Friday, May 30, 2014

Poland in the Spring - Part 1/2

If I could imagine a place where the air was alive with birdsong, where the atmosphere was organic and pure, and observing nature felt unobscured by time and pressure, I found this place in Poland.

This for me was birding heaven.  Birds that I had been longing to see, I was fortunate to catch up with.  Some passed me by, but this just makes another trip back there an absolute certainty.  An initial visit to a relatively small area of woodland in the suburbs of Warsaw held a chorus of singing Wood Warblers with up to four birds present.  I was to find out later just how widespread these birds are within the country.  Singing Common Redstart, Woodlark, a flyover Hobby, and I hadn't even started.

The journey to Bialowieza took over four hours, accounting for misdirections (ie. we got lost getting out of Warsaw) arriving at our accommodation located behind a petrol station.  A lovely place though and one that comes totally recommended.  Using the Gosney Guide for birding in Poland, the first stop was the Palace Park that is a must for any trip to the area.  Anticipating the possibilities, the area was animated with birdlife.  Just in the car park, Common Rosefinch and Icterine Warblers sang from a wooded avenue.  Great Reed Warblers croaked away from the reedbed by the right-hand lake and from the island, a Thrush Nightingale whistling and warbling extraordinary sounds.

A walk around the park produced Hawfinch within the woodland, a singing male Pied Flycatcher, fluting Golden Orioles from the treetops, and a little bit of a surprise to connect with a White-Backed Woodpecker sounding agitated within a tall silver birch,   I arrived at a gate to the park, a path to the right led to the gated entrance to the promised land of the Bialowieski primeval forest.  The view on a warm evening overlooked a meadow, untouched by humans and a fertile land for wildlife to thrive.  A River Warbler reeled low down in the scrub, and two Corncrake crexed, sounding somewhat subterranean.  Walking back towards the 'town' two male Red-Backed Shrikes supped on insects, and a male Marsh Harrier wheeled around searching for something a little more substantial.

And there was evening on the first day.

Back at the hotel, dawn arrived, as did the chorus.  Just from the room overlooking a small meadow, among the common birds were calling Corncrake, River Warbler, Red-Backed Shrike, and Fieldfare.  Eye-and-ear boggling.

A 4.30am start with my guide and the search for Woodpeckers.  The morning was cool and still, with a fine mist hovering over the dewy meadows.  A Yellowhammer and Tree Pipit sat along the telegraph wires by the path, and Whinchat sang from the top of the small bushes.

Entering the forest through the large wooden gate into dense woodland, the clearly defined paths led into the most evocative dawn chorus.  Red-Breasted Flycatchers were singing, five males heard, and three seen - two first-summers and a lovely full adult male.  Great see, great to hear.

Then there were Woodpeckers.  The first seen, an active pair of Black Woodpecker at a nest site, feeding young and very flighty.

Black Woodpecker

While observing the pair, a family of Wild Boar crossed the path just ahead of us scampering away into the undercover .  Beguiling wildlife.  Within a minute, the guide connected with a Three-Toed Woodpecker extracting sap as it flickered across a tree trunk, giving great views for one of my primary targets.

Three-Toed Woodpecker

A Middle-Spotted Woodpecker was the next stop, another active pair feeding young.

Middle-Spotted Woodpecker

Then there were the singing Collared Flycatcher that sang high in the treetops, darting out to feed and then returning back to their singing posts.  Further along the path, a nest site was found with an adult seen disappearing into a nest-hole.

This forest is an inspiring place.

An afternoon visit back to the Palace Park was rewarded with a sought after singing male Barred Warbler.  This first summer male was in full voice as it commuted around its territory.

Along the road from Bialowieza towards the small village of Pogozelce, the habitat opens up into a large marsh with a reed bed on the right, and an area of woodland on the left side.  Here Thrush Nightingle and River Warbler sang, male Red-Backed Shrikes flew alongside the road, and Common Rosefinch whistled in melancholy.  The area is also good for Lesser Spotted Eagle with one seen soaring over the woodland.  There was also a male Marsh Harrier here.

Moving onto two more sites.  The woodland at Stara Bialowieza had singing Wood Warbler and a Hazel Grouse scuttling nervously along the forest floor.  The next was Kosy Most, but the flies here harass and torment as they pursue you towards sheer madness.  Having seen two more Hazel Grouse and Golden Oriole, a swift escape was made.  Along the road, plenty of Hawfinch flew regularly past the car, and a Black Woodpecker was surprisingly flushed from the side of the track.

The next stop was the Biebrza Marshes.