TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
6 - 14 May 2000
Marek Borkowski (agent and leader)
Hania, Marek jnr & Marka Borkowski (wonderful family influence)
Andrzes Borkowski (sleeping partner)
Bogdan Kasporczyk (leader)
Ania Gasowska (leader and companion)
Arek Szymvrd (guide - Bialowieza)
Neil Arnold (The Travelling Naturalist)
Poland was as spectacular as ever. The spring was very advanced, so the leaves were on the trees. This resulted in some difficulty with sighting woodpeckers and warblers. On the other hand though the majority of migrants had arrived. This was a unique occasion for The Travelling Naturalist due to the number of individuals who helped to make this a great holiday. I'm grateful to them all, especially to Ania and Gerold who did so much to share their skills with us. One again we enjoyed the privilege of close contact with the Borkowski family who were wonderfully generous with their time and enthusiasm. Finally I am grateful to you all for your sense of fun and your endeavour. I hope we will all meet again.
Neil Arnold, June 2000
Saturday 6th May
We met Bogdan who was to be our guide for the first couple of days . It was good to see him again. Our driver was Ryszard.
We drove north to Wierzba and settled into a fine hotel.
Sunday 7th May
2/8th Cirrus, sunny, still, warm.
Conference Centre of the Polish Academy of Science.
A pre- breakfast walk in the local woodland was punctuated by sightings of wonderful birds, including a male Black Woodpecker, Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Woodlarks, Black Redstarts and Tree Pipits.
Later we set off for a huge lake. En route we had great views of Lesser-spotted Eagles and Honey Buzzards.
The Jez Luknajno was alive with birds including a number of Marsh Harriers, a Hobby, an immature White-tailed Eagle and an Osprey. Wetland species were also well represented, including a brief view of Bearded Tits and a Little Bittern. A loose flock of Black Terns and of feeding Common Cranes also gave us a taste of what was to come.
We then made for the Wodgy Fish Ponds which were full of birds, including a fine array of waders and two Black Storks. On to Rajgrod.
Monday 8th May
2/8th ci. Sunny, warm. E 1-2.
A pre-breakfast walk around the lake brought us into contact with Goosanders, a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Redstart and two Red Kites soaring over a distant forest.
A brief return visit to the Wogdy Fish Ponds enabled us to gain close views of Sparrow Hawk, Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and a pair of Ravens.
We then set off for the village of Kuligi, calling in on a number of ponds and lakes en route. Tufted Ducks, Greylag Geese, Turtle Doves and Hoopoe were added to our collection of birds.
It was a pleasure to be in Marek's home once again. It has been a feature of recent Polish trips to spend a day at Marek's wonderful farm where he breeds Tarpan horses for eventual duty as grazers on the marshes.
The sun was shining - in fact it was becoming hot. We wandered the area enjoying a variety of butterflies, including a Camberwell Beauty.
A fine lunch was eaten al fresco and then we walked to the bridge over the River Jegrznia. It was here that we had a wonderful experience involving Lesser-spotted Eagles. One spent some time sitting on a dead tree in the middle of the marsh. Though it spent a considerable time at rest it occasionally swooped down onto small prey items. Suddenly it was attacked by a male Marsh Harrier and a chase ensued. Meanwhile another bird was soaring above. It gradually lost height and then folded its wings and plummeted towards the ground. When within twenty metres of the ground it soared briefly and then fell to earth. Within moments it had taken flight, presumably having missed its prey. In the distance was a third eagle.
We then sat down to tea and cake in the garden.
Later, as it became dusky, we went in search of Aquatic Warbler. In a wide-open marsh we detected the faint song of our target. We walked the marsh carefully until we were able to see the bird singing from a low perch. It was wonderful to see all the features of this elusive bird.
It was eating time again! This time we were entertained in the Borkowski's house. A great time was had by all. We all slept well that night.
Tuesday 9th May.
1/8th ci., sunny, warm and calm.
Most of the day was spent near the Narew River south of Wizna. Sightings featured a range of waders, wildfowl and raptors including Montagu's Harriers. We also had great views of Ortolan Bunting, Tree Sparrows and a male Northern Wheatear.
The small abandoned hamlet of Budy on the edge of the marshes was our next destination. When we arrived the fire was already alight and the barbeque was nearly ready. We ate to the accompaniment of bird song, preparing ourselves for one of the great events of the trip.
As the sun began to set we walked into the marsh to a platform overlooking the Great Snipe lek. As soon as we had set up the telescopes Marek focused our attention on the first of the Great Snipe. The male stood in deep cover calling quietly and performing a strange slow neck stretching display. This was only the prelude to a much more complicated ritual. Then came a series of preening movements, followed by shoulder lifting and more neck stretching. Then two males were seen in the same telescope view. There was more calling followed by more neck stretching, sudden wing flapping, tail spreading and then an amazingly explosive series of jumps. This fascinating display was witnessed against a background of calling Bittern, Corncrake, Cuckoo, Bluethroat and Grasshopper Warbler. As we watched the lek we were overflown by a pair of Woodcock.
It was a great end to the day for often the lek doesn't get to full pitch until after dark; we had seen it in the daylight!
Wednesday 10th May
2-4/8th ci., sunny,warm and calm.
We made an early start on our return to Kuligi. Soon after we had left the main road and taken a dirt road through the forest we came across a Wolf. It crossed the road in front of us, stood and looked at the vehicle and then wandered through the edge of the forest. It stood facing the road and then sat down so that all we could see was its face. We had seen a wild adult Wolf, a really rare event in the summer. We had been lucky.
At Kuligi we met Gerold Dobler, who was to spend a few days with Marek, and therefore with us. His expertise as a naturalist was freely offered, so he became a valued companion.
Soon we were at yet another bridge overlooking the marshes. This is a quiet, almost divine place full of bird song, and because of its slight elevation, a wonderful lookout. We spent some time looking at raptors then another one came into view. It was an eagle. The plumage pattern suggested a Spotted Eagle but the view was poor. Eventually, though the bird landed on a post and we were able to look at it through a telescope. Its heavy, broad beak was enough to confirm our initial identification.
After breakfast at the farmhouse we drove south.
The day was spent visiting a number of wetland sites. As we left the villages we were surprised, however, to find a pair of singing Tawny Pipits, a scarce local breeder. The woodland sheltered Crested Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Spotted Flycatchers and two singing Red-breasted Flycatchers.
The southern marshes were full of wetland species including thousands of Ruff and other waders.
Thursday 11th May
1/8th ci. early developing to 5/8th cu. later. Warm. W 1-2.
We had had a great time in the Biebrza Marshes but now it was time to move on to Bialowieza.
By mid morning we had arrived at the Knyszyn Fish Ponds. This is a wonderful wetland where we were able to find a variety of new bird species. The first of these was a Penduline Tit building a nest. We also had close views of Great-crested, Red-necked and Black-necked Grebe. We also enjoyed a flypast by an adult White-tailed Eagle and the swinging display of a male Marsh Harrier. Wildfowl were also much in evidence.
After a fine packed lunch we moved on to the huge Siemianowka Reservoir.
The first impression of the reservoir was the serious lack of water; much of the bed was exposed . This resulted in all the birds being in a confined area. It was obvious, though, that the situation was similar to that in the marshes, in that many of the birds had already moved on to the north.
It was pleasing to see a wide range of waders, including Spotted Redshank and Greenshank. A flock of Little Terns and a Common Gull also added to the variety. On a grassy headland we were to find the bird of the day, a fine adult Citrine Wagtail. This is probably the most westerly breeding site for this species. As we drove towards Bialowieza we discovered a Northern Shrike.
Friday 12th May
2-4/8th cu.ci. Sunny. Cold wind W 2-4 gusts 5-6.
Before we had left the grounds of the hotel we had great views of a male Collared Flycatcher. The morning, though, was one for the mammals.
We drove the forest roads looking for Bison. Before long we had seen a small heard of Red Deer, a number of Brown Hare, a dog Fox and eventually a fine bull Bison. This huge mature bull was quietly grazing in a lightly wooded area and then it sat down to ruminate. Eventually it wandered off into a well-lit open grassy area where we could enjoy excellent views.
In the afternoon we met Arek, a fine naturalist and the Biology teacher at the local school of forestry. He took us into the preserved ancient forest, a place of quiet cathedral-like splendour. We were soon watching a pair of White-backed Woodpeckers feeding young. We then heard a Black Woodpecker but were unable to locate it amongst the tall trees. Then we took part in a grand Red-breasted Flycatcher hunt. This diminutive, delightful bird sings high in the canopy so it is hard to find. Eventually though we managed to match the voice to the bird. Even then the views were brief. As we walked back to the gate of the forest reserve some of us were lucky enough to see a Pine Marten, an animal which is not uncommon in the forest but which is always elusive.
After dinner we met Arek again and drove into the forest. Arek uttered a brief sequence of calls and almost immediately they were answered by a male Pygmy Owl. Almost before we could gather our wits the owl flew in and perched on the top of a slender conifer. We were able to watch it in reasonable light. It stood there and called for some minutes. We then decided that we had spent long enough in its territory so we retreated. It was a great thrill to see the smallest European owl in its breeding territory.
Saturday 13th May
0- 3/8th cu. Sun. W 1 . Later w 4-5 moderating.
The morning was spent in the forest where we found Icterine Warbler, Golden Oriole, Hawfinch, Nuthatch and Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Then we found an unexpected bird, a male Stonechat, a species which had moved into the area only recently.
We then moved to a riverine area where we found a family of Marsh Tits, Treecreepers, River Warbler and two male Common Rosefinches.
Later in the day we went to the coniferous forest with Arek. After a quiet wait we were rewarded by excellent views of a Nutcracker.
Later we went on a Barred Warbler hunt. Despite the high wind we found a singing male. Seeing the bird was another matter - it was determined not to show itself.
In the even we enjoyed yet another excellent meal and a drink or two.
Sunday 14th May
1-2/8th cu., sunny, calm.
On our drive to Warsaw we noted a male Black Redstart, a male Pheasant and more Golden Orioles. Once there we had time for a brief look at Old Warsaw before our flight home.
Key : Biebrza - B, Bialovieza - BI, Wierzba - W
Siemianowka - SI, Knyszyn - K.
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena - Three Knyszyn (K) Fish Ponds.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus - Noted widely. Peak count 25 on 8th.
Black-necked (Eared) Grebe Podiceps nigricollis - Two R. Narew (B) and two (K).
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo - Common (B) and (SI).
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea - Common(B). Two records. (BI).
(Great) Bittern Botaurus stellaris - Heard at four locations (B).
Great White Egret Egretta alba - Five on the River Narew (B) 10th. Two at (SI) 11th.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra - Excellent views of two at Wogdy Fish Ponds 7th, and two, Kuligi (B) 10th.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia - Noted daily. Peak 180 (B) 10th.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor - Noted throughout (B). Peak count120,10th
Greylag Goose Anser anser - Six sightings (B).
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope - A pair (K) 11th.
Gadwall Anas strepera - Three Wogdy, three R. Narew (B) and two (SI)
Common Teal Anas crecca - A female (W), six R. Narew (B).
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos - Noted daily.
Garganey Anas querquedula - Widespread,(B)(W)(K)(SI). Peak 20, 9th (B).
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata - Only on the southern reaches of the Narew(B). Peak 16 on 9th.
Common Pochard Aythya ferina - Mainly on the Narew (B) and (K), 21 on 11th.
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula - At (B) and (K).
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula - A female at Wogdy, a pair at Rajgrod and a male, Narew (B).
Goosander Mergus merganser - Widespread (B).
Osprey Pandion haliaetus - One at (W), 7th.
(European) Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus - Eleven records (B) (B).
Red Kite Milvus milvus - Two Rajgrod.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - An imm (W), 7th and n adult (K), 11th.
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus - Three 9th (B) and two 11th (SI).
(Eurasian) Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus - Forty-five records throughout the trip.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus - Three records (B), one (SI) and one (BI).
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo - Twenty-six records, but none in (BI).
(Greater) Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga - An adult (B), 10th.
Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina - Five records (B) and two (BI).
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus - A single male in the outskirts of Warsaw, 6th.
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo - Two records (W), 7th.
Grey Partridge Perdix perdix - Three brief encounters (B).
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus - One en route to Warsaw, 14th.
Common Crane Grus grus - Noted on most days.
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus - Heard (K).
Corn Crake Crex crex - Heard twice (B).
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus - One in a pond (W), only our second Polish record!
Common Coot Fulica atra - Seven records (B) and 15 (K), 11th.
(Northern) Lapwing Vanellus vanellus - Common throughout the marshes (B) to (SI).
(Greater) Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula - Three in the south (B).
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius - Eleven records, eight at Wogdy.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa - A widespread breeding species (B) and (BI).
(Eurasian) Curlew Numenius arquata - Three southern (B).
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus - Five (SI).
Common Redshank Tringa totanus - Widespread (B) and (BI).
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia - Two (SI).
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus - One at Kuligi (B).
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola - Small flocks(B) and (BI).
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola - Two Budy (B).
Great Snipe Gallinago media - At least two seen well at Budy during the lek, there were no doubt more. (B).
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago - Several displaying in the early morning or late evening.
Dunlin Calidris alpina - Eight (W).
Ruff Philomachus pugnax - Thousands (B) and hundreds (SI)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos - Three (B).
Common (Mew) Gull Larus canus - Two (SI).
Herring Gull Larus argentatus - Only at Wogdy, (K) and (SI) - eleven records.
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus - Widespread in the wetlands.
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus - Four 9th (B).
White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucoptera - Thirty-four records (B( (K).
Black Tern Chlidonias niger - Common, peak twenty 9th (B) (K) (SI).
Common Tern Sterna hirundo - Twenty records (B) (SI).
Little Tern Sterna albifrons - Twenty noted (SI) 11th.
Stock Dove Columba oenas - Three records (B).
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus - Widespread in small numbers.
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur - Four records(B).
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia - Common in towns, except (BI).
(Eurasian) Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto - Widespread near habitation.
Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo Cuculus canorus - Heard daily but only seen (BI).
Eurasian Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum - A male (BI) 12th.
Common Swift Apus apus - Four records in towns.
(Eurasian) Hoopoe Upupa epops - A pair (B) 8th.
(Eurasian) Wryneck Jynx torquilla - Heard (B and BI).
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor - Heard Rajgrod, 8th.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius - A pair in the ancient forest (BI),13th.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos - A pair feeding young in the ancient forest (B),12th.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major - Widespread.
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius - A good view of a male (W), 7th. Heard (BI).
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus - A male (BI) 13th.
Wood Lark Lullula arborea - Four records (B).
(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis - In agricultural areas.
(Common) House Martin Delichon urbica - Widespread
(European) Sand Martin Riparia riparia - A few. Peak ten on 9th (B).
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica - Widespread.
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava - At (B) and (SI). Peak 30 0n 9th.
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola - A fine male, 11th (SI).
White Wagtail Motacilla alba - Widespread.
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris - Two near Kuligi,(B) 10th.
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis - In both (B and BI).
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis - In (B)10 and (BI) 8.
Northern (Great Grey) Shrike Lanius excubitor - Four records of single birds.
(Winter) Wren Troglodytes troglodytes - Heard more often than seen.
(Common) Blackbird Turdus merula - Common.
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris - Widespread. Sometimes in flocks.
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos - Widespread.
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus - Scattered records.
(European) Robin Erithacus rubecula - Only three records.
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica - Heard Bodi (B) 9th.
Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia - Often heard (B and BI). Only seen once (BI).
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra - Widespread (B). Often feeding in groups.
Stonechat Saxicola torquata - A male (BI) 13th.
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe - A male (B) 9th.
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros - A fine pair (W). One en route Warsaw 14th.
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus - Five records (B and BI).
Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia - Heard (B and BI).
(Eurasian)River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis - Heard (BI), 12th.
Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides - Heard twice (B).
Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola - Excellent view of singing male (B), 8th.
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus - Common.
(Eurasian) Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus - Heard on five days.
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus - Often heard, seen on two days.
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina - Single records (B and BI).
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla - Widespread.
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin - Often heard.
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis - Very widespread.
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca - Singing birds seen well (B).
Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria - Heard (BI) 13th.
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus - Common and widespread.
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita - Widespread and common.
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix - Common in mixed woodland.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus - Widespread.
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata - Seven records, mainly (B).
(European) Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca - A male (B), 13th.
Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis -Very apparent 12-13th (B).
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva - Heard (B and BI). A male seen well 12th (BI).
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus - Three (B) 10th.
(Eurasian) Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus - One building a nest (K0 11th.
Marsh Tit Parus palustris - Four (BI) 13th.
Willow Tit Parus montanus - Heard (K), 11th.
Coal Tit Parus ater - Elusive (B and BI).
Crested Tit Parus cristatus - Two (B) 10th.
Great Tit Parus major - Common.
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus - Fairly common.
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus - Two (W), 7th.
(Eurasian) Nuthatch Sitta europaea - Heard (BI) 13th.
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris - Two (BI) 13th.
(Eurasian) Jackdaw Corvus monedula - Common.
Rook Corvus frugilegus - Common in agricultural areas.
Hooded Crow Corvus corone - Common.
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius - Common.
(Black-billed) Magpie Pica pica - Very common.
Eurasian Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes - One in coniferous forest (BI) 13th.
Common Raven Corvus corax - Three records (B).
(Eurasian) Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus - Heard almost daily. Three clear, but quick, sightings.
Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris - Common.
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella - Common.
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana - A male singing (B) 9th.
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus - Widespread (B and K).
(Common) Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs - Common.
(European) Greenfinch Carduelis chloris - Surprisingly scarce.
(European) Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis - Common.
(Common) Linnet Carduelis cannabina - Seven records (B).
(Eurasian) Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula - A pair (K) 11th.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes - Surprisingly only one record (BI) 13th.
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus - Two males singing (BI) 13th.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus - Common.
(Eurasian) Tree Sparrow Passer montanus - A pair (B) and a pair (BI).