an old "lookout tower", from which I could one morning observe a herd of Wild Boar nearby - until one member started looking at me and sniffing and then it somehow decided that it doesn't like me and they all left. During our stay, apart from excursions to more distant sites on the mainland, we basically alternated between visiting this area and several locations around the town of Hel proper - the military port, the waste dump and the "Cypel", the southernmost tip of the peninsula with its surrounding forests and sand dunes.

Around the whole peninsula, the sound of Common Rosefinch was very common and could be heard from both of our accommodations. Another surprisingly common song was that of Greenish Warbler - even though I have made a fool of myself in the ID forum mistaking a Wren for one, there were a plenty of actual singing Greenish Warblers around. Even more exotically, over 20 distinct individuals of Blyth's Reed Warbler were reported during the week all over the peninsula, from which we have encountered at least four (at the Wild Boar area, near the garbage dump, by the coastal path to Cypel and on the bay shore promenade in Jurata) but could take only very poor photos as they were constantly hiding. The atmosphere was complemented by numerous Marsh Warblers and Common Whitethroats in more open areas with low bushes and Tree Pipits around cypel. Wood Warblers and Chaffinches were obviously numerous anywhere with trees. In Jastarnia, I heard a typical Red-breasted Flycatcher but could not find it - then we heard a rather atypical one near Cypel which turned out to be a 2cy male, which was quite confusing when seen!

On the coast, there was an exhibition of Gulls - Black-headed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed, Greater Black-backed and a proper "guller" would probably find some more. What indeed was found was an Audouin's Gull (2nd for Poland), but since we already have seen plenty of those in WP, we followed the news only leisurely and never saw it, despite it having appeared on and off for a few days. Other classic Hel species are Sandwich Terns common around Cypel and two female Red-breasted Mergansers have shown up.
 

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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
The military port in Hel had a few Common Shelduck, still a rather rare species in Poland, but the Long-tailed Duck reported there has eluded us. On the beach behind the garbage place we found a Temminck's Stint, our first in Poland, in the company of some Little Ringed Plovers.

After the Audouin's Gull, the second star of the week was a pair of Greater Short-toed Larks on the dunes on the outward coast north of Cypel. Again a species we would be not willing to go far off course for, but since we wanted to explore the area anyway, we looked for them and found one flying above us and singing. The Cypel area turned also out to be a great place to watch Honney Buzzards, several of which flew over during one morning, making some beginner birders that we met there quite happy.

Other birds of interest included an Oystercacther seen in flight from Cypel, an Icterine Warbler in the near forest - a common species which we heard in many places couldn't actually see the whole week - and a Barred Warbler in Jastarnia, our first in Poland.

Two Rosy Starlings were seen twice during the last weekend of our stay, a species that we have been trying to see in WP for quite some time and it always eluded us - and it did so also on this occasion, but to our credit, a lot of people went looking for them and almost nobody saw them. Just one day after we left, a Booted Warbler was seen on Hel, which would be also a WP tick for us, but alas, we were already in Warsaw.
 

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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
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