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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Poland in Spring

2024 Narrative

IN BRIEF: WINGS first trip in many years to Eastern Poland was a resounding success, with a long list of species characteristic of the eastern European marshes and woodlands seen. This included the rare and localised Aquatic Warbler, as well as charming species such as White-winged Black Tern, Bluethroat, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-breasted Flycatcher, and five species of woodpecker (including White-backed and Black). The mammal list, although not extensive, contained a number of desirable species, too: Grey Wolf, Moose and, perhaps most sought-after of all, European Bison.


Day 1: Having met and got to know each other over dinner the night before, we spent our first full day in Poland driving northeast from Warsaw towards the Biezbrza marshes. A coachload of kids at a gas-station stop east of Warsaw gave us change to some birding while we waited for the facilities to become available: in and around the parking lot, we found Corn Buntings, Tree Sparrows and a White Wagtail. Best of the lost, however, was a pair of Red-backed Shrikes, which gave excellent views.

Our first stop in the Biebrza marshes was at Brzostowo, where we found a flock of bugling Common Cranes, several dozen Black Terns and a couple of Whiskered Terns. A Grey Partridge feeding on spilt grain by the side of the road as well we left was a surprise, and allowed great and close views of a species that can often be elusive. Nearby, we paused briefly to admire a small colony of Bank Swallows in a pile of sandy dirt.

We stopped for lunch close to the marsh in Gonadj, where we found a nest of Eurasian Jays built amongst the wood carvings above the entrance; the adult – a smart mix of pink and metallic blue – came as close as a few feet while it waiting to feed its almost-fully grown young.

After checking in to our hotel mid-afternoon, we headed along the famous Tsar’s road. From one of the towers, the were able to observe several new song birds for the trip, including a couple of Hawfinches and several Yellowhammers, including a striking, sulphur-yellow male. In the distance, feeding on the marsh, was a young male Moose; an excellent first addition to the trip’s mammal list.

Just a little further along the road, we walked along the Dluga Luka boardwalk. A short wait (and just a few mosquitoes) later, one of the three singing Aquatic Warblers became visible and the whole group was able to get adequate views through the scope of this scare and highly localised species. In contrast, a Corn Crake that was calling incessantly from just a few yards away refused to show itself.

Day 2 - We started our second day along the small stretch of marsh that runs between several Soviet-era bunkers. Here, we found a pair of Penduline Tits, which we watched methodically work their way through the small reed-bed. Back on the Tsar’s road, we enjoyed great views of a number of woodland species, including our first Great Spotted Woodpeckers of the tour and several cooperative Wood Warbler – one of the relatively brighter species of Old World warbler seen on this trip.

After a delicious soup of lunch, we took the back roads through the small village of Osowiec, where we stumbled across a pair of Black Redstarts as well as a showy Spotted Flycatcher and Song Thrush. From here, we headed north a little to the area around Dolistowo Stare, where we were treated to crippling views of a stunning male Bluethroat. The bird, which was holding territory by the side of the road, continued to return to a sign post that it was using as a as a song perch. At the same site, we gained good views of Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting, and a Citrine Wagtail was seen briefly on the road.

On our way to dinner, a male Montagu’s Harrier put on quite a show over a roadside field, showing itself from every angle and eventually passing right over our heads. After dinner, we headed out to the marsh once again. Several Eurasian Woodcocks were displaying and we were able to watch them ‘roding’ in the late evening light. Sadly, there were no Great Snipes at the site, which occasionally holds a lek – and, with the habitat seemingly having become quite overgrown with bushes over the last year, it might mean that this site is no longer the reliable place it once was.

Day 3 - We started the day with an option pre-breakfast walk, pottering down to the edge of a local stream and back; Western Yellow Wagtail and Marsh Warbler were both new for this trip.

After breakfast, we headed to the large marsh area around Mscichy, where we soon found our target bird – the stunning White-winged Black Tern. Several birds were over the marsh, with one bird persistently dive-bombing a pair of Common Cranes with a chick. In the woodland behind us, we found a Golden Oriole, which – uncharacteristically for the species – gave us excellent views as it flew from one woodland stand to the next. A little further along, we found a family of Fieldfares, and an Icterine Warbler was singing excitedly from some poplars.

Nearby, we looked for Ortolan Buntings – the species has undergone catastrophic declines across much of their range and, sadly, we were unable to find any birds; but we did enjoy close views of House Martins and a singing Greenfinch in one of the villages we passed through to get to the site.

Lunch was back at the same restaurant as day 1, on the edge of the marshes at Goni?dz. “Always take your binoculars to lunch” was today’s moto, with a stunning Citrine Wagtail appearing outside the back of the restaurant after we’d finished eating!

After lunch, we went looking for what, by now, had become something of a nemesis bird of the trip: Ruff. We were, as some members of the group pointing out, having a ‘ruff’ time finding what ought to have been a reasonable common bird… Several sites later and we were still Ruff-less; but we did pick up a collection of other species, such as a White-tailed Eagle, European Goldfinch, Hoopoe, Little Ringed Plover and views of several settled Black-tailed Godwits.

Day 4 - Our final morning in the Biebrza marshes was spent back in the Osowiec area. From a tower at the south end of the marshy area, we were treated to a parade of various songbirds, which showed more or less at eye level: Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Common Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, and a pair of Common Rosefinches, with the male being exquisitely pink and not at all shy. Overhead, a Common Snipe was displaying, its outer tail-feather spread wide as it roller coasted downwards.

Back at ‘the boardwalk’, we failed to find the hoped for Savi’s Warbler – but we were treated to spectacular views of a young Hobby catching dragonflies over our heads.

A quick late-morning stop around the village added Great Tit to our trip list, and then it was time to head southeast towards the Biola forest.

We stopped for lunch in Biolavistok at midday before heading to some nearby fishpond. Here, we made up for the morning’s miss and (eventually) clapped eyes on a Savi’s Warbler, which showed surprisingly well (for the species) by the side of the path. The ponds themselves held two species of grebe – Great Crested and Red-necked – while the biggest surprise of the afternoon was a pair of Little Crakes, which were watched passing backwards and forwards across a channel in the corner of one of the ponds.

By 4pm, we were settled into our hotel in the Bia?owieska forest. Our hotel was set in the heart of the extensive woodland and, after checking in and getting settles, we birded the grounds, where we found Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Spotted Flycatcher and a host of Song Thrushes and Common Blackbirds.

After dinner, we headed to the meadows around the village of Budy, we were searched for one of Europe’s rarest and hardest-to-find large mammals – European Bison. Remarkably, we found a herd of five individuals almost straight away, although with the initial views it was hard to know if they were animals or just hairy rocks! Nonetheless, we moved a little closer and enjoyed prolonged views of the animals. A tad further along the road, in the village of Teremiski, we found a second herd of three individuals in a small meadow between the houses.

Next, we headed out for a spot of owling – right on cue, a Tawny Owl glided silently out of the woods and perched on a pine tree ahead of us, where we could enjoy prolonged views of the grey-morph individual. Two excellent sightings to end the day!

Day 5 - We started day five at five… in the morning. Poland’s position on the easter flanks of European Central Time means that dawn is horribly early, but we wanted to take advantage of the benefits it brought when birding in the forest. Red-breasted Flycatcher.

Next, we tried for Barred Warbler – and succeeded with a pair that showed well on the edge of the village, although we concluded that they ought to be renamed ‘Just-a-little-bit-barred Warbler’, given that it’s exceedingly rare to find males that are as well marked as the birds depicted in the fieldguides.

After a breakfast back at the hotel, we visited the Bia?owieska palace grounds, where we were greeted by a picture-perfect male Collared Flycatcher, and a comical-looking Great Tit chick that had decided to wait for its parents on top a trash can. In the grounds, we also encountered a pair of Firecrests, a Serin and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, amongst the commoner species.

Following lunch, we enjoyed some well-deserved downtime before heading out again late afternoon. Our ultimate aim was an upmarket dinner in the former railway station, but we couldn’t resist a little birding on the way, including stopping to enjoy the sound – and sight! – of a Thrush Nightingale that continued to sing even when the clouds above us burst.

Day 6 - On our final day of birding in Poland, we walked a track close to our hotel – here, we found at least one White-backed Woodpecker, which came to investigate us and, best of all, a Black Woodpecker, which gave repeated fly-bys and even perched briefly close to the track. Perhaps most unexpected of all, though, was some wining and howling coming from just a few hundred yards away – Grey Wolves!

We headed west, back towards Warsaw, with several stops on the way: first, to look for a River Warbler. We heard the bird… and we saw some leaves moving… but as we’d learned over the course of the week, these Locustella warblers are far from the easiest of critters to see!

Our second stop was at some fish ponds between Siedlce and Minsk Mazowiecki, where we found one species that had thus far alluded us: Tufted Duck. Several pairs were on the ponds, the males conspicuous with their stiking white side-panels. Several Caspian Gulls were flying over the ponds, which gave us an opportunity to discuss both the complicated taxonomic history of the species and the fine details of identification. A Hoopoe flew by at close range and was, we thought, a good omen to close the week’s birding.

After driving back to Warsaw, we enjoyed our final evening meal together, reminiscing about the trip and putting forward our nominations for our favourite bird: in fourth place was Little Crake, Aquatic Warbler was in third, Black Woodpecker was second and, just ahead, title of ‘bird of the trip’ went to Tawny Owl.

-Stephen Menzie

Created: 04 June 2024